St Benedict II


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Agatho (c. 577—681)


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(26 June 684–8 May 685)

Elected in early July 683, he had to wait almost a year before the imperial mandate sanctioning his consecration arrived from Constantinople. Roman by birth, he had enrolled in the clergy as a boy, had studied in the papal choir-school and served in every order, and was a priest when appointed. The choice of a local man, of traditional background, in contrast to his Greek-speaking Sicilian predecessors, may indicate Rome's new confidence vis-à-vis Byzantium following the reconciliation cemented by Agatho and Emperor Constantine IV (668–85). Further tokens of the fresh atmosphere of cooperation were the emperor's agreement, in response to Benedict's petition, that in future papal elections should be ratified by the exarch in Italy, not by Constantinople, thereby enabling the pope-elect to assume office with the minimum of delay, and his unprecedented act of presenting, at a solemn ceremony, locks of his infant sons' hair to the clergy, army, and people of Rome as a symbol of their adoption of the princes.

Only glimpses of Benedict's short reign survive. While still pope-elect he pressed on with the task of securing the adhesion of the west to the Sixth General Council (third council of Constantinople, 680–81) and its condemnation of monothelitism, instructing the notary Peter, delayed by Leo II's death, to proceed to Spain with the acts of the council and the letters with which Leo had furnished him. The mission was mishandled, for Rome did not reckon with the fierce independence of the Visigothic church in Spain; and while the fourteenth council of Toledo endorsed the acts in Nov. 684, it subjected them first to an exhaustive examination. Julian, metropolitan of Toledo, dispatched his own profession of faith to Benedict, and when he learned that the pope had verbally criticized passages in it he sent him an indignant riposte. Again, while pope-elect Benedict issued a directive ordering Wilfrid (634–709), deprived as bishop of York in 678, to be restored, but it remained without effect. He was equally unsuccessful in his patient efforts to persuade Macarius I, deposed monothelite patriarch of Antioch, now confined in a monastery in Rome, to abandon his heretical views.

LP describes Benedict as humble-minded and gentle, a lover of the poor who at Easter 685 distributed honours and promotions among the clergy of various ranks, and on his death bequeathed thirty pounds of gold to the clergy, the diaconal monasteries (Greek-style foundations for charitable relief attached to churches), and the lay sacristans of churches. He carried out restorations in St Peter's and S. Lorenzo in Lucina, and beautified S. Valentino on the Flaminian Way and Sta Maria ad Martyres (the former Pantheon). Feast 8 May.

Further Reading

PL 96: 423 f.JW i. 241 f., ii. 699LP i. 363–5 (Davis 1: 81–2)FD i n. 252Caspar ii. 614–19, 674 f.DHGE viii. 9–14 (F. Baix)BSS ii. 1193 f. (I. Daniele)DBI viii. 325–9 (O. Bertolini)EThC 9 (G. Schwaiger)Levillain i. 153 (J. Durliat)NCE ii. 239 (H. G. J. Beck)Seppelt ii. 76 f.JR 202 f., 265 f., 301 f.


Subjects: Christianity.

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