Boniface II


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Vigilius (d. 555)

Dioscorus (d. 454)


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(22 Sept. 530–17 Oct. 532)

The Son of Sigibuld, he was the first pope of Germanic stock, although born in Rome. A rich man, he served the church from childhood and was archdeacon when on his deathbed Felix IV, wanting the pro-Gothic party to retain the papacy, formally designated him as his successor, even handing him his pallium. The senate, outraged by such unconstitutional behaviour, published an edict forbidding discussion of the succession during a reigning pope's lifetime and also, on pain of exile and confiscation of property, the acceptance of nomination by anyone. The mass of the clergy were in agreement, and on Felix's death the deacon Dioscorus was elected by a large majority in the Lateran basilica. The minority belonging to the pro-Gothic faction withdrew to an adjacent hall and elected Boniface. The resulting schism, however, was short-lived, for Dioscorus died (14 Oct.) after 22 days, and the clergy backing him, now leaderless, after initial hesitation acknowledged Boniface as pope. He proved vindictive in his triumph, and at a synod held on 27 Dec. forced the 60 priests who had opposed him to sign a declaration admitting their guilt in disregarding Felix's nomination, promising never to attempt anything similar again, and condemning Dioscorus' memory. This he deposited in the papal archives.

Having thus assured his position, Boniface became conciliatory and made strenuous efforts, as his epitaph records, to reunite his divided flock. LP lists his gifts of plate to priests, deacons, subdeacons, and notaries, and the alms he expended on helping the clergy when famine threatened. Like Felix, however, he was resolved to secure a pro-Gothic successor. So in 531, at a synod in St Peter's, having taken appropriate powers, he proposed a constitution nominating the deacon Vigilius as the next pope, and obliged the clergy to subscribe it with an oath. In view of the indignation this created, and probably also of objections from the court at Ravenna, he soon retreated and at a subsequent synod, in the presence of the senate, confessed that he had exceeded his rights, revoked his nomination, and burned the signed document before the tomb of the Apostle.

Boniface thus extricated himself, at the cost of some loss of face, from an awkward situation. The little that is known of the rest of his reign suggests that he strove to uphold the prestige of the holy see. It fell to him to confirm authoritatively (25 Jan. 531) the acts of the second council of Orange (July 529), which ended the controversy over grace. When the patriarch of Constantinople, in response to complaints from two Greek bishops, deposed and excommunicated the bishop of Larissa (Greece), Boniface held in 532 a synod which forcibly asserted the special rights of Rome over lllyricum, within which Larissa lay. He was buried in St Peter's, but there is no evidence of any cult being devoted to him.

Further Reading

JW i. 111 f.LP i. 281–4 (Davis 1: 53, 106)A. Harnack, ‘Der erste deutsche Papst’, SAB (1924), 24–42Caspar ii. 193–8DHGE ix. 897 f. (G. Bardy)DBI xii. 133–6 (P. Bertolini)Levillain i. 185–6 (J. Desmulliez)NCE ii. 497–8 (A. H. Skeabech)Seppelt i. 259–62JR 122–5, 242


Subjects: Christianity.

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