John III


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(17 July 561–13 July 574)

The son of Anastasius, a Roman senator and provincial governor, he is perhaps to be identified with the subdeacon John who completed Pelagius I's translation of the Greek 5th-century Sayings of the Elders and compiled an Exposition of the Heptateuch. A pro-easterner acceptable to Emperor Justinian I (527–65) and to Narses, his exarch (viceroy) in Italy from 554, he had to wait four months after election before the imperial authorization necessary at this time for his consecration arrived from Constantinople.

John's reign, about which hardly anything is known, saw the invasion (568) of large parts of Italy by the Lombards under King Alboin (565–72); they met with little resistance since Justinian's successor Justin II (565–78) had dismissed Narses in response to popular demand. The invasion assisted the ending of the schism between Rome and the great churches of the west caused by the endorsement by Pelagius I of the condemnation of the Three Chapters. Relations with north Africa became easier after Justinian's death in 565, and in 573 the new bishop of Milan, Laurentius II, elected in Genoa because of the occupation of his city in 569, deemed it prudent to renew communion with Rome and signed a document (countersigned by the future Gregory I, then prefect of Rome) acquiescing in the condemnation of the Three Chapters. Aquileia, however, continued obdurate. But John had more than church affairs to worry about. As the Lombards poured south, he went in desperation to Naples, where Narses had settled, and persuaded him to return (571) to Rome, reside in the imperial palace, and take charge of the crisis. In spite of the help he was providing, this created such disturbances among the populace and made John so unpopular that he judged it wise, so as to escape being involved in the quarrel, to withdraw from the city and take up residence at the cemetery of SS Tiburtius and Valerian two miles outside on the Via Appia. There he carried out all his duties, including the consecration of bishops, until Narses' death in Rome in 573/4. He himself died soon after his octogenarian friend and was buried in St Peter's. He completed the church of SS Philip and James (now SS. Apostoli) begun by his predecessor to commemorate Narses' victories.

Further Reading

JW i. 136 f.LP i. 305–7 (Davis 1: 61–2)O. Bertolini, Roma di fronte a Bisanzio e ai Langobardi (Bologna, 1941), 220–22Caspar ii. 350 f.DBI v. 551–3 (A. Bedina)DCB iii. 391 (J. Barmby)DACL xiii. 1221 f. (H. Leclercq)Levillain ii. 833–4 (C. Sotinel)NCE vii. 920–21 (J. Chapin)Seppelt i. 292 f.JR 162–6, 241, 243

Subjects: Christianity.

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