Pope Constantine (708-15)
Who was Pope Constantine?
Pope Constantine was a Syrian, the son of John, and "a remarkably affable man". The first half of his reign was marked by a cruel famine in Rome, the second by an extraordinary abundance. For some time he had trouble with Felix, Archbishop of Ravenna, whom he had himself consecrated. Relying on the secular power, the new bishop refused to offer the pope due obedience.
It was only after he had tasted of dire misfortune that Felix submitted. Constantine received as pilgrims two Anglo-Saxon kings, Coenred of Mercia and Offa of the East Saxons.
They both received the tonsure in Rome and embraced the monastic life. (Bede, Hist. eccl., V, xix, xx.) St. Egwin, Bishop of Worcester, went to Rome along with them and obtained from the pope various privileges for his monastery of Evesham. ("Chron. Abbat.de Evesham", in R. S.; "St. Egwin and his Abbey of Evesham", London, 1904.) The extant documents regarding this monastery which bear this pope's name are all spurious. (They are to be found in Haddan and Stubbs, "Councils", III, 281.) But his privilege for the monasteries of Bermondsey and Woking (ibid., 276) may be genuine.
In 692 the Emperor Justinian II had caused to assemble the so-called Quinisext or Trullan Council. At this assembly, which was attended only by Greek bishops, 102 canons were passed, many of which established customs opposed to those of Rome. By canon xiii the celibacy of the Greek secular clergy became a thing of the past; and by canon xxxvi, a further step was taken in the direction of rendering the Patriarch of constantinople quite independent of the Holy See. Justinian made every effort to secure the adhesion of the popes to these decrees.
But one after another they all refused. At length he sent an order to Constantine to repair to Constantinople. Leaving behind him, according to the custom at the time, the archpriest, the archdeacon, and the Primicerius, or chief of the notaries, to govern the Church in his absence, he set sail for the East (709) with a number of bishops and clergy. Wherever his vessel touched, he was, by Justinian's orders, received with as much honour as the emperor himself.
He entered Constantinople in triumph, and at Justinian's request crossed over to Nicomedia, where he was then residing. Strange to say, this cruel prince received the pope with the greatest honour, prostrating himself before him and kissing his feet. After receiving Holy Communion at the hands of the pope, he renewed all the privileges of the Roman Church. Exactly what passed between them on the subject of the Quinisext Council is not known. It would appear, however, that Constantine approved those canons which were not opposed to the true Faith or to sound morals, and that with this qualified approval of his council the emperor was content.
Soon after Constantine's return to Rome (Oct., 711), Justinian II was dethroned by Philippicus Bardanes. The new emperor strove to revive Monothelism, and sent a letter to the pope which the latter caused to be examined in a synod and condemned. Further, as the emperor burnt the Acts of the Sixth General Council, restored to the diptychs the names which that council had caused to be erased, re-erected their images, and removed the representation of the council which was hanging in front of the palace, the pope and the people of Rome placed in the portico of St. Peter's a series of representations of the six general councils, and refused to place the new emperor's name on their charters or their money.
They also declined to place his statue, according to custom, in the official chapel of St. Cæsarius on the Palatine, the site of which has just been discovered (1907), or to pray for him in the Canon of the Mass. To punish the Romans for these daring measures, a new duke was sent to Rome, and they would no doubt have had much to suffer but for the opportune deposition of Philippicus by the orthodox Anastasius (Whitsun Eve, 713). The new emperor made haste to dispatch to Rome, through the Exarch Scholasticus, a letter in which he professed his orthodoxy and his adhesion to the Sixth General Council, which had condemned Monothelism.
Constantine also received a letter from John, the Patriarch of Constantinople, acknowledging that the "apostolical pre-eminence of the Pope is to the whole Church, what the head is to the body", and that "according to the canons he is the head of the Christian priesthood". John assured the pope that, while co-operating with the Emperor Philippicus, he had always been orthodox at heart, and that the decree, drawn up at the council in which the heretical emperor had hoped to re-establish Monothelism (712), was really orthodox in sense, although not apparently so in words. (See John's letter in the epilogue of the Deacon Agatho, in Mansi, "Coll. Conc.", XII, 192.)
Among other distinguished men who came to Rome in the days of Constantine was Benedict, Archbishop of Milan. He came not only to pray at the shrines of the Apostles, for he was a man of such remarkable holiness that he was distinguished for it in all Italy (Paul the Deacon, Hist., VI, xxix), but also to discuss with the pope as to whose immediate jurisdiction belonged the Church of Pavia. At one time, certainly in the fifth century, the bishops of Pavia were subject to the bishops of Milan and were consecrated by them.
For some reason, perhaps because the Lombards made Pavia their capital, its bishops had ceased to be dependent on those of Milan, and had become directly subject to the popes. Accordingly, when it had been proved to Benedict that for some long time at least they had been consecrated at Rome, he definitely surrendered his claim to jurisdiction over them. The visit of a pope to a city at any distance from Rome being so comparatively rare, the people of several places at which Constantine touched in his journey to and from Constantinople were only too pleased to be able to avail themselves of the opportunity of getting him to consecrate a bishop for them. It is on record that he consecrated twelve in this way, and, at the customary times and places, no less than sixty-four.
- Catholic Encyclopedia