Pope Sylvester II (999-1003)
Who was Pope Sylvester II?
Pope Sylvester II was born at or near Aurillac, Auvergne, France, about 940-950, of humble parents; died at Rome, 12 May, 1003. Gerbert entered the service of the Church and received his first training in the Monastery of Aurillac.
He was then taken by a Spanish count to Spain, where he studied at Barcelona and also under Arabian teachers at Cordova and Seville, giving much attention to mathematics and the natural sciences, in which he made unusual progress. From Spain he proceeded to Rome with Bishop Hatto of Vich, who had been his chief theological instructor, and John XIII recommended him to the Emperor Otto I, who sent him to Reims to the archdeacon Gerannus.
There he was soon appointed a teacher in the cathedral school by Archbishop Adalbero. He undertook journeys of considerable length, e.g., to Ravenna, where he held a disputation with Ortricus of Magdeburg before Otto II. In 983 Otto II bestowed on him the abbey of Bobbio, but the abbey was very poor and Gerbert returned to Reims.
He again taught the most varied branches with great success, devoted himself zealously to study, and helped raise Hugh Capet to the throne. Adalbero wished Gerbert to be his successor, but when the former died in 988 Arnulph, a natural son of King Lothaire, was raised to the see at the instigation of Hugh Capet.
Arnulph was deposed in 991 by a synod held near Reims for alleged treason against the king, and Gerbert was elected his successor. Although Gerbert soon held a provincial synod to condemn those who had injured the property of the Church, and these decisions were confirmed at another synod held at Chela under the presidency of Robert, King of France, there was much opposition to Gerbert's elevation to the See of Reims.
Consequently John XV sent Leo, Abbot of Sts. Boniface and Alexius at Rome, as legate to France. On 2 June, 995, Leo held a synod at Mouson. Gerbert appeared personally to defend himself, but was temporarily suspended from his episcopal office. He sought to show that this decree was unlawful, but a further synod (concilium Causeiense), held on 1 July, 995, at which Gerbert was present, declared Arnulph's deposition and Gerbert's elevation illegal and invalid.
Gerbert now went to the court of the youthful Emperor Otto III, whose teacher he became and whom he accompanied to Italy for the coronation. As the Archbishopric of Reims was not restored to Gerbert, he remained in Italy, and in 998 Gregory V appointed him Archbishop of Ravenna. Gerbert attended the Roman synod before which the marital affairs of King Robert of France were laid. When Gregory V died on 18 February, 999, Gerbert was elected his successor through the influence of the emperor, and took the name of Sylvester. He was the first French pope.
The new head of the Church administered his high office with great earnestness and a profound sense of responsibility. His discourse upon the episcopal office shows what his view of the chief spiritual pastors of the Church was ("Sermo de informatione episocoporum", P.L., CXXXIX, 169 sq.). He took energetic measures against the abuses in the life of the clergy caused by simony and concubinage, and was anxious that only capable men of spotless lives should receive the episcopal office.
His relations with Otto III were very friendly, and he supported the emperor's political ideas. Otto gave the pope eight Italian countships, which formerly had belonged to the States of the Church, by a deed of gift the genuineness of which, however, is questioned (Wilmans, "Jahrbucher des deutschen Reiches unten den sachsischen Kaisen", II, pt. II, 233 sq.). At the same time the emperor declared the Donation of Constantine to be a forgery.
During Otto's residence at Rome in the winter of 1000-1001 Sylvester held a Roman synod on 1 February, 1001, in the presence of the emperor, at which amongst other matters the affairs of the convent of Gandersheim were discussed. A revolt at Rome directed against the emperor forced Otto and the pope to flee. Sylvester was obliged to remain away for several months, during which the city suffered party quarrels. On 27 December he called a second synod at Todi on account of the difficulties at Gandersheim, and shortly after was present at Otto's death.
Sylvester regulated important ecclesiastical matters in various countries. Soon after his elevation to the papacy he confirmed anew his former opponent Arnulph as Archbishop of Reims, and in the Bull which he sent to him gives clear proof that he had now abandoned his earlier position in regard to the authority of papal decisions concerning the disputed see.
The pope established an ecclesiastical metropolitan for Poland at Gnesen, and one for Hungary at Gran. On 27 March, 1000, he granted the title of king to the ruler of Hungary and appointed him papal vicar for his country. He energetically maintained church discipline in the question of the marriage of the French King Robert, and obliged the king to send Bertha away. Sylvester returned to Rome soon after Otto's death, although the leaders of the different parties of nobles still retained all their power.
A little later he died. His epitaph has been preserved. Besides a dogmatic treatise, "De corpore et sanguine Domini", Sylvester wrote a series of works principally on philosophical, mathematical, and physical subjects; they are to be found in P.L., CXXXIX. He was held in high repute for his learning; the common people regarded his as a magician in league with the devil, and many legends grew up around his name. He is said to have introduced the use of Arabic figures into Western Europe, and to have invented the pendulum clock.
- Catholic Encyclopedia