Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Agapetus, Pope and Confessor

[Pope Agapitus I]Article

This holy pope was a native of Rome, and being received among the clergy, discharged the inferior functions of the ministry in the church of Saints John and Paul. His great sanctity recommended him to the love and veneration of all who knew him, and Pope John II. dying on the 26th of April, 535, Agapetus, who was at that time archdeacon, was chosen to fill the holy see, and ordained on the 4th of May. He healed by mildness the wounds which had been made by dissensions, and by the unhappy schism of Dioscorus against Boniface II in 529. The Emperor Justinian, being apprized of his election, sent to him a profession of his faith, which the holy pope received as orthodox, and, in compliance with his request, condemned the Acæmetes monks at Constantinople, who were tainted with the Nestorian heresy. Hilderic, king of the Vandals in Africa, having been deposed by Gilimer, Justinian took that occasion to break the alliance which the Emperor Zeno had made with Genseric, and in the year 533, the seventh of his reign, sent Belisarius with a fleet of five hundred sail into Africa. That experienced general made an easy conquest of the whole country, and took Carthage almost without opposition. Justinian sent to the churches in Jerusalem the vessels of the ancient Jewish temple, which Titus had formerly brought to Rome, and which Genseric had carried from thence to Carthage. He re-established the temporal government of Africa, which he divided into seven provinces, Zeugitana, named heretofore the Proconsular, that of Carthage, Byzacena, and that of Tripoli; which four had for governors men of consular dignity: the three others, Numidia, Mauritania, and Sardinia, had only presidents. All these were subject to the Præfectus Prætorio of Africa, who resided at Carthage. Each province had its primate, though in Numidia that dignity was not annexed to any particular see, but was enjoyed by the oldest bishop in the province, as in the time of Saint Cyprian. These churches being restored to the Catholics, both the emperor and the bishops of Africa wrote to the pope, entreating him to allow that such Arian bishops as came over to the Catholic faith, should retain their sees. Agapetus answered them both, that he could not act in that point against the canons, and that the Arian bishops ought to be satisfied with being received into the Catholic church, without pretending to be admitted among the clergy, or to retain any ecclesiastical dignity. The emperor having built the city Justinianæa, near the village where he was born, desired the pope to appoint the bishop of this new see his vicar in Illyricum.

Theodatus, king of the Goths in Italy, hearing that Justinian was making preparations for an expedition to recover Italy, obliged Pope Agapetus to undertake a voyage to Constantinople, in order to divert him from such a design. About the same time the Catholic abbots at Constantinople wrote to Saint Agapetus, to acquaint him with the disorders and dangers into which that church was fallen. Epiphanius, patriarch of Constantinople, dying in 535, Anthimus, bishop of Trebizond, was called to that see, by the interest of the Empress Theodora. He passed for a Catholic, but was in truth an enemy to the council of Chalcedon, as well as that princess herself. The removal of Anthimus to Constantinople so much encouraged the Acephali, that Severus, the false patriarch of Antioch, and other chiefs of that sect, repaired thither, and filled that church with confusion. Agapetus informed these Catholic abbots that he was coming himself to Constantinople; whereupon they waited his arrival. Saint Gregory the Great relates that the good pope, in his journey through Greece, cured a man who was lame and dumb, by saying mass for him. Saint Agapetus reached Constantinople on the 2nd of February, in 536, and was received by the emperor with respect. The pope, true to his trust, pressed him on the business which had brought him thither; but that prince had proceeded too far to think of drawing off his forces from the expedition into Italy. Saint Agapetus therefore began to treat of religious affairs. He absolutely refused to admit Anthimus to his communion, unless he publicly subscribed the council of Chalcedon, and would by no means allow of his translation to the see of Constantinople. The empress employed all her power and all her artifices to gain this point of him. The emperor also plied him both with large promises, and with threats of banishment; but the holy man was inflexible, and at length Anthimus went back to Trebizond, for fear of being compelled to receive the council of Chalcedon. The pope declared him excommunicated, unless by subscribing that synod he declared himself a Catholic; which drew upon the saint the whole fury of the Eutychian party, and of the empress. His constancy, however, baffled all their efforts, and Mennas, a person of great learning and piety, was chosen patriarch of Constantinople, and consecrated by the pope. Several petitions were delivered to Saint Agapetus, containing complaints and accusations of heresy, and other crimes, against Severus, and certain other bishops of the party of the Acephali, which the pope was preparing to examine in a council, when he fell sick, and died at Constantinople on the 17th of April, in 536, having sat about eleven months, and three weeks. His body was brought to Rome, and interred in Saint Peter’s church on the Vatican, on the 20th of September, the day which the Western church has consecrated to his memory. The Greeks commemorate his name on the day of his death, the 17th of April.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Agapetus, Pope and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 September 2013. Web. 17 August 2017. <>