Saints of the Day – Silverius, Pope

Pope Saint SilverioArticle

Born in Frosinone, Campania, Italy; died December 2, c.537. Saint Silverius’s story clearly illustrates the harm that can be done to the Church by those who seek to exploit it for their own selfish purposes or political advancement. The subdeacon Saint Silverius was son of Pope Saint Hormisdas, who had been married before his consecration and whose Formulation of Hormisdas helped to end the Monophysite schism of Acacius. In the rivalry between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantine Empire, the papacy was an important factor in the balance of power. Because Agapitus had died in Constantinople, the Ostrogoth King Theodehad of Italy knew that the emperor would name his candidate for the see without delay. To circumvent the imposition of the emperor’s candidate, Theodehad named Silverius pope in April 356. Soon after Theodehad compelled the Roman clergy to elect (or acquiesce to) Silverius to succeed Pope Saint Agapitus. Thus, he was ordained bishop of Rome on June 1 or 8, 536.

The Byzantines naturally supposed that Silverius was a puppet of the Goths; an opinion that was reinforced when he denied Empress Theodora’s request to acknowledge the Monophysites Anthimus as patriarch of Constantinople and Severus as patriarch of Antioch. Thus, he exposed himself to the bitter enmity of Theodora, who was a domineering woman and did not hesitate to act without the knowledge of Emperor Justinian. Indeed, the consequences were so predictable that Silverius is said to have remarked that by signing the letter of refusal to the request of the empress, he was also signing his on death warrant. He was right; Theodora was a woman who would tolerate no opposition.

A few months later, in an attempt to save Rome from the destruction the Ostrogoth General Vitiges visited upon the suburbs, Silverius and the senate opened Rome’s gates to the lesser evil, Belisaurus, the commander of the Byzantine armies in Italy. A forged letter accusing Silverius of being responsible for Vitiges’ devastation proved unsuccessful in implicating Silverius. Nevertheless, like Justinian, Belisaurus had an intriguing wife, Antonina, and it was largely at her prompting that he deposed Silverius on the false accusation of conspiring with the Goths and the next day replaced him with Theodora’s protege, Deacon Vigilius.

Silverius was kidnapped and taken to Patara in Lycia, Asia Minor. All this was done without the knowledge of Emperor Justinian. When he received a message from the bishop of Patara telling him what had happened, he immediately gave orders that Silverius be reinstated in the Holy See and an investigation instituted. Shortly after his return to Italy, he was captured by Vigilius’s supporters and imprisoned on Palmarola in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Naples. Antonina, eager to ingratiate Theodora, prevailed on her husband to let them deal with Silverius as they chose. He did not survive long in prison. Either left to die of starvation or was murdered by Antonina’s hired assassin, Silverius died a martyr’s death after less than two years in office.

It is uncertain how Vigilius’s appointment to the papal see was regularized. Nevertheless, Silverius was vindicated in one way – after his death Pope Vigilius ceased to support Theodora and held firm in defense of orthodoxy (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Walsh, White).

Pope Saint Silverius is generally portrayed as a pilgrim pope with a small piece of bread on a plate. He might also be shown with a paten or while armed men approach as he sits by a table on which is a scroll, Justentor pane tribulationi et aqua angustie (Roeder). He may be depicted holding a church (White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 June 2020. Web. 1 December 2021. <>