23 Johns ago, there was a First!
Pope St. John I
Pope from 523-526 A.D.
Died: 526 A.D.
Give me the scoop on John I.
The first of over 20 popes to be called “John” was born in Tuscany in 470, but moved to Rome at a young age. He served as a priest for most of his life, and was already sickly and somewhat frail at his election on August 13, 523. Most of his time in office was spent wrestling with the centuries-old battle between Arian Christians — those who said Christ wasn’t divine — and the true Church (more on that in a minute). John I died at the age of 56 on May 18, 526 and was eventually interred in St. Peter’s Basilica, having been pope for two years, nine months, and seven days. He was immediately venerated as a martyr, and his feast is celebrated on May 18.
What was he known for?
The death of the Byzantine emperor, Anastasius I, paved the way for a new emperor, Justin I around the time of St. John I’s election. This new ruler was a Catholic who, wishing to eradicate Arianism in his territories, reversed many prior edicts tolerating the heresy and made demands on Arian property and professions of faith. Theodoric, the Arian king of Italy, threw a bit of a tantrum upon hearing about this, and demanded that the pope go to Constantinople to help the Justin reconsider his moves.
When John I arrived, the people were ecstatic (“you guys…THE POPE IS HERE”) since the pope, you know, never came to Constantinople. John was given a welcome one fit for St. Peter himself, with even the emperor himself prostrating himself at John’s feet. Though some concessions were made, the conversations with Justin on rescinding the demands against the Arians were likely half-hearted, but were done moreso out of a desire for unity than a disdain for Arian Christians themselves (think: hate the sin, love the sinner). Upon John’s return from Constantinople, Theodoric was still a liiiittle upset, so he had John thrown in prison before the latter could return to Rome. John, being of ill health, could no longer handle the stress of the situation and died a few days later.
Fun fact: Of the 23 popes (and 4 antipopes) named John, only the first and the last (John I & John XXIII) are recognized as saints in the Roman Church.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
Around the same time John I died, a great earthquake reaching a magnitude near 7.0, followed by ensuing fires, struck Antioch (modern-day Turkey & Syria), killing an estimated 250,000 people in the region.
Coming tomorrow….Pope St. Felix IV (III)
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. John I – http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08421a.htm
Pope John I – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_John_I
526 Antioch Earthquake – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/526_Antioch_earthquake