The Papacy

Pope St. Sylvester I

St. Sylvester I was an enigma to the Catholic people during a time when the first major heresies were cropping up. They wanted a Pontiff who was rigorous in defending the Faith; by this they not only meant the successful defeat of heresy, but one who promoted himself in doing so. Perhaps this was because they had need for a strong sign. Sylvester, the first Roman Pontiff to be a Saint without Martyrdom, gave them the first, but displayed no enthusiasm for the second aspect. He lived what is called in the spiritual realm, "an inner life", precisely what one ought to expect from a Saint, when not necessary otherwise.

In 313 the edict of Milan under Constantine ended the persecution of the Church per se; however, he wanted to oversee the Holy See and he made things difficult because he had a lot of power. A very wise and holy man assumed the Chair of Peter the following year. Sylvester was already old, too old to travel, which required the Pope's need for reliable delegates for the Council at Arles in 325, which took up the heresy of the Donatists and for the Council of Nicaea. Th former council was not world wide, like the dogmatic councils, such as Nicaea, but a regional one where the heresy was flourishing in France. The heresy would be taken up also at the first Council of Nicaea the same year. This dogmatic or defining council gave us the Nicene Creed, in response to the errors of the priest Arius. Pope Sylvester was unable to attend but his emissaries did and it was he that reigned there in spirit and he that approved all of its official pronouncements. A Pontiff can teach in his own right without any council, but all world wide [or ecumenical]Church councils require the approval of the Pontiff. Donatism originated in North Africa under Donnatus: it held that the true Church consisted only of the elect or those who would be saved and its adherents believed that only a Donatist could confer valid Baptism. This heresy did not spread like the Arian heresy and was confined to the fourth century at which time it was vanquished.

Pope Sylvester was very much the good shepherd, interested in the welfare of his flock and full of zeal for having holy priests; although aged he had the stamina for sacerdotal affairs and on one occasion he ordained 42 priests and 25 deacons. The first Basilica of St. Peter was built during his reign as well as that of St. John Lateran.

Pope St. Sylvester, pray for Pope Benedict XVI and for us!


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