Silverius was a legitimate son of Pope St. Hormisdas, born before his father entered the priesthood. He was probably consecrated June 8, 536. He was a subdeacon when king Theodahad of the Ostrogoths forced his election and consecration. It appears that Theodahad was eager to put a pro-Gothic candidate on the throne on the eve of the Gothic War and had passed over the entire diaconate as untrustworthy, which would explain the sudden elevation. The Liber Pontificalis alleges that Silverius had purchased his elevation from King Theodahad.
On December 9, 536, the Byzantine general Belisarius entered Rome with the approval of Pope Silverius. Theodahad’s successor Witiges gathered together an army and besieged Rome for several months, subjecting the city to privation and starvation. In the words of Jeffrey Richards, “What followed is as tangled a web of treachery and double-dealing as can be found anywhere in the papal annals. Several different versions of the course of events following the elevation of Silverius exist.” In outline, all accounts agree: Silverius was deposed by Belisarius in March 537 and sent into exile. Vigilius, who was in Constantinople as apocrisiarius or papal legate, was brought to Rome to replace him. They differ over the motivations of the parties involved.
The fullest account is in the Breviarium of Liberatus of Carthage, who portrays Vigilius “as a greedy and treacherous pro-Monophysite who ousted and virtually murdered his predecessor.” In exchange for being made Pope, Liberatus claims he promised Empress Theodora to restore the former patriarch of Constantinople Anthimus to his position. Silverius was sent into exile at Patara in Lycia, whose bishop petitioned the emperor for a fair trial for Silverius. However, when Silverius returned to Italy, instead of holding a trial Belisarius handed him over to Vigilius, who according to The Liber Pontificalis banished Silverius to the desolate island Palmarola (part of the Pontine Islands), where he starved to death a few months later.
The account in the Liber Pontificalis is hardly more favorable to Vigilius. That work agrees with Liberatus that the restoration of Anthimus to the Patriarchate was the cause of Silverius’ deposition, but Vigilius was initially sent to persuade Silverius to agree to this, not replace him. Silverius refused to this and Vigilius then claimed to Belisarius that Pope Silverius had written to Witiges offering to betray the city. Belisarius did not believe this accusation, but Vigilius produced false witnesses to testify to this, and through persistence overcame his scruples. Silverius was summoned to the Pincian palace, where he was stripped of his vestments and handed over to Vigilius, who dispatched him into exile. Procopius omits all mention of religious controversy in Vigilius’ actions. He writes that Silverius was accused of offering to betray Rome to the Goths. Upon learning of this, Belisarius had him deposed, put in a monk’s habit and exiled to Greece. Several other senators were also banished from Rome at the same time on similar charges. Belisarius then appointed Vigilius.
Richards attempts to reconcile these divergent accounts into a unified account. He points out that Liberatus wrote his Breviarium at the height of the Three-Chapter Controversy, “when Vigilius was being regarded by his opponents as anti-Christ and Liberatus was prominent among these opponents”, and the Liber Pontificalis drew from an account written at the same time. Once these religious elements are removed, Richards argues that it is clear “the whole episode was political in nature.” He points out for Justinian’s plans to recover Rome and Italy, “that there should be a pro-Eastern pope substituted as soon as possible. The ideal candidate was at hand in Constantinople. The deacon Vigilius’ principal motivation throughout his career, as far as can be ascertained, was the desire to be pope and he was not really concerned about which faction put him there.”
Pope Silverius was later recognized as a saint by popular acclamation, and is now the patron saint of the island of Ponza, Italy. The first mention of his name in a list of saints dates to the 11th century.
He is also called Saint Silverius (San Silverio). According to Ponza Islands legend, fishermen were in a small boat in a storm off Palmarola and they called on Saint Silverius for help. An apparition of Saint Silverius called them to Palmarola, where they survived. This miracle made him venerated as a saint.
From The Liturgical Year, by Dom Prosper Gueranger
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