St. Zachary, Pope and Confessor
HE succeeded Gregory III. in 741, and was a man of singular meekness and goodness; and so far from any thought of revenge, that he heaped benefits on those who had persecuted him before his promotion to the pontificate. He loved the clergy and people of Rome to that degree, that he hazarded his life for them on occasion of the troubles which Italy fell into by the rebellion of the dukes of Spoletto and Benevento against King Luitprand. Out of respect to his sanctity and dignity, that king restored to the church of Rome all the places which belonged to it, Ameria, Horta, Narni, Ossimo, Ancona, and the whole territory of Sabina, and sent back the captives without ransom. The Lombards were moved to tears at the devotion with which they heard him perform the divine service. By a journey to Pavia, he obtained also of Luitprand, though with some difficulty, peace for the territory of Ravenna, and the restitution of the places which he had taken from the exarchate. The zeal and prudence of this holy pope appeared in many wholesome regulations, which he had made to reform or settle the discipline and peace of several churches. St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, wrote to him against a certain priest, named Virgilius; that he laboured to sow the seeds of discord between him and Odilo, duke of Bavaria, and taught, besides other errors, that there were other men under the earth, another sun and moon, and another world. 1 Pope Zachary answered, that if he taught such an error he ought to be deposed. This cannot be understood as a condemnation of the doctrine of Antipodes, or the spherical figure of the earth, as some writers have imagined by mistake. The error here spoken of is that of certain heretics, who maintained that there was another race of men, who did not descend from Adam, and were not redeemed by Christ. Nor did Zachary pronounce any sentence in the case: for in the same letter he ordered that Virgilius should be sent to Rome, that his doctrine might be examined. It seems that he cleared himself: for we find this same Virgilius soon after made bishop of Saltzburgh. 2 Certain Venetian merchants having bought at Rome many slaves to sell to the Moors in Africa, St. Zachary forbade such an iniquitous traffic, and, paying the merchants their price, gave the slaves their liberty. He adorned Rome with sacred buildings, and with great foundations in favour of the poor and pilgrims, and gave every year a considerable sum to furnish oil for the lamps in St. Peter’s church. He died in 752, in the month of March, and is honoured in the Roman Martyrology on this day. See his letters and the Pontificals, t. 6. Conc. also Fleury, l. 42. t. 9. p. 349. 1
Note 1. Quod alius mondus et alii homines sub terra sint, seu alius sol et luna. (Ep. 10. t. 6. Conc. p. 15. 21. et Bibl. Patr. inter Epist. S. Bonif.) To imagine different worlds of men upon earth, some not descending from Adam, nor redeemed by Christ, is contrary to the holy scriptures, and therefore justly condemned as erroneous, as Baronius observes. (add. ann. 784. n. 12.) [back]
Note 2. Many ancient philosophers thought the earth flat, not spherical, and believed no Antipodes. Several fathers adopted this vulgar error in philosophy, in which faith no way interferes, as St. Austin, (1. 16. de Civ. Dei. c. 9.) Bede, (l. 4. de Principiis Philos.) and Cosmas the Egyptian, surnamed Indicopleustes. It is, however, a mistake to imagine, with Montfaucon, in his preface to this last-mentioned author, that this was the general opinion of Christian philosophers down to the fifteenth century. For the learned Philophonus demonstrated before the modern discoveries, (de Mundi Creat. l. 3. c. 13.) that the greater part of the fathers teach the world to be a sphere, as Saint Basil, the two SS. Gregories, of Nazianzum and of Nyssa, Saint Athanasius, &c. And several amongst them mention Antipodes, as Saint Hilary, (in Ps. 2. n. 32.) Origen, (l. 2. de princip. c. 3.) Saint Clement, pope, &c. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume III: March.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.