15 Mar Saint Zachary, Pope
Today is the feast day of Saint Zachary, Pope. Ora pro nobis.
Year of birth unknown; died in March, 752. Zachary sprang from a Greek family living in Calabria; his father, according to the “Liber Pontificalis”, was called Polichronius. Most probably he was a deacon of the Roman Church and as such signed the decrees of the Roman council of 732. After the burial of his predecessor Gregory III on 29 November, 741, he was immediately and unanimously elected pope and consecrated and enthroned on 5 December. His biographer in the “Liber Pontificalis” describes him as a man of gentle and conciliatory character who was charitable towards the clergy and people. As a fact the new pope always showed himself to be shrewd and conciliatory in his actions and thus his undertakings were very successful. Soon after his elevation he notified Constantinople of his election; it is noticeable that his synodica (letter) was not addressed to the iconoclastic Patriarch Anastasius but to the Church of Constantinople.
When Zachary ascended the throne the position of the city and Duchy of Rome was a very serious one. Luitprand, King of the Lombards, was preparing a new incursion into Roman territory. Duke Trasamund of Spoleto, with whom Pope Gregory III had formed an alliance against Luitprand, did not keep his promise to aid the Romans in regaining the cities taken by the Lombards.
Consequently Zachary abandoned the alliance with Trasamund and sought to protect the interests of Rome and Roman territory by personal influence over Luitprand. The pope went to Terni to see the Lombard king who received him with every mark of honour. Zachary was able to obtain from Luitprand that the four cities of Ameria, Horta, Polimartium, and Blera should be returned to the Romans, and that all the patrimonies of the Roman Church that the Lombards had taken from it within the last thirty years, should be given back; he was also able to conclude a truce for twenty years between the Roman Duchy and the Lombards. A chapel to the Saviour was built in the Church of St. Peter at Rome in the name of Luitprand, in which the deeds respecting this return of property were placed. After the pope’s return, the Roman people went in solemn procession to Saint Peter’s to thank God for the fortunate result of the pope’s efforts. Throughout the entire affair the pope appears as the secular ruler of Rome and the Roman territory.
In 743 Pope Zachary held a synod at Rome which was attended by sixty bishops. This synod issued fourteen canons on various matters of church discipline. On this occasion the pope took up the question of the impediments to marriage of relationship in the fourth degree, in regard to which the Germans claimed to have obtained a dispensation from Pope Gregory II.
Pope Zachary also worked closely with Saint Boniface regarding the German Territories.
Zachary was very zealous in the restoration of the churches of Rome to which he made costly gifts. He also restored the Lateran palace and established several large domains as the settled landed possessions (domus cultæ) of the Roman Church. The pope translated to the Church of Saint George in Velabro the head of the martyr Saint George which was found during the repairs of the decayed Lateran Palace. He was very benevolent to the poor, to whom alms were given regularly from the papal palace. When merchants from Venice bought slaves at Rome in order to sell them again to the Saracens in Africa, the pope bought all the slaves, so that Christians should not become the property of heathens. Thus in a troubled era Zachary proved himself to be an excellent, capable, vigorous, and charitable successor of Peter. He also carried on theological studies and made a translation of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great into Greek, which was largely circulated in the East. After his death Zachary was buried in Saint Peters. (1,2)
Image: Niederaltaich abbey church ( Lower Bavaria ). Fresco: Holy pope Zachary. (4)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff