Feast Day: May 18.
Pope John I governed the Church for only three and a half years (523-526). Born in Tuscany, Italy, he joined the Roman clergy and was a deacon at the time of his election to succeed Pope Saint Hormisdas. Pope John convoked several Church councils, among them the famous Council of Orange, which settled the arguments about grace. In 525, already elderly, he was sent by the Arian King Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogoth ruler of Italy, to Constantinople to plead the cause of the Arians in the East, who were being persecuted. It was an impossible mission for the pope.
King Theodoric may have been a proponent of Arianism, but his reasons of dispatching the pope on the journey to Constantinople were more political than doctrinal. While there, Pope John instead crowned Justin, an advocate of the Arian heresy, as emperor (526), thus provoking the wrath of King Theodoric, who accused the pope of high treason.
Consequently, when Pope John returned to Italy, he was seized by the Goths and the enraged king imprisoned him at Ravenna, Italy. Shortly thereafter the pope died, most likely from starvation. The inscription on his tomb reads: “Victim for Christ because of a forced journey.”
Two pastoral accomplishments by Pope Saint John I deserve special mention: the definitive fixing of the date for Easter, based on the research done by Dionysius the Little, and his promotion of the Roman chant, which led to the development of Gregorian chant. He also regulated the instructions prior to baptism.
Opening Prayer for Mass:
“God, our Father, rewarder of all who believe, hear our prayers as we celebrate the martyrdom of Pope John. Help us to follow him in loyalty to the faith.”
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.
Featured image: St. Benedict Receiving the King of the Ostrogoths, Wikimedia Commons