Medieval Rome was scarcely a health resort, but even so the extreme
shortness of so many seventh-century pontificates does seem to indicate
that venerable old age was one of the things the electors looked for in a
pope. John V was another example of this; he ruled the Church for just over
John V was a Syrian from the neighborhood of Antioch. By 680 he must have
been well established in the Roman clergy, for Pope St. Agatho sent him as
legate to the Sixth Ecumenical Council. From Constantinople he brought back
the account of the proceedings of the council and also some imperial
decrees. John was elected in a return to the ancient manner by the
generality, that is, by the clergy and laity of Rome in the Lateran
basilica. He was consecrated at once in July 685. It is not clear just what
the author of John's biography in the Liber Pontificalis means by the
return to the ancient manner. Popes before and after John V were elected
by the generality in the Lateran basilica. Duchesne supposes that the
expression refers to the new imperial regulations of Constantine the
Bearded. These regulations, whether they merely permitted the exarch of
Ravenna to confirm the election or allowed complete freedom certainly
marked a change. They did away with excessive intervals between election
and consecration which had been due to the necessity of sending all the way
to Constantinople for imperial confirmation.
This Syrian Pope was a man of energy and learning, but his health was not
equal to the strain. Not long after his election he fell ill, and though he
lingered on for a time, he could not get much accomplished. He had the
misfortune to lose the best friend the papacy had had on the imperial
throne for some time. Constantine IV, the Bearded, died in 685. While still
legate, John had secured from this friendly emperor a decree lowering the
taxes the popes paid on their estates of the patrimony of Peter.
Constantine had left the empire more united religiously and stronger
politically than he had received it from his father Constans II. Under his
clever and vigorous leadership, Constantinople had returned to Catholic
unity and orthodoxy. The Sixth Ecumenical Council had condemned the
Monothelites. The fierce onslaught of the Saracens had been checked
before the walls of Constantinople, and if Egypt and Syria were gone, the
remaining provinces were protected by a better organization.
John V settled a jurisdictional squabble over Sardinia. Citonatus,
archbishop of Cagliari, had presumed to consecrate Novellus bishop of
Torres without so much as a by-your-leave of the Pope. John V held a
council at Rome and decided to place Torres under his direct supervision.
John V died in the summer of 686 and was buried in St. Peter's on August 2.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.