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E00400: The Liber Pontificalis, written in Latin in Rome in the 530s, and re-edited before 546, in its account of *Silvester (bishop of Rome, ob. 335, S00397), tells how he was first persecuted by Constantine, then converted and baptised the emperor (who was thereby cured of leprosy); how he established a titulus in Rome and issued many decrees regarding church discipline and practice; of the many churches built and endowed by Constantine in and around Rome; and of Silvester's burial in the cemetery of Priscilla on the via Salaria outside Rome, on 31 December [AD 335]. The second edition states that he died 'truly a catholic and confessor'.

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posted on 22.04.2015, 00:00 by robert
Liber Pontificalis 34.1 and 34

First edition (as reconstructed by Duchesne)

Silvester, natione Romanus, ex patre Rufino. Sedit ann. XXIII m. X d. XI. Fuit autem temporibus Constantini et Volusiani, ex die kal. febr. usque in diem kal. ian., Constantio et Volusiano consolibus. Hic exilio fuit in monte Seracten, persecutione Constantini concussus, et postmodum rediens cum gloria baptizavit Constantinum Aug., quem curavit Dominus per baptismo a lepra.

'Silvester, born in Rome, son of Rufinus held the see 23 years 10 months 10 days. He was bishop in the time of Constantine and Volusianus from 1 February to 1 January in the consulship of Constantius and Volusianus. He was in exile on Mount Seraptim [= Monte Soratte], troubled by Constantine's persecution; afterwards he returned in glory and baptised the emperor Constantine, whom the Lord cured from leprosy by baptism, and from whose persecution he is known to have previously fled into exile.'

The story of Silvester's pontificate continues with a brief account of the Council of Nicaea and of a church council in Rome, followed by a long list of decrees issued by Silvester regarding church discipline and practice. There follows an list of the churches built and endowed by the emperor Constantine [see below, second edition, for the details], closing with a note of Silvester's death and burial:

Sepultus est via Salaria, in cimiterio Priscillae, ab urbe Roma miliario III, prid. k. ian.

'He was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla on the via Salaria at the 3rd mile from Rome on 31 December.'


Second edition

1. Silvester, natione Romanus, ex patre Rufino. Sedit ann. XXIII m. X d. XI. Fuit autem temporibus Constantini et Volusiani, ex die kal. febr. usque in die kal. ian., Constantio et Volusiano consulibus. Hic exilio fuit in monte Seracten et postmodum rediens cum gloria baptizavit Constantinum Augustum, quem curavit Dominus a lepra, cuius persecutionem primo fugiens exilio fuisse congnoscitur.

'Silvester, born in Rome, son of Rufinus held the see 23 years 10 months 11 days. He was bishop in the time of Constantine and Volusianus from 1 February to 1 January in the consulship of Constantius and Volusianus. He was in exile on Mount Seraptim; afterwards he returned in glory and baptised the emperor Constantine, whom the Lord cured from leprosy, and from whose persecution he is known to have previously fled into exile.'

There follows an account of how Silvester established a titulus church in Rome, on property of a certain presbyter Equitius (it is therefore still known as the titulus Equitii). Its church furnishings and vessels are listed. The story of Silvester's pontificate continues with a brief account of the Council of Nicaea and of a church council in Rome; here, in the second edition, the Council of Nicaea is said to have been held 'on his order' (cum eius praeceptum). A long list of Silvester's decrees on church discipline and practice follows.

Then comes a long excursus opening with the words:

Huius temporibus fecit Constantinus aug. basilicas istas quas ornavit:

'In his time the emperor Constantine built these churches and adorned them:'

The churches are then listed, and their precious vessels and light-fittings, as well as their landed endowments, enumerated in considerable detail, as follows:

1. The Basilica Constantiniana [the Lateran basilica, today San Giovanni in Laterano] - not entered into our database, because at this date not dedicated to a saint.

2. The Lateran baptistery 'ubi baptizatus est Augustus Constantinus' ('where the emperor Constantine was baptised') - not entered, because not dedicated to a saint. But for a statue of John the Baptist in the baptistery, see $E00409.

3. The basilica of St Peter [San Pietro in Vaticano]- see $E00401.

4. The basilica of St Paul [San Paolo fuori le mura]- see $E00402.

5. The basilica in the Sessorian Palace [today Santa Croce in Gerusalemme], with a relic of the True Cross - not entered in our database, because not dedicated to a saint.

6. The basilica of St Agnes [Sant'Agnese fuori le mura] - see $E00403.

7. The basilica of St Laurence [San Lorenzo fuori le mura] - see $E00404.

8. The basilica of Sts Marcellinus and Petrus [on the via Labicana] - see $E00405.

9. A basilica at Ostia dedicated to Sts Peter, Paul and John the Baptist - see $E00406.

10. A basilica at Albanum [Albano] dedicated to John the Baptist - see $E00407.

11. A basilica 'of the Apostles' at Capua - see $E00408.

12. A basilica in Naples - its dedication is not mentioned, so not entered in our database.

13. Gifts of the emperor Constantine to the titulus that Silvester founded close to the baths of Trajan; here it is termed the 'titulus Silvestri'.


The account of the pontificate closes (as with other popes) with a list of ordinations performed by Silvester, and a record of his death and burial:

Hic sepultus est in cymiterio Priscillae, via Salaria, ab urbe Roma miliario III, prid. kal. ianuar. Qui vero catholicus et confessor quievit.

'He was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla on the via Salaria at the 3rd mile from Rome on 31 December. Truly it was as a catholic and a confessor that he went to his rest.'


Text: Duchesne 1886, 81 and 187. Translation: Davis 2010, 14 and 26. Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.

History

Evidence ID

E00400

Saint Name

Silvester, bishop of Rome, d. 336 : S00397

Saint Name in Source

Silvester

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

530

Evidence not after

546

Activity not before

336

Activity not after

336

Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Rome

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Liber Pontificalis

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - cemetery/catacomb

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Source

The Liber Pontificalis consists of a series of short lives of popes. The preface attributes it to pope Damasus (366-384), but this attribution is obviously false. According to Louis Duchesne, the first modern editor of the Liber Pontificalis, the original series of lives was written in Rome by an anonymous author, probably a member of the lesser clergy, in the 530s, and contained the lives from *Peter the Apostle to Felix IV (ob. 530). Shortly after, before 546, the text was re-edited by another anonymous author and only this edition survives. The first edition, however, can be reconstituted on the basis of its two epitomes (and the second edition). The second edition started to be continued systematically from the time of pope Honorius (625–638). It should be noted that Theodor Mommsen dated both editions of the Liber Pontificalis to the 7th century, but his opinion is widely rejected and the commonly accepted dating is that of Duchesne. For the pre-Constantinian period (before 312), the credibility of the Liber Pontificalis is very low. The chronology is confused, and details concerning the personal lives, decisions, and ordinations of the bishops of Rome at best reflect what people in the 6th century trusted to be true, at worst are a pure invention of the author. The situation changes with the later lives. Already the information of 4th century papal foundations and offerings are generally trustworthy. The early 6th century evidence, based on the author's first hand knowledge is even better, though still imperfect.

Discussion

The story of Silvester's exile to Monte Soratte, to escape persecution by Constantine, and of his triumphant return to Rome, where he baptises the emperor and cures him of leprosy, derives from the Acts of Silvester (E00397), a text whose considerable success was in inverse proportion to its grounding in historical reality. Silvester's foundation of the titulus Equitii, or titulus Silvestri, appears only in the second edition of the Liber; the association of this titulus with Silvester was firmly established before the writing of the Liber Pontificalis, when Symmachus (pope 498-514) built on the site a church of Sts Silvester and Martin, now San Martino ai Monti (see E01350). Through his association with the conversion of Constantine, as magnified in myth, Silvester was to prove the most successful of all the sainted popes of our period at attracting cult, even more so than those who suffered martyrdom. As mentioned above, by the early sixth century he had a church co-dedicated to him in the city, and by the end of the seventh century an oratory in the papal Lateran palace (E01701). His grave in the cemetery of Priscilla led to this being renamed the cemetery 'of saint Silvester' (E06912, no. 1), and by the second half of the seventh century his renown had led to the porta Salaria, which opened towards his grave, being known as the 'porta sancti Silvestri' (E07887). In common with other papal saints, there is no evidence of Silvester attracting significant cult outside Rome; but he was viewed widely as a figure of great repute: for instance, in late sixth century Gaul, both Gregory of Tours and Venantius Fortunatus emphasised the power of two Gallic saints by comparing their miracles with those effected by Silvester (E02028 and E06716). The Liber Pontificalis' entry for Silvester is, however, dominated, not by Silvester himself, but by the list of donations and endowments of churches attributed to the emperor Constantine: in Duchesne's volume these fill almost 16 of the 18 pages dedicated to Silvester (in the second edition account of his pontificate). Duchesne argued authoritatively (1886, cxlv-cliv) that these long lists of gifts of furnishings and endowments were based on archival material available to our author in the first half of the sixth century. This argument is widely accepted, though some have questioned whether all these gifts, indeed whether all these church foundations, were really the work of Constantine alone, or whether what we have here is an account of imperial patronage extending perhaps from Constantine's capture of Rome in 312 to the death of Constantius II in 361, or even beyond - see the discussion by Paolo Liverani (2015), with full reference to previous bibliography.

Bibliography

Edition: Duchesne, L., Le Liber pontificalis. 2 vols (Paris: E. Thorin, 1886-1892). (With substantial introduction and commentary). Translation: Davis, R., The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis) (Translated Texts for Historians 6; 3rd ed.; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010). Further reading: Liverani, P.,"Old St. Peter's and the emperor Constans? A debate with G.W. Bowersock", Journal of Roman Archaeology 28 (2015), 485-504.

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