After hundreds of years of Italian popes, John of Antioch, son of Cyriacus, was elected in july 685. John was the first of a line of ten men of Eastern origin who rose to the papacy in the seventh century. This appeared to show a reconciliation between the East and the West after the Monothelite heresy almost destroyed the Empire.
John was born around 635, making him about 45 when he was nominated a cardinal-deacon by Pope Agatho in 680. Due to his learning and the fact that he spoke Greek, Agatho nominated John to be a papal legate to the Third Council of Constantinople that same year. He returned to Rome in 682, but the final documents did not follow for a while.
Following the death of Pope Benedict II, the election of the new pope was left in the hands of the general population of Rome. Due to previous rulings by the newly dead Emperor, Constantine IV, there was no requirement of prior consent given by an emperor for the pope to be consecrated. Therefore, John, well liked for his energy, education and moderation, was almost immediately brought to St. John Lateran for his investiture.
The new emperor, Justinian II, a young lad of sixteen, was an ambitious and passionate man who did not have the finesse of his father, but tended to ramrod his desires through. Early in his reign, however, he followed the path of his father in improving the East’s relationship with the West. He reduced taxes on the papal patrimonies of Sicily and Calabria. He also abolished, or severely reduced, taxes, including the surtax on grains, which had become very difficult to pay in recent years.
John quickly became sick and spent a large amount of his reign in bed. However, during this time, John was very gracious towards the diaconaries of Rome. He gave 1900 solidi, a large gold coin, to the clergy to support the churches and the poor.
His one disciplinary act was regarding the See of Turris, on the island of Sardinia. The Archbishop of Cagliari, on Sardinia, had certain metropolitan benefits. However, consecrating bishops was not one of them. He attempted to arrange the consecration of the bishop-elect of Turris Libisonis. John heard of this and wrote to the archbishop, declaring that the See of Turris was subject directly to the Holy See, eliminating the independence the archbishop thought was his.
The official documents of the Council were finally ready for disseminating to the world. Justinian wrote, assuring John that a “synod of high ranking civil and ecclesiastical officials” had read and sealed the text of the Council, assuring that no alterations could be made. The documents did not get to John. He had died and Pope Conon, his successor.
Pope John died just a year after his consecration, on August 2, 686. He was buried in the papal tombs of Old St. Peter’s Basilica. This large church was actually outside the wall of the city, which was the source of difficulties, later. In 846, the Saracens attacked the city. Although they damaged the old basilica and the church of St. Paul Outside the Walls, they never breached the walls and Rome was saved. However, they did such damage to the basilica that John’s resting place was destroyed.
Rest in peace, Pope John.