Image: Head reliquary of Pope Sylvester I. | photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen
Saint of the Day for December 31
Saint Sylvester I’s Story
When you think of this pope, you think of the Edict of Milan, the emergence of the Church from the catacombs, the building of the great basilicas—Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter’s, and others—the Council of Nicaea, and other critical events. But for the most part, these events were planned or brought about by Emperor Constantine.
A great store of legends has grown up around the man who was pope at this most important time, but very little can be established historically. We know for sure that his papacy lasted from 314 until his death in 335. Reading between the lines of history, we are assured that only a very strong and wise man could have preserved the essential independence of the Church in the face of the overpowering figure of the Emperor Constantine. In general, the bishops remained loyal to the Holy See, and at times expressed apologies to Sylvester for undertaking important ecclesiastical projects at the urging of Constantine.
It takes deep humility and courage in the face of criticism for a leader to stand aside and let events take their course, when asserting one’s authority would only lead to useless tension and strife. Sylvester teaches a valuable lesson for Church leaders, politicians, parents, and others in authority.