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Pope Sylvester II

Updated on November 22, 2011

Sylvester II Pope

Sylvester II was Pope from 999 to 1003, was renowned as Gerbert, for his scholarly achievements, his advance in educational methods, his shrewd political judgement,and his exceptional ability that lifted him from his peasant origin to two archbishoprics. (Reims and Ravenna) and then supreme headship of the Church.

Gerbert was born of humble perantage around 945 near Aurillac in the ancient French province of Auvergne. He was trainedat Saint-Gerald in grammer, arithmetic and music
under the tutelage of Raymond Lavaur, who later became Abbot of Aurillac, this is where Gerbert probably became a monk.

Gerbert was then taken to Spain in 967 by Count Borrell of Barcelona where he stayed for three years. Within the monastry of Santa Maria de Ripoll he studied the quadrivium (at the time this was the highest division of the liberal arts, which included music, arithmatic, geometry and astronomy.).

In 970 Gerbert accompanied Borrell to Rome, where his mathematical knowledge delighted Pope John xIII, who presented him to the Holy Roman emperor Otto I.

Gerbert was then entrusted with his first royal pupil Otto II. Gerbert was given training in Logic by Logician Archdeacon Gerann of Reims, Logic and dialectic so captivated Gerbert that after being invited by Adalbero (who would later ordain him) to teach at the cathedral school, he became famous for re-organizing logical and dialectical studies where he eliminated simplier logic works and added monographs on logic by Boethius, a 6th centuary Roman Philosopher.

With his fame grew jealousy from the master (Otric) of the Cathedral school at Magdeburg in Saxony (Germany) who denounced Gerbert to Emperor Otto II.

In December 980 Otto provoked a debate in Ravenna between Gerbert and Otric on the subject of classified knowledge, the argument was only stopped when the emperer halted it.
Otto gave Gerbert the headship of the then wealthy monastry at St.Columban of Bobbio (Italy) and Benedict VII consecrated him abbot of the monastery.

Gerbert was inexperienced in administration and unfamiliar with the land law in the region of Lombardy. This lack in knowledge resulted in hostility from monks,clerics and nobles who possessed much of Bobbio's extensive property through long term civil law land leases and refused to make contractual payments or supply
troops demanded by Otto. Even some abbey agriculture products where stolen.

Within Otto's palace in Pavia nobles plotted against Gerbert and even against Otto.In December 983 Otto passed away and rebellion followed forcing Gerbert to flee from Bobbio and head for Reims.Gerbert travelled and wrote letters to arouse Germans, Belgians and Lorrainers against Duke Henry of Bavaria who at the time was plotting to become King by seizing the three year old Otto III. Gerbert resumed teaching at Reims but he longed to be summoned to the imperial court.

After the deaths of the last Carolingian kings (Lothair 986 and Louis V 987). Adalbero and Gerbert influenced the nobles to elect Duke Hugh Capet king against the claims from the remaining Carolingian, Duke Charles of Lorraine. As Hughs secretary and advisor Gerbert became involved in Hughs resistance to Charles attempt to dethrone him. Adalberto passed away in 989 prior to his death he indicated Gerbert as his successor, but Hugh unwisely chose Arnulf, an illegitimate son of King Lothair.

In september Arnulf betrayed Reims to his uncle Charles who then forced Gerbert to stay in the city. It took Gerbert eight months to escape to Hughs court after he was faslely accused of having been the leader in enormous crimes of collaboration with Duke Charles.

In June 990 the bishops and Hugh appealled to Pope John XV to condemn and depose Arnulf and approve their consecration of a new archbishop.Hugh captured Charles and Arnulf in March 991 and a council in Saint Basle de Verzy near Reims degraded Arnulf. Gerbert was elected archbishop and soon became embroiled in controversies with the papacy.

Gerbert administrated his ecclesiastical duties capably but the clergy's confidence in the legality of his election decreased.When a newly appointed bishop refused to be consecrated by Gerbert and travelled to distant Rome to be consecrated by the Pope, Gerbert rushed to Rome to defend his legitimacy of his election. In the mean time how ever Pope John had died and Gerbert was heard by his successor Gregory V who rejected Gerberts plea's.

On returning north through Pavia, Gerbert met Otto III now crowned emperor (aged 16). In January 997 a council declared that all bishops involved in Arnulf's deposition were removed from office. By April Gerbert no longer tolerated the clergy's acceptance of these decrees and left Reims and went to Otto's court in Aachen (Germany) never returning to France.

Gerbert became a teacher again and a musician in Otto's chapel, he travelled with Otto to Magdeburg where he displayed his inventiveness by constructing a timepiece (called a horologium).

In October he followed Otto to Italy where Otto had Gerbert appointed archbishop of Ravenna, a important city for Otto's control over Italy. Gerbert set about a new argriculture policy in Italy by having Bobbio's frustrating long term leases quashed and restricting future leases to the lifetime of the grantor abbot or bishop, this was perhaps the most important legalisation enacted for Italy during the reign of Otto III.

Within a year after Gerbert took over the see of Ravenna Gregory V died and Otto was able to choose Gerbert as Gregory's successor, he was consecrated, the first Frenchman to be elevated to the throne of Peteron April 9, 999 and took the name SYLVESTER II declaring his cooperation with Otto's ideal of a renewed Christian Roman Empire.

Sylvester Died in 1003


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