General Biography/Silvester II

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SILVESTER II., Pope, previously named GERBERT, was born of an obscure family in Auvergne, in the tenth century. At an early age he entered himself as a monk in the monastery of St. Gerard at Aurillac. After laying a foundation of all the sciences cultivated in that ignorant age, he travelled for improvement, and visited Spain in order to hear the Arabian doctors in its universities. At length he rendered himself so distinguished by his acquirements, that he was appointed by Hugh Capet preceptor to his son Robert. At Rome he became known to the Emperor Otho I., who placed him at the head of the abbey of Bobbio about the year 970. After a residence of some years in that situation, he returned to France, but from time to time visited Italy. In one of these visits he met with Otho II. at Pavia, who took him to Ravenna, where he held a solemn disputation on a mathematical question with a Saxon eminent for his learning. He was afterwards made preceptor to Otho III., who succeeded to the imperial crown while a minor. In 991 Hugh Capet promoted him to the Archbishopric of Rheims, from which Arnulf, the natural son of Lothaire King of France, had been deposed ; but this elevation was a source of disquiet to him, and after much contention, he was obliged to resign the see to Arnulf in 997. His pupil Otho HI. then conferred upon him the archbishopric of Ravenna ; and on the death of Pope Gregory V. in 999 procured his election to the papal dignity, when he took the name of Silvester.

The acts of his short pontificate were not important. In 1000 he is said to have conferred on Stephen I. King of Hungary the royal title, with the famous crown, the palladium ofthat kingdom, and to have constituted him perpetual legate of the holy see, with power to dispose of all ecclesiastical benefices. A complaint being laid before him in 1001 by the Bishop of Hiklesheim against his metropolitan, the Archbishop of Mentz, for usurping upon his jurisdiction, he sent a cardinal into Germany to take cognizance of the cause, with directions to assemble a council of bishops for their advice. This was done, and the Archbishop underwent a censure, and was suspended from his functions till he should give satisfaction.

An extraordinary instance of ecclesiastical vigour in this popedom is mentioned by Ademar, which, if true, proves both the great power of the church at that period, and the disposition to abuse it. Guy, Count of Limoges, having imprisoned Grimoald Bishop of that city for taking possession of a disputed monastery, and afterwards released him, Grimoald repaired to Rome, and complained to the Pope, who cited Guy to his presence. The cause being heard, the Count was condemned by the Pope and Senate to be bound to the tail of a wild horse, and dragged till he was torn to pieces; which sentence he escaped by compromising the affair with the Bishop, his accuser, and taking flight along with him.

Silvester died in 1003. He was undoubtedly one of the most meritorious characters in that age, as a promoter of learning, and a proficient in various branches of science. He spent much time and large sums in the collection of books from various parts of Europe; composed a number of works, particularly in arithmetic and geometry; and with his own hands made a set of globes, a clock, and an astrolabe.

Living in the very depth of the dark ages, it is no wonder that, like other illustrious illuminators of that darkness, he fell under the suspicion of magical practices, and several ridiculous stories are related to this purpose. It appears, however, from hie rise, that there were persons who could estimate him properly; and one of the Emperor Otho's letters to him has the superscription " To Gerbert, a most learned philosopher, and eminent in the three branches of philosophy." He wrote a great number of letters on various topics, of which 1 60 were printed at Paris in 1611; but the most complete collection of them has been given by Du Chesne. One of these, written in the first year of his pontificate, is a call to the church universal for delivering the Christians in Palestine; or a project for a crusade.