The Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, recognizing Christianity, ending persecutions, and tolerating all religions. Constantine considered it his duty to oversee the Church. He heard the complaints of bishops, summoned councils, settled Church disputes, and looked upon the pope sympathetically.
It took a wise man to work with such a powerful ruler. Pope Sylvester I held office during this crucial period. He had to keep the Church independent of the state and at the same time, keep peace with Emperor Constantine. Pope Sylvester faced the added challenge of advanced age, which prevented him from travel. To deal with the error of the Donatists, he had to send delegates to a council at Arles. Then, when Emperor Constantine called the first ecumenical council—the Council of Nicaea—in 325, the pope asked others to attend the council in his place. This council of bishops was to discuss the Arian heresy and correct the Arians for falsely teaching that Christ was not God. It was at this council that the Nicene Creed was formed.
It is said that the Lateran Palace was given to Pope Sylvester I by Constantine. The pope oversaw the building of the original St. Peter’s.
The people of Rome had a high regard for Pope Sylvester. He was a saintly pope who understood the conflicts his bishops suffered in being loyal to Rome and to Constantine. He humbly accepted the limitations of age and illness, and he persevered in his pastoral care of the Church.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Head Reliquary of Pope Sylvester I by unknown artist, 1367. Public Domain via Wikimedia.