Pope Silvester II

At the end of the tenth century, writes E.R. Chamberlin, a gifted French Pope aided the bold designs of an ambitious German Emperor.

On April 2nd, 999 — the last year of the millennium at whose close Christ would come again in judgement — the first French Pope ascended the Chair of St. Peter. His baptismal name was Gerbert and he took as his pontifical style the legendary name of Silvester, adding to it a further dimension of legend, for men later swore that only a black magician could have achieved his heights of learning.

Gerbert appeared in the illiterate darkness of the tenth century ‘like a blazing torch which sheds its light over all’ as his admiring biographer put it. His life was a textbook example of the fact that a brilliant career was open to the humblest in the service of the Church—but only in that service. In another era he would have been, perhaps, a scientist or a philosopher or even an engineer. As it was, he was obliged to combine his career as speculative scholar with that of a political churchman, and the fact that neither worked to the detriment of the other is an index to the strength of his personality.

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