Vigilius pope, was bishop of Rome from 540 (536?) to 555, and is remarkable from his connection with the controversy of the Three Chapters. He was a native of Rome, and, in the capacity of deacon, accompanied Agapetus (q.v.) to Constantinople in 536, where he employed the opportunity afforded by his introduction to the imperial court for the realization of ambitious plans which neither his theological culture nor his character for intelligence and spirituality justified. The empress. Theodora marked him as a suitable instrument for the accomplishment of her ends, and, on the death of Agapetus, caused him to be informed that the succession might be secured to him for the price of his support to the Monophysite party. This he promised to give. On his return to Italy, however, he found the see of Rome already occupied by Silverius, the son of bishop Hormisdas, and he accordingly applied to Belisarius, the commander of the imperial armies, who was then at Ravenna, to bring about the fulfillment of the promise made by the empress; and with the influence of Antonina, the wife of Belisarius, and, it is charged, of added pecuniary inducements, his object was accomplished. Once in the chair, however, he was not very forward to perform his part of the agreement. He wrote, indeed, to the deposed Monophysite patriarchs of the East to declare his sympathy with their views, but he requested that the contents of his letter should not be made public, and thereby sought to deprive the cause of the empress of whatever aid his influence might afford.
The emperor Justinian entertained the hope of bringing about an agreement between the contending parties in the Church, and was induced to issue an edict in 551 condemning the so-called Three Chapters (q.v.), which, it was said, would remove all the Monophysite objections against the Chalcedonian decrees; but the edict encountered serious opposition everywhere. Even Mennas, the patriarch of Constantinople, was unwilling to subscribe to it; the African Church protested against its enforcement; and Vigilius dared not oppose himself to the fierceness of the storm raised throughout the West by the imperial condemnation of its own peculiar tenets. He was accordingly summoned to Constantinople, and reached the court in 547, bearing with him the spoken protests of every community he had touched while on the way; but the atmosphere of the court wrought a speedy change in his attitude, and he returned to his old plan of conciliating the court, but concealing his treachery from the world. He was, however, compelled to take an open stand, and therefore tried to shelter himself behind the authority of a synod whose convocation he advised; and when the Africans, led by Facundus (q.v.), were found to possess a majority of votes, he practically dissolved the synod by requiring the bishops to submit written opinions within a limited period. It thus became possible to influence them separately and to bring a majority of them into accord with the wishes of the emperor; and their opinion, accompanied with his own decision (Judicatum), was immediately transmitted to the court to prevent any retraction. The orthodox opposition immediately broke out afresh. Facundus of Hermiane was again its leader, but it included also persons belonging to the immediate train of Vigilius, such as the deacons Rusticus and Sebastian, whom he was thus induced to depose and excommunicate. In his alarm at the storm his measures had excited, he thought only of averting its shock from his own person. He managed to recover possession of his judicatum. He vowed the condemnation of the Three Chapters, and thereby induced the emperor to convoke a council, of which he hoped that it would relieve him of the burden of responsibility under which he staggered. When the council came together, however, it refused to accede to the desires of the emperor; and when the latter sought to compel its obedience, Vigilius renounced all ecclesiastical connection with the East and took refuge in flight. He subsequently published an encyclical describing his troubles, and followed this with the excommunication of Theodore Ascidas, the Monophysite bishop of Caesarea, who had been a prime instigator of the emperor's action; and the emperor saw himself constrained to convoke a general council. It met in 553, and was wholly subservient to the emperor. Vigilius refused to participate in its proceedings, and sent, instead, a judgment, the so-called Constitutum, protesting against the condemnation of the Three Chapters. The opposition thereupon published all the documents in which Vigilius had previously compromised himself in order to obtain favor with the emperor, and ordered the erasure of his name from the Diptychs. He was also, it is said, banished; and at any rate made to feel the anger of Justinian in a measure which induced him to purchase its cessation at the cost of a retraction, in which he approved of the decisions of the late council and the condemnation of the Three Chapters. He died, however, in 555, before he could resume his throne. See Anastasius, Lib. Pontifical., in Mansi, vol. 9; Liberatus, Breviarium; Victor of Tunnunum, Chronicon; Facundus of Hermiane, Pro Defensione Trium Capit., and Adv. Mocianum, all to be found in Gallandi Bibl. vol. 11 sq. See also Walch, Ketzergesch. vol. 8; Neander, Kirchengesch. vol. 3, etc.; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.