The emperor's meaning was plain. If Severinus wanted to become pope, he must sign a statement of faith that he knew was false.
"I will not do it," said Severinus. "I will not agree to heresy."
Three days after Pope Honorius died, Severinus had been chosen to take his place. In those days, the emperor in Constantinople had to give his approval before a pope's election was official. Severinus sent messengers to the emperor at once.
But Emperor Heraclitis thought he knew what was best for the church. Because theologians disagreed over the nature of Christ, the emperor insisted that they accept a compromise called the Ecthesis. This was the brainchild of Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople. To Severinus, the Ecthesis was plain wrong. As he saw it, it robbed Christ of his full humanity. If Christ was not human like us (as well as God), said Severinus, then he could not save us. That's why he refused to sign.
The Emperor's agent in Rome wasn't about to take "no" for an answer. To put pressure on Severinus, he plundered the Lateran palace which belonged to the popes. Severinus stood firm.
Meanwhile, he was patient. His ambassadors in Constantinople reasononed with the emperor. Without agreeing to heresy, they sweet-talked him into approving Severinus' election. Finally the emperor sent his permission. A year and seven months had passed since Severinus was first elected. It was probably on May 28, 640, that he was finally consecrated pope.
Almost the first thing Severinus did was to condemn the Ecthesis.
Already an old man when elected, he accomplished little more than that. Within three months, he was dead. His courage and tact have been honored, for he showed strength of character that is rare in any age.