Gelasius I, Pope, St.
GELASIUS I, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: March 1, 492, to Nov. 19, 496. A strong-willed archdeacon of the Roman Church, Gelasius apparently came from an African lineage but there is a debate over whether he was born in Africa or in Rome. The Liber pontificalis states that he was "natione Afer" whereas in a letter to Emperor Anastasius (Ep. Xii, n.1) he described himself as "Romanus natus."
He was the dominant figure in Rome during the reign of Felix II and draftsman of that pope's letters. His own letters and treatises reveal him as the chief Roman theoretician in the quarrel with Constantinople, known as the acacian schism. Technically, the dispute concerned the flouting of the authority of the Roman Church through the intrusion of heretics in certain Eastern sees. In this light, he became an active defender of the historical importance of the sees of Antioch and Alexandria against the see of Constantinople. Actually, more was at stake. The popes were increasingly alarmed by the manifestations of caesaropapism in the late 5th century, exemplified by the heretical Henoticon of Emperor Zeno, who attempted to appease the Monophysites with a statement of faith devised by the Patriarch Acacius without consulting Rome. Though he was not attacked directly, Zeno became the real object of papal strictures.
Papal Supremacy. When faced by a new threat to orthodoxy, the popes of the time reacted instinctively by exalting the divine origin and apostolic basis of the papal office. If Leo I can be said to have laid the juridical foundations of papal authority for all time, Gelasius I applied those principles in letters that read very much like legal briefs. There was little that subsequent generations could add to his explicit statements about papal supremacy or the relations between church and state, except a spelling out of what was contained in his thought. The fame of Gelasius I rests on the great influence exercised by his letters and treatises on later generations; this influence they owed to the wide currency that they acquired through being excerpted and incorporated in a series of contemporary canonical collections, which began to be compiled about that time in the West, the products of the so-called Gelasian Renaissance, which he helped to inspire. One of the most famous of these early canonists, the Scythian Dionysius Exiguus, paid tribute to the learning and virtue of the pope in the preface to his early 6th-century collection of papal decretals. The inflexible attitude of Gelasius toward Constantinople was influenced by the pope's good relations with the Arian, Theodoric, who replaced Odoacer as king in Italy. Attempts were made by the Constantinopolitan patriarchs, Flavita and Euphemius, to restore communion with Rome, but the pope's demand that the name of Acacius be stricken from the diptychs caused the negotiations to break down.
The Two Powers. Zeno's successor as emperor, Anastasius II, inclined as he was to Monophysitism, was even less likely to countenance any concession on this point. However, he recognized the importance of cultivating good relations with Rome in the interests of protecting his vague suzerainty over Italy and took the occasion of an embassy from King Theodoric to Constantinople to remind the pope that he had received no greetings from him. In his respectful but firm reply Gelasius outlined his views on the two powers that govern the world, the consecrated authority of bishops (auctoritas sacrata pontificum ) and the royal power (regalis potestas ). Gelasius made clear that, in his opinion, it was the duty of the emperor to learn about "divine things" from bishops, not vice versa. His implicit claim that the papal power was superior to the civil marked a significant step toward the formation of the medieval hierocratic ideal.
Vicar of Christ. At a Roman synod held in 494, Gelasius decreed that the revenue from church property should be apportioned four ways, among the bishop, the clergy, and the poor and for the maintenance of buildings. (It should be noted, however, that in Ep. Xiv, n.27 he notes this practice as "dudum rationabiliter decretum," which would seem to indicate that it had been a common practice, at least in Rome, for some time). This rule was incorporated in the oath that all bishops under the metropolitan jurisdiction of Rome were required to make on the day of their consecration (Liber diurnus ); and other churches adopted somewhat similar arrangements. A Roman synod the following year, whose acts have survived, is remembered as the first-known occasion when the pope was hailed as Vicar of Christ. Gelasius I warned against a resurgence of Pelagianism in Dalmatia and Picenum, and was active in routing out the last vestiges of paganism in Rome. Most notable in this respect is his treatise against the Lupercalia (a penitential and fructifying festival in which young men with whips cavorted about the city and struck women) which the senator Andromachus had tried to reform. He was also zealous in rooting out the last vestiges of Manichaeanism at Rome. A cache of Manichaean books was discovered and burned before the doors of St. Mary Major's. To this end, he also mandated, at least for a time, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist under both species because the Manichaeans would have rejected wine, seeing it as impure and sinful.
Gelasian Sacramentary. More than 100 of his letters and treatises have been preserved. Although Gelasius apparently wrote Mass formulas later incorporated in the so-called Leonine, or Verona, Sacramentary, a 6th-century compilation, he can hardly have had anything to do with the 7th-century Roman presbyteral Sacramentary that commonly bears his name. Gelasius I was buried in St. Peter's, although the exact location of his tomb is unknown.
Feast: Nov. 21.
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