Innocent I, Pope, St.
INNOCENT I, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: Dec. 22, 401 to March 12, 417. Innocent was most probably a Roman deacon, who succeeded an astasius i in December 401. In 410 he undertook a journey to Ravenna to arrange a truce between the Emperor honorius and Alaric the Goth, and was therefore absent from Rome when the city was taken and pillaged by the Gothic king (August 24). He returned to Rome in 412, subsequently died there, and was buried like Anastasius in the cemetery called Ad Ursum Pileatum.
Correspondence. Of the correspondence of Innocent, 36 letters are preserved in the ancient canonical collections. Disregarding chronology, the letters can be classified according to the three areas in which Innocent tried to exercise his authority.
To Western Bishops. In writing to Victricius of Rouen (Epist. 2), exuperius of toulouse (Epist. 6), and the bishops of the Council of Toledo in 400 (Epist. 3), Innocent settled their questions regarding discipline and the liturgy. In his letter to Decentius of Gubbio (Epist. 25, March 19, 411) he deals with the Canon of the Roman Mass and speaks of Confirmation as reserved to bishops only, of Penance, and of Extreme Unction. On several occasions, Innocent reiterated the prohibition against marriage for bishops, priests, and deacons and the obligation of continence for those already married before entering the clergy; and he sanctioned the vow of chastity for consecrated virgins (Epist. 2). The letter to Exuperius contains also a list of the canon of the Bible and excludes several apocryphal books.
Innocent frequently asserted the authority of the Apostolic See, stating (rather ahistorically) that as all the Western churches owed their origin to Peter and to his successors in the See at Rome, it is according to Roman usage that liturgical worship should be observed everywhere (Epist. 25.1.2). Citing the erroneous canons of Nicaea and Sardica, he ruled that ecclesiastical affairs should be adjudicated by the provincial bishops, "without prejudice, however, to the Roman church, respect for which should, in all cases, be maintained," and to which major problems should be submitted (Epist. 2.5, 6).
To Eastern Bishops. Innocent formalized the policy of popes Siricius and Anastasius I entrusting to Anysius of Thessalonica surveillance over the churches in Eastern Illyricum and, probably following the civil practice of instituting imperial vicars, made Rufus, the successor to Anysius, his vicar for the ten provinces in the civil dioceses of Macedonia and Dacia. Innocent's primary intention was to curtail the claims of the patriarchate of Constantinople which, with the encouragement of the Eastern emperor, was attempting to extend its jurisdiction in that direction.
He likewise intervened in the difficulties that followed the deposition of St. john chrysostom at the Synod of the oak in 403. After he had been informed of the matter by theophilus of alexandria and by John himself, he refused to exclude John from communion with Rome since the matter had not been decided by a legitimately constituted council in conformity with the canons of Nicaea (Epist. 5). He wrote several letters of encouragement to John, refused to recognize Arsacius as John's successor and finally, after John's death in exile, broke communion with Theophilus of Alexandria and the Eastern bishops who had removed John's name from the Diptychs. Communion with Antioch was restored in 414 when its bishop, Alexander, received from the pope an assurance concerning the ancient rights of his see; and an end was put to the meletian schism. Only after the death of Innocent was full communion with the East restored (Epist. 19, 20).
To African Bishops. Innocent intervened in the dispute over Pelagianism (see pelagius and pelagianism). Pelagius had been condemned originally by a Council of Carthage in 411, but had received a pardon at a synod at Diospolis in Palestine in 415. Following this action, councils in Carthage and Milevis reaffirmed the excommunication of 411 and forwarded their decisions to Rome in 416 (Epist. 26, 27). Five bishops, including Aurelius of Carthage and St. augustine, sent a Pelagian dossier to the pope (Epist. 28), demanding the intervention of the Apostolic See and requesting the pope to summon Pelagius to Rome and anathematize his errors. They asked Innocent if "their small stream of doctrine flowed from the same source" as his own (Epist. 28.17).
Innocent replied to these letters on Jan. 27, 417 (Epist. 29, 30, 31) and boldly thanked the Africans for referring the matter to him, which they had not done. He denounced perverse doctrines concerning grace but did not condemn anyone or disavow the Council of Diospolis, fearing to create conflict between the African and Palestinian bishops. On receipt of these letters Augustine pronounced the famous words: "On this matter two councils have been sent to the Apostolic See and rescripts have been received in reply. The case is closed (causa finita est )—would that the error were likewise ended" (Sept. 23, 417; Serm. 131.10). Yet Innocent had little impact on the government's treatment of Donatism in Africa, which was probably for the best since no transmarine emperor or bishop ever understood Donatism.
Roman Primacy. In these matters Innocent consciously conducted himself with the authority of a successor of St. Peter. The African bishops acknowledged this fact in principle, declaring that they understood "what was due to the Apostolic See; since at Rome, it was desirable to follow the Apostle from whom the episcopate stemmed and obey the authority which was attached to his name." They agreed that while questions could be solved in distant provinces, it was not necessary to reach a decision before referring matters to the Holy See; and that a just decision should be confirmed by its authority in order that other churches might learn from it how to conduct themselves (Epist. 29.1). Innocent concurred, advising them that "Each time a problem has to do with a question of doctrine I consider that the bishops, our brothers, should refer it to Peter, the founder of the episcopate, to provide for the common good of all the churches throughout the whole world" (Epist. 30.2).
The authority of the bishop of Rome is that of the Apostle Peter himself, who was, in Christ, the first (exordium ) of the Apostles and in the episcopate. The pope is to be referred to "as the head and the summit of the episcopate." Innocent thus attempts one of the first treatises on the Roman primacy. In this role, he played a decisive part in the Apostolic See's understanding of itself.
Feast: July 28.
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