Julius I, St., Pope
JULIUS I, ST., POPE
Pontificate: Feb. 6, 337 to April 12, 352. Papal history enters a new phase with Julius. From his pontificate onward, scholars have far more information to work with, including papal documents; they also have accurate dates. A vacancy of four months occurred between the death of Mark and Julius' election as Bishop of Rome, described by the Liber pontificalis as "a Roman by birth, whose father was Rusticus." The date of the new Pope's consecration is known from the Liberian catalogue, the date of his burial from the Depositio Episcoporum.
His election coincided roughly with the death of Constantine the Great (May 22), and marked, in the Arian struggle, the beginning of a new phase characterized on the part of the Roman See by a more vigorous participation which apparently had not been possible while the Emperor lived. The death of Constantine meant the end, for the time being, of any uniform imperial policy toward the Church. Of his three sons who shared the Empire, two, Constantine II and Constans, followed the Council of nicea while Constantius, who obtained the East, favored the Arian party. Constantine II permitted the return of Athanasius from exile, an act that prompted eusebius of nicomedia, now bishop of Constantinople, and the Arian-sympathizing Eastern bishops to try to have Athanasius ousted again. They sent a delegation to Julius with the acts of the council at Tyre (335) in an attempt to obtain his approval for what had been done there and to win recognition for Pistus, the Arian intruder in Alexandria. When Julius informed him about the opposition of the Eusebian party, Athanasius vindicated himself of the charges made against him in a great council in Alexandria and notified Julius and the other bishops in a synodal letter (338).
Before the envoys from Athanasius arrived, the leader of the Eusebian delegation, Macarius, departed from Rome, leaving his assistants, Hesychius and Martyrius, behind. When confronted by the refutation of Athanasius, they suggested that the pope summon a general council to settle the matter. Julius accepted the idea and wrote to both sides in this sense. Meanwhile Athanasius had to flee Alexandria when the Eusebians forcibly installed a new Arian intruder, Gregory of Cappadocia, in place of Pistus (339). Athanasius protested his expulsion in an encyclical that prompted Julius to send legates to the Eusebians summoning them to a council in Rome (340). After delaying the papal representatives in Antioch for a long time, the Eusebians refused the summons, and the legates returned to Rome with their negative reply (341).
The letter of the Eusebians is interesting for the light it throws on Eastern attitudes toward the primacy. While confessing that "the Roman church was entitled to the honor of all, because it was the school of the Apostles and was from the beginning the metropolis of religion," they found fault with Julius for transgressing the canons by disregarding their council at Tyre and communicating with Athanasius. This would be a common Eastern attitude for centuries, honoring Rome's antiquity and apostolicity, but not feeling obliged to agree with or follow the papacy on all matters. The Roman council, attended by Athanasius, Marcellus of Ancyra, and other bishops driven from their sees by the Eusebians, was held without the Eusebians (June 10, 341). The case of Athanasius was
again examined, and he and the other bishops were ordered restored to their sees.
The reply of Julius to the Eusebians (341) is called "a masterpiece of episcopal diplomacy" because of its admirable combination of firmness and conciliation. The pope refuted their charges and found their reasons for not attending the Roman council unconvincing. It was not he, but they, who had violated the canons by deposing Athanasius without reference to Rome. It is interesting that Julius bases his intervention not on the Petrine privilege to which later popes would appeal, but on ecclesiastical custom (canons), and that he discreetly refers to the collegial character of episcopal authority: "You should have written to us all, so that justice might be determined by all. For the sufferers were bishops and prominent churches, which the Apostles themselves had governed. And why were we not written to about the church of the Alexandrians? Are you ignorant that the custom was first to write to us, and then for justice to be determined from here?" The last sentence probably refers to the special tie binding the Church of Alexandria to Rome, but the Roman decision remained without effect.
In a council at Antioch held later the same year and presided over by Constantius himself (the so-called Dedication Council), the deposition of Athanasius was confirmed; Gregory was recognized as bishop of Alexandria; and Arian formulas were adopted. The Council of sardica (Sofia), at which Julius was represented by the legates Archidamus and Philoxenus, was called to find a way out of the impasse (343), but ended in disagreement. After issuing a synodal letter addressed to all the bishops condemning Athanasius and Marcellus of Ancyra and excommunicating Julius as the cause of "all the evil," the Eusebians, who refused to join their Western colleagues, departed for home. The remaining bishops, under the presidency of Hosius, once again vindicated Athanasius and passed several canons intended to regulate appeals to Rome. These remained a dead letter, however, owing to the refusal of the Eusebians to recognize the council and, probably, a cause of their restrictive nature. They are interesting, nevertheless, as evidence of the persistence of the belief that the Roman primacy was based on Peter: "in order to honor the memory of blessed Peter …."
After the death of the intruder Gregory, Athanasius was able to return to his see with the permission of Constantius, and he brought with him a letter to the Alexandrians from Julius (346). The remaining years of the pontificate of Julius were relatively quiet. He had the satisfaction of receiving the submission of two prominent Arians, Ursacius of Singidunum (Belgrade) and Valens of Mursa (347), who withdrew their allegations against Athanasius at a council in Milan and before the Pope in person in Rome. Unfortunately, they soon reverted to their old ways.
The Liber pontificalis attributes to Julius a decree, possibly contemporary, regarding the organization of the archives and chancery (scrinium ) of the Roman Church on the imperial model, in which mention is made for the first time of the primicerius notariorum; to this Pope it attributes also the construction of several churches including the two city churches later known as SS. Apostoli and S. Maria in Trastevere (titulus Iulii ), as well as a ceremonial hall in the Lateran Palace (basilica lulii ), later demolished to make way for the medieval Hall of Councils. An anonymous author known as the chronograher of 354 recorded that Rome observed the birth date of Jesus on December 25, but indicates that the practice had been known since 336. This means that Julius was the first pope to celebrate Christmas on the now traditional day, a practice followed by other Western churches and by most Eastern ones. Julius was buried in the cemetery of Calepodius on the Via Aurelia, but the exact location of his tomb is unknown.
Feast: April 12.
See Also: arianism.
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