Simplicius, Pope, St.

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Pontificate: March 3, 468 to March 10, 483. "Born at Tivoli, his father Castinus" (Liber pontificalis ), Simplicius seems to have been chiefly a spectator of events, in contrast to his immediate predecessors. During his tenure, the last shadowy emperor of the West was relegated to a comfortable villa at Naples and the imperial insignia sent to Constantinople by Odoacer, who assumed the title of king of Italy, under the vague suzerainty of the Eastern emperor (476). A series of barbarian kingdoms, all Arian, had established themselves on the ruins of the Western Empire. The Church's relations with the new rulers were generally good; only in Spain and Africa was there real persecution.

The unsuccessful attempt by Acacius, patriarch of Constantinople, to win the pope's approval for canon 28 of Chalcedon colored Acacius's later attitude toward the Roman Church. In spite of the imperial government, the Monophysites succeeded, for a time, in gaining control of the important Sees of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch. Under the usurper Basiliscus (475476), who needed their support, they were openly favored. The encyclical issued by Basiliscus, in an attempt to reconcile the orthodox and the Monophysites, condemned Chalcedon and Leo's Tome. Acacius, afraid of the usurper and angered by the pope's attitude toward canon 29, failed to keep him informed about events. Simplicius wrote to both Basiliscus and Acacius expressing concern about the restoration to Alexandria of the Monophysite Patriarch timothy aelurus, but to no avail.

The return to power of the Emperor zeno seemed to assure the triumph of Chalcedonian orthodoxy. Although the pope obtained an imperial decree banishing Timothy, who died before it arrived in Alexandria (477), he could not obtain the support of either Zeno or Acacius for the removal of Timothy's successor, the Monophysite Peter Mongus. The Monophysite Peter the Fuller was also obliged to leave Antioch, but only for a time.

Both the emperor and patriarch were intent on pursuing a policy of religious conciliation. The skillfully drawn up henoticon, prepared by Acacius with the help of Peter Mongus and issued as an imperial edict in 482, was superficially orthodox, but it failed to cover the main point at issue: it was silent on Chalcedon and Leo's Tome. Peter Mongus was recognized as the lawful patriarch of Alexandria following the death of the orthodox Timothy Salophaciolus (February 482). Acacius left the pope in ignorance of the latest developments, in spite of repeated appeals for information from Rome. Simplicius died, after a long illness, before any action could be taken about the Henoticon.

The policy of delegating papal authority was extended to Spain, when Bishop Zeno of Seville was appointed papal vicar for that country and charged with seeing that the decrees of the Apostolic See were observed there. Under Simplicius occurred the first instances of adapting public buildings in Rome for use as churches. A hall on the Esquiline, erected by the consul Junius Bassus, was dedicated to St. Andrew (S. Andrea in Catabarbara). The most important foundation of the reign was the construction on the Coelian hill of the architecturally interesting round church of S. Stefano in Rotondo, formerly thought to have been an earlier building transformed into a church. Recent examination and restoration have shown that it was erected in one building about this time. In addition, a small basilica was erected to St. Bibiana in the gardens of Gallienus (S. Bibiana).

The Liber pontificalis records that Simplicius designated priests from certain of the Roman titular churches to assist with the services at the greater basilicas of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Lawrence on a weekly rotation basis. The system was later extended to the basilica of St. Mary Major, while the Lateran Basilica was served by the suburbicarian bishops. Simplicius was the first pope to be portrayed with a square nimbus, indicating that he was still living at the time (in a mosaic in the apse of S. Bibiana, no longer extant). He was buried in the portico of St. Peter's. The 9th-century Martyrology of Ado was the first to commemorate him (the date of his death is wrongly given in the Roman Martyrology as March 2, following the Liber pontificalis ).

Feast: March 10.

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[j. chapin]