Siricius, Pope, St.

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Pontificate: Dec. 15 or 22 or 29, 384 to Nov. 26, 399. Siricius, a Roman by birth, was ordained a lector, then deacon by Pope liberius. On the death of Damasus (December 11, 384) he was elected pope despite the candidacy of Ursinus, who during the election of Damasus 18 years earlier, had incited bloody strife, and that of (St.) jerome, who had enjoyed the favor of Damasus and seemed to cherish the hope of being raised to the Roman See (Epist. 45.3).

Letters. The papacy of Siricius is not well documented, nor does it appear to have been particularly distinguished. In 390 the Pope consecrated the newly reconstructed basilica of St. Paul on the Ostian Way, and several of his letters contain "the first papal decrees" that are listed as pontifical documents in canonical collections. On February 10, 385, Siricius wrote to Himerius of Tarragona, who had referred several points of discipline to Damasus (Epist. 1; P. Jaffé Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, 255). On January 6, 386, he wrote to the bishops of Africa on the decisions of a council that had met in Rome "above the relics of St. Peter." This is the first known "council of the Vatican" (Epist. 5; P. Jaffé258). In 386 he wrote to Anysius of Thessalonica on the subject of episcopal ordination in Illyricum (Epist. 4; P. Jaffé 259). About 390, in an address to "the orthodox in the provinces," apparently the Italian bishops, he points out certain abuses that had been creeping into the rite of ordination (Epist. 6; P. Jaffé 263). In 390 (St.) Ambrose replied (Epist. 42) to a circular, addressed to the Church of Milan, that forwarded the decision of a Roman council condemning Jovinian and the others who denied the perpetual virginity of Mary (Epist. 7; P. Jaffé 260). Letter 9 in this collection, dealing with the case of Bonosus, belongs to Ambrose, and Letter 10, ad Gallos, was written by Damasus.

These letters are of importance in the history of ecclesiastical discipline. They settle pastoral problems, stating, for example, that heretics, both Arians and Novatians, are not to be rebaptized, but should be reconciled by the laying on of hands (Epist. 1.1.2). Except in cases of necessity or for infants, Baptism is to be bestowed at Easter or Pentecost, not on Christmas (Epist. 1.2.3). Episcopal consecration may not be bestowed by a single bishop; there must be several consecrators (Epist. 5.2.1). A bishop should not ordain a cleric of another church, nor accept one deposed by another church (Epist. 5.2.6, 7). Very precise regulations concern the age of those being ordained (Epist. 1.8) and, especially, the continence of clergymen: priests and deacons are bound "by the everlasting law of continence" (Epist. 1.6, 77.8, 9); severe punishments are set for the guilty, as also for monks and nuns who fall into incontinence. Clerics should not live with women except in circumstances mentioned by the Council of Nicaea (Epist. 1.10). Other regulations concern the discipline of Penance, which remained harsh (Epist. 1.4, 12). A baptized man who embraced the "cingulum militiae saecularis " (civil office as well as more explicit military service) could not be admitted to the clerical state (Epist. 5.2.3).

Papal Authority. More important than their content is the testimony of these decrees regarding the growing authority of the Apostolic See, particularly in the West. Siricius is the first pope to claim that the Apostle Peter spoke through him: "We bear within us the burdens of all who are weighed down, but it is rather the Blessed Apostle Peter who bears these burdens in us, since, as we trust, he protects us in all the matters of his administration and guides us as his heirs" (Epist. 1.1). References to the double foundation of Rome (Peter and Paul) fade away as only the Petrine foundation is seen to be important. The bishops should address the Roman Church as head of their body (Epist. 1.15.20). The pope replies to their queries: rescripsimus (a technical term of the imperial chancellory) with complete authority; i.e., we command, we decree (jubemus, decernimus ). His decisions are the Statuta Sedis Apostolicae and have the same authority as those of the revered councils (Epist. 1.15.20); bishops who do not obey them separate themselves from the solidity of the apostolic rock, on which Christ built the universal Church (Epist. 1.2.3).

This authority was imposed at first upon the bishops of rural Italy over whom Siricius had immediate supervision: no episcopal election could be accomplished "without the knowledge of the Apostolic See" (Epist. 5.2.1). Beyond that area, Siricius forwarded the decisions of the Roman council to the Church of Milan and addressed the bishops of Gaul, Spain, and Africa with full authority, but the Gauls had reservation and the Africans typically accepted only what they agreed with. He intervened likewise in the problems over priscillianism and sided with the bishops who had refused communion with Ithacus and Idacius after they had persuaded the usurper Maximus that it was legitimate to put Priscillian to death (P. Jaffé 262; Mansi 3:1005). He made Anysius of Thessalonica his vicar in Illyricum to protect the province from the influence of Constantinople. No episcopal ordination could take place there without the consent of Anysius (Epist. 4). At the request of Ambrose (Epist. 56.7) Siricius attempted to solve the schism of Antioch but failed.

Siricius was a strong personality but not a thinker. He distrusted the new breed of ascetic intellectuals. He acquiesced in the expulsion of Jerome from the city of Rome, and he distanced himself from Paulinus of Nola. His approach to theological questions was to cite Roman tradition and authority. Yet this firmness often placed him in good stead. Siricius played an important part in the promotion of the authority of the Apostolic See. He was buried in the basilica of St. Silvester in the cemetery of Priscilla, where pilgrims were still venerating his tomb in the seventh century (Martyrologium Romanum 547).

Feast: November 26.

Bibliography: siricius, Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 187890) 13:11311202. É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 14.2:217174. p. jaffÉ Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, ed. s. lÖwenfeld et al., 2 v. (2d ed. Leipzig 188188, repr. Graz 1956) 1:4042. a. diberardino, Patrology (Westminster, Md.1986) 4:580581. e. ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York 1997) 2:1064. h. jedin, History of the Church (New York 1980) 2:254256. j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986) 3536. c. pietri, Roma Christiana (Rome 1976) 468474, 888909. j. curran, "Jerome and the Sham Christians of Rome," The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 48: 21329. r. giuliani, "Un'interessante novità epigrafica della catacomba della ex vigna Chiaraviglio sulla via Appia Antica. Ancora sull'attività dei presbiteri Proclino e Urso a S. Sebastiano," in 'Domum Tuam Dilexi'. Miscellanea in onore di Aldo Nestori (Vatican City 1998) 37597. p. laurence, "Rome et Jérôme: des amours contrariées," Revue Bénédictine 107: 22749.

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