Symmachus, Pope, St.
SYMMACHUS, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: Nov. 22, 498 to July 19, 514; b. Sardinia;d. Rome. The election that followed the death of Pope Anastasius II was disputed. The majority of the clergy, including those who had disapproved of the late pope's conciliatory policy toward Constantinople as well as those favoring the Ostrogothic king, theodoric the great, elected the Sardinian deacon and convert from paganism Symmachus at the Lateran. A minority of the clergy, including the philo-Byzantine party in the senate, elected the archpriest Laurentius at St. Mary Major. Both parties appealed to King Theodoric, which meant that a Gothic Arian decided who was to be the bishop of Catholic Rome. The king decided in favor of Symmachus. On his return from Ravenna, Pope Symmachus held a synod in Rome (March 1, 499), which forbade electioneering among the clergy during the lifetime of a pope and stipulated that a majority vote should prevail in an election. Laurentius ceded and was named bishop of Nocera. However, in the presence of Theodoric, his supporters accused Symmachus of having alienated ecclesiastical property contrary to the regulations of 483 with a view to ensuring his own election. They also claimed that he had sexual relations with certain women, and ordered the celebration of Easter on a date that differed from the usage of Alexandria, which was followed by all the churches.
Laurentian Schism. Summoned to Ravenna once more, Symmachus prepared to meet the king, but fled to Rome when he detected what he feared to be a trap. He took refuge in the church of Saint Paul's Outside the Walls, an action which some Roman clergy took as an admission of guilt and so withdrew Communion from him. His flight angered Theodoric, who appointed Bishop Peter of Altinum as Roman visitator to administer the property of the Roman Church. Symmachus agreed to appear before a synod of Italian bishops that Theodoric summoned to judge the pope in Rome (501), but he did not concede that any synod had the right to judge the pope. While on the way to the Sessorian Palace, where the session was to be held, the supporters of Laurentius attacked the papal party in the streets, and some of the clergy were either killed or wounded. Symmachus returned to St. Peter's and refused to budge. The synod met (October 50l) and decreed in its fourth session, known as the Synodus palmaris, that the pope could not be tried for the crimes of which he was accused and that his case must be left to the judgment of God. Since he was still the legitimate pope, the control of church property should be returned to him.
The decision displeased the Ostrogothic king, who sanctioned the return to Rome of the antipope Laurentius. For the next four years Rome was the scene of brawls and violence. The Laurentians gained possession of almost all of the churches, including the Lateran, but excluding St. Peter's, and the antipope's portrait was placed among those of the legitimate popes. Both sides launched into a war of pamphlets. The writer ennodius, then a deacon in Milan, wrote an apology to show that the cause of the bishops of Rome could be judged by God alone. This theme was developed in a series of apocryphal works, composed for popular consumption and known as the Symmachan Forgeries. They were meant to provide a series of spurious historical precedents for the decrees of the synod of 501. Peace was restored through the intercession of Alexandrian deacon Dioscorus, who convinced Theodoric to have control of the churches and ecclesiastical property returned to Symmachus. The Laurentians gradually rallied to Symmachus.
Pope Symmachus defended himself against the charges of the Laurentians in a letter to the Emperor an astasius i, but he made no progress toward settling the acacian schism. A series of revolts against the emperor at Antioch and Constantinople itself persuaded the Byzantine ruler to attempt a reconciliation with Rome, and the pope was invited to preside over a general council at Heraclea to decide all the questions in dispute. However, Symmachus died before it arrived, and the imperial letter was received by his successor.
Symmachus maintained close relations with cae sarius of arles, to whom the pope sent the pallium when he appointed him papal vicar for all of Gaul in place of his rival avitus, bishop of Vienne. Symmachus was responsible for many embellishments to St. Peter's; he converted the two round imperial mausolea nearby into chapels, constructed the earliest papal residence on the site of the present Vatican Palace, and erected lodgings for pilgrims. He was buried in the portico of the basilica.
The Symmachan Forgeries. These documents purported to be the Acts of the Synod of Sinuessa under Pope Marcellinus; the Constitutum of Pope Silvester I; the Gesta of Pope Liberius; and the Acts clearing Pope sixtus iii of the accusation by Polychronius. Barbaric in style but expressing the doctrine on the papacy enunciated by gelasius i, the documents sought to supply precedents for the clearing of Pope Symmachus in similar actions performed by his predecessors. Their primary contention centers on the principle that no earthly power can sit in judgment over a pope. They were incorporated into the Liber pontificalis and achieved wide diffusion.
Feast: July 19.
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