Zosimus, Pope, St.

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Pontificate: March 18, 417 to Dec. 26, 418. The short pontificate of Zosimus was stormy. The Liber pontificalis describes him as "of Greek origin, his father was Abram." The last name seems to indicate Jewish ancestry. He may have been recommended to the attention of innocent i by St. john chrysostom; but his election seems to have affronted a part of the Roman clergy. The bishop of Arles, Patroclus, was in Rome at the time and seems to have had a hand in the election. In any case the first act of Zosimus was to reward him with a papal vicariate over Gaul on the grounds that St. Trophimus, a disciple of St. Peter, founded the See of Arles. No cleric was to present himself in Rome without a letter of communion from the metropolitan of Arles, who was authorized to consecrate all the bishops of the provinces of Vienne and the two Narbonnes and to decide all cases unless the matter had to be referred to Rome.

Such an arrangement was naturally resented in Gaul. Hilary of Narbonne was threatened by the Pope with excommunication for attempted resistance; Proculus of Marseilles and Simplicius of Vienne were both summoned to appear in Rome but refused to obey, whereupon Proculus was deposed; but Zosimus died before the sentence could be carried out. From a letter to Hesychius of Salona, the metropolitan of Dalmatia, it appears that the Pope also contemplated erecting a vicariate for western Illyricum.

The Pope's handling of the Pelagian affair seriously if temporarily damaged Roman prestige. Augustine had no sooner uttered his famous words Causa finita est than the case of Pelagius was reopened in Rome. Pelagius sent a profession of faith to Innocent I that arrived after the latter's death, but Caelestius came in person to present his libellus fidei. Zosimus examined the libellus and its author at length in the church of St. Clement and finding no heresy in the statements of either Pelagius or Caelestius, he requested their accusers to appear before him and present their case within two months, although the matter had presumably been closed by Innocent I. The African bishops were naturally outraged and so informed the Pope (November 417).

Zosimus was compelled to reverse his stand, and in his reply, he informed the Africans that he had not yet made up his mind but that meanwhile the decision of his predecessor was to stand. He took the occasion, however, to read the Africans a lecture on the Roman primacy, stressing that "the tradition of the fathers has assigned such great authority to the Apostolic See that no one would dare to dispute its judgment" and asserting that "Peter is the head of such great authority and has confirmed the devotion of all the fathers who followed him, so that the Roman church is established by all laws and discipline, both human and divine. His place we rule. And such being our authority, no one can revise our sentence."

It was a hollow gesture, intended to save face, but the African bishops would have none of it. They went above the pope's head to the Western Emperor Honorius, who issued a rescript condemning Pelagius, Caelestius, and their followers and banishing them as disturbers of the peace (April 30, 418). In a council at Carthage on May 1, 418, the African bishops drafted a letter to Zosimus informing him that they stood by the previous condemnation of Innocent I; and Zosimus then issued his Epistola Tractoria condemning pelagianism (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 109a).

A new controversy threatened to disrupt relations between Rome and Africa when Zosimus entertained the appeal of an African priest Apiarius, who had been deprived by his bishop, Urbanus of Sicca Veneria. This contravened existing African Canon Law, which forbade such appeals by priests and deacons, though apparently not by bishops. The rule had been confirmed by a canon of the Council of Carthage (418) forbidding appeals to transmarina iudicia.

Instead of contenting himself with a letter, Zosimus sent three legates, including the tactless Bp. Faustinus of Potenza, to Africa with instructions demanding that the African bishops should not make such frequent appeals to the imperial court, that bishops were to be allowed to appeal to Rome, that priests and deacons could appeal to the bishops of neighboring sees, and that Urbanus was to be excommunicated unless he corrected the injustice he had caused to Apiarius. Zosimus based his contention regarding the appeals on the canons of the Council of Sardica, which he (and the Roman Church) mistakenly believed to belong to the Council of Nicaea. But since the African church knew these canons to be false, they did not honor the pope's reliance on them. Zosimus died before the Apiarius affair had been settled.

In Rome a section of the Roman clergy who resented the Pope's high-handed actions appealed to the court at Ravenna against him. Zosimus excommunicated his accusers and apparently would have taken sterner measures had he not died after a serious illness. He was buried in the basilica of St. Lawrence-outside-the-Walls; the exact location of his tomb is unknown. Presumably his remains are still there. The ninth-century Martyrology of Ado was the first to list him as a saint.

Feast: Dec. 26.

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[j. chapin]