Short URL for this page:
Thayer's Note: This page is from the first edition of the book, which Hodgkin considerably expanded into a much more detailed second edition, often refining or even outright changing his conclusions and opinions. That second edition is onsite in full; the serious student will take advantage of it.
The city of Ravenna plays so important a part in the history of Italy during the fifth and sixth centuries, and ecclesiastical traditions form so large an ingredient in the history of that city, that I venture to insert here some details for which I could not have found place in the text without interrupting for too long a time the flow of the regular narrative.
It may be well to repeat here that we labour under the great disadvantage of deriving our chief information from a monkish chronicler who lived four centuries after the time with which we are at present concerned. And though, on the one hand, this long interval of time makes his work a curious and interesting illustration of the exercise of the mythopoeic faculty, on the other, we must constantly remind ourselves that these quaint legends may have derived their colour from the Carolingian period, not from the Theodosian, and may in the year 450 have utterly lacked the degree of currency and credence which they possessed in 839, the year when Agnellus wrote his chronicle.
The language in which the Liber Pontificalis is composed is supposed to be Latin. False concords and barbarisms abound, but the style is fluent and declamatory, formed perhaps on the models of Jerome and Augustine. Every now and then we come upon a quotation (generally in hexameters) from an earlier age, and these quoted passages are generally correct enough in metre and in Latinity. The effect produced by their presence is like that of the classical capitals in the dim aisles and beneath the ecclesiastical mosaics of Sant' Apollinare in Classe.
p473 Agnellus appears, according to his own account, to have been vehemently urged by the other Presbyters of Ravenna to undertake the labour of recording the History of that See, a labour so severe that his health seems to have suffered from it, and he sometimes threw down the pen doubtful whether he should ever be able to resume it. But the pressure of his colleagues, as eager then to read as modern authors are to write, overcame his reluctance, real or feigned. If he found enough material in the memories of the oldest inhabitants, he wrote a long life of an eminent saint; if he found no such material he invented it; if his health was not adequate to the labour of invention, he treated his brethren instead to a disquisition on an obscure text of Scripture, which certainly became obscure when he had handled it sufficiently.
He was of noble birth, of short stature, with a melodious voice, and was compared by his admirers to St. Paul.
He gives with great minuteness the day of the death of his episcopal heroes, but generally omits to mention the year. The memory of the day was no doubt preserved by religious observances in their honour. All the lives end with the words 'He occupied the see of Ravenna ––––– years, ––––– months, and ––––– days:' but only in two cases throughout the first part is the number of the years, months, and days filled in. We are able therefore to use great freedom with reference to Chronology.
At the risk of some tedious repetitions I have copied his statements as to the bishops' burial-places, partly because they are probably the most trustworthy part of his history, and partly because the number of churches, especially at Classis, mentioned by him, which have 'died and made no sign,' helps us to understand more vividly all that the three towns once were, and how small a part of their art-treasures — rich as that residue seems — has been preserved to us.
L. P. Rav. 3 2. 'St. Aderitus, a holy man, much honoured by Apollinaris, built like a wise architect on the foundation laid by his Master, and reclaimed many souls from idolatry. p474 He died on the last day of September, and was buried in the basilica of St. Probus •about a furlong from the church of St. Apollinaris' [in Classe?]
L. P. Rav. 4 3. 'St. Eleucadius, was name in Latin signifies white (Candidus), was a meek and prudent man, and was ordained deacon by Apollinaris. He was a great philosopher, who composed books both on the Old and New Testaments and on the Incarnation and Passion of Christ; wherefore also in the book of the Martyrdom of the Blessed Apollinaris it is said, "Of the philosopher Eleucadius he made a deacon." He was buried outside the walls of Classis where till this day there exists a church, consecrated in his name.'1
L. P. Rav. 5 4. St. Martianus, a man of noble birth, also ordained deacon by Apollinaris, drew in many into the ranks of the clergy by his skill in sacred doctrine. After many miracles he gave up his soul to his Creator, and was buried, I think, in the church of St. Eleucadius.'
L. P. Rav. 6 5. St. Calocerus. His name signifies a good time (καλὸς καιρός), and if you like to turn κ into ι it means a good priest (καλὸς ἱερός). He was a man of advanced age, who wrought many wonderful signs and rescued many souls from the power of the demons. He died, and was buried on the 3rd of February in the basilica of St. Probus.'
L. P. Rav. 7 6. 'St. Proculus. Tender as a father over his children, he gathered in more and more converts into the bowels of the church. He expressed himself with honeyed sweetness in his sermons to the people, and handed as it were cups of milk to their thirsting souls. The crown of white hairs was on his head when he ended his episcopate with his life. Where he was buried I know not, but I think either in the basilica of St. Eleucadius or that of St. Probus the Confessor.'
L. P. Rav. 8 7. 'St. Probus, a meek and pious man, bright in aspect, fervent in work, wise in discourse, prudent in heart, full of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Many sick people came to him and returned healed by his prayers, and many unclean spirits were cast out by him. Immediately before his death, p475 which happened on the 2nd of November, he saw the angelic hosts. He was buried amid the lamentations of the whole people, and his sepulchre is with us to this day as well as his church. And in no other church within the city of Ravenna or of Classis is mass celebrated above the people.2 And the said basilica is built near the porch of the Blessed Euphemia, which is called By-the‑sea, and which we now behold demolished.'3
L. P. Rav. 9 8. 'St. Dathus. A religious and very pious (nimis pius) man, and a frequent preacher to the people, and like a mirror his face shone forth more clearly over all, for when he was called to supernal grace his saintly soul departed from his body. As some assert he is buried in the church of St. Probus.'
L. P. Rav. 10 9. 'St. Liberius. A great man, a never-failing fountain of charity, who in his time was the cause of bringing much honour to the church. Yet he kept his own soul in all humility, though he held the chief rank in all philosophy. He was buried, as some conjecture, side by side with his predecessor.'
L. P. Rav. 11 10. 'St. Agapetus, whose name in the Latin tongue signifies Charitosus. He daily celebrated love-feasts (Ἀγάπαι) with strangers, and assiduously bestowed gifts on the poor. He was buried, it is supposed, with those last named.'
L. P. Rav. 12 11. 'St. Marcellinus, a just man and honoured for his prayers. He overthrew the camp of the demons, and diligently guarded the sheep who had been entrusted to him by the Lord,4 lest that most cruel wolf, who daily robs and rages, should succeed in ravaging the camp of his church and tear away the prey from among his sheep, and lest he should with beastly throat devour those Christian souls whom this holy man (Marcellinus) had gained for his Almighty Master, and with his linked,5 infernal chains bind p476 them down in hell. After a long space of years, the pontificate and life of Marcellinus ended: and his body gave out such sweet odours, that myrrh and frankincense and all manner of most precious spices seemed to fill the nostrils of those who buried him. He was laid in the basilica of St. Probus.'
L. P. Rav. 13‑18 12. St. Severus, whose history has been sufficiently indicated above. This story however may be added to fix the date of his death. 'After he had celebrated mass, and when with his deacons he ascended the pulpit to read the Epistles of St. Paul, for the refreshment of his congregation, suddenly he fell into an ecstasy and lay there for some time neither sleeping nor walking. His friends thinking that he slept began to knock him on the ribs. Waking he sat up, and said with mournful face "Oh, what have you done? Why have you recalled me hither? Though you thought you saw me, I was in truth far away." "Where wast thou, father?" say they. "I was in the church of Modena, and there I commended the soul of my brother Bishop Geminianus to the Almighty, and watched them committing his body to the tomb." To prove the truth of his words the citizens of Ravenna sent horsemen to Modena,b who ascertained that on the very day and hour named by Severus, Geminianus gave up the ghost and that Severus was present amid the throng of mourners, till he suddenly disappeared, they knew not how.' Shortly afterwards he died himself. His episcopate appears to have covered the time at least from 347 to 391.
This being the case, we can find no room here for the four following bishops.
L. P. Rav. 19 13. 'St. Liberius II, an eminent man (praecipuus vir), a father of the orphan and liberal in his alms.'
L. P. Rav. 20 14. 'St. Probus II, anointed with Divine grace and beautiful to look upon, decrepit with age, heavy in body, mirthful in countenance, imbued with heavenly grace, strengthened by God unto whom he sought perpetually.'
L. P. Rav. 21 15. 'St. Florentius, a righteous man, father of the poor and guide of the widows; who was buried in the monastery of St. Petronilla, close to the walls of the church of the Apostles.'
p477 L. P. Rav. 22 16. 'St. Liberius III, a saintly man, goodly in form, clear of mind, with a milk-like flow of eloquence, a destroyer of idols, and one who had the joy of seeing the Christians in his time visibly increase and the pagans diminish.' He is said to have been a contemporary and an eye-witness of the assassination of the Emperor Valentinian II, who was really slain not at Ravenna but at Vienna, or Vienne, in Gaul, and all the details are quite incorrectly given.
In short, these four holy men are not in the least wanted here and must migrate backwards to some period in the third or fourth century, before the episcopate of St. Severus, where, chronologically, there is only too much room for them.
L. P. Rav. 23 17. 'St. Ursus, a most chaste and holy man, had an earnest and noble countenance and was moderately bald. He first began to construct a temple to God, so that the Christians previously scattered about in huts should be collected in one sheepfold.'
Without taking this language about the huts too literally, we may accept the fact that St. Ursus was the first to build a really metropolitan church for Ravenna. At this day the Duomo (unfortunately rebuilt in the eighteenth century) bears the name of St. Orso. The original building with its five naves, separated by four rows of columns, fifty-six in number and all taken from the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, must have been a goodly sight.
Another name for this 'Ecclesia Ursiana' was the Anastasis (Resurrection). The wall on the women's side of the church was decorated with a figure of St. Anastasia. High over all rose a dome (testudo) 'with various coloured tiles representing different figures.'
The Pontiff Ursus just lived to see his work completed, and then after an episcopate of twenty-six years (extending probably from 391 to 417), 'he laid him down to die, on the anniversary of Christ's resurrection, and was appropriately buried in his own cathedral of the Anastasis.'
L. P. Rav. 24‑27 18. 'St. Peter I, a most holy man, of tall stature, attenuated frame, emaciated countenance, and wearing a bushy beard. He, together with all his predecessors from the time p478 of St. Apollinaris, had been of Syrian extraction.6 He was the founder of the church of St. Peter7 the walls of which he built, but he did not live to complete the edifice. No church was equal to this in length or in height, and it was adorned with most precious stones, and with tiles of various colours and greatly enriched with gold and silver and sacred vessels, made by order of this same bishop.
'There,8 as some assert, was pourtrayed a picture of the Saviour, the fellow of which no man hath ever seen among pictures, so altogether lovely as to be not unworthy of the form which the Son of God himself condescended to wear when he was incarnate and preached unto the nations. I think that you, my fellow-disciples and brethren, who have been nourished in the bosom of the Ursian Church, ought to know a certain tradition concerning this picture which I have heard from our fore-elders, both among the people and the priests.
'It is that there was a certain spiritual father in the wilderness, who daily besought the Lord that he would show unto him the form of his incarnation. When he was weary with long praying for this thing, one night a man stood by him, of angelic aspect and clothed in white raiment, who said to him "Behold! thy prayer is heard, and I have seen thy labours. Arise, go into the city which is called Classis, and seek there the Church of Peter; and when thou hast entered therein, look upon the doors of the same church below the Ardica:9 there shalt thou behold me painted upon the plaster of the wall10 such as I was in the flesh, when I was in the world."
'Filled then with a holy joy at these words, he quitted the desert, accompanied by two lions, and travelling over wide tracts of country he at length reached the city of p479 Classis; and when he had entered with the lions themselves into the aforesaid church, for a long time he went about praying and bewailing, seeking in vain all over the walls for the holy portrait. At length he came to the place which had been revealed to him in his dream, and saw the very picture itself painted there. Seeing it he fell on his face and worshipped, uttering his thanks amid tears of joy. And looking long upon the picture, he said at last "I thank thee, Lord, that thou hast heard me, not according to my merits but according to thy great compassion, and in fulfilment of those words of the prophet, While they are yet speaking I will hear. Now I am satisfied out of thy divine treasury: now receive my soul into thy holy place that I may sit down, an invited guest, at the marriage supper of the Lamb." After he had long uttered these words of prayer and delight, between the two lions who were also roaring on each side of him, he gave up the ghost. The people hearing of these things, ran together, and digging his grave with fear and reverence, buried him there with mighty lamentations. While the work of burial was going on, the lions licked his limbs and the places where his feet had trod, shedding tears all the while: when it was over, one laid himself at the head and the other at the feet, roaring to one another with loud voices and striving to put their necks under his grave. Thus they also died, and the people buried them at one end and the other of the grave, and returned home talking of the marvels which the Lord had manifested both upon man and upon beast.'
St. Peter I is said to have died at the very time when Valentinian III ascended the throne. For reasons which need not be enumerated here, I am disposed to interpret this of the year 423 when Honorius died, and when loyal Theodosius might perhaps deem that the imperial crown had devolved on his nephew. Agnellus tells us at great length the story of the discovery of Peter's body by himself when Abbot of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary at Blachernae, and by his friend George a presbyter of Classis. 'I will tell you the very truth and no lie. We mounted our horses and rode off to Classis, and, having told my servants to wait p480 there, we went into the Monastery of St. James. . . . We found a chest of cypress wood, and when we had opened it we found therein the holy body lying as if it had been buried in that same hour, being very long in stature and the skin very pale: but all the members of the body, the chest and the belly, were still entire, and nothing with wanting, except that the pillow under his head was somewhat decayed. But the body gave forth such an odour as if we had been smelling a mixture of myrrh and balsam, burnt as incense. Awful terror seized us, and such sadness, that the chest which we had before opened with alacrity we now could scarcely close even with sighs and groans. In short, we were all overcome by that odour, and so it was that for the space of a whole week it never departed from our nostrils. Above the fore-mentioned chest lay his effigy wonderfully depicted, and around it the words, "The Lord Peter, Archbishop." '
As was before said, Peter I appears to have died between the years 423 and 425. To him should follow, according to Agnellus,
L. P. Rav. 28‑30 19. St. Neon and
L. P. Rav. 31‑33 20. St. Exuperantius,
but as there is absolutely no room for them here we must insist upon their giving place to Angeloptes and Chrysologus, the great prelates of the reign of Placidia. After her death there is half a century vacant in which they can be placed.11
L. P. Rav. 34‑46 21 or 17. St. Joannes Angeloptes occupied the episcopal p481 throne for sixteen years, ten months, and eighteen days. I am disposed to place some faith in this statement, and would therefore, if possible, interpose his pontificate between the death of the Emperor Honorius in August 423, and the death of Pope Sixtus III in August 440, that being the Pope by whom, as we shall hereafter see, his successor was appointed. No doubt this leaves a very slender margin, yet such a succession of events cannot be pronounced impossible, especially if the death of Peter I occurred a little before the actual day of the death of Honorius.
'John was a man right venerable for his virtues, a nourisher of the poor, a lover of modesty and chastity, one at whose prayer the angelic hosts descended upon earth: of moderate stature and thin face, lean with fasting, a great alms-giver to the poor.
'In his time the Church of St. Laurentius12 the Martyr, situated in Caesarea, built by Lauricius, was completed. We can still behold from the magnitude of the building what great diligence must have been used in its construction. I think I had better not be silent as to the story which I have heard told concerning the erection of this Church.
'The aforesaid Emperor gave his chamberlain Lauricius a sum of money wherewith he was to build him a palace in Caesarea. Having received the money he came to that place and there built [not a palace, but] a basilica to the Blessed Martyr. Having entirely finished his work he returned to his master whom he found sitting on his throne in imperial vestments, and who asked him, with much excitement, whether the royal palace which he had ordered him to build were yet completed. (For malevolent men full of envy and inbred sin had assailed the ears of the Emperor with their temptations, telling him that the blessed Lauricius was building not an imperial mansion but a church.) The chamberlain answering said, that he had built a great and noble palace, that it had porches and lofty towers, and couches13 here and there affixed to the very walls of the house.
p482 'So the wrath of the Emperor was quieted, and when, after a long march, he beheld the building rising in air he was filled with complacency.14 But when they had actually entered the holy building, Lauricius darted away and took refuge behind the altar. Honorius, after giving orders for his arrest, prostrated himself on the floor of the Church. Thereupon a gem of great value fell out of his crown, and became fastened in the stones of the pavement. The Emperor himself passed into an ecstasy, and when he raised his head and the mist had passed away from his eyes he saw behind the altar of St. Laurentius (which the aforesaid Pope15 Joannes had consecrated) Lauricius standing and Laurentius, Christ's athlete, laying his hand upon Lauricius's shoulder. Then the Emperor laid aside all his wrath, and declaring that Lauricius was a more righteous man than himself he venerated him as a father, and ordered all things in the palace according to his advice.16 Lauricius lived in the light of this world ninety-six years, and died in a good old age in the time of the same Emperor,17 who with his soldiers mourning followed the bier.
'He was buried near his Church (which is marvellously decorated with golden mosaics and divers kinds of stones and metals let into the walls) in the Monastery of St. Gervasius and Protasius [the martyr-soldiers of Milan]; and the stone chest wherein his most excellent body rested used, some say, to be so transparent that passers-by could plainly see the corpse inside. Why it is no longer I have heard and I will tell you. Some Emperor, I know not his name, wished to appropriate the chest for his own purposes. On a certain night St. Lauricius stood by the custodian of the church and said, "Bring hither ashes and water and rub with them my sepulchre,18 and afterwards p483 diligently wash it." When this was done its transparency vanished, and the workmen who came next day reported the change to their master [who apparently desisted from his project.]
'Until this day the chest itself rests neither on the ground nor on any stone,19 and before you enter into the repository of the chest you will see on the right hand close to you the likenesses in mosaic of three young men. There will you find in golden letters this inscription, "To Stephanus, to Protasius, to the blessed Martyrius,20 and as an eternal memorial of himself Lauricius dedicated this on the 29th of September in the fifteenth consulship of Theodosius and the first of Placidus Valentinianus." (That is to say in the year 435, a date which at once shows that Lauricius must have outlived Honorius by at least twelve years.) The jewel which I mentioned above, having fallen from the Emperor's crown, so surpassed all other jewels in its lustre that by its light a man could walk through the church at night. And up to our day it remained fixed in the stone where it fell.'
Agnellus goes on to tell of the interview of Angeloptes with Attila. The invasion of Attila took place in 452, and the successor of Angeloptes was certainly ruling in 451, probably in 440, so this story must be given up. He then tells of his beneficial interference in the war between Odoacer and Theodoric (490‑3). Of course that must go too. He then returns, serenely unconscious of his gross anachronisms, to the times of Placidia and her son Valentinian III which evidently fixed the true historical position of this bishop.
And yet either the difficulty of writing biography with such hazy notions about history, or some other cause, does seem to have tried the nerves and temper of the good Abbot. In the following fashion he ends his second chapter and begins his third,
'My brethren, let it suffice you for this day to have heard so much concerning the life of this holy man. For the time is now far spent, already the sun is p484 doubling the length of his shadows, the day is darkening over, and the hour faileth. Nevertheless if any one is curious enough to urge me to explain what I have before written, how that this holy man, while yet inhabiting a mortal body, gazed upon the faces of angelic spirits, to such an one in three days time, if my strength desert me not, I will, with the mighty help of God, repeat words from the days of old which long ago sounded upon mine ears.' . . . .
'It came to pass yesterday that I, being moderately oppressed with bodily discomfort, was not able to relate to you all the miracles of the aforesaid holy man: but nevertheless, the Divine clemency having taken compassion on your prayers, I am so far recovered that I shall to‑day relate to you what I have heard from men of venerable age, if I can remember their words.'
And so he proceeds to make that gigantic stride over half a century by which he reaches the year 490, the period of the wars between Theodoric and Odoacer.
Returning to the earlier part of the fifth century he mentions a story which, whether true or false, was an important factor in the subsequent ecclesiastical history of Ravenna. 'The Emperor Valentinian III,' says Agnellus, 'was so greatly moved by the preaching of the holy man, that he took off his imperial crown in his presence, and with lowly words and reverent gesture, begged his blessing. Having received it he departed with glad countenance, and not many days21 after he bestowed upon him fourteen cities p485 with their churches, to be governed by him with archpriestly power. And these fourteen cities with their bishops are to this day subject to the Church of Ravenna. This bishop first received from the Emperor a Pallium of white wool, just such as it is the custom for the Roman Pontiff to wear over the Duplum; and he and his successors have used such a vestment down to the present day.'
The historical student will see at a glance how much importance may be attached to these few sentences. The question of Investitures, and the dependence or independence of the Church of Ravenna from that of Rome are both concerned here. Of course the champions of the Papal prerogative do not admit that the passage has any authority.
Just at the close of the life of Joannes that celebrated mass is placed which gave him his surname Angeloptes, and in which, according to the story, angels ministered to him. The vision of the Holy Grail, as told in Tennyson's 'Sir Galahad,' is an expansion of this thought so dear to the medieval mind. 'After a short time, having blessed all his sons the citizens of Ravenna, with joyful countenance as one bidden to a feast, he ended his days on the fifth of June. He was buried in the Basilica of St. Agatha, behind the altar in the place where he saw the angel standing, and we see daily his portrait over the Sedilia; from which it appears that he was a man of splendid form, with hair mostly black, but a few white locks interspersed. But his holiness was greater than his years, for the Lord of Heaven looks not so much at men's ages as at their hearts.
'And now, my brethren, through the favour of God I have fulfilled my promise as far as I was able, and written the life of Joannes Angeloptes. But thy deeds, oh Peter Chrysologus, who is sufficient to declare. Though my voice was made of adamant and came forth from brazen lungs, and though I had a hundred verses in my ligarii (?), even so I could not narrate all thy actions.'
L. P. Rav. 47‑52 22. St. Peter Chrysologus 'was beautiful of aspect, delightful in form. Before him was no Pontiff like him in wisdom, neither did any such arise after him. He was born p486 in the neighbourhood of the town, which was long ago, and is now called Imola,22 but then Forum Cornelii.
'Now, dearest ones, we will enquire how it came to pass that in such an orthodox see, the citizens of Ravenna chose, not one of their own flock, but one who came from the subject Church of Cornelius to be their Pontiff. On the death of the aforesaid most blessed Bishop John, all the people, together with the priests, came together and elected unto themselves a chief shepherd as is the custom of the Church; and, hastening with him to Rome, they presented the elected one for ordination by the holy Pope of the Apostolic See, in order that so great a church might not be widowed of her Bishop many days.23 All were ready to present him on the morrow to the holy Apostolic presence. But in that same night there appeared in a vision to Pope Sixtus,24 the blessed Apostle of Christ, Peter the key-bearer, together with Apollinaris his disciple, and, between them both, Peter Chrysologus. And the Apostle Peter, stepping25 a little forward, said to Pope Sixtus, "Behold this man whom we have chosen, and who stands betwixt us: this man and no other do thou consecrate as Bishop."
'Next morning the people came to introduce the man of their choice. The Pope looked long upon him and said, "Away, take him forth from the midst of you: bring me the man who was shewn to me, for I will elect none other." They asked what these words might mean, and being thrust out of doors were much saddened.
'The next day all the candidates great and small were introduced, but the man seen in the vision could not be found. On the morning of the third day, while the Pope was neither fully awake nor fast asleep, the same two figures appeared with Peter Chrysologus between them and said, "We have before told thee to lay hands on no one else but this man, since he for many years shall illuminate the p487 Church of Ravenna. Like a well-trimmed oil-lamp he shall both be fat himself and shall be a cause of light to others."
'Again all the people were introduced, and the right man was not among them. Then said the Pope to the Bishop of Imola, "Bring in thy clergy: perchance I may there find the man of whom I am in search." The Bishop answered that he had with him but one deacon who superintended all his affairs, and upon whose hand he leaned. He was brought in and at once the holy Pope saw the man who had been shown him in the vision, now shining like a precious jewel; and in the spirit he saw St. Peter and St. Apollinaris standing on his right hand and his left, and holding his hands. He rose from his throne and went into the midst of the porch to meet him: and when Peter Chrysologus sought to withdraw himself from under his consecrating hands the most blessed Pope suffered him not.
'But then arose a murmur among the people, and their shouts went up to heaven. Some said, "We will not receive this neophyte: he is not of our fold, but has crept up some other way, like a robber, into the chair of our Bishops. Take him forth out of our midst, we do not receive him: for it is not lawful to transfer from the subject Church to the Church which rules." Others again said, "This is a righteous man, you do ill to clamour against him: let us take him, since he is very wise and chaste, and a learned teacher, that he may be a glory to our Church." But when St. Sixtus III saw the division among the people he declared to them all his vision, and how he had received the Apostolic command to consecrate this man. And if," said he, "you refuse him for your father, depart from me, and consider yourselves as all estranged from the Holy Catholic Church of Rome." Then all with one accord began to shout, "Ordain him, ordain him." They speedily wrote26 out the decree, and by laying on of hands he received the Holy Spirit, and was ordained Pontiff, and returned with glory to his See of Ravenna. And from that day all men began to venerate him as an angel of God.'
p488 Of the actual episcopate of Chrysologus there is not much that need here be recorded. He is said to have taken part, by correspondence, in the Council of Chalcedon (451), and to have addressed a severe letter to the heretic Eutyches. 'After a space of 30 years a claim is barred by mere human laws; why then dost thou after about 500 (?) years presume thus to address thy railing accusations against Christ? But thou oughtest to humble thyself before the holy Roman Pontiff, and diligently to keep his precepts, and think of him as if he were St. Peter the Apostle still present in the flesh holding the primacy of the Roman See.'
The internal evidence is quite sufficient to show that no such letter was ever addressed by Ravenna to Chalcedon. One letter however on the subject of the Eutychian heresy and some homilies are still extant, which by the consent of scholars appear to be admitted as his genuine compositions. His true memorial however is the lovely chapel of San Pier Crysologo, to which reference is made in the text.
When it was made known to him by a divine intimation that death was approaching, he left the archiepiscopal splendours of Ravenna and repaired to his own ancestral Imola. There, in the Basilica and by the altar of Cassian, once schoolmaster, then martyr, and now patron-saint of Imola, he stood and uttered a long and beautiful prayer to God and address to his people. After which, 'turning to the altar of St. Cassian, he said, "I pray thee, blessed Cassian, intercede for me. I was as it were a home-born servant in thy house when Cornelius nourished me up in the bosom of thy Church. Returning to thee once more I now give up my body to thee and my soul to Almighty God." With these and other words, hurled forth as from the mouth of a conqueror, while all around were weeping, he gave up his spirit on the third of December. And the grave-diggers laid his sacred body in the spot which he himself pointed out behind the episcopal seat in that Church, and there he remains unto this day.'
Of Neon and Exuperantius, whom we are compelled to transfer to this place in the catalogue, Agnellus evidently knew extremely little. In fact it is in his life of Exuperantius p489 that he makes the amusing avowal, quoted above (p446), that where traditions failed him he invented them.
The correctness of the position which has been assigned to Neon is in some slight measure justified by the fact that among the letters of Pope Leo I (440‑461) is one addressed 'Leoni Ravennati Episcopo.' We have no other trace of a Leo among the bishops of Ravenna at this time, and the mistake of substituting Leoni for the unusual Neoni might easily be made. There also appears to be some authority for the assertion that Neon finished a church to St. Peter begun by Peter Chrysologus.27
To the modern traveller Neon's chief claim for remembrance consists in his decoration of the Baptistery, that little octagonal building which, like so many of its kind in North Italy, stands a little apart from the Duomo (Ecclesia Ursiana) to which it belongs. A large cistern — evidently used for the full immersion of the neophyte — stands in the centre of the building. On the dome above, the vivid mosaics depict the baptism of Jesus by John. Jordan, in aspect like a classical river-god, contemplates the great event, while all around the lower part of the dome stand the stately figures of the Apostles. Some hexameters, still inscribed on the walls in the time of Agnellus, attributed 'the glory of this renovation to the magnanimous Neon, chief of the priests, who, with beautifying reverence, ordered all things anew.'
Neon was buried in the Basilica of the Apostles before the altar of St. Peter under a slab of porphyry. In the time of Agnellus his remains were removed thence to another grave, and on their way had to be carried past the place which was then called the Arm of the Mighty One (Brachium Fortis), and to this day bears the name of Braccio Forte.
Upon this Brachium28 Fortis hangs a tale which may be p490 worth listening to for the sake of the illustrations which it affords of the commercial life of the two capitals, of the East and of the West, in those days.
'Here was represented the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ, and on one side of him the Apostle Peter, on the other that chosen vessel Paul.
'Now there were two men at Ravenna, one of whom said to the other, 'I have a small petition to ask of thee," and the other said, "I will grant thee whatever thou desirest." Then said the first, "Give me thy son that I may be his father in baptism, and may raise him from the holy font. Let us thus be his fathers in common, thou after the flesh, I after the spirit." The other answered, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ so be it." And after it was done, and the child was baptized, and they had become its co-fathers, they lived in great affection towards each other, and never met without the kiss of peace, having made the Holy Spirit a mediator between them. And know ye that greater is the father after the spirit than he that is father after the flesh, for the father after the flesh has begotten his son in sin, and in sin the son is born, and in sin he remains. But the spiritual father, having driven away the devil and all his works, has a new and spiritual son born to him from the sacred font, and receives him sanctified thenceforward by water and the Holy Spirit.
'Now it happened about this time that one29 of these two co-fathers (Compatres) said to the other, when they were standing by the Brachium Fortis, "Lend me, I pray thee, privily, 300 golden solidi" [about £180]. And the other said, "Meet me here to‑morrow morning early, and I will bring what thou requirest."
'When the day dawned they came together at the same place, and when the lender30 had counted out the money he said to his co-father, "Now, co-father, receive what thou p491 hast asked: yet provide between thee and me how thou wilt bind thyself to repay me. Wilt thou not give me some guarantor?31 Wilt thou not call in some daysman32 betwixt us? Wilt thou not give me a pledge." The debtor answered, "Such a limit is fixed between us as no man can pass over. Only lend me this money, thou shalt lose none of it. I say it in the sight of God: where I stand I will restore it to thee." The lender answered, "Co-father! let the mediator between us be the Almighty God, whose likeness is here painted, and let this Arm of the Saviour be a strong and terrible guarantor, and these two Princes of the Apostles be witnesses between me and thee." The saying pleased the other, and with many mutual attestations they agreed that the Arm of the Mighty One should guarantee the debt: and said the lender, turning again to the picture, "On the strength of thy guarantee I lend these 300 solidi: if he should not return them to me, do thou restore them."
'After these things the borrower departed and went hither and thither on his business, and soon multiplied his capital fourfold. Then he entered the city of Constantinople, and finding how his money there increased in his hands, he was loth to return to Ravenna; and lo! the time arrived for repaying the loan, and he came not at all.
'Then came the co-father, who had lent the money, to the portrait of the Saviour, saying, "Oh eternal Lord! the day fixed upon for the repayment of the loan of which thou wast the guarantor has arrived. Watch over my cause and see that I suffer no loss of any of my solidi."
'That same night the Arm of the Saviour appeared to the debtor, and said to him, "Go, restore the money to thy co-father who daily importunes me to fulfil my guarantee." [But he went not.]
'Then upon a certain day the lender came again to the same place, and began to address words of chiding to the sacred portrait, "Oh Lord! why dost thou not render justice unto me. Thou art my guarantor. In the name of thy strong Arm I gave it: by that Arm thou rulest the heavens and the earth, thou stillest the raging of the sea, and yet p492 canst thou not constrain one man to do justice? If an earthly citizen had been my guarantor, I had attached him by the Judge or the Lictor,33 or in such and such a way I had recovered my money. But thou who art Lord of heaven and earth, if thou dost not vindicate thy word, what can I do? Since the heavens are not clean in thy sight, and the Sun and the Moon shine not before thee, and Angels and Archangels tremble, and the earth melteth and the mountains flow down, and all the elements of the world do fail because of thee, who am I that I should dare to speak before thee?" These and many more such passionate lamentations he poured out before the Lord and his two chosen Apostles.
'Again on that very night the likeness of the Saviour appeared to the debtor, saying, "Return to Ravenna and restore the solidi to thy co-father since he calls upon me and I can no longer bear his chidings. Know that if thou dost not go speedily, and he importunes me again, thou shalt lose all the goods which thou hast gathered here, and I will give thy body over to torments, and thou shalt pass the rest of thy life in the greatest misery: but I, out of my treasure-house, will restore unto him two-fold."
'Then very early in the morning he took ship and returned to Ravenna. Hearing this news his co-father rejoiced and went to visit him. Among other conversation he began to ask him about the borrowed money. To which the other answered, "I have it, and it has multiplied fourfold in my hands." Then the lender said, "Blessed be God: give me back my solidi." But he answered, "Most willingly. Not now however, for it is late, but to‑morrow before that Strong Arm which was thy guarantor, and in presence of the two Apostolic witnesses."
'So they went next day and at the appointed place the borrower counted out to the lender 400 solidi, and said, "Thou hast done well, because thou hast lifted me out of poverty, and Almighty God has blessed my business and given unto me fourfold. Take now thy 300 solidi, and in addition I give thee 100 that I may be harmless, because I p493 did not appear on the appointed day." To whom he co-father replied, "Be it far from me that I should take more than the exact sum which I bestowed upon thee. That would not the Mighty Arm allow, which is mediator between me and thee, that I should take usury of thee even to so much as a shoe-latchet."
'Then the borrower told the story of how the Lord of the Strong Arm had appeared to him again and again in a vision and had told him of the prayers of the lender, prayers which were even then hovering on the verge of blasphemy, so that the borrower ran a risk of having to account not for the solidi only but for the lender's soul also. Then they compared the times and the seasons and found that the prayers of the one had always preceded the visions of the other. And though the borrower pressed his friend to take the 100 solidi he steadfastly refused to do so, saying, "I have sworn by the Lord and by this Strong Arm which hath brought thee back again, that I will not take as much as a little handful of dust, but only thy love which I daily retain. Let us see and act cautiously that neither of us defraud the other, because we have made this Strong Arm mediator between us." And when he said this they wept for joy and kissed one another. They went in peace, and from that day forward for this reason the place is called Brachium Forte unto this day, although few know the cause thereof.'
The little chapel of Braccio Forte was still standing in 1865, when it was removed during the excavations which brought to light the real tomb of Dante.
L. P. Rav. 53‑56 23. St. Aurelian, the last bishop of Ravenna with whom we have here to do, occupied the See during the early part of the sixth century. 'He was an eminent man, young in years, old in wisdom, mild towards the people, courteous towards his flock. But, my dearly beloved, that you may know what heavy burdens you have imposed upon my neck, I have not been able to learn any facts about this man except that he acquired certain property for the cathedral in the territory of Comacchio, and that a monastery was built in his time. But on account of your prayer, that this man's history may not appear too short, I will, with Divine p494 help, relate boldly what my human intellect is quite unable to declare.
'Now you wish that I should proceed. But I am very sick and weak in body, and can do nothing to‑day. To‑morrow, with the Creator's help, I will begin.
[A day intervenes.]
'Oh, do not press me as you did yesterday. Your eloquence has urged me quite enough. Think of the words of Solomon, "He who presseth for words too vehemently squeezeth out blood."
Remember that this wisdom of mine is not my own but the gift of the Almighty. Ah, wretched me, who am daily pressed with such questions. Do not thus treat me. If you want to have this Liber Pontificalis finished quickly and deposited in your hands, consider your own frailty, and then mine also. To‑day I am six lustres (thirty years) old, besides two years and ten months. Since I quitted my mother's womb I have never suffered such tortures, never have I been so constrained as I was by you yesterday. But if it is your pleasure to drag me hither and thither by the ears, to tie my hands behind my back, to lay your strokes upon my shoulders, I will consent. Do what you will and then leave me alone, and keep what I have already written concerning the Pontiffs of Ravenna: you will hear nothing more from me. I will finish this life of Aurelian, and then be silent ever after.34
Remember what I say: I wish you to know that if I leave off this Liber Pontificalis on account of your persecution, a time will come when you will read my half-finished book and will remember with a groan what I am now saying to you. I desire with the help of Almighty God to bring this labour of mine to its proper ending: you, by your too great haste, in fact wish me to leave off. I will not do it. But as I consider that I am your debtor bound to answer that question about the rivers of Ethan I will now do it.
'The Psalmist says, "Thou didst cleave the fountain and p495 the flood, thou driedst up rivers of Ethan?" What is the meaning of these rivers of Ethan?'
Three or four mythical interpretations of this passage follow, occupying a whole folio page. As our version translates 'Thou driedst up mighty rivers,' and as the connection with the history of Italy is not obvious, we will allow the commentary to repose in peace. And here we take our leave of the first part of the Liber Pontificalis of Agnellus.
1 Still existing in the time of St. Peter Damian (Rubeus, p46).
2 Super populum?
3 This church in the city of Classis, which Hieronymus Rubeus calls 'templum augustissimum,' was in his time (1571) 'levelled with the ground so that no vestiges remained of so great a work.'
4 This similitude of the sheep and their shepherd is a favourite one with Agnellus, and is also of very frequent occurrence in the mosaics.
5 Compare the 'linked thunderbolts' of Milton.
7 Now entirely obliterated from the face of the earth.
8 'Super Regiam,' says the Chronicler. The Commentators seem to understand Regia as = Basilica, and to apply it to the church of St. Peter.
10 'Depictum in parietis calce.' This looks like fresco rather than mosaic.
11 It may appear inconsistent to attach any authority at all to the names in Agnellus's list, while admitting the necessity for such violent dislocations in his arrangement of those names. But it seems almost certain that the names themselves were furnished to him by the mosaics and other monuments in the churches, though it is easy to understand how he might fail to get the clue to their right order.
Ducange (Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis s.v. Diptycha) quotes a long passage from Rubeus's History of Ravenna, asserting that there was still present in the Church at Classis a chasuble which served the purpose of a Diptych in recording the names of deceased bishops, which were embroidered on the silk lining and each enclosed in a circle. In one perpendicular line was one series, a line from shoulder to shoulder contained another, round the loins a third series, below the arm-hole a fourth, and so on. It is easy to see how mistakes as to arrangement might arise from the use of such a document as this.
12 No remains apparently of this church.
13 Alluding possibly to seats for the congregation.
14 An incidental proof how little as yet the Ecclesiastical Basilica had deviated in external appearance from its imperial pattern.
15 I need not remark that Papa as well as Pontifex is used of others beside the Pope of Rome.
16 Translation doubtful.
17 This must be a mistake. See the account of the inscription a little below.
18 Translation doubtful.
19 A similar story is told of the Santa Casa at Loretto.
20 Gervasius (?).
21 As the passage is important, I will transcribe the original: — 'Non post multos dies idem Augustus sub consecratione B. Johannis Antistitis xiv Civitates cum suis Ecclesiis largitus est Archieratica potestate, et usque in praesentem diem xiv Civitates cum Episcopis sub Ravennae Ecclesiâ reducta sunt . . . . Iste primus ab Augusto pallium ex candidâ lanâ accepit, ut mos est Romanorum Pontifici super duplo idem induere, quo usus est et successores sui usque in praesentem diem.' Agnelli, Lib. Pontif. apud Muratori, II.67.
22 Quaere as to this statement.
23 The reader will observe here a tradition of dependence from Rome, inconsistent with Valentinian's alleged donation to Angeloptes.
24 Third of that name. Pope from 432 to 440.
25 Translation doubtful.
26 Conscripserunt, not subscripserunt, and therefore, probably, not to be translated 'they signed the decree.'
27 'Sunt tamen qui scribant, D. Petri majoris Templum a Petro Chrysologo inceptum Neonem absolvisse' (Commentary on Agnellus, Lib. Pontif. apud Muratorium, II.54). It is not clear, however, on what authority this statement is made.
28 The text of Agnellus wavers between Brachium Fortis, 'Arm of the Mighty One,' and Brachium Forte, 'Strong Arm.'
29 Agnellus does not tell us which of the two compatres lent and which borrowed. Probably we may assume that the Pater Carnalis lent the money and the much greater Pater Spiritualis received it.
30 Foenerator, properly usurer.
33 Translation doubtful. Civem Fecicum, perhaps = Fetialem.
34 This threat was not fulfilled. His second book is equal in length to the first, which he is here completing.
a These marginal citations are not in the printed text. I've added them: each one links to the corresponding section of the complete Latin text of the Liber Pontificalis Rav., which will open in another window. The reader will note that the numbering of the bishops in that text is a little odd; they will not match Hodgkin's.
b A distance of about 105 km, or a day's journey for a trotting horse.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 11 Aug 20