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Book IV
Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Book IV
Chapter 12

Book 4 (continued)

Vol. III
p439
Chapter XI

Theodoric's Relations with the Church

Authorities

Sources: —

Ennodius, Libellus Apologeticus pro Synodo, a little pamphlet in defence of the Synod which reinstated Pope Symmachus. Ennodius gives that version of the confused transactions of 498‑501, which is most favourable to Symmachus. On the same side, but with no great sign of partisanship, is the Liber Pontificalis in the third volume of Muratori, and now (most carefully edited) in the first volume of Duchesne. On the other hand, we have what Duchesne calls Fragmentum Laurentianum (I.43‑46: or in Muratori, III.2.45), which is an anonymous Vita Symmachi, taking a bitterly hostile view of all the proceedings of this Pope, and evidently the work of some adherent of the Laurentian faction. For Duchesne's remarks on this curious production see his Preface to the L. P., pp. xxx‑xxxi. The acts of the successive councils will be found in Labbé and Mansi's Concilia, tom. VIII pp230‑344.

Guides: —

Baronius (Annales Ecclesiastici), Hefele (Concilien­geschichte), and Dahn (Könige der Germanen).

Want of religious agreement between sovereigns and their subjects, It was a singular coincidence that for nearly thirty years at the close of the fifth and beginning of the sixth century, the three greatest monarchies of the civilised world were ruled by sovereigns whose religious opinions differed from those of their subjects.

at Constantinople, We have seen the troubles which befell Anastasius, because the mob of Constantinople could never be  p440 satisfied that he held the right opinion as to the union of the Divine and the Human in the person of Jesus Christ.

at Ctesiphon, Across the Euphrates, Kobad1 had to atone for this acceptance of the reformed Zoroastrianism of Mazdak by three years of imprisonment in 'the Castle of Oblivion.' He regained the kingdom only by the arms of the White Huns, and when once again seated on the throne and wearing the diadem of the King of kings, he found it prudent to effect a compromise between his personal and his official consciences. As a man he still held the wild communistic faith of Mazdak, but as king he ruled upon the old lines and respected the rights of property both in jewels and in wives.2

and at Ravenna. In Italy, Theodoric, unshaken in the Arianism which had been, probably for a century, the faith of his forefathers, ruled over a people the vast majority of whom were Trinitarians, but ruled so justly that, as we have seen,3 even orthodox bishops praised his fairness  p441 and moderation. Religious impartiality of Theodoric. So thoroughly was it understood that the Catholic had at least an equal chance with the Arian of obtaining the royal favour that, in a story which was current not long after his death, he was even represented as putting to death a Catholic deacon who had embraced the creed of the court in order to ingratiate himself with his sovereign.4 Historians are probably right in rejecting this story, which would indeed have been a striking example of 'an intolerant love of toleration:' but the fact that it should have obtained currency, is a striking proof that his subjects recognised the earnest desire of their sovereign to keep a perfectly even balance between the two warring creeds. In this respect Theodoric stands out in marked contrast to most of the other Teutonic rulers. While the barbarian Gaiseric and his son plunge with blind zeal into the theological fray, cut out the tongues and rack the limbs of Catholic bishops, while the hypocrite Clovis makes his pretended zeal for the Catholic faith an excuse for invading the fair lands of his kinsman and ally, Theodoric with this noble sentence on his lips, 'We cannot command the religion of our subjects, since no one can be forced to believe against his will,'5 pursues, perhaps unconsciously, the truly statesmanlike, truly reverent, policy of Valentinian I, and, leaving each man to answer to his Maker for his thoughts concerning Him, uses the power of  p442 the State only for the punishment of those deeds whereby the State is endangered.

His protection of the Jews. This absolute impartiality in matters of religion extended even to the Jews; and herein is one of the strongest proofs that it was not a mere counsel of convenience, but that it sprang from conviction deeply rooted in the sovereign's mind. It would have been easy for him, as an Arian, to curry favour with the orthodox party by showing that he could be as bitter as any of them against the Jewish enemies of the faith. Instead of this, any offence against Civilitas was punished with equal severity, whether Jew or Christian complained of its perpetration. At Rome, at Milan, at Ravenna, the Jews were at various times attacked by furious mobs, their synagogues burned,6 and their persons ill‑treated. Of course, there was the usual crop of stories to justify the popular fury, stories like those which three centuries before had stirred up the same kind of mobs to do violence to the impious Nazarenes. The Jews in the Trastevere had beaten their Christian servants, the Jews at Ravenna had performed some insulting parody of Christian baptism. But the decision of Theodoric was firm. The order of the State should be upheld, and those who transgressed it, whether Jews or Christians, should be punished. The synagogues were to be rebuilt at the cost of the persons by whom they had been destroyed, and the authors of the tumult were to be severely punished.

He expresses his desire for their conversion. True, the Gothic King, or his Secretary for him, in one of the letters announcing these decisions,7 made  p443 a pathetic appeal to the Jews to escape from the future punishment of their misbelief — an appeal which would hardly appear at the end of a similar state-paper issued in our own times. 'But why, oh Jew! dost thou seek by thy supplications to us for temporal quietness, if thou art not able to find the rest which is eternal?' But the long oppressed nation did not resent a word or two of disapprobation for their theology, while their material rights were safe-guarded by so firm a hand. They gave their strong, hearty, and unwavering loyalty to the Gothic rule in Italy: and, when we come to the story of the final contest between King and Emperor, we shall find that, as certainly as the Catholic priest is on the side of Justinian, so certainly is the Jewish merchant on that of Witigis or Totila.

His position at the time of contested papal elections. From the impartial, almost friendly attitude which Theodoric assumed towards the Catholic Church through the greater part of his reign, he naturally exercised a great moral influence in addition to the political rights which belonged to him as head of the State, at that time of trouble and anxiety, both for Church and State, a contested Papal election.

In tracing the history of the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, we have come down to the pontificate of Hormisdas. Pope Gelasius, 1 March 492 to 21 Nov. 496. Remounting the stream of Papal history, we find that the occupant of St. Peter's chair at the accession of Theodoric was the vigorous and uncompromising Gelasius. In the pontificate of Gelasius the controversy with Constantinople was conducted with at least as much vigour and asperity as had marked the spiritual war under the generalship of Felix. Happily, however, we may now  p444 turn from this monotonous controversy to behold the Pope trampling out the dying, but not quite dead, embers of Paganism. His opposition to the Lupercalia. There was still a party at Rome, with the Senator Andromachus at their head, who wished to keep up the old heathen orgies of the Lupercalia//v, that strange rite made memorable by Mark Antony's share in it, on the day when, after running naked through the Forum, he knelt down and offered the diadem to Caesar. This custom had not been suppressed along with the other heathen observances, and now Andromachus and his party wished to perpetuate it. They pleaded that none of the earlier Popes had objected to the rite. It used to be thought that the touch of the Lupercalian's thong falling on the shoulders of the Roman matrons brought with it a peculiar good fortune. It could, at any rate, do no harm to keep alive so ancient a custom. Gelasius replied, with bitter scorn, that though earlier pontiffs might not have been strong enough to suppress the heathen observance, he was, and would exercise his power. If Andromachus and his party really believed the Lupercalia to be a religious act, let them take the shame of it on themselves, themselves rush about like naked madmen through the streets, and not, as was now the custom, put off the shame of it upon others, their inferiors in rank. The observance of the Lupercalia had not brought luck to Rome in past times, had not saved her from the sword of Alaric or the ships of Gaiseric. Nay, even in later days, the terrible scenes which marked the strife between Anthemius and Ricimer had not been averted by this silly and licentious rite. He could not lay down the law for Pagans, but to Christians he spoke in a voice to which  p445 they must hearken. No baptized person, no Christian, should dare take part in the impious orgy: if he did he should be without hesitation cut off from the communion of the faithful.8

We know not the result, but it cannot be doubted that such a mandate, coming from such lips, was sufficient to destroy the Lupercalian festival.

Pope Anastasius II, 24 Nov. 496 to 19 Nov. 498. Gelasius was succeeded by the gentle Anastasius; and, on the death of this conciliatory Pontiff, Festus the ambassador who had just visited Constantinople with a commission both from the Pope and the King, and who had succeeded in making peace on behalf of the latter for his 'pre‑assumption of the kingdom,' endeavoured to further the cause of unity by procuring the election of a Pope who would look favourably on the Henoticon of Zeno. Efforts of Festus on behalf of the Henoticon. Both at Old and New Rome, symptoms may be discerned of a disposition on the part of the aristocrats to press this creation of statesmen, this politically concocted 'end of controversy,' on the rulers of the Church; while the lower classes and the monks, seeing perhaps less of the necessities of the position, stood immutably faithful to the Tome of Leo and the Council of Chalcedon.

He puts forward Laurentius as a candidate for the Papacy, 22 Nov. 498. Double election: Laurentius and Symmachus. The candidate whom Festus, in the interests of his scheme of Church union, desired to see made Pope, was the Arch-Presbyter Laurentius, who was elected a few days after the death of Anastasius in the great Liberian Basilica.9 On the same day, however, a larger body of clergy, assembled in the Lateran Church, had elected as Pope the deacon Symmachus, a native  p446 of Sardinia, whose consecration was accomplished before that of his rival.

The dispute referred to Theodoric. Here then was the city plunged anew into all the miseries and the turmoil of a contest for the chair of St. Peter. Blood had already begun to flow in the streets of Rome, when the wise resolution was taken to refer the whole matter in dispute to the arbitration of Theodoric. The rival candidates appeared accordingly in his palace at Ravenna, and claimed his award. His decision. Political reasons would probably have inclined him to support the candidate of Festus, who had so successfully served him at the court of Anastasius, but his instinctive love of justice prevailed. 'The candidate first elected, if also the candidate by most voices, ought to be Pope.' He who fulfilled these conditions was Symmachus.

Symmachus Pope. Council at St. Peter's, 1 Mar. 499. A council, the first of many on this business, was called at St. Peter's on the 1st of March in the following year. Symmachus, who had convened the council, was recognised as regularly elected Pope; and decrees were made against the practice of canvassing for votes in anticipation of a vacancy in the Holy See, and for the regulation of future contested elections in the case of the Pope's dying suddenly without having been able to arrange for the election of his successor.10

Reaction in favour of Laurentius. The victory of Symmachus, however, was only apparent. Though Laurentius, who seems to have been a man of peaceable disposition, was willing to acquiesce in his defeat, and even accepted the bishopric of Noceraa from his rival, his partisans, who perhaps constituted  p447 the majority of the Senate, could not brook their defeat by the popular party. We hear no more of the Henoticon, the original cause of the quarrel: everything seems merged in the passionate determination of the Senators, by fair means or foul, to depose Symmachus from the Papacy. The senators accuse Symmachus of immorality. It seems probable that the means used were foul rather than fair, when, in addition to the ordinary charge of alienation of church-property (doubtless in order to meet the expenses of the election) and a singular one of celebrating Easter apart from the multitude of believers, an accusation of gross immorality was also brought against Symmachus by Festus and his fellow-worker Probinus.11 The vagueness of these charges, the illegal means by which it was sought to support them, and the earnest denial of their truth by Ennodius12 (an honest man, though an intolerably tedious writer), all seem to justify the belief that this was one of those cruel attacks on private character which are made, only because the high position of the victim causes accusation and condemnation to be one, in the charitable judgment of the crowd.13

Disturbances break out afresh. Again disturbances broke out, again there was bloodshed in the streets and squares of Rome. We are not  p448 able to fix the precise date of this recrudescence of the strife, 500. but it seems probable that it was in the later months of 500, just after the sojourn of the King in Rome, during which undoubtedly both parties kept truce in the presence of that stalwart maintainer of civilitas.14

Theodoric summons Symmachus to Ariminum. The King, who during that visit had probably been in frequent intercourse with the leaders of the Senatorial party, may have imbibed some of their prejudices against Symmachus, who was formally accused before him of immorality. At any rate he summoned him to Rimini, The Pope obeys, and the Pope, who seems to have understood that only the trifling question about his manner of keeping Easter would be examined into by Theodoric, obeyed the summons. One evening, however, as he wandered by the sea‑shore, he saw some travellers riding by along the Flaminian Way. but afterwards flees to Rome. Among them were the Roman women whom he was accused of having seduced. The truth flashed upon his mind. They were going to the King's Comitatus, and he was to stand his trial before it for adultery. Terrified at the prospect,15 he stole away secretly in the dead of night, with one attendant, to Rome, to his old refuge at the Basilica of St. Peter.

Peter of Altino appointed 'Visitor' by Theodoric. Offended by the Pope's flight, and rendered yet more suspicious of his guilt, Theodoric now took the bold step of appointing a 'Visitor' to summon a council, to hear thereat the charges against Symmachus, and meanwhile to undertake the government of the  p449 Church in his stead. This was undoubtedly a high-handed proceeding; one which, in the distracted state of the Church, success, and the maintenance of strict impartiality by the King's delegate, might have excused, but which otherwise it would difficult to justify. The Visitor, Bishop Peter of Altino, preserved no semblance of judicial impartiality, and consequently his mission was doomed to failure. Instead of visiting the Pope at the shrine of St. Peter's,16 he at once threw himself into the arms of the Senatorial party, turned several of the clerical adherents of Symmachus out of their churches and intruded Laurentians in their room.

Peter's hostility to the Pope causes a reaction in his favour. This strong partisanship, exhibited by the nominee of an Arian king at the bidding of the laymen of the Senate, touched the hierarchical spirit of the bishops who were summoned to the Council, and caused a certain reaction in favour of Symmachus, who hitherto had perhaps had only the lower clergy and the populace of Rome in his favour. Some of the bishops on their way to Rome had an interview with Theodoric, in which they frankly told him — so say the Acts of a later Council, which undoubtedly represent the high ecclesiastical view of the question — 'that he, the accused Pope, and not the King, was the person who ought of right to convene the Council, since by God's command this was the peculiar privilege of the Pope, derived from the dignity of Peter's primacy, that he could not be judged by those of lower degree.'

 p450  Symmachus denies the Council's right to judge him. This was in fact the position taken up by Symmachus, when at length, soon after Easter in 501, the Council which was to try his case assembled in the Julian Basilica. Yet, he intimated, he might be willing to waive his right, and appear before the Council to answer the charges against him, but only on condition that Peter the Visitor should be disavowed, and the churches which he had taken from the adherents of Symmachus should be restored to them. The Council dare not offend either Pope or King. The Council, which was composed chiefly of elderly men, did not dare thus to reverse the acts of Theodoric. Nor did they, on the other hand, though partially reassured by a letter which the King had shown the bishops at Ravenna, proving that Symmachus himself had expressed a desire for the assembling of the Council, dare to sit in judgment on the successor of St. Peter without his consent. After fumbling at the question for some time with feeble trembling hands, they gave it up, and requested the king to convoke a council at Ravenna. The Council then broke up, and several of its members left Rome.

Theodoric insists on their deciding the question. This futile result disgusted the King, who was not perhaps greatly interested in the question whether Symmachus or Laurentius should win, but earnestly desirous that the strife should be ended somehow, and peace restored to Rome. He wrote to the bishops who remained at Rome, praising their patience, but complaining with some acerbity of their faint-hearted colleagues. He entirely refused to have the matter referred to him at Ravenna. 'Had it been his wish to interfere in the dispute,' he said, 'he doubted not that he and the great officers of his household would have been able to find a solution of the difficulty, which  p451 would have been approved by posterity. But as it concerns God and the clergy he had decided to summon the bishops; and they must settle it.'17 Three letters18 were written by Theodoric in this strain, urging the bishops to do their duty and not to leave undecided a controversy which was daily imperilling the peace of 'the Royal City.' 'If you like to decide it without enquiry, on account of the rank of the accused person, do so; though I must remind you of that saying of Aspar's' (and here Theodoric indulged in a remembrance of his Byzantine days) 'when he was recommended by the Senate to make himself Emperor: "I fear," said he, "lest by me this thing should be drawn into a custom in the Empire."19 Even so I fear lest if you leave this matter unenquired into,  p452 immorality should become common among priests. Still, on you be the responsibility: only decide the case.'

Safeguard sent to Symmachus. At the same time, Theodoric sent three stout Goths, Arigern the count and the chamberlains Gudila and Bedewulf, to Symmachus, to protect him on his passage through the city, and probably also to remind the Sardinian priest that the King of the Goths and Romans was not accustomed to have his orders disobeyed by any subject, however exalted. Tumult in the streets of Rome, 1 Sept. 501. The persuasion, of whatever kind it may have been, was effectual; the protection, as it turned out, was really needed. The Pope set forth on the morning of the 1st of September to meet the Council of his judges assembled in the church of Santa Croce, hard by that Sessorian place in which, a year before, the head of Odoin the traitor had rolled on the marble pavement. To reach the place of judgment Symmachus must need traverse the whole breadth of Rome, from the north-western Janiculan hill to the south-eastern Coelian. The sight of the Pope going forth on this humiliating errand touched the hearts of his plebeian supporters. A multitude gathered in his train, who followed him weeping and lamenting.20 These evidences of the popularity of their hated antagonist kindled the rage of the Senators of the opposite party. To them the question between Laurentius and Symmachus was probably no more than as one of those disputes in the circus between the Blues and Greens, in which the victory of a charioteer favoured by the  p453 mob goaded the dainty Senator to madness.21 Whatever the cause, the party of Laurentius, including some priests as well as Senators, fell upon the mournful procession of Symmachus, dealing such cruel blows that many fell wounded to the earth, and only the energy of the three Gothic henchmen succeeded in winning for their protégé a way back through the crowd to his asylum at St. Peter's shrine.

Symmachus shuts himself up at St. Peter's. This street-brawl secured the victory to Symmachus. With good reason could he now entrench himself behind his sacred prerogative, and say, 'I am in God's hands and the King's. Let them do with me what they will. I appear not before the Council.' The sympathies of Theodoric, which had been for a time turned against Symmachus, by what looked like an evasion from justice, were now heartily restored to him by this gross breach of civilitas on the part of his accusers; an outrage which was made personally insulting to himself by the fact that it was committed on a man who was under the tuitio regii nominis and escorted by three Gothic officers. Henceforward nothing more was heard from the King about compelling the Pope to answer his accusers. He only pressed upon the Council (which now willingly pronounced a verdict clearing the Pope of the charges brought against him) that they should not merely decide this theoretical question, but practically end the dispute by assigning the churches and other ecclesiastical buildings in Rome to the persons who were canonically entitled to them, and compel the obedience of all the clergy to Symmachus, now the undoubtedly lawful Pope. All this difficult but necessary work  p454 the feeble old bishops would gladly have thrust off upon him, but he answered with truth and spirit, 'That is your affair, not mine. Had it been my business, I and my good chiefs22 would have settled it long ago.'

Synodus Palmaris, 23 Oct. 501, finally acquits Pope Symmachus of the charges brought against him. The final decision of the whole controversy was attained in the Council called the Synodus Palmaris, which was held 'in the Portico of St. Peter's, which is called Palmaria.'23 This Council, which was called by its enemies, 'The Synod of the Incongruous Absolution,' was fiercely attacked by them on diverse grounds, both of substance and of form.24 The Apology of Ennodius. It was defended by Ennodius in a long apology, in which, through a thick veil of almost unmeaning rhetoric, and amidst a profusion of Scripture texts pelted forth at random upon his antagonists, it is just possible to discern some of the main outlines of the controversy. According to the taste of the age the Apology closes with three long imaginary addresses from St. Peter, St. Paul, and the city of Rome. In these addresses the good bishop reaches a higher level than in the rest of his composition, and the rhetorician once or twice speaks like an orator. His warm praises of  p455 Theodoric's rule25 impress us more in this tractate than in the panegyric which was composed to be recited before him. We understand also more fully the feeling of depression with which a Christian Roman of that day looked back upon the past history of his country, when we hear Rome lamenting that all her greatest sons, the Curii, the Torquati, and the Camilli, had been borne by her only to languish forever in Tartarus because the Church had not regenerated them, that the Fabii and Decii who had saved others could not be saved themselves; that Scipio, who was ever a fervent lover of the right, was joined with the greatest criminals in the world to come because he was ignorant of Christ.26

Victory of Symmachus, 502‑506. It took some time for the troubled waters to subside. We hear that Laurentius, who had come back to Rome, continued the strife for four years; but Symmachus was now strong in the approbation of councils, and the support of Theodoric, and, as far as we can see, his opponents, playing faint-heartedly a losing game, did not again venture on any actual breach of the public peace.

Bearing of the whole dispute on the limits of royal and papal power. The whole controversy has, it will at once be seen, an important bearing on events of a much later date. Some of the questions mooted are the same as those which came up for solution at the Council of  p456 Constance. In so thorny a controversy it is hardly possible to frame any proposition which may not be attacked from one side or the other; but perhaps we shall be safe in asserting these: —

I. The right of the King, as head of the State, to convene a Council by his own authority was asserted on the one side and denied on the other.

II. But the tacit consent of the Pope cured the informality of the Council, even in the eyes of ecclesiastics.

III. It was not formally denied that the Pope, like other subjects of the King, was subject to his jurisdiction for such an offence as adultery. But —

IV. It was strenuously denied that a Council (consisting as it did of his ecclesiastical inferiors) could sit in judgment on a Pope. And in the end this contention practically prevailed.27

Should the Pope be tried before King or Council? We can see at once the great difference between the third and fourth points. To subject a Pope to the jurisdiction of the bishops in his obedience was like bringing a captain to trial before the soldiers of his  p457 company — a proceeding necessarily subversive of all discipline. But that was not saying that the Pope, who was still no temporal sovereign but a subject, — either of the Emperor or of the King — need give no account to the Head of the State, for acts which he had committed in defiance of its laws. The successor of St. Peter was responsible for the exercise of his spiritual authority to no man. But if Symmachus committed adultery or murder, he must answer for the deed to our lord Theodoric in his palace at Ravenna.

Theodoric comes out well from the dispute. The history of the strife exhibits in a favourable light the sound sense and statesmanship of the Ostrogothic King. He has no desire to meddle in matters ecclesiastical. His one anxiety is to see that civilitas be maintained and its assailants punished. 'A free Church in a free — or at all events in a well-ordered — State' is practically his maxim. He makes one or two mistakes, but shows his statesmanship in this more than anything, that he knows how to retrieve his mistakes, and is not, by a foolish craving after consistency or blind self-love, enticed into the common blunder of letting the first error drag him on into a series of other errors each greater than its predecessor.

Fifth Council, 6 Nov. 502. The only other act of the Pontificate of Symmachus which need be noticed here is his share in the proceedings of another council, the fifth, which was held at St. Peter's on the 6th of November, 502. Addressing the assembled fathers of the Church, he recommended that the authors of the recent schism, who had been led away by love of dominion and had cast off the yoke of the Church, should be left to the mercy of God if they were not too hardened to accept of it. After  p458 proclaiming this somewhat dubious amnesty, Odovacar's decrees repudiated. he brought before the notice of the Council the encroachment on the rights of the Church of which Odovacar had been guilty twenty years before. In order to bring the matter more vividly before them, the deacon Hormisdas, a man who was himself one day to be Pope, read the decree once issued by the illustrious Basilius in the name of the most excellent King Odovacar. The particulars of that certainly somewhat daring piece of legislation have been already detailed.28 The holy fathers gasped with indignation when they heard once more the language of a layman, though a king, arrogating to himself the absolute nomination of a successor to the Papal throne, and, what was even more audacious, inflicting the penalty of anathema on the alienators of ecclesiastical property. Speaker after speaker interrupted the reader, pointing out successive violations of the canons by this decree: and when each one had finished, again the calm voice of the deacon Hormisdas was heard, perhaps indicating by sarcastic emphasis his own dislike of the document of which he was the unwilling expositor. After heartily condemning the decree and declaring that, as wanting the Papal sanction, it was utterly invalid, the Council proceeded to re‑enact, in a regular manner, the really valuable portion of it, — that which forbade the alienation of the property of the Church; making, however, an exception on behalf of houses in Rome, which the clergy, if they found themselves unable to bear the expense of keeping them up, were at liberty to sell, accounting scrupulously for the proceeds of the sale.

 p459  Death of Symmachus, 19 July, 514. After sixteen years, the eventful pontificate of Symmachus came to an end. When he died, Cassiodorus was in Rome, delighting in the shadowy glories of his year of office as Consul. He was admirably adapted for the task which naturally devolved upon him, of allaying the bitter spirit of contending factions, of soothing the wounded self-love of the Senate which had probably never been heartily reconciled to the victory of Symmachus, and inducing it to co‑operate peaceably with the popular leaders among the clergy in the election of a new pope.

Election of Hormisdas, 20 July, 514. The scandals of a contested election were avoided, and, after an unusually short vacancy of seven days, the Papal seat was again filled; the new occupant being Hormisdas the Campanian, the reader of the obnoxious decree of Odovacar: a man who, as the event showed, was to be not only himself a pope, but also the father of a pope.

Pontificate of Hormisdas, 20 July, 514, to 6 Aug. 523. The chief events of the pontificate of Hormisdas have already been told in the chapter describing Theodoric's relations with Constantinople. He was well fitted to conduct such a struggle as that in which he was engaged with Anastasius, and to reap, with cold complacency, the uttermost fruits of the victory which was offered him by Justin.

Election of Pope John I, 13 Aug. 523. There was again a short vacancy and an undisputed succession. On the 13th of August, 523, John, a Tuscan, first of the long line of Popes who have borne the name, if they have not all imitated the saintliness, of the beloved Disciple, sat in the chair of St. Peter.

Difficulties of the Pope's position towards the King. The new Pope came to his dignity at a difficult and anxious time. Four years had now elapsed since the  p460 close of the schism, and during those years, while Justin's relations with the Roman Church had been excellent, his relations with the Italian King appear to have been growing steadily worse. How the chasm began to yawn between Romans and Goths, and how Theodoric, challenged to decide, declared himself on the side of his own nation, will be told in the next chapter. It is sufficient here to note that the year of John's accession to the Papacy is also the year when, by Theodoric's orders, Boethius was shut up in prison.

Justin's persecutions of the Arians. The next year, honoured by the Emperor Justin's assuming for the second time the consular title, was marked by a decided step taken by that Emperor in the direction of intolerance. Hitherto Justin, while persecuting severely the Manicheans and all heretics of that class, had left the Arians untouched, and seems even to have alleged, as a reason for his intolerance, that they professed the same religion as Theodoric. Now, however, this exception in their favour was suddenly and harshly terminated.29 Everywhere the churches of the Arians were reconsecrated with Catholic rites, and they themselves were made to understand that the time had gone by when they could be allowed to continue to disbelieve in the Homoousion.

Theodoric begins a policy of reprisal. Theodoric, irritated by the insult to himself, and disgusted by such an ungrateful return for his impartial tolerance, now began to lose his temper, and under the influence of ill‑temper not only departed from the principles of a lifetime, but committed one of the greatest mistakes in policy which it was possible to perpetrate. He, whose one great glory it had been  p461 to make no distinction between creed and creed, began to entertain the idea of a persecution of Catholics in Italy, by way of reprisal for the persecution of Arians in Thrace. He determines to send the Pope on a mission to Constantinople. And, in order to change the purpose of the Emperor, he committed the astounding folly of sending the Pope to Constantinople. No two pieces on the political chess-board ought, for the safety of his kingdom, to have been kept further apart from one another than the Pope and the Emperor: and now, by his own act, he brings these pieces close together. Summoning Pope John to Ravenna, he signified his pleasure that the head of the Catholic Church should visit Constantinople as his ambassador, and should inform Justin that, unless he restored their churches to the Arians, the sword of Theodoric would ravage the whole of Italy. The Pope, sick and infirm, besought with tears to be excused for so degrading and unsuitable a mission, but the King, in whom the blood of all his Amal ancestors was now boiling, would take no denial, and the unhappy priest, cowed into submission, consented to set forth.30 The mission was  p462 in outward show a brilliant one. Three ex‑consuls, Theodorus,31 Importunus,32 and Agapetus,33 and one patrician, a second Agapetus, went in the train of the Pontiff. Miracles marked their course. At Corinth, a nobleman's horse which had been lent for the Pope's use absolutely refused thenceforward to be ridden by a woman, the owner's wife, whose tractable steed it had been till that day. The nobleman, making a merit of necessity, sent the creature, possessed of such nice spiritual discernment, to the Pope, and besought him with many prayers, to regard it as his own.34 At the entrance into Constantinople, a blind man imploring his aid, and touched by the Pontiff's hand, received his sight.

Excitement at Constantinople over the Pope's visit. Everywhere there were joyous excitement and expectation at the arrival of the successor of St. Peter in the New Rome; an event, men said, which had never happened since Silvester came to visit its founder Constantine. Justin, with all his Court, and, so it seemed, the whole city of Constantinople, streamed forth with crosses and candles to meet the ambassadors at the twelfth milestone. Prone on the ground the  p463 Emperor, whom all other men adored, adored the weary Pontiff. Sick and anxious as he was, it was impossible for John not to feel that it was a great day for the Papacy. When Easter‑day came the Pope, taking the place of honour at the right hand of the Patriarch of Constantinople, celebrated Mass according to the Latin use in the great Cathedral.35 Nay, so far, according to one rather doubtful story,36 did Justin carry his devotion to his distinguished guest, that, though now in the eighth year of his reign, and once crowned already by the Patriarch of Constantinople, he solicited and obtained the honour of a second coronation from his papal visitor.

Result of the mission. As to the success of John's intercession with Justin it is not easy to speak positively.37 The authorities who are most nearly contemporary assert very clearly that the prayers and tears of the Pope and his colleagues prevailed, and that the Emperor granted all their requests except that for the reconversion to Arianism of the new‑made Catholics, which was deemed a thing impossible. Thus, they say, was Italy liberated from the fear of the vengeance of Theodoric. Modern papal historians like Baronius, eager to vindicate the Pope from the stain of advocating religious toleration, vehemently contend against this statement, and ask with some force, 'Why then the rage of Theodoric on the Pope's return, if he had done, with one inconsiderable exception, all that he was ordered to do?'  p464 Perhaps we may fairly conclude that the Pope deserved the anger of both parties; of the Catholics for asking for and obtaining things which were in his view unlawful, and of the King for throwing out hints and commencing negotiations inconsistent with his loyalty as a subject. The maxim —

'To thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man,'

was one the spirit of which had been disregarded by Pope John, and he paid the penalty.

Return of the Pope to Ravenna, 526. On his return to Ravenna, early in 526, the Pope found the King in no friendly mood, broken probably in health and sore against all the supposed abettors of Boethius and Symmachus in their treasonable practices with Constantinople. John himself and his three ex‑consular colleagues were thrown into prison,38 and there lingered several months. Death of Pope John I, 18 May, 526. The hardships of the prison life were too much for the already enfeebled health of the Pontiff, and he died in confinement on the 18th of May, 526,39 one hundred and four days before the death of the King himself.

Grievous mistake of Theodoric. Thus did Theodoric, whose whole reign had been pervaded by the attempt to harmonise Goth and Roman, and to rule without partiality over Catholic and Arian, cruelly wound the feelings of his Roman subjects by degrading the person of the Pope, and end his career by making the one man to whom the eyes of all Catholics turned with reverence — a martyr.  p465 Toleration is a noble principle, but it cannot be taken up and laid down at pleasure. He who would earn the glory of a tolerant king must be tolerant even in the presence of intolerance: tolerant even to the end. If we may take a simile from horsemanship, it is of no use for the rider to keep his temper with a timid, shying horse through ten vagaries, if at the eleventh he loses patience and brings the whip down in heavy wrath. All his previous self-restraint goes for nothing, and his ill‑temper spoils the temper of his steed.


The Author's Notes:

1 The reign of Kobad lasted from 487 to 498, and from 501 to 531.

2 According to Rawlinson's description, the teaching of Mazdak must have had some similarity to modern Nihilism. 'All men were born equal: none brought into the world any property or any natural right to possess more than another. Property and marriage were mere human inventions: — in communities based upon them, men might lawfully vindicate their natural rights by taking their fair share of the good things wrongfully appropriated by their fellows. Adultery, incest, theft, were not really crimes, but necessary steps towards re‑establishing the laws of nature in such societies.' Yet Mazdak himself was a man of austere life, and preached these doctrines 'not from any base or selfish motive, but simply from a conviction of their truth' (Seventh Oriental Monarchy, 343).

3 See the extract from the Anonymus Valesii in chapter VIII.

4 This story is told by the nearly contemporary Theodorus Lector (p193, ed. Migne), as well as by the late and legend-loving Theophanes (p122, ed. of 1655). The early date of the former writer causes me to speak of the tale a little more respectfully than some of my predecessors.

5 'Religionem imperare non possumus, quia nemo cogitur ut credat invitus' (Cass. Var. II.27).

6 This happened only at Rome and Ravenna.

7 Cass. Var. V.37.

8 The letter of Gelasius is to be found in the 59th vol. of Migne's Patrologia, pp110‑116.

9 Church of S. Maria Maggiore.

10 Though a dying Pope could not absolutely nominate his successor, great weight was attached to his recommendation, which it seems to have been a matter of course for him to utter.

11 Probably the same as the Probinus, Vir Illustris and Patricius, who is rebuked in Cass. Var. II.11 for overreaching conduct towards Basilius and Agapita.

12 In his Liber Apologeticus pro Synodo.

13 The only passage which makes me doubt Ennodius' conviction of the absolute innocence of Symmachus is this sentence in the imaginary address of St. Peter to his accusers: 'Nolite Symmachum papam pressuris vestris juvare (?): si reus est, mihi credite, cum cessaverit humanae impugnationis ministerium divinum mox succedit arbitrium' (Libellus Apol. pro Synodo, 201: Migne).

14 Anon. Valesii says that Theodoric's visit to Rome was 'post factam pacem in urbem (sic) ecclesiae.'

15 And perhaps, as Dahn suggests, determined not to concede the king's right to try him on such a charge.

16 Ennodius argues at some length that, had Peter of Altino proceeded, as a good Catholic should have done, first to the tomb of the Apostle, the grace vouchsafed to him there would have saved him from his subsequent errors.

17 'Si mihi visum fuisset, aut justitia habuisset, ut ego debuissem audire cum Proceribus Palatii mei, potueram tractare quomodo et Deo placuisset et posteritati ingratum non fuisset.' But because it is 'causa Dei et clericorum,' he has on the petition of senate and clergy convoked the bishops to settle it.

18 These letters are given by Baronius (Ann. Eccl. IX.13), and said by him to have been sent him by 'noster Nicolaus Faber' of Paris. They are said to have suffered from time and the errors of copyists, but are undoubtedly of great interest. One would like to know something more of their history than the meagre statement of Baronius. The fact that they are not included in the Variae makes it probable that as yet Cassiodorus had not entered on the office of Quaestor.

The first letter (addressed to the bishops who had remained at Rome, and with whom the king was best satisfied) has the concluding words 'Orate pro nobis, domini ac venerabiles Patres' added in another hand. Notwithstanding the depreciatory remarks of Anon. Valesii as to Theodoric's penmanship, one cannot repress the conjecture that this subscription was in the original added by the king's own hand.

19 Probably Aspar means the custom of placing the diadem on the head of a man of non‑Roman descent.

20 'Multitudo illa juncta sacerdotis officiis attulit ad nos lamenta non jacula: nec venit telis minax sed fletibus miserabilis' (Ennodius, Libellus Apologeticus, p194: Migne).

21 See Cass. Var. I.20.

22 Proceres.

23 So says Anastasius, the papal biographer. We must not, therefore, as we might otherwise be inclined to do, connect it with the 'Ad Palmam' (within the city), where Theodoric harangued the people (Anon. Valesii, 66).

24 One of the most important of these was, that if Symmachus were innocent he should have tendered his slaves to be examined, if necessary by torture, as to what had gone on in his house. The Pope's partisans, on the other hand, took refuge in the well-known principle of Roman law that no slave's evidence was to be taken against his master, except in cases of 'majestas.'

25 For instance, 'Sed Dei beneficia non tacebo: quia princeps noster rebus superat decora sermonum' (p199, Migne).

26 'Quae Curios, Torquatos, Camillos, quos Ecclesia non regeneravit, et reliquos misi plurimae prolis infecunda mater ad Tartarum: — quia Fabios servata patria non redemit, Deciis multo sudore gloria parta nil praestitit: profligata est operum sine fide innocentia: criminosis junctus est aequi observantissimus, qui Christum ignoravit, Scipio' (p206).

27 In this connection I must refer the student who is desirous of enquiring further into the matter to the valuable monograph by Herm. Usener on the relation of the Roman Senate to the Church in the days of the Ostrogoths (in 'Commentationes Philologae in honorem Theod. Mommseni': Berlin, 1877). The author claims for the Senate at this period a large share in the practical regulation of the affairs of the Church, and even some right to be consulted as to the definition of her doctrines. The point is a most important one, especially if Usener be correct in maintaining that these functions of the Senate belonged to it as heir of the rights of the laity in the Primitive Church. Ecclesiastically my sympathies are entirely on Herr Usener's side: but I scarcely think he has yet made out his case, though he certainly shows cause for further enquiry.

28 p143.

29 Anastasius Bibliothecarius is here our chief authority.

30 Here is the account of the matter given by the Anonymus Valesii: —

'The King returning [from the death of Boethius] in a fury, and unmindful of the blessings of God, thought that he could intimidate Justin by an embassy, and summoning to Ravenna John, the chief of the Apostolic See, he said to him, "Walk [ambula] to Justin the Emperor, and tell him CHECK:among other things to restore the reconciled heretics to the Catholic [Arian] faith." To whom Pope John made answer, "What thou art about to do, oh King, do quickly. Lo, I stand here in thy sight. I will not promise to do this thing for thee, nor to say this to the Emperor. In any other matters which thou mayest lay upon me, God helping me, I may be able to succeed." Then the King being angry ordered a ship to be prepared, and placed him on board with other bishops, to wit Ecclesius of Ravenna, Eusebius of Fano, Sabinus of Campania, and two others, together with the following Senators, Theodorus, Importunus, Agapitus, and another Agapitus. But God, who does not desert his faithful worshippers, brought them prosperously to their journey's end. Then the Emperor Justin met him on his arrival as if he were St. Peter himself, and having heard his message promised that he would comply with all his demands, except that the converts who had given themselves to the Catholic faith could by no means be restored to the Arians.'

Thayer's Note: II.15 (88) — a somewhat different translation, linked to the Latin text.

31 Consul in 505.

32 Consul in 509.

33 Consul in 517.

34 Dialogues of Pope Gregory, lib. 3 cap. 2.

35 Marcellinus Comes, s. a.

36 In Anastasius.

37 The letter attributed to Pope John in his prison, and quoted by Baronius (IX.349), which might, if genuine, have thrown some light on these transactions, is now considered to be a forgery.

38 The Patrician Agapetus had died on the journey out, at Thessalonica.

39 This is the date in the Liber Pontificalis, which however erroneously makes the interval before the death of Theodoric 97 days instead of 104. See Duchesne, I.277.


Thayer's Note:

a Nocera in Campania (Latin: Nuceria Alfaterna), now split into Nocera Inferiore and Nocera Superiore) not Nocera in Umbria (Nuceria Camellaria), nor any of the other much smaller places in Italy once called Nuceria or now called Nocera.


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