Popes in a Year
#36 - Pope Liberius
Pope from 352-366 A.D.
Died: 366 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Liberius.
At long last, we have the first pope to not be recognized as a saint. It was a bummer, too, because Liberius is the only one in the first
to not bear that title. Liberius is recognized, however, as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
He reigned as pope for 14 years through some tumultuous times, when Arianism was still in full force, and when the emperor (Constantius) was particularly favorable to this unorthodox view. Liberius was exiled for a time, but was eventually returned to Rome and given a hero’s welcome by the faithful. He had a basilica erected during his tenure, one we now know as St. Mary Major in Rome. Liberius died on September 24, 366.
What was he known for?
Pope Liberius is typically known as being one of three popes used by non-Catholics as an example of why papal infallibility is bunk. The rumor was that Liberius signed a heretical creed and thereby proclaimed error, which (if true) would’ve kissed the pope's infallibility goodbye.
Here’s the real story: Pope Liberius was the crown jewel of Constantius’ effort to force Arianism on Christianity; having the Roman pontiff bend to his will would have been his greatest victory. History shows that the emperor threw every method of coercion at Liberius in order to have him renounce the true faith. For TWO YEARS Liberius was put under this duress, but the pope remained unmoved.
The major beef -- where we get the bad rumor from -- that Liberius was out of line is due to both St. Athanasius (alive at the time) and St. Jerome (writing years later) asserting that Liberius had indeed signed the heretical statement and renounced the true faith.
The problems with this
are that Athanasius, in exile at the time, was likely missing key details, and that Jerome was probably duped by having forgeries for source material. What's more, even if Liberius did sign, it would have been done via coercion, which makes it
not an act of free will
. And so, infallibility is still intact. Your move, critics.
Liberius was another pope who dealt with a rival to his throne. Felix, an archdeacon and an Arian (again, believed Christ was just a man), wanted to play “finders keepers” to the Chair of Peter when Liberius was exiled to Thrace. The clergy in Rome did Liberius a solid, though, and vowed to accept no other bishop until his return or his death.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
In 361, construction of the Monastery of St. Anthony began in Egypt’s Eastern Desert.
Coming tomorrow....Pope St. Damasus I
SOURCES (and further reading)
- John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
- Madrid, P. (1998). Pope Fiction. Chapter 14. Dallas: Basilica Press.
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Monday, February 20 at 2:00AM