Popes in a Year
#47 - Pope Simplicius
Pope from 468-483 A.D.
Died: 483 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Simplicius.
A native of Tivoli (a region in Central Italy), St. Simplicius was elected pope on March 3, 468 following his predecessor’s death, after serving as a priest under both Hilarius and Leo the Great. He dealt with a number of heresies, chief among them being Eutchyianism (a form of Monophysitism) which taught that Christ bore one nature made up of human and divine elements (as opposed to him having both human and divine natures).
Simplicius also wrestled with the fallout from the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in the Eastern Church, particularly with how much power the Patriarch of Constantinople would have. That particular patriarch wanted to say, “I’m basically the pope of the East." Simplicius, siding with similar rulings by Leo and Hilarius before him, replied (to paraphrase), “There’s only one pope, and it’s not you.” Simplicius died on March 10, 483, was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica, and was venerated as a saint soon after his death.
What was he known for?
Simplicius is best known for navigating the Barque of Peter through the end of the Western (Roman) Empire and into uncertain times. Though the Roman Emperors were basically shells wielding little real power by that time, barbarians finally conquered Italy and appointed Odoacer, an Arian and leader of the Heruli tribe, as their king. Surprisingly little persecution of the Church occurred, however, as the invaders fully tolerated the religion of their Catholic citizens and allowed the administrative structure to stay in place. This freedom allowed Simplicius to care for his flock and sow seeds of the Good News among the Germanic tribes now occupying Italy.
St. Simplicius’ death was the center of a bit of controversy regarding who would succeed him. Though Odoacer tolerated the Church and her practices, he still wanted to influence who the next Bishop of Rome would be.
After the pope’s death, Odoacer and his Roman prefect, Basilius, tried to say that Simplicius had lobbied for an order that no one could be consecrated without Basilius’ consent. The clergy in Rome said, “Nice try,” reminding the power-hungry prefect that the process for electing a pope had already been decided years earlier by Pope Boniface I and Emperor Honorius. The clergy affirmed that only a Bishop of Rome who had received, through the proper canonical form, “Divine approval and universal consent,” would be regarded as the rightful pontiff.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
While the Western Empire was being uprooted, the oldest-known depiction of a horse collar (the part of a harness that distributes the load of a plough or wagon around a horse’s neck and shoulders) was painted in 477 on a cave mural in China, during the Northern Wei Dynasty.
Coming tomorrow....Pope St. Felix III
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. Simplicius -
St. Simplicius, Pope and Confessor -
Pope Simplicius -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Tuesday, March 7 at 2:00AM