Popes in a Year
#51 - Pope St. Symmachus
Pope from 498-514 A.D.
Died: 514 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Symmachus.
Our 51st pope was a convert to the faith, having been baptized in Rome after being born on the island of Sardinia. Within days of Anastasius II’s death, a majority of clergy in Rome called upon Symmachus and said, “you’re next.” Much of Symmachus’ papacy was wrapped up in resolving the still-brewing Acacian schism (rift between East and West over Christ’s nature), which included dealing with a pesky antipope (more on that in a second). Symmachus wrote letters defending both orthodoxy and the independence of the Church, in addition to other matters. He took part in restoring existing churches and erecting new ones, and also built houses for the poor near the churches of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Lawrence. He died on July 19, 514 after reigning for nearly 16 years.
What was he known for?
Around the time of Symmachus’ election, a small group sympathetic to the Eastern churches conspired to elect a different man, Laurentius, after having their palms greased by Festus, a rich Roman senator. This proved to be a major pain in the neck for Symmachus, even after Theodoric, the Gothic king of Italy, came to the decision that Symmachus was the rightful pope.
For starters, the “Laurentians,” as they were called, continued petitioning Theodoric of Symmachus’ illegitimacy by spitting falsehoods about the good pope and forced Symmachus from his rightful residence at the Lateran Basilica for a time. Then, to make matters worse, when venturing to a synod Symmachus convened to sort it all out, a small group of violent Laurentians attacked his travel party, injuring some and killing others. Like an action hero, our pope barely escaped with his life. The situation was resolved after some time, with Laurentius moving out of Rome and his remaining followers eventually reconciling to St. Hormisdas, the successor of Symmachus. Who ever said being pope wasn’t an adventure?
St. Symmachus sent help to those still being persecuted in various parts of the known world, having sent alms to exiled African bishops and their fellow prisoners, as well as to Catholics in upper Italy being pestered by barbarian tribes.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
Around the year 500, burials in the underground Roman catacombs, which had housed the bodies of Christians for centuries, were brought to a halt. Given that the Church had been legal for decades and thus allowed for more public burials in churches and cemeteries, the catacombs were primarily reserved for memorial celebrations for martyrs and were no longer needed.
Coming tomorrow....Pope St. Hormisdas
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. Symmachus -
Pope Symmachus -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Monday, March 13 at 2:00AM