Pope Liberius, the Thirty Sixth Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 36)

Pope Liberius, the Thirty Sixth Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 36)

Pope Liberius succeeded Saint Julius as the Thirty Sixth Pope of the Catholic Church in 352 AD. He is the first Pope in the history of the Catholic Church who was not canonized.

Pope Liberius was elected at a time when the pro-Arian bishops were asserting their dominance over the Eastern Church. The heresy of Arianism and its propagandists and partisans were gaining ground. It was during this period that the Arian Emperor Constantius II asserted his authority over the entire Roman Empire and proclaimed himself emperor. Athanasius, who was a sharp critic of Arianism and a defender of the Doctrine of the Divinity of Christ, and the Creed formed at the Synod of Nicaea, was excommunicated and exiled by Emperor Constantius II. The emperor also pressured the bishops of the Western Church to accept the decision of the Council of Tyre in AD335.

Immediately after his ascension, Pope Liberius requested Emperor Constantius to do justice to Bishop Athanasius. However, the emperor's reply was to send the bishops of Gaul to Arles for a council in 353-54AD. The Emperor threatened the bishops of Gaul with excommunication and exile, if they refuse to accept the excommunication and punishment given to Bishop Athanasius to which even the representative of Pope Liberius was forced to adhere.

Pope Liberius did not accept this decision and forced the emperor to hold another wider council. Following this, in 355 AD, the emperor convened a council at Milan. The council itself was under threat from a violent populace and constant interference from the emperor. Bishop Athanasius was once again found guilty of threatening to make his wish a canon law, and the Arians were declared to have been reunited with the Catholic Church. The papal representatives yielded to the pressure on them. Moreover, the emperor ordered Pope Liberius to sign the council decree.

After the Pope refused to sign the decree and accept the decisions of the emperor, he was ordered to be arrested and brought before the emperor. After persisting in his position that Athanasius the bishop should be reinstated, Emperor Constantius II had Pope Liberius excommunicated and exiled to Tarsus in 355 AD. The Pope's exile lasted for two years.

During this period, Felix, an Arian deacon, was appointed by the Emperor as Pope, but the faithful and the Western Church refused to accept him. When Emperor Constantius visited Rome in 357, the faithful demanded the reinstatement of Pope Liberius, who was exiled.

During his exile, Pope Liberius was forced to liberalise his stance and approve the punishment of Athanasius. Constantius tried to discredit him with the Roman people by forging letters. The letters indicated that Liberius had given in to Constantius’ demands.

The faithful and the clergy, did not accept Felix and only recognized Pope Liberius as the true Pope. The Emperor relented and Liberius returned.

After the death of Emperor Constantius II in 361, Pope Liberius reversed all the Arian doctrine. Pope Liberius celebrated his fourteen-year-long papacy on September 24, 366.

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