Saint Siricius, the Thirty-Eighth Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 38)

Saint Siricius, the Thirty-Eighth Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 38)

Saint Siricius, the thirty-eighth Pope of the Holy See, holds the distinction of being the first pope to issue decrees containing apostolic decisions and laws. Prior to his papacy, Pope Siricius served as a priest in Rome during the time of former pontiffs Pope Liberius and Saint Damasus I.

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Upon the demise of Saint Damasus I, Pope Siricius was elected as his successor in a unanimous decision, despite the opposition of the rival papal candidate Ursinius. Emperor Valentinian II approved Pope Siricius' election and was pleased with the support he received. However, Ursinius' followers posed a strong opposition to the emperor.

Pope Siricius wasted no time in asserting his authority and issued apostolic decrees, which carried the weight of royal proclamations and were binding on the entire Church. These decrees marked a significant development in the history of the papacy as he was the first Pope to issue such decrees. The first decree was addressed to Himerus, the bishop of Tarragona, in response to fifteen questions concerning church discipline. This decree affirmed the primacy of the bishop of Rome. The apostolic decrees covered various matters, including the readmission of repentant heretics to the Church, discipline to baptisms and clergymen, age limits for candidates, and requirements for celibacy among deacons and priests. Pope Siricius ensured that his decrees were circulated throughout Africa, Spain, and Gaul. In AD386, a synodal decree gathered in Rome, known as the congregations in Africa. The Synod directed that bishops could only be anointed with the knowledge and approval of the See of Peter.

While Pope Siricius demonstrated a strong commitment to combating heresies like his predecessors, he displayed a compassionate approach towards those who repented and sought to return to the Church. During his pontificate, the Church faced the heresy of Priscillianism, which denied the divinity and humanity of Christ. The heresy also claimed that angels were the only beings from God and viewed the attachment of the soul to the body as a punishment for sin, deeming marriage inherently evil. Pope Siricius, along with prominent figures like St. Martin and St. Ambrose, opposed Priscillianism. The execution of Priscillian in AD386 was strongly condemned by Pope Siricius. He rebuked the bishops involved and severed communion with them. This marked the first instance in the Church's history where the death penalty was imposed for deviating from Church teachings.

In AD390, Pope Siricius presided over a council that found Jovinian guilty of undermining the importance and merit of celibacy, leading to his excommunication. He also deposed Bishop Bonosus, who denied the perpetual virginity of Mary and taught that the "brothers and sisters" of Christ mentioned in the New Testament were children of Mary and Joseph. At the request of Bishop Ambrose of Milan, Pope Siricius intervened in a schism within the Antiochian church in AD397. He urged the council at Caesarea to accept Flavian as the bishop of Antioch, resolving the schism amicably.

Pope Siricius passed away on November 26, AD399, and was laid to rest in the cemetery of Priscilla. Initially venerated as a saint in the early centuries, his status was later questioned by St. Jerome, leading to his exclusion from the list of martyrs and saints in 1584. However, in 1748, Pope Benedict XV reinstated Pope Siricius as a saint and martyr, recognizing his contributions to the Church.
-edit&transl. SM

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