Saint Innocent I, the Fortieth Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 40)

Saint Innocent I, the Fortieth Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 40)

Saint Innocent I was known for his strong defense of the Holy See's authority over ecclesiastical doctrines. On December 22, AD401, he was elected as Pope, succeeding Pope Anastasius I.

During his papacy, Pope Innocent I faced challenges such as invasions by Germanic tribes and the decline of the Western Roman Empire. Nevertheless, he issued papal decrees that resembled royal proclamations, following the footsteps of Saint Siricius. These decrees addressed various aspects of the Holy Mass, including prayers of thanksgiving, and clarified doctrines related to the sacraments of Confession and Anointing of the Sick. Additionally, Pope Innocent emphasized that serious ecclesiastical matters should be referred to Rome by bishops.

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Exercising his authority over both the Western and Eastern Churches as the successor of Peter, Pope Innocent intervened in the affairs of the Eastern Church during his papacy. In 404, when the Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, was excommunicated and exiled, Pope Innocent wrote letters of support and encouragement to him. Moreover, he refused to accept John Chrysostom's replacement and called for a council of Western bishops to address the issue. Despite his efforts, the proposed solutions were not accepted, and the Pope's representatives were insulted and banished by the Emperor. The schism caused by John Chrysostom's exile only ended after Pope Innocent's death.

In AD416, Pope Innocent came to the aid of Jerome, a prominent figure in the Church, when his monastic hermitages were attacked. The Pope assured Jerome that he would use his apostolic authority to take action against the offenders. However, he also reprimanded John, the Bishop of Jerusalem for negligence in protecting the monasteries.

One of Pope Innocent's significant contributions was his strong opposition to the heresy of Pelagianism. This heresy denied the unity of the father of the human race, Adam and Christ, rejected the concept of original sin, and claimed that salvation could be achieved through human effort without God's grace. Pope Innocent held councils in Carthage and Milevis in Africa, which found the founder of Pelagianism, Pelagius, guilty and excommunicated him. When attempts were made to gain support for Pelagius at the Palestinian synod in AD415, bishops appealed to Pope Innocent. A group of five bishops, including Saint Augustine appealed to summon Pelagius to Rome and punish him for his wrongdoings by sending all files related to him to Rome. He responded by praising the actions of the African bishops and urged them to handle religious disputes in their dioceses. By doing so, he confirmed the tradition that Peter and his successors possessed pastoral authority to lead the Church.

During his papacy, Pope Innocent faced a major pastoral challenge in the form of a threat of war from King Ulric of the Gothic tribe. This led to poverty and fear in Rome. The Pope visited Honorius, the governor of the Western Empire, in Ravenna, seeking a temporary truce. However, mediation efforts failed, and on August 24, AD410, while Pope Innocent was away from Rome, King Ulric conquered and sacked the city. Consequently, the Pope stayed away from Rome for two years, returning on March 12, 417, when he resumed his papal duties.
-edit&transl. SM

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