Saint Symmachus, the Fifty-First Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 51)

Saint Symmachus, the Fifty-First Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 51)

Symmachus, who was a deacon, was approached to succeed Pope Anastasius II. He was elected on November 22nd, AD 498 as the Fifty-First Pope of the Catholic Church.

However, a small group of priests who supported Pope Anastasius, along with the backing of the Senate and nobles of Rome, gathered in the Basilica of St. Mary Major and elected the priest Lawrence as Pope Anastasius' successor. Both factions approached Theodoric, the Ostrogothic king of Italy, and demanded acceptance of their respective choices. King Theodoric accepted the election of Pope Symmachus and crowned him the Successor of Peter.

Shortly after returning from Ravenna, Pope Symmachus convened a synod in Rome. At this synod, it was decided that there should be no discussion or controversy regarding the successor of a pope during his lifetime. However, Pope Symmachus allowed the pope to nominate a successor if desired. The synod also determined that if the pope were to die without nominating a successor, the clergy of Rome would come together to elect a new pope. After this synod, lay members were excluded from the process of choosing the successor. Lawrence, who had been elected antipope by the supporters of Pope Anastasius II, signed the decree approving these synod decisions. Subsequently, he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Nuecaria in Campania.

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In an effort to resolve the Church crisis and address allegations against the Pope, Emperor Theodosius called for a synod of bishops in Italy in 501. This synod declared that no earthly court had the authority to judge the Pope, but only God. An outcome of this conflict was the emergence of the Symmachian forgeries, a collection of forged documents produced in Pope Symmachus' curia. Although historical evidence for these documents is lacking, they were widely circulated.

Unhappy with the synod's decision, King Theodosius summoned Lawrence, the elected antipope, to Rome and appointed him as Bishop of Rome. Over the next four years, Lawrence ruled the Church as Bishop of Rome, taking control of churches and papal property and placing his portrait alongside those of other popes. During this time, Pope Symmachus lived confined to St. Peter's Basilica. Despite facing strong opposition, he had the support of the majority of the people of Rome, as well as the archbishops of Milan and Ravenna.

Around AD 506, due to political isolation by the Byzantine Empire and its allies in Rome, King Theodosius acquitted Pope Symmachus, influenced by Dyscorus, a deacon of Alexandria. He ordered Pope Symmachus to relinquish full control and ownership of churches and papal property in Rome. Furthermore, he decreed that only one person (Pope Symmachus) should serve as bishop of Rome and sovereign of the Holy Church. Lawrence once again withdrew from Rome and settled on a farm.

Many refused to acknowledge Pope Symmachus, leading to distancing from him.

Undeterred by opposition, Pope Symmachus banished Manichaean heretics from Rome and worked to free prisoners taken during the wars in northern Italy. He also protected Catholics in Africa persecuted by Arian heretical rulers. Pope Symmachus restored the authority of the Diocese of Arles over the dioceses of Gaul and extended its influence to Spain.

He introduced the hymn 'Glory to God in the highest' sung on Sundays and initiated the practice of singing at Mass. He also rebuilt numerous churches in Rome and utilized St. Peter's Basilica as the Pope's official residence and administrative center.

His triumph over the pro-Byzantine forces in Italy prompted Pope Symmachus to adopt a firm stance against Constantinople and the Acacian Schism. This further strained relations between Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I and Pope Symmachus. In AD 514, riots in Constantinople, Antioch, and Tarsus compelled Emperor Anastasius to seek reconciliation with the Pope.

Emperor Anastasius invited Pope Symmachus to preside over a council convened at Heraclea in Tarsus to address the theological controversy behind the Acacian Schism. However, before the Emperor's invitation reached Rome, the Pope Symmachus passed away on July 19th, AD 514.

-edit&transl. SM

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