Pope Symmachus
Saint Symmachus was pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 from 498 to 514. His tenure was marked by a serious schism over who was legitimately elected pope by the citizens of Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...


He was born on Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, the son of Fortunatus; Jeffrey Richards notes that he was born a pagan, and "perhaps the rankest outsider" of all the Ostrogothic Popes
Ostrogothic Papacy
The Ostrogothic Papacy was a period from 493 to 537 where the papacy was strongly influenced by the Ostrogothic Kingdom, if the pope was not outright appointed by the Ostrogothic King. The selection and administration of popes during this period was strongly influenced by Theodoric the Great and...

, most of whom were members of aristocratic families. Symmachus was baptized in Rome, where he became archdeacon
An archdeacon is a senior clergy position in Anglicanism, Syrian Malabar Nasrani, Chaldean Catholic, and some other Christian denominations, above that of most clergy and below a bishop. In the High Middle Ages it was the most senior diocesan position below a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church...

 of the Church under Pope Anastasius II
Pope Anastasius II
Pope Anastasius II was pope from November 24, 496 to November 16, 498.Anastasius II was Pontiff in the time of the schism of Acacius. He showed some tendency towards conciliation, and thus brought upon himself the lively reproaches of the author of the Liber Pontificalis. On the strength of this...


Papal tenure

Symmachus was elected pope on November 22, 498 in the Constantinian basilica. The archpriest
An archpriest is a priest with supervisory duties over a number of parishes. The term is most often used in Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholic Churches, although it may be used in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church instead of dean or vicar forane.In the 16th and 17th centuries, during...

 of Santa Prassede
Santa Prassede
The Basilica of Saint Praxedes , commonly known in Italian as Santa Prassede, is an ancient titular church and minor basilica in Rome, Italy, located near the papal basilica of Saint Mary Major...

, Laurentius
Antipope Laurentius
Laurentius was an antipope of the Roman Catholic Church, from 498 to 506.-Biography:Archpriest of Santa Prassede, Laurentius was elected pope on 22 November 498, in opposition to Symmachus, by a dissenting faction...

, was elected pope that same day at the church of St. Mary's by a dissenting minority faction with Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 sympathies, who were supported by Emperor Anastasius
Anastasius I (emperor)
Anastasius I was Byzantine Emperor from 491 to 518. During his reign the Roman eastern frontier underwent extensive re-fortification, including the construction of Dara, a stronghold intended to counter the Persian fortress of Nisibis....

. Both factions agreed to allow the Gothic
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 King Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

 to arbitrate. He ruled that the one who was elected first and whose supporters were the most numerous should be recognized as pope. An investigation found the facts favored Symmachus and his election was recognized as proper. However, an early document known as the "Laurentian Fragment" claims that Symmachus obtained the decision by paying bribes, while deacon Magnus Felix Ennodius
Magnus Felix Ennodius
Magnus Felix Ennodius was Bishop of Pavia in 514, and a Latin rhetorician and poet.He was one of four fifth to sixth-century Gallo-Roman aristocrats whose letters survive in quantity: the others are Sidonius Apollinaris, prefect of Rome in 468 and bishop of Clermont , Ruricius bishop of Limoges ...

 of Milan later wrote that 400 solidi were distributed amongst influential personages, whom it would be indiscreet to name.

Symmachus proceeded to call a synod, to be held at Rome on March 1, 499, which was attended by 72 bishops and all of the Roman clergy. Laurentius attended this synod. Afterwards he was assigned the diocesis of Nuceria in Campania
Campania is a region in southern Italy. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region of Italy; its total area of 13,590 km² makes it the most densely populated region in the country...

. According to the account in the Liber Pontificalis
Liber Pontificalis
The Liber Pontificalis is a book of biographies of popes from Saint Peter until the 15th century. The original publication of the Liber Pontificalis stopped with Pope Adrian II or Pope Stephen V , but it was later supplemented in a different style until Pope Eugene IV and then Pope Pius II...

, Symmachus bestowed the see on Laurentius "guided by sympathy", but the "Laurentian Fragment" states that Laurentius "was severely threatened and cajoled, and forcibly despatched" to Nuceria. The synod also ordained that any cleric who sought to gain votes for a successor to the papacy during the lifetime of the pope, or who called conferences and held consultations for that purpose, should be deposed.

In 501, the senator Rufius Postumius Festus, a supporter of Laurentius, accused Symmachus of various crimes. The initial charge was that Symmachus celebrated Easter on the wrong date
Computus is the calculation of the date of Easter in the Christian calendar. The name has been used for this procedure since the early Middle Ages, as it was one of the most important computations of the age....

. The king Theodoric summoned him to Ariminum to respond to the charge. The pope arrived only to discover a number of other charges, including unchastity and the misuse of church property, would also be brought against him. Symmachus panicked, fleeing from Ariminum in the middle of the night with only one companion, and shut himself up in St. Peter's. His flight proved to be a miscalculation, as it was regarded as an admission of guilt. Laurentius was brought back to Rome by his supporters, and a sizeable group of the clergy, including most of the most senior clerics, withdrew from communion
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 with him. A visiting bishop, Peter of Altinum, was appointed by Theodoric to celebrate Easter 502 and assume the administration of the see, pending the decision of a synod to be convened following Easter.

Presided over by the other Italian metropolitans, Peter of Ravenna, Laurentius of Milan
Lawrence I (bishop of Milan)
Lawrence I was Archbishop of Milan from 490 to c. 511. He is honoured as a saint in the Catholic Church and his feast day is July 25.-Life:Most of the information we have about this bishop are due to the writings of Ennodius, bishop of Pavia , who was a relative of his and his secretary...

, and Marcellianus of Aquileia, the synod opened in the basilica of Santa Maria. It proved tumultuous. The session quickly deadlocked over the presence of a visiting bishop, for as Symmachus argued the presence of a visiting bishop implied the see was vacant, and the see could only be vacant if he were guilty -- which meant the case had already been decided before the evidence could be heard. Although the majority of the assembled bishops agreed with this, the visitor could not be withdrawn without Theodoric's consent; this was not forthcoming. In response to this deadlock, rioting by the citizens of Rome increased, causing a number of bishops to flee Rome and the rest to petition Theodoric to move the synod to Ravenna. King Theodoric refused their request, ordering them to reconvene the synod 1 September. Upon reconvening, matters were no less acrimonious. First the accusers introduced a document which included a clause stating that the king already knew Symmachus was guilty, and there the synod should assume guilt, hear the evidence, then pass sentence. More momentous was an attack by a mob on Pope Symmachus' party as he set out to arrive at the synod: many of his supporters were injured and several -- including the priests Gordianus and Dignissiums -- killed. Symmachus retreated to St. Peter's and refused to come out, despite the urgings of deputations from the synod.

At this point, the synod petitioned king Theodoric once again, asking permission to dissolve the meeting and return home. Theodoric replied, in a letter dated 1 October, that they must see the matter to a conclusion. So the bishops assembled once again on 23 October 502, at a place known as Palma, and after reviewing the events of the previous two sessions decided that since the pope was the successor of Saint Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

, they could not pass judgment on him, and left the matter to God to decide. All who had abandoned communion with him were urged to reconcile with him, and that any clergy who celebrated mass in Rome without his consent in the future should be punished as a schismatic. The resolutions were signed by 76 bishops, led by Laurentius of Milan and Peter of Ravenna.

Despite the outcome of the synod, Laurentius returned to Rome, and for the next four years, according to the "Laurentian Fragment", he held its churches and ruled as pope, with the support of the senator Festus. The struggle between the two factions was carried out on two fronts. One was through mob violence committed by supporters of each religious, and is vividly described in the Liber Pontificalis. The other was through diplomacy, which produced a sheaf of forged documents, the so-called "Symmachean forgeries
Symmachean forgeries
The Symmachean forgeries are a sheaf of forged documents produced in the papal curia of Pope Symmachus in the beginning of the sixth century, in the same cycle that produced the Liber Pontificalis...

", of judgments in ecclesiastical law to support Symmachus' claim that as pope he could not be called to account. A more productive achievement on the diplomatic front was to convince king Theodoric to intervene, conducted chiefly by two non-Roman supporters, the Milanese deacon Ennodius and the exiled deacon Dioscorus
Antipope Dioscorus
Dioscorus was a deacon of the Alexandrian and the Roman church from 506. In a disputed election following the death of Pope Felix IV, the majority of electors picked him to be Pope, in spite of Pope Felix's wishes that Boniface succeed him...

. At last Theodoric withdrew his support of Laurentius in 506, instructing Festus to hand over the Roman churches to Symmachus.

In 513, Caesarius, bishop of Arles visited Symmachus while being detained in Italy. This meeting led to Symmachus being decorated with a pallium
The pallium is an ecclesiastical vestment in the Roman Catholic Church, originally peculiar to the Pope, but for many centuries bestowed by him on metropolitans and primates as a symbol of the jurisdiction delegated to them by the Holy See. In that context it has always remained unambiguously...

. Based on this introduction, Caesarius later wrote to Symmachus for help with establishing his authority, which Symmachus eagerly gave, according to William Klingshirn, "to gather outside support for his primacy."

Pope Symmachus provided money and clothing to the Catholic bishops of Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

 who had been exiled by the rulers of the Arian
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

. He also ransomed prisoners from of upper Italy, and gave them gifts of aid.

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