St. Gelasius, Pope and Confessor
POPE FELIX II. or, as he is often styled, III. died on the 25th of February, in 492, and soon after Gelasius, of an African family, but a native of Rome, was ordained bishop of that city. He governed the church four years, eight months, and eighteen days. This pope was a very learned man, and very skilful and knowing in the customs and usages of the church; and is extolled for the purity of his manners, his extraordinary humility, temperance, austerity of life, and liberality to the poor, for whose sake he kept himself always poor, as Dionysius Exiguus, who died before the year 556, tells us. 1 Facundus of Hermione, who wrote within a few years after his death, says: “He was famous over the whole world for his learning, and the sanctity of his life.” 2 To his other great virtues he joined a love of order and discipline, with an uncommon prudence and courage. Upon his accession to the pontifical chair, he refused to send letters of communion to Euphemius, bishop of Constantinople, because he refused to expunge out of the dyptics (or register of orthodox bishops deceased, who were named at the altar) the name of Acacius, one of his late predecessors, who, indeed, never rejected the council of Chalcedon, but had shown too much condescension to his master, the emperor, in favouring the Eutychians, and in living in communion with Peter, the notorious, most artful Eutychian usurper of the see of Alexandria, and other ringleaders of that sect. Euphemius, who after the short episcopacy of Fravitas, had succeeded Acacius, was a zealous Catholic, and was afterwards banished for his faith by the emperor Anastasius, and died at Ancyra, in 515. His name is placed by the Greeks in their Calendar; and Natalis Alexander shows that neither he nor his successor Macedonius were schismatics; for though the popes refused them the usual public tokens of communion, this was not an excommunication, much less was it extended to their subjects, as Bower and some other notorious slanderers pretend. This the Bollandists also prove by the like examples of St. Flavian of Antioch and St. Elias of Jerusalem, named in the Roman Martyrology. This intermission of the tokens of communion was, however, a mark of displeasure, as when in our days the popes have addressed their commissions to neighbouring prelates, not to certain diocesans in France, who were suspected of favouring the Jansenists, or on other accounts. This interruption of the usual marks of communion between the see of Rome and the principal sees in the East, continued till, by order of the orthodox emperor Justin, in 518, John, patriarch of Constantinople, and the rest made satisfaction to Hormisdas by erasing the name of Acacius. 1
Pope Gelasius in several epistles, 3 and in his Roman council, strenuously asserts the supremacy of his see, founded in the words of Christ to St. Peter, which see from the beginning has had the care of all the churches over the world, and from which lies no appeal to any other church. Amongst many rules which he lays down for the ministers of the church, he declares that its revenues are to be exactly divided into four parts, whereof one is for the bishop, another for his clergy, the third for the poor, and the fourth for the fabric. 4 Andromachus, a Roman senator, and many others attempted to restore the Lupercalia, which were riotous feasts and diversions in honour of the god Pan, which Gelasius had abolished. He enforced his prohibition by a treatise on that subject, entitled, against Andromachus. This holy pope laboured with great zeal to extirpate the Pelagian heresy, and several abuses which prevailed in the Marca of Ancona, especially simony: and he severely forbade ecclesiastics to traffic. The Manichees who concealed themselves in Rome, he detected by commanding all to receive the communion in both kinds, because those heretics abstained from the cup, reputing wine impure. This their affectation was a long time unobserved, and they received the sacrament from the Catholics, as we learn from St. Leo, 5 in the year 443. They continued this practice until the prohibition of Gelasius, in 496, who justly calls the division which they made upon a superstitious motive, sacrilegious. 6 His very prohibition (which ceased by disuse when that heresy was abolished) suffices to demonstrate that the use of one or both kinds was then promiscuous and at discretion, which many instances of that and preceding ages demonstrate. Gennadius informs us, that Pope Gelasius composed sacred hymns in imitation of St. Ambrose; but these are now lost. 7 It is manifest from the letters of St. Innocent I. St. Celestine and St. Leo, that the Church of Rome had a written Order of the mass before Gelasius. This doubtless was the basis of his Sacramentary, which was printed at Rome in 1680, from a manuscript copy nine hundred years old, by the care of Thomasi, a Theatin, afterwards cardinal. 8 In it occur the solemn veneration of the cross on Good Friday, and the reservation of the particle of the eucharist offered the foregoing day for the communion that day; the blessing of the holy oils, the anointing and other ceremonies used at baptism; blessing of holy water; prayers for entering new houses, &c., several masses for the feasts of saints, expressing their invocation, and the veneration of their relics; votive masses for travellers, for obtaining charity and other virtues; for marriage with the nuptial benediction, for birth-days, for the sick, for the dead, &c. In 494, Pope Gelasius held at Rome a council of seventy bishops, in which he published his famous decree, containing a list of the canonical books of scripture then universally received; another of orthodox fathers; and a third of apocryphal books, which are of two classes: some forgeries, as the Acts of St. George, &c. others genuine and useful in many things, but containing some falsity or error, and to be read with caution, or at least excluded the canon of scriptures. 9 This great pope’s manner of writing is elegant and noble; but sometimes obscure and perplexed. He died in 496, on the 21st of November, on which day his name occurs in the Roman Martyrology, and those of Bede, Usuard, &c. See the works of St. Gelasius, and the councils: Anastasius, in Pontificali ap Muratori, t. 3, p. 122. Ceillier, t. 15, p. 288. 2
Note 1. Ep. Nuncupat. ad Julian.
Note 2. Facund. Hermian. contra Mocian. p. 566.
Note 3. Ep. 4, p. 1169. Ep. 8, p. 1185.
Note 4. Ep. 9.
Note 5. S. Leo, Serm. 4, de Quadr. t. 1, p. 217. [back]
Note 6. De Consecr. dist. 2, c. 12. [back]
Note 7. Amongst the works of Pope Gelasius, the treatise On the Bond of an Anathema, was written to show that Acacius could not be absolved from excommunication after his death. The book On Two Natures in Christ, against the Nestorians and Eutychians, which some have ascribed to Gelasius of Cyzicus, or another of Cæsarea, seems most probably the work of this pope, as F. Labbe shows, (De Scriptor. Eccl. t. 1, p. 342.)
Philip Buonamici, in his most elegant and polite dialogue De claris Pontificiarum literarum scriptoribus, ad Bened. XIV. at Rome, 1753, commends the letters of Leo I., Felix III., Gelasius I., and Symmachus as superior to other compositions of their age in strength, gravity, and elegance. This author complains that to see the dignity of the holy see degraded by a half-Latin style in an important decree or letter to some prince, raised his indignation more than if he had seen Corregio’s magnificent Night covered with dirt, and trodden under foot. This Night is the famous picture of the Nativity, in which all is dark except the divine infant, which casts a very strong bright light, in contrast with the beautiful night. The original is at Reggio, not at Parma, as some have said, but even copies have some degree of this excellence.
Note 8. Published also by Mabillon, and lastly by Muratori in Liturg.
Note 9. See his decree De libris sacris et Apocryphis in Gratian’s collection; and more correctly in Fontanini’s Appendix to Antiquit. Hortæ, and after him in Mansi’s supplem. Conc.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XI: November.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866. November 21.