St. Simplicius, Pope and Confessor
HE was the ornament of the Roman clergy under SS. Leo and Hilarius, and succeeded the latter in the pontificate in 497. He was raised by God to comfort and support his church amidst the greatest storms. All the provinces of the western empire, out of Italy, were fallen into the hands of barbarians, infected for the greater part with idolatry or Arianism. The ten last emperors, during twenty years, were rather shadows of power than sovereigns, and in the eighth year of the pontificate of Simplicius, Rome itself fell a prey to foreigners. Salvian, a learned priest of Marseilles in 440, wrote an elegant book on Divine Providence, in which he shows that these calamities were a just chastisement of the sins of the Christians; saying, that if the Goths were perfidious, and the Saxons cruel, they were, however, both remarkable for their chastity; as the Franks were for humanity, though addicted to lying: and that though these barbarians were impious, they had not so perfect a knowledge of sin, nor consequently were so criminal as those whom God chastised by them. The disorders of the Roman state paved the way for this revolution. Excessive taxes were levied in the most arbitrary ways.
The governors oppressed the people at discretion, and many were obliged to take shelter among the barbarians: for the Bagaudes, Franks, Huns, Vandals, and Goths raised no taxes upon their subjects: on which account nations once conquered by them were afraid of falling again under the Roman yoke, preferring what was called slavery, to the empty name of liberty. Italy, by oppressions, and the ravages of barbarians, was left almost a desert without inhabitants; and the imperial armies consisted chiefly of barbarians, hired under the name of auxiliaries, as the Suevi, Alans, Heruli, Goths, and others. These soon saw their masters were in their power. The Heruli demanded one third of the lands of Italy, and, upon refusal, chose for their leader Odoacer, one of the lowest extraction, but a tall, resolute, and intrepid man, then an officer in the guards, and an Arian heretic, who was proclaimed king at Rome in 476. He put to death Orestes, who was regent of the empire, for his son Augustulus, whom the senate had advanced to the imperial throne. The young prince had only reigned eight months, and his great beauty is the only thing mentioned of him. Odoacer spared his life, and appointed him a salary of six thousand pounds of gold, and permitted him to live at full liberty near Naples. Pope Simplicius was wholly taken up in comforting and relieving the afflicted, and in sowing the seeds of the Catholic faith among the barbarians. 1
The East gave his zeal no less employment and concern. Zeno, son and successor to Leo the Thracian, favoured the Eutychians. Basiliscus, his admiral, who, on expelling him, usurped the imperial throne in 476, and held it two years, was a most furious stickler for that heresy. Zeno was no Catholic, though not a staunch Eutychian: and having recovered the empire, published, in 482, his famous decree of union, called the Henoticon, which explained the faith ambiguously, neither admitting nor condemning the council of Chalcedon. Peter Cnapheus, (that is, the Dyer,) a violent Eutychian, was made by the heretics patriarch of Antioch; and Peter Mongus, one of the most profligate of men, that of Alexandria. This latter published the Henoticon, but expressly refused to anathematize the council of Chalcedon; on which account the rigid Eutychians separated themselves from his communion, and were called Acephali, or, without a head. Acacius, the patriarch of Constantinople, received the sentence of St. Simplicius against Cnapheus, but supported Mongus against him and the Catholic Church, promoted the Henoticon, and was a notorious changeling, double dealer, and artful hypocrite, who often made religion serve his own private ends. St. Simplicius at length discovered his artifices, and redoubled his zeal to maintain the holy faith which he saw betrayed on every side, whilst the patriarchal sees of Alexandria and Antioch were occupied by furious wolves, and there was not one Catholic king in the whole world. The emperor measured everything by his passions and human views. St. Simplicius having sat fifteen years, eleven months, and six days, went to receive the reward of his labours, in 483. He was buried in St. Peter’s on the 2nd of March. See his letters: also the historians Evagrius, Theophanes, Liberatus, and amongst the moderns, Baronius, Henschenius, Ceillier, t. 15. p. 123. 2
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. March 2