« Simplicius, bp. of Rome Siricius, bp. of Rome Sirmium, Stonemasons of »

Siricius, bp. of Rome

Siricius, bp. of Rome after Damasus from late in Dec. 384, or early in Jan. 385, to Nov. 26 (?), 398. He followed the example of Damasus in maintaining the authority of the Roman see. When the prefecture of East Illyricum had been assigned (a.d. 379) to the Eastern division of the empire, Damasus had insisted on its being still subject to the spiritual authority of Rome, and had constituted Acholius, bp. of Thessalonica, and after him Anysius (who succeeded Acholius a.d. 383) his own vicars for the maintenance of such authority. Siricius, on his accession, renewed this vicariate jurisdiction to Anysius (Innoc. Epp. i., xiii.).

One of his earliest acts was to issue the first Papal Decretal that has any claim to genuineness, though he speaks in it of earlier decreta sent to the provinces by pope Liberius. It is dated Feb. 11, 385. Its genuineness is undisputed. It is plainly referred to by pope Innocent I. (Ep. vi. ad Exsuperium). Quesnel includes it without hesitation in his Cod. Rom. cum Leone edit. c. 29. Its occasion was a letter from Himerius, bp. of Tarragona in Spain, addressed to Damasus but received by Siricius, asking the pope's advice on matters of discipline and with regard to abuses prevalent in the Spanish church. Siricius, having taken counsel in a Roman synod, issued this decretal in reply, to be communicated by Himerius to all bishops of Spain and neighbouring provinces with a view to universal observance. The opportunity was taken of asserting in very decided terms the authority of the Roman see: "We bear the burdens of all who are heavy laden; nay, rather the blessed apostle Peter bears them in us, who, as we trust, in all things protects and guards us, the heirs of his administration." Among the rules thus promulgated for universal observance, one relates to the rebaptizing of Arians returning to the church, and another to clerical celibacy, which is insisted on. Thus what the oecumenical council had refused to require Siricius now, on the authority of the apostolic see, declared of general obligation. The rule laid down by him affected, however, only the higher clerical orders, not including subdeacons, to whom it was extended by Leo I. (c. 442. See Epp. xiv. 4; cxlvii. 3), in Sicily, by pope Gregory the Great (Greg. Epp. lib. i. Ind. ix., Ep. 42).

The zeal of Siricius against heresy appears in his correspondence with the usurper Maximus, who in 383 had obtained the imperial authority in Gaul. The pope wrote, exhorting him to support the Catholic faith and complaining of the recent ordination of one Agricius, who seems to have been suspected of heresy. Maximus, in his extant reply, declares his desire to maintain the true faith, undertakes to refer the case of Agricius to a synod of clergy, and takes credit for measures already in force against the Manicheans in Gaul, doubtless alluding to the Priscillianists, who were often called Manicheans. The pope was zealous against the Manicheans at Rome, where "he found Manicheans, whom he sent into exile, and provided that they should not communicate with the faithful, since it was not lawful to vex the Lord's body with a polluted mouth" (Lib. Pontif. in Vita. Sisicii). The reference seems to be to the alleged habit of the Manicheans to make a show of conformity by frequenting Catholic communion. It is added that even converts from them were to be sent into monasteries, 910and not admitted to communion till at the point of death.

Another class of heretics afterwards fell under the condemnation of Siricius. Jovinian, notorious through St. Jerome's vehement writings against him, having been expelled from Milan, had come to Rome and obtained a following there. His teaching came under the notice of two eminent laymen, Pammachius and Victorinus, who represented it to pope Siricius who assembled a synod of clergy at which Jovinian was excommunicated, together with his abettors, Auxentius, Genialis, Germinator, Felix, Frontinus, Martianus, Januarius, and Ingenius. These departed to Milan, whither Siricius sent three presbyters with a letter to the Milanese clergy, informing them of what had been done at Rome, and expressing confidence that they would pay regard to it. The letter is full of strong invective against Jovinian and his colleagues—"dogs such as never before had barked against the church's mysteries"—but contains no arguments. Siricius disclaims any disparagement of marriage, "at which," he says, "we assist with the veil," though he "venerates with greater honour virgins devoted to God, who are the fruit of marriages." The synodical reply from Milan is preserved among the epistles of St. Ambrose (Ep. xlii. ed. Bened.), who presided at the Milanese synod. He and his colleagues thank Siricius for his vigilance, concur with his strictures on Jovinian, supply the arguments which the pope's letter lacked, and declare that they had condemned those whom the pope condemned, according to his judgment. The introductory words of this epistle have been adduced in proof of the view then held of the pope's supreme authority. They are: "We recognize in the letter of your holiness the watchfulness of a good shepherd, diligently keeping the door committed to thee, and with pious solicitude guarding the sheepfold of Christ, worthy of being heard and followed by the sheep of the Lord." This language, though expressing recognition of the bp. of Rome as the representative of St. Peter, cannot be pressed as implying that he was the one doorkeeper of the whole church or an infallible authority in definitions of faith. On the contrary, the bishops at Milan endorsed his judgment, not as a matter of course or as being bound to do so, but on the merits of the case, setting forth their reasons. These proceedings apparently occurred in 390.

About the same time, or soon after, the Meletian schism at Antioch came under the notice of Siricius. His attitude to it is not certainly known. Some six months after the death of Damasus, whose highly valued secretary he had been, Jerome had left Rome for ever. In his bitterly expressed letter to Asilla, inveighing against his opponents and calumniators, he does not mention the new pope; but it may be concluded, if only from his silence, that he had lost the countenance he had enjoyed under Damasus. One expression suggests that he had been a little disappointed at not being made pope himself, and that coolness between him and Siricius may have arisen from this. Siricius and he were at one in their advocacy of virginity against Jovinian and in their general orthodoxy, but there seems to have been no intercourse between them, and, even in the course of the controversy against Jovinian, Siricius appears to have joined others at Rome in disapproving of Jerome's alleged disparagement of matrimony. Further, Rufinus, the once close friend of Jerome, having quarrelled with him in Palestine about Origenism but been temporarily reconciled, in 395 left Jerusalem for Rome. He was favourably received by Siricius, who gave him a commendatory letter on his departure, the quarrel with Jerome having recommenced with increased violence.

For his neglect of Jerome and patronage of Rufinus, Baronius disparages Siricius, even saying that his days were shortened by divine judgment (Baron. ad ann. 397; xxxii.). A further ground of complaint (ad ann. 394; xl.) is his supposed unworthy treatment of another ascetic saint, Paulinus of Nola, who says he was badly treated by the Roman clergy when passing through Rome (a.d. 395) on his way to Nola, and especially blames the pope (Paulin. ad Sulpic. Severum, Ep. i. in nov. edit. v.). For such reasons Baronius has excluded Siricius from the Roman Martyrology. Pagi (in Baron ad ann. 398, 1) defends the pope against the animadversions of Baronius. Siricius died in 398.


« Simplicius, bp. of Rome Siricius, bp. of Rome Sirmium, Stonemasons of »
VIEWNAME is workSection