« Symmachus Q. Aurelius Symmachus, bp. of Rome Symphorianus, martyr »

Symmachus, bp. of Rome

Symmachus (9), bp. of Rome from Nov. 498, to July, 514, when Theodoric the Ostrogoth was king of Italy and Anastasius emperor in the East. For the circumstances of his election see LAURENTIUS (10).

The virulence of the two opposed parties is accounted for by the fact that they represented two opposite policies with regard to the then existing schism between the Western and Eastern churches. Laurentius was elected in the interests of the policy of concession to Constantinople and the East, which the previous pope, Anastasius II., had favoured; Symmachus for the maintenance of the unbending attitude taken by Felix III. when the schism first began.

Several extant letters of Symmachus refer to the rivalry between the Gallic sees of Arles and Vienne. [ZOSIMUS; LEO I.; HILARIUS (pope); HILARIUS ARELAT .] Anastasius II., the predecessor of Symmachus, had sanctioned some invasion, on the part of Vienne, of the jurisdiction assigned to Arles by Leo. After the accession of Symmachus, Eonus, then the primate of Arles, complained to him, apparently in 499, of Avitus of Vienne having, under such sanction, ordained bishops beyond his proper jurisdiction. The reply of Symmachus shews an evident readiness to impute blame to Anastasius (whose whole policy, with regard to the East, he had been elected to counteract), and is remarkable as a decided repudiation by a pope of the action of a predecessor. He lays down the principle that the ordinances of former popes ought not to be varied under any necessity, as those of Leo had been by Anastasius, and must be now maintained. He, however, requires both Eonus and Avitus to send full statements of their case to Rome; and in his letter to Avitus, while he repeats that the confusion introduced by Anastasius was not to be tolerated, he invites Avitus to state any reasons for some equitable dispensation under existing circumstances. It was not till 513 that we find the bp. of Arles finally confirmed in the rights accorded to his see by pope Leo; Caesarius having then succeeded Eonus. Symmachus then wrote to this effect to the bishops of Gaul, and in 514 to Caesarius, warning him to respect the ancient rights of other metropolitans and to report anything amiss in Gaul or Spain to Rome.

After the defeat of the party of Laurentius at Rome and the final settlement of Symmachus in the see, the emperor Anastasius, to whom the result would be peculiarly unwelcome, issued a manifesto against Symmachus, reproaching him with having been unlawfully elected, accusing him of Manichean heresy, and protesting against his presumption in having (as he said) excommunicated an emperor. Symmachus replied in a letter entitled "Apologetica adversus Anastasii imperatoris libellum famosum," and in strong and indignant language rebutted the charges against himself, and retorted that of heresy on the emperor; he accuses him of presuming on his temporal position to think to trample on St. Peter in the person of his vicar, and reminds him that spiritual dignity is, at least, on a par with that of an emperor; and he protests strongly against the violence used against the orthodox in the East. Anastasius was by no means awed or deterred by these papal fulminations, which had probably the opposite effect. He appears after this more than even determined to support Eutychianism.

Some time during the episcopate of Symmachus Theodoric visited Rome. Cassiodorus gives an account of the visit, placing it under the consuls of a.d. 500; and that Theodoric remained at Ravenna while the case against the pope was pending may be gathered from the documents that refer to it. Himself an Arian, Theodoric evidently had no desire to intervene personally in the disputes of the Catholics, declaring it his sole desire that they should agree among themselves and order be restored at Rome.

Symmachus is said by Anastasius (Lib. Pontif.) to have built, restored, and enriched with ornaments many Roman churches, to have spent money in redeeming captives, to have furnished yearly money and clothing to exiled orthodox bishops, and to have ordered the "Gloria in excelsis" to be sung on all Sundays and Saints' days.


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