« Ursacius, bp. of Singidunum Ursinus, antipope Ursula »

Ursinus, antipope

Ursinus (2) (Ursicinus), antipope, elected after the death of Liberius in Sept. 366, in opposition to Damasus. For the conflicts during the life of Liberius between his adherents and those of Felix, who had been intruded into the see by the emperor Constantius, see Liberius (4) and Felix (2); Damasus being set up by the party of Felix, Ursinus by that of Liberius. Conflicting evidence exists as to the circumstances. St. Jerome (Chron.), Rufinus (ii. 10), and Socrates (iv. 24), agree that Damasus was elected first, and lay the blame on Ursinus, who after this election is said to have got hold with his followers of the church of Sicinus (or Sicininus), and to have been ordained. Sozomen (vi. 22) and Nicephorus (xi. 30) give similar accounts. A council at Rome twelve years afterwards, and an influential one at Aquileia, a.d. 381, in which St. Ambrose took a prominent part, both declared Ursinus to be a usurper, and addressed letters to the emperors Gratian and Valentinian against him (Epist. Concil. Roman. ad Grat. et Valentin., Labbe, t. ii. p. 1187; Ep. I. Conc. Aquil. ad Grat. Imp. ib. p. 1183). St. Ambrose (Ep. 11) speaks of Damasus having been elected by the judgment of God. The emperors also, and the civil authorities at Rome, throughout the contest supported Damasus as the lawful pope.

But a different account is given by Marcellinus and Faustinus, two Luciferian priests, who, being expelled from Rome under Damasus, presented a petition (Libellus Precum) 996to the emperors Valentinian, Theodosius, and Arcadius (c. 383). They had been supporters of Ursinus, and in the preface to their petition assert that he was elected before Damasus by the people who had been in communion with Liberius in the church of Julius beyond the Tiber, and was ordained by Paul, bp. of Tivoli; and that Damasus had subsequently, with a mob of charioteers and other low fellows, broken into the church of Julius, massacred many persons there, and after seven days had, with his bribed followers, got possession of the Lateran Basilica, and been there ordained. The balance of evidence appears decidedly in favour of Damasus, the only witnesses against him, the two Luciferian presbyters, being partisans whose veracity we have no means of testing. After the two elections all accounts agree that the rival parties disturbed Rome by continual conflicts, in which lives were lost. At length Juventius, the praefectus urbi, and Julianus, the praefectus annonae, concurred in banishing Ursinus, but the disturbances continued. Ammianus Marcellinus, the historian, throws light on the Roman church at this time from the point of view of an intelligent and impartial heathen. "The ardour of Damasus and Ursinus to seize the episcopal seat surpassed the ordinary measure of human ambition. They contended with the rage of party; the quarrel was maintained by the wounds and death of their followers, the prefect . . . being constrained by superior violence to retire into the suburbs. Damasus prevailed: . . . 137 dead bodies were found in the basilica of Sicininus, where the Christians hold their religious assemblies; and it was long before the angry minds of the people resumed their accustomed tranquillity. When I consider the splendour of the capital, I am not astonished that so valuable a prize should inflame the desires of ambitious men and produce the fiercest contests. The successful candidate is secure that he will be enriched by the offerings of matrons; that as soon as his dress is composed with becoming care and elegance, he may proceed in his chariot through the streets of Rome; and that the sumptuousness of the imperial table will not equal the profuse and delicate entertainment provided by the taste and at the expense of the Roman pontiffs. How much more rationally would those pontiffs consult their true happiness if, instead of alleging the greatness of the city as an excuse for their manners, they would imitate the exemplary life of some provincial bishops, whose temperance and sobriety, mean apparel and downcast looks, recommended their pure and modest virtue to the Deity and His true worshippers!" (Ammian. 27, 3, Gibbon's trans. c. xxv.).

In 367 the emperor Valentinian permitted those who had been banished to return, but threatened severe punishment in case of renewed disturbance. (Baronius, ad ann. 368, ii., iii. iv., gives extracts from these rescripts.) Ursinus returned, and is said to have been received by his followers on Sept. 15, 367, with great joy (Lib. Precum), but was again banished by order of the emperor (Nov. 16), with seven of his adherents, into Gaul. Yet peace was not at once restored. His followers continued to assemble in cemeteries, and got possession of the church of St. Agnes without the walls. Thence they were dislodged; Marcellinus and Faustinus say by Damasus himself with his satellites, and with great slaughter. We may doubt the pope's personal complicity. After this the prefect Praetextatus banished more of the party, and the two presbyters allege cruel persecution, having been themselves among the sufferers. Rescripts of the emperors Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian (a.d. 371) again release Ursinus and his friends from their confinement in Gaul, allowing them to live at large, but away from Rome and the suburbicarian regions (Baron. ad ann. 371, i. ii. iii.). A Roman council (a.d. 378) addressed a letter to the emperors Gratian and Valentinian II., representing that Ursinus and his followers continued their machinations secretly (Labbe, t. ii. pp. 1187–1192).

After this we find Ursinus at Milan, where he is said to have joined the Arian party, who promised him their support (Ambrose, Ep. 4). But St. Ambrose, bp. of Milan, having informed the emperor Gratian of what was going on, the latter banished Ursinus from Italy, and confined him to Cologne (Ep. I. Conc. Aquil. u.s.). No more is heard of Ursinus till after the death of Damasus (Dec. 384), when he opposed Siricius, who, having been a supporter of Damasus against him, was elected with the general consent of the Roman people. Ursinus appears not to have then had sufficient support in Rome to cause conflict and disturbance.


« Ursacius, bp. of Singidunum Ursinus, antipope Ursula »
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