Symmachus of Rome

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Our father among the saints Symmachus of Rome was the bishop of the Church of Rome from 498 to 514. In a Rome full of factional disputes, Bp. Symmachus was forced to defend his election as pope against a minority who defended the emperor Zeno's Henoticon. His feast day is July 19.


Little is known of the early life of Symmachus. The date of his birth is unknown. He was from Sardinia and his father's name was Fortunatus. He was baptized in Rome and, with his ordination as deacon, he entered the ranks of the Roman clergy. After the death of Pope Anastasius II, Symmachus was elected his successor at the Lateran Basilica by a majority of the Roman clergy on November 22, 498 and was immediately consecrated bishop of Rome.

On the same day, a minority group of clergy supported by members of the Roman senate led by senator Festus, who supported emperor Zeno's Henoticon, elected the Roman archpresbyter Laurentius as pope at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This created an issue that the two sides agreed to present in Ravenna to king Theodoric, the Ostrogoth ruler of Italy. Theodoric favored Symmachus on the grounds that Symmachus was elected first and by a majority of the clergy. Symmachus, then, appointed Laurentius Bishop of Nocera.

On March 1, 499, Pope Symmachus convened a synod that passed decrees against electioneering for the papacy, that is, that any cleric who sought votes for a successor to the papal see during the life time of the sitting pope or who conspires to do so shall be deposed. However, the Henoticon supporters, senators Festus and Probinus, continued to conspire against Symmachus to place Bp. Laurentius on the papal throne.

In 501, the Henoticon party took issue with Pope Symmachus celebrating Easter on March 25 according the old Rome cycle while others observed the new reckoning for Easter on April 22. The Henoticon party appealed to king Theodoric who sent for Pope Symmachus. After Symmachus refused to be judged by a secular ruler and with further agitation by Symmachus' opponents, Theodoric called a synod to which, with limitations, Symmachus agreed to attend and included the exclusion of Bp. Peter of Altinum, an apostolic visitor who had been named by Theodoric. The synod met during the late Spring 502. After Symmachus presented his position to the assembled bishops and called for the removal of the visitor, the synod agreed to the re-establishment of Symmachus as administrator of the Roman church.

When the bishops sent the conditions of their decision to Theodoric, he rejected them and demanded an investigation of the accusations against Symmachus. This triggered a second session of the synod that was convened on September 1, 502. Symmachus set out for the second session of the synod, held at the Sessorian basilica, where the Henoticon party had the indictment read aloud, but, en-route to the session, Symmachus was attacked by his opponents and escaped only with difficulty. Three more sessions of the synod were held that called on the opposing clergy to submit to Symmachus. But, these were in vain. Unable to reach an agreeable decision during the last session on October 23, 502, the bishops left the decision to the judgment of God.

With the majority of bishops favoring the pope against Theodoric and the majority of the senate, the situation developed into a schism that lasted four years. Symmachus' opposition called Laurentius back to Rome where he resided in the Lateran Palace as pope while Pope Symmachus was in the bishop's house near St. Peter's cathedral. Regardless of his problems, Pope Symmachus followed the Christological issues in the East, rebuked emperor Anastasius for his support of the Monophysite heresy, maintained the independence of his spiritual power, and had many churches built including refuges for the poor.

The schism healed as prominent people exerted their influence. Many members of the senate gradually became adherents to Symmachus. Then, Deacon Diocurus of Alexandria, who had come to Rome, was able to win Theodoric over to Symmachus' side, as the king then commanded Senator Festus to return all the Roman churches to the pope and obliged Bp. Laurentius to leave Rome in 506.

Pope Symmachus reposed on July 19, 514 and was buried at St. Peter's Cathedral.

Succession box:
Symmachus of Rome
Preceded by:
Anastasius II
Bishop of Rome
Succeeded by:
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