Pope Gelasius I

Pope Saint Gelasius I was the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church from 1 March AD 492 to his death on 19 November 496.[2] He was probably the third and final Bishop of Rome of Berber descent.[3] Gelasius was a prolific author whose style placed him on the cusp between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.[4] His predecessor Felix III employed him especially in drafting Papal documents. During his pontificate he called for strict Catholic orthodoxy, more assertively demanded obedience to Papal authority, and, consequently, increased the tension between the Western and Eastern Churches.

Pope Saint

Gelasius I
Papacy began1 March AD 492
Papacy ended19 November AD 496
PredecessorFelix III
SuccessorAnastasius II
Personal details
Birth nameGelasius
BornUnknown date
Roman Africa or Rome[1]
Died(496-11-19)19 November 496
Rome, Ostrogothic Kingdom
Feast day21 November[2]
Other popes named Gelasius
Papal styles of
Pope Gelasius I
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleSaint

Place of birth

There is some confusion regarding where Gelasius was born: according to the Liber Pontificalis he was born in Africa ("natione Afer"), while in a letter addressed to the Roman Emperor Anastasius he stated that he was "born a Roman" ("Romanus natus").[5] J. Conant opined that the latter assertion probably merely denotes that he was born in Roman Africa before the Vandals invaded it.[6][7]

Acacian schism

The Papal election of Gelasius on 1 March 492 was a gesture of continuity: Gelasius inherited the conflicts of Pope Felix III with Eastern Roman Emperor Anastasius and the Patriarch of Constantinople and exacerbated them by insisting on the obliteration of the name of the late Acacius, Patriarch of Constantinople, from the diptychs, in spite of every ecumenical gesture by the contemporaneous Patriarch Euphemius (q. v. for details of the Acacian schism).

The split with the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople was inevitable, from the Western view, because they adopted the ("Monophysite") heresy of Jesus Christ having only a Divine nature. Gelasius authored the book De duabus in Christo naturis (On the dual nature of Christ), which described Catholic doctrine in the matter. Thus Gelasius, for all the conservative Latinity of his style of writing, was on the cusp of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.[4]

During the Acacian schism, Gelasius advocated the primacy of the See of Rome over the universal Church, both East and West, and he presented this doctrine in terms that became the model for successive Popes, who also claimed Papal supremacy because of their succession to the Papacy from the first Supreme Pontiff, Saint Peter the Apostle.

In 494, Gelasius authored the very influential letter Duo sunt to Anastasius on the subject of the relation of Church and state, which letter had political impact for almost a millennium hence.[8]

Suppression of the Lupercalia

Closer to home, after a long contest Gelasius finally suppressed the ancient Roman festival of the Lupercalia,[7] which had persisted for several generations among a nominally Christian population. Gelasius' letter to the Senator Andromachus treated the primary contentions of the controversy and incidentally provided some details of the festival, which combined fertility and purification, that might have been lost otherwise. Although the Lupercalia was a festival of purification, which had given its name "dies februatus", from "februare" ("to purify"), to the month of February, it was unrelated to the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also commonly denominated "Candlemas", which latter feast commemorates the fulfillment of the Holy Family's ceremonial obligations pursuant to Mosaic law 40 days after the birth of the first son. In the instance of the Holy Family, that occurred 40 days after Christmas, scire licet, on 2 February.


After a brief yet dynamic ministry, Gelasius died on 19 November AD 496. His feast day is 21 November, the anniversary of his interment, not his death.[2]


Gelasius was the most prolific author of the early Supreme Pontiffs. A great mass of his correspondence survives: 42 letters according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, 37 according to Rev. Philip V. Bagan[9] and fragments of 49 others, which are archived in the Vatican and that expound to Eastern bishops the primacy of the Supreme Pontiff. Additionally, 6 treatises are extant that bear the name of Gelasius. According to Cassiodorus, the reputation of Gelasius attracted to his name other works not by him.

Decretum Gelasianum

The most famous of pseudo-Gelasian works is the list De libris recipiendis et non recipiendis ("On books to be received and not to be received"), also denominated the Decretum Gelasianum, which is believed to be connected to the pressure for orthodoxy during his pontificate and intended to be read as a decretal by Gelasius on the canonical and apocryphal books, which internal evidence reveals to be of later date. Thus the determination of the canon of Sacred Scripture has traditionally been attributed to Gelasius.[10]

Gelasian Sacramentary

In the Latin Catholic tradition, the pseudo Gelasian Sacramentary is in fact a liturgical book that was derived from Roman sources and transcribed, with inclusion of native Gallican liturgical elements, near Paris in the middle of the 8th century AD. While including the texts of some prayers that Gelasius composed, he was not a principal author or compiler of the book. The manuscript (Vatican, Vatican Library, Reg. lat. 316 + Paris, National Library, ms. lat. 7193, fol. 41-56) is actually titled the Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae (Book of Sacraments of the Roman Church). The attribution to Gelasius is premised in part at least on the chronicle of the Supreme Pontiffs that is denominated the Liber Pontificalis, which states of Gelasius that he "fecit etiam et sacramentorum praefationes et orationes cauto sermone et epistulas fidei delimato sermone multas" ("he also made prefaces to the sacraments and prayers in careful language and many epistles in polished language regarding the faith"[11]). An old tradition linked the book to Gelasius, apparently based on the ascription of Walafrid Strabo to him of what evidently is this book.

See also


  1. Browne, M. (1998). "The Three African Popes". The Western Journal of Black Studies. 22 (1): 57–8. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
  2.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope St. Gelasius I" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. Serralda, Vincent; Huard, André (1984). Le Berbère-- lumière de l'Occident (in French). Nouvelles Editions Latines. p. 124. ISBN 9782723302395.
  4. The title of his biography by Walter Ullmann expresses this:Gelasius I. (492–496): Das Papsttum an der Wende der Spätantike zum Mittelalter (Stuttgart) 1981.
  5. J. Chapin, "Gelasius I, Pope, St.", pp. 121-3, in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Volume 6, Gale, 2002.
  6. J.Conant, Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439–700, CUP, 2012, p. 83.
  7. Monks of Ramsgate. “Pope Gelasius”. Book of Saints. 1921. CatholicSaints.Info. 7 May 2016.
  8. Medieval Sourcebook: Gelasius I on Spiritual and Temporal Power
  9. Rev. Philip V. Bagan, The Syntax of the Letters of Pope Gelasius I (Washington, DC, USA; The Catholic University of America Press, 1945).
  10. F.C.Burkitt, Review of The decretum Gelasianum", Journal of Theological Studies, 14 (1913) pp. 469-71, in www.tertullian.com.
  11. Translation is based on Louise Ropes Loomis, The Book of the Popes (Liber pontificalis) I, New York, New York, USA, Columbia University Press, 1916, pp. 110-4


The primary source for the biography of Pope Saint Gelasius I, beside the Liber Pontificalis, is a vita that Cassiodorus' pupil Dionysius Exiguus authored.

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Felix III
1 March 492 – 19 November 496
Succeeded by
Anastasius II

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