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POPE ST FELIX III (483-492)

POPE SAINT FELIX III

Saint Felix can be said to be the first pope of the Dark Ages. He is numbered III rather that II, because the antipope Felix II was a brief ruler before he was ousted in 365.

The Western Roman Empire had fallen when the barbarians, under leadership of Odoacer of the Herouli tribe, had overcome the weak Roman emperor. So, starting in 476, the previously highly civilized, organized Italian peninsula was run by the relatively unschooled Germanic barbarians. Italy had been partitioned off and given to a barbarian group in much the same way that North Africa had been given to the Vandals forty years earlier. There was no emperor left in the West, but Zeno was still emperor of the East, and felt himself to be emperor of all. Odoacer acted as if he was representing Zeno in all his actions and made a very smooth transition to king of Italy from his position in the Roman army. Felix did not fear Odoacer during his papacy.

A descendant of a Roman senatorial family. Felix was the son of a priest. He, himself, was a widower with two children, in a time when priests could still be married. Soon after the election of Felix to the See of Peter, in March 483, he became the first bishop of Rome to notify the emperor in Constantinople of the election results. At the time, this was Zeno, mentioned above.

Felix's predecessor, Simplicius, had left some unfinished work, which Felix attended to as soon as he was elected. This was the question of the nature of Christ. The Council of Chalcedon was supposed to solve that question. But it just created more problems. Simplicius tried to fix what had become a political disaster. He died before he could achieve his goal. Just a few years before Felix took the throne, the emperor Zeno, instigated by the patriarch Acacius of Constantinople, wrote the Henoticon. This was a deed of union to control the disagreement between the Monophysite Christians and the orthodox Christians. It was written in a way that looked like a final appeasement to all but, reading it carefully, accepted the heresy. Felix immediately repudiated the deed. He wanted to call Acacius to Rome to explain himself. However, sending legates to Constantinople to summon Acacius did not work well (Acacius thought they were there to agree with him) and Felix ended up excommunicating the legates as well as Acacius. The excommunication ended up causing a decades-long schism between East and West, not ending until 519.

Felix's stiff stance on orthodoxy carried over to North Africa, also. When the Vandals took over, Christians had to either go into hiding or have forced rebaptism by the Arian Vandals. When times changed forty years later, the Arians wanted back into the Church. Lay people were allowed back after intense penance and priests were only allowed back on their death beds.

At the Synod of the Lateran, Felix excommunicated Peter the Fuller, who had taken over the See of Antioch, and, in 484, Peter Mongus, who had illegally taken over the See of Alexandria. The schism only increased in intensity. By the time of his death, on March 1, 492, the schism was to last another 27 years.

From Pope St. Felix's writings:

"Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it; and indeed to neglect to confound evil men, when we can do it, is no less a sin than to encourage them."

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