Saint of the Day – 19 December – St Pope Anastasius I (Died 401) – Widower, Priest and Pope – born in the 4th century in Rome, Italy – Papal Ascension, successor to Pope Siricius on 27 November 399 until his death on 19 December 401 of natural causes. Among his friends were Augustine, Jerome and Paulinus. Jerome speaks of him as a man of great holiness who was rich in his poverty.
Anastasius was known as a pious youth and, apparently, cared nothing for material things as an adult. He was born about the year 330, a Roman, whose father’s name was Maximus. When he was a young man, Anastasius must have married and had at least one son. Relatively early, it would appear, Anastasius was widowed and never remarried.
It was a time of peace and growth for the Catholic Church and, despite wars in far off regions of the empire, it was a time of relative peace in the Western provinces. Anastasius became a cleric and, it would make sense to assume, so did his son.
However, just a few years before Anastasius became Pope, in 395, Emperor Theodosius died, leaving his eleven year old son, Honorius, to govern. The half-Vandal Stilicho, became regent and power behind the throne. Within three years, Stilicho declared war on the North African province, when he heard rumours of the province seceding and moving to the Eastern Empire. Africa was Rome’s bread basket. The city of Rome panicked and civil turmoil resulted. The rebellion was quashed within a year and Anastasius was consecrated with the promise of more peace.
The Church had converted to Latin as its universal language, due to the expansion of the faith. It became necessary to have a common language for councils and synods, at this point. Many of the fathers of the Church and theologians thus wrote in, or had works translated into, Latin. It often happened that the original authors were long dead at the time of the translation. Thus was the scenario when Anastasius ascended the Chair of Peter. The new pope, consecrated 27 November 399, received a letter from Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria, expressing strong doubt about Origen’s fidelity to the Church. Rufinus of Aquiliea had taken the time to translate Origen’s “First Principles” from the original Greek. St Jerome, the elderly man who had worked so hard on the “Vulgate Bible”, had attacked Rufinus’ work. He felt the writings of Origen did not meet his sense of orthodoxy. Not being familiar with Origen’s work, himself, Anastasius called a council to consider the problem. The council ultimately agreed with Jerome and claimed that Origen’s work was heterodox, thus eliminating it from acceptable belief.
“If Origen has put forth any other writings, you are to know that they and their author are alike condemned by me. The Lord have you in safe keeping, my lord and brother deservedly held in honour.”
from his letter to St Simplicianus
Meanwhile, on the south side of the Mediterranean, the North African Christians were battling another heresy – the Donatists. Their main argument, in a nutshell, was that sacraments were only valid, depending on the spiritual character of the priests and bishops. For the better part of one hundred years, the arguments had been continuing, despite the death of Donatus in 355 and several synods trying to straighten it out. In the late 300s, Augustine of Hippo argued and tried to settle the question. This was apparently of high interest to Anastasius, who encouraged the fight against this heresy. He did not live to see Emperor Honorius’ secretary of state declare Donatism illegal. But Augustine did.
St Anastasius instructed priests to stand and bow their head as they read from the gospels.
Anastasius died in Rome on 19 December 401, having ruled just over two years. He was buried in the Catacomb of Pontian together with his son and immediate successor, Pope Innocent I, which is probably a unique case of a pope being succeeded by his son.