Saint of the Day – 6 August – Saint Pope Hormisdas (c 450-523) – Papal Ascension 514 to 523 – talented diplomat, arbitrator and negotiater, born at Frosinone, Latium (southern Italy) and died at Rome on 6 August 523 of natural causes.
One of the few popes to ever have children, Hormisdas’ actually raised his son to be a pope, Silverus (died 538).
A man of wealth, Hormisdas was born about 450 AD in Frosinone, Campagnia di Roma, Italy, in other words, the plains around the city of Rome. This would put him in the centre of continual politics and controversy his whole life. As a youth, Hormisdas married and had at least one son. He most likely had a career in law or diplomacy, since he seemed to have such talent in this field.
However, as a middle-aged man, Hormisdas was probably widowed and turned his attention to the Church. He became a deacon. A well-known figure in Rome, Hormisdas was a foremost clerical supporter of Pope Symmachus during the Laurentian Schism, a time of competing papacies. He was a notary of the 502 synod.
The day after the burial of the dead pope, Symmachus, Hormisdas was elected without notable controversy. The people of Rome were probably tired of the anger and fighting.
His first action after his election was to receive back into the Church all the adherents of the Laurentian schism, those who had not yet reconciled. The schism had lasted much too long, most likely because of a hatred directed at the person of Symmachus. Hormisdas wanted to move forward.
The second action Hormisdas took was to try to clear up the long lasting Acacian schism. This had been going on for 30 years, since 484. Some Eastern bishops had tried to take the matter into their hands by writing to Symmachus asking for an attempt at re-unification. However, Symmachus wanted the bishops to condemn Acacius and the bishops disagreed. It was time for the new pope to try.
Emperor Anastasius, succssor to Zeno, was still on the throne. He had maintained the Henoticon to the point that he was inclined toward Monophysitism, the belief that the Divine nature and the human nature of Jesus were one. This was not the teaching of Rome. Anastasius had driven three patriarchs out of their cities for their too orthodox teachings.
Discontent had been growing towards Anastasius’ inclinations. A commander of the army, Vitalian of Lower Moesia, led a revolt. He made two demands – 1. he wanted the office of distribution of grain for the troops restored to his person, a rather minor request; and 2. he wanted the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon to be recognised and full unity with Rome. Vitalian was very insistent. He got many supporters as he marched towards Constantinople with his growing army. By the time he arrived, in the late fall of 514, the emperor’s nephew, Hypatius, was waiting for him with the emperor’s army. Hypatius was defeated and Emperor Anastasius was obligated to negotiate.
Vitalian was in a position to push his agenda. He demanded that Anastasius convene a synod at Heraclea on 1 July 515, invite the pope and submit to the pope’s arbitration, the dispute about the various empty sees to restore unity. Playing a game of chance with letters to the pope, the emperor sent out two letters by two carriers. It took months for the pope to receive either and his ambassadors got to Heraclea too late for the synod.
A game of cat and mouse took up the next three years as ambassadors went back and forth, to no avail. But suddenly, Anastasiius died in July of 518 and his supporter, the Patriarch Timotheus died shortly thereafter. The new emperor, Justin I was a Chalcedonian Christian and was bound to reject the Monophysitism. Within a year, negotiations had ironed out a formula.
In March, 519, the new Patriarch John signed a confession of faith, also known as the Formula of Hormisdas, reaffirming the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon.
The first sentence of the Formula reads as follows: “The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers.”
Pope Hormisdas lived several years after his crowning accomplishment, dying on August 6, 523 AD. He is buried in St Peter’s Basilica. The Papal Medallion below is one of the only 56 on the main floor of St Peter’s Basilica.