St. Felix II - A Papal Grandfather

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St. Felix II has the extraordinary distinction of being not only a pope and saint himself, but the great-grandfather of another pope and saint, Gregory the Great. Felix had been married, but his wife had died before he became a priest. He was a member of an old Roman family of senatorial rank.

No sooner was he elected pope than Felix faced the vexing problem posed by Emperor Zeno's ill-considered attempt to unify the East by compromise. One of the evils which result from politicians meddling in church matters is the tendency to make a deal. And that is just what Zeno did. Alarmed by the hold that the Monophysites had on Egypt and Syria, Zeno issued his famous Henoticon (act of union) and ordered all to subscribe to it. This Henoticon was a creed drawn up by Acacius, the hitherto orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, and Peter, the Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria. It was orthodox in what it said, but implicitly it condoned the Monophysite heresy by omitting the decision of the Council of Chalcedon and the letter of Pope Leo to Flavian. Like so many compromises it pleased few. The more ardent Monophysites refused to follow their leader, Peter, and Pope Felix denounced it. With true spiritual independence, he warned the Emperor not to interfere in theological matters and "to allow the Catholic Church to govern itself by its own laws."

Pope Felix sent legates to Constantinople to summon Acacius to Rome, but to his dismay the Pope discovered that his legates had approved the election of the Monophysite Peter as patriarch of Alexandria and had communicated with heretics--in short, had sold him out. Felix held a synod at Rome in 484 at which he excommunicated the untrustworthy legates. He also excommunicated Acacius, but the patriarch remained stubborn. Thus started the Acacian schism in which Constantinople was officially separated from the Roman Church over the Henoticon. Even after Acacius died, the schism dragged on until the next century.

In the last years of this pontificate Theodoric led his Ostrogoths into Italy to defeat Odovakar and take over the rule of Italy--all in the name of Emperor Zeno. Though an Arian, Theodoric treated the Church well. It was different in Africa, where in the early years of his reign Felix heard anguished cries for help from the hapless Catholics. Hunneric, the Arian Vandal, ruthlessly harried the poor African Catholics. Pope Felix got Emperor Zeno to bring his influence to bear on the fierce Vandal, but this accomplished little. After Hunneric died, the persecution slackened, and the Pope then helped to get the Church in Africa on its feet. He followed the usual papal policy of mildness towards weak brethren who had given way in the storm.

Pope St. Felix died March 1, 492. He is buried in St. Paul's on the Ostian Way.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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