St. Felix III - Monasticism Begins

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16th century woodcut of St. Felix IIIWhen Theodoric learned that his victim, Pope St. John, had died in prison he took measures to ensure that the next pope would be friendly. He put forward as his candidate Felix of Samnium, a priest of the Roman Church. The King's wishes were respected, and Felix, a man of excellent character anyway, was elected.

In spite of being a royal nominee Felix proved to be a good pope. He used his favor with the Gothic Court to help the Church. Theodoric did not long survive his illustrious victim, Pope John, and died on August 30, 526. He was succeeded by his grandson, Athalaric, a lad of ten. The real power was the Queen Mother, Amalasuntha. This lady, Theodoric's daughter, was quite favorable to the Church, and from her Pope Felix secured a decree, drawn up by the noble old Cassiodorus, which reserved the trial of clerics to the pope. Violations of this law of clerical immunity were to be punished by a heavy fine, and any money thus obtained was to go to the poor. The Pope also received two temples in the Roman forum, that of Romulus, and that of the Sacred City. These he made over into the Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. The church still stands and to this day may be seen there mosaics made by order of Pope Felix.

In Gaul there had arisen a mitigated form of Pelagianism. This Semi- Pelagianism had been taught by the ascetic John Cassian and a clever writer, Faustus of Riez. It lingered in Gaul, and St. Caesarius of Arles called on the Pope to help him fight this heresy. Pope Felix backed St. Caesarius by his approval, and by trying to circulate the saint's book against the Semi-Pelagians. He also sent a list of canons which explained the Catholic doctrine on grace against the Semi-Pelagian heresy. These were incorporated in the decrees of the Second Council of Orange, held in 529, which did much to end the Semi-Pelagians.

In 529, too, an event happened of profound importance. St. Benedict founded the Monastery of Monte Cassino, the mother abbey of those hosts of monasteries which did so much for the Church and for civilization. Monasticism was already a powerful force, but St. Benedict is rightly regarded as the patriarch of Western monks. His rule--holy, wise, moderate- -has been a ladder to perfection for millions.

By 530 Felix was gravely ill. He worried a good deal about the future, for party feeling was running high in Rome. Pro-Goths clashed with pro- Byzantines as the shadow of the reconquest loomed over the city. In these disturbed circumstances Felix felt justified in taking an extraordinary step. He chose his own successor! He gave his own pallium to the archdeacon Boniface and solemnly proclaimed that he should be the next pope. He died shortly after in 530.

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

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