St. Innocent I - The Builder Of San Vitale

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A frightful storm was blowing up over Italy as Anastasius died. The man chosen to succeed him and face the storm was Innocent. Innocent was born at Albanum near Rome. He seems to have been brought up among the Roman clergy.

He was unanimously elected pope in December 401.

The great Theodosius had made his sons Honorius and Arcadius emperors in the West and East respectively. They were weak men quite incapable of coping with the barbarian storm. Honorius however, had at his side the competent general Stilicho who beat off every attempt of Alaric the Visigoth to get down into Italy. But when in 408 Emperor Honorius had Stilicho killed on suspicion of treason, the gates were open and down came Alaric. Honorius, safe in the fortress of Ravenna, defied the Goth and refused to give terms. Alaric rushed on Rome, but Rome's towers and walls were too much for the wild men who marched with Alaric. The Goths blockaded the city and ravaged the neighborhood. At last on the payment of a large ransom Alaric withdrew to Tuscany. But the ambitious Visigoth was determined to have his way. He kept on demanding from Honorius Dalmatia, Venetia, and Noricum, plus tribute. To save Rome from another attack Pope Innocent personally went with an embassy from Rome to the imperial court at Ravenna. Honorius, safe himself, would not budge. Once more Alaric attacked the city; once more he was baffled by Rome's lofty walls. But on a third attempt, traitors opened the Salarian gate and the Goths poured into the helpless city. For five days the barbarians burned and plundered. The world was shocked by the fall of great Rome. Pope Innocent, still at Ravenna, must have been heartbroken. It was to a ravaged city that he returned.

Oddly enough, Pope Innocent found Honorius more cooperative in ecclesiastical than in civil matters. While the Emperor took steps against heretics, the Pope worked hard to maintain discipline. He issued decretals to Bishop Victricius in Gaul and to the Spanish bishops. Innocent began to hear complaints about a new heresy called Pelagianism and to receive decrees from councils in Jerusalem and Africa condemning it. The Pope approved these decrees, and himself condemned the heresy.

From Constantinople came word that the legitimate patriarch, the great St. John Chrysostom, had been driven from his see. Theophilus, a meddling patriarch of Alexandria, had come to Constantinople and intrigued with the weak Emperor Arcadius to have the golden-tongued orator deposed. Pope Innocent wrote a stern rebuke to the Alexandrian meddler and denounced the intruded usurper.

At home a wealthy matron named Vestina gave Innocent the money to build and endow a church dedicated to Sts. Gervase and Protase. This church still exists under the name of San Vitale.

Pope Innocent died in 417. He is buried in the basilica above the Catacomb of Pontian.

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

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