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