St. Simplicius - The Stormy Sea

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St. Simplicius, a native of Tivoli, was elected to succeed St. Hilary. His election was peaceful, his pontificate stormy. The empire in the West was dying. After the murder of Valentinian III back in 455, a succession of nine shadow emperors held the throne. Most of these were tools of barbarian generals, and finally in the time of Pope Simplicius in 476 the Heruli chieftain Odovakar deposed the last of these little monarchs and informed Emperor Zeno at Constantinople that he would rule the West for him. By this time, anyway, the imperial government had ceased to exercise much influence in the West. Visigoths ruled Spain, Franks and other tribes dominated Gaul, Vandals controlled Africa, and Britain had long been abandoned to Picts and Scots, Angles and Saxons.

The Pope was not much troubled by the change. Odovakar, though an Arian, treated the Church well. But Simplicius was very much troubled by affairs in the East.

In 475 a usurper named Basiliscus drove Emperor Zeno from the throne. Basiliscus favored the Monophysites, and now these heretics enjoyed a very resurrection. Timothy the Cat, that old Monophysite who had been deposed from the see of Alexandria by Emperor Marcion, now returned in triumph. Peter the Fuller took over Antioch. The usurper Basiliscus issued an imperial decree known as the "Encyclion" which ordered the dogmatic letter of St. Leo to Flavian and the acts of the Council of Chalcedon to be burned. It looked as if the whole East trembled on the brink of heresy as five hundred bishops actually subscribed to this audacious bit of imperial dogmatizing. Acacius the patriarch of Constantinople, still held firm, and to his rescue came Pope Simplicius. He strongly encouraged the monks and clergy of Constantinople to resist the usurper's tyranny. But though Constantinople held firm, Antioch and Alexandria were in heretic hands. When Timothy the Cat died, he was succeeded by his friend the equally ardent Monophysite, Peter the Hoarse.

Just when things looked worst, Emperor Zeno made a comeback and regained the throne. Out went the intruded Monophysite bishops. Back came the Catholics. Pope Simplicius could feel that he had helped the East survive a fierce tempest. The time of peace, however, was very short. When the Catholic patriarch of Alexandria died, the Catholics elected John Talaia to succeed him. The Monophysites once more elected Peter the Hoarse. Now the Emperor Zeno and Patriarch Acacius began to favor the Monophysite, Peter. Strange this! But politics were at work. Zeno, alarmed at the strength of the Monophysites, was thinking of a way to pacify them, and Acacius was hand in glove with the Emperor. In spite of the Pope's protests, Peter the Hoarse was recognized as true patriarch of Alexandria. Then Peter went to Constantinople, where he joined Zeno and Acacius to cook up a compromise known as the Henoticon. This was in 482 while Simplicius still lived; but he died before the storm reached its peak.

St. Simplicius built four churches in Rome. He died in 483. His feast is kept on March 2.

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

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