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.