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St Anastasius I

(399—401)


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(27 Nov. 399–19 Dec. 401)

A Roman by birth, he had hardly become pope when he was plunged into the quarrel then raging over Origen, the outstanding but controversial 3rd-century Greek theologian. This had been sparked off by a whitewashing translation of Origen's First Principles by Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 345–410) which had greatly offended Jerome (331–420), now settled in Bethlehem, and his influential circle of friends in Rome. These had welcomed Anastasius' election because they judged him better disposed than Siricius to the strict ascetic movement, and they put pressure on him to condemn Origen's writings. The pope must have been thoroughly confused, for Origen was a mere name to him and he had little or no grasp of the issues at stake; but when a letter reached him in spring 400 from Theophilus, the powerful patriarch of Alexandria (d. 412), dwelling on the evils caused by Origen's works and reporting their recent condemnation in Egypt, he convened a synod which anathematized the controversial theologian's errors, and then wrote to Simplician, bishop of Milan (d. 400), inviting his and other northern Italian bishops' adhesion to the anathema. Feeling himself threatened, Rufinus sent Anastasius a short but spirited defence both of his translation and of his own theological position. Still under the influence of Jerome's friends, the pope wrote in 401 to Bishop John of Jerusalem making it plain that, while he remained sceptical about Rufinus' motives in making his notorious translation, he left him to God's judgement.

Like Siricius, Anastasius maintained a special relationship with the bishop of Thessalonica to prevent eastern Illyricum from drifting into the ecclesiastical sphere of Constantinople. Unlike Siricius, however, he was immensely admired by Jerome, who claimed that his pontificate had been cut short because Rome did not deserve so noble a bishop. He also enjoyed cordial relations with Paulinus of Nola (d. 431), whom Siricius had snubbed, inviting him to attend the anniversary of his consecration. When the African bishops, worried by a shortage of clergy, sought a relaxation of the ban on Donatist clergy returning to the church, he replied in autumn 401 in distinctly unhelpful terms, exhorting them to continue to struggle against Donatism—advice the Africans tactfully ignored. LP attributes to him (possibly correctly) a constitution requiring bishops, as well as priests and deacons, to stand with bowed heads during the gospel at mass, and also reports his erection of the Basilica Crescentiana, of unknown location. He was buried in the cemetery of Pontian on the Via Portuensis. Feast 19 Dec.

Further Reading

PL 20: 51–80PLSupp 1: 790–92Jerome, Epp. 95, 127. 10, 130. 16Paulinus of Nola, Ep. 20JW i. 42 f.LP i. 218 f. (Davis 1: 32)Caspar i. 285–7, 291 f.DHGE ii. 1471–3 (J. P. Kirsch)EC i. 1154 f. (N. Turchi)NCE i. 386–7 (P. T. Camelot)Seppelt i. 133–5

Subjects: Christianity.


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