Anastasius II


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Felix III (483—492)

St Gelasius (d. 496)


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(24 Nov. 496–19 Nov. 498)

A Roman, son of a priest named Peter, his election reflected dissatisfaction in influential circles with the hard-line attitude of Felix III and Gelasius I to the Acacian schism (484–519) with the east. He may have been the deacon who had been prominent at the synod of 495 which rehabilitated Bishop Misenus, whom Felix III had excommunicated for betraying the Roman position when legate to Constantinople in 483. Once installed, the pope dispatched two bishops to Constantinople bearing a conciliatory letter to Emperor Anastasius I (491–519) in which, after announcing his election, he made clear his yearning for the restoration of church unity. While maintaining Rome's insistence that Acacius (dead since 489) should not be named in the diptychs, he did so in restrained terms, and unambiguously recognized the validity of ordinations and baptisms conferred by Acacius and his clergy. Formally his proposals did not differ from those of Felix III and Gelasius I; unlike them, however, he made it evident that he wanted peace and was prepared to make concessions. He made no mention of Rome's other bête noire, the monophysite Peter Mongos of Alexandria (d. 490), only begging the emperor to help in bringing the Alexandrian church back to Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

The pope's embassy was linked with a mission which Theodoric the Ostrogoth sent at the same time to Constantinople to negotiate the recognition of himself as king of Italy (493–526). This mission was led by Festus, the senior Roman senator, who worked closely with the papal legates. There were conversations with the representatives in the city of the Alexandrian church, and these submitted a memorandum on faith which reproduced the Henoticon almost word for word. The emperor exploited the situation and, while forbidding his patriarch, Macedonius, to communicate formally with Anastasius II, revived a compromise proposal, mooted in Gelasius' time, to recognize Theodoric as king in return for the acceptance of the Henoticon by Rome. The reaction of the papal legates to this plan is unknown, but Festus on his own initiative undertook to persuade the pope to fall in with it, and on the basis of this assurance Emperor Anastasius I granted Theodoric his title, probably in 498. Earlier (497) the pope had reopened relations with Andrew, bishop of Thessalonica, whom Gelasius had denounced as a partisan of Acacius, had received his deacon Photinus, had entered into communion with him without consulting his clergy, and had then sent him to Constantinople to assist with the discussions with the Alexandrian representatives. By now, however, his conciliatory policies were creating dismay at Rome, and his reception of Photinus was regarded as a final betrayal. A number of his clergy withdrew from communion with him, and a schism was under way. At the height of the crisis, before the return of Festus and the papal legates, Anastasius II suddenly died. His critics were quick to claim that his death was the result of divine judgement; it remains possible that with him there passed away the last hope of reunion between west and east on the basis of an orthodox interpretation of the Henoticon.


Subjects: Christianity.

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