Overview

Felix II

(355—365)


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Liberius (352—366)

 

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(antipope 355–22 Nov. 365)

Nothing is known about his background except that he was archdeacon when Liberius was banished to Beroea by Emperor Constantius II (337–61) in late 355. Led by Felix, the Roman clergy solemnly swore to recognize no one else as their bishop during Liberius' lifetime. In spite of this, yielding to the emperor's demands, they soon elected Felix pope. He was consecrated by three Arianizing prelates, not in a church but, according to Athanasius of Alexandria (d. 373), in the imperial palace, presumably at Milan, and entered into communion with the Arianizing party favoured by Constantius. As some of the clergy and almost all the laity remained devoted to Liberius, Felix's installation at Rome provoked a violent popular reaction; when Constantius visited Rome in Apr. 357, he was met with demonstrations in favour of Liberius and lobbied by society ladies demanding the exile's return. The government's continued recognition of Felix is revealed by a constitution of the Theodosian Code addressed to him as bishop by Constantius Augustus and Julian Caesar on 6 Dec. 357, confirming the exemption of clergy, their families and employees from taxes and other charges. Constantius was satisfied, however, that the restoration of Liberius was essential to the preservation of public order, and, having bent him to his will, permitted him to return in 358 on the understanding that Felix and he should be co-bishops. The citizens, however, objected to this unprecedented arrangement, shouting the slogan ‘One God, one Christ, one bishop’, and expelled Felix from the city. When he staged a comeback and attempted to celebrate mass in the Julian basilica, he was thrown out again. He had to resign himself to settling in the suburbs, but seems to have retained loyal supporters, including some clergy. According to LP, he bought a property on the Via Aurelia, built a church there, and was eventually buried in it. It appears that from 357 to 365 Rome had two bishops, Liberius occupying the Lateran palace from 358 and Felix established in the suburbs, with the clergy and people unequally divided between them. Each could appeal to the imperial letter recognizing them as joint bishops; and the sole concern of the city prefect was to prevent clashes between the two communities pending the death of one of them. Felix in fact died first, on his estate near Porto, the exact date of his death (22 Nov. 365) being carefully preserved by his partisans, and Liberius was wise enough to seek to amalgamate Felix's clergy with his own. By a strange irony, however, Felix was to enjoy a posthumous triumph. Although contemporary documents speak of him as an Arianizing interloper intruded by Constantius, he not only came to be included in the official list of Roman popes with the incorrect but traditionally accepted style of Felix II (LP assigns him a special section, almost all pure fiction), but through being confused with Roman martyrs bearing the same name was eventually venerated as a martyr himself, with his feast on 29 July. As his legend developed, he was believed to have been a courageous defender of the Nicene faith and to have laid down his life for it, while Liberius was represented as a traitor to orthodoxy and a persecutor of the faithful.

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Subjects: Christianity.


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