St Felix IV (III)


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(12 July 526–22 Sept. 530)

A Samnite by birth who may have been the deacon Felix who was a member of the delegation sent by Hormisdas in 519 to Constantinople, he was elected after a vacancy of 58 days; in view of the posthumous inclusion of Antipope Felix in the list of legitimate popes, he was improperly styled Felix IV instead of Felix III. LP states that he was consecrated by order of Theodoric, Ostrogoth king of Italy (493–526). The evidence suggests that there was a long, indecisive struggle between the pro-Gothic and pro-Byzantine parties (the latter comprising most of the senate), and that Theodoric, who after John I wanted a reliable friend of the Goths as pope, intervened to break the deadlock. The king died on 30 Aug. 526, but, as his choice, Felix enjoyed good relations with his grandson and successor Athalaric (526–34), still a minor, and his widow Queen Amalasuntha, who acted as regent. Proofs of royal favour can be seen in an edict confirming that civil or criminal charges brought against clergy should be judged by the pope, and in the claim in Felix's epitaph that he increased the wealth of the papacy. The abnormally large number (55) of priests he ordained suggests a deliberate attempt to pack the clerical establishment with men sharing his outlook.

Early in his reign Felix wrote to Caesarius, bishop of Arles (502–41), approving the testing of laymen before ordination and deploring the return of ordained men to secular life. More important was his support of Caesarius in his efforts to combat Semi-Pelagianism, then widespread in Gaul. When his Augustinian views on grace met with opposition at a synod at Valence in 528, Caesarius turned for help to Felix, who in early 529 sent him 25 propositions defining the church's teaching on grace and free will, consisting mainly of texts of St Augustine assembled by Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390–c. 463). These were adopted by the second council of Orange (July 529), and when approved by Boniface II (25 Jan. 531) effectively put an end to the controversy over grace.

With Queen Amalasuntha's permission Felix converted several temples and public buildings in the Forum to Christian worship. The splendid mosaics in one of them, the church of SS. Cosma and Damiano, which feature a portrait of Felix himself (the earliest surviving papal likeness), are due to him. As his death approached, he gathered his supporters among the clergy and senate around his sickbed and delivered them a ‘precept’ nominating his archdeacon Boniface as his successor; he even handed him his pallium (on condition that he returned it if he recovered). He had the precept published in Rome and sent to the court at Ravenna. The majority of the senate reacted against this strictly unconstitutional action by forbidding any discussion of a pope's successor during his lifetime, or any acceptance of a nomination. Feast 12 Oct.

Further Reading

PL 65: 11–23PLSupp 3: 1280f.MGAA 12: 246, 255JW i. 110 f.L. Duchesne, ‘La succession du pape Félix IV’, MelArchHist3 (1883), 239–66Caspar ii. 151 f, 193–7Haller i. 255–8DBI xlvi. 36–40 (J.-M. Sansterre)DHGE xvi. 895 f. (H. Marot)Levillain i. 573–4 (J. Desmulliez)EThC 36 (G. Schwaiger)NCE v. 667–8 (J. Chapin)Seppelt i. 257–60JR, 120–25


Subjects: Christianity.

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