Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Alleged Fall of Pope Liberius

Nothing has been proven more soundly, according to the Gallicans, or used more often in support of their opinions, than the alleged fall of Pope Liberius. If nobody now dares refer to Hermant for proof, his relations with Port-Royal having led to his exclusion from the Sorbonne and the chapter of Beauvais, nor the candid and judicious Fleury, whom Marchetti has so often found guilty of ignorance and inaccuracy, then Bergier, D. Cellier, D. Coustant, Tillemont, Noël Alexandre, Valois, Pagi or, going further back, Baronius, will be given as guarantees. Certainly, a presumption with such strong support could be deemed authentic and undeniable, and nobody with a modicum of education could waver. Victory, however, should not be celebrated too quickly. Bossuet, whose great name the Gallicans like to invoke, deleted everything relating to Pope Liberius from his Défense de la Déclaration, since it did not properly substantiate the point he wanted to make: these are the very words of his secretary, Ledieu, and his historian, Cardinal Beausset, both of them strong Gallicans. Now if Bossuet, after twenty years of research and deep thought, could not prove it to himself, then it is my opinion that nobody could prove it. Detailed evidence can be found in numerous works: in the ecclesiastical histories written by Deglen in the sixteenth century, André Duchesne in the seventeenth, Cardinal Orsi in the eighteenth, or by Rohrbacher, Darras and Blanc in the nineteenth century; in the special essays for the 23rd of September entry of the Acta Sanctorum by Abbé Corgne, doctor of the Collège de Navarre, the very erudite P. Zaccharia and the persuasive Stilting; in the library of the former Pères de Galland; in Joseph de Maistre’s Le Pape et l’Église gallicane; in a study published in Poitiers in 1855 by Abbé Béchillon, which sums up how to respond to objections perfectly, according to Cavalcanti’s Vindiciae summorum pontificum; in Abbé Constant´s Histoire de l’infaillibilité des papes, 1859; in Reinerding’s Essay on Liberius, Munster, 1865, written in response to Döllinger, Schneeman and Hefele; and finally, in an essay by Dumont.[1] For my part, without going into too much detail, I propose to examine the conduct of Pope Liberius and the evidence of his perseverance in the faith as separate issues. I will then add a few words concerning the council of Rimini in order to find, in its conclusion, the confirmation of my judgment.

I. Cardinal de la Luzerne, in his work Considérations sur la déclaration du clergé de France en 1682[2], says in relation to Pope Liberius that in the general opinion, the pontiff committed a serious error in signing a formula proposed by the Arians, and controversy remains only as to which particular formula was signed by the Pope. He himself, as Cardinal, claims the Pope was guilty of heresy even had he signed only the first formula of Sirmium. Such a claim provides sufficient cause for us to investigate whether his assertions are true. It should become clear further on that the cardinal, and many after him, were mistaken in affirming that his view of Liberius’s error was commonly held and indubitable; moreover, it will be shown to be false that Liberius ever adhered to the Arian heresy in any way whatsoever.

Pope Julius died on the 22nd of May in 353. Pope Liberius was chosen as his successor; he died in 366 on the 23rd or 24th of September, and thus led the Church for a period of fourteen years and a little over four months. Liberius wrote several letters which D. Coustant collected among the correspondence of the sovereign pontiffs. For anyone familiar with the period, it is clear that it was difficult for the chosen pontiff to manage his apostolic office with complete perfection and success. The Church was profoundly afflicted by Arian unrest; Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, suffered the most iniquitous persecution at the hands of the Arians solely because he defended the Catholic faith against Arianism with admirable constancy. Things had even reached the point where defending the Catholic cause was linked in the public mind with defending Athanasius. Yet Emperor Constantius, Constantine’s son, was a passionate supporter of the Arians and persecuted the Catholics. Liberius, who had a perfect understanding of the duties of his office and knew that the dignity of the sovereign pontiff required conquering the fear of danger to uphold the religious cause and shield those who, in the name of the Catholic faith, had to bear the malice and deceit of the heretics, upheld the true faith against Arianism and omitted nothing that he considered would help protect and support Athanasius. Fear of Constantius and the Arians’ tricks led to Athanasius’s conviction at the council of Arles in 354 with the consent of Vincent, Bishop of Capua, a legate of the Holy See. It is easy to understand how aggrieved Liberius must have felt, how disappointed by the bishops’ weakness, especially those of his legation. To repair the damage done, he therefore secured Constantius’s agreement to a new council in Milan. In this council, as in the preceding one, everything was carried out by violence, and the decrees of the council of Arles against Athanasius were confirmed. Liberius then wrote letters, improved the acts of the council and praised the bravery of those bishops who, rather than vote against Athanasius, had preferred to lay themselves open to the Emperor’s rage.

His valiant actions, which perfectly befitted a Roman pontiff, must have excited the indignation of Constantius and his courtiers. Constantius therefore called Liberius to Milan in 355, ordering him to condemn Athanasius and to join with the Arians. Liberius refused to do either and showed proof of a steadfast character which would lead him, in defence of the Church, never to defer to the Emperor’s orders and to bear the most terrible punishments unflinchingly. The pontiff was therefore banished to Beroea, in Thrace, and condemned to live in exile until early in the year 358. At that time, Constantius came to Rome, where petitions from wealthy matrons and the prayers of the Roman populace caused him to grant Liberius the right to return to the eternal city.

The old accusation of a fall levelled against Pope Liberius arose on the occasion of his return to the city, as if Liberius had only obtained the right from Constantius by agreeing to iniquitous terms. The Protestants, particularly Blondel in his book De la primauté du pape and Basnage in his treaty De la ruine de l’unité, de la visibilité et de l’autorité de l’église, as well the Jansenists, Potter in his book De l’Esprit de l’église and all the enemies of the Holy See in general, all falsely accuse the Roman pontiff and the Catholic church in this regard. In their view, Liberius’s return to Rome is to be attributed to weakness. Unable to bear the pain of exile, he committed the very act he had refused so magnanimously and signed the second formula of Sirmium, which naturally contained all the venom of Arian heresy. In order to back up their views on the Roman pontiff and, by doing so, reject the infallibility of the apostolic chair, the Gallicans have stooped to the level of holding the same opinion as the Protestants and Jansenists: Cardinal La Luzerne himself professed in 1821 that the facts proved his fall into heresy beyond any doubt.

Another opinion has met with the approval of men who speak more indulgently of Liberius, without absolving him of error entirely. The latter blame the pontiff not for condoning the Arian heresy – for they admit he always held it in contempt – but rather for having condemned Athanasius, having received the Eusebians into communion and signed the first formula of Sirmium, in which there was nothing contrary to the doctrine of the divine verb, merely the omission of the word consubstantial which Catholics were supposed to stand by as the very watchword of their faith. This is the view held by Pierre Coustant, a Maurist monk, in his commentary on the works of St. Hilary of Poitier, by Alexis Mazocchi, in his commentary on the calendar of Naples, by Girolamo da Prato in his edition of Sulpitius Severus, and by Father Hermann Scolliner of the Benedictine Order in his work on Pope Liberius’s fall and justification.

Still others can be found, as has already been mentioned, who not only exonerate Liberius of serious error, but of any error at all, claiming that he did none of the things of which he is accused; I have mentioned in particular Corgne, Canon of Soissons, in his dissertation published in 1726, Orsi[3], Joannes Stilting[4], Antonio Zaccharia. We might also cite Pietro Ballerini among many others we have not mentioned.[5]

These authors are not lacking in weighty arguments to defend their view, since, first, the ancient authors recount Liberius’s return in such a way that they appear unaware of his fall, according to Sulpitius Severus[6]: Liberius, bishop of the city of Rome, and Hilarius, bishop of Poictiers, were driven into exile… Liberius, however, was, a little afterwards, restored to the city, in consequence of the disturbances at Rome.” Socrates[7]: “Indeed Liberius was recalled, and reinstated in his see; for the people of Rome having raised a sedition, and expelled Felix from their church, the emperor even though against his wish consented.” Theodoret[8] recounts the petitions and supplications for Liberius’s return made to Constantius by the Roman matrons; but he does not attribute his return to any error committed in order to regain his freedom, rather the story is told in a way that shows the people were perfectly persuaded Liberius had not committed any error. “Their persuasions were successful, he writes, and the Emperor commanded that the great Liberius should be recalled from exile, and that together with Felix, he should conjointly rule the Church. When the edict of the emperor was read in the circus, the multitude shouted that the imperial ordinance was just. The spectators were divided into two factions, each wearing its own colours; each faction should thus have its own bishop. After having thus ridiculed the edict of the emperor, they all exclaimed with one voice, ‘One God, one Christ, one bishop’ and after the Christian people had uttered these pious and righteous acclamations, the holy Liberius returned.” Theodoret’s account of the return of Liberius is quoted by Cassiodorus[9] in Historia tripartita. Now the accounts of these historians form a very solid argument for believing in the innocence of Liberius.

It is indeed, in itself, completely unlikely that Liberius should have been recalled from exile for his complaisance toward the Emperor, and that these able fourth-century historians should speak of his return as if he had retained all his former strength. Now if the city regained its sovereign pontiff thanks to Roman unrest; if the Emperor, very much against his will, had to grant him the right to return; and lastly, if Theodoret and Cassiodorus speak of Liberius on his return from exile in the same way as before he left, awarding him the highest titles, calling him the confessor of the Catholic faith, is it not tantamount to declaring his return from exile free from any accusation? It follows that the writers whose accounts we have quoted consider that Pope Liberius was returned to Rome without having waived any of his former valour.

This argument, based on the accounts of Sulpitius Severus, Socrates, Theodoret and Cassiodorus, gains yet more strength when we consider the period following Liberius’s return. The very learned Stilting[10] says: “As they were priding themselves on the fall of Hosius, the Arians could have opposed Liberius’s authority, had he adhered to their ideas. Yet nowhere is it written that the Semi-Arians or the Arians ever did so… none of the Greek or Latin Fathers from the fourth, fifth or sixth and following centuries ever speak of the fall of Liberius, either to affirm it or use it as an objection or to mention a reform subsequent to the fall. None of the historians with any reputation who flourished in that century and those following ever speak of it, even the Greeks in later periods (even though this might have seemed to authorize their schism), so that it appears as though everything has stemmed from medieval Latin texts, or from apocryphal records, or from Arian and Luciferian calumnies.”

Certainly, if Liberius condemned Athanasius, if he received the Arians into communion, if he signed any formula proposed by the heretics, in every likelihood he must needs have recalled it all afterwards. Either in the one of the ancient authors, at least in those who dealt with Arian events at length, or in one of the authentic letters of Liberius, or in some worthy ecclesiastic record, there should be some trace of his retraction and resipiscence. Yet nobody has transmitted this fact to posterity: no written document or letter can be produced showing that Liberius retracted his actions.

The actions of Liberius when the council of Rimini was held and the fathers of the council admitted a profession of faith presented by the Arians clearly confirms his justification. Saint Damasus, Liberius’s successor, spoke of the council in a letter which can be read in Theodoret[11]: “No prejudice, he writes, could arise from the number of bishops gathered at Ariminum, since it is well known that neither the bishop of the Romans, whose opinion ought before all others to have been waited for, nor Vincentius, whose stainless episcopate had lasted so many years, nor the rest, gave their adhesion to such doctrines.”

It was therefore well known that Liberius did not give his assent to what occurred in the council. It is certain, however, that the same pontiff did not deem it right to absolve the bishops who had fallen at Romini of their error, unless they condemned the formula of Romini, professed the Nicæan faith and abandoned any communion with the Arians. Socrates[12] reports a letter from Liberius to the Orientals, several passages of which bear witness to the point just made; I shall cite these few words only: “Almost all those who gathered at Ariminum had been either lured into error by flattery or tricks; they have since taken a right view of the matter; and after anathematizing the exposition of faith set forth by those who were convened at Ariminum, have subscribed the Catholic and Apostolic Creed which was promulgated at Nicæa. They have entered into communion with us, and regard the dogma of Arius and his disciples with increased aversion, and are even indignant against it.” If Liberius had fallen and had not repented of his error afterwards, it would beg belief that he could act in this way with the bishops of Rimini, who would have committed the same error as himself, if not perhaps a lesser one.

Nor can it be explained in this hypothesis how the clergy and the Roman people could have welcomed Liberius’s return with such a great show of affection if, in order to return to his homeland, he had condemned Athanasius, betrayed the Nicæan faith and subscribed, at the least, a formula where the word consubstantial was omitted. For the clergy and the Roman people had a strong attachment to the Nicæan creed and its defender Athanasius; while for the Arians, on the contrary, they had nothing but loathing.

Sozomenus[13] gives us the cause of the Roman’s love for Liberius: “The people of Rome, he writes, esteemed Liberius highly as a very excellent man, and on account of the courage he had evinced in opposing the emperor in defence of their faith.” Theodoret[14] writes on the other hand that the Roman’s hatred of the Arians was because they loathed Felix, whom the Arians had instated while Liberius was in exile: “Felix, he adds, preserved inviolate the doctrines set forth in the Nicene confession of faith, yet he held communion with those who had corrupted that faith and, for this reason, none of the citizens of Rome would enter the House of Prayer while he was in it.”

This being the case, it is impossible to ascertain the probable cause of the special joy of which the Romans made show toward Liberius, had he indeed fallen. If that had occurred, all the Romans’ love for him would had died and been replaced by the hostile opinion they held for Felix. Yet the Romans made show at that time of an incredible affection for Liberius and gave signs, on the other hand, of their old hostility toward Felix, since they chased him from Rome twice and forced him to renounce the dignity which he had infringed once and for all. The reason for which Liberius, upon his return from exile, was received by the Romans proves most pertinently that he had in no way bought his return by complacency toward the emperor and that this fact was well known in Rome.

These proofs and others which we have not included for brevity, show that the supposed fall of Pope Liberius is not denied without reason.

Hilary of Poitiers[15] affirms that he knows not “whether the emperor exceeded in impiety in banishing Liberius, or in recalling him”. It cannot be inferred from this, believe me, that Hilary wished to accuse Liberius of having obtained the right to return by assenting to iniquitous conditions laid down by Constantius. Indeed the reply to be made is that of the learned Zaccharia, in his above-mentioned essay[16]: “since this passage, he writes, is emphatic and oratorical, it is to be doubted that Constantius forced Liberius to subscribe an heretical formula: for was it not, asks Hilary, an impiety, and a cruel one, to treat Liberius harshly prior to his return to Rome? Constantius dealt with Liberius ruthlessly. Should not he who only returned Liberius to Rome while spreading the false rumour of his adhesion to the Arian heresy be called impious?” Now this is exactly how Constantius sent him back, if we are to believe Sozomen and Nicephorus. Of graver concern is that Constantius only wished to allow Liberius to return on the condition of administering the Church conjointly with Felix. An abominable crime that vilified the seat of Peter, as Sozomen puts it, and Nicephorus repeats in similar terms: that caused the Church to be governed by two bishops, which is a sign of discord and contrary to ecclesiastical laws.

The learned Zaccharia[17] gives a summary of the responses produced to prevent Liberius being harmed by the passages of the Chronicle of St. Jerome and his book De Viris Illustribus: In the first is found: “Liberius, having been conquered by the tedium of exile and subscribing to the heretical depravity, had entered Rome as if a conqueror.” In the second: “Fortunatianus, an African by birth, is held in detestation because, when Liberius bishop of Rome was driven into exile for the faith, he was induced by the urgency of Fortunatianus to subscribe to heresy.”

To recall, in few words, the substance of these responses, it can be said: first, that on reading the two accounts it becomes clear that contradictory reports are given; second, that the Chronicle of St. Jerome has been questioned in many places; third, that there is serious reason for suspecting that the hand of a forger introduced these words on the fall of Liberius into the Chronicle. As for the passage taken from the book De Viris Illustribus, it is clearly shown to be false since it is proven by highly reliable documents, that when Liberius was sent into exile, Fortunatianus could not have moved him to support a heresy which the Pontiff despised.

As a matter of fact, it is possible to produce examples to establish that without lacking respect, in historical matters, it is permissible not to follow St. Jerome and to consider him misled by false rumours. Especially when one considers that the two accusatory works were drafted by that illustrious doctor in the East, in the very region where, according to Sozomen, the Arians had spread false rumours about the error of Pope Liberius.

II. We now need to demonstrate that Liberius did not cease to profess the Catholic faith, by looking into the matter more closely.

Throughout, it must be held to be absolutely certain the when Liberius obtained the right to return to Rome, he had never fallen into the Arian heresy.

Even if it were admitted that Liberius condemned Athanasius, no proof of him having fallen into the Arian heresy could be concluded from that condemnation. For the Arians were fuelled against Athanasius by an implacable hatred, precisely because he fought against the errors of the sect and defended the Catholic faith with perfect constancy and incomparable valour. At the same time, they slandered him most terribly; thus, hiding the true cause of their hatred, they accused Athanasius and condemned him just as if they had not had not hated him because of his faith. To give in to this condemnation would have been an obvious injustice, but it would not have been a crime such that the person guilty of it would have been considered outright as a heretic. Even if it were admitted that Liberius entered into communion with the heretics, neither could any proof be inferred from this fact that the pontiff had fallen into the Arian heresy. Indeed, to prove any such thing, it would be necessary to show that Liberius had accepted some part of the Arian heresy and violated the Catholic faith in some way. Now, even if he had entered into such communion, this would not imply that the Pope had strayed from the faith and fallen into heresy. It would only imply that the Pope, in communing with the Eusebians, had communed with men who were part Catholic, part heretic, but whose errors were not at all obvious. The learned Maran[18] has established that there were two types of Easterners or Semi-Arians: some, while rejecting the word consubstantial, nevertheless had an upright, Catholic understanding of the Word of God; the others rejected the Catholic meaning of the term but cleverly feigned the appearance of Catholicism for a time.

Even if it were admitted that Pope Liberius subscribed one of the formulæ of Sirmium, this would not imply that he had fallen into the heresy of Arius. At Sirmium, three formulæ were drawn up: one in 351, against Photinus; another in 357, and the last in 359. If we agree that Liberius had subscribed one of the three, the second and third must be excluded; solid arguments have established that Liberius subscribed neither one nor the other.

Valois, in his notations on Sozomen´s Ecclesiatical History[19], asserts that Liberius subscribed the third formula; Pagi, in the year 357[20], espouses this view. – To prove with certainty that Liberius did not subscribe this third formula, it is necessary to quote Valois’s own notes on this text[21]: “The third assembly at Sirmium, he writes, took place under the tutorage of Eudebius and Hypatius, in the year of our Lord 359; the formula, dictated by Marcus of Arethusa, was written there.” Petavius, in his observations on the anti-heretical works of St. Epiphanius[22] says the same thing, speaking of the Semi-Arians: “In 359, the third formula of Sirmium was published by Marcus of Arethusa, with the consent of the Semi-Arians”.

Now the formula that Liberius supposedly subscribed, if we must concede that he did so, must have been the one mentioned in the sixth fragment attributed to St. Hilary. It is written that: “the perfidious piece which was written at Sirmium, which Liberius said was Catholic, was presented to him by Demophilus. Those who signed were as follows: Narcissus, Theodorus, Basil, Eudoxius, Demophilus, Cecrops, Sylvanus, Ursacius, Valens, Evagrius, Hyrenius, Exuperius, Terentia, Bassus, Gaudentius, Macedonius, Marthus, Acticus, Julius, Surinus, Simplicius and Junior… all of them heretics.” Now, no lengthy argument is needed to prove that Liberius did not subscribe this third formula of Sirmium.

The ancients have taught us that this formula, composed by Arcus of Arethusa alone, is the one mentioned in the fragment attributed to St. Hilary, which was drawn up by several bishops and which Liberius supposedly subscribed. In addition, as was mentioned earlier, this third formula was published in 359. Now Liberius, if he subscribed one of the formulæ of Sirmium, did so before his return; he therefore can most certainly not have subscribed a formula published for the first time in 359, since he returned to Rome in 358 at the latest. If therefore he subscribed one of the formulæ, the hypothesis that he subscribed the third must be excluded from the debate. Had he indeed done so, as Baronius puts it[23]: “He would not have favoured heresy, since it is said, in this formula, that the Son is absolutely and in everything perfectly like the Father.”

It can be established with equal certitude that if Liberius subscribed one of the formulæ of Sirmium, he certainly did not subscribe the second, which contained an overt statement of the Arian heresy to the point where no argument or distinction can be made to purge it of the crime of heresy. The Arians, it is true, tried to spread the rumour that Liberius had passed over to their side one day. “For when Eudoxius, writes Sozomenus,[24] “and his partisans at Antioch, who favoured the heresy of Aëtius, received the letter of Hosius, they circulated the report that Liberius had renounced the term ‘consubstantial’, and had admitted that the Son is dissimilar from the Father.” However it is perfectly certain that this was a completely false rumour, and that Liberius never subscribed a formula explicitly containing the heresy.

To prove it I will call on the solid argument proferred by Stilting[25], which draws on St. Hilary as an authority. The bishop of Poitiers, in his work De Synodis often recalls, without making any mention of Liberius, that Hosius received the second formula of Sirmium; he even shows most clearly[26] that Hosius was the only one of those who were not Arians to receive the formula or, at least, to consent to the omission not only of the word consubstantial, but even of the words similar to the substance, a variation that the Arians had put forward then for the first time. “I beseech you, writes Hilary, is it not so that apart from the aged Hosius, who loved his rest too dearly, no other person could be found to recommend silence on the consubstantial and similar in substance?”

I will also call on the argument Stilting draws from the Arians using the authority of Hosius alone against the Catholics, and not that of Pope Liberius. We see how St. Phebadius of Agen uses it to advantage in his opuscule against the Arians: “One can hardly rule against us on the authority of someone who is mistaken now or who has always been mistaken. If he has had wrong beliefs for the last ninety years, I find it unlikely that after ninety years he would start to think straight.”

The event itself shows, moreover, that if Liberius subscribed a formula, it cannot have been the second formula of Sirmium. The formula that Liberius supposedly subscribed would have been the one contained in the fragment attributed to St. Hilary, written by twenty-two bishops of the East. However the formula drawn up by the Eastern bishops differed quite certainly from the second formula of Sirmium, written by those of the West and in Latin, as quoted by Athanasius and Socrates as well as St. Hilary, who presents the same formula in his book De Synodis.[27] In addition, among the authors of this formula it is reckoned that Liberius, Theodore of Heraclea, Basil of Ancyra and Sylvanus of Tarsus subscribed. Now the names of these prelates show well enough that the formula supposedly subscribed by Liberius could not have been the second formula of Sirmium. For Theodoret reports[28] that Theodore of Heraclea died in 355; and since the second formula of Sirmium was not published until 357, Theodore cannot be deemed to have been one of the authors of a document drawn up two years after his death. Basil and Silvanus, who were either Catholics or Semi-Arians, cannot have also been authors of the formula either, for it contained the expression of the Anomean doctrine which both of them held in loathing.

It should be added that the second formula of Sirmium, as is shown by the text cited by St. Hilary, had been drawn up by Hosius and Potamon, with the consent of Valens, Ursacius and Geminius. In the formula attributed to Liberius, there is not mention of either Potamon or Hosius; and in the pieces where it is reported that Liberius subscribed one of the formulæ of Sirmium, it is said that he accepted the beliefs of the Orientals, not those of Hosius and Potamon.

The only remaining possibility is the first formula of Sirmium, presented in 351; but if Liberius approved it, he can certainly not be accused of heresy. This formula was, in fact, written in such a way that although it omitted the word consubstantial, it did not appear to contain anything averse to the dogma of the Catholic faith concerning the dignity of the Word. To prove this point, the words of St Athanasius[29] are highly relevant: “It is not right, he says, to treat as enemies those who accept everything else that was defined at Nicæa, and doubt only about the use of the word consubstantial; nor do we here attack them as opponents of the Fathers, but we discuss the matter with them as brothers with brothers, who mean what we mean, and dispute only about the word. For, confessing that the Son is from the substance of the Father, and not from other substance, and that He is neither the creature nor the work of God, but His genuine and natural offspring; and for all Eternity the Word and the Wisdom exist with the Father, they are not far from accepting the term consubstantial. Now such is Basil of Ancyra, who wrote about the faith.” Without any doubt, nobody could look further than Athanasius for a staunch supporter of the consubstantial; nobody could hesitate in believing that these are the words of a man strongly attached to the Catholic doctrine concerning the divinity of the Word.

The omission of the word consubstantial, to be sure, should not be tolerated, because the Council of Nicæa had decreed that the word was a rampart of the Catholic Church and the fundamental reversal of the whole Arian doctrine. Thus the Fathers of the Church condemned the conduct of those who did not employ the word, yet without presenting their belief as heretical. Such in particular was the conduct of St. Hilary. In his work De Synodis which he published toward in late 358 or early 359, after having taken every pain to prove that the word consubstantial must be accepted, he agreed without hesitation that another word might be above suspicion. Brethren, he writes,[30] likeness of nature cannot be doubted without insult; the Son cannot seem not to be of the true nature of the Father, because he is like, since there is no likeness without equality of nature. Equality of nature cannot exist without unity, not unity of person but of kind. This faith is pious, this understanding religious, these words salutary: not to deny a substance of the Father and the Son because it is similar, is to say it is similar, because they are one.” As far as the first formula of Sirmium is concerned, Hilary not only cites it in the above-mentioned work, but explains it, and shows it to be Catholic bar a single word, then following this explanation, adds[31]: “It only remains for me to address myself to the holy bishops of the East: Since no doubts remain about our faith, free us of the words which could yet cause more, and be so kind as to pardon my now speaking freely on the basis of my faith in our common understanding.” It is therefore clear that if Liberius did indeed subscribe the first formula of Sirmium, he could not be accused of heresy on this account.

I fail to understand how Cardinal la Luzerne (not to mention the others who claim that Liberius indeed fell into the heresy) can argue that Liberius turned heretic while at the same time confessing that he only ever subscribed the first formula of Sirmium. To establish that Liberius approved this formula in an heretical sense, he invokes the Pope’s behaviour in later times. And in evidence he quotes above all a letter from the sixth fragment of St. Hilary, a letter attributed to Liberius which opens with the words: Pro Deifico timore. “I do not defend Athanasius, he writes. But since my predecessor Bishop Julius, may he rest in peace, had received him, I feared appearing corrupt if I rejected him. At least, as soon as I learned with the help of God that you had justly condemned him, I adhered to your sentence and approved his condemnation in the letters which I addressed via our brother Fortunatien to the Emperor Constantius. This is why, aside from Athanasius, about whom your decisions must needs be accepted by the Holy See, I say I am at one and in peace with you all, and with all the bishops of the East in all the provinces of Christendom. Yet, so that you may know more certainly that in this letter I profess the true faith, my Lord and our common brother, Demophilus, who kindly deigned to explain to me this your Catholic faith such as it was discussed, explained and accepted at Sirmium by all our brothers and fellow bishops – Demophilus will tell you that I have willingly received it without raising the merest shadow of an objection.”

After this letter, the bishop of Langres quotes three others from the fragments of St. Hilary which are also attributed to Liberius: one opens Studens paci, another Quia scio vos, the last Non doceo, sed admoneo; from their context, he believes he can form an argument showing that Liberius subscribed the first formula of Sirmium in an heretical sense. Yet what use are such pieces in establishing the doctrinal guilt of Liberius? None whatsoever, since they must be held to be apocryphal, as has been established for some time, by the highly learned Stilting among others.

Without entering, here, into a specific investigation of each letter to prove his hypothesis, I shall limit myself to noting that all these letters must be attributed to the same author. Should therefore one of them be proven a forgery, it follows that all of them must be deemed apocryphal. Now, in the letters Studens paci and Quia scio vos there is patent proof of forgery. In these two letters, Liberius is shown describing himself as having condemned Arius from the start of his pontificate. Yet that is manifestly contrary to the history of his pontificate and the entire history of Arianism. Nothing is more certain than that Liberius, not only at the start of his pontificate but throughout a long period, fought for Athanasius and showed admirable courage in defending him.

An example among others is the famous struggles between Liberius and Eusebius, Constantius’s eunuch. In the year 355, the Emperor had sent his eunuch to Rome to bring the Pope to agree to condemn Athanasius. St. Athanasius himself, in his History of the Arians, addressed to the monks, relates how Liberius replied to the eunuch. “How, by your leave, could such a thing be done against Athanasius? How can we condemn a man, whom not one single meeting of bishops, but an ecumenical council has as of right declared pure and innocent, and whom the Church of the Romans let go in peace? Who will approve our conduct, if we reject an absent man whom we gladly welcomed when present, and admitted to our communion? This is not the rule of the Church, this is not the tradition which we received from our fathers and which our fathers received from the blessed and great Apostle Peter.”

While we may need to evaluate the letters attributed to Liberius in this manner, no argument is necessary to establish that it is difficult to learn from forged evidence how the Pope behaved following his alleged subscription. For the very reason that the authenticity of these texts raises grave doubts, they cannot be used to deduce the Pope’s conduct with any certainty.

Even if their authenticity were allowed, what could be concluded from the letter Pro Deifico timore to infer that the Pope subscribed in an heretical sense? Is it because Liberius is said to have condemned Athanasius? Yet concerning the condemnation of Athanasius, we have seen that while it might be possible to accuse Liberius of injustice and weakness if he had indeed ratified his condemnati, it would not be a proof that he had violated the Catholic faith, because the Arians had spread various calumnies against Athanasius and accused him of crimes entirely separate from the cause of the Faith. Is it because Liberius is said to have received the Eusebians into communion? Yet that again would provide no proof, since it would merely follow that the Pontiff entered into relation with men who were part Catholic and part heretic, but had not been convicted of error. Is it because Liberius is said to have received the Oriental faith? Yet we know from the account of Athanasius and Hilary that if they omitted the word consubstantial, they nevertheless accepted all the Catholic doctrine on the divinity of the Word, and that they should not immediately be deemed heretics even though they subscribed a formula from which the word was omitted.

Moreover the conduct of Liberius, insofar as it can be known from the historical records of the period, helps to defend the Pontiff rather than accuse him. We have seen that the clergy and the Roman people received Liberius upon his return with such joy that public opinion must have been convinced that he had never subscribed to the errors of Arianism. We have seen that there was no mention anywhere of his retraction. We have seen that in the affairs of the Council of Rimini, Liberius showed constancy worthy of a Pontiff who abhorred the Arian deceptions. It can be seen from this how irresponsible it would be to accuse Liberius of heresy on the basis of his conduct.

To prove the fall of Liberius, the author mentioned above calls on the authority of St. Hilary and claims that the anathematisms against Liberius contained in the fragments attributed to the Bishop of Poitiers clearly accuse the Pontiff of heresy. In the sixth fragment, Hilary says the following: “Anathema to you Liberius, and to your companions”, and a little later: “I say to you a second, and a third time, anathema to you, Liberius, the prevaricator.” In the eighth fragment can be found: “I have said anathema to the prevaricators and the Arians”. To this should be added what can be found in the sixth fragment[32] attributed to the same St. Hilary: “After which, Liberius, sent into exile, annulled everything he had done and promised by his letter to the heretical prevaricators who had brought an unjust sentence against the orthodox bishop St. Athanasius.”

Yet everything produced against Liberius as written by St. Hilary does not show that he can be accused of heresy. For, even those who accuse Liberius deem certain that among the fragments there are many apocryphal ones and many Arian interpolations. That what can be found in objection to Liberius in the fragments must be classed among the apocryphal or interpolated passages, is shown by the conduct of Sulpitius Severus. It is certain, in fact, that the historian drew what he said about the affairs of Arianism from the book from which the fragments are bandied about. Now in speaking of the return of Liberius he attributes the right merely to the Roman revolts; his account shows therefore that, in St. Hilary’s work, he had not seen the fragment produced as if by the bishop of Poitou. If he had been aware of the fragments, it is not likely that he would have attributed the return of the Pope to the Roman revolts, since he would have found the primary cause in the fall of the Pontiff.

Furthermore, if the anathematisms must be attributed to St. Hilary, it needs be said that Hilary pronounced them long after the fall of Liberius, having composed an historical work while Liberius valiantly defended the Catholic faith. It is quite unbelievable therefore that Hilary should have launched the anathema against the Pontiff, who at the time was fighting most energetically for the Church. If we are to think that St. Hilary had so little consideration as to draw up the anthematisms on first hearing of the fall of Liberius, after receiving copies of the letters put about in the Pontiff´s name, “would it not, asks Stilting, have befitted his caution and justice to destroy the anathema once he became aware of Liberius’s steadfast defence of the Catholic faith against the prevaricators of Ariminum?”

To show that scholars rightly doubt the authenticity of the fragments, it should be added that certain passages are incompatible with the authentic writings of the holy doctor. For example, the words from the sixth fragment, where it is a question of “the perfidy written at Sirmium, which Liberius calls Catholic, etc.” – these words applied to the first formula of Sirmium cannot accord with what Hilary wrote in his book De Synodis. In this book, not only is the above formula not called a perfidy, but it is praised abundantly and none of it is said to be foreign to the Catholic faith.

Thus Hilary speaking in No. 78 of those who defended the formula calls them “eager for apostolic and evangelical doctrine”. He writes[33]: “We are attached, in all piety, to only one thing, and I beseech you that this sacred thing become, between us, the link of unity.” If therefore Hilary had called the first formula perfidious, he could be accused of irresponsibility and inconsistency since he termed perfidious a formula which he had praised and shown to have a Catholic meaning.

Finally, without mentioning anything else, these words from the sixth fragment: “After which… everything that Liberius had done and promised, etc.” are apocryphal, notably via the indication that Athanasius is called a saint, which appellation is not permitted to be juxtaposed with the name of a living person and which was not in use in that period, especially for Hilary. It can therefore be seen that it is very difficult, on the basis of the fragments that we have quoted, not only to accuse Liberius of heresy, but even to accuse him with certainty of the slightest error.

If, leaving the proofs which establish the fraudulent addition of the fragments aside, the facts that they express are examined, it can be seen that nothing in them demonstrates his fall. I omit the anathematisms annexed to the letter Pro Deifico timore, voiced by the interpolater, for what Liberius, in the letter, said he had done: we have already seen in relation to the facts related in the letter, that even should we want to find evidence of a fall, we could not find evidence of a fall into heresy. I say the following: that if, on the basis of these anathematisms, we wish to argue against Liberius, we can assert only that their author thought, or wish to make known, his conviction that the Pontiff had condemned Athanasius, communed with the Orientals, subscribed the first formula of Sirmium and that, for doing so, he must be considered a prevaricator. However, the fact that somebody judged him to be a prevaricator does not imply that he judged him to be a prevaricator for truly falling into heresy, because prevarication can relates to matters other than faith.

To form his argument, the author mentioned above also quotes the accounts of Ado of Vienne, who lived in the ninth century, and Auxilius, who lived in the tenth: both speak of Liberius as if persuaded of his fall into heresy. Yet, after all we have said, it is not necessary to refute them, because they are too far removed from the time of Pope Liberius, and because they were certainly written on the basis of apocryphal works. Indeed one of them draws his account from the forged acts of St. Eusebius; the other, from the pontifical attributed to Pseudo-Anastasius.

We still need to refute our author’s remarks on the persecutions carried out in Rome following Liberius’s return against those who defended the Nicæan faith; from which he concludes that the Pope´s conduct shows that he subscribed the formula of Sirmium in an heretical sense. To cut the argument short, it should be recalled that the ancient authors speak of Liberius’s return in such a way as to show he was still against the Arians. That is why the Roman people showed him so many signs of joy and goodwill. Therefore, whatever the circumstances of his return against who defended Nicæa, it is quite certain that the Pontiff, on his return, showed himself to be the apologist of their faith. He cannot therefore be reproached with anything from which it might be concluded that he subscribed the first formula of Sirmuim in an heretical sense.

III. After the council of Sirmium, if Liberius had prevaricated, all that remained for Constantius and the Arians was to officially publish his agreement, while the Pope, guilty of heresy, would have needed to call a new council to retract it. This was not the case. Liberius did not call a council: the Emperor and the Semi-Arians did. The council was planned first for Nicæa, then for Nicomedia, finally for Seleucia and Ariminum, the Western bishops being to meet at the former and those from the East at the latter. The council of Rimini was very large indeed. Instead of the alleged subscription of Liberius taking place there, matters were simply taken up from where the council of Milan had left them in 347. An exposition of faith was read to the council which was orthodox in appearance and Arian at heart. All of the bishops approved it, and separated in 359. Thus the term of substance was abolished, thus the Nicæan faith was publically condemned: the whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian, wrote St. Jerome.

Ariminum, as Edouard Dumont will conclude for us[34], puts a term to the defence of Liberius; it is no more a question of his letters or his retraction in the second part of the council, where the Arians prevailed, than in the first, where they were excommunicated. We do not have the records; it is unlikely that St. Jerome, who reports the final session in detail, either could or would have avoided mentioning Liberius if, in the council, anyone had harked back to the events of Sirmium and Beroea; for the hermit of Bethlehem wrote his dialogue against the Luciferians to show the wisdom of indulgence toward the bishops who had weakened unwittingly or through imprudence. And he based his argument in particular on the example of Saint Athanasius and his solemn decision at the council of Alexandria, with the purposefully marked approbation of Pope Liberius.

It is therefore clear that Pope Liberius never weakened. That is not the only consequence of this examination. Another most singular observation, remarkable for quite different reasons, also emerges. People have been heard to claim that “the decisions of a general council took their authority only from the council itself, and a decree thus pronounced against the wishes of the pope was binding nevertheless and retained all its force.1 To cut short this theory of multiple autocracy, which can be likened to nothing less absurd than squaring a circle, they were asked to quote an example.

And they are still looking for this paragon.

Indeed Cardinal Litta demonstrated the nonsensical nature of an hypothesis according to which the voice of Peter, that is, of the Pope, could stay removed from those of the apostles or from the episcopate. In the way in which he understands and explains it, he is historically correct. Now the council of Ariminum came just in time to confound the opinion of the opposition. It was the largest council ever seen; more than six hundred bishops attended, with all the conditions of ecumenicity. Vincent of Capua presided as legate of the Holy See; and the assembly, which as a rule began by excommunicating the heretics, ended up by admitting their orthodoxy and, even worse, by accepting their profession of faith. The departure of the less patient bishops did not prevent the council from being most considerable in number, and according to the feeling of the remaining bishops, the absence of the legate removed none of the power of the assembly, since it continued to deliberate and form decisions under the presidency of the eldest present, Muzonius, a circumstance which proves the departure of Vincent of Capua beyond doubt.

The major mistake committed by the bishops was precisely to have continued deliberating outside of pontifical authority and thus to have fallen into the trap. Most certainly the majority fell in good faith. Especially the twenty bishops who resisted longest, led by St. Phebadius of Agen and St. Servais of Tongres, who only succumbed at the last, did not intend to accept Arianism, after having had the doctrine made anathema by Valens himself. However the heresy was nevertheless decreed, by a council, instead of the truth. How then could such a decree have force of law and commit St. Athanasius, St. Hilary and St. Eusebius to silence?

However there is something else, which is the most remarkable fact of all: whatever their attachment to the true doctrine, they had nevertheless defected in the eyes of the pagans, and the truth disappeared in the Episcopal body. The world, for that instant, found itself Arian, according to the opinion of St. Jerome. One man alone dissipated this uncertainty, this alarm, and that man was Pope Liberius.

It will be recalled that in his interview with the Emperor in Milan, he had answered him thus: If I am alone, the cause of the faith is not thereby weakened; an astonishing and, as it were, prophetic remark, which was soon to come true thanks to a most extraordinary event. Indeed Liberius, after the council of Ariminum, found himself alone before the triumphant Arians, and alone he dealt them the final blow, crushing their apparent domination by contradicting them and breaking up their council. This we learn from St. Damasus and St. Siricius, his successors. No doubt he counted among his own the three illustrious exiles Athanasius, Eusebius and Hilary, as well as all those who had only given their consent unwittingly, but the latter needed to be warned that they had been deceived. As for the three exiles, because their minds have never ceased to enlighten us, it would be a dangerous illusion to be convinced that their high intelligence, their upright conduct and their virtue could suffice to maintain Catholic doctrine. These very qualities were questioned by the Arians, the Jansenists of the time, who far from accepting a separate existence, preached only unity, saying they were eminently orthodox and making a show of refusing innovation. Nothing was more seductive to souls who were not strongly armed against artifice. The heretics’ shrewdest move had been to question faith for over twenty-five years in the person of Athanasius, while giving the appearance of attacking him merely as an enemy of peace. It was at once his glory and a time where truth, which was as if attached to the great man, was put to the test, if not in danger; and there was still no other matter at stake, at the time of Ariminum, than establishing who was right between him and his adversaries. To decide the issue another authority was needed apart from genius and virtue; only the supreme jurisdiction would do, in a word, that of the Holy See; and God permitted that authority to stand alone at that solemn moment, in the presence of the alarmed Church, to show that the whole truth of the doctrine lies there, and not in genius, or number, or even the purity of a life.

Liberius knew very well what he would be exposed to in solemnly reproving the formula of Ariminum, and he sustained that great act with dignity. The wrath of the Emperor and the Arians was unfurled once more against the bishops, who at once rallied to the pontifical decree, and the author of the decree was not to be spared; he was banished from Rome a second time. The persecution now seemed resolved to spare nothing. “The ship of the Apostles was foundering; she was driven by the wind, her sides beaten with the waves, no hope was now left. But the Lord awoke and bade the tempest cease; the beast died, and there was calm once more.” Thus spoke St. Jerome of the final attempts of Emperor Constantius and his end. The Pope returned to Rome and began the construction of a famous church, Saint Mary Major, which is still called the Basilica Liberiana, a spontaneous testimony of the esteem and public affection earned by this holy Pope.

St. Phebadius, who wrote after the council of Ariminum, did not make the slightest allusion to Liberius, whose fate might have attenuated his own; there is no mention of the slightest recrimination of Lucifer, so outspokenly irreconcilable with those who had fallen at Ariminum against a Pope so eager to reconcile them. Ammianus Marcellinus marks the affection of the Romans for Liberius, without indication of any error, which would have supplied a malicious revenge on his heathen and violent animosity for Damasus. St. Athanasius, four years after the return from Beroea, and later, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Epiphanius, all speak of Liberius with nothing but admiration. If Baronius removed him in his revision of the Roman martyrology, this overly swift scruple, which at least shows his impartiality as to his error, cannot annul the unanimous homage paid to this great and holy pontiff by sixteen ancient martyrologists, including the various manuscripts of that by St. Jerome. The Greeks, in the Basilian menology, call him the propagator of the Faith, full of ardent zeal in his defense of St. Athanasius, “for whom he suffered exile, whence he returned, thanks to the faith and love of the Romans, to govern his flock with wisdom.” Lastly, the Menaia say the same more briefly, adding:

Liberius ever since draws in abundance

On the goods hoarded in heaven by his prudence.



From René François Rohrbacher, Histoire universelle de l’église catholique, vol. 4, New edition, 1872.

(Translated by Susan Nicholls)




[1] Dumont, Questions historiques, Vol. 1.

[2] Part 3, Ch. 6.

[3] Orsi, Storia ecclesiastica, Vol. 6, Book 14, n. 72.

[4] Joannes Stilting, Acta Sanctorum Septembris, Vol. 6.

[5] P. Ballerini, De vi ac ratione Primatus Romanorum Pontificum, Ch. XV, n. 8.

[6] Sulpitius Severus, Sacred History, Book II, Ch. XLIX. Translator’s note. The quotation can be found in Book II, chapter XXXIX of “The Sacred History of Sulpitius Severus”, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Series II, Volume 11 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark).

[7] Socrates, Church History, Book II, Ch. XXXVI. Translator’s note. The quotation may be found in Book II, Ch. XXXVII of Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, trans. A.C. Zenos, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 2.

[8] Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Ch. XVII. Translator’s note: The quotation following may be found in Book II, Ch. XIV, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 3. I have modified the translation slightly in line with Rohrbacher’s French translation of the text.

[9] Cassiodorus, Historia tripartita, Book V, Ch. XVIII.

[10] Stilting, 23 September, § 9, n. 163.

[11] Book II, Ch. XII.

[12] Book IV, Ch. XII (translation slightly modified).

[13] Sozomen, Ecclesiatical History, Book IV, Ch. XV. Translator’s Note: See Book II, Ch. XII. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 2. Here, as elsewhere, I have modified the existing translation to follow Rohrbacher´s French version more closely.

[14] Book II, Ch. XXVII. Translator’s note: The passage is in Book II, Ch. XIV of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 2.

[15] Hilary of Poitiers, Contra Constantium Augustum liber, n.11.

[16] Ch. V, § 1.

[17] Ch. VI, § 3.

[18] Maran, La Divinité de NSJC, I. IV, Ch. XXII. Translator’s note: the text may be either Prudentius Maran´s Divinitas domini nostri Jesu Christi manifesta in scripturis et traditione (Paris: 1746) or La divinité de Jesus Christ prouvée contre les hérétiques et les déistes, 3 vols. (Paris: 1751).

[19] Book IV, Ch. XV.

[20] Notes 12 and 13. Translator’s Note: the reference is to the entry for the year 357 of Pagi’s revision of the Annales ecclesiastici of Baronius (Paris: 1689).

[21] Book XI, Ch. XXX.

[22] Note 73.

[23] Baronius, Year 357, note 53.

[24] Sozomen, Book IV, Ch. XV.

[25] Note 170.

[26] Note 87.

[27] Note 21. Translator’s note: see Note 11 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

[28] Book II, Ch. XIV. Translator’s Note: The death of Theodorus is mentioned in Ch. XIII in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, corresponding to the year 355; however it is generally accepted that the martyr Theodore of Heraclea died in 319, and is no doubt, here, a misnomer.

[29] Athanasius, De Synodis, n. 41. Translator’s Note. See Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. IV, translation modified.

[30] N.76.

[31] N. 77, §3.

[32] N. 78.

[33] N.88. Translator’s Note: The text in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers differs quite markedly.

[34] Revue des questions historiques, Vol. 1, p. 163 et sq.

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