Today is the feast day of Pope Saint Innocent I. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Innocent’s date of birth unknown. He was a native of Albano, Italy, His father was called Innocentius. He grew up among the Roman clergy. Before his elevation to the Chair of Peter, very little is known concerning his life. After the death of Anastasius (Dec., 401) he was unanimously chosen Bishop of Rome by the clergy and people. Saint Innocent I, reigned from 401 to 417.
The siege and capture of Rome by the Goths under Alaric (408-10) occurred in his pontificate. When, at the time of the first siege, the barbarian leader had declared that he would withdraw only on condition that the Romans should arrange a peace favourable to him. An embassy of the Romans went to Honorius, at Ravenna, to try, to make peace between him and the Goths. Pope Innocent also joined this embassy. But all his endeavours to bring about peace failed. The Goths then recommenced the siege of Rome, so that the pope and the envoys were not able to return to the city. Alaric proceeded to sack Rome in 410. From the beginning of his pontificate, Innocent often acted as head of the whole Church, both East and West. He took the responsibility of rebuilding the Rome and showed great charity in helping it’s victims.
His decrees became law in Spain, Gaul and Italy. He demanded that the Eastern Bishops re-install St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, who had been unjustly deposed. He censured the Bishop of Jerusalem for his negligence. He ratified the condemnation of the Pelagian Bishops of Africa who denied the need of grace for salvation (see below)
In the Origenist and Pelagian controversies, the pope’s authority was invoked. St. Jerome and the nuns of Bethlehem were attacked in their convents by brutal followers of Pelagius. A deacon was killed, and a part of the buildings was set on fire. John, Bishop of Jerusalem, who was on bad terms with Jerome, owing to the Origenist controversy, did nothing to prevent these outrages. Through Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage, Innocent sent St. Jerome a letter of condolence, in which he informed him that he would employ the influence of the Holy See to repress such crimes. Jerome only needed to give the names of the guilty ones, and then Pope Innocent would proceed further in the matter. The pope at once wrote an earnest letter of exhortation to the Bishop of Jerusalem, and reproached him with negligence of his pastoral duty.
The pope was also compelled to take part in the Pelagian controversy. In 415, on the proposal of Orosius, the Synod of Jerusalem brought the matter of the orthodoxy of Pelagius before the Holy See. The synod of Eastern bishops was held at Diospolis (Dec., 415), had been deceived by Pelagius with regard to his actual teaching and had acquitted him, approached Innocent on behalf of the heretic. On the report of Orosius concerning the proceedings at Diospolis, the African bishops assembled in synod at Carthage, in 416. They confirmed the condemnation which had been pronounced in 411 against Cælestius, who shared the views of Pelagius. The bishops of Numidia did likewise in the same year in the Synod of Mileve.
Both synods reported their transactions to the pope and asked him to confirm their decisions. Soon after this, five African bishops, among them St. Augustine, wrote a personal letter to Innocent regarding their own position in the matter of Pelagianism. Innocent in his reply praised the African bishops, because, mindful of the authority of the Apostolic See, they had appealed to the Chair of Peter. Innocent rejected the teachings of Pelagius and confirmed the decisions drawn up by the African Synods (Epp. xxvii-xxxiii). The decisions of the Synod of Diospolis were rejected by the pope. Pelagius now sent a confession of faith to Innocent, which, however, was only delivered to his successor, for Innocent died before the document reached the Holy See. He died 12 March, 417. He was buried in a basilica above the catacomb of Pontianus, and was venerated as a saint. He was a very energetic and active man, and a highly gifted ruler, who fulfilled admirably the duties of his office.
Image: Statue of Pope Saint Innocent, from the upper register of the nave of the church of San Martino ai Monti in Rome. Sculptor may have been Paolo Naldini. (3)