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Pope Gelasius I

Cultural Catholic - Pope Gelasius I (492-496)

49th Pontiff  (492 to 496)

Pope Gelasius I was a Roman son of African immigrants.  Prior to his papal election on March 1, 492, he drafted ecclesiastical documents. Pope Gelasius I was a solemn, prayerful man of holiness.

Pope Gelasius I spoke so beautifully of the majesty of the See of Saint Peter that his words have been quoted throughout history. Pope Gelasius I is credited as being the most prolific writer of the pontiffs of the first five centuries.

When Euphemius of Constantinople, the Orthodox Patriarch, and Emperor Anastasius, attempted to use threats and trickery in order to be recognized by the Apostolic See, Pope Gelasius I rejected any negotiation of the rights and honor of the Chair of Peter. Pope Gelasius I, with certain courage, defended Alexandria and Antioch, the "second" and "third" Sees, against all advances from Constantinople.

A group of superstitious Romans caused difficulty at home for Pope Gelasius I.  Led by Senator Andromachus, the pagan rite of the Lupercalia was revived.

A plague afflicted the city, and gullible citizens claimed that this superstition would return good luck to the city. Youths clad in skins ran around the city with whips to chase away bad luck. Pope Gelasius I vehemently attacked this ritual and forbade Catholics to have anything to do with the affair.  Pope Gelasius I wrote about this evil so vigorously that soon the practice came to an end.

In his writings and works, Pope Gelasius I presented the strongest arguments of his era on the primacy of the See of Saint Peter.  Pope Gelasius relentlessly restated that Rome owes its ecclesiastical princedom neither to an ecumenical synod nor to temporal importance but to the Divine institution of Christ Himself, Who conferred the primacy upon Saint Peter and his successors. "There are two powers by which chiefly this world is ruled: The sacred authority of the priesthood and the authority of kings. And of these, the authority of the priests is so much the weightier, as they must render before the tribunal of God an account even for the kings of men."

A stanch upholder of the old traditions, Pope Gelasius I nevertheless knew when to make exceptions such as his decree obliging the reception of both bread and wine during Mass.  Pope Gelasius I instituted this practice to detect the Manichaeans, who sought to divert attention from their hidden propaganda by feigning Catholicism. They held wine to be impure and essentially sinful so they would refuse the chalice and thus be recognized.

In his zeal for the beauty and majesty of Divine service, Pope Gelasius I composed many hymns, prefaces, and collects.

During his four and a half year pontificate, Pope Gelasius I had a deep influence on the development of the political entity of the Church and on the liturgy and on ecclesiastical discipline. Several of his decrees have been incorporated into Canon Law.

In his private life, Pope Gelasius I was distinguished for his spirit of prayer, penance, and study. He enjoyed the company of monks and was exceptional in his sense of justice especially in his charity to the poor.

Pope Gelasius I died empty-handed because of his generous charity. Pope Gelasius I, "Great even among the saints," died November 21, 496 and was buried in Saint Peter’ Basilica.

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