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.
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
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
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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