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Gelasius
d. 21 November 496 A.D.
Ancient Christian Church
Carthage/Tunisia

Gelasius, son of Valerius, the third and last of the bishops of Rome born in the Roman province of Africa, is named forty-ninth [fifty-first according to the "Liber Pontificalis", TTH 6 (22000) 44-45] in the official listing, with an administration from March 1, 492 until his death and burial in St. Peter's Church in Rome on November 21, 496. Gennadius, presbyter of Marseilles, whose De virus illustribus [NPNF 2 III 1892:385-402] included Gelasius as its chapter 94, as well as indicating in his self-reference at chapter 99 that he had sent to Gelasius examples of his own work, covers those Christian "authors" who lived after the death of Jerome (c.342-420), so as to bring Jerome's work from the end of the fourth century through to the end of the fifth. Gelasius is identified thereby as becoming bishop in the time of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic (c.455-526), an Arian in theological practice who had overrun Italy, and his enemy the emperor at Constinople, Zeno [c.427-491 April 9, co-emperor from February 9, 474, author of the Henoticon intended for reconciling the Monophysites while condemning both Eutyches and Nestorius but instead precipitating the "Acacian schism" with Rome; cf. GEEC 519; Pelikan 1 (1971) 274-275], but dying during the imperial reign of Anastasius I (c.430-518 July 1, emperor from April 11, 491).

Gennadius is most concerned with the treatises "Against Eutyches (c.378-454) and Nestorius (d.c.451)," upon whom both Gelasius and himself had written relative to the dominant presence of those "heresies" in their respective eras. Gennadius adds that Gelasius, like Ambrose (c.339-397) a century earlier, was known for the creation of church hymns -- to all of which the "Liber Pontificalis" likewise bears witness. The latter adds among the anti-heretical treatises two books against the arch-heretic Arius (d.c.336, q.v.), and among the liturgical works "with careful wording prefaces and prayers for the sacraments," as well as "many letters on the faith with polished vocabulary." With this African we see the Latin language giving shape to "the sanctification of time" within the history of Christian worship, to which "The Gelasian Sacramentary, the oldest Western mass-book of which we can speak with any certainty, represents in substance the Roman rite of the sixth century" [Dix 1945:363; cf. pp. 565-566; that an African prayer-book of c. A.D. 400 lies behind is further documented at pp. 530-537]. While modern scholarship does not attribute the "Sacramentary" directly to Gelasius, Kelly does admit that "eighteen mass formularies preserved in the Leonine Sacramentary (early 7th-cent.MS) go back to him" [ODP 49].

Like his African predecessor, Miltiades (d. 314, q.v.), but in the now fully Christian Rome (where no imperial presence survived), Gelasius had to deal with even more active Manichaeans [recalling in the interim their influence upon the most preeminent but equally African, Augustine of Hippo (354-430)], whom he "deported into exile" and whose "books he burnt with fire before the doors of St. Mary's basilica" [TTH 6.44 #1], and with the city's own problems "from danger of famine" and with its perennial poor [#2], relieving these with "supplies from the papal estates" and assistance from Theodoric with whom he had "established excellent relations" in spite of the latter's Arianism [ODP 48].

Kelly has observed that "Next to LEO I (440-461), Gelasius was the outstanding pope of the 5th cent., and he surpassed Leo in theological grasp" [ODP 49]. As specific issue during his administration, he had to respond to the "many evils and murders . . . that Peter (Mongus, monophysite patriarch of Alexandria 477-490, q.v.) and Acacius (patriarch 472-489) were causing . . . at Constantinople" and to the flight to Rome from Alexandria by "John (I Talaias, q.v.), the catholic bishop (from 482)," for which "Acacian schism" he held a synod from which was dispatched condemnation upon Peter and Acacius "for all time if they did not repent and crave a penance to satisfy the document" [TTH 6.44 ##3-4]. The famed "Gelasian Decree (Decretum Gelasianum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis), containing a canon of scripture (cf. Souter 1954:212-213) and other acceptable writings (cf. Ayer 1941:532-536)" [Kelly ODP 49], while bearing his name, cannot be associated with his known works, though it is "likely to date from the sixth century but could contain even older parts" [Elliott 2004:xxiii].

Clyde Curry Smith



Bibliography (see link to abbreviations table below):

G 94, (99); CPL 1667-1675; ODP 47-49; TTH 6.44-45; DECL 246-247 (SFelbecker) [for Gennadius 248-249 (UHamm)]; ODCC 543 (incl. "Sacramentary"), 382 ("Decretum"); NIDCC 404 (JDDouglas), 289 (MERogers "Decretum"); GEEC 455 (MPMcHugh); OEEC 339 (MSpinelli), 223-224 (VSaxer "Decretum")


Supplementary Bibliography:
Ayer 1941 A Source Book for Ancient Church History from the Apostolic Age to the Close of the Conciliar Period, by Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Dix 1945 The Shape of the Liturgy, by Dom Gregory (George Eglinton Alston) Dix. 2nd ed. Westminster: Dacre Press.
Elliott 2004 The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in English Translation, by J. K. Elliott. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
NPNF 2 III 1892 Gennadius, De viris illustribus, translated by Ernest Cushing Richardson. In A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo and New York: Christian Literature. Series 2, Volume III, pp. 385-402.
Pelikan 1 1971 The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, by Jaroslav Pelikan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600).
Souter 1954 The Text and Canon of the New Testament, by Alexander Souter; revised by C. S. C. Williams. "Studies in Theology." London: Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd.



This article, received in 2004, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.


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