Spirituality for Today – August 2009 – Volume 14, Issue 1

The 36th Pope


A carving of Pope LiberiusPope Liberius

Pope Liberius (352-366) – At the outset of this profile of the pope, one notices something different. This is the first pope in the list of popes considered so far that does not bear the word "Saint" before his name. As with the other popes of this time period, the Arian controversy took center stage. Arianism held that Jesus Christ was not divine, but only the highest creation of God. The force behind the continuing problems lay with the sentiments of the emperors. The current emperor, Constantius, favored the Arian bishops. Pope Liberius was sent into exile. Pressured by emperor Constantius, the Roman community elected Felix II as what might be considered an anti-pope. The problem with Liberius occurred when he gave in to the emperor and was allowed to return. Pope Liberius re-affirmed the Nicene Creed only after the demise of the emperor.

The Eastern Church was in the grip of the Arian bishops and they sought the condemnation of St. Athanasius of Alexandria who had become the personification of the Council of Nicaea. Submitting to the pressure of the Arian bishops, Pope Liberius turned to the emperor to convene a synod to resolve the issue. This synod and subsequent gatherings followed the imperial will and upheld the condemnation of Athanasius. For some time, Pope Liberius resisted these actions. Eventually, he was exiled. Liberius weakened and he was restored to his see. In the view of many, he was a traitor to the faith. In essence, the pope "danced around" the issues in contention without denying Nicaea outright. He proclaimed his orthodox faith when the emperor died. He did seek to re-unite the Arian bishops to the faith and, thereby, unify the Church.

Habemus papam!