Spirituality for Today – December 2009 – Volume 14, Issue 5

The 40th Pope

St. Innocent I

An illustration of Saint InnocentThe 40th Pope, St. Innocent

Pope St. Innocent I (401-417)
With an ear to the ground, one could detect the rumblings of migrating barbarian tribes and the approaching end of the Roman Empire in the West. The pope stressed the primacy of the Apostolic See of Rome. He issued instructions for the Western Church in particular regarding the Sacraments of the Eucharist (the Roman Canon as normative), Penance (Reconciliation), Extreme Unction (Sacrament of the Sick), Confirmation, the Canonical Books of Scripture.

The pope understood his role as the successor of Peter to be one that reaches to the Eastern Church as well. He often sent instructions to the various bishops in the east. He also gave support and direction to the churches in North Africa battling the heresy of Pelagianism (the soul can reach salvation solely through human efforts without the intervention of divine grace) He praised the bishops of North Africa for recognizing the supreme teaching authority of the Pope as successor of Saint Peter. The pope expected the most pressing issues in the Church to be mediated by Rome.

Many Gallic and Germanic tribes had been incorporated into the empire and into the army. Leaders of these tribes wanted recognition and status similar to Romans themselves. One such was Alaric, leader of the Visigoths, who, in 410, laid siege to Rome. The Pope attempted to relieve the situation in a meeting with the emperor Honorius. The attempt failed, Rome was sacked while Pope Innocent was attending the meeting with the emperor. The pope returned to Rome in 412.

Pope Innocent I is buried near his father.

Habemus papam