Spirituality for Today – September 2010 – Volume 15, Issue 2

The 49th Pope
Saint Gelasius

An image of Saint GelasiusSaint Gelasius the 49th Pope

Pope St. Galasius I (492-496)
Originally from Africa, Galasius was the archdeacon serving Felix III. Regarding the stature of his era's pontificate, Pope Galasius stands subordinate only to the greatest pope of the fifth century – Leo the Great. The title of "Vicar of Christ" was applied for the first time to Pope Galasius.

The world of his reign had changed dramatically. The Western Roman Empire had ceased to exist. The political power that once resided in Rome now rested in the person of the emperor at Constantinople and the ecclesiastical status of the patriarch of Constantinople had also increased. The Acacian Schism between the Eastern and Western Church awaited resolution. At home, Pope Galasius faced a "new world order" that left the old empire divided up among a number of barbarian kings who were all Arians (Jesus was the greatest creature, but not the Son of God).

Pope Galasius established a warm relationship with Theodoric, the Ostrogoth king who ruled over the greater part of Italy. It was Pope Galasius who promoted a type of "separation of Church and State" with the theory of the "two powers" that held there is a spiritual power – the authority of the bishops with primacy in the person of the pope and a temporal or royal power based in the emperor. Although both exercised authority in its own sphere and drew its legitimacy from God, the spiritual was the most important.

In a profoundly pastoral gesture, Pope Galasius used his own funds and the resources of the papal lands to provide assistance to the poor and needy during the current famine in and around Rome. He took a tough posture regarding the Acacian Schism, but he did remove an excommunication and did pursue reconciliation albeit with very definite provisions and with maintaining the primacy of the pope.

Pope Galasius wrote copiously and left many liturgical texts. The public persona of the pope was that of a man not to be trifled with, but in private life he possessed a humble and caring character especially in service to the poor. His remains are interred in Saint Peter's Basilica.

Habemus papam