Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Felix III., bishop of Rome
Felix (3) III., (otherwise II.), bp. of Rome from Mar. 483 to Feb. 492. The clergy having met in St. Peter's church to elect a successor to Simplicius, Basilius (Praefectus Praetorio and Patrician) interposed in the name of his master Odoacer the Herulian, who since 476 had ruled the West as king of Italy, alleging, as a fact known to his hearers, that Simplicius before his death had conjured the king to allow no election of a successor without his consent; and this to avoid the turmoil and detriment to the church that was likely to ensue. Basilius expressing surprise that the clergy, knowing this, had taken independent action, proceeded in the king's name to propound a law prohibiting the pope then to be elected and all future popes from alienating any farms or other church possessions; declaring invalid the titles of any who might thus receive ecclesiastical property; requiring the restitution of alienated farms with their proceeds, or the sale for religious uses of gold, silver, jewels, and clothes unfitted for church purposes; and subjecting all donors and recipients of church property to anathema. The assembled clergy seem to have assented to this, and to have been then allowed to proceed with their election, their choice falling on Caelius Felix, the son of a presbyter also called Felix. The Roman synod under pope Symmachus (498-514) protested against this interference of laymen with the election of a pope, and Symmachus consented to declare it void, but required the re-enaction of the law against the alienation of farms, etc.
The pontificate of this Felix was chiefly remarkable for the commencement of the schism of 35 years between Rome and the Eastern patriarchates. In 451 the council of Chalcedon had condemned the Monophysite or Eutychian heresy, adopting the definition of faith contained in the famous letter of pope Leo I. to Flavian, patriarch of Constantinople. The council had also enacted canons of discipline, the 9th and the 17th giving to the patriarchal throne of Constantinople the final determination of causes against metropolitans in the East; and the 28th assigning to the most holy throne of Constantinople, or new Rome, equal privileges with the elder Rome in ecclesiastical matters, as being the second after her, with the right of ordaining metropolitans in the Pontic and Asian and Thracian dioceses, and bishops among the barbarians therein. This last canon the legates of pope Leo had protested against at the council, and Leo himself had afterwards repudiated it, as contrary (so he expressed himself) to the Nicene canons, and an undue usurpation on the part of Constantinople. In connexion with the heresy condemned by the council of Chalcedon and with the privileges assigned by its canons to Constantinople, the schism between the East and West ensued during the pontificate of Felix.
The condemnation of Monophysitism at Chalcedon by no means silenced its abettors, who in the church of Alexandria were especially strong and resolute. They supported Peter Mongus as patriarch; the orthodox supporting first Timotheus Solofacialus, and on his death John Talaia. [Acacius (7); Joannes (11).] Felix, in a synod at Rome, renewed his predecessor's excommunication of Peter Mongus, addressed letters to the emperor Zeno and Acacius, patriarch of Constantinople. Acacius is urged to renounce Peter Mongus, and induce the emperor to do the same. Felix sent also a formal summons for Acacius to appear at Rome and answer the charge of having disregarded the injunctions of Simplicius. The letter to Zeno implored the emperor to refrain from rending the seamless garment of Christ, and to renew his support of the one faith which had raised him to the imperial dignity, the faith of the Roman church, against which the Lord had said that the gates of hell should not prevail; but both the emperor and Acacius continued to support Peter. The papal legates having returned to Rome, Felix convened a synod of 67 Italian bishops, in which he renewed the excommunication of Peter Mongus, and published an irrevocable sentence of deposition and excommunication against Acacius himself. The sentence of excommunication was served on Acacius by one of those zealous champions of Felix, the Sleepless Monks ("Acoemetae"), who fastened it to the robe of the patriarch when about to officiate in church. The patriarch discovered it, but proceeded with the service, and then, in a calm, clear voice, ordered the name of Felix, bp. of Rome, to be erased from the diptychs of the church. This was on Aug. 1, 484. Thus the two chief bishops of Christendom stood mutually excommunicated, and the first great schism between the East and West began. The emperor and the great majority of the prelates of the East supported Acacius; and thus the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as well as Constantinople, remained out of communion with Rome.
Another noted Monophysite, called Peter Fullo (i.e. the Fuller), had excited the orthodox zeal of Felix, patriarch of Antioch. He had added to the Tersanctus the clause, "Who wast crucified for us," and was charged with thus attributing passibility to the Godhead. To him, therefore, from a Roman synod, Felix addressed a synodical letter in which, in the name of Peter, the chief of the apostles and the head of all sees, he pronounced his deposition and excommunication.
In 489 Acacius died, and was succeeded by Flavitas, or Fravitas. Felix, on hearing of the vacancy of the see, wrote to Thalasius, an archimandrite of Constantinople, warning him and his monks (who appear throughout to have espoused the cause of Rome) to communicate with no successor till Rome had been fully apprised of all proceedings and had declared the church of Constantinople restored to its communion. Flavitas having died within four months after his accession, the popes' letter to him was received by his successor Euphemius. Felix, though satisfied as to the faith of Euphemius, insisted on the erasure of the name of Acacius, which condition being demurred to, the breach continued.
After his rupture with the East, Felix helped to reconstitute the African church, which had cruelly suffered at the hands of the Arian Vandals. This persecution, which had raged under king Hunneric, who died in 484, ceased under his successor Gundamund, when a number of apostates sought readmission to catholic communion. A synod of 38 bishops held at Rome under Felix in 488 issued a synodical letter dated Mar. 15, laying down terms of readmission. Felix died Feb. 24, 492.
His extant works are 15 letters (Migne, Patr. Lat. lviii. 893 ff.). Gratian gives also a decretum as his, to the effect that the royal will should yield to priests in ecclesiastical causes. The ancient authorities for his Life are his letters and those of his successor Gelasius, the Breviarium of Liberatus Diaconus, and the Histories of Evagrius and Nicephorus Callistus.