Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Simplicius, bp. of Rome
Simplicius (7), bp. of Rome after Hilarius, from Feb. 22, 468 (according to the conclusion of Pagi, in Baron. ad ann. 467, iv.), to Mar. 483. According to Lib. Pontif. he was a native of Tibur, the son of one Castinus. He witnessed, during his episcopate, the fall of the Western empire and the accession (a.d. 476) of Odoacer as king of Italy. This change, however politically important, does not seem to have affected at the time the pope or the church at Rome. The later emperors, Anthemius, Nepos, Augustulus, who reigned during the earlier years of Simplicius's popedom, being merely nominees of the Eastern emperor, had little power; and Odoacer, himself an Arian, did not interfere with church affairs.
The reigning emperors of the East were, first Leo I., the Thracian, called also "the Great," and after him Zeno, his son-in-law, who succeeded him a.d. 474, but whose reign was interrupted from 475 to 477 by the usurpation of Basiliscus. The contemporary bp. of Constantinople was Acacius (471–489). The most memorable incidents of the pontificate of Simplicius were his negotiations, and eventual breach, with this prelate and with the emperor Zeno who supported him leading up to the long schism between the churches of the East and West, which ensued in the time of the following pope, FELIX III (or II.). The difference arose on questions connected partly with the rival claims of the sees of Rome and Constantinople, partly with the Monophysite or Eutychian heresy.
The first occasion was the promulgation of an edict by the emperor Leo I., at the instance of Acacius, confirming the 28th canon of Chalcedon. This canon, said to have been passed unanimously by all present except the legates of pope Leo I., not only confirmed the 3rd canon of Constantinople, which had given to the bp. of new Rome (i.e. Constantinople) a primacy of honour (i.e. honorary rank) next after the bp. of old Rome, but further gave him authority to ordain the metropolitans of the Pontic, Asian, and Thracian dioceses, thus investing him with the powers as well as the rank of a patriarch, second only to the pope of Rome. Pope Leo had subsequently objected to this canon and never gave it his assent. He claimed that it was an infringement of the canons of Nice and entrenched on the rights of other patriarchs. It indicated a desire on the part of the bps. of Constantinople, then the real seat of empire, to rival and perhaps eventually to supersede the old primacy of Rome. At Rome the position maintained was that the authority of a see rested on its ecclesiastical origin, and that of Rome especially on its having been the see of St. Peter. The view at Constantinople was that the temporal pre-eminence of a city was a sufficient ground for ecclesiastical ascendancy. Hence the long struggle.
Acacius, by inducing the emperor to confirm the 28th canon of Chalcedon by a special edict, hoped to make it plain that the eminence and authority thereby assigned to his see were still maintained and had not been conceded to the remonstrances of pope Leo. The language used by the emperor in his edict—styling the church of Constantinople "the Mother of his Piety, and of all Christians, and of the orthodox faith"—confirms the supposition that an idea was even entertained of the new seat of empire superseding the old one in ecclesiastical prerogative as well as temporal rank. Simplicius naturally took alarm. He sent Probus, bp. of Canusium in Apulia, as his legate to Constantinople to remonstrate; but with what success we know not.
In the doctrinal controversies of the day between Rome and Constantinople, Simplicius appears to have been in accord with the emperor Leo, and for some time with Zeno, as well as with Acacius. The great patriarchal sees were, during the first years of his reign, occupied by orthodox prelates, who had the imperial support. Alexandria had been held by Timothy Salofaciolus since the Eutychian Timothy Aelurus had been banished by the emperor Leo I. in 460. At Antioch Julian, an orthodox patriarch, elected on the expulsion of Peter Fullo by Leo I., a.d. 471, was still in possession. But the usurpation of the empire by Basiliscus, a.d. 475, introduced immediate discord and disturbance. Basiliscus declared at once for Eutychianism, and promptly recalled Timothy Aelurus to Alexandria. Having taken possession of the see and driven Salofaciolus to flight, Aelurus repaired to Constantinople to procure the calling of a new general council to reverse the decisions of Chalcedon.
Certain clergy and monks of Constantinople sent a messenger with letters to represent this state of things to Simplicius at Rome. Simplicius promptly wrote to Basiliscus and Acacius. His letter to Basiliscus expresses horror at the doings of Aelurus, of whom he speaks in no measured language. The opportunity is not lost, in the course of the letter, of insinuating to the new emperor the peculiar spiritual authority of the Roman see: "The truths which have flowed pure from the fountain of the Scriptures cannot be disturbed by any arguments of cloudy subtilty. For there remains one and the same rule of apostolical doctrine in the successors of him to whom the Lord enjoined the care of the whole sheepfold—to whom He promised that the gates of hell should not prevail against him, and that what by Him should be bound on earth should not be loosed in heaven." And the pope conjures the emperor in the voice of St. Peter, the unworthy minister of whose see he is, not to allow impunity to the enemies of the ancient faith, and especially urges him to prevent, if possible, the assembling a council to review the decisions of Chalcedon.
Meanwhile Basiliscus at Constantinople, issuing an encyclic letter, repudiated and condemned the council of Chalcedon; required all, under pain of deposition, exile, and other punishments, to agree to this condemnation; and ordered the copies of pope Leo's letters and of the Acts of Chalcedon, wherever found, to be burnt. The document is given in full by Evagrius (iii. 4). Acacius refused to sign it. But in the compliant East elsewhere it was accepted generally. At Constantinople Acacius, supported by the clergy and monks, was resolute and successful in his resistance. Daniel Stylites, descending from his pillar, aided in rousing the populace; and Basiliscus had to leave the city for safety. The disaffection was taken advantage of by Zeno, who in 477 marched on Constantinople, and without further difficulty became again emperor of the East.
During these troubles under Basiliscus Simplicius seems to have had no opportunity of exercising influence; but as soon as he heard of the restitution of Zeno he wrote to that emperor, exhorting him to follow the steps of his predecessors Marcian and Leo, to allow no tampering with the decisions of Chalcedon, to drive all Eutychian bishops from the sees they had usurped, and especially to send Aelurus into solitude. To Acacius he wrote to the same effect. Zeno does not appear, however, to have taken any step against Peter Mongus. Possibly the emperor and his advisers were already disposed to the conciliatory policy towards the Eutychians which they afterwards maintained in spite of indignant protests from the pope. Simplicius complained, too, of the Eutychian leaders having been allowed to remain at Antioch, and attributed the troubles there to this cause.
The death of Timothy Salofaciolus at Alexandria in 482 gave rise to much more serious differences between Constantinople and Rome. Strained relations now resulted in decided conflict, ending in an open schism, which lasted 35 years, between Eastern and Western Christendom. John Talaias was elected canonically by a synod of the orthodox at Alexandria in the room of Salofaciolus. Simplicius received a notification of the election from the synod, and was about to express his assent, when he was startled by a letter from Zeno accusing Talaias of perjury, and intimating that Peter Mongus was the most proper person to succeed Salofaciolus. Simplicius at once (July 15, 482) addressed Acacius (who had not written himself), imploring him to do all he could to prevent it. The letter written to Zeno himself has not been preserved. Hearing nothing from Acacius, he wrote to him again in Nov., but still got no reply. So much appears from the extant letters of Simplicius (Epp. xvii. xviii. Labbe). [ACACIUS (7); JOANNES (11).]
Liberatus (c. 18) informs us that, driven from Alexandria, John Talaias appealed for support to Simplicius, who on his behalf wrote to Acacius, but received the reply that Acacius could not recognize Talaias, having received Peter Mongus into communion on the basis of the emperor's HENOTICON. Simplicius wrote to Acacius that he ought not to have received Peter into communion without the concurrence of the apostolic see; that a man condemned by a common decree could not be freed from the ban except by a common council; and that he must first accept unreservedly the council of Chalcedon and the Tome of pope Leo. Simplicius received no reply to this second letter, and died not long after, early in Mar. 483, according to Anastasius.