Throughout the entire history of the Catholic Church there have been many rumblings and uprisings against the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church…and the 5th century was no different. In fact, it was a time much like ours, in the way that people were grumbling amongst themselves and pagan groups were moving quickly throughout many lands, threatening the new Christianity, using barbaric means to do so.
It was at this time that the 40th pope, Pope Innocent I, stressed the importance of the primacy of the Holy See of Rome, over all of the Church, both west and East alike. He preached not only in Europe, but in Africa and Asia as well…uniting the faithful world over. And not only was he a confessor to many, he was a staunch defender of the True Faith…a warrior of a man willing to give his life…his strength for the Church. He was a man who was willing to battle for the Church, and he understood that he had been chosen as a successor to Saint Peter…chosen by Jesus Christ to continue the Apostolic mission…This knowledge gave him the courage he needed to fulfill his role as best he could. He was a man ready and willing to lay down his life for the Holy Mother Church. And that willingness to do whatever he had to, gave him the passion needed to be a good teacher.
He instructed the faithful regarding the Sacraments, including the Eucharist, Penance, and the Sacrament of Confirmation. He also took special care to instruct the faithful about the importance of making use of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. He wrote a letter in which he reminded the faithful that if anyone among them was sick that they were to contact a presbyter to pray over the person and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. He promoted the teaching that the Eucharist and Reconciliation should never be denied to one who was dying. He instructed them that the prayer of Faith would save the sick man, perhaps not physically, but the Lord would be able to cleanse the soul of the anointed one with forgiveness. As far as the Sacrament of Confirmation is concerned, he said that only Bishops could offer the Sacrament and that the Chrism oil should be reserved for this purpose.
During Pope Innocent I pontificate, Rome endured much suffering at the hands of the barbarians. Much like today, there was a great separation of the Church and state. But unlike today, the Church’s voice was held in esteem, so much so, that St. Augustine penned the famous phrase, “Roma locuta, causa finita est.” Which translates, “Rome has spoken, the matter is ended.”
It was a time when the Fathers of the Church worked tirelessly for the Church and for peace. Sometimes they were successful and yet other times, not so much. But what sets them apart from many today is their dedication to the doctrine of Jesus Christ…their unwavering defense of the Truth. There was no mincing of words from Pope Innocent I. He had a job to do and he wasn’t going to allow the purity of the Faith to be distorted. He read the writings of Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostom, who labored with just as much zeal as he did in defending the Truth. He even became friends with the men, often corresponding with them about the teachings of the Holy Church, guiding the Faithful as a good Shepherd should. Throughout his papacy he kept his focus on discipline within the Church, rooting out sin and error. With the help of the Emperor of Rome, he passed decrees against heresy and immorality throughout Rome.
Under his pontificate, the foundation of the universality of the Church was strengthened. He strove to unite all the faithful, clerics and laity alike. He reinforced the doctrines of celibacy and self- deprivation, insisting on discipline within the ranks of clergy. He knew that the foundation of the Church and he spent his life defending that Truth. When he died he was buried in a basilica above the catacomb of Pontianus, next to his father’s tomb. As we remember this great and holy Pope…this great saint…let us pray to Pope Saint Innocent I so that we too may rise to end the crisis within the Church today… using our strength and energy to defend the teachings of Jesus Christ that have been the foundation of the One…Holy …Catholic….Apostolic Church for all of these years.