On this date in 401, Innocent I was installed as pope and served until his death in 417. He was quite something of a stabilizing influence on the church at a time of doctrinal turmoil, with a wide-ranging influence on Catholicism that is still alive and well in the Catholic church today. Among other things, he is reputed to have been the son of the previous pope, putting the papacy on the path to being a dynasty (which never materialized, of course). That notion was short lived for all kinds of reasons. Celibacy was not actually the main issue at the time. From the beginning of his papacy, Innocent set himself up as the general arbitrator of ecclesiastical disputes in both the East and the West. He confirmed the prerogatives of the Archbishop of Thessalonica, and issued a decretal on disciplinary matters referred to him by the Bishop of Rouen. He defended the exiled John Chrysostom and consulted with the bishops of Africa concerning the Pelagian controversy. He was also the pope when the issue of the Biblical canon was settled for good. Until Innocent’s papacy the question of what books belong in the Bible and which ones do not was a hot topic. Pardon my dribble, but I do feel the need to write about the controversies that Innocent was involved in. They concern church dogma which is a sore spot with me. Spoiler alert: DOGMA SUCKS (says the ordained minister). I’d get into trouble with my presbytery if they read that remark. But I don’t care. I defended Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam during my examination for ordination, and they ordained me anyway. So, they knew what they were getting. In any case, I’m not a member of my presbytery in New York any more. I belong to Buenos Aires presbytery and most of them can’t speak English. Furthermore, they never showed any interest in me when I lived in Argentina, and I’m sure they care even less now that I live in Asia. I could, in theory, join a newly formed presbytery in Cambodia, but that seems a bit excessive. I’m retired from pastoral work, and the last thing in the world (anywhere in the world), I want to do is attend presbytery meetings.
We know very little about the early life of Innocent, and the sources are deeply conflicting. According to his biographer in the Liber Pontificalis, Innocent was a native of Albano Laziale (now a comune in the city of Rome) and the son of a man called Innocentius, but his contemporary St Jerome referred to him as the son of the previous pope, Anastasius I, a unique case (as far as we know) of a son succeeding his father in the papacy. According to Urbano Cerri, Innocent was a native of Albania (which sounds to me like a misidentification of Albano – but maybe it’s the other way around).
Innocent I was a vigorous defender of the papacy’s right to be the ultimate resort for the settlement of all ecclesiastical disputes, and he set the stage in that regard for centuries to come. His communications with Victricius of Rouen, Exuperius of Toulouse, Alexander of Antioch and others, as well as his actions on the appeal made to him by John Chrysostom against Theophilus of Alexandria, show that opportunities of this kind were numerous and varied. I’ll spare you the drama associated with Chrysostom. It has little to do with church dogmatics, and much more to do with politics in the empire, and power struggles in the church in the east. Pelagius is another matter.
Pelagius was a Celtic monk who was accused by Augustine of Hippo and others of denying the need for divine aid in performing good works. They understood him to have said that the only grace necessary was the affirmation of the law of God. He was further accused of saying that humans were not wounded by Adam’s sin and were perfectly able to fulfill the law without divine aid. More importantly, Pelagius denied Augustine’s theory of original sin, that is, all humans (with the exception of Mary and her mother) bear Adam’s sin and have to be baptized to remove the sin, otherwise they are denied entry into heaven. Well in my oh-so-humble opinion, the doctrine of original sin is nonsense. The doctrine, along with a whole raft of dogma clung to by the Catholic church, is the result of theologians like Augustine applying the logic of Aristotle to the Bible. When you start applying logic, spirituality goes out the window and you are left with dogma. I’ll go with spirituality.
Pelagius wrote two major treatises which are no longer extant, On Nature and Defense of the Freedom of the Will. In these, he defends his position on sin and sinlessness, and accuses Augustine of being under the influence of Manichaeism by elevating evil to the same status as God and teaching pagan fatalism as if it were a Christian doctrine. Manichaeism stressed that the (human) spirit was created by God, while material substance (the body) was corrupt and evil. St Paul probably believed this, so I’m not sure that all the shouting was about. Pelagius held that everything created by God was good, therefore, he could not see how God had made humans fallen creatures. (Augustine’s teachings on the Fall of Adam was not a settled doctrine at the time the Augustinian/Pelagian dispute began.) The view that humans can avoid sinning, and that we can freely choose to obey God’s commandments, stand at the core of Pelagian teaching. Pelagius stressed human autonomy and freedom of the will. Of course, as always in the case of teacher and disciple, there is a difference between what Pelagius taught, and what his followers believed. Most theologians now believe that Pelagius was completely orthodox in his teachings.
Pelagianism was condemned at the 15th Council of Carthage in 411. Afterwards, Augustine and four other bishops wrote a letter urging Pope Innocent I to condemn Pelagianism which he did. He also confirmed the decisions of the synod of the province of proconsular Africa, held in Carthage in 416, confirming the condemnation which had been pronounced in 411 against Cælestius, who shared the views of Pelagius. He also wrote in the same year in a similar sense to the fathers of the Numidian synod of Mileve. Augustine was shocked that Pelagius and Celestius were not denounced as heretics, however, and called the Council of Carthage in 418 (one year after Innocent’s death) and laid out nine points of dogma which Pelagius was accused of denying:
Death came from sin, not man’s physical nature.
Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.
Justifying grace covers past sins and helps avoid future sins.
The grace of Christ imparts strength and will to act out God’s commandments.
No good works can come without God’s grace.
We confess we are sinners because it is true, not from humility.
The saints ask for forgiveness for their own sins.
The saints also confess to be sinners because they are.
Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.
If I were you, I’d read the list, laugh, and forget about it. If you want to put it in a nutshell, Augustine and his ilk are saying that humans are bad through and through, but are saved by God’s grace. Otherwise, they will just be pure evil. Your free will is no help. Furthermore, if you are not baptized (properly – by a priest), you can’t go to heaven. Where’s my rubbish bin?
It is accepted that the canon of the Bible was closed c. 405 by Innocent, when he sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse, confirming the list approved by the Councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), and identical with the much later pronouncements of the Council of Trent (1545-63), except for some uncertainty in the manuscript tradition about whether the letters ascribed to Paul were 14 or only 13, in the latter case possibly implying omission of the Epistle to the Hebrews (which actually makes no claims to Pauline authorship anyway). Innocent’s canon is the current Catholic Bible which contains 73 books. Innocent did no more than assert that he was the final authority, and it was time to move on. Protestants later excluded 7 of the books that Catholics included (and Luther wanted to exclude many more). Like it or not, you have to accept the fact that the Bible was created by humans, with a great deal of debate about what should be included and what excluded, for several centuries. Innocent ended the debate for Catholics, but that should not be the end of the matter if you have a brain and actually use it. The supposed “authority” of the Bible – in ALL matters if you listen to some people – rests on accepting the decisions that clergy made over 16 centuries ago according to their ideas of what Christianity is, and should be. If you believe that their decisions were guided exclusively by the hand of God, you put more trust in them than I do.
Innocent died on 12 March 417. Accordingly, his feast day is now celebrated on 12th March, though from the 13th to the 20th century he was commemorated on 28th July. In 846, Pope Sergius II gave approval for the relics/remains of Innocent to be moved by Duke Liudolf of Saxony, along with those of his father and predecessor Anastasius, to the crypt of the former collegiate church of Gandersheim, now Gandersheim Abbey, where they now rest.
Gandersheim is in Lower Saxony, so I’ll go with a popular recipe from the region rather than a 5th century Roman recipe recreation (for variety’s sake). If you want to visit Innocent’s relics you have to visit Gandersheim, and you should try out the local specialties. They’re all based on peasant dishes and are hearty rather than refined (in the haute cuisine sense). I’ll go with Steckrübeneintopf (turnip stew). Despite the name, meat is an important part of this dish, but you can use almost all kinds of meat. You can use chicken, lamb, beef or pork, and local sausages may also be included, such as Bregenwurst, Kohlwurst, Pinkelwurst. In the recipe ingredient list I’ve just put 1 lb of meat. You choose, either one kind or a mixture. “Turnip” (Steckrüben) here means swede or rutabaga. You can cook this dish in a casserole in the oven after browning all the ingredients if you prefer, or use a slow cooker. I’m a stovetop kinda guy because it gives me more control. Cooking times will vary enormously depending on the meat that you choose.
1 lb meat, cut into serving pieces
8 oz bacon, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
¼ cup butter
5 cups broth (approx)
2 ½ rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery root, peeled and diced
1 lb potatoes peeled and diced
2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram
5 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh savory
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Melt half of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the bacon until lightly browned. Add the meat and continue cooking until it is browned on all sides, stirring regularly. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Set aside the cooked ingredients from the pot, melt the rest of the butter in the same pot, add the vegetables and sauté until soft.
Add back the cooked meats and onions, plus the broth to cover, and herbs. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, lid on, for about an hour and a half. Check the seasonings and make sure the meat is cooked through. Add cream if you wish, stir, and garnish with parsley. Serve in the cooking pot.