the successor of Julius as bishop of Rome, was ordained on the twenty-second of May, A. D. 352, at a period when the downfall of the usurper Magnentius being no longer doubtful, the Arians were straining every nerve to excite Constantius against their orthodox antagonists.
The conduct of Liberius when he first assumed the papal dignity is involved in.much obscurity. If we believe that either of the letters found among the fragments of Hilarius (frag. iv. col. 1327, and 1335, ed. Bened. fol. Paris, 1693),--the first inscribed Epistola Liberii Episcopi Urbis Romae ad Orientales Episcopos,
and written apparently in 352; the second, belonging to a much later date, but containing allusions to the same events, Delectissimis Fratribus Presbyteris et Coepiscopis Orientalibus,
--is genuine, there can be no doubt that at the outset of his career he took a violent part against Athanasius, and even excommunicated him from the Roman church. On the other hand, Dupin employs no less than seven distinct arguments to prove that the first must be spurious, although he says nothing with regard to the second, and both are by many divines regarded as Arian forgeries.
It is at all events certain that the pope soon after displayed the utmost devotion to the cause of the persecuted Catholics; for after the legates deputed by him to the council of Arles, (A. D. 353), Vincentius of Capua, and Marcellinus, another Campanian bishop, had been gained over, after his representatives at Milan (A. D. 354), Eusebius of Vercelli, and Lucifer of Cagliari, had been driven into exile, after nearly all the prelates of the West had yielded to the influence of the court, Liberius stood firm to the truth; and although violently hurried from Rome to the presence of the emperor, he chose rather to suffer banishment than to subscribe the condemnation of one, whom he believed innocent.
But after two years spent at Beroea, this noble resolution began to fail.
He made overtures of submission, probably through Demophilus, the heretic bishop of the city where he had been compelled to take up his abode, and, having been summoned to Sirmium, signed in the presence of the council there assembled (the third, A. D. 357), the Arian creed sanctioned by that conclave [POTAMIUs], and the decrees against Athanasius. Upon this he was permitted to return to Rome, there to exercise a divided power along with a certain Felix, who had been nominated his successor.
But the zeal of the people in favour of their ancient pastor frustrated this amicable arrangement. Violent tumults arose, Constantius yielded to the vehement display of popular feeling, Felix resigned, and his departure from the city was signalised by an inhuman massacre of his adherents. Liberius passed the remainder of his life in tranquillity, dying in A. D. 366, not however, we are assured, until he had once more changed his profession, by recanting all his errors and becoming a Catholic.
The correspondence of Liberius as exhibited by Coustant comprises twelve epistles. 1. Ad Osium. 2. Ad Caecilianum. 3. Ad Eusebium Vercellensem. 4. Ad Constantium Augustum. 5, 6. Ad Eusebium Vercellensem. 7. Ad Eusebium, Dionysium, et Luciferum exsules. 8. Ad Orientales. 9. Ad Ursacium, Valentem, et Germinium, bishops in the imperial court. 10. Ad Vincentium Capuanum. 11. Ad Catholicos Episcopos Italiae. 12. Ad universes Orientis orthodoxos Episcopos,
We find also ascribed to him :--
II. Dicta ad Eusebium spadonem, dum ipsum ut in Athanasium subscribens Imperatori obtemperaret adhortabatur.
III. Dialogus Libe ii et Constantii Imperatoris, triduo antequam in exilium deportaretur, habits.
IV. Oratio Liberii Marcellinam S. Ambrosii sororem dato virginitatis velo consecrantis.
Of the letters, eight (1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) have been transmitted to us among the fragments of St. Hilarius, three (3, 5, 6) were first extracted by Baronius from the archives of the church at Vercelli, and one (12) is preserved by Socrates, H. E.
4.12. The Dicta
is found in the treatise of Athanasius Ad Monachos,
in Theodoret, H. E.
2.16, the Oratio
in Ambrosius de Virgin.
3.1, 2, 3.
For full information with regard to the works of this father and discussions on the authenticity of the various pieces, see Constant, Epistolae Pontificum Rom.
fol. Paris, 1721, p. 421, and Galland, Bibliotheca Patrum,
vol. v. p. 65, fol. Venet. 1769, who rejects epistles 8, 9, 10, as fabrications. (Amm. Marc. 15.7
; Hieronym. Chron. ;
Sulp. Sever. ii.; Socrat. H. E.
4.12; Sozomen. H. E.
4.15; Theodoret, H. E.