Saint Anastasius I served as Pope for but a brief time, from November 27th, 399, to his death on this day, December 19th, 401, but was known by his contemporaries – Jerome, Augustine and others – for his holiness, his love of poverty, and his devotion to his office. He condemned the writings of Origen, rife with what we would now call ‘material’ heresy (before a number of doctrines had been defined). With Augustine, Anastasius also battled the Donatists, who claimed that the sacraments only ‘worked’ if a priest were ‘holy’ (in a state of grace), and that some sins were unforgiveable – such as adultery, apostasy. He is perhaps the only Pontiff to be succeeded by his own biological son – a widower, he had been married earlier in life – who took the name Innocent I, also a saint, himself a shining glory of the papacy.
We also recall Blessed Urban V, a Benedictine, the sixth of the exiled Avignon Popes (1362 -1370), and the only one of them raised to the altars. He strove to reform the Church, overseeing and helping to fund monasteries and churches, and to heal the schism between East and West, going far upon the road, seeking that unity that still eludes us. And it was also his desire, along with all the saints of the day, that he return the papacy to its rightful place in Rome. And to Rome he eventually did go, arriving in the eternal city on October 16th, 1367 – curiously, the same day Pope John Paul II would be elected six centuries or so later – and remained there, governing the Church, for close to three years. The city was in such disarray, that the Pope perhaps thought he could rule better from his native land, the lush gardens of Avignon. Saint Bridget of Sweden predicted he would soon die were he to return – but he set sail regardless, on September 5th, 1370, sure enough falling ill a few days later, and going to eternity on this day, December 19th, 1370. The final return of the papacy to Rome would have to wait until his successor, Gregory XI (1370 – 1378), under the fateful warnings of another saint, Catherine of Siena.
We should pray for the new bishop of Antigonish, Wayne Joseph Kirkpatrick, until now one of the auxiliary bishops of Toronto, president of Saint Augustine’s seminary, and overseeing relations between the Roman Catholic/United ‘Church’ dialogue, as well as National Christian Muslim Liaison Committee. Hmm. He will have his work cut out for him, as the diocese, besides still living out its raucous post-Vatican II days, known for its dissident theologians at Saint Francis Xavier university – derided by Anne Roche Muggeridge in her Gates of Hell by their own title as the ‘cream of Antigonish’ – who have done much damage in the past half-century malforming minds, is also suffering the trauma of being led by former-bishop Raymond Lahey (2003 -2009), caught returning from Thailand with child pornography on his computer, convicted and laicized. Yes, alas,the same one who also edited the unfortunate, neutered and bowdlerized Catholic Book of Worship III, whose only saving grace is O God Beyond All Praising, which hymn hence tends to get a little overdone. The diocese is also selling off underused property – and many of the churches are ‘underused’ – to fund a $15 million settlement with abuse victims from various priests. But we may hope, that in every end and dissolution, something new may arise from the ashes.