Roman Catholic Popes of the Fifth Century

Basilica Di Santa Maria Maggiore
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was built in the 5th century under the order of Pope Sixtus III. Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images

The fifth century saw 13 men serve as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. This was a momentous time during which the collapse of the Roman Empire accelerated toward its inevitable end into the chaos of the medieval period, and a time when the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church sought to protect the early Christian Church and solidify its doctrine and position in the world. And finally, there was the challenge of the withdrawal of the Eastern Church and the competing influence of Constantinople.

Anastasius I

Pope number 40, serving from November 27, 399 to December 19, 401 (2 years).

Anastasius I was born in Rome and is perhaps best known for the fact that he condemned the works of Origen without ever having read or understood them. Origen, an early Christian theologian, held several beliefs that were contrary to church doctrine, such as a belief in the pre-existence of souls.

Pope Innocent I

The 40th pope, serving from December 21, 401 to March 12, 417 (15 years).

Pope Innocent I was alleged by his contemporary Jerome to have been the son of Pope Anastasius I, a claim that has never been fully proven. Innocent I was pope at a time when the power and authority of the papacy had to deal with one of its most difficult challenges: the sack of Rome in 410 by Alaric I, the Visigoth king.

Pope Zosimus

The 41st pope, serving from March 18, 417 to December 25, 418 (1 year).

Pope Zosimus is perhaps best known for his role in the controversy over the heresy of Pelagianism -- a doctrine holding that mankind's fate is predestined. Apparently fooled by Pelagius into verifying his orthodoxy, Zosimus alienated many in the church.

Pope Boniface I

The 42nd pope, serving from December 28, 418 to September 4, 422 (3 years).

Formerly an assistant to Pope Innocent, Boniface was a contemporary of Augustine and supported his fight against Pelagianism. Augustine eventually dedicated a number of his books to Boniface.

Pope Celestine I

The 43rd pope, serving from September 10, 422  to July 27, 432 (9 years, 10 months).

Celestine I was a staunch defender of Catholic orthodoxy. He presided over the Council of Ephesus, which condemned the teachings of the Nestorians as heretical, and he continued to pursue the followers of Pelagius. Celestine is also known for being the Pope who sent St. Patrick on his evangelistic mission to Ireland.

Pope Sixtus III

The 44th pope, serving from July 31, 432  to August 19, 440 (8 years).

Interestingly, prior to becoming Pope, Sixtus was a patron of Pelagius, later condemned as a heretic. Pope Sixtus III sought to heal divisions between orthodox and heretical believers, which were especially heated in the wake of the Council of Ephesus. He is also the Pope widely associated with a noted building boom in Rome and is responsible for the notable Santa Maria Maggiore, which remains a key tourist attraction.

Pope Leo I

The 45th pope, serving from August/September 440 to  November 10, 461 (21 years).

Pope Leo I became known as "the Great" because of the important role he played in the development of the doctrine of papal primacy and his significant political achievements. A Roman aristocrat before becoming Pope, Leo is credited with meeting with Attila the Hun and convincing him to abandon plans to sack Rome.

Pope Hilarius

The 46th pope, serving from November 17, 461 to February 29, 468 (6 years).

Hilarius succeeded a very popular and very active pope. This was not an easy task, but Hilarius had worked closely with Leo and made an effort to model his own papacy after that of his mentor. During his relatively brief reign, Hilarius consolidated the power of the papacy over the churches of Gaul (France) and Spain, made several reforms the liturgy. He also was responsible for building and improving several churches.

Pope Simplicius

The 47th pope, serving from March 3, 468 to March 10, 483 (15 years).

Simplicius was pope at the time that the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by the German general Odoacer. He oversaw the Western Church during the ascendency of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the influence of Constantinople and hence was the first Pope not recognized by that branch of the church.

Pope Felix III

The 48th pope, serving from March 13, 483 to March 1, 492 (8 years, 11 months).

Felix III was a very authoritarian pope whose efforts to suppress the Monophysite heresy helped exacerbate the growing schism between East and West. Monophysitism is a doctrine by which Jesus Christ is seen as the union and divine and human, and the doctrine was held in high regard by the eastern church while being condemned as heresy in the west. Felix even going so far as to excommunicate the patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, for appointing a Monophysite bishop to the see of Antioch to replace an orthodox bishop. Felix's great-great-grandson would become Pope Gregory I.

Pope Gelasius I

The 49th pope served from March 1, 492 to November 21, 496 (4 years, 8 months).

The second pope to come from Africa, Gelasius I was important to the development of papal primacy, arguing that a pope's spiritual power was superior to the authority of any king or emperor. Unusually prolific as a writer for popes of this era, there is an enormous body of written work from Galasius, still studied by scholars to this day.

Pope Anastasius II

The 50th pope served from November 24, 496 to November 19, 498 (2 years).

Pope Anastasius II came to power at a time when relations between the Eastern and Western churches were at a particularly low point. His predecessor, Pope Gelasius I, had been stubborn in his stance towards the Eastern church leaders after his predecessor, Pope Felix III, had excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, for replacing the Orthodox archbishop of Antioch with a monophysite. Anastasius made much progress toward reconciling the conflict between the east and west branches of the church but died unexpectedly before it was fully resolved.

Pope Symmachus

The 51st pope served from November 22, 498 to July 19, 514 (15 years).

A convert from paganism, Symmachus was elected largely because of the support of those who disliked the actions of his predecessor, Anastasius II. It was not, however, a unanimous election, and his reign was marked by controversy.

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Cline, Austin. "Roman Catholic Popes of the Fifth Century." Learn Religions, Sep. 5, 2021, Cline, Austin. (2021, September 5). Roman Catholic Popes of the Fifth Century. Retrieved from Cline, Austin. "Roman Catholic Popes of the Fifth Century." Learn Religions. (accessed June 9, 2023).