Pope St. Siricius was the 38th pope of the Catholic Church and reigned for more than 14 years. Most know his work due to the letters that he left behind, including one in which he commanded that all priests remain celibate while serving the Church. He would later become a Catholic saint with a feast day recognized in his honor.
Unlike other popes who served the Church during its early days, historians know some facts about the early years of Siricius. He was born and raised in Rome to an unknown mother and a father named Tiburtius. Feeling compelled to work for the Church, he joined at a young age. During the papacy of Pope Liberius that lasted from 352 to 366, Siricius began working his way through the hierarchy. He first served as a lector and later became a deacon.
When Damasus became pope in 366, Ursinus and a group of his followers claimed that he was the rightful heir to the papal throne. Following the death of the pope, he believed that he was next in line but was surprised when bishops unanimously selected Siricius as the next pope. Ursinus fought the ruling for more than a year but only served as an antipope. Jerome was a man living in Rome at the same time who believed that he would become the next pope. Though he and Siricius were close friends, Jerome denounced him after his election and fled the city after telling him that they could no longer be friends.
Pope Siricius quickly made a name for himself due to his outspoken beliefs. When he heard that a Balkan bishop gave talks where he claimed that Jesus was just one of Mary’s children and that he had siblings, the pope quickly denounced him and claimed that Jesus was her only child. He also sanctioned another man for claiming that celibacy did not bring bishops and others closer to God. Pope Siricius gained even more attention after denouncing one of the newer forms of religion that sprung up at the time called Priscillianism.
Much of what the Church and historians know about Pope Siricius come from the decretals that he left behind. These documents include some of the earliest known papal writings in history. One was a letter he sent to a bishop in 386 where he stated that priests should remain celibate. It was the first time in history that a pope spoke to this subject and what help set the standard for future generations. The existing letters make it clear that he had set opinions on issues ranging from penance and discipline to baptisms and clergymen.
Basilica of St. Paul
During his time as the pope, Siricius looked for ways to honor Pope Saint Paul. He eventually settled on building a new church and placing it directly over his tomb. He arrived in person to dedicate the building and added his name to one of the pillars. Though historians do not know his cause of death, many believe it was a combination of old age and natural causes as he was likely in his mid-60s. The Church then had him buried in the Basilica of St. Peter. Though a fire in 1823 did serious damage to the structure, visitors can still see his name on a pillar.
Quick Facts About Pope St. Siricius
*Born: c. 334
*Birth Name: Siricius
*Died: November 26, 399
*Cause of Death: Unknown
*Papacy Began: December 17, 384
*Papacy Ended: November 26, 399
*Successor: Pope St. Anastasius
Interesting Facts About Pope St. Siricius
*Some historians believe that Siricius was the first man to call himself pope and lead a lifestyle similar to later popes. Others claim that only the Eastern Church used that term at the time and that it wasn’t until the 6th century that the Western Church also adopted it.
*Siricius was one of several popes who ruled for more than a decade during the early years of the Church. His tenure lasted for 14 months and 344 days.
*Now recognized as both a pope and saint, Siricius has his official feast day on November 26 every year, which was the date of his death.
*The Prayer of Pope Saint Siricius asks him to watch over the clergy in the Church and protect the flock who follow them.
*Siricius left behind more official writings and documents than any other early pope did. Many of those artifacts are still held by the Catholic Church.