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E02495: The Martyrdom of *Felix II (bishop and martyr of Rome, ob. 365, S00493) is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, perhaps during the Laurentian schism (498-506). It narrates Felix's election to the bishopric of Rome after the exile of pope Liberius (352-366); Felix's condemnation of Arians in a council; his building of a basilica on the via Portuensis; his loss of the episcopate and Liberius' return; the persecutions that follow, and Felix's martyrdom and burial at the second milestone on the via Aurelia.

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posted on 08.03.2017, 00:00 by mpignot
Martyrdom of Felix II (BHL 2857)

Summary:

Liberius is pope at the time of Constantius, but is sent into exile by Constantius for three years because he refuses to adhere to the Arian heresy. In his place the bishops and all the Roman clergy elect the priest Felix as bishop. Felix then convenes a council which condemns two Roman priests, Ursacius and Valens, who adhered to the Arian emperor Constantius, in front of 48 bishops. Constantius is also declared to be a heretic and to have been rebaptised by Eusebius of Nicomedia near Nicomedia in aquilone villa.

As a result, Felix is ejected from the episcopate by the emperor Constantius. Felix had built a basilica on the via Aurelia as a priest, on land that he had bought. After a few days Ursacius and Valens ask Constantius to recall Pope Liberius from exile and the agens in rebus, Catulinus, together with Ursacius and Valens, come to Liberius. Liberius agrees to the emperor’s order that all should participate in one communion without rebaptism. Liberius returns and dwells in the cemetery of the holy martyr Agnes at the house of Constantia, sister of Constantius, to obtain her help in regaining the city of Rome. Constantia is a faithful Christian and does not want to ask her brother Constantius to grant this. However Constantius, Ursacius and Valens summon other Arians, call back Liberius from the cemetery of Agnes, and he enters the city of Rome. In the same hour, Constantius convenes a council of the heretics, together with Ursacius and Valens, and ejects bishop Felix from his episcopate, a just and god-fearing man, recalling Liberius to take his place.

From that day there is a great persecution of the clergy: priests and clerics are killed within churches and crowned with martyrdom. Felix lives on his small estate (praediolum) on the via Portuensis. He is then taken and led to the city of Corona [civitate Corona, variants have civitate Roma] and beheaded on the 4th day of the Ides of November [= 10 November]. His body is stolen by priests and clerics and buried in the basilica which he had constructed on the via Aurelia on the 15th day of the Calends of December [= 17 November] at the second milestone. His feast is celebrated on the 4th day of the Calends of August [= 29 July] up to the present day.

Text: Verrando 1981, 122-123. Summary: C. Pilsworth, The Roman Martyrs Project, Manchester University; adapted and expanded by M. Pignot.

History

Evidence ID

E02495

Saint Name

Felix, martyr and bishop of Rome, ob. in 365 : S00493 Agnes, martyr in Rome (ob. c. 304) : S00097

Saint Name in Source

Felix Agnes

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

365

Evidence not after

800

Activity not before

356

Activity not after

365

Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Observed scarcity/absence of miracles

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Heretics Monarchs and their family Women

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Source

The Martyrdom of Felix narrates events pertaining to the Felician schism: in 356, Pope Liberius (352-366) was exiled by the emperor Constantius II, and Felix named pope in his place; however, Liberius returned in 358 and Felix was forced to abandon his see (he died in 365). At Liberius’ death in 366, however, Felix’s party elected Damasus against Ursinus. The figure and memory of Felix was progressively reassessed positively to the extent that he is then promoted as a martyr. Our Martyrdom presents him as a victim of the persecutions against the clergy following Liberius’ return to the episcopate in Rome, that are also described in the Martyrdom of Eusebius (E02492). The earliest, shortest and most widespread version of the Martyrdom is BHL 2857, our focus here, while BHL 2858 and BHL 2858b are later reworked versions (on which see Lanéry 2010, 162, 166-167). There are more than 100 manuscripts of BHL 2857: see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (bhlms.fltr.ucl.ac.be) and an additional list in Lanéry 2010, 167 n. 357). The earliest are from the 9th century: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes 14, f. 71r-71v (9th-10th c.); Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Aug. XXXII, f. 5v-6r (9th c.); Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 36r-37v (9th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 846, f. 111v-112r (9th-10th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 154r-155r (9th-10th c.).

Discussion

The Martyrdom situates Felix II’s burial place at the second milestone on the via Aurelia, and recalls Felix’ basilica on the via Portuensis as attested in other late antique sources on his cult (see S00493, and for discussion of confused information regarding topography, Lapidge 2018). It also presents him as a martyr, referring to his day of death and burial, respectively 10 November and 17 November, and his feast day, set on 29 July (on which day a Felix, perhaps of African origin, is celebrated according to the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, E04897). It should also be noted that, more generally, there are widespread contradictions and uncertainties about Felix’s status as a martyr and his feast day, notably in the editions of the biographies of popes Liberius and Felix in the Liber Pontificalis (E01244 and E01272). The Martyrdom also provides an interesting reference to Liberius’ stay in the cemetery of the martyr *Agnes (S00097); Liberius is known in particular to have restored Agnes' tomb according to the Liber Pontificalis (E01244). The Martyrdom, preserved in manuscripts from the 9th century, is of uncertain date. It seems to have connections with, and perhaps made use of, the Martyrdom of *Eusebius (E02492), as well as other sources about the Felician schism. As argued in particular by Verrando and Lanéry (followed by Lapidge), it is thus possible that it was written in the context of the Laurentian schism (498-506), or shortly thereafter. Followers of pope Symmachus supported Liberius’ memory, while followers of Laurence (498-506) supported Felix II. However, while in our Martyrdom Felix II is said to have been martyred, in the Martyrdom of Eusebius, following earlier sources, Felix is not said to have died as a martyr (nothing implies that both texts were composed by the same author despite what is suggested by Lapidge). Moreover, although this remains uncertain and debated, Verrando and Lanéry argue that clear contacts between the Martyrdom and the first edition of the biography of Felix II in the Liber Pontificalis (which also presents Felix II as a martyr, with different dates of death and burial however) would suggest that the Martyrdom was used by the Liber, and thus was written before around 514.

Bibliography

Editions (BHL 2857): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 550-551. The original edition was published c. 1480. Verrando, G. N., “Liberio – Felice. Osservazioi e rettifiche di carattere storico-agiografico,” Rivisti di storia della Chiesa in Italia 35 (1981), 91-125, at 122-124. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 305-306. Further reading: Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie (300-550). I. Les Passions latines composées en Italie,” in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 15-369, at 165-170 (with further bibliography). Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 303-305. Verrando, G. N., “Liberio – Felice. Osservazioi e rettifiche di carattere storico-agiografico,” Rivisti di storia della Chiesa in Italia 35 (1981), 91-125.

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Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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