Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Zosimus, bp. of Rome
Zosimus (4), bp. of Rome after Innocent I., from Mar. 18, 417, to Dec. 25, 418, under Honorius as the Western and Theodosius II. as the Eastern emperor.
Coelestius, having been expelled from Constantinople by the patriarch Atticus, went to Rome, a.d. 417, hoping for the support of Zosimus, who had newly succeeded to the Roman see. Atticus had written letters about Coelestius to Asia, Carthage, and Thessalonica, but not to Rome; the churches of Rome and Constantinople not being then in full communion, owing to the name of John Chrysostom not having been restored to the diptychs of the latter church. On the other hand, Zosimus had before him, when Coelestius appealed to him, letters addressed by Pelagius to pope Innocent, but not received by him before his death. These letters had by no means satisfied St. Augustine (de Pecc. Orig. c. 17, 21; De Grat. x. 30, 31); but being expressed so as to evade the main points at issue, they may have seemed a sufficient exculpation to the pope, less sharpsighted than Augustine in detecting heresy, and apparently less ready to find fault with it in this case. Thus Zosimus was disposed to receive Coelestius with favour, while the independent action of the African bishops in the time of Innocent may have further inclined him to give the condemned persons a chance of clearing themselves. Coelestius appeared before him in the church of St. Clement, presented his defence, and was questioned as to whether he spoke sincerely and assented to what pope Innocent had written to the African bishops against the heresies imputed to him and Pelagius. This, Augustine tells us, he did, but refused to condemn the alleged errors imputed to him in the libellus of Paulinus (his original accuser at Carthage, a.d. 412), which had been sent to Rome. He further, according to Augustine, desired the pope's correction of any error of which he might through ignorance have been guilty (Aug. de Pecc. Orig. c. 607). Zosimus thereupon took up his cause, as that of one unfairly and improperly condemned. He wrote to this effect to Aurelius and the African bishops, desiring them either to send persons to Rome to convict the accused of heresy or to hold him innocent, and inveighing against the two Gallican bishops, Heros and Lazarus, who had been the accusers of Coelestius. Zosimus wrote a second time to Aurelius and the Africans, having meanwhile received a letter in favour of Pelagius from Praylius, bp. of Jerusalem, and others from Pelagius himself. These last had entirely satisfied him of the writer's orthodoxy; they had been publicly read at Rome, and received (says Zosimus) with universal joy; and Zosimus wrote again
to Carthage, declaring Pelagius and Coelestius to have fully vindicated themselves against the calumnious accusations of those "whirlwinds and storms of the church," Heros and Lazarus; to have been condemned by unjust judges; and to be still in the church's communion. He sent with his letter copies of those which he had received from Pelagius.
By the same messenger Zosimus summoned Paulinus, the original accuser of Coelestius, to Rome. Coelestius had retorted on Paulinus the charge of heresy, and neither the latter nor any other accusers had come to Rome to prove their charges, and now Paulinus respectfully refused to go, saying there was no need. He assumes in his extant reply that the pope's verdict had already been on his side, in that Coelestius had been called upon at Rome, however in vain, to condemn the heresies which he, Paulinus, had charged him with. Aurelius also, and the other African bishops, remained resolute. Several letters, no longer extant, appear to have passed between them and Zosimus, alluded to by Augustine (contra Duas Ep. Pelag. lib. ii. c. 3), and by Zosimus himself. Early in 418 they held a council of 214 bishops at Carthage, which confirmed their condemnation of Pelagius and Coelestius, and declared, with regard to Rome, that they must hold the verdict of Innocent against the heresiarchs to be still in force, unless the latter should recant. The decrees of this council were sent to Zosimus; and he, in his extant reply, dated Mar. 21, 418, begins by a lengthy assertion of the authority of the Roman see inherited from St. Peter, which was such, he says, that none might dare to dispute its judgment. Still, he declares himself willing to consult his brethren, though not as being ignorant of what ought to be done or requiring their concurrence.
Zosimus is further memorable for his adjudication on the question of the jurisdiction of the see of Arles in Gaul, when some of the Gallic bishops were as little ready as the Africans to submit to his authority. Patroclus had been elected and ordained metropolitan of Arles, a.d. 412, on the expulsion by the people of the former metropolitan, Heros—the Gallican bishop, above named, who subsequently, with Lazarus, accused Pelagius of heresy in Palestine and Africa. There had been a long rivalry and struggle for jurisdiction between the two ancient sees of Arles and Vienne. A recent synod at Turin had decided against the claim of Arles to general jurisdiction over other provinces. Consequently other metropolitans—Simplicius of Vienne, Hilarius of Narbonne, and Proculus of Marseilles—had claimed the right of ordaining bishops in their respective provinces; and, notably, Proculus, acting on powers assigned him by the Turin synod as metropolitan of Narbonensis Secunda, had ordained Lazarus (the friend and associate of Heros) to the see of Aquae Sextiae (Aix). Patroclus appealed to Zosimus (a.d. 417), who at once wrote to the bishops of Gaul, to the Spanish bishops, and to Aurelius of Carthage and the rest of the African bishops, asserting the authority of the bishop of Arles over the provinces of Vienne and Narbonensis Prima and Secunda, and declaring all who should ordain bishops, or be ordained, within those provinces without his concurrence, to be degraded from the priesthood. He required that ecclesiastics of all orders from any part of Gaul whatever, proceeding to Rome, or to any other part of the world, should not be received without letters commendatory (firmatae) from the metropolitan of Arles. This last privilege he rests, not on ancient right, but on the personal merits of Patroclus. The jurisdiction of Arles over the above-named provinces he rests on ancient right, derived from Trophimus having been sent from Rome as first bishop of the see, and all Gaul having received the stream of faith from that fountain. Gregory of Tours (Hist. Franc. i. 28), referring to Passio S. Saturnini Episc. Tolos., speaks of seven missionary bishops, including Trophimus, who founded the see of Arles, having been sent from Rome to Gaul, "Decio et Grato consulibus," i.e. a.d. 250. But the see of Arles must have existed before then, since it appears from Cyprian (Ep. vi. 7) that in 254 Marcion had long been bishop of it. Possibly some Trophimus of an earlier date had been sent from Rome to Arles; but if so, nothing is known about him.
Zosimus wrote also to the bishops of the provinces Viennensis and Narbonensis Secunda, disallowing the independent authority conceded to the metropolitans of those provinces by the Turin synod; to Hilarius of Narbonne, the metropolitan of Narbonensis Prima, forbidding him to ordain bishops independently of Arles, declaring all whom he should so ordain excommunicate, and threatening him with the same sentence; and also to Patroclus, confirming to him the alleged ancient rights of his see, together with the privilege, above mentioned, of alone giving firmatae to ecclesiastics from all parts of Gaul. Simplicius of Vienne so far deferred to the pope's authority as to send a legate to him; and Zosimus, writing to him on Oct. 1, 417, allowed him, for the sake of peace, to go on for the present ordaining bishops in the neighbouring cities of the province in accordance with the order of the Turin synod. No such deference to Rome was shewn by Proculus of Marseilles, who continued to ordain, though the pope had pronounced his deposition. Tumults ensued at Marseilles, where there seem to have been two parties. Consequently in 418 Zosimus wrote to the clergy and people there, warning them to oppose the attempts of Proculus, and to submit to Patroclus; and to Patroclus himself, enjoining him to assert his authority. Notwithstanding this, Proculus maintained his position as bp. of Marseilles and metropolitan of Narbonensis Secunda. The jurisdiction of Arles was long a bone of contention in Gaul. Zosimus died soon after writing the letters last mentioned, and was buried, according to the Lib. Pontif., on Dec. 26, "via Tiburtina juxta corpus beati Laurentii martyris."
The main authorities for his life are his own letters and other documents to be found in Baronius and Labbe, the works of Augustine, and Prosper (Chron.).