Saint Symmachus was the pope, or bishop of Rome, from 498 to 514. He originated from Sardinia, Italy and converted from paganism, and was an archdeacon at his election. Laurentius, supported by a powerful Byzantine group, challenged his appointment, and their allies consecrated both contestants on November 22, 498. The dispute was then settled by the Gothic king, Theodoric the Great, who decided for Symmachus.
In 501, supporters of Laurentius accused Symmachus of various crimes, such as celebrating Easter on the wrong date, fornication, and misuse of church property. Symmachus fled the charges, and Laurentius returned to Rome, but most of the clergy retreated from communion with him. King Theodoric called three synods in 502 to resolve the matter. The first two synods resulted in tumults; arguments raised were about the assumption of guilt before trial, Theodoric’s knowledge that the accused is guilty, and the implication of the vacancy of the See of Rome. Finally, the third synod of bishops resolved that only God could judge Symmachus since the pope was the successor to Saint Peter.
- After his exemption, 76 bishops ratified decrees that required communion and mass under Symmachus as pope.
- Fabricated judgments in church law called the Symmachian forgeries were used to bolster the assertion of Symmachus that he could not be held accountable as a pope.
- The supporters of both pope candidates used mob violence during the synods.
- The struggle between Symmachus and Laurentius continued for four more years after the church’s verdict.