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Anastasius I and Innocent I: Reconsidering the Evidence of Jerome

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The comment of Jerome in his letter to Demetrias (Epistula 130) that Innocent I, bishop of Rome from 402 to 417, was the son of his predecessor Anastasius I has been taken at face value by a number of commentators and has been repeated, often without reference to sources, on any number of Internet web sites. The fact that Liber Pontificialis offers a different parentage for Innocent is often ignored. This paper seeks to reconcile and evaluate the two accounts. The argument advanced here is that in Jerome's highly rhetorical letter the reference is to be understood metaphorically and not literally, given that the use of familial terms of address was common in early Christian letters to indicate a hierarchical rather than a biological relationship. Jerome was asserting that Innocent had been a deacon of Rome under Anastasius. Even beyond this common usage, in this letter such metaphor was part of a rhetorical strategy by which he sought to persuade a powerful Roman senatorial family to back his anti-Pelagian campaign and to use their influence on Innocent to do the same.

Affiliations: 1: Australian Catholic University, Brisbane Campus, 1100 Nudgee Road Banyo, Queensland 4014, Australia

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