It is an accepted paradox of late Roman studies that modern students have been more concerned to find culprits for the 'fall of the Roman empire' than were the people who actually lived through it. Gibbon, who believed the empire of the Antonines to be the apogee of human accomplishment, knew perfectly well what he was doing: chronicling the triumph of barbarism and religion. His approach influenced scholarship for centuries. Many more culprits have been found, including population decline, homosexuality, and (for a somewhat delayed fall) the Moslems.
Only recently have scholars stopped looking for scapegoats and begun to see what happened in less tendentious terms. This has coincided with new interest in the attitudes of those who lived through the 'fall' and its aftermath.1
But artificial value judgments still attach themselves to the events studied. The metaphor of Rome's 'fall' itself persists in the imagination of historians, even if it is now generally expunged from the titles of books and articles. Modern scholars view the events of the fourth through sixth centuries as events in the history of the Roman Empire, and in so doing they begin to beg the questions they should be asking.
Thus the most important sources for contemporary attitudes toward calamitous events in those centuries are often misunderstood. Augustine's De civitate Dei is believed, on no serious evidence, to have been addressed to a significant pagan minority in the western empire, which was attacking Christianity.2 Salvian of Marseilles, the author of the riveting and neglected De gubernatione Dei, is thought to have been 'unpatriotic,' classed as a ' semi-pelagian' and ignored as an eccentric, when he was none of these things.3 Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae is read as a personal document of frustration and hope, but not as the groping, unsuccessful response of a member of a mummified elite to the baffling disasters of his world. It sometimes seems no one can read Gregory the Great's Moralia in Job at all any more, much less take the work seriously as a practical theological treatise that deals every bit as much with living in the world of 'fallen Rome' as it does with events of Old Testament history.4 Too much contemporary scholarship is devoted instead to twentieth-century questions, the very posing of which implies the presence in the Roman world of a nationalism or a racism for which there is pitifully little evidence. What Romans thought of barbarians, what barbarians thought of Romans, what Christians thought of pagans and what pagans thought of Christians: all these questions are studied today at great length and in minute detail, but they barely break through the surface of late antiquity. The neglected works of the period mentioned above (and there are many more -- saints' lives not least among them -- as Momigliano shrewdly saw) can provide the key to answering a more important question: what did the average citizen of the western empire, by thistime a Christian from a Christian family, think of the world in which he found himself -- without necessarily using categories like barbarian, Roman, or pagan ? Such a theoretical study is matter for another place and time. But no progress can be made in discovering whether this kind of study is even worth doing, until some concrete evidence for the lives and attitudes of people who really lived through the calamities of the late empire is examined and sifted, with the hope of seeing just what attitudes existed in what combinations and with what tensions. This paper is such a concrete study. An incidental benefit of it will be the enhancement of our knowledge of the individual in question, but prosopography is not our primary goal.
Petrus Marcellinus Felix Liberius first attracted my attention while I was working on a study of his near contemporary, Cassiodorus, a man better known to modern scholars largely because of the size and distinction of his literary Ouvre.5 I began my work on Cassiodorus with the unspoken assumption that I was dealing with one of the most important people in the Ostrogothic kingdom of early-sixth-century Italy, but to my chagrin- and eventually to my fascination -- I discovered that Cassiodorus was not quite the center of that kingdom. More often than I had expected, my attention was sidetracked by the presence of a slightly older, but no less indefatigable, figure: Liberius. First serving as praetorian prefect while Cassiodorus was a child, still a praetorian prefect forty years later, when Cassiodorus achieved the same dignity, and in the thick of things later still, in western circles in Constantinople, where Cassiodorus always seemed to be just a little bit peripheral, Liberius could not be ignored. But Liberius wrote no books that we know of, and the world in which he moved with energy and honor for more than sixty years is one little attended to by modern scholars; hence his reputation among historians has not been great. Three prosopographical notes exhaust the scholarship on his life and accomplishments.6
Little attention, after all, is paid nowadays to the history of Gaul outside the Frankish domains in the sixth century. The standard encyclopedic histories of France, which begin with a view of Roman Gaul and an even-handed treatment of all parts of the country, suddenly begin to see things wholly from the Frankish point of view when Clovis comes on the scene. On the other hand, the standard works on the later Roman empire tend to slight the accomplishments of the not-quite-Roman successor kingdoms, and southern Gaul is beyond the patriotic enthusiasms of Italians interested in the Ostrogoths and Spaniards interested in the Visigoths. Thus the most substantial achievement of Liberius' career, his twenty-five years in Gaul as chief civil magistrate for the Ostrogoths, disappears from the pages of 'history.' Yet surely he deserves at least a footnote for the oddity of his achievement: to have held the highest governmental office in Italy, Gaul, and Egypt during one lifetime is an accomplishment not often recorded -- Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte are the only parallels that come to mind I
But Liberius is not merely important and neglected. He is just typical enough to be useful for the more general purposes outlined above. He comes from outside the charmed circle of aristocrats in late Roman Italy, who loved to congratulate themselves for their own magnificence and to predict confidently, in works which survive for us, the eternity of their reputations. Not surprisingly, they have attracted much attention. The gens Anicia, for instance, is a great favorite of modern scholars (whose enthusiasm has tempted them to attach many unrelated figures, without evidence, to the gens, including such unlikely candidates as Cassiodorus and Gregory the Great), but a family to which, in the end, it must be concluded that there was always less than meets the eye. It is perhaps too much to expect administrative, political, or military talent from a long-established aristocratic family; yet a vague sense of noblesse oblige might be assumed to have propelled them, even without such talent, into positions of importance in world affairs. But it is precisely this elite of elites, which one writer has vividly dubbed the ' Romans of Rome, ' who made senatorial otium a paramount virtue, who dipped a toe into the waters of public life and then fled to literary retirement. John Matthews has rightly pointed out that more and more of the civil government of the western Mediterranean did, in fact, fall for a while into the hands of such people, and of their less distinguished fellow aristocrats, beginning in the late fourth century.7 But they turned out not to be very good administrators; by the end of the sixth century, their class had given up entirely on government, the senate was no more to be found, and the pope found himself, by default, chief civil magistrate of Rome.8 Liberius, at any rate, was different. He belonged to a more ambitious, more energetic second echelon of the aristocracy: senatorial in rank and privileges, but un-senatorial in its willingness to serve in government. This group includes some of the best and some of the worst of late Roman aristocrats. Liberius and Cassiodorus stand on one side, tireless opportunists on the other. Had their class been larger, and had the eastern empire supported the successor kingdoms instead of destroying them, the history of the western Mediterranean might have been different.9
But regardless of the outcome of their service, Liberius and the few like him command attention as individuals who accepted the world in which they iived, without fading into nostalgic literary reveries about a past which had never existed. They are the ones who lived through the sixth century like men and women who believed that there would be a future. Instinctively, one surmises that they were also better representatives of popular attitudes than the more publicity-conscious Anicians and their ilk. At the very least, a sketch of their attitudes, as embodied in Liberius, will provide a counterbalance to a view of 'falling Rome' taken exclusively on trust from a Symmachus of the fourth century -- or of the sixth.
Liberius must have been born in A.D. 465, or very shortly thereafter.10 Nothing certain is known of his family or his home, though there is enough evidence to hint that Liguria was a center of his family's activity.ll At any ,rate, there is little to connect him with the traditional territories of senatorial predominance, Campania and Sicily,12 and he was buried at Rimini.13 If Liguria is indeed his patria, he would remind us of Cassiodorus, who came from unsenatorial country at the other end of Italy, Squillace on the Ionian Sea. Where and how Liberius grew to manhood and how he was educated are also unknown. The only written legacy we have is his signature (subscriptio) on the synodal acts of the Council of Orange in A.D. 529. He appears as a recipient of correspondence from Ennodius, Avitus, and Cassiodorus, but never as an author.
We know Liberius from his public life. He made his first recorded appearance at a dramatic and troubled time in the history of Italy: the last years of Odovacer's rule. Italy had been spared the public shame which the rest of the western empire had experienced: the invasion and settlement of barbarian hordes, along with the collapse of imperial defenses. And yet the history of Italy in the fifth century was not so very different from that of the other western provinces. The barbarians were in charge, their troops were being quartered on the land, but the cover of imperial legitimacy had been preserved. Odovacer was the last in a series of barbarian magistri militum who had nominally served, and who had in fact manipulated, the western emperors of the fifth century. He first differed from his predecessors when, in 476, he decided to put an end to the pretence and rule henceforth in the west without the services of a resident emperor; even so, the form of his rebellion was apparent submission to the authority of the emperor at Constantinople. In fact, Italy was, and had been, in the hands of a barbarian army; in theory, however, it remained a loyal part of the Roman empire, and the theory had a way of leaking through into reality from time to time.14
The young Liberius, therefore, entered public life in a legitimate, if somewhat disreputable, Roman imperial govenment. That very young men seemed to be advancing to high offices (as they continued to do under the Ostrogoths) may indicate some disinclination on the part of an older generation to participate in the charade; but for the most past, the senatorial classes accepted their rights and responsibilities as of old, and went on performing as indifferently as ever. We do not know in what capacity Liberius served Odovacer in his mid-twenties. What we do know is that he remained steadfast and loyal to the German's regime until its final collapse in 493.15
The agent of the collapse of Odovacer's government was another barbarian invader -- one who acted under color of loyalty to the Roman empire.16 The Constantinopolitan emperor Zeno had appointed Theoderic as his deputy to 'recapture' the disloyal province of Italy and to govern in the emperor's stead in the West. Zeno had undoubtedly hoped to solve two problems at once by weakening the barbarian hold on Italy and by disposing of Theoderic, who might have posed serious danger to Zeno's government itself had he remained in the East much longer.17 The ensuing Italian war was not a noble or uplifting experience for anyone. It ended with the murder of Odovacer by Theoderic, who had seized the opportunity of a truce to lay treacherous hands on his rival and kill him. Apart from adding one more layer of rubble to northern Italy, it only resulted in the establishment of a new ruling power, every bit as loyal to -- and every bit as proudly independent of -- the emperor at Constantinople as its predecessor was.
Liberius came out unscathed. Loyal to Odovacer to the end, he faced the new conqueror with unflinching pride, and found favor with him:
Non enim ad nos vilissima transfugae condicione migravit nec proprii domini finxit odium, ut alterius sibi procuraret affectum: expectavit integer divina iudicia nec passus est sibi regem quaerere, nisi rectorem primitus perdidisset. Unde sic factum est, ut ei libenter daremus praemium, quia nostrum fideliter iuvit inimicum.... Flexo iam paene domino nullis est terroribus inclinatus: sustinuit immobilis ruinam principis sui: nec novitas illum turbare potuit, quam etiam ferocitas gentilis expavit.18
The reward Theoderic had in mind to confer upon his stalwart victim was nothing less than the praetorian prefecture for Italy, the principal civil office of his regime. To be sure, Theoderic's (or, more precisely, Cassiodorus') description of the enthusiasm with which the stubborn aristocrat was rewarded dates from fifteen years after Odovacer's downfall. By then Theoderic may simply have had trouble finding people to work for him. The old regime of Odovacer had not been highly thought of, but it had had a color of legitimacy and it was familiar, while a new barbarian king -- who was also a heretic -- must have been greeted with at least some hesitation. The young man from not quite the very best family background may well have been simply the best Theoderic could do.
Whatever the reason, it remains that the position was offered, accepted, and discharged with dignity. The official view of Liberius' success in this term as praetorian prefect (beginning, presumably, in 493 or early 494 and lasting, as we are told by the Anonymus Valesianus, until 50019) survives for us in two different, closely similar versions. In one of them, Ennodius of Pavia, writing about 511, addresses Liberius in fulsome terms: 'lapsa, exusta, perdita, cum te aspexerint, convalescunt.'20 Two features of Liberius' term as prefect for Italy stand out in Ennodius' mind: his fiscal policy and his delicate khandling of what may be called 'the barbarian question.'
In financial matters, Ennodius claims that Liberius' efficient administration of the prefecture met the constant and elusive goal of late Roman taxation: an increase in revenues without an increase in rates. A century and a half earlier, Julian, the future apostate, had shown, as Caesar in Gaul, that this was not really a difficult feat to accomplish. The secret was for an administrator to collect taxes efficiently, rather than to let arrears pile up, awaiting an inevitable amnesty, while exacting ready cash by increasing the rate of taxation and piling the burden even more heavily on those who were unwise enough to lpay what was demanded.21 For the most part, however, administrators in late lantiquity took the position that dunning the recalcitrant (usually, we believe, the wealthiest and most aristocratic landowners) was less feasible than milking the weak, even at the price of resentment that could eventually manifest itself in popular reaction against Roman rule and a preference for the barbarians.22 Liberius, like Julian, apparently turned the trick, for the same claim about his success as tax collector is made by the other official reporter of his services, Cassiodorus:
Is igitur infatigabili cura, quod difficillimum virtutis genus est, sub generalitatis gratia publica videtur procurasse compendia, censum non addendo, sed conservando protendens, dum illa, quae consueverant male dispergi, bene industria providente collegit. Sensimus auctas illationes, vos addita tributa nescitis.23
It was in handling 'the barbarian question,' however, that Liberius made his reputation. Among the reasons why Theoderic, like the earlier barbarian magistri militum, had not attempted to arrogate more of the strictly civil government to himself was the general assumption that only educated Italian aristocrats could make the system work -- on this point the self-esteem of the aristocrats had probably deceived the Germans. Theoderic undoubtedly also saw that the best way to get the native Roman population to accept barbarian rule was to make it seem as little different from the earlier imperial style of government as it claimed to be. In any case, he continued to support the theory that the military defense of the country was in the hands of Germans (and military appointments for non-Germans were rare, if not, as we shall see, unheard-of), while the civil government remained in Roman hands.
The awkward point of contact under Theoderic was the matter of settling the Germans on Italian land. Here the policy was set by the Germans, as it had been under earlier magistri like Odovacer, but the execution was left to Liberius as praetorian prefect. The solution he chose was known as the deputatio tertiarum.24 In theory, every Italian landholder now became liable to give up one-third of his land for German settlers. In practice, however, most of them never had to give up an acre. There were too few Germans, and they were con- centrated in northern Italy, where there was apparently a fair amount of, abandoned land which they could take over unopposed. When no actual loss of land was required, a tax was imposed as a substitute, supposedly amounting to the annual produce of one-third of the owner's property. This soundsf burdensome until we recall the ability of large landholders to evade taxes,. as well as the probability that the tertiae tax became the principal form of land tax in the Ostrogothic kingdom.25 As a way of supporting the Ostrogothic military forces, the arrangement had one inherent advantage: it returned Italy to Italian control. Instead of relying for defense upon imperial mercenaries, whose presence was usually every bit as unpleasant as that of an officially 'barbarian' force (the difference must have been hard to perceive when the 'Roman' forces were as German as the enemy was), Italy could now rely on a defense force which itself had the interests of Italy foremost in mind. The Goths became an indigenous militia which fought not merely for pay, or for the hope of future settlements, but to defend their real source of support, and real property already occupied by themselves and their families.
With all this said, we must still admit that Liberius had a difficult task to perform, one which required delicacy and flexibility in adjusting individual cases to satisfy individual landholders. Of his success in carrying out this task, there can, apparently, be no doubt. Both his contemporary admirers agree.
Liberius' term as praetorian prefect ended in A.D. 500, on the occasion of Theoderic's only visit to Rome. This visit coincided with a period of particular harmony between Theoderic and the faction in the country most likely to be disaffected: the upper crust of orthodox Catholic Christians.29 Theoderic had sided with that faction in the matter of the papal election of 499, in which the orthodox party chose Symmachus (a Sardinian outsider, despite his name30) and the minority chose a presbyter named Laurentius. The theological issue at stake was rapprochement with the eastern empire, with which Rome had been in a state of schism since 484 over eastern opposition to the Christological definitions of Chalcedon, particularly as that opposition was manifested in the Henotikon of Zeno.31 In the late 490s, Pope Anastasius II had apparently flirted with compromise, in an attempt to regain church unity, but the papal election of 499 represented a triumph for the uncompromising party.
Theoderic sided with Symmachus, not for any sophisticated theological reasons, but as a way of asserting the independence of Italy from Constantinople and of maintaining the loyalty of his subjects. As long as Rome was in schism with Constantinople, Theoderic could side with the church of Rome and count on its support in his own attempts to maintain a friendly independence from Constantinople. On the other hand, those who would compromise with Constantinople on dogma offered a potential danger for Theoderic's own regime. As soon as the east-west schism was ended by Justin's new regime in 519, Theoderic's problems with the Catholic aristocracy in Italy began to worsen, and did so until his death in 526.
In 500, all was sweetness and light.
Per tricennalem triumphans populo ingressus palatium, exhibens Romanis ludos circensium. Donavit populo Romano et pauperibus annonas singulis annis, centum viginti milia modios, et ad restaurationem palatii, seu ad recuperationem moeniae civitatis singulis annis libras ducentas de arca vin aria dari praecepit.32 Item Am alafrigdam germ an am suam in m atrimonium tradens regi Wandalorum Trasimundo.33 Liberium praefectum praetorii, quem fecerat in initio regni sui, fecit patricium, et dedit ei successorem. Successit in administratione praefecturae itaque Theodorus, filius Basili.34
We can imagine that Liberius was specially feted by the Gothic ruler on this occasion, and sent into dignified retirement with pomp and pageantry.35 Theodorus did not serve as long as Liberius -- perhaps only three years 36 --before being succeeded in turn by a less distinguished but more accomplished functionary, the elder Cassiodorus, whose prefecture provided the launching pad for the career of his eloquent, but not short-winded, son.37
The next decade of Liberius' life, from his mid-thirties to his mid-forties, was spent in semi-public retirement. He held no public offices, but he was too young to retreat to country estates for long. We hear of him repeatedly through this period at Ravenna (which shows an interest in politics).38
On one occasion this interest took concrete form for which evidence survives: in the year 506, Liberius was appointed to oversee the election of a new bishop for Aquileia. Although his personal influence could have permitted him to railroad his own candidate through the process of election by the clergy, nobility and people, Liberius preferred to go by the book. He named a colleague for himself in supervising the election. Though he himself preferred the candidate who emerged victorious (one Marcellinus), he refrained from all but the mildest praises, allowing the assembly to proceed to a meticulous examination of the candidate's merits. The result was an election which was less than unanimous but which, because of Liberius' scrupulous fairness, could be accepted by all parties in Aquileia.39
These events take on greater significance when placed in context. We learn of them in a letter drafted by Ennodius in the name of the reigning pope, Symmachus.40 It is clear that the election of Marcellinus was hailed because it represented the triumph of the pro-Symmachan party in Aquileia against the schismatic Laurentian faction, which remained a troublesome factor in church politics until the election of Symmachus' successor, Hormisdas, in 514, and which was perhaps never more troublesome than in the year 506. Control of Aquileia was important because that see was responsible for approving episcopal elections throughout northeastern Italy. When Aquileia fell out of concord with Rome, as happened in the 'Three Chapters' controversy in the second half of the sixth century, the resulting disaffection in that militarily crucial territory was serious.41 So Liberius' first involvement in ecclesiastical affairs shows him winning the gratitude and approval of the Roman orthodox party in an important matter.
At the same time, more private concerns were also on Liberius' mind. In 507 he had to supervise the entry into public life of his son Venantius. If the peculiar excellence of Liberius is to be appreciated, it must be seen in contrast with his son's swift passage from obscurity to obscurity. Liberius had more than one son, and at least one daughter.42 The only child of whom we know anything is Venantius. The likeliest solution to the difficulties posed by the evidence is that the son served as consul in 507; but it is necessary to add that if this is the case, the honor and the glory of the occasion were mostly his father's. The consulship, a dignity for private citizens which was destined to last only until 541, was in this period joining the ordinary quaestorship and praetorship in being a young man's distinction.43 The same pride and enthusiasm which Symmachus brought to the staging of praetorian games in 401 were surely displayed by adequately wealthy fathers of consuls in the early sixth century.44 There is no evidence to suggest that Liberius was either remarkably rich or especially extravagant, but his son's consulship must have marked the second time within a decade when the family held a central place in public spectacle at Rome. It was clearly a reward from the Ostrogothic government for services rendered by the father, perhaps including the informal services, in the name of ecclesiastical peace, which Liberius had rendered after giving up his prefecture.
Of the son we know little. The only significant mention of Venantius is in Cassiodorus' letter at the time of his promotion to the rank of comes domesticorum vacans, sometime between 507 and 511.45 That post was entirely vacuous, as the title suggests, and its only function was to confer upon the holder the rank of illustris, and with it membership in the senate of Rome. Apparently at this period only those members of the senatorial class who had held a post of illustris rank could actually participate in the meetings of the senate, a requirement which may have been necessitated originally by the reluctance of the elite to serve in public life otherwise. By this time, however, the dignitas uacans was used as a device to confer the title without the burdens of office. The curious question Venantius' elevation raises is the relationship of the consulship to such ranks: it would appear, on the basis of this admittedly scanty evidence, that the consulship was now an entirely empty dignity, and did not itself confer even the rank of illustris. Hence we come to the perverse situation that a consul rei publicae Romanorum would not be eligible to participate afterward in meetings of the senate of Rome without some further honorary title such as this.46
We believe that Cassiodorus did not take office as quaestor until the beginning of the indictional year in the fall of 507. Hence the letters about Venantius' promotion actually postdate the celebration of his consulship by at least some months. On this assumption, it is striking that they make no mention of the recipient's consulship. It could be argued that this is adequate evidence to deny that the consul of 507 is in fact Liberius' son; but a more probable interpretation is that the consulship was not considered worth mentioning by comparison with membership in the senate. At any rate, Cassiodorus' letter of congratulation to Venantius, and his announcement of the promotion to the senate, suggest their author was hard-pressed to find virtues worth praising in the young man.47 It is for this reason that these two letters are among the most important sources of information for Liberius' early career. To justify the elevation of the son, Cassiodorus praised the father, and then ended with the feeble sophistry that the son's virtues might be apprehended from the father's accomplishments: 'Perpendite, patres conscripti, si hanc subolem inremuneratam relinquere debuimus, cuius auctorem tot eximia fecisse retinemus.'48 The young man, Cassiodorus tells us, is expected to devote himself now to the finer things in life: 'Litterarum siquidem studia, quae cunctis honoribus suo sunt digna suffragio, sedulus perscrutator assequeris, addens claritati generis ingenium suaviter eloquentis. Incumbe ergo talibus studiis, ama quae in te remunerata cognoscis, ut nostra quoque iudicia cum tuis provectibus tendas.'49 We never hear of him again, unless he is one of those responsible for the stilted verse of his father's funerary inscription, half a century later.
At first this seems striking, but on second thought less so. Assuming Venantius lived to a mature age, we might have expected to hear great things of the son of so tireless a public servant. And yet what is more probably the case is that the son of Liberius achieved the kind of social distinction which his father, from a less than top-flight family, had not known; that he took on the habits and values of the elite to which his father did not by birth belong; and that whatever talent for public life Venantius may have had was eaten up in a nostalgic literary retirement. If he did not become a monk, it seems probable that he turned back to the past his father was content to ignore, and so found himself confronting the same dead end that Boethius tried to explain his way out of in the Consolation of Philosophy. Assuming -- and it is not hard to do this -- that Venantius had less literary talent than Boethius, we should not be at all surprised to hear no more of him. It is still his father who commands our attention -- who continued to live in the ' real world ' of the sixth century and to show us the way of the future.
Liberius' own period of inactivity came to an end shortly after his son's retirement to literary ease. In 508 Theoderic had extended his rule into southern Gaul, at the expense of the Burgundians and in defense of the Visigothic kingdom, with which this territorial expansion gave him a common border. Despite earlier differences (e.g., at the battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451), the Ostrogoths and Visigoths were close enough relatives for Theoderic to serve as nominal regent when the Visigothic king was a minor, so his expansion into Gaul served both family and public purposes.50 At first Theoderic saw fit to rule his part of Gaul through the vicar Gemellus, who would presumably report, in the first instance, to the Italian praetorian prefect -- at this period the distinguished aristocrat Faustus (prefect 507-512).51 As time passed, however, Theoderic apparently felt it would be better to have a more senior representative in Gaul, a man with greater authority and independence. The date of his decision is difficult to discern, but it appears that Liberius went out as the first Gothic-appointed praetorian prefect for Gaul in 511.52
Liberius' appointment may have solved more problems than we have evidence for. Theoderic needed someone he could trust absolutely to rule as viceroy on the far side of the Alps; too much independence in the prefect could make him a separate power, dealing as an equal with the other forces in Gaul (Franks, Burgundians, Visigoths) to the detriment of the Ostrogoths. But the senatorial aristocracy of Italy could not be expected to produce a continuous supply of candidates willing to go all the way to Gaul in the name of public service. Liberius was willing to go, and willing to stay for an unprecedented period. It seems reasonable to suppose that he had some attachment in Gaul, to keep him there for so long a time. We have already surmised that Liberius' Italian patria may have been Liguria, and it has also been suggested that his wife, Agretia -- known from the Vita of Caesarius of Arles -- may have been of Gaulish background herself. She may even have been a second wife, since she was still regularly attended by a daughter in the late 510s, when Liberius was in his early fifties.53 It is also possible, of course, that Liberius went out to Gaul merely out of a sense of patriotic duty.54
At the outset, Liberius' office in Gaul may have been less than all-consuming. The letter of Ennodius, quoted earlier, in praise of Liberius' service as praetorian prefect in Italy dates from late 511 (possibly early 512) and indicates Liberius had already been to Gaul in some governing capacity and had returned:
. . . quibus civilitatem post multos annorum circulos intulisti , quos ante te non contigit saporem de Romana libertate gustare, ad Italiam tuam et poscentibus nobis et illis tenentibus reducaris.55
The suggestion has been made that in fact Liberius' tenure of the prefecture of southern Gaul goes back to 508, and that at the outset Gemellus the vicar was the resident official, while Liberius exercised the prefecture from a comfortable residence in Italy.56 This seems extremely unlikely. The letters of Cassiodorus appointing Gemellus vicarius praefeeforum for Gaul speak in terms that leave no room for a praetorian prefect with superior responsibility there. The later letters in the Variae to Gemellus (dating from 508-511) deal with the whole range of concerns which fell within the ambit of the praetorian prefect.57 Indeed, the evidence of the Variae tends to indicate a later rather than an earlier date for the appointment of Liberius, since no letters of appointment involving him are included and the earliest piece of correspondence addressed to him in his Gaulish office dates from 526. Since Cassiodorus left office as quaestor sometime in mid-511, one is inclined to suspect that Liberius was not formally installed in the post by that time.
The evidence is thus slightly contradictory.58 The best solution is to assume that Liberius was appointed and first visited Gaul in 511, that he returned to Italy late that year, and then finally set out for Gaul in 512.59 We do not again hear of Liberius' returning to Italy until 534. During all of the intervening time he served in Gaul as praetorian prefect, the longest uninterrupted tenure of an office of that rank known from antiquity. The service was not uneventful, nor are we uninformed of its high points.
It appears that the prefect was ordinarily resident at Arles, close to the northern and western borders of the Ostrogothic territory. It is particularly sigruficant that for the first years of Liberius' service, the effective northern border of Gothic rule was the river Durance.60 Residence at Arles allowed Liberius to benefit from a neat juxtaposition of authorities, for the bishop of Arles was also the designated representative of the papacy for Gaul at this period. Throughout his time in Gaul, that bishopric was held by the remarkable Caesarius, a figure whose accomplishments are still too little appreciated by scholars.
The first piece of evidence for Liberius' activities in Gaul probably comes from very early in his tenure. It is a letter from Avitus of Vienne, praising his powers as a peacemaker and a restorer of order to war-torn Provence. Liberius had apparently sought the help of Avitus in ransoming captives taken during the late hostilities. From Avitus' letter, we learn that Gemellus was still in place -- acting now certainly as Liberius' vicar:
Unde quod nobis a viro spectabili, vicario vestro, pro quorundam captivorum liberatione suggestum est, ad praeceptionem culminis vestri laetus implevi, pretio tamen, quod portitores adtulerant, non recepto. Quia si aliquid praefato viro magnifico, filio meo Gemello, condicionis personae ipsae per originem debent, potest hoc, quod mihi obtulerat, redimendis ingenuis distribuere: si vero istos agnoscitis liberos natu, sufficit pretium profuisse.61
Restoring order in Gaul is also the subject of a letter from Ennodius, at the outset of Liberius' tenure. In it, Ennodius requests that Liberius render aid to a female relative, one Camella infra Gallias, widowed and twice captured in the warfare. Specifically, Ennodius asks 'ut vel de casellulis ipsius ordinatione vestra, dum ab eis fisci onera derivantur, ad praefatae alimenta sufficiant.'62
From this scanty evidence it is clear that Liberius found himself in Gaul undertaking, for the second time in his life, the pacification and ordering of a nation which had long suffered under various barbarian invaders and which now hoped to find peace under Ostrogothic rule. As in Italy, Liberius was fortunate that the enterprise he undertook was successful -- largely because outside circumstances, over which he had no control, allowed him a space of years in which to pursue the works of peace. As in Italy, however, his accomplishment was not permanent.
The principal known events of Liberius' prefecture are connected with the striking figure of Caesarius. It is clear that the relationship was one from which both parties derived benefit. A modern biographer of Caesarius attributes to Liberius the civic peace and prosperity which gave Caesarius the opportunity to call five ecclesiastical councils in his province in the years 524-533, with consequent benefits for the spiritual life of the province.63 But the relationship seems to have had an even greater effect on Liberius himself. It was in Gaul, in contact with Caesarius, that Liberius became more than merely another ambitious public servant, and developed the unique combination of qualities which were to distinguish the rest of his long career.
From the early years of Liberius' prefecture, we have a chance picture of the concord which existed from the start between prefect and bishop. Sometime between 517 and 520, an eyewitness biographer tells us, Bishop ApoDinaris of Valence, an older brother of the more influential Avitus of Vienne, made a kind of ceremonial procession down the Rhone, greeting the bishops of the cities he visited and in turn being received grandly by them. The scene at Arles is vividly depicted:
His actis, dum a cunctis grates divinae potentiae redderentur, in conspectu Arelatensium urbis, Rodano famulante, pervenimus. Ubi sanctus atque precipuus vir domnus Caesarius episcopus, plebis quoque comitatus obsequns, pariterque Liberius praefectus, officio stipante circumdatus, et sedulo occurrere gaudio et laetis eum excoluere sermonibus, confidentes, quod in adventu eius divinam misericordiam excepissent. Hoc civitas gavisa praesidio populorum exultavit studiis. Hinc sanctus Apollinaris civibus annuens, paulisper precibus moras indulsit.64
After that delay, the venerable tourist proceeded to Marseilles.
This kind of public harmony, however, was common enough in the late Roman world; it did not always signify anything deeper than an observation of the niceties of public relations (though, to be sure, the absence of such concord was common enough as well). We are, however, uniquely fortunate in having a further document of the relations between Liberius and Caesarius at a crucial point in Liberius' life, and doubly fortunate in finding in that document the verbatim testimony of no fewer than three eyewitnesses to the event. Liberius himself is one of these witnesses.
The narrative in question comes in the second book of the Vita of Caesarius of Arles, composed by his disciples shortly after his death in 542.65 This Vita is more trustworthy than the ordinary run of such lives: the authors were themselves witnesses of much of what they reported, and even resorted to the unusual device of dividing the narrative into sections written by different witnesses, to maximize the effect of personal experience on narrative authenticity. In the second book, where the incidents which include Liberius occur, the authors are the priest Messianus and the deacon Stephanus. These writers are less distinguished in rank than their co-authors, the bishops Cyprian, Firminus, and Viventius; but they were co-workers and associates of Caesarius until the time of his death, so their testimony is particularly direct and impressive.
The episodes of the second book of the Vita are not connnected in a single narrative thread, and no guess can be made at the date of the events from their placement in the book. Caesarius' modern biographer assumes a date of 527, relying heavily on the mention of Visigothic raiders and on the evidence in Procopius for a treaty made in 527 between the Visigothic king Amalaric and the Ostrogothic kinglet Athalaric, finally settling on the Rhone as the border between their realms.66 It is also possible, however, that the event mentioned by Caesarius' biographers took place sometime between 512 and 523, when the Durance river was the northern border of the Ostrogothic territory, since the raid here described takes place just across that river in what would have been, between 512 and 523, a kind of no-man's land. Happily, the date is not significant, as long as we keep in mind that the events recounted here must have taken place sometime between 512 and 527, when Liberius was between the ages of 47 and 62: mature enough to have considered the possibility of death amid the dangers of Roman frontier life.
There are two separate episodes related to Liberius in the Vita, which deserve to be treated separately. The first affects him directly, while the second relates to his wife. A comparison between the two will be instructive, after they have been summarized.
The first episode begins with the undated (quodam tempore) account of a lance-wound suffered by Liberius at the hands of Visigothic raiders, by which 'in ventre usque ad vitalia perforatus est.'67 The episode took place on the north side of the Durance river. After their leader was struck, Liberius' comrades all gave chase to the raiders. This implies that the Visigothic party with Liberius was small, for it is clear that he suddenly found himself left entirely alone. By his own account, Liberius was terrified and despaired of his life. Nevertheless, he managed to struggle 'non minus quingentos aut eo amplius passus' and crossed to the other side of the river on foot. (That he could do this makes it likely that it was precisely the presence of a ford in the river which made the spot vulnerable to marauders.) A place called Arnago lay nearby, to which Liberius dragged himself, collapsing as he got there ' sine ulla spe vel respiratione animae. '
It is at this climactic point in the narrative (as so often happens in early saints' lives) that the authors intrude with assertions of the authenticity of their story and their sources: 'haec enim paene omnis civitas novit; tamen quae dicimus, magnificentissimo viro ipso referente cum lacrimis et grandi admiratione virtutes viri sancti, cognovimus.' It is important to note that Liberius must have recounted his story to Messianus and Stephanus before Caesarius' death, since for the whole decade after the bishop's decease Liberius was either resident in Constantinople or at sea with his fleets. If anything, this adds to the account a certain degree of authenticity. Hindsight may have exaggerated some features of the episode, yet the narrative has not undergone the degree of exaggeration so common in these sources, when witnesses come forward after the death of a wonderworker rivalling each other with retrospective marvels.
The narrators quote Liberius' own report of what happened as he collapsed: 'Nihil mihi in supremum meum aliud in memoriam venit, nisi cum lacrimis proclamarem: Omnia remedia cessaverunt; domnum meum Caesarium rogate, ut mihi subveniat l' These are not the words of a man looking for a miracle, but the cry of a dying man needing the consolation of his priest. There is no expectation that a miracle will occur. Then the narrative's viewpoint shifts. Messianus and Stephanus were with Caesarius 'in agro sancti monasteriu sui,' resting and praying, when a messenger came up, panting and crying, 'Cito propera ..., domne; filius tuus ut ante obitum suum illum videas rogat.' Caesarius reacted immediately: 'Cum nullum sine medicamento paenitentiae de hoc mundo vir dei voluisset recedere, illum praecipue sine hoc remedio non optabat abire. Statim etenim ad vicum Arnaginensem pervenimus.'68
Here again the testimony of Liberius is reported, this time in indirect discourse. While he was lying lifeless, unable to recognize even his wife or his only daughter,69 then (Liberius swore with an oath: 'ipse cum sacramento dicebat') he seemed to hear a human voice whispering softly in his ear, 'Ecce sanctus episcopus venit.' Liberius continues:
Statim ad ipsam vocem oculos aperui, et ipsum famulum Christi venientem cognovi. Sed ubi ad me accessit, manus illius, quantum necesse erat mihi qui spem vitae amiseram, osculari fortiter coepi. Tunc ergo, ut credidi, deo mihi peccatori inspirante, birrum ipsius domni mei adprehendi, et vulneri meo imposui. Sed cum ibidem paululum partem vestimenti eius tenuissem, in eadem hora sanguis, qui penitus non desistebat fluere, ita deinceps cessavit, ut non solum sanitas sed etiam virtus maxima mihi redderetur; et si permissus fuissem, caballo sedens ad civitatem nitebar properare.70
To Liberius' story, now at its end, the narrators add one further touch of authentication: 'Quod etiam apud nos, qui praesentes fuimus, verissimum esse constitit. '
In this episode we see the relationship of the late antique magnate and his bishop clearly and without exaggeration. In time of danger the bishop is called (a less distinguished citizen might not have gotten him to come). He is expected to be a consoler in the hour of death, but his presence unexpectedly brings life beyond hope and expectation. If a naturalistic interpretation of the events here is felt necessary, one might easily be constructed.71
It may seem that this reading of the episode is too generous, too credulous. But by happy coincidence, we have a precise means available for controlling our generosity and credulity: the second episode connecting Liberius with Caesarius, which follows immediately in the Vita.72 This time it is Liberius' wife, Agretia, who benefits from the saint's powers. But now the miracle, while still capable of rationalization, is clearly expected. The authors of the account are aware of a scriptural parallel, too, which is allowed to dictate some of the circumstances of the episode. Agretia, we are told, was suffering from a sanguinis fluxus, like the woman in the Gospel healed by the touch of Jesus' garment (Luke 8.42-50).73 She approached either Messianus or Stephanus privately (Stephanus' version of the event is apparently what we have), asking for a fragment of the saint's clothing because of its healing power: more specifically, for an undergarment ' quem ad nudo sui corporis habuisset. ' The intermediary was afraid to take responsibility for the theft, but arranged with the bishop's cubicularius to get a scrap of cloth that met the description.
The saint also discovered the plot, as it seems, miraculously. While the intermediary still had the scrap with him (for he had gotten it late in the day), it came time for the saint to change his clothes in the evening: 'ea consuetudo erat, ut ei, antequam repausaret, tesselli adhiberentur calefacti ad focum, et aliis detractis apponerentur.' On this night the bishop recognized that a switch had been made and insisted on belng given the clothes he had expected, from which the piece had been taken. The cubicularius tried to put him off with yet another substitute, but still the saint persisted -- against his usual custom, as the author notes, 'ut innotesceret quod in spiritu praevidebat.' The intermediary and the cubicularius agreed by nods that the theft could not be kept secret. The parallel is then drawn in the narrative between Caesarius' discovery and the moment when Jesus turned and asked who had touched him, with a reference to Luke 8.46. The culprits confessed their plot and sought Caesarius' pardon: ' Indulge, domne, ego pannum quem quaeris habeo. Filia tua . . . ' And at this moment the saint hushed him up, ' cum sibilo silentiu' and gave the man another tessellus. 'Vade,' said Caesarius, 'porta ambos ad basilicam domni Stephani, et mitte illos sub altare, et ibi maneant, et unum quem volueris porta mane ad eam quae te rogavit, et alium mihi revoca.' The priest obeyed, remarking that Caesarius never asked who was the beneficiary of the mercy.
The next day Agretia saw the priest coming from a distance and came running out to snatch the vital piece of cloth, grabbing at it before the cleric could get it out of the case he had brought it in. Kissing it and clutching it to her, she was cured at once, ' ut solebat ipsa fateri, ' with a dreadful chill and a shudder. Once again, the Gospel parallel is cited: 'impletum est in ea: Vade, filia, secundum fidem tuam fiat tibi.'
The differences between the wife's cure and the husband's are clear and obvious. Miracles breed miracles, and the expectation of miracle itself renders testimony dubious, especially when the form of the miracle parallels so closely a Gospel model which either the author or the beneficiary has clearly had in mind. But if we are therefore less impressed with Agretia's miracle, we are forced to be more impressed with the cure of Liberius, whether we accept it as miraculous or not.
At least Liberius believed it miraculous, and that is the important thing. Though the miraculous held little place in the serious theology of the age -- in the desiccated theorizing of Boethius, for example -- ordinary Christians were at least as impressed with the frequent evidence of the power of Christ working through his holy followers as they were with theological argument. We know too little of Liberius' private thoughts to know whether this moment amounted to a kind of conversion for him, though the lacrimae and admiratio with which he told the story indicate how deeply impressed he was by the experience. What is clear is that the episode depicts him irrevocably for us as part of a specific ecclesiastical community: the new Christian society of the late empire, with all its virtues and vices. His religion cannot seem for us any longer to be what it often was for his better educated contemporaries: an intellectual thing, separate from the passionate beliefs and ardent prayers of ordinary people. For Liberius, Christianity was an active force in his life, not merely a scheme of attractive ideas.74
The last reference to Liberius in the surviving records of the sixth century shows him living his religious ideas in another way: as monastic founder. We know nothing about the origin of Liberius' monastic ambition. What we do know is that in the 590s, when the Lombards threatened Campania, the monastery he founded was still a thriving concern, seeking help from Pope Gregory the Great.75 The pope intervened to request that this monastery not be subject to the ordinary levies of manpower required to guard the city. Another passage in Gregory's writings gives a clue to the date of Liberius' foundation: the monastery's abbot, Servandus, is depicted as being in contact with Saint Benedict.76 Hence the monastery must have been founded no later than 547 and probably quite some time before that date. This is important, for it indicates that the monastery was not simply an afterthought for Liberius, an insertion in a last will and testament designed to win heaven for the benefactor, as was so often the case in the later middle ages. Rather, it indicates that the establishment was founded, in the heart of the country favored for senatorial otium, during the active life of its benefactor.77 Hence it represented, in real terms, a sacrifice of property and a deprivation of Liberius' heirs, based upon a willing decision taken in mid-life.78
It is worth asking what role Liberius' foundation played in the transmission of Gaulish monastic ideas to Italy in the sixth century. Caesarius was a product of the community of Lerins, the center of fifth-century western monasticism.79
We know little of the concrete steps by which his spirit found itself transplanted into Italy, but we do know that Cassiodorus propagated a life-style which drew, in some measure, on Gaulish monastic experience.80 Given that Liberius and Cassiodorus were near-contemporaries and were apparently on friendly terms,81 it is an interesting question whether these two public servants, from not quite the very top stratum of Italian society, may not have played a more significant role in the development of early monasticism in Italy (and hence, indirectly, in European medieval history) than has commonly been thought.
For Liberius, acceptance of the Gaulish version of the monastic ideal must have borne some relation to his idea of what Christianity was, and what institutions like monasteries were about. Can we assume that he knew enough theology to understand the issues behind all this? What precisely was the significance of Gaulish monasticism ?
It is no coincidence that the fifth century in Gaul saw the rise of characteristically western forms of monasticism, at the same time as it lived through heated debate about the relation between grace and free will. Modern interpretations have assumed that monasticism found itself in conflict with Augustine's strictures against Pelagianism, and developed what came to be known as a 'semiPelagian' theology in response, a conception of God's saving grace which left room for individual merit and freely initiated good works in the monastic life. P. Riche, however, has recently proposed with conviction that this view is a little too simple, and that it misrepresents the nature of early monasticism in the West.82 The conventional explanation of the rise of monasticism in the fourth and fifth centuries, after all, is that zealous Christians, dismayed by the worldliness and tepidity of the hordes of new converts who joined the Church in the wake of Constantine's conversion, fled to the desert to achieve mighty deeds of virtue and holiness that might compare with the feats of the martyrs.83 There is truth to this, but it applies more to eastern, Egyptian monasticism than to western. To the extent that it applies to western monasticism, it applies only within the short-lived and limited circles of a thoroughly ' Pelagian' brand of Christianity.84 What has hitherto largely escaped general notice is the crucial departure from this model among fifth-century western monks, and its ultimate rejection by the western Church in the wake of Augustine's theological achievement.85 For nothing is so striking about western monasticism (especially in the wake of the researches of P. Riche) as that, while it came out of a theological environment which drew on eastern sources, it quite soon rejected their suppositions in favor of a native, Augustinian theology.
In the early fifth century, John Cassian brought monastic ideas with a definite Egyptian stamp into Gaul. His writings reflect the more works-oriented theology of eastern monasticism, notably in the way that the achievements of earher ascetical heroes are set up as the foundation of the monastic rule.86 Perfection is a real possibility in this life, as the Egyptian ascetics proved; the ultimate degree of humility is achievable for the monk.87 But this wavelet of non-Augustinian theology in Gaul was quickly lost in the reaction. The island monastery of Lerins, for instance, produced thinkers who left the opposition to join the majority which was forming around a moderate Augustinian position, which differed from the saint only on the point of double predestination -- one of the last theological positions developed by Augustine, and clearly the one least in harmony with his earlier ideas.88
When Caesarius came to dictate sets of rules for cloistered men and women, a century or so after Augustine, the spirit of western monasticism had been born, now crucially different from that of its eastern ancestor.89 While the eastern theme of struggle is present, the goal of that struggle has been removed by Caesarius to the next life.90 The proper attitude for the cloistered woman is not achievement but anticipation: watchful waiting. The model proposed at the outset of Caesarius' Statuta sanctarum virginum is that of the five wise virgins, waiting for the Lord (Mt. 25.1-13). The rules of western monastic practice are chiefly negative; that is, they prescribe less the ascetical feats of the Egyptian desert than the removal from monastic life of the things of the world.91 More importantly, in Caesarius' eyes, the cloistered religious has not left the world: he or she has been drawn from it by grace.
Gaudete ergo et exultate in domino, venerabiles filiae, et gratias illi iugiter uberes agite, qui vos tenebrosa saeculi huius conversatione ad portum quietis et religionis adtrahere et provocare dignatus est.92
For the principal discovery of the fifth century, in the western Mediterranean world, was the one which stands at the center of the thought of another monk of Lerins, Salvian, and which was the implicit conclusion of that century's greatest work of theology, Augustine's De civitate Dei. The world, Latin Christianity had found, was to be seen as a place where human efforts and achievements all naturally tend toward failure.93 The Christian empire was not the object of veneration and source of optimism that it was in the East, or in the muddled eyes of a westerner who had spent time there like Orosius. Empire was useful, sometimes profitable, always guided by God, but finally it was dispensable. And what was true of empire was true of civil society as a whole. Civil society was the worldly part of the world, the place where fallen man, in his pride, tried to establish institutions which would improve the human condition.94 Such efforts were, in their own way, laudable, but they were doomed to incompletion. At a time when civil institutions were failing and falling left and right -- a time such as the fifth century in Gaul, Spain, Africa, and Italy -- the mature and reasonable reaction of a serious Christian was to stand back and let them fall: it was God's will. The cloister in the western desert was not a refuge for virtue and zealous dedication; it was a place for fallen human nature to recognize its fallenness and wait for the workings of God's grace. The social organization of the cloister sought to provide the minimum necessities for continued material existence -- nothing more.
The characteristic sign of western monasticism, as we have said, is an insistence on separation from worldly life.95 The hallmark of this is an emphasis on stabilitas, and a fervent scorn for eastern syles of wandering monasticism.96 For the West, it was the community drawn apart from the world which was the center of the monastic experience. To participate in this community, the individual's submission of his own will to the will of the abbot was crucial.97 For in the community, even more clearly than in the larger world, all that happened came through the will and activity of God, the governor of all things.
The most extraordinary misrepresentation of the Augustinian spirit in Latin Christianity at this time is the common claim that it represents a triumph of pessimism and the entrance of a spirit of gloom into the life of the western Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth. To be sure, it showed a new and deep-seated skepticism about the likelihood for success of worldly enterprises, and was pessimistic in those narrow terms. But this was a time when outright despair would have been equally understandable, so ghastly was the fate of the western empire.
The real message of Augustine's theology of grace was one of joy and hope. In the doctrine of original sin, Augustine had seen that the cause of all man's sufferings in this world was man himself.98 God was not to blame; an eternally pre-existing, evil spirit was not to blame; it was not fortune; it was not fate. The source of evil was sin -- sin brought down mighty empires I But the other side of the coin was the joyful discovery that God was good, after all -- gnostic and Manichaean and pagan suspicions to the contrary were so much smoke and mist. God was good and would prevail. The message of Christ's redemptive mission was that, and nothing more. Therefore, the future was bright -- on condition that one no longer placed one's hopes in the failing institutions of civil society, but transferred them to the spiritual realm while one lived in this world. The City of God was waiting -- irreversibly, unavoidably fulfilling all the hopes that one could have.
In the meantime, there was good in the world. Individuals and groups, in different places and at different times, profited in this world from divine grace in different degrees. That goodness was there to be used joyfully.99 Instead of pursuing chimerical ideals of empire and conquest, Christians had to face the realities of life in the present. Despite the damage done to empires, local societies were proving resilient. For Christians not leaving the world to enter the cloister, this implied nothing less than the redefinition of patriotism.100 Even if they saw the truth of the Augustinian position, service and energetic activity in the local community were possible. But for those who did not see it, who remained bound in essentially pagan expectations of God and human society, no such enthusiasm was possible; all that was left was elegiac self-pity, and high-flown attempts at self-consolation. Liberius was a representative of the brighter possibility; Boethius, of the latter.
In fact, I make bold to import all of these theological reflections into a study of Liberius precisely because I can explain his career in no other way. He was not merely a crass opportunist looking out for his own good -- he responded to the call of honor against his own immediate self-interest too often. Moreover, his long years in Gaul, in direct contact with Caesarius of Arles, provide an a priori plausible reason for assuming that something of the bishop's ideas rubbed off on him. However well or poorly educated he was, Liberius was intelligent enough to grasp such theological notions. After his miraculous encounter with Caesarius' healing power, he must have been drawn more closely to his religion than ever before. And his possible role in the importation of Gaulish monasticism to Italy provides limited confirmation of this.
One further piece of evidence seems to bear out everything I have just said. As it happened, the debate over the precise sense in which Augustine's ideas about grace and free will were to be taken had dragged out for almost a century after the bishop of Hippo's death. The principal victory over ' semi-Pelagian' ideas had been won in the fifth century, when Vincent of Lerins and Faustus Riez found few followers and little lasting acceptance for their hostility to Augustine; still, the emerging Augustinian consensus did avoid the last and most extreme of Augustine's conclusions, the doctrine of double predestination. It was inevitable that a conciliar definition would be required eventually, to give this consensus a more durable shape.
Malnory has claimed that it was Liberius' political influence that made it possible for Caesarius to return to the practice of calling church councils in southern Gaul, in his role as metropolitan and papal vicar.101 In any case, Liberius was instrumental in the one crucial council of the period. He had built, in his devotion, a grand new basilica in Orange, which belonged to the territory that came under Ostrogothic control in 523. It seems plausible to imagine that building the basilica at Orange was for Liberius a kind of thank-offering for being healed of his wound a few years earlier. On the third of July, A.D. 529, when Liberius was in his early sixties, the bishops of southern Gaul gathered in the new basilica in Orange to celebrate its dedication. While together, they considered the questions of grace and free will for the benefit of those who might be confused:102
Cum ad dedicationem basilicae, quam inlustrissimus praefectus et patricius filius noster Liberius in Arausica civitate fidelissima devotione construxit, deo propitiante et ipso invitante convenissemus, et de rebus, quae ad ecclesiasticam regulam pertinent, inter nos spiritalis fuisset oborta conlatio, pervenit ad nos esse aliquos, qui de gratia et libero arbitrio per simplicitatem minus caute et non secundum fidei catholicae regulam sentire velint.103
It is important to realize that by this time the question was not one of putting down heresy, but rather of instructing the simpler brethren.104 The conciliar statements which follow summarize the consensus position I have outlined in the preceding pages. Grace is sovereign and all-powerful, but only for the good. The synod casts its anathema upon those who would claim 'aliquos . . . ad malum divina potestate praedestinatos esse' -- believers, that is, in double predestination.105 At the same time (in the very next words of the decree),
hoc etiam salubriter profitemur et credimus, quod in omni opere bono non nos incipimus, et postea per dei misericordiam adiuvamur: sed ipse nobis nullis praecedentibus bonis meritis et fidem et amorem sui prius inspirat, ut et baptismi sacramenta fideliter requiramus, et post baptismum cum ipsius adiutorio ea quae sibi sunt placita implere possimus.
The Council of Orange is important for two reasons. The first reason is that the decisions of this provincial synod were quickly elevated to more nearly universal status for the Latin Christian churches. The acts were transmitted to Rome for the approval of the pope. Between the council and the transmission of the acts, Felix IV died and was replaced by Boniface II, the very official to whom the acts were being sent in hopes of gaining the pope's attention. Whatever personal connections the Gaulish church may have had with Boniface appear to have paid off, for in an enthusiastic and definitive letter, included finally by Caesarius himself in the official documents of the council, he gave his full and formal approval to the decrees of Orange: ' Quod etiam fraternitatem tuam, habita conlatione cum quibusdam sacerdotibus Galliarum, iuxta fidem gaudemus sensisse catholicam: . . . Quapropter affectu congruo salutantes, suprascriptam confessionem vestram consentaneam catholicis patrum regulis adprobamus.'106 Boniface's letter was issued less than two years after the council, on January 25, 531. The council's decisions were now the last word in the controversy over grace and free will, for all of the western churches which accepted papal authority in matters of doctrine.
The second reason for the importance of the council to this study appears at the end of the acts, as they are transmitted to us. In order to make public the teachings of the council and spread the benefit of their truth as widely as possible, an unusual step was taken in ratifying the proceedings:
Et quia definitionem antiquorum patrum nostramque, quae supra scripta est, non solum religiosis, sed etiam laicis medicamentum esse et desideramus et cupimus, placuit ut eam etiam inlustres ac magnifici viri, qui nobiscum ad praefatam festivitatem convenerunt, propria manu subscriberent.107
And at the top of the list of lay signers, right after the signatures of fourteen bishops, we find the full name and titles of our subject: 'Petrus Marcellinus Felix Liberius vir clarissimus et inlustris praefectus praetorii Galliarum atque patricius consentiens subscripsi. '108 There follow the names of seven more illustres, then another half-dozen bishops.
This concern with making religion a central part of the life of the laity is, of course, a dominant theme of Caesarius' preaching. We can see there the obstacles he had to face. He had had to insist repeatedly, for example, that the faithful remain in the basilica for the whole of the celebration of the Mass. Apparently they had fallen into the custom of coming and staying as long as the sermon, then drifting out before the missa fidelium began. Caesarius was a reformer, and a bishop who cared very deeply about lay participation in Church life. Liberius and his fellow illustres reflect this with their signatures. And all of this presents, in turn, strong evidence that the religion of Caesarius -- his own Augustinian optimism -- was an important part of Liberius' life and a central element to any explanation of his career. In Liberius we see a new kind of aristocrat, one no longer wrapped up in grand dreams of imperial past and present, but realistically involved in the politics and, more urgently, in the defense of the home provinces, and, at the same time, one who cared deeply about his religion. Indeed, it is precisely that care about religion which made it possible for Liberius and officials like him to reorder their priorities for activity in the civil realm.
We are justified, I would argue, in seeing the years in Gaul as a turning point for Liberius on precisely these issues. Before his time there, one might make the claim that he was as susceptible to imperial propaganda and nostalgia as anyone else. Though there are reasons for believing that his acceptance of the appointment to Gaul may have been tied to personal connections, it cannot be disproved that he accepted the position chiefly out of loyalty to a concept of empire which even Theoderic was careful to preserve, in his public statements. But nothing Liberius did in the long years after his appointment to Gaul, nor even the unprecedented length of his service there, need be explained in any other terms than those of his new, deeper understanding of his religion and his duties to those closest to him, which the preaching and influence of Caesarius were apparently decisive in creating.
By the time of the Council of Orange, Liberius' tenure of office as praetorian prefect had continued for almost two full decades. From the time of the death of Theoderic in 526, we have the letters by which the new regime of the child king Athalaric was announced to the prefect and his population, and their oaths of support exacted.109 Business continued as usual under the new king. It is probable that the child's accession to the throne provided the occasion for adding to the public honors granted to Liberius, though it is doubtful whether the new honors made any real change in the government of affairs. They did, however, mean an important change of status and symbol. We learn from Cassiodorus, writing in 533, that at some time before this Liberius received what Cassiodorus terms praesentanea dignitas, 'ne de re publica bene meritus diu absens putaretur ingratus. "110 This apparently refers to the award of the title of patricius praesentalis, the equivalent (after the fifth century finished rearranging the hierarchy of governmental titles) of a post as magister militum. Such an elevation is striking because it represents the only known case in the history of the Ostrogothic kingdom in which a Roman civilian was granted a significant military command. The earlier pattern had been for military affairs to be controlled entirely by Goths, and civil affairs entirely by Romans.
Probably Liberius' advancement should be taken in connection with the promotion, at about the same time, of the Goth Tuluin, the general who had led the campaign to extend Gothic control in southern Gaul north of the Durance. From Cassiodorus we learn that Tuluin was elevated to a similar position in late 526, and the date is, for us, the most significant thing about his promotion.111
The legal arrangement in the west after Odovacer's death had been that Theoderic himself held the post of magister militum or supreme commander of the armed forces."112 This was a ' Roman ' title, representing the legitimacy of his rule in Italy as a representative of the emperor at Constantinople. When Theoderic died and was succeeded by a child, it was necessary that military authority fall into competent hands. Since the child's regent was a woman, Theoderic's daughter Amalasuintha, male candidates were required. Tuluin, who was the outstanding field commander of Theoderic's late years, took command of the main body of forces in Italy. By receiving the same title, Liberius was apparently appointed, at about the same time, to command the Gothic military forces in Gaul. Since at this period those forces seem to have been of an entirely defensive nature, we need not assume that the appointment was much more than a formality.113 Nevertheless, it at least demonstrates the solidity of Liberius' position in the Gothic regime in Gaul at this time; his regime must have been, in practice, almost as independent of the Gothic regime in Italy (while nominally subservient to it) as the Gothic regime itself was independent of the emperor at Constantinople (while nominally subservient to him).114
The report of Liberius' appointment comes to us in a relatively late document, a letter of Cassiodorus dating from his own early days as praetorian prefect of Italy in 533.115 In that letter, quoted above, Cassiodorus describes Liberius as diu absens -- long away from the center-stage of Ostrogothic politics. We know too little of the upheavals in Ostrogothic dynastic life at this crucial period to know the reason, but very shortly after this date Liberius appears back in Italy, for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. Perhaps, despite his attachments to Gaul, he meant to return to his homeland for his declining years -- he was, by this time, almost seventy. But Liberius never found time to have any declining years. Our reports of his presence in Italy are reports of the first events in a new chain, which would lead him into the last dramatic phase of his career, carried out mostly in the shadow of the regime of Justinian at Constantinople.
The first hint of Liberius' presence in Italy is also proof of his
continuing interest in matters of religion. In the spring of 534, Pope
John II addressed a letter to a group of distinguished senatorial
aristocrats, including Liberius.116
The company in which he found himself here was much the same company in
which he had moved all his life: provincial aristocrats like Cassiodorus
and Opilio, the Gallic - connected associates of Ennodius and his circle,
with Avienus first on the list, and figures connected with the Roman
church establishment, including the father of Pope Vigilius.117
The names listed belonged mainly to members of the active aristocracy,
with few hints of the oldest families -- only one name on the list has
even a possible connection with the gens Anicia. The substance of
the message from Pope John II to these aristocrats was an attempt to
conciliate them to doctrines being vigorously pressed at that time by
Justinian. John accepted the Justinianic position on the theopaschite
issue (supporting it with quotations from a wide variety of Greek and
Latin fathers), then reasserted the validity of the Marian title
Theotokos. After a formal avowal of support for the Tome of Leo and
the four ecumenical councils, the real business of the letter was
revealed: an exhortation to the aristocrats to shun all contact with the
In doing so, John was also taking a dangerous position vis-a-vis Ostrogothic politics. His letter came in the year in which Athalaric died and the troublesome Theodahad crept into power as the consort of Amalasuintha. By taking Justinian's side against the side of the militant pro-Chalcedonian monks, John II was expressing a preference (and sharing that preference with a flexible and pragmatic group of senatorial leaders) for remaining in ecclesiastical union with Constantinople, rather than plunging back into the schism which had obtained from 484 to 519. We have already seen how such ecclesiastical unity could seem threatening to the Ostrogoths. In this case, the threats which hung over the Ostrogothic kingdom would grow greater and more concrete for the next two years, until they became reality with the invasion of Italy by Belisarius and his forces.
An important stage in the development of East-West relations was reached in Justinian's response to the death of Amalasuintha, for whose welfare he had professed a friendly concern. Theodahad had become co-regent with Amalasuintha in 534. He was called consors regni, but it is clear that the arrangement was only political, since his own wife and queen Gudeliva played a part in the intrigues that followed. By early 535, Theodahad had Amalasuintha banished to an island in a Tuscan lake; later in 535, she was murdered. Between her imprisonment and her murder, it occurred to Theodahad that he would need to explain -- and whitewash -- his acts to Justinian, who was at this same time sending him an envoy, one Peter, to clarify relationships.118 Attempting to forestall a full investigation, Theodahad sent an embassy of his own toward Constantinople. The ambassadors were led by Liberius and Opilio -- both of whose loyalty to the new Constantinopolitan theology had been solicited the year before by John II. Theodahad presumably hoped that his envoys' reputation for orthodoxy would find favor at court, and that they would be able to tell his story convincingly.
Two misfortunes intervened for Theodahad. First, it seems that the ambassadors encountered Justinian's envoy Peter at a seaport town on the Balkan coast. They told him the truth of what had happened, which Peter immediately reported by courier to Constantinople, before proceeding himself to Italy.119 Liberius and company proceeded to Constantinople, where they reported the whole matter -- or at least Liberius did, ' for he was a man decidedly good and honorable, knowing well how to respect the truth. '120 Opilio, of whose character and principles we have other reasons to be suspicious,121 steadfastly insisted that Theodahad had committed no offense against Amalasuintha. At this crucial point in the deterioration of relations between Ostrogothic kingdom and Constantinopolitan empire, Liberius made a difference. Theodahad had counted on the ambassadors to pacify Justinian. He knew his man when it came to Opilio, but Liberius refused to go along with the attempted deception. Relations between Rome and Constantinople now went from bad to worse. It is evident that, having betrayed his master in the cause of truth, Liberius could not go back to Italy while Theodahad's regime remained in power. Instead, he stayed in Constantinople, apparently participating in the moderately large Latin community in that city, which had been visited by other Italian aristocrats before, and would be again.122 For the septuagenarians life there could have been a kind of elegant retirement in a great capital; but it did not stay that way. Liberius kept working and moving, and the rest of his career can be seen as determined by his responses to three impulsess in descending order of importance: loyalty to the Church, concern for the welfare of Italy, and loyalty to the empire. Church comes first. In the mid-530s, Justinian took his first active measures against the growing monophysite movement in his southern provinces.123 Toward the end of that decade, he was moved -- at this point with the cooperation of Theodora, despite her oft-alleged monophysite sympathies -- to remove as ineffective the people in charge of his purge of monophysites at Alexandria. In their place, he appointed Liberius to be Augustal Prefect in Alexandria, sending with him an ecclesiastical commission to investigate the doctrinal situation there.124 The only member of that commission mentioned by name in our sources was the archdeacon Pelagius, papal apocrisiarius at Constantinople at this period, who would eventually serve as Pope Pelagius I, from 555 to 560. A westerner, whose cooperation with Justinian eventually made him suspect to other westerners, Pelagius was clearly sent along on Liberius' mission to guarantee that Justinian's enthusiasm for right doctrine would appear legitimate to western eyes. It has not previously been observed that the appointment of Liberius as Augustal Prefect must have been meant to support the same guarantee.125 Since Pelagius returned rather quickly to Constantinople, to resume his principal duties as representative of the papacy at the imperial court, much of the burden of the inquisitorial task seems to have fallen on Liberius. Liberius is reported to have obeyed the imperial orders to send into exile and to put to death his own predecessors in the conduct of imperial and church government there and Theodora is definitely seen by contemporary documents to have been one source of those orders.126
That Theodora was involved should make us suspicious, perhaps, that things were not what they seemed. In any case, Liberius had constant difficulties in his governorship. It is clear that he had too few personal contacts in the East, either at the imperial court or in Alexandria, and his effectiveness suffered as a result. It is conceivable that Theodora may have foreseen just this problem, in conniving at the appointment of a western governor who would pacify western doctrinal purists while in fact having little effect in the province.
Liberius, of course, would have been undeterred by any such cynical purpose behind his appointment. He conducted his office with his usual zeal and vigor. Justinian himself eventually undermined his position, after the intervention of well-connected Egyptians, but Liberius plowed ahead undismayed.127 Justinian appointed a successor for Liberius, while writing Liberius a letter of continued support, instructing him to hold on to his office most firmly and by no means to relinquish it. In short order there were two governors contesting power in Alexandria, with the emperor urging both on. The new governor, John, fortified with imperial documents, demanded that Liberius vacate the office.
Libe/rios de\ au)tw=| pei/qesqai ou)damh= e)/fasken, h)gme/nos dhlono/ti toi=s basile/ws kai\ au)to\s gra/mmasin.128 o( me\n ou)=n )Iwa/nnhs tou/s oi( e(pome/nous o(pli/sas e)pi\ to\n Libe/rion h)/ei, o( de\ cu\n toi=s a)mf) au(to\n ei(s a)nti/stasin ei)=de. ma/xhs te genome/nhs, a)/lloi te polloi\ pi/ptousi kai\ )Iwa/nnhs au)to\s o( th\n a)rxh\n e)/xwn.129
Liberius had triumphed again. Shortly afterward, Justinian made his recall from office formal, but on his return to Constantinople Liberius survived a court of inquiry by the senate with flying colors, proven to have acted against John on grounds of self-defense. The emperor, Procopius adds, did not drop the matter until he had punished Liberius by a fine of money imposed secretly.
As indicated above, the date of these events eludes us. Liberius, however, must have been back in Constantinople by 542 or 543, just in time for Justinian's next manifestation of theological enthusiasm, his anti-Origenist campaign and his first edict against the 'Three Chapters' -- both further steps designed to conciliate eastern dissidents. In these cases, however, he had gone one step further than his western theological allies were prepared to accept. The next ten years of ecclesiastical politics show Justinian torn between the two camps he had sought to conciliate.130
In Liberius' absence, of course, Italy had been torn by the first, most dramatic years of Justinian's war, which culminated in the transient triumph of Belisarius in 540. The next decade saw a longer period of siege warfare and indecisive conflict, as a succession of Gothic generals held the kingship for short terms. For Italians in exile, the picture was a dismaying one, the future bleak. Only at the end of the decade did the westerners at Constantinople begin to do something about their concern. Perhaps they did not act until canvassed by a Justinian growing more desperate for ways to free himself of draining military involvement.
The device then chosen for the pacification of Italy was a dynastic fiction. Justinian's nephew Germanus would be married to an Ostrogothic princess, Mathesuentha, who had been living in exile in Constantinople since she was brought there, after Belisarius' triumph, in 540. The plan, apparently, was for Germanus to lead the imperial forces to a final victory and then to preside over Italian affairs, perhaps with the title of Augustus, securing the loyalty of the Gothic remnant by the nationality of his wife.131
Once again Liberius entered the public arena, still active in his early eighties. The plan to put Germanus in charge of the Italian campaign was hatching through the year 549. Difficulties were encountered, the nature of which is not precisely known. Liberius appears in Procopius' narrative as a kind of stand-in for Germanus, ordered to make ready a force to go westward, where the Gothic king Totila was threatening the one outpost in the western Mediterranean on which the Empire could count, Greek-speaking Sicily.132 But indecision was the order of the day. In two places, Procopius censures the emperor's vacillation, claiming that decisive action could have won the war once for all. Instead, Liberius appears as the pawn of his policy of hesitation, summoned to prepare for a campaign, then dismissed, then summoned again, then dismissed again.133
Finally, after the dismaying results of a battle at Rhegium were reported, Liberius was sent in early 550, at the head of a large body of infantry, to sail to Sicily and keep that island for the empire. Procopius reports that the emperor swiftly repented of his decision to appoint Liberius, for he was extremely old and inexperienced in warfare.134 Yet the course of events that occurred before the emperor's third change of mind could take effect showed (as the student of Liberius' career already knows) that for the trusty old veteran's great age was little obstacle, and 'lack of experience in warfare' a canard.
While headquarters at Constantinople was having second thoughts about his command, Liberius was sailing off to war. He arrived at Syracuse while that city was under siege by the Goths. Undismayed, he forced his way through the barbarian lines, sailed into the harbor, and got his entire force into the city. While this was going on, Liberius' appointed successor, an erratic Armenian named Artabanes, was trying to catch up with him to relieve him of his command. But Artabanes encountered a terrific storm off the coast of Calabria and wound up, temporarily, on Malta.135 Liberius, meanwhile, was in the beleaguered Syracuse. Procopius reports that he found himself unable to carry out successful military actions while constricted by the siege forces of the Goths, and that this military impotence made his troops an unwelcome burden on the limited supplies of the besieged city; so he once more embarked his troops and slipped out of Syracuse for a better encampment at Palermo -- all this, while Totila was plundering Sicily at will.136 It was not until 551 that Artabanes finally caught up with Liberius in Palermo and relieved him of his command.137
Where Liberius went upon his dismissal is not certain. Procopius reports that he returned directly to Constantinople, probably arriving there sometime later in the year 551. Jordanes, on the other hand, provides the sole ancient testimony in support of a last military campaign for the octogenarian statesman. In his Getica, written in Constantinople probably in 551, Jordanes claims that Liberius was sent on yet another expedition, to begin the Byzantine reconquest of Visigothic Spain -- a reconquest which, in the end, was only partly accomplished.138 We should, however, be slow to accept Jordanes' testimony. First, it conflicts with the explicit testimony of Procopius that Liberius returned to Constantinople immediately upon his release as commander in Sicily.139 Second, Jordanes' other piece of information about Liberius (in the Romana, written at about the same time) is demonstrably inaccurate when compared to Procopius.140 Third, if Jordanes is as wrong as he seems to be on these two points, a simple observation of the date of his composition will explain things and clarify Liberius~ position. If Jordanes was writing in the year 551, then he cannot possibly have had complete information about the course of the military campaigns still going on in that year in the western Mediterranean. It is probable that both of his stories about Liberius are based on fragmentary and, in fact, incorrect information received from the front, pending complete reports. Jnrdanes may have heard that Liberius' name was being mentioned for commander of the Spanish expedition, but, in the end, the fact of his relief from command of the forces in Sicily makes the story of his voyage to Spain incredible. This is an important point; for if the Spanish story is maintained, it would represent the only event in the whole career of Liberius in which he may be convincingly portrayed as having acted out of loyalty to the empire at Constantinople above all other motives. We have already seen how unlikely this is in itself. Fighting to restore peace and civilitas to Italy is something one can imagine the aged Liberius doing. Waging war in a kingdom with which he had no personal contact is much less plausible.
We conclude, then, that Liberius returned to Constantinople in late 551 or early 552. There, he presumably reacquainted himself with the westerners living in the capital and got back in touch with the theological politics of the period. We hear of him next in a strictly ecclesiastical context.
By 553, Justinian had decided that the unity of the Christian Church in his domains (which he optimistically thought already included the reconquered western Mediterranean) required the summoning of an ecumenical council to ratify his doctrinal initiatives of the preceding decade, in particular the decree about the so-called 'Three Chapters.'141 Only in this way, Justinian reasoned, could the Chalcedonian orthodoxy be made palatable to the large number of easterners who were drawing further and further into a state of schism under the leaders of the monophysite party.
Before this council, the westerners at Constantinople had been divided. The pope, Vigilius, had been in residence there, at Justinian's insistence, for some years. Though occasionally issuing decrees complying with Justinian's theological ideas, he was more frequently influenced by resistent westerners in Constantinople, like Facundus of Hermiane, to oppose the ' Three Chapters' condemnation. In the end he capitulated, and Liberius was part of the effort to get him to do so.
Liberius seems at this point to have identified himself with that smaller faction of westerners in Constantinople who were sensitive to the logic of Justinian's position.142 So it was that at the outset of the Second Council of Constantinople, Liberius appeared as the leader of a delegation of distinguished private citizens which, together with a delegation of bishops, had called on Pope Vigilius, at the council's request, to press upon the pope the imperial position.143 The group called on Vigilius on May 1, 553, and again on May 7, to persuade Vigilius to attend the council; the pope asked for time. They told him (what was true enough) that he had condemned the 'Three Chapters' in the past and that it was now time to stand up for this condemnation publicly. They reported the threat of Justinian to have the council proceed without him. And their final argument presumably represents somethung of what Liberius himself felt in the circumstances: 'Nos etenim non possumus Dei ecclesiam in tanta confusione relinquere, maxime haereticis calumniantibus eius sacerdotes quasi Nestorianam insaniam sapientes.'144 It is probable that Liberius' personal experience with the depths of eastern sectarian passion, during his tenure as prefect in Alexandria, was decisive in causing him to line up with Justinian. But what is most remarkable about Liberius' position at this time is that it completes a lifetime of ecclesiastical allegiance, in a difficult and controversial period, with a record of unspoiled fidelity to positions which were, or which were to become, authorized by the Roman church. He sided with Pope Symmachus during the Laurentian schism; he appeared at the side of Caesarius of Arles at the Council of Orange; and at Constantinople he appeared standing, for the moment, against the Pope in favor of a position which the papacy itself soon came to embrace and to insist upon in the face of further passionate western opposition.
Liberius' services to Justinian's regime -- political, military, and ecclesiastical -- did not go unrewarded. After the Council of Constantinople and the final defeat, in the same year, of the Ostrogothic forces in Italy, the way was clear for Justinian to reorganize the political and ecclesiastical status of Italy under his own rule. This he did in a Pragmatic Sanction, issued on August 13, 554.145 The edict arranged various mundane matters for the government of Italy, and concluded by granting to members of the Roman senate permission to return to their native land.146 In all the impersonal legal language of the decree, only two individuals then living were named. Once was Pope Vigiiius, to whom the sanction was addressed; the other was Liberius, who is mentioned in the first paragraph of the sanction as the recipient of a particular imperial gift of property. After ratifying the legal acts of aMi the Ostrogothic kings down through Athalaric and even Theodahad, a single exception was made: 'excepta videlicet donatione a Theodato [i.e., Theodahad] in Maximum pro rebus habita Marciani, ex quibus dimidiam portionem Liberio viro gloriosissimo dedisse meminimus, reliqua dimidia Maximo viro magifico relicta.'147 The date of the gift is not specified, and may have preceded the sanction; but we must assume that Liberius' presence at court was still felt and valued, for this particular exception to appear in such striking form.148
The Pragmatic Sanction of Justinian is the last relevant document we have from the lifetime of Liberius. The next piece of evidence on his life is his epitaph: an inscription found at Ariminum, back in Italy.149 We do not know why Liberius was buried in Ariminum. It may have been that in the normal course of events he had returned home to Italy and was living on property he owned there; but we have seen no other evidence of any attachment on his part to that region of Italy. The places in the West which can be identified as of interest to Liberius are Campania, Liguria, and the Rhone valley. The clue to his burial at Ariminum may lie in the age of Liberius at his death, as reported in the inscription. Unfortunately, the text is corruptly transmitted (the stone itself does not survive), but the confusion in the transcription may come from the incredulity scribes felt at taking its meaning literally. As emended, the crucial line (fourteenth of sixteen elegiac verses) reads: 'Ter senis lustris proximus occubuit.'150 If this is accurate, it seems to indicate that his death must have come very soon after his return to Italy. For we have seen that he was already active in public life, in a position of some responsibility and visibility, in the year 490, when Theoderic invaded Italy. Even allowing for a precocious start to his career, like that of Cassiodorus (who may have been quaestor at 18), it is still not likely that he would have been sufficiently advanced to merit promotion to praetorian prefect as early as 493, were his birthdate to fall much later than 465 or 466. But if either of those dates is correct, then his ninetieth year would have ended in 555 or 556 -- very soon after the sanction. Hence it seems plausible to suggest that Liberius' death and burial at Ariminum were the result of the weariness inflicted by the journey home. Perhaps he had returned to Italy by ship via Ravenna, and was on his way to Rome, perhaps even to retirement in his monastery in Campania, when he took ill, broke his journey at Ariminum and died there. This is only speculation, but it cannot be denied that one of the most remarkable things about the octogenarian Liberius was his ability to withstand the hazards and vagaries of sea and land travel in the sixth century. It would not be surprising if the labors of the journey finally caught up with him. There is a poetic rightness to the thought that the most inexhaustible of sixth-century Romans died en route.
The rest of the funerary inscription, erected by Liberius' loyal children, is unexceptional, even trite: in complete accord with the most vacuous traditions of the genre. The only usable piece of information it contains is that his wife was buried in the same tomb, which may be a hint that the site was indeed one of Liberius' own properties. Mention is made of his two praetorian prefectures, with a last boastful allusion to his success settling the Goths in Italy under the system of the tertiae.151 The rest is filial piety and nothing more.
After Liberius' lifetime, there is little to say about him. His monastery at Naples was, as mentioned above, still thriving in the midst of the alarms and excursions of another war, forty-some years after his death. A minor figure named Liberius appeared briefly in one of Gregory the Great's Dialogues in the 590s; he may have been a descendant, and if he was, it would reinforce the connection between our Liberius and Liguria, suggested above.152 But that is all. Like his contemporary Cassiodorus, Liberius left behind him no lasting monument in this world, for all his energetic involvement in its affairs; he left only a monastery.
It would be a mistake to think of his career only in terms of practical results.153 I submit that what is important to observe in Liberius is a reorganization of loyalties that is both a symptom of what became of the Roman empire in the West in his lifetime and evidence of the kind of new life which Christianity made possible for even the most active, worldly figures. For a variety of reasons, the West had been abandoned by the East to face the barbarians alone. With the help of Christian bishops and preachers, some aristocrats learned to face up to the new world in which they were living, a world in which the Roman Empire was an image of an earthly stability no more readily accessible here and now than was Augustine's Heavenly City. Even for the more worldly citizen, the new order of loyalties put the Roman ideal in third place, while the Christian ideal came second; first in line was a revised estimation of what was immediately important in the material sphere -- devotion to the peace and good order of the local society, whatever it was, in which the individual and his family lived. This is not the rise of a nationalist spirit; it is a discovery of the fact of nationhood in the fragmentation of the Roman world, and a simple willingness to accept that fact as the ground on which a new way of life had to be built.
For active citizens of this world like Liberius, this third loyalty absorbed their energies -- but not to the exclusion of the other two. In particular, I have argued that for a Liberius, the reality of the Christian message and the presence of the Christian Church in the world made a great deal of difference, in no small part because shrewd Christian leaders like Caesarius saw that the legitimate aspirations of Christian layfolk could be affirmed and supported as a way of drawing them more closely into the Church itself. Caesarius may have had no conscious theology of the role of the laity in the salvific mission of Christianity, but in practice he could accept, encourage, and even benefit from the role of a Liberius in public life.
So Liberius could pursue an incredibly long and varied career in public life, responding chiefly to the need to establish order and peace for his own sub-society in the Roman world and to the desirability of matching that program in the secular world with a sense of progress in the spiritual order, a sense of contact with the Heavenly City. The Roman empire came third and last. Liberius was not insensitive to the old ideal, and he cooperated with the empire enthusiastically. He even changed his coat to oppose the regime of Theodahad and side with Justinian -- but the real purpose of that shift was to bring peace and order to Italy, when it seemed that Justinian represented the best chance of that, and to tell the truth. The last two decades of Liberius' life fell under the shadow of Justinian's empire, but only because that was the place in which Liberius found himself best able to serve home and church -- the loyalties which really moved him.
The Roman empire abandoned the West and was in turn abandoned by it. The Byzantine empire fossilized the institutions of the Roman state and survived for almost another thousand years. The West accepted a comparatively greater degree of anarchy, and the absence of an overarching social order in the civil sphere, while finding order and society of a more spiritual sort in the Church. It was the West that eventually thrived, that had a history, that succeeded in freeing itself from the legacy of antiquity to make a future. The last stage in the establishment of this new order came after Liberius' lifetime, in the centralization of ecclesiastical authority in the single, catholic institution of the papacy. Here as elsewhere, Justinian undermined his own initiatives by destroying the Arian kingdoms of the western Mediterranean; he ensured, by that conquest, that the future would belong to the Franks -- and to the popes Liberius would not have been able to articulate more than a fraction of the meaning of his life in these historical terms. But he did not need to articulate the meaning of his life; he lived it, enthusiastically and inexhaustibly. Without the Augustinian optimism he absorbed from his Church, none of it would have been possible.154