Why wasn't Pope Liberius Canonized?

Pope Liberius was the 36th Pope and he reigned during the 4th century. He’s also the earliest Pope in the Catholic Church to not be a Saint. The next 13 Popes after him were saints too.

I briefly looked into his tenure to see if there’s anything scandalous. He was imprisoned by Emperor Constantius for refusing to agree with the Arians, and later helped expel the Antipope Felix II. Pope Benedict XV would at one point praise Liberius, and he would be declared a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

So why isn’t Pope Liberius a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church?

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I’ll have to do more research, but he’s in between two Saints, so there’s that.

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There’s a question mark over whether he endorsed the compromise formula homoiousios (of like substance) instead of homoousios which we have today.

At that moment, St Athanasius found himself the only champion of true Catholicism left, against even the Pope.

Is there a message for our times?

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Michael Davis’ short but brilliant little book on St Athanasius which you can still get on ebay describes very well the way that Liberius was bullied by the Arians and, isolated, eventually took the wrong decision. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him, but it was definitely not heroic or saintly, and it left the real hero, St Athanasius, alone against the world, hence his epithet: Athanasius Contra Mundum.

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I’m confused because while Liberius was not considered a saint by the Western Church and is not in the Roman Martyrology, which listed all the pre-canonization era saints, he’s in the Greek Menology, which is the Eastern Church equivalent of the Roman Martyrology. He is apparently a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Coptic Christian Church, with his own feast days. So how is he not a saint of the Eastern Catholic Church then, given that he’s clearly pre-schism?

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It appears Liberius did have some veneration in the West, but it was not universal (not sure the history in the East or when his veneration became universal there). Opinions seemed to have been mixed. While he was not included in the Roman Martyrology, he is included in Wandelbert’s (a somewhat famous one compiled by a 9th century monk, which is based on earlier ones, like St. Bede’s). The pseudo-Hieronymian Martyrology noted memorials for his deposition/departure, which is what is memorialized in the Coptic churches.

On the other hand, there is the tradition that he wasn’t so great. St. Peter Damian, in the context of defending the validity of priestly ordinations performed by simoniacal bishops, puts Liberius in a pretty bad light among examples of other bad Popes:

Letter 40

And so it was that all the ordinations performed by Liberius, who was both a heretic and a turbulent man, were considered valid and immutable. Liberius, moreover, who was deceived by error and disbelief, is known to have subscribed to the Arian heresy, and because of his transgressions many horrible crimes were committed. Many priests and clerics were killed because of his wickedness, and the remaining Catholics were forbidden to use not only the churches but also the baths. Subsequently Liberius apostatized and lived on for six more years. Yet whatever he did regarding ordinations remained valid and firmly established in all its vigor.

More recent scholarship has done more to confirm the more positive views of him and make them more popular in Rome. For example, he is praised in letters of Popes Pius IX and Benedict XV.

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I have a poster in his bedroom of all the Popes ever and also noticed he wasn’t a saint. Aside from that I was never curious enough to look up why but I have wondered.

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I am curious why the practice of treating most Popes as saints started to die out, especially in the days when saints were made saints by public acclaim rather than by a canonization process. 52 of the first 55 Popes were named saints, but after that the percentage of sainted Popes really starts to dwindle.

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I never was interested enough to do the research, however, here’s my two VEBs worth:

The reign of Liberius is roughly contemporary with the Constantinian period and the end of the great persecutions. During the long persecutory era, the Popes were perceived as defenders of the faith and protectors of the flock. Many of them (beginning with S. Peter) were themselves victims of the persecutions. It stands to reason that by mass acclaim they would be named saints.

After the persecutions ended, more attention was given to the political and doctrinal positions held by the Popes. It makes sense that the first non-sainted Pope would hold the office around then.

ICXC NIKA

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It does seem like there started to be more division in the Church and less chance that a particular Pope would get enough folks behind him to make him a saint by popular acclaim.

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I wonder if it has to do with being a Church “builder” pope or a church “manager” pope. Just a thought but that might have some sway in public acclamation.

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