Liberius, a saint and pope of the Roman Catholic church, born in Rome about 300, died there in 366. He was made a deacon by Sylvester I., and elected, against his will, bishop of Rome in May, 352. He received soon after his election a deputation of Arian bishops, who demanded in the name of the emperor Constantius the condemnation of St. Athanasius. Liberius called an assembly of bishops in Rome to hear both parties, in which it was decided to hold a plenary council of the eastern and western churches at Aquileia in northern Italy; but this design could not be carried out till the death in 353 of the usurper Magnentius, who held the passes of the Alps. The emperor Constantius having spent the winter at Aries, it was resolved to hold a council there in October, 353. At this no doctrinal discussion was allowed, but all the prelates present were required, under pain of deposition, banishment, and confiscation, to subscribe an imperial edict condemning Athanasius. This being deemed an implicit denial of the orthodox faith, of which Athanasius was considered to be the champion, the western bishops at first refused their assent, but finally yield-ed, it is thought partly from fear, and partly from the representations of the court party of Arian prelates that the matter was one of discipline.
The papal legate, Vincentius, bishop of Capua, was subjected to special violence, and subscribed the edict. Paulinus of Treves and two other bishops were banished. This drew from Liberius a letter of indignant reproof to the emperor, and another full of grief to Hosius of Cordova. He demanded of the emperor that another council should be called at Milan in 355, at which the pope was represented by Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli, and the Roman deacon Hilarius. The assembly was held in the imperial palace, Constantius appearing to demand the condemnation of Athanasius as that of his personal enemy, and threatening with instant death all who would not comply with his will. Many yielded, Eusebius of Vercelli and others were exiled, and the deacon Hilarius was publicly scourged. Liberius immediately protested, and wrote an encyclical letter to the exiles. The eunuch Eusebius, the imperial chamberlain, was sent to Rome for the purpose of gaining Liberius by threats and rich presents. The latter he refused, and replied to the threats that he could not condemn an absent man, one especially who had been exculpated by two plenary councils.
He was arrested, carried away by night, and taken to Milan. The interview between him and Constantius is minutely related by the historian Theodoret. Liberius was given three days to deliberate; but remaining firm, he was exiled to Bercea in Thrace. Hosius of Cordova, too, was exiled to Sirmium in Lower Pannonia. The deacon Felix, by order of Constantius, was consecrated bishop of Rome, but refused to subscribe any heterodox formulary. Constantius, bent solely on making his theological creed prevail, entered Rome in April, 357. He was immediately called on by a deputation of Roman ladies, who de- • manded the recall of Liberius. To this the emperor assented, adding that Felix and Liberius should govern the Roman church together. In 358 Liberius was restored to his see. In 359 he condemned the acts of the council of Rimini, and excommunicated all those who had subscribed the Arian profession of faith drawn up there. For this he was once more persecuted by Constantius, and obliged to hide himself in the catacombs.
He built the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, which is called after him Liberiana. His feast is celebrated by the Latin church on Sept. 23. - Liberius is chiefly known in church history from the accusation brought against him by Blondel and most Protestant historians, as well as by many Roman Catholic writers of high authority, of having obtained his recall from exile by condemning St. Athanasius, and subscribing one of the three doctrinal formularies drawn up at Sirmium by the Arians. This controversy has been revived of late years in connection with the council of the Vatican and the doctrine of papal infallibility. Those among Roman Catholic theologians who maintain the innocence of Liberius, endeavor to show that the two letters said to have been addressed by him to Ursacius and Valens and the eastern bishops, in condemnation of Athanasius, bear intrinsic evidence of another authorship; that the passages of Athanasius in which mention is made of the fall of Liberius are manifestly interpolated; and that the "fragments" attributed to St. Hilary of Poitiers condemning this pontiff are not genuine. Moreover, they labor to prove that it is improbable or impossible that Liberius should have subscribed any of the three formularies mentioned.
Such is the view taken by the Bollandist Stilting, in the Acta Sanctorum for Sept. 23, and by Edouard Dumont, in the Revue des questions historiques, for July to September, 1866. See also Neander's " Church History," and Her-zog's Real-Encyklopadie.