Thoughts Beyond the Novel CoCC.7—The Popes Hormisdas

There is a stellar character, albeit fictional, portrayed in Choir of Cloistered Canaries. His name is Pope Hormisdas II, whose name is hardly Roman in origin.  From whence comes a big-name like Hormisdas II? There is a tale to be told that is historical and subject to some conjecture.

There was a St. Hormisdas (Hormisdas I) who served as pontiff for nine years and 17 days (July 20, 514 to August 6, 523 of the Common Era) as the 52nd pontificate. It is not clear how or why he was appointed a saint by the Roman Catholic Church as was his son, St. Silverius, who briefly served as a Roman pope but who was later exiled to a deserted island where he died of starvation. The son did not even get recognized as holding the 56th pontificate! It was his misfortune to be deposed by the famous Byzantine general Belisarius. Nonetheless, due to their title as saints, they were listed in the Roman Martynology as receiving eulogies recognized by the Sacred Congregation of Rites as an essential part of the Roman liturgy.

Pope-Saint Hormisdas I was no ordinary pontiff. He and fictional Pope Hormisdas II were visionaries of a fragile Roman Catholic Church in need of revival to survive.

So what do these two Hormisdas have in common? The need to accommodate a unified belief system that requires changes with time. Moreover, what is sub-rosa in the novel? Since ancient times, the rose was associated with secrecy, either from hiding indiscretions or confessions. The secret lies in the meaning behind the name, which is Hormizd in Persian.. Hormisdas is the Latinized and Greek versions of Hormizd. To clarify the significance of the names, it will be necessary to revisit the Sassanid Empire.

Firstly, Pope-Saint Hormisdas I was born in the region of Lazio into an noble family of the Volsci people or tribe. They spoke an extinct Osco-Umbrian language related to the Indo-European languages. As a people, they even formed a sovereign state near Rome. By 304 C.E., they submitted to Rome and became Romanized so quickly and completely that it had been difficult to ascertain their original culture until inscriptions were later found.

In fact, the first emperor of Rome was Augustus who was a Volscian descendant. Another famous Volsci, albeit found in the annals of mythology, is Camilla (aka Minerva, later ascribed), made known in Virgil’s Aeneid whose fate was to become a warrior-virgin servant of Goddess Diana.

Symbolism and allusions have her tied to her fleeing King-father Metabus and flinging her across the River Amasenus by tying her to his spear. The allusion is that Camilla is associated with the Amazons whose homeland was in ancient Scythia. About 30-80% of ancient Italic tribes were of Y-Haplogroup R1 (R1a-R1b, predominantly, from one or several tribes of ancient Scythians). Their ancient origins go back to Central Asia.

It should be noted that the name of Hormizd was first recorded as originating during the Persian Sassanid Empire. (More on the name later.) Under the Sassanids, Persia influenced the Roman civilization considerably by recognizing the Sassanid Persians as equals. In fact, their cultural influence extened far beyond the territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe, Northern Africa, China, and India. It was a dynastic and aristocratic culture to the extent that, when the Persian noble son of King Hormizd II fled to Constantinople which was under Roman rule, his name was Hormizd. Roman Emperor Constantine helped him and gave him a palace near the Mamara Sea. In Byzantine times, the neighborhood gained recognition as “near the houses of Hormisdas”; and the palace became the private residence of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I before becoming emperor.

Hormizd’s father, King Hormizd II, ruled when the Kingdom of Armenia (formerly, Parthia) adopted Christianity its official religion, thus renouncing the Zoroastrian heritage it shared with Persia. Historically, King Hormizd I can be likened to King Ashoka the Great of India who was a cruel ruler until he learned about Buddha Shakyamuni’s spiritual precepts. He permitted freedom of worship to the Jews and other religious cultures, the usurper of the throne did not tolerate religious freedom. Eventually, Hormizd II was murdered by the nobility and the Zoroastrian clergy for his leniency toward other religious faiths; and they sought to murder his sons—Hormizd, the third son who fled from imprisonment; the first son, Adur Narshe who was murdered early on during his very brief reign, and the second son who was blinded.

During his lifetime, Hormizd did not favor battling the Roman Empire, Instead, he served as a soldier against Persia in Emperor Julian’s army when he lived in Constantinople.

Hormizd’s son Shapur II was named King after Adur Narseh was murdered to gain control of the empire. He became king when he reached his majority at the age of 16. Shapur II was born forty days after his father’s death. He not only expanded the territory of the empire, he also pursued a harsh religious policy. It was during his 70-year reign that the Zoroastrian text, Avesta, was completed. This text was about the revelation of the Ahura Mazda. the heavenly supreme being of a triad.

Despite the fact that under Shapur II, the Avesta was finally written down, King Shapur I formed a would-be heretical version of Zoroastrianism. Known as Zurvanism, the heavenly supreme being was no longer Ahura (“Lord”) Mazda (“Wisdom”) but Zurvan. Ahura Mazda with some other deities where relegated to being “eidola.” Nonetheless, while th Greek transliterated Ahura Mazda as Hormisdas, it became Hormizd as the Middle Persian version of the name. During the reign of Sassanid King Bahram II, the name became one of his names—Ohrmazd-mowbad.

We have established that the name has a Persian origin during the Sassanid Empire (officially knowns as the Empire of Iranians (Erasahr) or as the Neo-Persian Empire. It can best be remembered as the last Iranian empire before the early Muslim conquests, ending in 651 C.E. That was the end of the Sassanid family.

One can presume a simple theory that Saint-Pope Hormisdas I was given by his parents in honor of either their Persian relative who migrated from the Central East to the region Lazio or in remembering their family origins from Persia or from Constantinople.

Nevertheless, names, family origins and culture do influence choices made by the living. Hormisdas I and Hormisdas II were no exceptions.

Pope-Saint Hormisdas II chose to unite what the Western and Eastern orthodoxies under one Catholic Church. After all,” Catholic” means universality—a universal Christian church with an eastern flavor. Hormisdas I did just that in appeasing the riffs that existed between Rome and Constantinople. He removed the last vestiges of the schism in Rome and the Acacian schism that would eventually restore communion between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople.

Our fictitious Pope Hormisdas II can only succeed if the reader wishes him to succeed. In the end, realization is in the eyes of the beholder.

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