SAINT CALLISTUS I
FEAST DAY – 14th OCTOBER
Pope Callixtus, also called Callistus I, was the bishop of Rome from c. 218 to his death c. 222 or 223. In 217, Callixtus followed Zephyrinus as Bishop of Rome.
Pope Callistus I is celebrated in churches throughout the world as a saint and martyr on October 14. The saint caused a major controversy, including a schism that lasted almost two decades, by choosing to emphasize God’s mercy in his ministry. However, the early Pope’s model of leadership has endured, and his martyrdom in the year 222 confirmed his example of holiness.
Because no completely trustworthy biography of Pope Callistus I exists, historians have been forced to rely on an account by his contemporary Hippolytus of Rome. Although Hippolytus himself was eventually reconciled to the Church and canonized as a martyr, he vocally opposed the pontificate of Callistus and three of his successors, to the point of usurping papal prerogatives for himself (as the first “antipope”). Nevertheless, his account of Callistus’ life and papacy provides important details.
Callistus began his career as a highly placed domestic servant, eventually taking responsibility for his master’s banking business. When the bank failed, Callistus received the blame, and attempted to flee from his master. Being discovered, he was demoted to serve as a manual laborer in Rome. Thus, under inauspicious circumstances, Callistus came as a slave to the city where he would later serve as Pope.
During the reign of Pope Zephyrinus, Callistus became a deacon and the caretaker of a major Roman Christian cemetery (which still bears his name as the “Cemetery of St. Callistus”), in addition to advising the Pope on theological controversies of the day. He was a natural candidate to follow Zephyrinus, when the latter died in 219.
Hippolytus, an erudite Roman theologian, accused Pope Callistus of sympathizing with heretics, and resented the new Pope’s clarification that even the most serious sins could be absolved after sincere confession. The Pope’s assertion of divine mercy also scandalized the North African Christian polemicist Tertullian, already in schism from the Church in Carthage, who also erroneously held that certain sins were too serious to be forgiven through confession.
Callistus could not persuade Hippolytus’ followers of his rightful authority as Pope during his own lifetime. The Catholic Church, however, has always acknowledged the orthodoxy and holiness of Pope St. Callistus I, particularly since the time of his martyrdom – traditionally ascribed to an anti-Christian mob – in 222. He is the patron saint of cemeteries.
PRAYER FOR THE FEAST OF
POPE SAINT CALLISTUS I.
O Lord, may this mystical oblation benefit us:
may it both release us from our guilt
and confirm us in eternal salvation.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who liveth and reigneth with God the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God,
world without end. Amen