Oct. 14, 2020

October 14, 2020: POPE ST. CALLISTUS I


Rank: Double.

Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, O Lord. And hast placed him over the works of thy hands.


Prayer (Collect).

O God, who seest that we faint under our own infirmities; mercifully grant, that the examples of the saints may raise us up to the sincere love of thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.


He was a sign of contradiction in Israel. In his own time, Christians were ranged either around him or against him. The trouble excited by his mere name [eighteen] hundred years ago, was renewed in the middle of the nineteenth century by the discovery of a famous book, which gave an occasion to the sectaries of our own days to stand with those of old against Callixtus and the Church. The book, entitled PHILOSOPHUMENA or refutation of heresies, was composed in the third century; it represented Callixtus, whose life and character were painted in the darkest colours, as one of the worst corruptors of doctrine.

In that third century, however, the author of the Philosophumena, attacking the Pontiff he wished to supplant, and setting up in Rome, as he himself acknowledges, Chair against Chair, did but publish to the Church his own shame, by ranging himself among those very dissenters of whom his book professed to be the refutation and the history. The name of this first antipope has not come down to us. But behold his punishment! The work of his envious pen, despised by his contemporaries, was to reappear at the right moment to awaken the slumbering attention of a far-off posterity. The impartial criticism of these latter ages, setting aside the insinuations, took up the facts brought forward by the accuser; and with the aid of science, disentangling the truth from among his falsehoods, rendered the most unexpected testimony to his hated rival. Thus once more iniquity lied to itself (Ps, xxvi. 12); and this word of to-day’s Gospel was verified: Nothing is covered that shall not be revealed; nor hid that shall not be known (St. Matth, x. 26).

Let us listen to the greatest of Christian archaeologists, whose mind, so sure and so reserved, was overcome with enthusiasm on finding so much light springing from such a source. ‘Al this,’ said the Commandant de Rossi on studying the odious document, ‘gives me clearly to understand why the accuser said ironically of Callixtus that he was reputed most admirable; why, though all knowledge of his acts was lost, his name has come down to us with such great veneration; and lastly, why, in the third and fourth centuries when the memory of his government was still fresh, he was honoured more than any of his predecessors, or of his successors, since the ages of persecution. Callixtus ruled the Church when she was at the term of the first stage in her career, and was marching forward to new and greater triumphs. The Christian faith, hitherto embraced only by individuals, had then become the faith of families; and fathers made profession of it in their own and their children’s name. These families already formed almost the majority in every town; the religion of Christ was on the eve of becoming the public religion of the nation and the empire. How many new problems concerning Christian social rights, ecclesiastical law, and moral discipline, must have daily arisen in the Church, considering the greatness of her situation at the time, and the still greater future that was opening before her! Callixtus solved all these doubts; he drew up regulations concerning the deposition of clerics; took the necessary measures against the deterring of catechumens from Baptism, and of sinners from repentance; and defined the notion of the Church, which St. Augustine was afterwards to develop. In opposition to the civil laws, he asserted the Christian’s right over his own conscience, and the Church’s authority with regard to the marriage of the faithful. He knew no distinction of slave and freeman, great and lowly, noble and plebeian, in that spiritual brotherhood that was undermining Roman society, and softening its inhuman manners. For this reason, his name is so great at the present day; for this reason, the voice of the envious, or of those who measured the times by the narrowness of their own proud mind, was lost in the cries of admiration, and was utterly despised.’

We have not space to develop, as it deserves, this masterly exposition. We have already seen how, when the virgin martyr Cӕcilia yielded to the Popes the place of her first sepulture, Callixtus, then deacon of Zephyrinus, arranged the catacomb of the Cӕcilii for its new destiny. Venerable crypt, in which the State for the first time recognized the Church’s right to earthly possessions; sanctuary, no less than necropolis, wherein, before the triumph of the cross, Christian Rome laid up her treasures for the resurrection-day. Our great martyr-Pontiff was deemed the most worthy to give his name to this the principal cemetery, although Providence had disposed that he should never rest in it. Under the benevolent reign of Alexander Severus, he met his death in the Trastevere, in a sedition raised against him by the pagans. The cause of the tumult appears to have been his having obtained possession of the famous Taberna meritoria, from the floor of which, in the days of Augustus, a fountain of oil had sprung up and had flowed for a whole day. The Pontiff built a church on the spot, and dedicated it to the Mother of God; it is the basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere. Its ownership was contended for; and the case was referred to the emperor, who decided in favour of the Christians. We may attribute to the vengeance of his adversaries the saint’s violent death, which took place close to the edifice his firmness had secured to the Church. The mob threw him into a well, which is still to be seen in the church of St. Callixtus, a few paces from St. Mary’s basilica. For fear of the sedition, the martyr’s body was not carried to the Appian Way; but was laid in a cemetery already opened on the Aurelian Way, where his tomb originated a new historic centre of subterranean Rome.


The following brief history was drawn up at a period, when the history of Callixtus was less known than at present.

Callixtus, a Roman by birth, ruled the Church in the time of the emperor Antoninus Heliogabalus. He instituted the Ember days, on which four times in the year, fasting, according to apostolic tradition, should be observed by all. He built the basilica of Saint Mary across the Tiber; and enlarged the cemetery on the Appian Way, in which many holy pontiffs and martyrs were buried; hence this cemetery is called by his name.

The body of the blessed Calepodius, priest and martyr, having been thrown into the Tiber, Callixtus in his piety caused it to be diligently sought for, and when found to be honourably buried. He baptized Palmatius, Simplicius, Felix and Blanda, the first of whom was of consular and the others of senatorial rank; and who all afterwards suffered martyrdom. For this he was cast into prison, where he miraculously cured a soldier named Privatus, who was covered with ulcers; whom he also won over to Christ. Though so recently converted, Privatus died for the faith, being beaten to death with scourges tipped with lead.

Callixtus was Pope five years, one month, and twelve days. He held five ordinations in the month of December, wherein he made sixteen priests, four deacons, and eight bishops. He was tortured for a long while by starvation and frequent scourgings, and finally, by being thrown headlong into a well, was crowned with martyrdom under the emperor Alexander. His body was carried to the cemetery of Calepodius, on the Aurelian Way, three miles from Rome, on the day before the Ides of October. It was afterwards translated into the basilica of St. Mary across the Tiber, which he himself had built, and placed under the high altar, where it is honoured with great veneration.


Another account of Pope St. Callistus I

The name of St. Callistus is rendered famous by the ancient cemetery which he beautified, and which, for the great number of holy martyrs whose bodies were there deposited, was the most celebrated of all those about Rome. He was a Roman by birth, succeeded St. Zephirin in the pontificate in 217 or 218, on the 2nd of August, and governed the church five years and two months, according to the true reading of the most ancient Pontifical, compiled from the registers of the Roman Church, as Henschenius, Papebroke, and Moret show, though Tillemont and Orsi give him only four years and some months. Antoninus Caracalla, who had been liberal to his soldiers, but the most barbarous murderer and oppressor of the people, having been massacred by a conspiracy raised by the contrivance of Macrinus, on the 8th of April, 217, who assumed the purple, the empire was threatened on every side with commotions. Macrinus bestowed on infamous pleasures at Antioch that time which he owed to his own safety and to the tranquillity of the state, and gave an opportunity to a woman to overturn his empire. This was Julia Mœsa, sister to Caracalla's mother, who had two daughters, Sohemis and Julia Mammӕa. The latter was mother of Alexander Severus, the former of Bassianus, who being priest of the sun, called by the Syrians Elagabel, Emesa, in Phœnicia, was surnamed Heliogabalus. Mœsa, being rich and liberal, prevailed for money with the army in Syria to proclaim him emperor; and Macrinus, quitting Antioch, was defeated and slain in Bithynia in 219, after he had reigned a year and two months, wanting three days. Heliogabalus, for his unnatural lusts, enormous prodigality and gluttony, and mad pride and vanity, was one of the most filthy monsters and detestable tyrants that Rome ever produced. He reigned only three years, nine months, and four days, being assassinated on the 11th of March, 222, by the soldiers together with his mother and favourites. His cousin-german and successor, Alexander, surnamed Severus, was for his clemency, modesty, sweetness, and prudence, one of the best of princes. He discharged the officers of his predecessor, reduced the soldiers to their duty, and kept them in awe by regular pay. He had in his private chapel the images of Christ, Abraham, Apollonius of Tyana, and Orpheus, and learned of his mother, Mammӕa, to have a great esteem for the Christians. It reflects great honour on our pope, that this wise emperor used always to admire with what caution and solicitude the choice was made of persons that were promoted to the priesthood among the Christians, whose example he often proposed to his officers and to the people, to be imitated in the election of civil magistrates. It was in his peaceable reign that the Christians first began to build churches, which were demolished in the succeeding persecution. Lampridius, this emperor's historian, tells us, that a certain idolater, putting in a claim to an oratory of the Christians which he wanted to make an eating-house of, the emperor adjudged the house to the Bishop of Rome, saying, it were better it should serve in any kind to the divine worship than to gluttony, in being made a cook's shop.

To the debaucheries of Heliogabulus St. Callistus opposed fasting and tears, and he every way promoted exceedingly true religion and virtue. His apostolic labours were recompensed with the crown of martyrdom on the 12th of October, 222. His feast is marked on this day in the ancient Martyrology of Lucca. The Liberian Calendar places him in the list of martyrs, and testifies that he was buried on the 14th of this month in the cemetery of Calepodius, on the Aurelian way, three miles from Rome. The pontificals ascribe to him a decree appointing the four fasts called Ember-days; which is confirmed by ancient Sacramentaries, and other monuments quoted by Moretti. He also decreed that ordinations should be held in each of the Ember weeks. He founded the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary beyond the Tiber. In the Calendar published by Fronto le Due he is styled a confessor, but we find other martyrs sometimes called confessors. If St. Callistus was thrown into a pit, as his acts relate, it seems probable that he was put to death in some popular tumult. Dion mentions several such commotions under this prince, in one of which the prӕtorian guards murdered Ulpian, their own prefect. Pope Paul I. and his successors, seeing the cemeteries without walls, and neglected after the devastations of the barbarians, withdrew from thence the bodies of the most illustrious martyrs, and had them carried to the principal churches of the city. Those of SS. Callistus and Calepodius were translated to the Church of St. Mary, beyond the Tiber. Count Everard, lord of Cisoin or Chisoing, four leagues from Tournay, obtained of Leo IV about the year 854 the body of St. Callistus, pope and martyr, which he placed in the abbey of Canon Regulars which he had founded at Cisoin fourteen years before; the church of which place was on this account dedicated in honour of St. Callistus. These circumstances are mentioned by Fulco, Archbishop of Rheims, in a letter which he wrote to Pope Formosus in 890. The relics were removed soon after to Rheims for fear of the Normans, and never restored to the abbey of Cisoin. They remain behind the altar of our Lady at Rheims. Some of the relics, however, of this pope are kept with those of St. Calepodius, martyr, in the Church of St. Mary Trastevere at Rome. A portion was formerly possessed at Glastenbury.

Among the sacred edifices which upon the first transient glimpse of favour, or at least tranquillity, that the church enjoyed at Rome, this holy pope erected, the most celebrated was the cemetery which he enlarged and adorned on the Appian-road, the entrance of which is at St. Sebastian's, a monastery founded by Nicholas I, [then] inhabited by reformed Cistercian monks. In it the bodies of SS. Peter and Paul lay for some time, according to Anastasius, who says that the devout Lady Lucina buried St. Cornelius in her own farm near this place; whence it for some time took her name, though she is not to be confounded with Lucina, who buried St. Paul's body on the Ostian way, and built a famous cemetery on the Aurelian way. Among many thousand martyrs deposited in this place were St. Sebastian whom the Lady Lucina interred, St. Cecily, and several whose tombs Pope Damasus adorned with verses.

In the assured faith of the resurrection of the flesh, the saints, in all ages down from Adam, were careful to treat their dead with religious respect, and to give them a modest and decent burial. The commendations which our Lord bestowed on the woman who poured precious ointments upon him a little before his death, and the devotion of those pious persons who took so much care of our Lord's funeral, recommended this office of charity; and the practice of the primitive Christians in this respect was most remarkable. Their care of their dead consisted not in any extravagant pomp, in which the pagans far outdid them, but in a modest religious gravity and respect which was most pathetically expressive of their firm hope of a future resurrection, in which they regarded the mortal remains of their dead as precious in the eyes of God, who watches over them, regarding them as the apple of his eye, to be raised one day in the brightest glory, and made shining lustres in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.


Pope St. Callistus I, pray for us.