August 12, 2016

Optional Memorial of Saints Pontian and Hippolytus

Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus

August 13th, is the Optional Memorial of Saints Pontian and Hippolytus. Though once stanch adversaries, they received the crown of martyrdom hours apart as friends and brothers in Christ. Both were victims of Christian persecution under the Emperor Maximinus, who decreed that leaders of the Church be arrested and banished to the labor mines of Sardinia, a brutal existence regarded as a death sentence. Pope Pontian reigned over the Church from 230-235. His pontificate is noted for the condemnation of Origen by a Roman synod. Hippolytus was an eloquent preacher and a brilliant theologian. Saint Jerome praised him as a man of extraordinary intelligence. His greatest gift to the Church is composing the second Eucharistic prayer. Yet, Hippolytus opposed Pope Pontian in laying claim to the papacy. Despite causing a schism and defying the Church for eighteen years as the first antipope, Hippolytus eventually reconciled with Rome. He has the unique distinction as the only antipope to be canonized.

A Remarkable Reconciliation

Pope Pontian, being an exceptionally humble man, was willing to abdicate the papacy in favor of Hippolytus or anyone else that the cardinals chose to elect. Ultimately, the Emperor Maximinus exiled Pontian to Sardinia where he labored for the rest of his life. Not long after his arrival in Sardinia, Hippolytus arrived there also. It was precisely laboring side by side in the mines that the two men came to a personal affection and great respect for each other. J.V. Bartlett in, The Popes: A Papal History: Saint Peter to John Paul II, writes the following account:

"Pontian, a Roman and son of Calpurnius, had enjoyed a peaceful reign over the Roman Church during Severus' time, but soon found himself among the first victims of this new emperor. Rounded up with the antipope Hippolytus, Pontian was deported to the labor mines. Since deportation was a life sentence which few survived, Pontian felt obligated to abdicate so that a successor might quickly preside over the Holy See. He is the first pope known to have abdicated.

While imprisoned, Hippolytus reconciled his differences with Pontian and even ordered his followers to bring themselves back to the Church. Before he succumbed to the harsh treatment of the mines, Hippolytus became a true confessor of Christ.

Pontian, in the mines only two months, was brutally beaten to death by his jailers. His body, with that of Hippolytus, was returned to Rome approximately a year later, during the pontificate of Fabian. He was buried in the cemetery of Calixtus and was rightfully honored by the Church as a martyr."

St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus died in 235 AD, having spurred each other on to sanctity. It was not the first time of difficulty for the Church, and it will not be the last. God has blessed us with the witness of many martyrs. May the precious long-suffering of the just, O Lord, we pray, bring us a great increase of love for You and always prompt in our hearts constant devotion to You and Your Church.

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