October 13, 2017

Saint Callistus I, Pope and Martyr

Saint Callistus I

Optional Memorial - October 14th

Saint Callistus I or Callixtus I, the 3rd century pontiff and martyr, ruled as Pope from 217 to c. 222, during the reigns of the Roman Emperors Elagabalus and Alexander Severus. He affirmed that by the sacrament of reconciliation, penitent sinners may be welcomed back fully into the Church. Born into slavery, in the Trastevere suburb of Rome, his Christian mother instilled in Callistus the Faith. Few saints have experienced such a serendipitous pathway to personal sanctity.

Hippolytus of Rome relates that Callistus’ master put him in charge of the alms collected for the care of widows and orphans. After losing those funds, Callistus fled. but was captured. His master forgave him, and at the request of the creditors, Callistus was released. Attempting to recover the lost money, Callistus was arrested for disturbing the rites of a synagogue when he tried to collect from some Jews in his debt. Other accounts contend that upon being forgiven. he oversaw a failed Christian bank. Callistus was denounced as a Christian and sentenced to hard labor in the mines of Sardinia. He was later ransomed and journeyed to Rome where he ministered to the Christian community at Anzio.

On his return, Callistus achieved renowned for his holiness and competence as an administrator. He was ordained a deacon by Pope Zephyrinus in 199, and named superintendent of the Christian cemetery on the Appian Way. As administer of the property, the first land owned by the Church, Callistus organized the internment of numerous martyrs in its catacombs. It would become in time the resting place of many popes, and is still referred to as the Cemetery of Saint Callistus today.

In 217, Callistus succeeded Zephyrinus as the Bishop of Rome. His brief but consequential papacy was marked by controversy. He was opposed by the anti-pope Hippolytus, who claimed, in part, that Callistus was lax in allowing sinners back into full communion without performing rigorous public penances. As pontiff, Callistus regulated the sacrament of penance and help defeat the Adoptionist and Modalist heresies (concerning the Holy Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ).

On orders from the Emperor Severus, in 222, Callistus was imprisoned, starved and scourged. He received the crown of martyrdom after being bound and thrown headlong into a well, where he drowned. O God, who raised up Saint Callistus I to serve the Church and attend devoutly to Christ's faithful departed, strengthen us, we pray, by his witness and holy martyrdom, so that, rescued from the slavery of sinful corruption, we may merit the incorruptible inheritance of Beatitude. Amen.

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