Feast of Sts. Callixtus I, Anterus, Pontian, and Hippolytus (October 14)   1 comment

Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land by George Adam Smith and J. G. Bartholomew

Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land by George Adam Smith and J. G. Bartholomew

Above:  Map of the Roman Empire in the Third Century

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT CALLIXTUS I (DIED IN 222)

Bishop of Rome

Also known as St. Callistus I

His feast day = October 14

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SAINT ANTERUS (DIED JANUARY 3, 236)

Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from January 3

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SAINT PONTIAN (DIED CIRCA 236)

Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from August 13

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SAINT HIPPOLYTUS (DIED CIRCA 236)

Antipope

Feast transferred from August 13

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INTRODUCTION

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This is a story of theft, self-righteousness, schism, false witness, forgiveness, repentance, and martyrdom.  Repentance, as I tire of having to explain, is far more than saying that one is sorry.  No, repentance is turning around or changing one’s mind.  To repent is literally to turn one’s back on sin.  That definition applies well to Sts. Callixtus I and Hippolytus.

Roman Catholic writer Thomas J. Craughwell notes the value of being honest about the dark episodes in the lives of the saints.  He states:

The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world.  Every day, all day long, God pours out his grace upon us, coaxing us, to turn away from everything that is base and cheap and unsatisfying, and turn toward the only thing that is eternal, perfect, and true–that is, himself.

Saints Behaving Badly:  The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers Who Became Saints (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 2006), page xii

Some of the most forgiving people have been those who have known of their need of much mercy and received it.  They, having received forgiveness in abundance, have become practitioners of forgiveness–sometimes to the consternation of others, many of whom have thought of themselves as pious and orthodox, as pure.  That summary applied well to St. Hippolytus for much of his life.

Roman Catholic tradition tells the stories of two of these men–Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus–together, for they share the same feast day, August 13.  I have found that I cannot tell their stores properly without recounting that of St. Callixtus I and, in passing, what little we know of St. Anterus.  Each of these two saints has his own feast day on the Roman Catholic calendar.  I, for the sake of convenience, have moved three of the four saints to the date for the feast of St. Callixtus I.  After all, the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is my project; I answer to nobody else with regard to it.

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SAINT CALLIXTUS I

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St. Callixtus I was a slave, a bad investor, an embezzler, and an inciter of needless violence before be became a deacon, a pope, and a martyr.  As a young man he was the slave of one Carpophorus, a Christian of Rome.  Circa 190 Carpophorus founded a bank for the Christians of Rome and made St. Callixtus, who had experience managing money, the administrator thereof.  Many of the depositors were of modest means and there was no ancient equivalent of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (F.D.I.C.).  St. Callixtus proved to be a bad investor and an eager embezzler, so the bank failed, much to the financial detriment of many of the depositors.  The perfidious slave fled Rome and got as far as Portus, where his master captured him.  Back in Rome, Carpophorus sentenced St. Callixtus to the hard labor of turning a large stone wheel at a grist mill daily.  Nevertheless, some of the defrauded depositors were merciful.  They convinced Carpophorus to liberate St. Callixtus, on the condition that the slave try to recover some of the lost funds.

St. Callixtus remained a troublesome character.  He attempted to recover some of the lost funds by interrupting a Jewish worship service, demanding money from investors present, and thereby starting a brawl.  Legal charges of disturbing the peace and desecrating a holy place ensued.  Carpophorus lied in court when he denied that St. Callixtus, a baptized person, was a Christian.  (Christianity was not yet legal in the Roman Empire.)  The prefect sentenced St. Callixtus to scourging then to hard labor in the salt mines of Sardinia.  That was effectively a death sentence.

Marcia, a Christian and the mistress of the Emperor Commodus (reigned 180-192), used her influence to aid her coreligionists.  She asked Pope St. Victor I (reigned 189-198; feast day = July 28) for a list of Christians sent to Sardinia.  He gave her that list, minus St. Callixtus, whose name he omitted on purpose.  Marcia interceded with the governor of Sardinia, who freed all the listed prisoners plus St. Callixtus, who begged his way into freedom.  St. Victor, not convinced that St. Callixtus had ceased to be a scoundrel, sent him to live outside the walls of Rome and gave him an allowance.  Eventually the pontiff concluded that St. Callixtus, who had remained out of trouble for some time, had indeed repented.  St. Victor permitted him to assist St. Zephyrinus, the priest who managed the assignments of priests and deacons in Rome.

St. Zephyrinus became the mentor to St. Callixtus.  St. Victor died in 198; St. Zephyrinus succeeded him as pontiff.  The new pope ordained St. Callixtus to the diaconate and placed him in charge of the Christian cemetery (now the Catacomb of St. Callixtus) on the Appian Way.  St. Callixtus became a powerful figure in the Roman Catholic Church during the papacy of his mentor.  Predictably, he succeeded St. Zephyrinus as the Pope upon the death of the latter in 217.

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SAINTS CALLIXTUS I AND SAINT HIPPOLYTUS

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The election of St. Callixtus displeased St. Hippolytus, a priest, theologian, and author of treatises and Biblical commentaries.  St. Hippolytus, born before 170, practiced a rigorous form of Roman Catholicism.  Pope St. Zephyrinus, he was convinced, held heretical views regarding the Holy Trinity.  (Ironically, in the context of the Council of Nicaea, 325 C.E., St. Hippolytus was heretic avant le lettre regarding the Holy Trinity, for he held to a subordinationist position.)  St. Hippolytus not only spoke out but did something; he became the antipope first to St. Callixtus I (reigned 217-222) then to St. Urban I (reigned 222-230) then to St. Pontian (reigned 230-235) then to St. Anterus (reigned 235-236) and possibly then briefly to St. Fabian (reigned 236-250).  St. Hippolytus led a schismatic group as he condemned St. Callixtus for everything from his past crimes to this eagerness to forgive sinners.  The latter indicated doctrinal laxity, the antipope argued.  St. Hippolytus fumed whenever St. Callixtus forgave an errant and penitent bishop who had committed fornication, for example.  The antipope complained whenever St. Callixtus welcomed former members of schismatic sects back into the fold of Holy Mother Church enthusiastically and without requiring any sign of penance.  Furthermore, St. Hippolytus falsely accused St. Callixtus of being a modalist.

Modalism is a heresy pertaining to the Holy Trinity.  It is, actually, a form of Unitarianism whose proponents argue that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not persons but are really modes of God’s being.  God, in modalist thought, is united and indivisible.  As Praxeas argued circa 210 C.E., God the Father entered the womb of St. Mary of Nazareth, suffered, died, and rose again.  This is false doctrine, as Tertullian (circa 155-225) knew well.  He retorted that Praxeas had

put to flight the Holy Spirit and crucified the Father.

–Quoted in Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought–Revised and Expanded Edition (New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1995), page 58

St. Callixtus was no modalist.  In fact, he excommunicated Sabellius, a prominent modalist.  St. Hippolytus replied that the Pope had done that to cover up his own modalism, however.

The life and papacy of St. Callixtus ended in 222, when a pagan mob murdered him.  Members of that mob then threw his corpse down a well in Rome.

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SUBSEQUENT POPES AND SAINT HIPPOLYTUS

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The persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire was not continuous.  Certain emperors engaged in the practice; others did not.  Few persecutions were empire-wide; most were regional and sporadic.  For most of the tenure of Pope St. Pontian (July 21, 230-September 28, 235) imperial persecution was not a problem.  Other issues dominated the reign of the son of Calpurnius.  St. Pontian presided over the synod that ratified the decision of St. Demetrius of Alexandria (126-231) to banish Origen (185-254), to refuse to recognize his priestly ordination, and to excommunicate him.  (Nevertheless, Origen found refuge with sympathetic bishops and persuaded heretics to turn to orthodoxy.)  In March 235 Maximinus I became emperor.  He ended his predecessor’s policy of toleration of Christianity and targeted leaders of the faith first.  Authorities arrested Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus, convicted them, and sent them to die in the salt mines of Sardinia.  St. Pontian, recognizing the need of continuous leadership of the church, became the first pope to resign.  He stepped down on September 28, 235.

The next pope, St. Anterus, of whom we know little, much like his predecessor once removed, St. Urban I (reigned 222-230), took office on November 21, 235.  Contrary to the tradition that he died a martyr, St. Anterus seems to have died of natural causes.  His pontificate was brief, ending on January 3, 236.

Pope St. Fabian (reigned January 10, 236-January 20, 250) had a longer pontificate.  He became one of the first victims of the Decian persecution, one of those empire-wide persecutions of Christianity.

Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus died on Sardinia circa 236–the latter of the hard labor and the former by means of a beating by guards.  The antipope renounced schism, reconciled with the Church, and urged his followers to do the same while in prison in Rome or on Sardinia.  (The available sources disagree on that point.)  In 236 or 237 Pope St. Fabian interred the remains of these two men in Rome.  Holy Mother Church forgave him and recognized him as a saint.  To paraphrase Thomas J. Craughwell, writing in Saints Behaving Badly, the Church was more like St. Callixtus I than St. Hippolytus.

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CONCLUSION

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St. Hippolytus, prior to his repentance, thought of the Church as the assembly of saints, not as the hospital for sinners.  He was not the last person to hold that opinion and to start a schismatic movement based on that premise.  For example, just a few decades later, in the wake of the Decian persecution, Donatism (in its narrow definition) arose and persisted for centuries, dividing the Church in northern Africa.  Donatism, in its broad definition, has never ceased.  It has, in fact, led to many ecclesiastical schisms.  My studies of church history have revealed that most ecclesiastical schisms have occurred to the right and most ecclesiastical mergers (unions and reunions) have occurred to the left.  The self-identified pure of theology have long argued not only with those in the institutions from which they departed but also among themselves.  Thus schisms have frequently begat schisms.  (I can recall examples of this generalization easily.  I think for example, of the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936, of the subsequent split in that body almost immediately, and of the rending asunder the group that broke away from it.)  In that process of bickering and breaking away one casualty has frequently been forgiveness.

I spent the most recent Good Friday in Americus, Georgia, away from home.  While in that town I attended the Noontime service at Calvary Episcopal Church.  The Rector said in the homily that we Christians stand in the need of forgiveness, at the foot of the cross of Christ.  Nevertheless, many non-Christians perceive us as standing in the place of judgment, much like Pontius Pilate.  That statement was sadly accurate.  I have concluded that the main cause of the perception that we are judgmental is the fact that many of us are indeed judgmental, that many of us seem not to know that we really stand in the need of forgiveness, at the foot of the cross of Christ.

St. Callixtus I knew where he stood.  St. Hippolytus eventually learned where he stood.  St. Pontian knew where he stood and extended mercy to the antipope.  All three men died as martyrs.

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Holy God, in whom judgment and mercy exist in balance,

thank you for the lived example of Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior and Lord.

May we know that we stand not in the place of judgment

but in need of forgiveness, at the foot of the cross of Christ,

and, by grace, nurture the habit of forgiveness of others and ourselves.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 30:15-26

Psalm 130

Romans 12:1-21

Luke 17:1-4

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF DURHAM; AND FENTON JOHN ANTHONY HORT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN HENRY BATEMAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHAN NORDAHL BRUN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, AUTHOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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  1. Pingback: Feast of St. Fabian (January 20) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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