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Feast of Sts. Dionysius of Alexandria, Eusebius of Laodicea, and Anatolius of Laodicea (July 3)   Leave a comment

Above:  Ancient Alexandria

Image in the Public Domain



Patriarch of Alexandria, and Church Father

Also known as Saint Dionysius the Great

His feast transferred from April 8 and November 17

mentor of


Bishop of Laodicea 

Also known as Saint Eusebius of Alexandria

His feast days = July 3 and October 4

predecessor of


Bishop of Laodicea

Also known as Saint Anatolius of Laodicea

His feast = July 3

St. Dionysius of Alexandria/the Great mentored St. Eusebius of Laodicea and St. Anatolius of Alexandria/Laodicea.

These three saints lived during times of imperial persecution and doctrinal formation.  Doctrines did not descend fully-formed from Heaven.  No, people, debated them.  Councils and synods convened and issued statements, thereby defining orthodoxy.

We modern Christians stand on the shoulders of Sts. Dionysius, Eusebius, and Anatolius, who, in turn, stood on the shoulders of others.

St. Dionysius the Great, born in Alexandria, Egypt, circa 190, learned the Christian faith there.  He studied under Origen (185-254) at the catechetical school.  St. Dionysius, a priest, succeeded Origen as the head of that school.  After Origen returned from a visit to Pope St. Zephyrinus (reigned 198/199-217) in Rome, St. Dionysius encouraged Origen to resume teaching at the catachetical school.  St. Dionysius served as the Patriarch of Alexandria, starting in 248.

St. Dionysius maintained orthodoxy while remaining gentle toward penitent heretics.  He argued against baptizing former heretics; laying on hands then welcoming penitent heretics back into the fold sufficed for our saint.  The heresies du jour were Novatianism, Sabellianism, and Adoptionism.

Novatianism led to a schism.  Circa 250, Novatian argued that the church had no power to pardon mortal sins, therefore there was no forgiveness after baptism.  He also held a subordinationist view of the relationships within the Trinity.  The second point was not unique to Novatian; literal readings of certain Pauline passages supported subordinationism.  And some of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, orthodox according to the standards of their time, were subordinationists.  The greater issue was the Novatianist schism, which persisted into the 500s.  St. Dionysius wrote to Novatian to encourage him to return to the fold.  Our saint also wrote to Fabian, the Bishop of Antioch, to discourage him from supporting the Novatianist schism.  St. Dionysius’s efforts partially healed the schism.

Sabellianism was a variety of Modalistic Monarchianism, another Trinity-related heresy.  Circa 215, Sabellius defined the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as temporal projections, or “dilations” in an attempt to maintain strict monotheism.  St. Dionysius wrote against this heresy, too.

St. Dionysius, as the Patriarch of Alexandria, endured imperial persecutions.  Decius (reigned 249-251) persecuted the church.  Our saint, incarcerated in 250, went on to live as a fugitive in the desert until 251.  A few years later, Gallienus (reigned 253-268) launched another persecution.  St. Dionysius spent 257-260 in exile in the Mareotis desert.

St. Dionysius left a written legacy.  Repentance was a favorite theme in many letters.  He also composed a commentary on Revelation.

St. Dionysius died of natural causes in Alexandria in 265.

St. Eusebius of Alexandria/Laodicea had been a deacon under St. Dionysius.  Circa 255, during the Valerian persecution, the imperium sentenced St. Eusebius to Kefro, Libya.  He avoided his sentence by going on the lam.  Years later, in 260, our saint risked his life as he ministered to the sick of Alexandria during a plague.

St. Dionysius was till ill to travel to the Second Council of Antioch (264), so he sent St. Eusebius in his stead.  The purpose of the council was to condemn Adoptionism, a heresy from the previous century.  As Paul of Samosota wrote in 260,

Mary did not bear the Word, for Mary did not exist before the ages.  Mary is not older than the Word; what she bore was a man equal to us, but superior in all things as a result of the Holy Spirit.

–Quoted in Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought (1995), 76

In other words, according to Adoptionists and Paul of Samosota in particular, Mary was not the Theotokos, the Bearer and Mother of God, for Jesus became the Son of God when God adopted him.  Adoptionists disagreed about when God adopted Jesus.

Sts. Dionysius and Eusebius disagreed with the Adoptionists.

St. Eusebius did not return to Alexandria.  Shortly after the Second Council of Antioch (264), he became the Bishop of Laodicea (now Latakia, Syria), near Antioch.  He died in Laodicea in Syria circa 268.

Above:  The Tetraporticus (Erected in 183), Latakia, Syria

Photographer = Allamlatakia

St. Anatolius of Alexandria/Laodicea was a polymath.  He was a famous writer, mathematician, scientist, philosopher, and teacher.  Our saint, an erstwhile public servant in Alexandria, was also the founder and head of the Aristotelean school in that great city.  During a Roman military siege of Alexandria in 263, Sts. Eusebius and Anatolius successfully negotiated with the army for the release of innocents.  In so doing, St. Anatolius became persona non grata in Alexandria.

St. Anatolius found greener political pastures in Caesarea, Palestine.  There he was the assistant to the bishop.  In that capacity, our saint was passing through Laodicea in Syria, en route to the Third Council of Antioch, in 268.  St. Eusebius had died recently.  St. Anatolius, much to his surprise, became the next Bishop of Laodicea.  He remained in that office for the rest of his life, until 283.

Emphasizing relationships and influences is one goal of mine here at the Ecumenical Calendar.  A particular chain of influences germane to this post follows:  St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) to St. Alexander of Jerusalem (died 251) and Origen (185-254) to St. Dionysius the Great/of Alexandria (circa 190-265) to St. Eusebius of Alexandria/Laodicea (died circa 268) and St. Anatolius of Alexandria/Laodicea (died 283).  It is a chain of influences worth celebrating.








God of compassion, you have reconciled us in Jesus Christ, who is our peace:

Enable us to live as Jesus lived, breaking down walls of hostility and healing enmity.

Give us grace to make peace with those from whom we are divided,

that, forgiven and forgiving, we may ever be one in Christ;

who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever, one holy and undivided Trinity.  Amen.

Genesis 8:12-17, 20-22

Psalm 51:1-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

Luke 23:32-43

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 737


Feast of Karl and Markus Barth (December 10)   23 comments


Above:  A German Stamp Bearing the Image of Karl Barth

Image in the Public Domain


KARL BARTH (MAY 10, 1886-DECEMBER 10, 1968)

Swiss Reformed Minister, Theologian, and Biblical Scholar

father of


Swiss Lutheran Minister and Biblical Scholar


Karl Barth (whose feast day in The Episcopal Church has been December 10) was arguably the most important Christian theologian of the twentieth century.  Pope Pius XII (reigned 1939-1968) considered him to be the most consequential Christian theologian since St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).  Markus Barth, a Biblical scholar like his father, was a prominent scholar of the Pauline epistles.

Karl Barth was Swiss.  He, a son of Fritz Barth, a Swiss Reformed minister and professor of theology, entered the world at Basel on May 10, 1886.  Our saint’s mother was Anna Katharina Sartorius.  Our saint studied at Bern, Berlin, Tubingen, and Marburg, was steeped in Liberal theology, such as that of Adolf Harnack.  That post-Enlightenment theology was anthropocentric (emphasizing the human experience of God) and optimistic regarding human nature.  (World War I called that anthropocentric optimism into question.)

Towards the end of Liberalism’s heyday came the contribution of the doyen of NT Liberal scholars, equally famous but more enduring in influence.  These were the lectures on Christianity, delivered by Adolf Harnack without manuscript or notes, to some six hundred students from all the faculties in the University of Berlin at the turn of the century, at the height of his own powers and at the self-consciously high point of European and German culture.  In these lectures Harnack deliberately turned his back on the Christ of dogma.  Christianity indeed must be rescued from its dependence on metaphysics and philosophy.  What was needed now was a rediscovery of the simplicity and freedom of the gospel which Jesus himself had preached.  Here for Harnack was “the essence of Christianity”–the “historical Jesus” encountered through the Gospels in his own religion and message.  And what was that essence?  Harnack summed up Jesus’ gospel as centering on the fatherhood of God, the infinite value of the human soul, and the importance of love, regularly popularized thereafter as “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.”  These were Jesus’ enduring insights, what was of permanent value when abstracted from the merely transitory.  According to Harnack, “true faith in Jesus is not a matter of creedal orthodoxy but of doing as he did.”

…In this case, the most important hermeneutical principle at work was in effect the conviction that Jesus, the “historical Jesus,” the Jesus stripped of dogmatic accretion, would/must have something to say to modern man, and the consequential desire to provide a mouthpiece for the restatement of that message.

And the result?  A Jesus portrayed and understood as a teacher of timeless morality, Jesus as a good example, Jesus as more the first Christian than the Christ–a flight from the Christ of dogma indeed!  At the same time, we should not decry the Liberal focus on the moral outcome of religion as the test of its character; such concerns had brought the slave trade to an end and achieved political, social and industrial reforms, although the Liberal tendency to understand morality solely in terms of personal and individual responsibility was the stronger influence, and the laissez-faire economics and imperialist hubris of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seem to have been little affected.  Moreover, the reassertion of the importance of feeling in religion, of faith as a deeply rooted passion, was surely an important correction to a Protestantism still inclined to be too word-focused and still overly dependant on the Enlightenment paradigm of science and reason.  Not least Liberal scholarship deserves credit for its concern to speak meaningfully to its own age.  Here too the motivating force in life of Jesus scholarship was not unfaith but desire to speak in the idioms of the time, desire to be heard.  The trouble was, we may say, it allowed the spirit of the age to dictate not simply the language but also the agenda.

–James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making, Volume 1, Jesus Remembered (2003), pages 37-39

Barth, ordained a Swiss Reformed minister in 1909, served at Geneva (1909-1911) then Safenwill (1911-1911) before teaching at the University of Gottingen (1921-1925).  Then he became Professor of Dogmatics and New Testament at the University of Munster (1925-1930) and Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Bonn (1930-1935).  In 1913 our saint married Nelly Hoffmann (1893-1976).  The couple’s children included Markus (1915-1994) and Christoph (1917-1986).

Barth changed his theological mind more than once.  One break with his training occurred in August 1914, when, much to his dismay, he learned that 93 German intellectuals (including all of his seminary professors) had signed a manifesto endorsing imperial German war efforts.  The church was too close to the state, our saint concluded.  Barth’s break with his training deepened in 1919, with the publication of the first edition of his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.  The Neo-Orthodox phase of Barth’s theology had begun.  Eventually he changed his mind again, becoming, in the estimation of Professor Phillip Cary, in his Great Courses series The History of Christian Theology, simply orthodox, in line with St. Augustine of Hippo and other giants of Christian theology.

Barth’s discomfort with the church being too close to the state deepened in 1933, after Adolf Hitler rose to power.  Hitler sought (quite successfully, overall) to co-opt German churches.  The Confessing Church, of which our saint was a founder, formed in opposition to this effort.  As the first of the Duseldorf Theses (1933) stated,

The holy Christian church, whose only head is Christ, is born from the word of God; in this it abides, and it does not harken to any alien voice.

–Quoted in Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought, Revised and Expanded Edition (1995), page 346

Barth was among the authors of the Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934), which condemned Nazi ideology.  The following year he had to leave Germany because he refused to pledge allegiance to Hitler.

From 1935 to his retirement in 1962 Barth was Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland.  He completed his 13-volume Church Dogmatics (more than 9300 pages long), which he began at Bonn.  Our saint also delivered the main address at the World Council of Churches (1948).  During the 1950s Barth spoke out against the nuclear arms race and for Christians living behind the Iron Curtain.  Our saint followed his conscience, regardless of what was politically popular and acceptable.

Barth, aged 75 years, visited the United States in 1962, with the encouragement of his son Markus, then a professor at The University of Chicago.  For seven weeks the great theologian toured, speaking at Princeton Theological Seminary, The University of Chicago, Union Theological Seminary (New York City), and San Francisco Theological Seminary.  Barth met the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., and considered the encounter to have been too brief.

Barth died at home in Basel on December 10, 1968.  He was 82 years old.

Barth’s theology was optimistic and rooted not in human experience but in the love and sovereignty of God.  His theology was Christocentric, about divine purposes, not anything human.  The Trinity, Barth insisted, is the basis of divine revelation; God the Father is the speaker, God the Son is the spoken word, and God the Spirit is the response in the hearts of people.  All of the above are inseparable and essential parts of the act of divine revelation, Barth wrote.  Furthermore, the theologian insisted, God speaks uniquely via Christianity and God reveals the Word of God (Jesus) via the word of God (the Bible).

Barth wrote about dialectical theology.  God says both “yes” and “no,” the theologian taught.  Furthermore, Barth insisted, the divine “no” always serves the divine “yes.”  He wrote that faith is an “impossible possibility;” that is, we cannot reach God yet God can reach us.  Divine revelation, not human perception of God, is the proper basis of faith, the great theologian wrote.  Divine revelation, Barth taught, is a shattering event; the institutional church is the crater the event created.  Furthermore, our saint wrote, there is no need to turn to human experience, nature, consciousness, or existence to hear or relate to God, for God can, metaphorically, give us ears to hear.

Barth redefined the Augustinian and Calvinist doctrine of election, thereby incurring the criticism of many staunch Calvinists.  According to our saint, God chose incarnation.  Furthermore, according to Barth, election is not a hidden decree; it is really about Jesus, is good news, is the basis of the Gospel, and precedes creation.  Our saint explained that the question is the election of Christ, not people.  He taught that Jesus Christ is the covenant in one person and that the covenant is the purpose of creation.  The great theologian insisted that, in Christ, God is for, not against, humans.

Barth also redefined Double Predestination.  It applies only to Christ, he wrote; God the Father has predestined Christ to death on the cross (God’s “no”) and resurrection (God’s “yes”).  Therefore, according to Barth, election always serves blessing, not condemnation.  Barth also taught that God has predestined certain people to Heaven, for the benefit of those not so predestined.  Grace, the great theologian insisted, was crucial.

Some critics of Barth’s theology have detected universal salvation in it.  Barth did not state that explicitly, but he did not think that God saving everyone would be terrible.

Barth, aware that many people identified themselves as Barthians, stated that nobody should think of himself or herself as a Barthian.  People should be and think of themselves as Christians, the theologian insisted.

Two of the sons of Karl Barth became scholars of the Bible.  Christoph Barth (1917-1986) was a scholar of the Old Testament.  He taught in Indonesia then at Mainz, Germany.  At Mainz he organized his lectures on the Old Testament into publishable form and published them in the Indonesian language; the first volume debuted in 1970.  Christoph’s widow, Marie-Claire, also a teacher of theology, supervised the condensation of the four volumes of the Indonesian text in English translation as God With Us:  A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (1991).

Markus Barth, born at Safenwill, Switzerland, on October 6, 1915, was a Pauline scholar and a Lutheran minister.  In 1940 he married Rose Marie Oswald (1913-1993); the couple had five children.  Markus studied theology at Bern, Basel, Berlin, and Edinburgh before receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Gottingen in 1947.  From 1947 to 1953 he served a church at Bubendorf, near Basel.  For 19 years (1953-1972) Markus taught New Testament at, in order:

  1. The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa;
  2. The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; and
  3. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Then, from 1973 to 1985, he taught New Testament at the University of Basel, in Switzerland.

Markus wrote about baptism, Holy Communion, the Pauline Epistles, Jewish-Christian dialogue, justification, and the resurrection of Jesus.  His books included the volumes on Galatians and Ephesians for The Anchor Bible series and a posthumously published commentary on the Epistle to Philemon.

Markus died at Basel on July 1, 1994.  He was 78 years old.

The legacies of the Barths glorify God.






O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Karl Barth, Markus Barth, and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

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

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34






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



Bishop of Rome

Also known as St. Callistus I

His feast day = October 14



Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from January 3



Bishop of Rome

His feast transferred from August 13




Feast transferred from August 13




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.




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.




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.




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.




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.


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