The Catholic Defender: St. Callistus I,The 15th Successor of Peter (217-222)


The Roman world was lead by Roman power. The Roman Emperor Septimius Severus took Rome through military rule and support. He ruled with an iron fist which was felt throughout the Roman Empire and would influence the succeeding Emperors for years.

In 202 A.D., Severus renewed a persecution of Christians and on March 7, ordered for the massacre of Christians in Carthage. Of that event, St. Perpetua writes:

After a few days there was a report that we were to have a Hearing in court. And my father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety. He came up to me, that he might cast me down, saying: "Have pity, my daughter, on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called a father by you. If with these hands I have brought you up to this flower of your age, if I have preferred you to all your brothers, do not deliver me up to the scorn of men. Have regard to your brothers, have regard to your mother and your aunt, have regard to your son, who will not be able to live after you. Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction; for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything." These things said my father in his affection, kissing my hands, and throwing himself at my feet, and with tears he called me not Daughter, but Lady. And I grieved over the grey hairs of my father, that he alone of all my kindred would have no joy in my death. And I comforted him, saying, "On that scaffold, whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power but in that of God." And he departed from me in sorrow.

St. Callistus was raised a slave in an imperial household, as a slave he was given great position by his master being put in charge of a local bank. Things went south when all the deposits were lost holding St. Callistus responsible. He attempted to escape his master, but was caught and placed in a prison but soon was given a chance to recover the lost deposits.

St. Callistus would again be arrested after causing a brawl at a Jewish synagogue and condemned to work in the Sardinia mines. This would not last long as he had connections in high places, the Emperor's own mistress interceded for him. At this point, St. Callistus escaped to Anzio where he found his Catholic Faith. It was here that he became a worker at a Christian burial ground.

Because of his zeal to follow Christ and His Mother, St. Callistus quickly caught the eye of the Pope Zephyrinus who ordains him a deacon. It is interesting that by this time, the Catholic Church was developing throughout the Roman world in the underground as persecution were felt all over the known world.

Within the Church there was a particular heresy that developed challenging the Catholic Church called "Adoptionism" that held a non-Trinitarian doctrine which held that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God at his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension. St. Callistus found himself enamored central in this battle between Orthodox Catholicism and these heresies. Eventually, St. Callistus I is made a priest and bishop giving him a close ally to the Pope.

With the death of Pope Zephyrinus In 219 A.D., two individuals seemed to compete for the Papacy, St. Callistus I and St. Hippolytus ran against each other and they were not all that close as brothers. St. Hippolytus was strict in following rules, he felt that St. Callistus was too lenient to forgiven heretics and repentant sinners. Penances were severe. St. Callistus trusted in Jesus Mercy when it came to the Confessional.

With the elevation of St. Callistus, this did not end the feud between these two brothers, St. Hippolytus became the first anti-Pope as he continued to challenge the authority of St. Callistus. This issue would not be totally resolved until the first general Council, the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.

St. Callistus made a Papal decree appointing four fasts called "Ember-days" primarily during the Lenten Season. He created a number of monuments to remember the marytrs, he held ordinations to the priesthood during the times of fasting, and because of his devotion to Mother Mary, he built a Church in honor of the Virgin Mary near the Tiber River.

Ultimately, St. Callistus would be captured by the Romans and because of his recognized high place of authority in the underground Church, the Romans wanted to make sport of him. According to tradition, St. Callistus was lowered into a cistern or a pit much like the prophet Jeremiah, where he died by popular chaos. Seeing the holy man of God in such a pitiful way, the praetorian guards murdered their own prefect who ordered the execution, Ulpian in 222 A.D. St. Callistus I feast day is October 14.

St. Callistus served the Catholic Church at a time when heresies were rampart, when oral traditions were strenuously being defended, and the threat of persecution persisted.

Jesus promised through the 16th Successor of St. Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail, that the Lord would remain with His Church until He returns, and Jesus gave it the Holy Spirit.

St. Callistus would be buried in the cemetery of his name sake and he is remembered as Patron of cemetery workers.

V. Let us pray for Francis., the Pope. R. May the Lord preserve him, give him a long life, make him blessed upon the earth, and may the Lord not hand him over to the power of his enemies.

V. May your hand be upon your holy servant. R. And upon your son whom you have anointed.

Let us pray. O God, the Pastor and Ruler of all the faithful, look down, in your mercy, upon your servant, Francis., whom you have appointed to preside over your Church; and grant, we beseech you, that both by word and example, he may edify all those under his charge; so that, with the flock entrusted to him, he may arrive at length unto life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

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