The Catholic Defender: Pope St. Anicetus
Pope St. Anicetus (10th successor to St. Peter) was born about the year 100 A.D. being raised in Syrian from the city of Emesa. He was educated by his parents giving him a firm foundation in the Catholic Faith. He became a scholar in the sciences at the time, he was highly esteemed by the community of faith for his example of faith. Like St. Paul, young Anicetus was a true evangelist promoting the Faith. He particularly was gifted in debating heretics such as Valentinus and Marcion who were seeking to challenge Christian teaching.
The Roman Empire had pockets of anti-Christian persecutions but during the reign of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (11 July 138 - 7 March 161) there was relatively peace throughout the Empire. The Emperor worked towards freeing slaves, there was prosperity and there was a surplus in the Roman Treasury. Access to free water throughout the Empire helped stabilize the populations. Antoninus Pius was able to deify his adoptive Father, Hadrian through the Roman Senate which would be a future problem. Christians recognized Jesus as Lord and the Roman Emperors would undergo great persecutions against the Christians.
The Church, though not totally off the Roman rector scale, had some years of peace which by 157 - 20 April 168) when St. Anicetus became Pope was able to look inwards to care for the Faith. The greatest threat that St. Anicetus had to contend with was debased morals and indifference from within. Times today are not much unlike it was for the Church in St. Anicetus day. Many of the faithful were weak which only encouraged these heresies.
Pope St. Anicetus was the right man for what was needed because of his zeal for the Faith. Everything he did was for the purpose of strengthening the people's faith.
Valentinus was a heretic who believed in deities of good and evil, this was a doctrine of salvation by gnosis. Pope Anicetus maintained the Catholic teaching in the One True God in Three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Satan is not a "deity"!
Marcion heresy, the basis of Marcionite theology was that there were two cosmic gods. A vain and angry creator god who demanded and ruthlessly exacted justice had created the material world of which man, body and soul, was a part—a striking departure from the usual Gnostic thesis that only man’s body is part of creation, that his soul is a spark from the true but unknown superior God, and that the world creator is a demonic power. The other god, according to Marcion, was completely ineffable and bore no intrinsic relation to the created universe at all. Out of sheer goodness, he had sent his son Jesus Christ to save man from the material world and bring him to a new home.
Countering these heresies St. Anicetus remained motivated to fulfill his See with great apostolic teaching and exhortation. His example was his greatest attribute in reaching the Christian population. The salvation of souls was his vocation, his energy went solely for the care of his flock. He was an effective leader against the Gnostic heathens who tried to win over the flock.
St. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John traveled to Rome to meet with Anicetus with high acclaim as brothers. St. Polycarp had great honor for the Pope. They discussed the difference in celebrating the Pasch (the Jewish feast of Passover) which the Church in Smyrna celebrated Easter on the fourteenth day of Nisan . The Gospel of John speaks of the Passover placed on Preparation Day (John 19:14,31,42) while the Synoptic Gospels place the crucifixion on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17)
14 Nissan was the Passover found in the Torah offering a lamb slaughtered during the afternoon. 15 Nissan began at sundown starting a new day. This was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The lamb prepared was eaten that night (Nissan 15). To put it simply, Good Friday would be the 15th of Nissan as Jesus was Crucified during the afternoon (Jesus dies at the 3:00 hour) and was placed in the tomb to avoid breaking the Sabbath (Saturday - 16 Nissan) the first High Sabbath of the week of Unleavened Bread.
Thursday would be 14 Nissan which prepared for the Passover on 15 Nissan. The Last Supper was on Thursday night which would be a new day by Jewish standard. Good Friday would complete the Passover. Just looking at this you can see why the two great Saints had traditional differences on this matter. St. Polycarp would leave Rome with the Pope's blessing at this time to hold on to the 14 Nissan date for Easter but this issue would not be resolved at this point as it would take centuries for the controversy to grow.
St. Anicetus maintained the celebration of Easter on Easter Sunday, not on the 14th of Nissan.
Similar to what Pope St. Linus ruled that women were to wear veils, (1 Corinthians 11:6) one of the rulings that have survived through time from St. Anicetus is his ruling that Priests were not to have long hair. A letter to this purpose, which he wrote to the bishops of the churches of Gaul, is still extant.
One month after the death of Antoninus Pius, St. Anicetus would receive the crown of martyrdom during the reign of Lucius Aurelius Verus (15 December 130 – 23 January 169).
Lucius Verus co-ruled the Empire as Roman Emperor with his adopted brother, Marcus Arulleius, known for his killing of St. Justin Martyr and his companions. Because of St. Anicetus drive to win souls for the Lord, he encouraged the practice of the Catholic Faith and not to worship idols and false gods. Nearly at age 70, he was martyred and buried in the tombs of Callixtus. His Feast day is 17 April.