Oct. 14: SAINT CALLISTUS,
Pope and Martyr. Short bio and reading.
St. Callistus I provided for the burial of martyrs in the catacombs. He is known for his mercy and understanding of repented sinners against the Rigorists – Tertullian among others. He established the discipline of the Sacrament of Penance. He defended the Faith against the Adoptionist and Modalist heresies. He died a martyr in Rome during the reign of Alexander Severus (d.222).
He was the first Pope who had the status of a slave, subjected to work in the mines, but was able to obtain freedom later. Once free, he gave himself completely to the service of the Christian community.
Saint Zephyrinus, his predecessor in the papacy, entrusted to him the care and administration of the catacombs -initially the Christian cemetery- but which, as is known, became a place of refuge for persecuted Christians. Under his administration, the catacombs had up to 4 levels and more than 20 kilometers of corridors. Today, the Catacombs of Saint Callisto are one of the main historical places in Rome. In it rest the remains of various popes, martyrs and saints.
On the death of Saint Zephyrinus in 217, Callistus was elected Supreme Pontiff. During his pontificate, he endured the fierce opposition of Hippolytus, who accused him of being unworthy of his position. For Hippolytus, a freed man lacked the proper dignity to lead the Church.
In addition, Callistus opposed that men who had left polygamy or concubinage behind could be ordained priests, even having asked for forgiveness and turned their lives to Christ. Hippolytus intended similar restrictions and rejections for other Christian converts, or for those who had committed apostasy and wanted to return to the bosom of the Church. The pastoral spirit of Callistus rejected all these forms of rigorism, considering them contrary to Christ’s mandate on charity.
Far from changing his attitude, Hippolytus also unsuccessfully accused Calixto of being a propagator of heresies on the Trinity.
Victim of the persecution against Christians, Saint Callistus was taken to a dungeon, without food and without light. Weeks later he was found calm and healthy. Today, tradition preserves the testimony of his words:
“I am used to having my body spend days and weeks without eating or drinking, and this for the love of my friend Jesus Christ, so I am already able to resist without despairing.”
The imperial authority then arranged for him to be thrown into a deep well and the mouth of the pit to be covered with dirt and debris and this caused his death. It is said that the Church of Santa María in Trastevere stands on that place. The acts of the martyrs show that Saint Callistus was the second martyr Pope, after Saint Peter.
-Biography adapted from aciprensa.com.
In times of peace the testimony of a good conscience wins the crown
From a treatise by St. Cyprian
The sufferings of this present time are not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us. Who would not strive wholeheartedly to attain to such glory, to become a friend of God and straightway rejoice with Christ, receiving heavenly rewards after earth’s torment and suffering? Soldiers of this world take pride in returning to their home country in triumph after they have defeated the enemy. How much greater is the glory in returning triumphantly to heaven after conquering the devil. The bold deceiver is laid low, the trophies of victory are restored to the place from which Adam was cast out for his sin. We offer to the Lord a most acceptable gift, our incorrupt faith, the unshaken courage of our spirit and the glorious pride of our dedication. We accompany him when he comes to take vengeance on his enemies; sitting at his side at the judgement seat, sharing in Christ’s inheritance, we are on an equal footing with the angels and enjoy the possession of a heavenly kingdom together with the patriarchs, apostles and prophets. What persecution can defeat such thoughts, what torture overwhelm them?
The spirit of a strong and stable character strengthened by meditation endures; this unshaken spirit, which is strengthened by a certain and solid faith in the future will be enlivened against all the terrors of the devil and threats of this world. During persecution the earth is closed off from us, but heaven lies open; the Antichrist threatens, but Christ protects us; death is brought on, but eternal life follows. What an honour, what happiness to depart joyfully from this world, to go forth in glory from the anguish and pain, in one moment to close the eyes that looked on the world of men and in the next to open them at once to look on God and Christ! The speed of this joyous departure! You are suddenly withdrawn from earth to find yourself in the kingdom of heaven.
These are the thoughts you must grasp with your heart and mind and reflect on day and night. If persecution should overtake such a soldier of God, it will not overcome one so virtuously prepared for battle. Even if our summons should come sooner, our faith which was prepared for the witness of martyrdom will not go unrewarded. For we would immediately receive our reward by God’s judgement. In time of persecution the battle wins the crown, but in peace it is the testimony of good conscience.
O God, who raised up Pope Saint Callistus the First to serve the Church and attend devoutly to Christ’s faithful ‘departed, strengthen us, we pray, by his witness to the faith, so that, rescued from the slavery of corruption, we may merit an incorruptible inheritance. Through our Lord.
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