Faith and inspiration: Encyclopedia of saints for today

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Saint Callistus I, Pope, Martyr (d. 222). Feast Day: 14Oct

Also called Callixtus, he was the son of Domitius, born in the Trastevere region of Rome. An example of a pope, who had been born a slave, had served a sentence as a convict, was the champion of forgiveness, and died for the Christian faith. The main source of information about Callistus is in a work titled “Philosophoumena,” by St. Hippolytus. Hippolytus was a bitter rival for the papacy and the first antipope, who was later reconciled with the papacy and died a martyr’s death.

The Christian master of Callistus named Carpophorus put Callistus in charge of a bank, but he lost the money deposited by other Christians, either through malice or incompetence. Callistus fled from Rome, was caught at Porto, and sentenced to the treadmill. His creditors obtained his release; he tried to collect debts from the Jews, and was soon arrested again for brawling in a synagogue. Sentenced to work in the mines in Sardinia, he was released with other Christians through the intervention of Marcia, mistress of Emperor Commodius—he returned to Italy and settled in Anzio. Pope St. Zephyrinus made Callistus (now freed) deacon of the Church and the director of the Christian cemetery on the Appian Way, a site that now bears his name and where previous bishops of Rome had been buried.

Serving the local community, Callistus became a friend and adviser to Pope Zephyrinus. When Zephyrinus died, Callistus was elected his successor in 217, despite the vocal opposition of Hippolytus. Callistus maintained a lenient attitude toward sinners, thus incurring the wrath of Hippolytus, Tertullian, and others. He condemned the heresies of that era but was forgiving to those involved.

Callistus died in 222, victim of a ferocious pagan uprising against Christians. The traditional claims of his death is that he was thrown from a window of his house and down a well, in the Trastevere district of Rome. His body was recovered and buried secretly in the cemetery of Calepodius on the Via Aurelia, where his tomb, with sixth-century frescoes depicting his supposed martyrdom, was discovered in 1960.

His relics where taken in the mid-fourth century to Sana Maria in Trastevere, claimed to be the oldest church dedicated to Our Lady in Rome—predating the peace of Constantine—and built on the site of the well in which he drowned. The little church of St. Callistus nearby (now closed) may be on the site of an even earlier church built by Callistus himself. The church being a result of Emperor Alexander Severus deciding that a disputed plot of land should be given to Christians rather than to tavern-keepers, saying, “I prefer that it should belong to those who honor God, whatever be their form of worship.”

“In the Lord’s hand there is abundance of all things, because He is the Lord of powers and the King of glory.”—Pope Saint Callistus I, speaking about God’s mercy

Bibliography:

Bunson, Matthew and Margaret Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Second Edition.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2014.

Burns, Paul. “Butler’s Saint for the Day.” Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007.

Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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