Saint of the Day – St Pope Callistus I (Died c 223) – 14 October Pope and Martyr Also known as Callixtus I/Calixtus I. Papal Ascension – c 218 – martyred c 223. Legend says he was killed by being thrown down a well with a millstone around his neckbut there is no solid evidence. Patronage – cemetery workers.
The most reliable information about this saint comes from his enemy Saint Hippolytus, an early antipope, later a martyr for the Church. A negative principle is used: if some worse things had happened, Hippolytus would surely have mentioned them.
Callistus was a slave in the imperial Roman household. Put in charge of the bank by his master, he lost the money deposited, fled and was caught. After serving time for a while, he was released to make some attempt to recover the money. Apparently he carried his zeal too far, being arrested for brawling in a Jewish synagogue. This time he was condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia. Through the influence of the emperor’s mistress he was released and went to live at Anzio.
After winning his freedom, Callistus was made superintendent of the public Christian burial ground in Rome–still called the cemetery of Saint Callistus–probably the first land owned by the Church. The pope ordained him a deacon and made him his friend and adviser.
Callistus was elected pope by a majority vote of the clergy and laity of Rome and thereafter was bitterly attacked by the losing candidate, Saint Hippolytus, who let himself be set up as the first antipope in the history of the Church. The schism lasted about 18 years.
Hippolytus is venerated as a saint. He was banished during the persecution of 235 and was reconciled to the Church. He died from his sufferings in Sardinia. He attacked Callistus on two fronts—doctrine and discipline. Hippolytus seems to have exaggerated the distinction between Father and Son–almost making two gods–possibly because theological language had not yet been refined. He also accused Callistus of being too lenient, for reasons we may find surprising: 1) Callistus admitted to Holy Communion those who had already done public penance for murder, adultery and fornication; 2) he held marriages between free women and slaves to be valid—contrary to Roman law; 3) he authorised the ordination of men who had been married two or three times; 4) he held that mortal sin was not a sufficient reason to depose a bishop; 5) he held to a policy of leniency toward those who had temporarily denied their faith during persecution.
Pope Saint Callistus I is held to have initiated a practice in the Church known as Ember (meaning four times per year) Days, to bring down blessings on each season of the year. Within the liturgical year, the Church designated a group of three days which were set aside for fast and abstinence. This observation occurred four times during the course of the liturgical year. The practice, which was observed for centuries, has since faded.
Callistus was martyred during a local disturbance in Trastevere, Rome and is the first pope–except for Peter–to be commemorated as a martyr in the earliest martyrology of the Church.