14 October 2011

14 October - Saint Callistus

Weather: If St. Calixtus' day be dry and windy, the winter will be wet, but if it be rainy and still, the harvest will be good.

Pope Saint Callistus (or Calixtus) I (died c. 223), has a most interesting history.  However, much of it comes from his enemies, and anyone who reads the media nowadays, especially in the months leading up to an election, knows perfectly well that what is written is not always the truth.

Okay, to be charitable, what is written may be the truth as the writer sees it, and if he sees his opponent with horns and a pitchfork, that is what he is going to write.

To Tertullian and Saint Hippolytus, Calixtus had horns and a pitchfork.

What is known is that Calixtus was elected to succeed Pope Zephyrinus in AD 218 or 219 and that his episcopacy lasted about five years.  He might have been a martyr; he certainly was one of the more charitable popes.

Otherwise, it was said that he started life as a slave to a Christian gentleman, and was entrusted by his master with a sum of money with which to start a bank for the use of other Christians.  He lost the money, both the original stake and the funds of others, to bad lending practices; knowing that he would be blamed, he ran.  Not far enough, however.  He was found and sentenced to imprisonment, but those whose money had been lost, thinking that he had stolen it and had it hidden somewhere, begged for his release.  He didn't have it, of course, and the next we hear of him, he is being haled before a judge for getting into an altercation with some Jews (it has been suggested that he was trying to get the bank's money back, the Jews being the borrowers who refused to repay their loans).

This time he was sentenced to the mines of Sardinia, where he spent some time before being released with other Christians by the mistress of the Emperor Commodus.  He was created an archdeacon by Pope Zephyrinus and given charge of a Christian cemetery, and was elected pope himself upon the death of Zephyrinus.

So what is there in all this that had Tertullian and Hippolytus foaming at the mouth?  Well, among other things:
  • Calixtus decreed that those who had committed adultery and/or fornication could, upon having done their penance, be admitted to Communion [Seems reasonable to me, but there are those to this day who feel that if you put your hand to the plow and subsequently turn away, that's it - you don't belong with us anymore, no matter how sorry you are].
  • He did not require public penance of converts for sins committed prior to their acceptance into the Church [again, this seems reasonable.  And trust me.  Those who have walked in darkness and now walk in the light will carry the penance of those years of darkness in their hearts for life.  You don't need to add to it].
  • He allowed bishops to serve who had been married more than once [marriages contracted before baptism didn't count, any more than sins committed before baptism.  Afterward is a different story].
  • He declared that differences in status were no bar to marriage [Roman civil law said otherwise]
There were further accusations of heresy and enabling criminal activities.  When Calixtus was elected pope, Hippolytus had himself elected anti-pope by his followers.  Calixtus may have been killed in an popular uprising; legend says that he was thrown into a well with a millstone around his neck.

Both Tertullian and Hippolytus were considered heretics, but Hippolytus, who may have been a disciple of Saint Irenaeus, repented and returned to the fold before his death, which is why, in spite of his calumnies, he is called Saint Hippolytus.

There is hope for all of us.