Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Short Cuts

Author and Publisher - Catholic Online

Image of St. Callistus I

Facts

Feastday: October 14

Patron of Cemetery workers


Imagine that your biography was written by an enemy of yours. And that its information was all anyone would have not only for the rest of your life but for centuries to come. You would never be able to refute it -- and even if you couldno one would believe you because your accuser was a saint.

That is the problem we face with Pope Callistus I who died about 222. The only story of his life we have is from someone who hated him and what he stood for, an author identified as Saint Hippolytus, a rival candidate for the chair of Peter. What had made Hippolytus so angry? Hippolytus was very strict and rigid in his adherence to rules and regulations. The early Church had been very rough on those who committed sins of adultery, murder, and fornication. Hippolytus was enraged by the mercy that Callistus showed to these repentant sinners, allowing them back into communion of the Church after they had performed public penance. Callistus' mercy was also matched by his desire for equality among Church members, manifested by his acceptance of marraiges between free people and slaves. Hippolytus saw all of this as a degradation of the Church, a submission to lust and licentiousness that reflected not mercy and holiness in Callistus but perversion and fraud.

Trying to weed out the venom to find the facts of Callistus' life in Hippolytus' account, we learn that Callistus himself was a slave (something that probably did not endear him to class-conscious Hippolytus). His master, Carporphorus made him manager of a bank in the Publica Piscina sector of Rome where Callistus took in the money of other Christians. The bank failed -- according to Hippolytus because Callistus spent the money on his own pleasure-seeking. It seems unlikely that Carporphorus would trust his good name and his fellow Christians' savings to someone that unreliable.

Whatever the reason, Callistus fled the city by ship in order to escape punishment. When his master caught up with him, Callistus jumped into the sea (according to Hippolytus, in order to commit suicide). After Callistus was rescued he was brought back to Rome, put on trial, and sentenced to a cruel punishment -- forced labor on the treadmill. Carporphorus took pity on his former slave and manager and Callistus won his release by convincing him he could get some of the money back from investors. (This seems to indicate, in spite of Hippolytus' statements, that the money was not squandered but lent or invested unwisely.) Callistus' methods had not improved with desperation and when he disrupted a synagogue by shouting for money, he was arrested and sentenced again.

This time he was sent to the mines. Other Christians who had been sentenced there because of their religion were released by negotiations between the emperor and the Pope (with the help of the emperor's mistress who was friendly toward Christians). Callistus accidentally wound up on the same list with the persecuted brothers and sisters. (Hippolytus reports that this was through extortion and connniving on Callistus' part.) Apparently, everyone, including the Pope, realized Callistus did not deserve his new freedom but unwilling to carry the case further the Pope gave Callistus an income and situation -- away from Rome. (Once again, this is a point for suspecting Hippolytus' account. If Callistus was so despicable and untrustworthy why provide him with an income and a situation? Leaving him free out of pity is one thing, but giving money to a convicted criminal and slave is another. There must have been more to the story.)

About nine or ten years later, the new pope Zephyrinus recalled Callistus to Rome. Zephyrinus was good-hearted and well-meaning but had no understanding of theology. This was disastrous in a time when heretical beliefs were springing up everywhere. One minute Zephyrinus would endorse a belief he thought orthodox and the next he would embrace the opposite statement. Callistus soon made his value known, guiding Zephyrinus through theology to what he saw as orthodoxy. (Needless to say it was not what Hippolytus felt was orthodox enough.) To a certain extent, according to Hippolytus, Callistus was the power behind the Church before he even assumed the bishopric of Rome.

When Zephyrinus died in 219, Callistus was proclaimed pope over the protests of his rival candidate Hippolytus. He seemed to have as strong a hatred of heresy as Hippolytus, however, because he banished one of the heretics named Sabellius.

Callistus came to power during a crucial time of the Church. Was it going to hang on to the rigid rules of previous years and limit itself to those who were already saints or was it going to embrace sinners as Christ commanded? Was its mission only to a few holy ones or to the whole world, to the healthy or to the sick? We can understand Hippolytus' fear -- that hypocritical penitents would use the Church and weaken it in the time when they faced persecution. But Callistus chose to trust God's mercy and love and opened the doors. By choosing Christ's mission, he chose to spread the Gospel to all.

Pope Callistus is listed as a martyr but we have no record of how he was martyred or by whom. There were no official persecutions at the time, but he may well have been killed in riots against Christians.

As sad as it is to realize that the only story we have of his life is by an enemy, it is glorious to see in it the fact that the Church is large enough not only to embrace sinners and saints, but to proclaim two people saints who hold such wildly opposing views and to elect a slave and an alleged ex-convict to guide the whole Church. There's hope for all of us then!


More about St. Callistus I from Wikipedia

St. Callistus I Comments



More Saints






Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

13.

Image of St. Jude Thaddaeus

St. Jude Thaddaeus

St. Jude, known as Thaddaeus, was a brother of St. James the Less, and a relative of Our Saviour. He was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus and his attribute is a club. Images of St. Jude ... continue reading | shop

14.

Image of St. Peter

St. Peter

Peter, who was also known as Simon Peter of Cephas, is considered the first Pope. Despite his papacy, Peter had humble beginnings and became one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He was ... continue reading | shop

15.

Image of St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete ... continue reading | shop

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. Pantaleon

St. Pantaleon

St Pantaleon came from Nicomedia, near the Black Sea, in Asia. He was such a famous doctor that the Emperor himself chose him for his own doctor. Pantaleon was a Christian, but the bad influence from ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Required


Female Saints

Image of St. Bernadette

St. Bernadette

St. Bernadette was born in Lourdes, France on January 7, 1844. Her parents were very poor and she was the first of nine children. She was baptized at St. Pierre's, the local parish church, on January 9. As a toddler, Bernadette contracted cholera and suffered extreme ... continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. Colette

St. Colette

Colette was the daughter of a carpenter named DeBoilet at Corby Abbey in Picardy, France. She was born on January 13, christened Nicolette, and called Colette. Orphaned at seventeen, she distributed her inheritance to the poor. She became a Franciscan tertiary, and ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Casimir

St. Casimir

Casimir grew up in a world where his life was not his own. As a prince of Poland, the second son of King Casimir IV and Elizabeth of Austria, his life was scheduled to cement his father's authority and increase Poland's power. Casimir realized from an early age ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of Irenaeus of Lyon wrote these words - The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason, God-who cannot be grasped, comprehended, or seen-allows Himself to be seen, comprehended, and grasped by men, that He may give life to those who see and receive Him. It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy His goodness.

St Irenaeus of Lyon Teaches Us How to Know God

By Deacon Keith Fournier

This great defender of the faith insisted on the central claim of Christianity: God can be known and loved-indeed, that is why He came into our midst in the person of His Son; so that through a  relationship with Jesus Christ, man could participate in the very ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21
10 A disaster for me, mother, that you bore me to be a man of strife and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 59:2-3, 4, 10-11, 17, 18
2 rescue me from evil-doers, from men of violence save me.3 ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 13:44-46
44 'The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 27th, 2016 Image

St. Pantaleon
July 27: St Pantaleon came from Nicomedia, near the Black ... Read More