St. Callistus I
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!
Saint Feast Days by Month
Lucy's history has been lost and all we really know for certain is that this brave woman who lived in Syracuse lost her life during the persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Her ... continue readingMore Saint of the Day
An elder Mexican man makes his way to Mass in the early morning twilight of December 9, 1531. He is a peasant, a simple farmer and laborer, and he has no education. Born under Aztec rule, he is a convert to Catholicism, and each step he takes this morning is a step ... continue readingMore Female Saints
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
St. Gabriel is an angel who serves as a messenger for God to certain people. He is one of the three archangels. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel to explain his ... continue reading
Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, known as John in English, was born May 8, 1786 in Dardilly, France and was baptized the same day. He was the fourth of six children born to Matthieu and Marie Vianney. John was raised in a Catholic home and the family often helped the poor ... continue reading
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was born in Barbastro, Spain, on January 9, 1902, the second of six children of Jose and Dolores Escriva. Growing up in a devout family and attending Catholic schools, he learned the basic truths of the faith and practices such as frequent ... continue reading
By CNA News
Scientists at a university in Liverpool have unveiled what they say is the most realistic portrait ever created of St. Nicholas of Myra, the popular 4th century bishop best known as the inspiration for the modern-day figure of Santa Claus. Liverpool, England (CNA) - ... continue readingMore Christian Saints & Heroes
More Christian Saints & Heroes
by Catholic Online
- How does the Vatican fight money laundering?
- St. Lucy: Saint of the Day for Wednesday, December 13, 2017
- Daily Readings for Wednesday, December 13, 2017
- Pope Francis wants to change the Lord's Prayer, but what do the new ...
- Is Facebook ripping apart human civilization? HD Video
- Here's when you'll see the first self-driving trucks on the road
- Daily Reading for Thursday, December 14th, 2017 HD Video
- Daily Reading for Wednesday, December 13th, 2017 HD
- Attempted terror attack fails in Manhattan as pipe bomb explodes early HD
- Here's how Pope Francis wants to change the Lords Prayer HD
- Daily Reading for Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 HD
Learn about Catholic world
Inform - Inspire - Ignite
Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained
Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need
Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online
Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye
Today's bible reading
Products and services we offer
Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books
The California Network
Inspiring streaming service
Learn the Catholic way