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St. Callistus I

St. Callistus I

Feast date: Oct 14

Pope Callistus I is celebrated in churches throughout the world as a saint and martyr on October 14. The saint caused a major controversy, including a schism that lasted almost two decades, by choosing to emphasize God's mercy in his ministry. However, the early Pope's model of leadership has endured, and his martyrdom in the year 222 confirmed his example of holiness.

Because no completely trustworthy biography of Pope Callistus I exists, historians have been forced to rely on an account by his contemporary Hippolytus of Rome. Although Hippolytus himself was eventually reconciled to the Church and canonized as a martyr, he vocally opposed the pontificate of Callistus and three of his successors, to the point of usurping papal prerogatives for himself (as the first “antipope”). Nevertheless, his account of Callistus' life and papacy provides important details.

According to Hippolytus' account, Callistus – whose year of birth is not known - began his career as a highly-placed domestic servant, eventually taking responsibility for his master's banking business. When the bank failed, Callistus received the blame, and attempted to flee from his master. Being discovered, he was demoted to serve as a manual laborer in Rome. Thus, under inauspicious circumstances, Callistus came as a slave to the city where he would later serve as Pope.

Matters went from bad to worse when he was sent to work in the mines, possibly for causing a public disturbance, if Hippolytus' account is to be trusted. However, Callistus may also simply have been sentenced due to a persecution of Christians, as he was among the many believers eventually freed on the initiative of Pope St. Victor I.

During the subsequent reign of Pope Zephyrinus, Callistus became a deacon and the caretaker of a major Roman Christian cemetery (which still bears his name as the “Cemetery of St. Callistus”), in addition to advising the Pope on theological controversies of the day. He was a natural candidate to follow Zephyrinus, when the latter died in 219.

Hippolytus, an erudite Roman theologian, accused Pope Callistus of sympathizing with heretics, and resented the new Pope's clarification that even the most serious sins could be absolved after sincere confession. The Pope's assertion of divine mercy also scandalized the North African Christian polemicist Tertullian, already in schism from the Church in Carthage, who also erroneously held that certain sins were too serious to be forgiven through confession.

Considered in light of this error, Hippolytus' catalogue of sins allegedly “permitted” by Callistus – including extramarital sex and early forms of contraception - may in fact represent offenses which the Pope never allowed, but which he was willing to absolve in the case of penitents seeking reconciliation with the Church.

Even so, Callistus could not persuade Hippolytus' followers of his rightful authority as Pope during his own lifetime. The Catholic Church, however, has always acknowledged the orthodoxy and holiness of Pope St. Callistus I, particularly since the time of his martyrdom – traditionally ascribed to an anti-Christian mob - in 222. 

St. Callistus' own intercession after death may also have made possible the historic reconciliation between his opponent Hippolytus, and the later Pope Pontian. The Pope and former antipope were martyred together in 236, and both subsequently canonized.

Italy's high court nixes arrest warrant for Vatican suspect (AP)

The ruling in favor of Gianluigi Torzi, “ the broker at the center of the Vatican financial scandal . . . . is the latest setback for Vatican prosecutors,” The Pillar reports. Prosecutors have charged Torzi with money laundering, extortion, and fraud.

Polish bishops criticize Vatican's discipline of bishops who covered up abuse (CNS)

As Poland’s bishops visit Rome for their quinquennial ad limina visit, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the bishops’ conference, said that “critical remarks have been made about the Holy See’s treatment of bishops who’ve had punishments imposed for shortcomings, transgressions or acts of forgetfulness in dealing with clergy accused of pedophilia.”

In a meeting with the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, some Polish bishops “highlighted the disproportionate, lasting penalties imposed on bishops after initial investigations, when pedophile criminals can leave prison after five years and begin a new life with a clean sheet,” Archbishop Gadecki continued. “We’re talking about the civil death of an accused hierarch who isn’t a pedophile, who’s removed from office, falls into infamy and is effectively annihilated by the media.”

Bishops offer update on national Eucharistic revival (CNS)

The bishops who chair the USCCB’s Committees on Doctrine and on Evangelization and Catechesis said that the revival, announced in June, will begin on the feast of Corpus Christi in 2022 and culminate in a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024.

DR Congo bishop decries persecution of the Church by armed groups (Aid to the Church in Need)

Since March, “seven parishes, a school, a health center and a convent” have been attacked in the Archdiocese of Bukavu, according to Archbishop François-Xavier Maroy Rusengo. Bukavu, a city of 870,000, is capital of South Kivu province (map).

Rep. Lipinski reflects on work as pro-life Catholic Democrat (America)

The veteran pro-life Illinois Democrat was ousted in the 2020 primary election.

“I was tested by fire, and though I was not perfect through the whole ordeal, in the end I was—and am—Catholic first,” he writes. “I am hopeful, even though I did not succeed, that through my witness more Catholics will come to see that with faith and reason, wisdom from Scripture and tradition, unceasing prayer and God’s grace, we can defeat this culture of contempt and save the American republic.”

Religious vaccine exemption stays for NY health care workers (AP)

In an important case, Judge David Hurd, who was appointed to the bench by President Clinton, has barred the State of New York from requiring employers to deny religious exemptions to vaccine mandates. Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed to appeal the ruling.

Number of new Polish seminarians falls 47% over 8 years (National Catholic Register)

828 men entered seminaries in 2012; that number fell to 498 in 2019 and 441 in 2020.

Kidnappers abduct priest, unidentified woman in Umuahia (This Day (Lagos))

Umuahia, a city of 360,000, is the capital of Nigeria’s Abia State (map).

Judge blocks Baltimore from banning Catholic group's rally (AP)

Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, who was appointed to the bench by President Obama, ruled in favor of St. Michael’s Media (Church Militant), and against the City of Baltimore. St. Michael’s Media filed suit after the city, citing the potential for violence, canceled the group’s planned rally at a city-owned pavilion. The rally is scheduled to coincide with the US bishops’ November meeting there.

“We are disappointed by the Court’s decision and potential threat to public safety if this event ensues,” a spokesman for Mayor Brandon Scott said following the judge’s decision. “The proposed rally is slated to take place on Baltimore City property, and we have a responsibility to protect our property and fellow citizens.”