St Callistus I
Pope Martyr (-222)
Saint of the Day October 14
St Callistus, who had been Archdeacon of Rome under Pope St Zephyrinus, was elected Pope on the latter’s death in 217 and reigned for five years. He was a staunch supporter of orthodox Catholic beliefs and held the middle ground between those who advocated extreme laxity and the advocates of rigour in discipline. The rigorist Hippolytus, for example, believed with the Montanists that certain mortal sins like murder, adultery and apostasy, should never be forgiven, even after due penance had been exacted and publicly performed.
Hippolytus left the Church at Callistus’ election, formed a schismatic body, and set himself up as a kind of anti-pope. At that time, Callistus, firmly maintaining that the Church had the power to absolve from all sins and thus ought to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards those who had fallen away from the faith in the time of persecution, issued his famous decree which defined the Church’s views, and accordingly readmitted into the Church some who had been expelled from the schismatic congregation of Hippolytus, provided they had publicly repented and carried out the severe penances prescribed. Among the other disciplinary regulations of this Pope there is also one which admitted, contrary to Roman civil law, the validity of marriages between patricians and plebians or slaves.
There was no official persecution going on against Christians in Rome at that time, but St Callistus was killed in a popular disturbance caused by the pagan rabble, by being thrown headlong from a high window. The chapel bearing his name in the Trastevere quarter of Rome appears to stand on land which was adjudged to certain Christians under Emperor Alexander Severus against some claimant who was a tavern keeper. “Any religious rites,” the Emperor declared, “are to be preferred to a tavern!”