Pope St. Callistus I

October 12, 1997

Brother John Raymond


Most of what we know about Pope St. Callistus I (feastday October 14) comes down to us from the writings of his staunch opponent, St. Hippolytus, the first anti-pope. Isn't this story getting interesting? An anti-pope saint? More about that later. Hippolytus tells us that Callistus, born in the latter half of the second century, as a young man was entrusted with the management of a bank by his master. This bank in Rome was where Christians deposited their money. The bank failed and Callistus feared his master's wrath. So he fled Rome but was caught at Porto, after having jumped into the sea in an attempt to escape. He was sentenced to a punishment reserved for slaves, hard labor at a mill. Those Christians, who had deposited money in Callistus' former bank, petitioned for his release successfully. They did not do this, however, out of Christian charity - instead, they hoped he might be able to recover their lost savings!

Callistus in his attempt to recover the money went into a synagogue demanding the Jews pay the debts they owed him. The Jews in turn denounced him to the authorities as a disturber of the peace and a Christian. He was now sent to hard labor at the mines of Sardinia, a place for Christian "criminals." He remained here until about 190 AD, when the mistress of Emperor Commodus obtained release for the Christians interred there. After he recuperated from his imprisonment Callistus was finally a free citizen.

Sometime during the pontificate of St. Zephyrinus, Callistus was ordained a deacon, in preference to Hippolytus, and directed perhaps the first Church owned-property—a Christian cemetery on the Via Appia (now called the Catacomb of St. Callistus.) He became an advisor to the pope and his successor in 217. Hippolytus, a rival candidate for pope, denounced Callistus as a friend and ally of Sabellius, the leader of a heretical sect known as the Monarchians and declared himself pope. (Much later Hippolytus would be thrown in prison with Pope Pontianus, repent, die a martyr and be declared a saint!) This was unfounded as Callistus had already disassociated himself from Sabellius and formally condemned Monarchianism.

Both St. Hippolytus and the rigorist Tertullian attacked Pope Callistus on the grounds that he was not stringent enough with sinners. Callistus had issued a decree, contrary to the practice of some bishops, that persons guilty of serious crimes, such as murder, adultery or apostasy, if penitent and willing to perform the prescribed penance, were to be forgiven and received back into the Christian community. Callistus also was unpopular with Hippolytus for many things including ruling that committing a mortal sin is not sufficient reason for deposing a bishop and that marriage between free women and slaves is legitimate, contrary to Roman civil law.

Later accounts of Pope Callistus relate that he was killed in 222 by a mob in Trastevere, a section of Rome. These accounts relate that he planned to construct several church buildings in Trastevere. He was attacked by a mob who opposed his plan, since they would be evicted. He was supposedly stoned to death and his body thrown into a well. Although this account is held to be doubtful by some, it is more certain that he was probably martyred and archaeological evidence indicates that he was actually buried in Trastevere.

We can certainly turn to St. Callistus on his special day in prayer for many things. He certainly knows what it is like to be destitute or a business failure (By the way, he was successful in managing the cemetery.) His merciful attitude toward repentant sinners is an example to us.


O, St. Callistus, you know what it's like to be poor, oppressed, a prisoner, and even to fail in business. We ask you to intercede before God for all those who suffer persecution because of race, color, class, language or religion. We ask you to watch over all prisoners and those with business problems.

St. Callistus, we ask you to obtain for us the grace to be more merciful to our neighbors no matter what offense they may have committed against us or others. Amen.