Cry out with joy to God, all the earth: serve the Lord with gladness.
Year: A(II). Psalm week: 4. Liturgical Colour: Green.
Pope St Callistus I (- 222)
Most of what we know of Callistus comes from attacks by his contemporaries, notably Tertullian and the antipope Hippolytus.
As a young slave Callistus was put in charge of a bank by his master Carpophorus, in which the brethren and widows lodged money. Callistus lost it all, and fled. When his master caught up with his ship Callistus jumped overboard to escape capture but was saved from drowning. He was given the punishment reserved for slaves, that of turning the pistrinum or hand-mill. His creditors got him released in the hope that he could retrieve some of their money, but when he tried to get back some of the money he had lent to Jews the result was a fight for which he was re-arrested. He was denounced as a Christian and was condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia (thus, incidentally, ceasing to be the slave of Carpophorus). Marcia, a mistress of the Emperor Commodus, obtained the release of the Christians including Callistus. His health was so weakened that he was sent to Antium to recuperate and was given a pension by Pope Victor I.
Somehow, from a weakened ex-slave in receipt of a invalidity pension, Callistus rose to be archdeacon, had charge of the Roman catacomb which now bears his name, and ended up as Pope. The oppressed Church of the early third century had more important things to do than keep detailed archives of its decision-making processes, but we can be sure that Tertullian’s story that Callistus obtained influence over the ignorant, illiterate and grasping Pope Zephyrinus through bribes is just polemical fiction.
What so irritated Tertullian and Hippolytus and made them so keen to vilify Callistus is what made him such an important figure in the history of the Church. The question of what to do about repentant sinners was a matter of intense debate and dissension, and many of the violent splits in the Church of the early centuries hinged on this very point. What were you to do if someone committed a serious sin? The rigorists – we might call them the “slip once and you’re damned” school – held that once you had done such evil acts you were for ever separated from the true, the pure Church, and there was no way back. Callistus decreed that sinners – for example, fornicators and adulterers – could be readmitted to communion if they repented and did penance for their sin. Callistus based the theology of his decree on the power that Christ gave to Peter and his successors, both to bind and to loose. Tertullian and Hippolytus argued that this power had been given to Peter personally and could not be passed on, so that Callistus’ decree was an innovation, and invalid. They similarly accused him of reprehensible laxity in other matters of Church discipline.
Callistus’ gift to the Church was crucial in the arguments of the fourth century, where the Donatist schism in Africa arose precisely over the question of what should be done about those who, during the persecutions of Diocletian, had given up the sacred Scriptures to the authorities – or, conversely, about those who had flaunted their Christianity so as to attract prosecution, imprisonment, and consequently notoriety and admiration among the Christians. The calm good sense shown by orthodox bishops (sometimes patchily but ultimately successfully) has its roots in this manifestation of charity and mercy by Callistus.
Not much is known about how Callistus died. He is the earliest pope found in a fourth-century martyrology, but details are scarce. Since he lived in a time of peace under the emperor Alexander Severus, whose mother was a Christian, he may have been killed in a riot.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Maximus the Confessor (c.580 - 662)
Beginning life as a civil servant and rising to high office, Maximus saw the light and took monastic vows, at an unknown time and for unknown reasons, at the monastery of Philippicus in Chrysopolis, a city across the Bosporus from Constantinople (later known as Scutari, the modern Turkish city of Üsküdar). In due course he became the abbot there.
When the Persians conquered Anatolia, Maximus was forced to flee to a monastery near Carthage. It was there that he came under the tutelage of Saint Sophronius, and began studying in detail with him the Christological writings of Gregory of Nazianzus and Dionysius the Areopagite. He applied rigorous Aristotelian logic to these writings to make their doctrine clearer, and harder to misunderstand.
The perennial argument in the East over the nature of Christ – whether true God and true man, or just a divinely commanded man-shaped puppet – flared up yet again, and this time both the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople were on the latter side. Maximus taking the side of orthodoxy, he was arrested in Rome in 653, together with Pope Martin I. The Pope was condemned without a trial and died before he could be sent to Constantinople. Maximus was taken there to be tried as a heretic in 658 and was sentenced to four years’ exile. In 662 he was brought back and tried again, and this time his tongue was cut out so that he could no longer speak rebellion and his right hand cut off so that he could no longer write letters. He was exiled to a distant region of the empire, where he died on 13 August of the same year.
The passages from St Maximus which adorn the Office of Readings have nothing of these controversies in them, but are chosen to reflect for us the glory of the light of the events of our redemption.
Liturgical colour: green
The theological virtue of hope is symbolized by the colour green, just as the burning fire of love is symbolized by red. Green is the colour of growing things, and hope, like them, is always new and always fresh. Liturgically, green is the colour of Ordinary Time, the orderly sequence of weeks through the year, a season in which we are being neither single-mindedly penitent (in purple) nor overwhelmingly joyful (in white).
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 Corinthians 10:24,31 ©|
Nobody should be looking for his own advantage, but everybody for the other man’s. Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Colossians 3:17 ©|
Never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Colossians 3:23-24 ©|
Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you his heirs. It is Christ the Lord that you are serving.