Indeed, how good is the Lord: bless his holy name.
Year: C(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 Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
Augustine was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church early and spent a great deal of time seriously seeking the truth, first in the Manichaean heresy, which he abandoned on seeing how nonsensical it was, and then in Neoplatonism, until at length, through the prayers of his mother and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christianity and baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death.
Augustine had a brilliant legal and academic career, but after his conversion he returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous amount and left a permanent mark on both philosophy and theology. His Confessions, as dazzling in style as they are deep in content, are a landmark of world literature. The Second Readings in the Office of Readings contain extracts from many of his sermons and commentaries and also from the Confessions.
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)||Romans 12:17,19-20,21 ©|
Never repay evil with evil. As scripture says: Vengeance is mine – I will pay them back, says the Lord. But there is more: If your enemy is hungry, you should give him food, and if he is thirsty, let him drink. Resist evil and conquer it with good.
|Noon reading (Sext)||1 John 3:16 ©|
This has taught us love – that he gave up his life for us; and we, too, ought to give up our lives for our brothers.
|Afternoon reading (None)||1 John 4:9-11 ©|
God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him; this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away. My dear people, since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another.