By Caroline Liberatore (rated G)
Saint Callixtus I, pope from c.217 to c.222, is historically remembered as a figure embedded in differing levels of controversy. The primary sources recollecting the life of Pope Callixtus (also written Callistus) were written by two individuals who outrightly opposed aspects of his work and ministry: Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome. As such, some aspects of these records are subject to a healthy level of speculation due to the authors’ slanted perspectives. However, these accounts still serve to provide some historical context for Callixtus’s life and service.
Callixtus was first appointed to be a deacon by Pope Zephrynus, who counted him as trustworthy and often sought his counsel in regards to decision-making and theology. Even in his time as deacon, it became evident that Callixtus valued repentance and subsequent forgiveness most highly. As he began to influence Zephrynus toward this end, there were those who viewed this as an unfaithful expression of lawful theology.
As Callixtus entered into his role as pope, his merciful disposition towards the Church continued to radiate all the more truly. A notable instance of controversy arose in regards to his more liberal approach to penance compared to other views at the time. Callixtus believed it to be in accordance with Scripture to allow those who have committed intense sins (such as adultery, fornication, or murder) to partake in communion after due penence. Additionally, Callixtus allowed for instances of remarriage and the freedom for the laity and those within the lower clergy to marry slaves in order to propogate a culture of equality. These allowances were considered to be abominations—and even heretical—by Tertullian and Hippolytus, who upheld a more strict understanding of ecclesial laws and were themselves considered heretical by their contemporaries. Callixtus remained true to his convictions, and served to cultivate an understanding of mercy and restoration within the Church.
It is believed that Callixtus died as a martyr in 222 due to his inclusion in the Depositio Martirum (the oldest list of Roman martyrs), but more specific details are uncertain.
May we, as Pope St. Callixtus I, be quick to extend mercy and eager to see people with the eyes of Christ.