Monday, November 4, 2013

Catholic Popes: Pope Callistus I (Our 16th Pope)

By M. J. Joachim

There are two schools of thought regarding Pope Callistus (also spelled Callixtus. Some research indicates he was one of the best popes that ever lived, adhering to the teachings of Jesus, without bowing to the politics of the land. Other research indicates he was difficult to deal with, because he didn’t play the game, catering to the powers that be and increasing their influence through his cooperation with their designs of what was best for the people and the land. 

One of the primary things known about Pope Callistus is that he had a reputation for being soft on sinners; this didn’t fare well with his enemies in the Church. The times were tough, and many Church authorities in positions of power thought it appropriate to teach sinners a hard lesson, especially if they wanted or expected to be converted to the faith. 

Callistus had actually been a slave in his younger days. He worked for a bank that failed. Money was lost. Callistus fled, eventually getting caught, becoming imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor. It so happens that other Christians were also slaves doing hard labor. Along comes Pope Victor, who manages to get several Christians released from the labor camps. Callistus’s name was not on the list, but he used his prowess to join the other Christians and get released as well, something Pope Victor was not all too thrilled about. Nonetheless, Pope Victor proved merciful, basically allowing the release of Callistus to slide.

Several years later, Pope Zephrynus summoned Callistus to work for him, thus enabling Callistus to retain a seat of authority in the Church. When Pope Zephrynus died, Callistus became the new pope, much to the dismay of Hippolytus, the man said to be responsible for the first schism in the Church. 

Callistus’s role in Church history led the way for the true message of Christ to be spread throughout the world. Many Church authorities were setting the ground rules for what it meant to be catholic, putting boundaries (do’s and don’ts) in place, and providing mandatory consequences for them. Callistus went against the grain, by strongly adhering to the Gospel, insisting on a message of love and mercy, from the Church, for sinners. 

Consequently, there are two very different schools of thought on his papacy, one where he is labeled an enemy of the true Church, and one where his is praised for being one of the best popes of all time, for preaching and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel that teaches us to be merciful and love one another as we have been loved.

Thank you for visiting Being Catholic. I hope you’ll come back and see me again real soon.

M. J. 

Resources: Lives of the Popes, Absolute Monarchs, The History of the Church, Catholic Online, The Original Catholic Encyclopedia

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Photo credit: Artaud de Montor, The Lives & Times of the Popes, PD-US