Pope Callisto I


October 20, 2021

Callisto I, known in Latin as Callixtus or Calixtus (... - Rome, 222), was the 16th bishop of Rome and pope of the Catholic Church, which venerates him as a saint. He was pope from approximately 217 to 222.


Almost all the news about him is due to Saint Hippolytus, who perhaps inserted malicious facts into his biography. He would have been a slave and embezzler of his master Carpoforo's money. He escaped and was caught back and sentenced to the mill. As soon as he was pardoned, he caused disturbances in a synagogue, ending up being sentenced to mines in Sardinia in about 186-189. More certain is the news after his liberation, after 190-192. As a freedman he opened a bank in the third royal of Rome, populated almost exclusively by Christians, which failed overwhelmed by the inflationary crisis of the second century. He was a deacon of Zefirino, who entrusted him with the direction of a cemetery on the Via Appia (called the catacombs of San Callisto).


Despite having his pontificate begun in 217, his contemporary, Giulio Africano, indicated the date of his ascent to the throne of Peter in the first (or second?) Year of the reign of Elagabalus, 218 or 219. However, Eusebius of Caesarea that the Liberian Catalog agreed in recognizing him five years of episcopate. His election provoked the schism of Hippolytus of Rome, considered anti-pope. Historia Augusta states that a place on which he built an oratory was claimed by tavernai (popinarii), but the emperor decided that a place for the worship of any god was better than any tavern. This is said to have been the origin of the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. However, according to what is stated in the Liberian Catalog, this basilica was built by Pope Julius I. Perhaps the constructive intervention of Pope Callisto is to be found in the nearby church of San Callisto. It also contains a well in which the legend says that the pope's body was thrown. This is, with much more probability, the church that Callisto had built. Almost everything we know about this pope comes from the writings of his bitter enemies, Quinto Settimio Fiorente Tertullianus and the author of the Philosophumena, the antipope Hippolytus. It is, therefore, biased news, which seeks to make a person appear reprehensible and hateful.

Thesis against Callisto

According to the Philosophumena, which defined him as a "industrious man for evil and resourceful for error", Callisto was the slave of a certain Carpoforo, a Christian of the imperial family. He entrusted large sums of money to Callisto, who created a bank where orphans and widows could bring their money. Callisto, however, lost everything and ran away. Carpophore followed him to Porto, where Callisto was boarding a ship. Seeing his master approaching on a boat, the slave threw himself into the sea to commit suicide, but was saved, dragged ashore, and handed over to his master to punish him. The creditors, believing that he still had their money, begged for his release: Callisto however no longer had it, so he sought death again by attacking and insulting the Jews in their synagogue. The Jews dragged him in front of the prefect Fusciano, where Carpoforo declared that Callisto should not be considered as a Christian, but the prefect, thinking that the master was trying to save his slave, sentenced Callisto to forced labor in the mines in Sardinia (e.g. metalla). Some time later, Marcia, Commodus's lover, summoned Pope Victor I and asked him if there were any Christians in Sardinia. He gave her a list, not including Callisto. Marcia then sent an emissary with the task of having the prisoners released. Callisto threw himself at her feet, and begged him to take him with her. Vittore resented what had happened, but being a compassionate man, he left Callisto in Anzio with a monthly grant.

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