Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Callistus, pope

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Callistus (1) (i. q. formosissimus; later spelt Calistus, but Calixtus first in 11th cent., Bunsen's Hippolytus, i. 131, note), the successor of pope Zephyrinus in a.d. 218, said to have been a Roman, and the son of Domitius.

Nothing was known of Callistus, except that the Martyrologium Romanum contained a tradition of his martyrdom, till the discovery of the Philosophumena in 1850. This work, which first appeared under the name of Origen, but is now ascribed to Hippolytus, almost certainly the contemporary bp. of Portus, gives an account of the life of Callistus which is scarcely credible respecting one of the bishops of Rome, who had before been honoured as a saint and martyr. Accordingly, much controversy has sprung up round the names of Callistus and Hippolytus. If Hippolytus is to be believed, Callistus was an unprincipled adventurer; if Callistus can be defended, grave doubt is thrown upon the veracity of Hippolytus. Bunsen and Wordsworth adopt the former view; Döllinger the latter, in an ingenious treatise translated by Dr. Plummer (T. &; T. Clark, 1876). The story as told by Hippolytus is lifelike and natural, and, however much we may allow for personal rancour, we cannot but believe it to be substantially true.

He tells us that Callistus was originally a slave in the household of a rich Christian called Carpophorus. His master intrusted to his charge a bank in the Piscina Publica, where Callistus induced his fellow-Christians to deposit their savings upon the security of the name of Carpophorus. The bank broke, and Callistus fled, but Carpophorus tracked him to Portus, and found him on board an outward-bound ship. The slave threw himself overboard in despair, but was picked up, and delivered to his master, who brought him back and put him to the pistrinum, or mill worked by the lowest slaves, for a punishment. After a time, however, he was set at liberty, and again attempted suicide, and for this purpose raised a riot in a synagogue of the Jews. By them he was brought before Fuscianus, the praefectus urbi, who, in spite of the fact that Carpophorus claimed him as his slave, condemned him, as a disturber of public worship allowed by the Roman laws, to be sent to the mines of Sardinia (Philosophumena, ed. Miller, pp. 286, 287).

His supposed desire for death certainly seems an inadequate motive for raising the riot in the Jewish synagogue. Döllinger supposes that, while claiming his debts at the hands of members of the Jewish synagogue, his zeal for religion impelled him to bear witness for Christ, and that thus his exile to Sardinia was a species of martyrdom for Christianity (Döllinger, Hippolytus u. Kallistus, p. 119). The date of his exile is proximately fixed, since Fuscianus served the office of praefectus urbi between a.d. 188 and a.d. 193 (Bunsen's Hippolytus, i. 138). Some time after, proceeds Hippolytus, Marcia, the Christian mistress of Commodus, persuaded the emperor to grant an amnesty to Christians undergoing punishment in Sardinia; and Callistus, at his own entreaty, was released, although his name was not on the list (supplied by the then bp. Victor) of those intended to benefit by Marcia's clemency. Callistus reappeared in Rome, much to the annoyance of Victor, for the outrage on the synagogue was recent and notorious. He therefore sent him to Antium, making him a small monthly allowance (Philosophumena, p. 288). Milman dates this c. a.d. 190, in the very year of Victor's accession (Lat. Christ. i. 55, note).

That Carpophorus's runaway slave should be of such importance that the pope should buy him off with an allowance, and insist upon his residing at a distance, shews that Callistus was already thought to be no ordinary man. He must have resided at Antium for a long time; for Zephyrinus, who did not succeed Victor till a.d. 202, recalled him. The new bishop "gave him the control of the clergy, and set him over the cemetery" (Phil. p. 288). This suggests that Callistus had been ordained at Antium; and the words "set him over the cemetery" (εἰς τὸ κοιμητήριον κατέστησεν have a special interest; for one of the largest catacombs in Rome is known as the Coemeterium Sti. Calixti. That this should have been intrusted to the same man to whom also was given the control of the clergy proves what a high value was set upon this first public burial-place of the Christians in Rome. Thirteen out of the next eighteen popes are said to have been buried here; and the names of seven of the thirteen (Callistus himself being one of the exceptions) have been identified from old inscriptions found in one crypt of this cemetery.

Now (a.d. 202) for the first time Callistus became a power in the Roman church. To Hippolytus, who held a double position in that church [HIPPOLYTUS], he became especially obnoxious. Being set over the Roman clergy, he was over Hippolytus, who was the presbyter of one of the Roman cardines or churches; but as a presbyter himself, he was inferior ecclesiastically to one who was also the bp. of Portus. Hippolytus claims to have detected Callistus's double-dealing from the first; but tells us that Callistus, aspiring to be bp. of Rome himself, would break openly with neither party. The question which now divided the church was that of the Monarchia, or how to reconcile the sovereignty of the Father with the Godhead of the Son. Callistus, who had obtained a complete ascendancy over the mind of Zephyrinus, according to Hippolytus an ignorant and venal man, took care to use language now agreeing with the Sabellians, now with Hippolytus. But he personally sided with Sabellius, called Hippolytus a Ditheist, and persuaded Sabellius, who might otherwise have gone right, to coalesce with the Monarchians. His motive, says Hippolytus, was that there might be two parties in the church which he could play off against each other, continuing on friendly terms with both (Phil. p. 289).

We find from Tertullian that Zephyrinus began, no doubt under Callistus's influence, the relaxation of discipline which he himself afterwards carried further when he became bishop. Under Zephyrinus the practice first obtained of allowing adulterers to be readmitted after public penance (de Pudicitiâ, i. 21; Döllinger, pp. 126–130). Zephyrinus died in a.d. 218, and Callistus was elected bishop instead; and Hippolytus does not scruple to avow that by this act the Roman church had formally committed itself to heresy. He regards his own as the orthodox church, in opposition to what he henceforth considers as only being the Callistian sect (Phil. pp. 289, 292). Yet the first act apparently of Callistus as bishop was towards conciliating his rival. He threw off, perhaps actually excommunicated (ἀπέωσε), Sabellius. But he only did this, says Hippolytus, to proclaim a heresy quite as deadly as the other. If he is to be believed, he is right in thus characterizing it. The Father and the Son, Callistianism said, were one; together they made the Spirit, which Spirit took flesh in the womb of the Virgin. Callistus, says Hippolytus indignantly, is as Patripassian as Sabellius, for he makes the Father suffer with the Son, if not as the Son (ib. pp. 289–330).

Hippolytus brings against him several other grave accusations of further relaxing the bonds of church discipline (ib. pp. 290, 291)—e.g.  (1) He relaxed the terms of readmission into the church: accounting no sin so deadly as to be incapable of readmission, and not exacting penance as a necessary preliminary.  (2) He relaxed the terms of admission into orders, ordaining even those who had been twice or thrice married; and permitting men already ordained to marry freely.  (3) He also relaxed the marriage laws of the church, thereby bringing them into conflict with those of the state; and Hippolytus says that a general immorality was the consequence. Döllinger, however, pertinently observes that Hippolytus does not even hint a charge of personal immorality against Callistus (Döllinger, Hippolytus und Kallistus, p. 195).  (4) He allowed second baptisms, which perhaps means that a repetition of baptism was substituted for the penance which had been necessary at the readmission of grievous sinners into the church. This is the only accusation which Döllinger meets with a distinct contradiction, on the ground that no such practice was known in the later Roman church (p. 189). Yet it surely is not as inconceivable as it seemed to him that later bishops of Rome might have reversed the acts of their predecessor.

Callistus is said to have died in a.d. 223 (Eus. H. E. vi. 20). Tradition tells us that he was scourged in a popular rising, thrown out of a window of his house in Trastevere, and flung into a well. This would account for no epitaph being found to Callistus in the papal crypt of his own cemetery in the catacombs. E. Rolffs, in Texte und Untersuch. (1893), xi. 3; P. Battifol, Le Décret de Callist. in Etudes d’Hist. et de Théol. (Paris, 1902), pp. 69 seq.

[G.H.M.]