Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Zephyrinus
Zephyrinus, bp. of Rome after Victor, under the emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla. Lipsius concludes his episcopate to have been either 18 or 19 years, from 198 or 199 to 217. His reign was marked by serious disturbance at Rome owing to doctrinal controversies and consequent schism. Zephyrinus seems to have been of no sufficient mark to take a personal lead, but to have been under the guidance of Callistus, a man of more practical ability who succeeded him as pope. This Callistus and his learned opponent Hippolytus appear to have been the leading spirits of the time at Rome.
The two notable heresies of the time were Montanism and Monarchianism. The see of Rome, when occupied by Zephyrinus, declared against Montanism (Eus. H. E. ii. 25; iii. 28, 31; vi. 20). [CAIUS.] Thus Zephrinus, though no action of his in the matter is recorded, may certainly be concluded to have been no favourer of the Montanists. But neither he nor Callistus, who succeeded him, is free from the imputation of having countenanced one school of the Monarchians, that which Praxeas had introduced into Rome. Montanism and Monarchianism represented two opposite tendencies. The former was the product of emotional enthusiasm, the latter of intellectual speculation grounded on the difficulty of comprehending the mystery of the Godhead in Christ. Those called by the general name of Monarchians, though differing widely in their views, agreed in denying a divine personality in Christ distinct from that of the Father, being jealous for the Unity, and what was called the Monarchy of God. One school was also called Patripassian, because its position was held to imply that in the sufferings of Christ the Father suffered. "They taught that the one Godhead, not one Person thereof only, had become incarnate, the terms Father and Son with them denoting only the distinction between God in His Eternal Being, and God as manifested in Christ. Such views were obviously inconsistent with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, and their outcome was the Sabellian heresy. Praxeas appears to have been the first to introduce this form of heresy at Rome, and, if Tertullian is to be believed, the popes of the time supported Praxeas and his doctrine rather than otherwise. In addition to this testimony of Tertullian (whose treatise against Praxeas, written in the time of Zephyrinus, has been supposed, not without reason, to have been directed against the reigning pope as much as against the original heresiarch) we have that of the Refutation of all Heresies, attributed to HIPPOLYTUS, a learned writer of great note in his day, whose real ecclesiastical position is still open to discussion. He probably was bishop over a community at Rome which claimed to be the true church, out of communion with the pope, after the accession of Callistus, and possibly also under Zephyrinus.
Callistus, in the time of pope Victor, had been residing under suspicion at Antium. Zephyrinus, the successor of Victor, seems to have had no misgivings about him, recalled him to Rome, gave him some position of authority over the clergy, and "set him over the cemetery." Zephyrinus is described as an unlearned and ignorant man, entirely managed by Callistus, who induced him, for his own purposes, to declare generally for, but sometimes against, the Patripassians. The picture of the Roman church during the episcopate of Zephyrinus, as given in the Refutation of Hippolytus, discloses a state of discord and disruption not recorded by the historians. The picture, indeed, may be somewhat overcoloured under the influence of odium theologicum, and Callistus may not be the unprincipled adventurer, or Zephyrinus altogether the greedy and ignorant tool, that the writer describes. Dr. Döllinger (Hippolyt. und Callist.), who attributes the whole work to Hippolytus, takes this view. He defends Callistus against the libel on his character, which, however, he allows may have had some ground, but acquits Hippolytus of wilful misrepresentation, supposing him to have been partly misled by false reports and partly by prejudice, being himself a strict maintainer of ancient discipline, while Callistus was a liberal. It is difficult, however, to acquit the writer of deliberate and malignant slander unless the picture given of the popes was mainly a true one. There remains the idea of Dr. Newman, that "the libellous matter" in the Elenchus of Hippolytus was not his; but for this there is no foundation beyond the supposed difficulty of believing it so. If Hippolytus wrote it, it is to be remembered that he was undoubtedly a divine of greater learning and repute than his rivals, and that he seems to have left a name without reproach behind him. All three (like some others who were bitterly at variance during life) are now together in the Calendar of Saints.
Zephyrinus is further accused of undue laxity in matters of discipline. Our informant, Tertullian, writing in his time, speaks indignantly of a papal edict allowing admission of adulterers, after penance, to communion.
There was yet another school of Monarchians at Rome in the time of Zephyrinus, adding to the discord. Its teacher, Theodotus the banker, who held that Christ, though conceived by the Holy Ghost, was a mere man, and even inferior to Melchizedek, had his sect apart and out of communion with the church (Eus. H. E. v. 28; Tertull. de Praescript.). Eusebius (l.c.), quoting from an unnamed writer of the time, tells a story of Natalius, a confessor for the faith, having been persuaded by Theodotus and his colleague Asclepiodotus to be made bishop of their sect, of his having subsequently thrown himself in sackcloth and ashes with many tears at the feet of Zephyrinus, and been thereupon received into communion. Another of the same school, Artemon or Artemas, taught at Rome under Zephyrinus, and apart from his communion. He alleged that his own doctrine was that which the apostles had handed down, and which had been accepted by the Roman see till pope Victor's time, Zephyrinus having been the first to falsify the ancient creed. To this bold assertion his opponents replied that the fact of Victor having excommunicated Theodotus the carrier, who was "the leader and father of this God-denying apostasy," was proof that Artemon's doctrine had not been formerly that of the Roman church (Eus. H. E. v. 28; cf. Epiphan. Haer. lxv. 1, 4; Theodoret, Haer. Fab. ii. 4; Phot. Biblioth. 48). During this episcopate the emperor Severus, a.d. 202, issued an edict which forbade any person to become a Jew or a Christian (Aelii Spartiani Severus, c. 17), which was probably interpreted so as to include existing converts; for in some parts it was followed by severe persecution, though there is no evidence that Zephyrinus or the Christians at Rome were then molested.
Some time during this episcopate Origen paid a short visit to Rome (Eus. H. E. vi. 14). Zephyrinus is said (Catal. Felic.) to have
been buried "in cimiterio suo juxta cimiterium via Appia"—i.e. apparently not in "the cemetery" itself, over which Callistus had been set (supra), but in one of his own adjoining it. Lipsius supposes that the cemetery here meant was one which Zephyrinus had acquired, and that, Callistus having greatly added to it, the larger extension was afterwards called "the cemetery."
Zephyrinus is said in Catal. Felic. to have ordered that no cleric of any order should be ordained except in the presence of the clergy and faithful laity, and to have made a constitution, the purport of which, as it stands now in the texts of Cat. Fel., it is not easy to understand, but which is given in the Lib. Pontif. (Vit. S. Zephyr.) as meaning that "the ministers should carry patens of glass in the church before the priests when the bishop celebrated masses, and that the priests should stand in attendance while masses were thus celebrated." There is other conclusive evidence that anciently, and to a date considerably later than that of Zephyrinus, glass patens as well as chalices were in use (see Labbe, p. 619—nota Binii (c.) in Vit. Zephyr.).
Together with most of the early popes, St. Zephyrinus is commemorated as a martyr; "Aug. 26. Romae S. Zephyrinus Papae et martyris" (Martyr. Rom.). There is no ground for supposing him to have been one. Two spurious epistles have been assigned to him (see Labbe).