St. Callistus: Slave, Convict, Pope, Martyr
Today, October 14, we commemorate St. Callistus I, who was a slave, a convict, pope, and martyr. The saint caused a major controversy, including a schism that lasted almost two decades, by choosing to emphasize God’s mercy toward sinners. However, it was this enduring aspect of his leadership, as well as his martyrdom, that has confirmed his holiness.
St. Callistus (martyred c.222) was once a young slave in Rome, who got into serious trouble. He was put in charge of his master’s bank account, but mishandled his money, and lost a large sum. Out of fear, he ran away, but was caught, put in chains, and was sentenced to do hard labor in the city.
Later on, he became involved in a riot in a local synagogue and was sent to the mines of Sardinia. When, at Pope Victor’s request, the emperor freed all the Christians who had been condemned to those mines, Callistus was freed, too. From that time on, things began to improve for him.
Pope St. Zephrinus (119-217) came to know and trust the freed slave. The pope brought him to Rome, ordained him, and made him his administrator and advisor. He put him in charge of the cemetery and places of worship, which some wealthy people had made available to the Christians.
In 217, St. Callistus himself became pope. Some people complained because he showed too much mercy to sinners. However, the holy pope ruled that even murderers could be admitted to Communion after they had done penance for their sin. This great pope always defended the true doctrine of Jesus.
He was martyred and was buried at the 3rd mile on the Via Aurelia on October 14, 222.
The Catacombs of St Callistus is a complex network of underground chambers, which expands for miles. Take a virtual tour of the Catacombs of St. Callistus.