Popes in a Year
#24 - Pope St. Sixtus II
Pope from 257-258 A.D.
Died: 258 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Sixtus II.
Given the testy situation in the Roman Empire at the time, St. Sixtus II was elected in secret on August 30, 257. He was known for being a “good and peaceful priest,” according to Pontius, his biographer. Having also been faced, like his predecessor St. Stephen I, with the controversy surrounding rebaptism of heretics, Sixtus handled the fallout more diplomatically, restoring friendly relations within the universal Church while still upholding Stephen’s conclusion (that rebaptism was unnecessary). Sixtus II died a martyr’s death (more on that in a moment) and his feast day is celebrated on August 6.
What was he known for?
St. Sixtus II is known for being a hero, plain and simple. The Roman emperor Valerian had initially been friendly and peaceable with the Church, but a paranoia that his friendliness angered the gods and was causing his empire to crumble made him to do an abrupt - and violent - about-face. Before long, the Church faced the full force of Roman persecution, as bishops, priests, and deacons were executed on the spot, without trial, when captured. Penalties against the laity were barely more lenient.
Sixtus II, who wasn't about to back down, (probably) muttered, “do your worst, pal” and illegally held Mass on August 6 in a chapel in the catacombs of St. Callixtus. Sadly, imperial soldiers burst in, discovering the clandestine worship. To prevent the massacre of the faithful, St. Sixtus II and four deacons surrendered themselves, being granted the crown of martyrdom by beheading.
St. Sixtus II was a contemporary of St. Lawrence, the famous martyr who, legend has it, said to his executioners (while being grilled alive), “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.” St. Lawrence is also the man who, when asked by the prefect of Rome to bring forth the riches of the Church, brought all of Rome’s poor to the his doorstep.
Sixtus II and Lawrence were martyred within four days of one another, and St. Cyprian being martyred soon thereafter (September 14). All three are commemorated in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I): “Linus, Cletus, Clement,
What else was going on in the world at the time?
Nanjing University, an institution of higher learning that’s still in existence today, was founded in China.
Coming tomorrow....Pope St. Dionysius
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. Sixtus II -
Pope Sixtus II -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 2:00AM