POPE ST. CALLIXTUS I: Slave to Convict to Pope

Think you have a sketchy past?

Meet Pope Saint Callixtus I.

He's probably got you beat.



We don't know much about Pope Saint Callixtus I's early life. What we do know about Callixtus is from the writings of his religious and political rivals in the Early Church, namely Hippolytus.

More on Hippolytus later...

Cal's story starts somewhere in early adulthood. He was a Roman slave belonging to a Christian master named Carpophorus. Carpophorus placed Cal in charge of a pool of money local Christians had collected to take care of local orphans, and widows. 

Bad choice Carpophorus. 

Soon thereafter, Cal somehow lost the money through a string of bad loans or poor investments, and left town as quickly as possible to avoid the fallout.

He made it as far as the nearest port before being found stowed away on a ship about to depart. In a last ditch effort to avoid his captures Cal jumped overboard and attempted to swim to freedom.


He was arrested and returned to Carpophorus.

Upon returning home, Cal was released by Carpophorus at the suprising request of the Christian creditors who hoped he might be able to recover their money.

Now resolved to recoup the lost funds, Cal continued his string of bad decisions by marching into the nearest Jewish synagogue and demanded repayment from some of the Jewish attendees who he had previously lent money to.

Arguments ensued.

After physically and verbally assaulting a number of the people he was re-arrested. This time he was sentenced to hard labor in the salt mines of Sardinia.



To be clear, being sentenced to the salt mines was pretty much a death sentence. Most people sent there died within a year or two.

Cal arrived at the mines. The conditions were unbearable and the work torturous.

But again Cal somehow found himself delivered from his transgressions by a merciful Christian. 

Marcia, the Christian mistress of Commodus (remember from Gladiator) learned of the plight of her fellow Christians in the salt mines and begged the Emperor for their release. Commodus conceded.

Cal and the other Christians returned home as quasi-martyrs.

Something must have changed for Cal in the salt mines because upon returning home to Rome, he was a changed man.

He became involved in the Church, and quickly moved up in office. To honor him as a living confessor, he was even given a monthly pension from Pope Victor I.

Callixtus was ordained a Deacon in AD 199 by Pope Zephyrinius, and then became his succesor as Pope Callixtus I in AD 217.

Quite the turn around, aye?



Having been on the receiving end of mercy numerous times himself, Callixtus seemed to have carried the theme into his Papacy. Shortly after becoming Pope, Callixtus issued the Decree of 217 which stated penance and absolution would be enough to re-admit Christians to the Eucharist for the seven sins previously restricted -- murder, idolatry, fraud, apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and fornication.

Enter Hippolytus...

Pope Callixtus's perceived laxity toward sinners was met with great opposition. Hippolytus, a religious contemporary and prominent theologian of the Church lead the charge.

Hippolytus believed in excessive rigorism and staunchly disagreed with Pope Callixtus's softened penitential system. Hippolytus was elected a rival Bishop of Rome and became the first antipope of the Catholic Church around AD 220.

Callixtus's reign, like most Popes in the Early Church, was short lived. He was martyred somewhere around the year AD 223. Legend has it that during an uprising he was thrown out a window and down the bottom of a well.


Thats pretty anticlimactic.

Don’t worry, his story likely doesn't end there.



After Pope Callixtus I’s death, Hippolytus continued to attack Callixtus's successors Pope Urban I and then Pope Pontian. In an ironic twist, the sitting Emporer Maximinus Thrax rounded up both Pope Pontian and Antipope Hippolytus together and exiled them to the salt mines in AD 235, the very place Callixtus had once been.

In the salt mines, Hippolytus had a change of heart, repented adamantly and begged Pontian to allow him back into the Church.

Pontian consented and Hippolytus was reconciled. It was perfect timing too because both Pope Pontian and Hippolytus were martyred shortly after.

It’s ironic how Hippolytus, Callixtus’s most ardent opposition for being too merciful as Pope, was suddenly aware of his errors, penitent for his schism, and reconciled to the Church just in the nick of time before death.


Or Callixtus’s intercession?



1. FALL DOWN SEVEN TIMES GET UP EIGHT -- Callixtus was quite the dud early in life and always seemed to find himself in a pickle, yet somehow after getting his ducks in a row, he somehow ascends all the way to becoming Pope.

No matter how precarious our current position may be, there's always hope for the future.

Remember, this too shall pass.

2. PAY IT FORWARD -- Despite numerous missteps Callixtus was continully shown mercy by God and his fellow Christians. This seemed to have had a profound impact on him, because he in turn paid it forward to those separated from the Church.

Often times we receive mercy from others only to hold it back from those who do us wrong.

Pay it forward. What goes around comes around.