Following the Apostles are the five successors to St. Peter. Then comes Cyprian, the martyr-bishop of Carthage in Africa, the only foreigner in this List of Romans, but a name venerated in Rome. Rome's holy deacon, Lawrence, marks the transition to the five laymen.
Let us take them in these groups:
1. St. Linus: September 24th.
St. Linus, the immediate successor of St. Peter, was Pope for twelve years. He was an Italian convert of St. Peter, born in Volterra, an ancient city of Tuscany, and was consecrated an auxiliary bishop to St. Peter. Under the Emperor Claudius all Jews were banished from Rome in 49 A.D. St. Linus, who was an Italian and therefore not included in the banishment, ruled the See of Rome until St. Peter returned. St. Paul mentions him in 2 Timothy 4; 21.
After St. Peter's martyrdom in 67, St. Linus was beheaded by Saturninus the Consul about the year 78. He was buried on the Vatican hill close to the grave of St. Peter. [September 23rd is now the Feast day of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.]
2. St. Cletus: April 26th.
St. Cletus, (sometimes called Anacletus) succeeded St. Linus and became the third Pope. He was martyred about 90 A.D.
If the interesting tradition that Cletus was a slave is true, it indicates that the Church's teaching on the spiritual equality of all men, be they bond or free, was put into practice within the first century of her history.
3. St. Clement: November 23rd.
St. Clement was the fourth Pope, reigning from 90 to 100 A.D. He is the Clement mentioned by St. Paul:
"And I entreat you also, my sincere companion, (Syzygus) help those women who have laboured with me in the Gospel, with Clement, and the rest of my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4; 3).
St. Clement's Epistle to the Church of Corinth is an important historical document. St. Irenaeus writes of St. Clement: "This man, as he had seen the Apostles and conferred with them, might be said to have the preaching of the Apostles still in his ears and their traditions before his eyes."
He was banished by the Emperor Trajan to the Crimea, where his apostolate among the Christian slaves working in the marble quarries merited for him a martyr's crown. An anchor was fastened to his neck and he was cast into the sea. His bones were brought to Rome where they lie today in the basilica of San Clemente, one of Rome's most interesting churches. There are three distinct buildings one over the other, of which the lowest is believed to be the house in which St. Clement lived. San Clemente is in charge of the Irish Dominicans.
The first five successors to St. Peter were:
1. St. Linus (67-78)
2. St. Cletus (78-90)
3. St. Clement (90-100)
4. St Evaristus (100-109) and
5. St. Alexander (109-119) whose name will be mentioned in the Canon after the Consecration.
The sixth successor to St. Peter is St. Sixtus the First (119-125), who is to be distinguished from the famous martyr whose name follows -
4. St. Xystus: August 7th.
St. Xystus (the Greek form of Sixtus and hence he is known as St. Sixtus II) was a Greek, who became Pope in 257, during the severe persecution of Valerian. St. Xystus was arrested while preaching in the catacombs and was dragged through the streets of Rome. On the way he met Lawrence, one of his deacons, who claimed the right to join his master, but the Pope refused, promising him something much nobler but also much worse, and that promise was fulfilled three days later, when Lawrence suffered atrocious torture before death brought relief. St. Xystus was beheaded in the catacomb of Praetextatus near the Appian Way, where there stands today a very ancient church in his honour. [He was martyred on 6th August, which is, of course, the Feast of Our Lord's Transfiguration, so the Church has transferred his liturgical memory to the 7th.]
His reign as Pope was a brief one, just a year, for his death occurred in 258 A.D.
5. St. Cornelius: September 16th.
St. Cornelius was a Roman, who became Pope for one year. He was banished from Rome by the Emperor Gallus, and suffered martyrdom under the Emperor Volusian.
His pontificate was remarkable for the Roman Council of sixty bishops, which he assembled to examine and condemn the notorious rigorous anti-pope, Novatian. According to Novatian, those who were weak enough to sacrifice to idols, or to purchase certificates which stated they had done so, during the terror of the persecution, could never be absolved by the Church.
Pope St. Cornelius condemned this harsh doctrine. He was martyred in 252. [Interestingly, the very first anti-pope (about 220) was later recognized as a martyr and saint, St. Hippolytus.]
AN AFRICAN BISHOP
St. Cyprian: September 16th.
After the five martyred Popes comes an African Bishop, St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage. He was of distinguished rank, rich and talented, a man of letters, winning fame in Carthage as a barrister. Converted to Christianity about the year 246, Cyprian distributed his great wealth among the poor, made a vow of perpetual chastity, and devoted his life to prayer and study. Ordained a priest, he was promoted to the See of Carthage, over which he ruled for ten years, from 248 to 258, a period of terrible persecutions. In the public square of Carthage he was put to death by the sword on the same day as his friend, Pope St. Cornelius, had been six years before. Their joint feast is on September 16th.
St. Cyprian is one of the noblest characters of Christian antiquity. He was one of the earliest of the great Christian writers to use Latin in his many epistles and treatises. He had a long controversy with Pope St. Stephen on the question of heretical baptism, whose validity he attacked with arguments which built too confidently on the images he employed. Pope Stephen held by the traditional practice of the Church at Rome. The dispute threatened to lead to a schism when the death of Pope Stephen ended it. It is pleasant to see that St. Cyprian, in spite of his mistake about heretical baptism, and his long controversy with the Pope, has always been so honoured by the Apostolic See, that he is the one foreigner here among her local saints.
His friendship with Pope St. Cornelius is apparent in a letter congratulating the Pope on his banishment and foretelling the approaching martyrdom of both of them.
"Let us agree," he writes, "in remembering each other at this time of peril, and whichever of its shall first be favoured by Our Lord with a removal hence, let our affection still persevere before the Lord for our brethren in never-ceasing prayers for them."
At his execution the valiant Bishop begged twenty-five gold pieces from his friends for his executioner. Walking to the place of execution in Carthage wearing a linen tunic, he bandaged his own eyes, and thanked God for his approaching death.
St. Lawrence: August 10th.
St. Lawrence, believed to be a Spaniard, was ordained deacon by Pope Xystus and made the first of the seven deacons, and therefore the Archdeacon of Rome. His office was the important one of administration of the moneys of the Church.
As Pope Xystus was being dragged through the streets of Rome, Lawrence meeting him, said reproachfully:
"Whither go you, O Father, without your son?
Whither, O priest of God, without your deacon?"
And the saintly Pope replied:
"I am not forsaking you, my son, a nobler conflict awaits you. In three days you shall follow me."
During those three days the Archdeacon hastened through the poorest parts of Rome distributing the goods of the Church to the needy. Arrested by the prefect of the city he was commanded to deliver up the treasures of the Church. Lawrence assembled the poor of Rome, and presented them to the prefect as the treasures of the Church. The prefect was enraged at this and determined to pay him back. All through the night Lawrence was tormented. He was scourged, struck with leaden balls, stretched on the rack, burned with hot metal plates. But nothing could break his indomitable spirit. To his tormentors he exclaimed:
"For me this night has no darkness, but breaks forth into the bright of day."
Exasperated, his executioners placed him on a gridiron to roast him slowly over a fire. The saint bore this terrible torture, even jested, telling his tormentors that one side was sufficiently roasted, and that they should turn him over.
As his flesh sizzled over the fire the martyr prayed:
"On the gridiron I have not denied You, my God.
Over the fire I have confessed You, my Saviour.
You have tried and examined my heart in the night.
You have proved me by fire and found no falsehood in me.
My soul adhered to You, whilst my flesh burned for You."
St. Lawrence is Rome's proud boast; there his feast-day, on August 10th, has been celebrated since the 4th century. The Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls was built by Constantine over his grave. It ranks fifth of the churches of Rome- one of the five basilicas where the Pope alone says Mass on the high-altar, to show his jurisdiction over all.
This ends the list of ecclesiastical martyrs, and now come five laymen......... Part IV