Saint Zephyrinus, Pope, Martyr

August 26

Today is the feast day of Saint Zephyrinus.  Ora pro nobis.

Pope Saint Zephyrinus’ date of birth unknown.  He died on 20 Dec., 217. Pope Zephyrinus was a native of Rome.  He succeeded Victor I in the pontificate in the year 198.  Pope Zephyrinus is described by Hippolytus in the “Philosophymena” (IX, xi) as a simple man without education. This is evidently to be understood as meaning that Pope Zephyrinus had not taken the higher studies and had devoted himself to the practical administration of the Church and not to theological learning. Immediately after his elevation to the Roman See, Zephyrinus called to Rome the confessor Callistus.   Callistus lived at Antium and had received a monthly pension from Pope Victor who intrusted him with the oversight of the coemeterium.

It is evident that shortly before this the Roman Christian community had, under Victor, become the owner of a common place of burial on the Via Appia, and Zephyrinus now placed Callistus over this cemetery which was given the name of Callistus. Undoubtedly Callistus was also made a deacon of the Roman Church by Zephyrinus. He was the confidential counsellor of the pope.  Callistus eventually succeeded Zephyrinus. The positions of the Christians, which had remained favorable in the first years of the government of Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211), grew constantly worse.  In 202 or 203 the edict of persecution appeared which forbade conversion to Christianity under the severest penalties.

This bloody persecution against the Church continued for nine years until the death of the emperor in 211. Until this furious storm ended,  Pope Zephyrinus remained concealed for the sake of his flock, supporting and comforting the distressed disciples of Christ.

The holy Pope had the affliction of witnessing the fall of Tertullian. He saw to his joy, however, the conversion of Natalis, who had become a heretical bishop when he lapsed into the Theodotian heresy. God, wishing to bring him back to the Church, sent him a solid correction which opened his eyes, and he came to kneel at the feet of the Vicar of Christ, wearing a hair shirt and humbly asking pardon for his revolt.

Eusebius tells us that this holy Pope exerted his zeal so strenuously against the blasphemies of the heretics, that they treated him with the utmost contempt. To his glory, however, they also called him the principal defender of Christ’s divinity. Saint Zephyrinus governed the Church for nineteen years, dying in 217 as a martyr under Antoninus Caracalla.

Zephyrinus was buried in a separate sepulchral chamber over the cemetery of Calistus on the Via Appia (cf. Wilpert, “Die papstgruber und die Suciliengruft in der Katakombe des hl. Kallistus”, Freiburg, 1909, 91 sqq.). The “Liber Pontificalis” attributes two Decrees to Zephyrinus; one on the ordination of the clergy and the other on the Eucharistic Liturgy in the title churches of Rome.

Image: This illustration is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by Chevalier Artaud de Montor, New York: The Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911. It was originally published in 1842. Artist: Artaud de Montor (1772–1849) (3)

Research by REGINA Staff


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