Today is the feast day of Pope Saint Anicetus. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Anicetus, the twelfth Pope after St. Peter, first saw the light of day in Syria, toward the end of the first century. He was carefully educated by his parents, and was gifted by God with great natural abilities, especially with a clear, penetrating mind. He made, by his untiring perseverance, such progress in all sciences that he was accounted among the best scholars of his time. In addition to this, the life he led was so blameless, that he was a model to every one of Christian perfection. The most shining of all his virtues was his truly apostolic zeal in protecting and disseminating the true faith. Therefore, when Pius I. had ended his life by a glorious martyrdom, Anicetus was unanimously elected his successor amid great rejoicing. And in truth, the Church needed at that period, a Pope as learned, zealous and holy as himself, as she was assailed and persecuted in all possible ways by divers heretics. Valentinus and Marcion, two Heresiarchs, had already commenced to sow the poison of their corruption in Rome, and even a wicked woman named Marcellina, who had adopted the teachings of Carpocrates, had already many followers. The saddest fact of all, however, was that the Catholics, themselves, became very indolent in the practice of their faith, and their conduct was not such as their religion required. This inspired the heretics with hope of being able to instill their spurious doctrines into their minds, as we know by experience that the surest road to apostasy from the true faith, is indifference and debased morals.
St. Anicetus, although he perceived all this with great pain, did not become disheartened. Calling on God for aid, he began earnestly to work. By daily sermons, by teaching and exhortation, he endeavored to move the Catholics to more fervency in their religion, as well as to a reformation of their lives. The example of his own holy life gave the greatest force to his words. He lived like a Saint, and all his thoughts were directed to lead his flock to salvation. He was an enemy to even the most innocent amusement, and found his only pleasure in prayer and in working for the honor of God and the salvation of souls. He employed the greater part of the night in devotional exercises, and during the day he was only found in Church, in the dwellings of the sick, or poor, or at home occupied in study or prayer. He chastised his body by fasting and other penances. To his enemies he was kind and charitable; to the poor, liberal; while in danger and persecution he was fearless and strong. This beautiful example of their shepherd was soon followed by the Catholics residing at Rome with such zeal, that, according to the testimony of Hegesippus, the historian, the whole city became a habitation of sanctity. This change in the morals of the people was the most efficacious means of preserving them in the true faith, as the best safeguard of faith is a pious and blameless life. As far as the heretics were concerned, who endeavored to implant in the hearts of the Romans the seeds of their false doctrines, the holy father had the greatest compassion on them on account of their lost souls. He left nothing untried to bring them to the knowledge of their error, but he thought it prudent to banish those who remained inflexible from the city. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John, came to Rome at the time of Anicetus, to discuss several points with him, which were to be settled for the welfare of the faithful. All was happily concluded and Polycarp paid the greatest honors to the holy Pope, everywhere praising his saintly conduct.
For eight years had Anicetus governed the Church with wonderful wisdom and power, when during the persecution of Marcus Aurelius he was seized, and being inflexible in the confession of his faith, he was decapitated. (4)
During that his time as pope he had to combat in particular the dangerous errors of gnosticism, Christ’s ancient enemy, already rampant in the days when Saint John the Apostle wrote his letters to the churches of Asia. Saint Anicetus was visited in Rome by Saint Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who desired to consult with him, and whom he in turn asked to celebrate the feast of Easter in the Church of Rome, as Saint Ireneus, Polycarp’s disciple, relates. They had not been able to find a solution to the question of a difference in the date of Easter in the Orient and the Occident, which Pope Saint Victor would later settle, but remained close friends. Saint Anicetus’ vigilance protected his flock from the wiles of the false preachers Valentine and Marcion, who were attempting to corrupt the faith in the capital of the empire. (1)
Image: The Martyrdom of Pope Anicetus, frescoes by Antonio Circignani, called Pomarancio
Chapel of Sant’Aniceto e Beata Vergine della Clemenza, Palazzo Altemps, Roma (4)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff