Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lives of the Saints: two forgotten popes

From Rev. Alban Butler’s The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints; edited by Dan Leo, Professor of Ancient Religions, Olney Community College; author of Knights of Columbus: An Anecdotal History; Olney Community College Press. 

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for “penmarq™ studios, ltd”.

Imprimatur: Bishop John J. “Black Jack” Graham, D.Phil..

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St. Hyginus

HE was placed in the chair of St. Peter after the martyrdom of St. Telesphorus, in the year 139. The church then enjoyed some sort of calm, under the mild reign of the emperor Antoninus Pius; though several martyrs suffered in his time by the fury of the populace, or the cruelty of certain magistrates. The emperor himself never consented to such proceedings; and when informed of them by the governors of Asia, Athens, Thessalonica, and Larissea, he wrote to them in favour of the Christians, as is recorded by St. Justin and Eusebius.


 But the devil had recourse to other arts to disturb the peace of God’s church. Cerdo, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in the year 140, came from Syria to Rome, and began to teach the false principles which Marcion adopted afterwards with more success. He impiously affirmed that there were two Gods;

the one rigorous and severe, the author of the Old Testament; the other merciful and good, the author of the New, and the father of Christ, sent by him to redeem man from the tyranny of the former; and that Christ was not really born of the Virgin Mary, or true man, but such in shadow only and appearance. Our holy pope, by his pastoral vigilance, detected that monster, and cut him off from the communion of the church. The heresiarch, imposing upon him by a false repentance, was again received; but the zealous pastor having discovered that he secretly preached his old opinions, excommunicated him a second time.   

Another minister of Satan was Valentine, who being a Platonic philosopher, puffed up with the vain opinion of his learning,

and full of resentment for another’s being preferred to him in an election to a certain bishopric in Egypt, as Tertullian relates, revived the errors of Simon Magus, and added to them many other absurd fictions, as of thirty Æônes or ages, a kind of inferior deities, with whimsical histories of their several pedigrees. Having broached these opinions at Alexandria, he left Egypt for Rome. At first he dissembled his heresies, but by degrees his extravagant doctrines came to light. Hyginus, being the mildest of men, endeavoured to reclaim him without proceeding to extremities; so that Valentine was not excommunicated before the first year of St. Pius, his immediate successor.  

St. Hyginus did not sit quite four years, dying in 142. 

We do not find that he ended his life by martyrdom, yet he is styled a martyr in some ancient calendars, as well as in the present Roman Martyrology; undoubtedly on account of the various persecutions which he suffered, and to which his high station in the church exposed him in those perilous times.

St. Agatho


AGATHO, a Sicilian by birth, was remarkable for his charity and benevolence, a profound humility, and an engaging sweetness of temper.

Having been several years treasurer of the church of Rome, he succeeded Domnus in the pontificate in 679.

He presided by his three legates in the sixth general council and third of Constantinople, in 680, in the reign of the pious emperor Constantine Pogonatus, against the Monothelite heresy, which he confuted in a learned letter to that emperor, by the tradition of the apostolic church of Rome.

This epistle was approved as a rule of faith by the same council, which declared, “that Peter spoke by Agatho”.

Anastatius says, that the number of his miracles procured him the title of Thaumaturgus.

He died in 682, having held the pontificate two years and a half.   

The style of this pope’s letters is inferior to that both of his predecessors and successors.

The reason he alleges in excusing the legates whom he sent to Constantinople for their want of eloquence, is because the graces of speech could not be cultivated amidst the incursions of Barbarians, whilst with much difficulty they earned their daily subsistence by manual labour; “but we preserve,” said he, with simplicity of heart, “the faith, which our fathers have handed down to us.”

The bishops, his legates, say the same thing:

“Our countries are harassed by the fury of barbarous nations. We live in the midst of battles, inroads, and devastations: our lives pass in continual alarms and anxiety, and we subsist by the labour of our hands.”

next: three forgotten bishops

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