Chapelle Sixtine, Vatican
Saint Sixte II (257-258)
Ce pape naquit à Athènes. C’était un homme d’une grande culture et d’une doctrine sans faille. Il travailla au rétablissement serein et sans incidents graves des relations avec l’Église de Carthage. Ce fut lui qui envoya à Reims les évêques Sixte et Sinice.
Il fut décapité lors des persécutions organisées par l’empereur Valérien.
Sixtus (Xystus) II, Pope M, and Companions MM (RM)
Died August 6, 258; feast day formerly on August 6. Pope Sixtus II was a Greek philosopher who embraced the Christian faith, served as a deacon in Rome, reached this pinnacle of the church's offices on August 30, 257, and lasted in it no more than a year, suffering a brave martyr's death. His name is in the canon of the Roman Mass.
Although Sixtus II was convinced that anyone baptized by a heretic was truly baptized, he nevertheless refused to excommunicate or otherwise punish those theologians who disagreed with him. In his correspondence with Saint Dionysius of Alexandria and Firmilian of Antioch, he upheld the Roman position of their validity. Nevertheless, he resumed relations with Saint Cyprian and the churches Africa and Asia Minor which had been ruptured by Pope Saint Stephen I, his predecessor. In later centuries, the Church decreed that provided a heretic had properly used the formulas of baptism, any person so baptized could not be held to be outside the Christian faith. Why should a man who had embraced the faith be considered a pagan simply because the one who performed the rite of baptism was in error in his own beliefs?
In 253, Valerian, who had the chief of the senate, was elected emperor. At first he was more favorably disposed toward the Christians than any of the emperors before him had been, except Philip; and his palace was full of Christians. Thus, the church enjoyed three years and one-half years of peace. Valerian fell under the influence of the Persian archmagician named Macrianus, who persuaded the emperor that the Christians, as avowed enemies of magic and the gods, obstructed the effects of the sacrifices, and the prosperity of his empire.
According to Saint Cyprian who considered Sixtus an excellent prelate, Valerian had set forth his first decree condemning Christianity in April 257. Shortly, Saint Stephen I was martyred. This persecution lasted three and one-half years until he was taken prisoner by the Persians. Valerian ordered that the farms and estates, the honors and the goods, the freedom and even the lives of those who refused to renounce their faith should be sacrificed. When the persecution intensified the following year, Cyprian wrote to his fellow African bishops:
"Valerian has sent an order to the senate to the effect that bishops, priests, and deacons should forthwith die [even if they are willing to conform], but that senators, persons of quality, and Roman knights should forfeit their honors, should have their estates forfeited, and if they still refused to sacrifice, should lose their heads; that matrons should have their goods seized, and be banished; that any of Caesar's officers or domestics who already confessed the Christian faith, or had should now confess it, should forfeit their estates to the exchequer, and should be sent in chains to work in Caesar's farms. To this order the emperor subjoined a copy of the letters which he hath dispatched to the presidents of the several provinces concerning us; which letter I expect, and hope will soon be brought hither.
"Sixtus suffered in a cemetery on the sixth day of August, and with him four deacons. The Roman officers are very keen on this persecution: the people brought before them are certain to suffer and forfeit their estates. Please notify my colleagues of these details so that our brothers may be ready everywhere for their great conflict, that we all may think of immortality rather than death and derive joy rather than fear from this confession, in which the soldiers of Christ, as we know, are not so much killed as crowned."
The pope took refuge in the catacombs of Praetextatus on the Appian Way. There he was discovered preaching to his flock, seated in his chair. According to some accounts he was still seated, when he was beheaded. Others say that he was taken away for examination and returned to the scene for execution. It is certain that he was beheaded in the cemetery. The Roman Martyrology that he was martyred with his deacons (Felicissimus and Agapitus), subdeacons (Januarius, Magnus, Stephen, and Vincent), and Quartus. (Quartus owes his existence to a bad transcript in which "diaconus Quartus" (the deacon, Quartus) was written in place of the original "diacones quattuor" (four deacons).) It is likely that Sixtus suffered with all seven of the deacons of Rome, the six mentioned today, and Saint Lawrence; the four may not have been subdeacons.
Their bodies were carried across the Appian Way by their mourners, and placed in the cemetery of Saint Callixtus. He was one of the most highly esteemed martyrs of the early Roman church; however, the sayings of a pagan moralist, named Sextus, were wrongly attributed to Sixtus in the middle ages (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth, White)
In art, Saint Sixtus is shown holding a money-bag, with his deacon Saint Lawrence and Saint John the Baptist. At times he may be depicted (1) ordaining Saint Lawrence [Fra Angelico]; (2) giving Lawrence a bag of money to give to the poor; or (3) as he is greeted by Lawrence on his way to martyrdom (Roeder).
St. Xystus, or Sixtus II., Pope and Martyr
HE was a Grecian by birth, deacon of the Roman Church under St. Stephen, and upon his demise, in 257 was chosen pope, being the twenty-fifth from St. Peter. St. Dionysius of Alexandria consulted him by three letters on certain difficulties, and recommended to him to bear a little while with the Africans and some among the Asiatics with regard to their error concerning the validity of baptism given by heretics. Accordingly this pope used towards them indulgence, contenting himself with strongly recommending the truth to them; and his successors pursued the same conduct till that error was condemned in the plenary council often mentioned by St. Austin. 1 St. Sixtus is styled by St. Cyprian a peaceable and excellent prelate. Though some have ascribed eight years to his pontificate, it is certain from all the circumstances of his history, that he only sat one year. 2
Gallus, the successor of Decius in the empire, and a persecutor of the Christians, being despised for his cowardice, was slain with his son and colleague Volusius in 253, after having reigned eighteen months. Æmilius then assumed the title of emperor; but was killed after he had reigned four months, without having been acknowledged by the senate; and Valerianus, a person of a noble family, and great reputation, who had been censor and chief of the senate, was acknowledged emperor by the consent of the whole world. He was at first more favourable to the Christians than any of the emperors before him had been, not excepting the Philips; and his palace was full of religious persons. By this means the church enjoyed peace during three years and a half: which tranquillity afforded an opportunity of holding many councils; but in 257 Valerian raised the eighth, or, according to Sulpicius Severus, the ninth general persecution, which continued three years and a half, till he was taken prisoner by the Persians. The change wrought in this emperor is ascribed by Eusebius to a motive of superstition, and to the artifices and persuasion of one Macrianus, who was extremely addicted to the Persian sect of the Magians, and to the black art. This man, whom St. Dionysius of Alexandria calls the archmagian of Egypt, had worked himself into the highest favour with the superstitious emperor, was raised by him to the first dignities of the state, and persuaded him that the Christians by being avowed enemies to art magic, and to the gods, obstruct the effects of the sacrifices, and the prosperity of his empire. Valerian had reason to tremble for his own safety upon the pinnacle of his honours; for some compute that only six, out of thirty emperors, who had reigned from Augustus to his time, had escaped the violent hands of murderers; but, by declaring himself an enemy to the servants of God, he dug a pit for his own ruin. He published his first edict against them in April, 257, which was followed by the martyrdom of Pope Stephen and many others.
The persecution grew much more fierce in the following year, when Valerian marching into the East against the Persians, sent a new rescript to the senate to be passed into a law, the tenour and effect of which St. Cyprian notified to his fellow bishops in Africa as follows: 3—“Valerian has sent an order to the senate, importing that bishops, priests, and deacons should forthwith suffer,” (even although they should be willing to conform), “but that senators, persons of quality, and Roman knights, should forfeit their honours, should have their estates forfeited, and if they still refused to sacrifice, should lose their heads: that matrons should have their goods seized, and be banished: that any of Cæsar’s officers or domestics who had already confessed the Christian faith, or should now confess it, should forfeit their estates to the exchequer, and should be sent in chains to work in Cæsar’s farms. 4 To this order the emperor subjoined a copy of the letters which he hath despatched to the presidents of the several provinces concerning us: which letter I expect, and hope will soon be brought hither. You are to understand that Xystus (bishop of Rome) suffered in a cemetery upon the 6th day of August, and with him Quartus. The officers of Rome are very intent upon this persecution; and the persons who are brought before them are sure to suffer and to forfeit their estates to the exchequer. Pray notify these particulars to my colleagues, that so our brethren may every where be prepared for their great conflict; that we may all think rather of immortality than death, and derive more joy than fear or terror from this confession, in which we know that the soldiers of Christ are not so properly killed as crowned.”
St. Xystus suffered in a cemetery; for the Christians, in the times of persecution, resorted to those subterraneous caverns to celebrate the divine mysteries. Here they met, though Valerian had forbidden them to hold assemblies, and here they were hunted out. Quartus must have been a priest or deacon; otherwise he would not have suffered upon the spot, but been first pressed by the rack to sacrifice. Some think this name Quartus a slip of the copiers, and read this passage as follows: “with four deacons;” 5 for, say these authors, about that time four deacons suffered at Rome, Prætaxtatus, Felicissimus, and Agapitus, with their bishop, as the Liberian and other ancient Calendars testify; and Laurence, who suffered soon after him. This last was his archdeacon, and seeing him led to execution, expostulated with him, lamenting to be left behind. 6 “St. Sixtus replied that he should follow him within three days, by a more glorious triumph; himself being spared on account of his old age.” Those are mistaken who say that St. Sixtus was crucified; for the Liberian Calendar assures us, that he was beheaded in the cemetery of Calixtus, and the expression which St. Cyprian uses signifies the same. St. Cyprian suffered in the September following; and all the provinces of the empire were watered with the blood of innumerable martyrs; 7 for though Valerian’s first edicts regarded chiefly the clergy, they were soon extended to the whole body of Christians; old and young, men, women, and children; and great numbers of every condition, rich and poor, soldiers, husbandmen, slaves, and even children, were put to cruel deaths, as Eusebius, 8 St. Cyprian, 9 and the ancient Martyrologies testify.
Note 1. By this plenary council, Launoy, Sirmond, and Albaspinæus understand the council of St. Xystus suffered in a cemetery; for the Christians, in the times of persecution, resorted to those subterraneous caverns to celebrate the divine mysteries. Here they met, though Valerian had forbidden them to hold assemblies, and here they were hunted out. Quartus must have been a priest or deacon; otherwise he would not have suffered upon the spot, but been first pressed by the rack to sacrifice. Some think this name Quartus a slip of the copiers, and read this passage as follows: “with four deacons;” 5 for, say these authors, about that time four deacons suffered at Rome, Prætaxtatus, Felicissimus, and Agapitus, with their bishop, as the Liberian and other ancient Calendars testify; and Laurence, who suffered soon after him. This last was his archdeacon, and seeing him led to execution, expostulated with him, lamenting to be left behind. 6 “St. Sixtus replied that he should follow him within three days, by a more glorious triumph; himself being spared on account of his old age.” Those are mistaken who say that St. Sixtus was crucified; for the Liberian Calendar assures us, that he was beheaded in the cemetery of Calixtus, and the expression which St. Cyprian uses signifies the same. St. Cyprian suffered in the September following; and all the provinces of the empire were watered with the blood of innumerable martyrs; 7 for though Valerian’s first edicts regarded chiefly the clergy, they were soon extended to the whole body of Christians; old and young, men, women, and children; and great numbers of every condition, rich and poor, soldiers, husbandmen, slaves, and even children, were put to cruel deaths, as Eusebius, 8 St. Cyprian, 9 and the ancient Martyrologies testify.
Arles, assembled out of all the West in 314; but Bellarmin, Natalia Alexander, &c. explain it more probably of the council of Nice, because St. Austin calls it a plenary council of the whole world. [back]
Note 2. See Berti, Diss. 1. in Sæc. 3, p. 172. [back]
Note 3. S. Cyprian, ep. ad Successum episc. 80; Fello. 82, Pamelio. [back]
Note 4. It is well known in the Cæsarean law what sort of servitude that was which the Adscriptitii Glebæ were under, they being slaves employed in the meanest drudgery of tillage. [back]
Note 5. A mistake of the contraction quartus for quatuor in an old MS. was very easy. This is the conjecture of Baluze. “Xystum in cœmeterio animadversum sciatis, 8vo. Id. Aug. et cum eo diaconos quatuor.” S. Cypr. loc. cit. ed. Baluz. [back]
Note 6. S. Ambros. Offic. l. 1, c. 41. [back]
Note 7. This fierce persecution was continued during the last three years and a half of Valerian’s reign. Most flourishing was the condition of his empire till he drew his sword against those whose prayers were the protection of the state. They still prayed for those who most unjustly persecuted them; but God revenged their cause, even in this world. No sooner did this war break out against them, but the provinces became on every side a prey to barbarians. Valerian marched first against the Goths and Scythians, who poured in upon the empire from the north; but the terrible devastations committed by the Persians in Cilicia, Cappadocia, and other provinces of the east, called him on that side. Finding his affairs there in a bad condition, he was for purchasing a peace for money of Sapor I. the son of Artaxerxes, who having revolted with the Persians and slain Artabanus, the last king of Parthia, had erected upon the ruins of that empire the second Persian monarchy in 226. Sapor refused to treat with any other person but the emperor himself, who imprudently ventured his person with but few attendants. The barbarian caused him to be surrounded, and seized him prisoner, and as long as Valerian lived, made use of him for a footstool or horseblock, making him stoop, and setting his foot upon his neck whenever he mounted on horseback. He led him everywhere about in triumph, loaded with chains, and clad in purple and all the imperial ornaments. Valerian was taken in the seventh year of his reign, the seventy-sixth of his age, of Christ 259, and he lived thus seven years in captivity. Agathias says, that at length Sapor caused him to be flayed alive, and rubbed over with salt; but this seems only to have been done after his death, when the Persian had his skin pickled, died red, and hung up in a temple to be afterwards shown to the Roman ambassadors whenever they should come into Persia. The pagan Romans seemed little concerned at his misfortune, or their own disgrace, and his unnatural son Gallien used no great efforts for his liberty, though, after his death, he caused him to be enrolled among the gods; and the heathen Romans had always regarded him as one of their best emperors.
The Christians looked upon this catastrop he as an effect of divine vengeance upon this unjust persecutor of the saints. Lactantius writes of it as follows: “Not long after Decius Valerian was inflamed with the like rage, and in a very little time he shed a great deal of the blood of the saints. But God afflicted him with a new sort of judgment. He was taken prisoner by the Persians, and not only lost the empire, but as he had robbed many others of their liberty, so he lost his own at last, and fell under a most infamous slavery; for, as often as king Sapor had occasion either to mount on horseback, or to go into his chariot, he made the Roman emperor stoop down, that he might make his back a step to get up. And whereas the Romans had made some representations of the Persians being defeated by them, Sapor used to rally Valerian, and to tell him, that the posture in which he lay, was a more real proof to show on whose side the victory went, than all the pictures that the Romans could make. Valerian, being thus led about in triumph, lived for some time, so that the barbarians had in him occasion given for a great while to treat the very name of a Roman with all possible indignity and scorn. And this was the heightening of his misery, that though he had a son, upon whom the empire had devolved by his misfortune, yet no care was taken by the son either to rescue the father, or to revenge his ill usage. After he had ended his infamous life, his skin was flayed off his body, and both it and his guts being tinctured with a red colouring, they were hung up in one of the temples of the Persian gods, to be a perpetual remembrance of so remarkable a triumph, by which they might always put such Roman ambassadors as should be sent among them in mind of it, and from so unusual a sight, warn them not to presume too much upon their own strength, but to remember Valerian’s fall.”
Gallien, his son and successor, terrified by so dreadful an example of the divine vengeance, as Orosius says, restored peace to the church. He led a life of debauchery and supine indolence, whilst thirty tyrants in different parts of the world assumed the purple, and were at war with one another. Macrianus, the magician, by whose advice Valerian had persecuted the church, was one of this number, but was slain the first of them with his two sons. Olenatus, a Saracen, king of Palmyra in Syria, repressed the insolence of the Persians; for which service Gallien declared him his colleague in the empire, allotting to him all the East, and giving to his wife Zenobia the title of Augusta. After the death of her husband she became queen of the East, and is celebrated for her extraordinary wisdom, learning, and valour. The empire was at the same time visited with a dreadful pestilence which depopulated its provinces; and the barbarians on all sides poured in upon it like a torrent, which, having broken down its banks, impetuously spreads itself over the whole country. Nor could those nations be any more confined to their snows and mountains; but, in the end, they overthrew that empire which had formerly thought them not worth a conquest. The saints shared in these public calamities; but, by their charity, resignation, and patience, found in them solid comfort and joy, and by them attained to their crown. God converted all things to the good of his elect. Gallien was murdered in 268, after an ingnominious reign of nine years from the captivity of his father. His successor Claudius II. surnamed Gothicus, a prince of moderation and wisdom, continued to suspend the edicts of former persecutors during the two years that he reigned; but, after his death, Aurelian raised the ninth general persecution. Nevertheless, that some received the crown of martyrdom in the reign of Claudius Gothicus, is evident from the holy martyr St. Severa, whose body was found in the cemetery of SS. Thraso and Saturninus, on the Salarian way, one mile from Rome, in 1730. See the dissertation of F. Lupi on that martyr’s tomb and epitaph; printed at Panormo in 1734; also the remarks of the learned canons Boldetti and Maragnoni. [back]
Note 8. L. 7, c. 11. [back]
Note 9. Ep. 77, Pam. alias 70. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
SOURCE : http://www.bartleby.com/210/8/062.html
Pope St. Sixtus II
Elected 31 Aug., 257, martyred at Rome, 6 Aug., 258. His origin is unknown. The "Liber Pontificalis" says that he was a Greek by birth, but this is probably a mistake, originating from the false assumption that he was identical with a Greek philosopher of the same name, who was the author of the so-called "Sentences" of Xystus. During the pontificate of his predecessor, St. Stephen, a sharp dispute had arisen between Rome and the African and Asiatic Churches, concerning the rebaptism of heretics, which had threatened to end in a complete rupture between Rome and the Churches of Africa and Asia Minor (see SAINT CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE). Sixtus II, whom Pontius (Vita Cyprian, cap. xiv) styles a good and peaceful priest (bonus et pacificus sacerdos), was more conciliatory than St. Stephen and restored friendly relations with these Churches, though, like his predecessor, he upheld the Roman usage of not rebaptizing heretics.
Shortly before the pontificate of Sixtus II the Emperor Valerian issued his first edict of persecution, which made it binding upon the Christians to participate in the national cult of the pagan gods and forbade them to assemble in the cemeteries, threatening with exile or death whomsoever was found to disobey the order. In some way or other, Sixtus II managed to perform his functions as chief pastor of the Christians without being molested by those who were charged with the execution of the imperial edict. But during the first days of August, 258, the emperor issued a new and far more cruel edict against the Christians, the import of which has been preserved in a letter of St. Cyprian to Successus, the Bishop of Abbir Germaniciana (Ep. lxxx). It ordered bishops, priests, and deacons to be summarily put to death ("episcopi et presbyteri et diacones incontinenti animadvertantur"). Sixtus II was one of the first to fall a victim to this imperial enactment ("Xistum in cimiterio animadversum sciatis VIII. id. Augusti et cum eo diacones quattuor"—Cyprian, Ep. lxxx). In order to escape the vigilance of the imperial officers he assembled his flock on 6 August at one of the less-known cemeteries, that of Prætextatus, on the left side of the Appian Way, nearly opposite the cemetery of St. Callistus. While seated on his chair in the act of addressing his flock he was suddenly apprehended by a band of soldiers. There is some doubt whether he was beheaded forthwith, or was first brought before a tribunal to receive his sentence and then led back to the cemetery for execution. The latter opinion seems to be the more probable.
The inscription which Pope Damasus (366-84) placed on his tomb in the cemetery of St. Callistus may be interpreted in either sense. The entire inscription is to be found in the works of St. Damasus (P.L., XIII, 383-4, where it is wrongly supposed to be an epitaph for Pope Stephen I), and a few fragments of it were discovered at the tomb itself by de Rossi (Inscr. Christ., II, 108). The "Liber Pontificalis" mentions that he was led away to offer sacrifice to the gods ("ductus ut sacrificaret demoniis"—I, 155). St. Cyprian states in the above-named letter, which was written at the latest one month after the martyrdom of Sixtus, that "the prefects of the City were daily urging the persecution in order that, if any were brought before them, they might be punished and their property confiscated". The pathetic meeting between St. Sixtus II and St. Lawrence, as the former was being led to execution, of which mention is made in the unauthentic "Acts of St. Lawrence" as well as by St. Ambrose (Officiorum, lib. I, c. xli, and lib. II, c. xxviii) and the poet Prudentius (Peristephanon, II), is probably a mere legend. Entirely contrary to truth is the statement of Prudentius (ibid., lines 23-26) that Sixtus II suffered martyrdom on the cross, unless by an unnatural trope the poet uses the specific word cross ("Jam Xystus adfixus cruci") for martyrdom in general, as Duchesne and Allard (see below) suggest. Four deacons, Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, and Stephanus, were apprehended with Sixtus and beheaded with him at the same cemetery. Two other deacons, Felicissimus and Agapitus, suffered martyrdom on the same day. The feast of St. Sixtus II and these six deacons is celebrated on 6 August, the day of their martyrdom. The remains of Sixtus were transferred by the Christians to the papal crypt in the neighbouring cemetery of St. Callistus. Behind his tomb was enshrined the bloodstained chair on which he had been beheaded. An oratory (Oratorium Xysti) was erected above the cemetery of St. Prætextatus, at the spot where he was martyred, and was still visited by pilgrims of the seventh and the eighth century.
For some time Sixtus II was believed to be the author of the so-called "Sentences", or "Ring of Sixtus", originally written by a Pythagorean philosopher and in the second century revised by a Christian. This error arose because in his introduction to a Latin translation of these "Sentences". Rufinus ascribes them to Sixtus of Rome, bishop and martyr. It is certain that Pope Sixtus II is not their author (see Conybeare, "The Ring of Pope Xystus now first rendered into English, with an historical and critical commentary", London, 1910). Harnack (Texte und Untersuchungen zur altchrist. Literatur, XIII, XX) ascribes to him the treatise "Ad Novatianum", but his opinion has been generally rejected (see Rombold in "Theol. Quartalschrift", LXXII, Tübingen, 1900). Some of his letters are printed in P.L., V, 79-100. A newly discovered letter was published by Conybeare in "English Hist. Review", London, 1910.
Acta SS., Aug., II, 124-42; DUCHESNE, Liber Pontificalis, I, 155-6; BARMBY in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v. Xystus; ROHAULT DE FLEURY, Les Saints de la messe, III (Paris, 1893): HEALY, The Valerian Persecution (Boston and New York, 1905); 176-9; ALLARD, Les dernières persecutions du troisième siècle (Paris, 1907), 80-92, 343-349; DE ROSSI, Roma Sotteranea, II (Rome; 1864-77), 87-97; WILPERT, Die Päpstgraber und die Cäciliengruft in der Katakombe des hl. Callistus, supplement to De Rossi's Roma Sotteranea (Freiburg im Br., 1909).
Ott, Michael. "Pope St. Sixtus II." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 7 Aug. 2016 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14031c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kenneth M. Caldwell. Dedicated to the memory of Don McGonigle.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.