Pope and Martyr
Saint Zephyrinus, a native of Rome, succeeded Victor I in the pontificate in the year 198. In 202 Septimus Severus, a military despot, raised the fifth and most bloody persecution against the Church, which continued for nine years until the death of the emperor in 211. Until this furious storm ended, the holy pastor remained concealed for the sake of his flock, supporting and comforting the distressed disciples of Christ. He suffered by charity and compassion what every confessor underwent. The triumphs of the martyrs were indeed his joy, but his heart received many deep wounds from the fall of apostates and heretics. Nor did this latter affliction cease when peace was restored to the Church. 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. He was buried in his own cemetery on the 26th of August.
Reflection: God has always raised up holy pastors zealous to maintain inviolable the faith of His Church, and to watch over the purity of its morals and the sanctity of its discipline. We enjoy the greatest advantages of divine grace through their labors, and owe to God a tribute of perpetual thanksgiving and immortal praise for all the mercies He has accorded His Church.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 10; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).