St. Calixtus, or Callistus, Pope and Martyr
THE NAME of St. Callistus 1 is rendered famous by the ancient cemetery which he beautified, and which, for the great number of holy martyrs whose bodies were there deposited, was the most celebrated of all those about Rome. 2 He was a Roman by birth, succeeded St. Zephirin in the pontificate in 217 or 218, on the 2nd of August, and governed the church five years and two months, according to the true reading of the most ancient pontifical, compiled from the registers of the Roman church, as Henschenius, Papebroke, and Moret show, though Tillemont and Orsi give him only four years and some months. Antoninus Caracalla, who had been liberal to his soldiers, but the most barbarous murderer and oppressor of the people, having been massacred by a conspiracy, raised by the contrivance of Macrinus, on the 8th of April, 217, who assumed the purple, the emperor was threatened on every side with commotions. Macrinus bestowed on infamous pleasures at Antioch that time which he owed to his own safety, and to the tranquillity of the state, and gave an opportunity to a woman to overturn his empire.
This was Julia Mœsa, sister to Caracalla’s mother, who had two daughters, Sohemis and Julia Mammæa. The latter was mother of Alexander Severus, the former of Bassianus, who, being priest of the sun, called by the Syrians Elagabel, at Emesa, in Phœnicia, was surnamed Heliogabalus. Mœsa, being rich and liberal, prevailed for money with the army in Syria to proclaim him emperor; and Macrinus, quitting Antioch, was defeated and slain in Bithynia in 219, after he had reigned a year and two months, wanting three days. Heliogabalus, for his unnatural lusts, enormous prodigality and gluttony, and mad pride and vanity, was one of the most filthy monsters and detestable tyrants that Rome ever produced. He reigned only three years, nine months, and four days, being assassinated on the 11th of March, 222, by the soldiers, together with his mother and favourites. Though he would be adored with his new idol, the sun, and, in the extravagance of his folly and vices, surpassed, if possible, Caligula himself, yet he never persecuted the Christians. His cousin-german and successor, Alexander, surnamed Severus, was, for his clemency, modesty, sweetness, and prudence, one of the best of princes. He discharged the officers of his predecessor, reduced the soldiers to their duty, and kept them in awe by regular pay. He suffered no places to be bought, saying: “He that buys must sell.” Two maxims which he learned of the Christians were the rules by which he endeavoured to square his conduct. The first was: “Do to all men as you would have others do to you.” The second: “That all places of command are to be bestowed on those who are the best qualified for them;” though he left the choice of the magistrates chiefly to the people, whose lives and fortunes depend on them. He had in his private chapel the images of Christ, Abraham, Apollonius of Tyana, and Orpheus, and learned of his mother, Mammæa, to have a great esteem for the Christians. It reflects great honour on our pope, that this wise emperor used always to admire with what caution and solicitude the choice was made of persons that were promoted to the priesthood among the Christians, whose example he often proposed to his officers and to the people, to be imitated in the election of civil magistrates. 3 It was in his peaceable reign that the Christians first began to build churches, which were demolished in the succeeding persecution. Lampridius, this emperor’s historian, tells us, that a certain idolater, putting in a claim to an oratory of the Christians, which he wanted to make an eating-house of, the emperor adjudged the house to the bishop of Rome, saying, it were better it should serve in any kind to the divine worship than to gluttony, in being made a cook’s shop. To the debaucheries of Heliogabalus St. Callistus opposed fasting and tears, and he every way promoted exceedingly true religion and virtue. His apostolic labours were recompensed with the crown of martyrdom on the 12th of October, 222. His feast is marked on this day in the ancient Martyrology of Lucca. The Liberian Calendar places him in the list of martyrs, and testifies that he was buried on the 14th of this month in the cemetery of Calepodius, 4 on the Aurelian way, three miles from Rome. The pontificals ascribe to him a decree appointing the four fasts called Ember-days; which is confirmed by ancient Sacramentaries, and other monuments quoted by Moretti. 5 He also decreed, that ordinations should be held in each of the Ember weeks. 6 He founded the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary beyond the Tiber. In the calendar published by Fronto le Duc he is styled a confessor; but we find other martyrs sometimes called confessors. Alexander himself never persecuted the Christians; but the eminent lawyers of that time, whom this prince employed in the principal magistracies, and whose decisions are preserved in Justinian’s Digestum, as Ulpian, Paul, Sabinus, and others, are known to have been great enemies to the faith, which they considered as an innovation in the commonwealth. Lactantius informs us 7 that Ulpian bore it so implacable a hatred, that, in a work where he treated on the office of a proconsul, he made a collection of all the edicts and laws which had been made in all the foregoing reigns against the Christians, to incite the governors to oppress them in their provinces. Being himself prefect of the prætorium, he would not fail to make use of the power which his office gave him, when upon complaints he found a favourable opportunity. Hence several martyrs suffered in the reign of Alexander. If St. Callistus was thrown into a pit, as his Acts relate, it seems probable that he was put to death in some popular tumult. Dion 8 mentions several such commotions under this prince, in one of which the prætorian guards murdered Ulpian, their own prefect. Pope Paul I., and his successor, seeing the cemeteries without walls, and neglected after the devastations of the barbarians, withdrew from thence the bodies of the most illustrious martyrs, and had them carried to the principal churches of the city. 9 Those of SS. Callistus and Calepodius were translated to the church of St. Mary, beyond the Tiber. Count Everard, lord of Cisoin or Chisoing, four leagues from Tournay, obtained of Leo IV., about the year 854, the body of St. Callistus, pope and martyr, which he placed in the abbey of Canon Regulars that he had founded at Cisoin fourteen years before; the church of which place was on this account dedicated in honour of St. Callistus. These circumstances are mentioned by Fulco, archbishop of Rheims, in a letter which he wrote to Pope Formosus in 890. 10 The relics were removed soon after to Rheims for fear of the Normans, and never restored to the abbey of Cisoin. They remain behind the altar of our Lady at Rheims. Some of the relics, however, of this pope are kept with those of St. Calepodius, martyr, in the church of St. Mary Trastevere at Rome. 11 A portion was formerly possessed at Glastenbury. 12 Among the sacred edifices which, upon the first transient glimpse of favour, or at least tranquillity that the church enjoyed at Rome, this holy pope erected, the most celebrated was the cemetery which he enlarged and adorned on the Appian road, the entrance of which is at St. Sebastian’s, a monastery founded by Nicholas I., now inhabited by reformed Cistercian monks. In it the bodies of SS. Peter and Paul lay for some time, according to Anastasius, who says that the devout lady Lucina buried St. Cornelius in her own farm near this place; whence it for some time took her name, though she is not to be confounded with Lucina who buried St. Paul’s body on the Ostian way, and built a famous cemetery on the Aurelian way. Among many thousand martyrs deposited in this place were St. Sebastian, whom the lady Lucina interred, St. Cecily, and several whose tombs Pope Damasus adorned with verses. 1
In the assured faith of the resurrection of the flesh, the saints, in all ages down from Adam, were careful to treat their dead with religious respect, and to give them a modest and decent burial. The commendations which our Lord bestowed on the woman who poured precious ointments upon him a little before his death, and the devotion of those pious persons who took so much care of our Lord’s funeral, recommended this office of charity; and the practice of the primitive Christians in this respect was most remarkable. Julian the Apostate, writing to a chief priest of the idolaters, desires him to observe three things, by which he thought Atheism (so he called Christianity) had gained most upon the world, namely, “Their kindness and charity to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the gravity of their carriage. 13 Their care of their dead consisted not in any extravagant pomp, 14 in which the pagans far outdid them, 15 but in a modest religious gravity and respect which was most pathetically expressive of their firm hope of a future resurrection, in which they regarded the mortal remains of their dead as precious in the eyes of God, who watches over them, regarding them as the apple of his eye, to be raised one day in the brightest glory, and made shining lustres in the heavenly Jerusalem.” 2
Note 1. This name in several later MSS. is written Calixtus: but truly in all ancient MSS. Callistus, a name which we frequently meet with among the ancient Romans, both Christians and Heathens, even of the Augustan age. (See the inscriptions collected by Gruter, p. 634; Blanchini, Inscrip. 36, 191, 217, &c.; Boldetti, l. 2, c. 18, &c.; Muratori, Thesaurus, &c. The name in Greek signifies The best, most excellent, or most beautiful. [back]
Note 2. The primitive Christians were solicitous not to bury their dead among infidels, as appears from Gamaliel’s care in this respect, mentioned by Lucian, in his account of the discovery of St. Stephen’s relics: also from St. Cyprian, who makes it a crime in Martialis, a Spanish bishop, to have buried children in profane sepulchres, and mingled with strangers. (ep. 68.) See this point proved by Mabillon, (Diss. sur les Saints Inconnus, § 2, p. 9,) Boldetti, (l. 1, c. 10,) John de Vitâ, (Thesaur. Antiquit. Benevent. Diss. 11, an. 1754,) Bottario, &c. That the catacombs were the cemeteries of the Christians is clear from the testimony of all antiquity, and from the monuments of Christianity with which they are every where filled. Misson, (Travels through Italy, t. 2, ep. 28,) Burnet, (Letters on Italy,) James Basnage, (Hist. Eccl. l. 18, c. 5, 6,) Fabricius, (Bibl. Antiqu. c. 23, n. 10, p. 1035,) suspect heathens to have been often buried in these catacombs. Burnet will have them to have been the Puticuli, or burial place of slaves, and the poorest people, mentioned by Horace, (Satyr. 8, et Epod. l. 5, et ult.) Varro, Festus, Sextus, Pompeïus, Aulus Gellius, &c. But all these authors mention the Puticuli to have been without the Esquiline-gate only, where the ashes, or sometimes (if criminals, slaves, or other poor persons who died without friends or money to procure a pile to burn them, or so much as an earthen urn to contain their ashes) the bodies of such persons were thrown confusedly on heaps in pits, whence the name Puticuli. There were probably other such pits in places assigned near other highways, which were called Columellæ, Saxa, and Ampullæ. See Gutherius (De Jure Manium, l. 2,) and Bergier. (Hist. des. Chem. Milit. l. 2, c. 38, et ap. Grævium, t. 10.) The catacombs, on the contrary, are dug on all sides of the city, in a very regular manner, and the bodies of the dead are ranged in them in separate caverns on each hand, the caverns being shut up with brick or mortar. By the law of the twenty-two tables mentioned by Cicero, (De Leg. l. 2, c. 23,) it was forbidden to bury or burn any dead corpse within the walls of towns. At Athens, by the laws of Solon, and in the rest of Greece, the same custom prevailed, upon motives partly of wholesomeness, as St. Isidore observes, (l. Etymol.) partly of superstition. (See the learned canon John de Vitâ loc. cit. c. 11.) At Rome, vestal virgins, and sometimes emperors were excepted from this law, and allowed burial within the walls. Every one knows that on Trajan’s pillar (that finished and most admirable monument) the ashes of that emperor were placed in a golden urn: which having been long before plundered, Sixtus V. placed there a statue of St. Peter, as he did that of St. Paul on Antoninus’s pillar; though the workmanship of this falls far short of the former. The heathen Romans burned the corpses of their dead, and placed the urns in which the ashes were contained usually on the sides of the highways. Cicero mentions (l. 1, Tuscul. Quæst. c. 7,) those of the Scipios, the Servilii, and the Metelli on the Appian road. See Montfaucon. (Antiqu. t. 9, 10, et Suppl. t. 5, et Musæum Florent.) And on the ancient consular roads about Rome, Ficoroni, (Vestigia di Roma antica, c. 2, p. 6,) the accurate and judicious Bergier’s Histoire des Chemins Militaires des Romains, (l. 1, et ap. Grævium, Ant. Rom. t. 10,) and Pratillo, Della Via Appia riconosciuta e descritta da Roma sino a Brindisi, l. 4, Napoli, 1762.
The catacombs are the ancient cemeteries of the Christians. Those near Naples and Nola are spacious, and cut in stony ground. See Ambr. Leonius, (Descr. Urbis Nolæ, l. 3, c. 2,) Montfaucon, (Diar. Ital. pp. 117, 154,) Mabillon, (Iter Ital. n. 18, et 21,) &c. On those of Florence, see Foggini, (De Rom. S. Petri Itin. p. 291,) &c. On these and others at Milan, and many other places, see Boldetti. (Osservazioni, &c. l. 2, c. 19, p. 586.) The Roman catacombs are narrow and dark, and except those of St. Sebastian and St. Agnes, too low for strangers to visit them with any satisfaction, or for persons to walk in, without often crawling with great difficulty, and the ground (which is too soft a mould to support large caverns like those of Naples) is in many places fallen in. These caverns about Rome are so numerous, and of such extent (each shooting into several branches) that they may be called a city under ground. So stupendous were the works of the ancient Romans, that their ruins and remains not only astonish all modern architects that behold them, but quite overwhelm them with amazement, as Justus Lipsius observes. (De Magnit. Rom. c. 11, de Aquaduct.) And Albertus Leander, speaking of Claudius’s aqueduct, says, to raise such a work, the whole world would seem now-a-days too weak and unequal to the undertaking. The very sinks and common sewers were one of the wonders of the world. In like manner, how the immense quantity of earth to form the catacombs was moved, is a just subject of surprise. Boldetti, (Osservazioni sopra i cimiteri, c. 2, p. 5,) Bottarius, (Roma Sotter. p. 8,) Mamachi, (Orig. Christian. t. 3, p. 160,) Severani, (De 7 Urbis Eccl. in Eccl. S. Sebastiani, p. 421,) &c. doubt not but these caverns were first dug by the heathen Romans to get sand and other materials to build the walls and houses in the city, as their original name implies. This is affirmed in the acts of St. Sebastian, (ap. Bolland. ad 20 Jan. l. 23, p. 278,) speaking of SS. Marcus and Marcellianus: Sepulti sunt Viâ Appiâ milliario secundo ab urbe in loco qui vocatur ad Arenas, quia cryptæ Arenarum illic erant, ex quibus urbis mœnia struebantur.
The Christians never gave into the customs either of preserving the bodies of their dead, like the Egyptians, or of burning them with the Romans, or of casting them to wild beasts with the Persians; but, in imitation of the people of God from the beginning of the world, buried them with decency and respect in the earth, where, according to the sentence pronounced by God, they return to dust till the general resurrection. At Rome they chose these caverns or arenas for their burial places, digging lodges on each hand, in each of which they deposited a corpse, and then walled up the entrance of that lodge. Boldetti proves the cemetery of St. Agnes to have been enlarged after the reign of Constantine; and the same is not doubted as to many others. Several inscriptions on sepulchres in the catacombs give to the persons there interred the quality of fossores, or diggers (of cemeteries.) See Aringhi, l. 1, c. 13; Boldetti, l. 1, c. 15; Bottarius, t. 2, p. 126. The pagans of Rome burned their dead bodies; which is true not only of the rich, but in general; nor is Bishop Burnet able to produce one contrary instance; though sometimes the corpse of a criminal or slave, who had neither friends nor money, might be thrown into the Puticuli, upon the heads of the ashes of the others, without the ceremony of being burnt. H. Valesius, in his notes on Eusebius, p. 186, observes, that it is hard to determine at what time the Romans began to leave off the custom of burning their dead; but it must have been about the time of Constantine the Great, probably when he had put an end to the empire of Paganism. The heathens learned of the Christians to bury their dead; and grew at once so fond of this custom, that, in the time of Theodosius the Younger, as Macrobius testifies, (Saturnal. l. 7, c. 7,) there was not a body burnt in all the Roman empire.
The original names of Catacombs were Arenarium or Arenariæ, or ad Arenas, that is, Sand pits, as appears in many ancient acts of martyrs: also Cryptæ or Caverns, and in Africa Aræ; in the Acts of St. Cyprian and Tertullian. (ad Scapul.) It is written Catatumbæ in St. Gregory the Great, (l. 3, ep. 30,) as Du Cange observes: but Catacumbæ is the usual name, from the Greek [Greek] and [Greek], a couch, or [Greek], a hollow or cavity. It is not to be met with before the fourth age, but occurs in the Liberian calendar, and was first given to the cemetery of St. Callistus, now St. Sebastian; afterwards to all ancient cemeteries about Rome. The bodies, now only bones and dust, in each lodge, have usually a lacrymatory urn or vessel placed by them: if this be tinged with deep red, and has a red sediment of blood at the bottom, it is a sign of martyrdom. On the door of brick and mortar with which the lodge was closed, is frequently painted some symbol, as a flower, branch, vine, &c. With this, not rarely occurs, a name, with dates, or other notices, which are sometimes carved on a marble before the door. (Montfaucon, Diar. Italic. c. 8, p. 118.) That innumerable martyrs were buried in these catacombs is indisputable. The Liberian Calendar testifies, that the popes Lucius, Stephen, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychian, and Caius, in the third age; and Eusebius Melchiades, and Julius in the fourth, were deposited in the catacombs or cemetery of St. Callistus: Marcellinus and Sylvester, in that of Balbina: in the list of martyrs, Fabian, Sixtus, and Pontian in the former, or that of Callistus. In the acts and calendars of martyrs many are mentioned to have been deposited in the cemeteries of St. Callistus, Priscilla, Ursus Pileatus, Thraso, Bassilla, &c. In these cemeteries, especially that of St. Callistus, the bodies of many famous martyrs have been discovered, and translated thence: also of many whose names are not found in the calendars; and sometimes mention is made in the inscription of a great number of martyrs together. In the cemetery of Bassilla and St. Hermes were found one of St. Marcella, and five hundred and fifty martyrs, another of St. Rufinus and one hundred and fifty martyrs. Marcella et Christi Martyres CCCCCL. Rufinus et Christi Martyres CL. (ap. Aringhi, l. 3, c. 23, et Boldetti, l. 1, c. 44, p. 233.) With this inscription was carved a palm branch, and with the former two, and between them, a crown of two other branches. In the cemetery of St. Agnes was found St. Gordian, with his whole family, martyrs: (ap. Mabill. Iter Ital. p. 139.) Hic Gordianus Galliæ nuncius jugulatus pro fide cum familiâ totâ quiescunt in pace. Ysphila (Boldetti reads it a contraction for Theophila.) Ancilla fecit, with a palm branch.
That the earthen vials with the red sediment contained blood appears from the following observations. Leibnitz, after trying this red sediment with various chemical experiments, in a letter to Fabretti, confesses he could find nothing it resembled but a hardened brittle crust of congealed blood, which after so many ages retains its colour. See the remarks of Fabretti (Inscript. domest. c. 8, p. 556,) and Boldetti. (l. 7, c. 38.) The Christians used the utmost diligence to gather the blood of the martyrs, and deposit it with their bodies. They sucked it up, whilst fresh, with sponges, off of the wood or stones, and they gathered the dust and sand which was stained, to extract it, as Prudentius witnesses. (Hymn 11, p. 141.) See the acts in St. Vincent in Ruinart, &c. Hence sometimes a sponge or cloths stained with blood are found in such vials. See Boldetti, (ib.) and Mamachi. (t. 1, p. 462.) Such vials have sometimes an inscription upon them, Sang. or Sa. Saturnini, &c. (ib.) and are sometimes found where a clear inscription attests the martyrdom. A vial of this kind was fixed on the sepulchre of St. Primitius in the Ostorian, now called Ostrian cemetery, with this inscription: Primitius in pace qui post multas angustias fortissimus martyr et vixit annis P. M. XXXVIII. Conjugi suo perdulcissimo benemerenti fecit. (Boldetti, l. 1, c. 14, p. 51; Mamachi, t. 1, p. 462.) With great devotion and care the faithful preserved the blood of the martyrs. See Boldetti, (l. 1, c. 26, ad c. 39.) F. Lupi, in his curious and learned dissertation, (De Epitaphio S. Severæ, p. 31,) shows, that the primitive Christians endeavoured to recover all the drops of the martyrs’ blood, that the funeral might be entire, as Prudentius says of St. Hippolytus, (hymn 2.)
Nec jam densa sacro quidquam de corpore sylva
Obtinet, aut plenis fraudat ab exequiis.
St. Ambrose mentions the blood of SS. Vitalis and Agricola, doubtless in a vial found with their bodies, (Exhort. ad Virg.) and the same of SS. Gervasius and Protasius. Hence the Congregation of Indulgences and Relics declared in 1668, that vessels tinged with blood accompanied with palm branches ought to be regarded as marks of the relics of a martyr. (ap. Papebr. ad 20 Maij. et Mabillon Diss. cit. § 4, p. 23.) Mabillon doubts not but such vessels of blood alone are assured marks. (Ib.)
Christians from the beginning often visited out of devotion the tombs of the martyrs, and, in the times of persecution, often concealed themselves in these catacombs, and assembled here to celebrate the divine mysteries. Whence the persecutors forbid them to enter the cemeteries, as the judge proconsul declared to St. Cyprian, (in actis, p. 11,) and the prefect of Egypt to St. Dionysius of Alexandria. (ap. Eus. l. 7, c. 11.) See also Eus. (l. 9, c. 2,) Tertullian, (ad Scapul. c. 3,) and several inscriptions importing this in Boldetti, (l. 1, c. 11,) Mamachi, (t. 3, p. 162,) and chiefly Bottarius against Burnet. (Roma Sotter. t. 1, p. 12.)
That the catacombs were known to be filled with the tombs of innumerable martyrs, and devoutly visited by the Christians in the early ages of Christianity, is incontestable from the testimonies of St. Jerom, St. Paulinus, and Prudentius. St. Jerom mentions (in c. 40; Ezech. t. 5, p. 980, ed. Ben.) that “when he was a boy, and studied at Rome, he was accustomed on Sundays to visit in a round the sepulchres of the apostles and martyrs; and frequently to go into the cryptæ, which are dug in the earth to a great extent, and have on each hand bodies of the dead like walls, and with their darkness strike the mind with horror,” &c. It is clear he went not thither to play, as Basnage answers to this authority, (Hist. de l’Egl. l. 18, c. 6, n. 8,) but to perform an exercise of religion and piety, as all others clearly express this practice. St. Paulinus says, that the tombs of the martyrs here contained could not he numbered. (Poem. 27, in Nat. 13, S. Paulin.)
Hic Petrus, hic Paulus proceres; hic martyres omnes,
Quos simul innumeros magnæ tenet ambitus urbis,
Quosque per innumeras diffuso limite gentes,
Intra Romuleos veneratur ecelesia fines.
See S. Paulinus in Nat. 11, published by Muratori, Anecd. Lat.
Prudentius (Hymn. 11, on St. Hyppolytus) describes the catacombs. (v. 1, &c. p. 278, ed. Delph. Paris, 1687.)
Haud procul extremo culta ad pomæria vallo,
Mersa latebrosis crypta patet foveis, &c.
At length, v. 53, &c.
He mentions that he himself visited these holy places, and (in the cemetery of St. Cyriaca, a lady who built it, and was buried in it in the Veran field, on the left hand of the road to Tibur, a mile from Rome,) he saw the body of St. Hyppolytus, with an altar by it, on which priests celebrated and distributed the divine mysteries: on the wail of the chapel was a picture representing the martyrdom of the saint, and, among other circumstances, the faithful gathering his scattered relics, and with cloths and a sponge sucking up his blood on the briers and ground. He says, in the same hymn, that the bodies of many martyrs lay there without names, titles, or inscriptions, and that he saw the bodies of sixty deposited together, whose names were only known to Christ:
Innumeros cineres Sanctorum Romulâ in urbe
Plurima litterulis signata sepulchra leguntur
Martyris aut nomen, aut epigramma aliquod.
Sunt et multa tamen tacitas claudentia tumbas
Marmora, quæ solum significant numerum, &c.
He adds (ib. v. 188,) that on the solemnities of particular martyrs which were kept by the people, all Rome, and the neighbouring provinces went to adore God at their tombs, kissing their relics. Festivals could not be kept for all martyrs, as Mamachi takes notice, t. 1, p. 471. The numberless tombs of other anonymous martyrs are celebrated by this pious and elegant father in his hymn on St. Laurence, v. 540. From the custom of kissing and praying at the entrance of the tombs of the martyrs came the expression of visiting their limina or threshold, which has been particularly used of the tombs of SS. Peter and Paul.
Apostolorum et Martyrum
Prudent. hymn. ii. v. 516.
The bodies of many celebrated martyrs have been from time to time translated from the catacombs; yet new vaults are frequently discovered. Burnet acknowledges that often in the extent of a whole mile no relics are found; for no notice is taken of those which neither inscriptions nor other marks show to have been martyrs. That only Christians were buried in these places is proved by Mabillon, Boldetti, &c. for the faithful never made use of any but their own cemeteries, when it was in their power so to do. If the bodies of SS. Vitalis and Agricola were interred among the Jews, and the ashes of SS. Nestablus and Zeno were mingled with those of asses, (Soz. l. 5, c. 8,) this was owing to the malice of the persecutors. A stone is mentioned by Montfaucon to have been found in one of the catacombs with the heathenish inscription Diis Manibus: and I saw on one in St. Sebastian’s D. M., but it is evident that Christians sometimes made use of stones which they took from broken old monuments of idolaters, as appears by crosses or other Christian symbols and inscriptions on other parts of the same, as I observed in several in Rome, in a great musæum or repository at Verona, &c. in the same manner as the porphyry urn of Agrippa, taken from the porch of the Pantheon, is now placed over the tomb of Clement XII. in the Corsini chapel in the Lateran church. Fabretti thinks D. M. was often used by Christians for Deo Magno. (Inscr. c. 8, p. 564.) Scipio Maffei (Mus. Veron. p. 178,) produces a Christian epitaph with Deo Magno. In Muratori (Inscr. t. 4, p. 1878,) we have an epitaph certainly of a Christian with D. M. and several such occur; in which it is more reasonable to suppose it meant Deo Magno; yet in some that are undoubtedly Christian it is Diis Manibus, which must be some old heathenish stone made use of by a Christian. There is at least no danger of such being mistaken for martyrs, as Bishop Burnet pretends. In the ancient sepulchres of Christians the inscriptions express faith in one God or Christ, or of a resurrection, by the words peace, sleeping, or the like. They are frequently adorned with symbols of their faith, as a fish, &c. an emblem of Christ, (see Anselm Costadoro, monk of Camaldoli, Diss. del Pesce simbolo di Giesu Christo, edit. ann. 1750,) the figures of Adam and Eve, emblems of our returning to dust, and figures of other patriarchs or prophets of the old law, especially of Noe and his ark, or a dove, emblems of baptism.
The monogram of Christ’s name in a cross is much older than Constantine, who is no where said to have invented, but only to have employed it in the Labarum, &c. It is found on the sepulchre of St. Marius, martyr under Adrian, of St. Alexander, under Antoninus, of St. Laurence, and St. Hermes, both in the cemetery of Priscilla, of St. Primitius, of St. Caius, pope, &c. (ap. Fabretti, Inscrip. et Boldetti, Osserv.) That this monogram had been used by heathens was a mistake of Casalius (De Vet. Sac. Christian. rit. c. 11,) and Fortunius Licetus, (De reconditis antiquorum lucernis,) which James Basnage warmly adopted; (Hist. des Juifs, l. 3, c. 23, et Hist. de l’Egl. l. 18, c. 6, t. 2,) for in the coin of Decius, to which they appeal, the mark differs widely, and is a contraction for three Greek letters: in that of Ptolemy of Cyrene, Bottarius finds nothing like it. (l. 1, p. 154.) It seems a mark for thunder, such as is found in others, (ap. Ciampini, t. 2, Vet. Mon. p. 72,) at least it differs widely from this monogram. See Georgi, (Diss. de Monogrammate Christi,) Bottari, (loc. cit. p. 153,) Cuper, (Notat. in Luc. Cæcil. c. 44, p. 501, ed. nov. Paris. Op. Lactant.) and Mamachi, (t. 3, p. 67,) also Menckenius, a Lutheran. (Diatribe de Monogram.) Christ is often represented in these ancient monuments under a carved or painted figure of a lamb with or without a cross on his head; (see Bosius, Boldetti, Buonarroti, Ciampini, &c.) but more frequently under that of a shepherd carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders, an emblem of his mercy towards sinners, and of the efficacy of repentance. Tertullian, a Montanist, mentions this emblem for the encouragement of sinners carved on chalices by the Catholics. (l. de Pudicit. c. 7 et 10.) See Orsi, Diss. de Capital. Crim. Absolutione per Tria Priora Eccl. Sæcula, c. 4, p. 115. This figure was very frequently used, especially by penitents, (and such all Christians are by their profession,) and is found on ancient vessels, earthen urns, sepulchral lamps, and gems. See many examples in Aringhi, t. 1, Bottarius, t. 1 et 2, Boldetti, Muratori, Gruter, Ciampini, Buonarroti, Peter Sanctes Bartholus, De Lucern, par. 3, tab. 28. &c.
In the paintings in the vials, lamps, and other monuments found in these cemeteries, images of SS. Peter and Paul frequently occur. See Ciampini, Vet. Monum. c. 22. Blanchini, (Prolus. in t. 3. Anastas.) Bosius, Aringhi, Bottarius, Boldetti, l. 1, c. 39. Buonarroti, De Fragmentis Vitrorum, tab. 10, et sequ. De Mozzis, canon of Florence, Hist. SS. Cresci and Sociorum. Florentiæ, 1710, p. 79. Foggini, De Rom. S. Petri itin. Exerc. 20, p. 543. In these St. Paul is generally painted on the right hand, because that is the left to the eye of the spectator. To these images Eusebius is thought to allude, when, after relating the martyrdom of the apostles at Rome, he says, “The monuments which yet subsist in the cemeteries there (at Rome) confirm this history.” (Hist. l. 2, c. 25, p. 83, ed. Cantabr.) St. Austin mentions the images of SS. Peter and Paul with Christ in the middle, in some churches: (l. 1, de Consensu Evang. c. 10, t. 3, par. 2, p. 8.) St. Paul is always painted bald, and with a longer beard. Their long garment is tied on or joined on the breast with a button; but in some pictures they hold it fast together with their right hand. The custom of painting these apostles on earthen or glass vessels is mentioned by St. Jerom: “In cucurbitis vasculorum quas vulgo saucomarias vocant, solent apostolorum imagines adumbrari.” (in c. 4, Joan. t. 3, p. 1492.) In the vials and paintings of these cemeteries are found the images of Justus, Demas, and Timothy, disciples of St. Paul; of SS. Laurence, Vincent, Abdon, and Sennen, Hippolytus, &c. See Aringhi, Boldetti, Buonarroti, Mamachi, &c. St. Laurence is painted in the cemetery of Pope Julius, in a cloak, holding a book and a cross. (ap. Aringhi, t. 2, p. 354.)
Among other symbols represented in these places, a stag was an emblem of a Christian’s thirst after Christ, a palm branch of victory, see Boldetti, Muratori, Marangoni, Bottari, Lupi, &c. a ship of the church: see Foggini, loc. cit. c. 20, p. 484. Hier. Alexander, Diss. de Navi Ecclesiam referentes Symbolo; John Lami, l. De eruditione Apostolorum, c. 4, p. 51, edit. ann. 1738; and Scipio Maffei, Osserv. litt. Veron. t. 5, p. 23, edit. 1739; an anchor of hope, also of constancy, &c. On these and others see the senator Buonarroti, Osserv. sopra alcuni Frammenti di vasi antichi de vetro; Boldetti, Osservationi sopra i cimiteri; Marangoni, Cose Gentilesche ad uso delle Chiese; Bottari, Sculture e Pitture sacre estratte dai cimiteri di Roma, edit. ann. 1737; Fabritti, Inscript. Domest. Bosius and Aringhi, Roma Subterr. On the catacombs see also Bolland. t. 2, Febr. in St. Soterem, p. 389, Mabillon, &c. These remarks seemed necessary to rectify several mistakes of Burnet, Misson, Spanheim, James Basnage, &c. and serve to illustrate several passages in the Acts of Martyrs. Mabillon (Diss. sur le Culte des Saints inconnus) takes notice that the symbols of a dove, a sheep, an olive, a vine, a palm, an anchor, or the like, which may denote certain virtues, are no proofs of martyrdom nor sanctity; nor are they looked upon as such at Rome. The same pious and learned author shows, from authorities and examples, that the utmost caution is to be taken to prevent mistakes, and that doubtful relics are to be decently buried rather than distributed; and he proves, from the decrees of Urban VIII. and Innocent XII. in 1691, that relics distinguished by certain proofs of martyrdom, of saints otherwise unknown, though the sacristan gives them a name, are not to hold the same rank with other relics; insomuch that an office is never allowed for such saints, unless by a special grant on some extraordinary occasion, on which see Bened. XIV. De Canoniz. SS. par. 2, c. 27, n. 18, pp. 278, 279.
The principal catacombs or ancient cemeteries of Rome are, that of St. Priscilla within the city, where stands the church of St. Pudentiana, virgin, not far from that of her sister St. Praxedes. This Priscilla is said to have been mother of St. Pudens, whose house, where St. Peter lodged, is believed to have been this church of St. Pudentiana between the Viminal and Quirinal hills. That ad Ursum Pileatum, (so called from some sign or street,) now St. Bibiana’s church, on the Esquilin hill. There is another of the same name, afterwards called SS. Abdon and Sennen, on the road to Porto. That on the Vatican hill, where is the tomb of SS. Peter and Paul, on the Aurelian way. On the Aurelian way, half a mile from the Aurelian gate, called also Janiculensis, was that of St. Calepodius, now a church of St. Pancras; that of St. Julius, pope; that of St. Felix, pope; that of Lucina, two miles from the gate of St. Pancras. On the way to Porto, that of Pontianus, afterwards Ad Ursum Pileatum, and of SS. Abdon and Sennen, &c. On the way to Ostia, a second called of Lucina; that of Anastasius Ad Aquas Salvias or Ad Guttam jugiter manantem; that of St. Cyriacus. On the Ardeatin way that of St. Callistus, (reaching to the Appian where was its most eminent part.) See Boldetti, p. 550, those of St. Petronilla or of SS. Nereus and Achilleus; of St. Balbina, and of St. Damasus, these two lying towards the Appian way. On the Appian way, those of Prætextatus, of St. Sixtus, of St. Callistus, (the principal part of St. Sebastian’s two miles from Rome, at which church is the great entrance into this catacomb,) of St. Zephyrin, of St. Soteris V., of St. Urban, &c. On the Latian way of Apronianus, of SS. Gordian and Epimachus, &c. On the Lavican way, of Castulus; of Tiburtius, afterwards of St. Helena, empress, (whose mausoleum was erected there, now in a portico belonging to the Lateran basilic,) or Inter duas Lauros. On the Prenestin or Palestrin way, out of the Esquilin, or Lavican, or Palestrin gate, of the Acqua Bulicante. On the Tiburtin way, of St. Cyriaca; of St. Hippolytus. On the Nomentan way, of St. Agnes, where that holy virgin was first interred, two miles from the Viminal gate, now called Pia; this is the most spacious catacomb next to St. Sebastian’s: that ad Nymphas, so called from waters there; of St. Alexander’s; of St. Nicomedes, &c. On the new Salarian way, of SS. Saturninus and Thraso; of SS. Chrysanthus and Daria; of Ostriano; (built by one of the Ostorian family;) of Priscilla; (different from that within the city, and probably founded by a different lady of this name;) of St. Sylvester; of St. Hilaria, &c. On the old Salarian way, that ad Clivum Cucumeris; of St. Hermes, of St. Bassilla, &c. On the Flaminian way, of St. Valentin, or St. Julius, pope; of St. Theodora, &c. There are others; some at a considerable distance from Rome: one discovered on the Flaminian way, several miles from Rome. See Bolditti, l. 2, c. 18, Bosius and Aringhi, Roma Subterr.
Mabillon observes, (loc. cit. p. 153,) that in the first ages of the church the faithful turned their faces towards the east at prayer; built churches so that the high altar and head of the church was eastward, the rising sun being a symbol of the resurrection. They also buried the faithful with their feet turned towards the east; the rituals of the late ages say, towards the altar in the chapel in which they are buried, or towards the high altar, if in the church-yard or body of the church. Adamnan and Bede describe the sepulchre of Christ, that he was interred with his sacred feet towards the east. Haymo (Hom. in die Paschæ) confirms the same, adding that his right hand was turned towards the south, and his left hand towards the north. From his sepulchre Christians have made this their common rule in their burials: also that at the last day they might rise facing the rising sun, as an emblem of the resurrection. The Roman Ritual, published by Paul V. in 1614, prescribes that priests be buried with their heads towards the altar, to face the people. The diocess of Rheims and some others retain the old custom of making no distinction between priest and laity in this respect, but bury all with their feet turned towards the altar.
We learn from ancient chronicles, and from the Pontificals published by Anastasius, Blanchini, Vignoli, &c. that Callistus made the cemetery which reached to the Appian way. But by this we are to understand that he only enlarged and adorned it; for it existed before his time, as is observed by Aringhi, Rom. Subter. t. 1, l. 3, c. 11; Papebroke. Analect. de SS. Petro et Paulo, n. 37, p. 437, t. 5, junij; Onuphrius Panvinus, tr. de Ritu sepel. mort. et Cœmeter. c. 12, n. 4. l. de 7, urb. eccles. item in Epitom. Rom. Pont. p. 5, &c. Cardinal Baronius, Annal. Blanchini, Not. in Anicet. t. 2, p. 115, &c. and this observation is supported by the authority of the Pontificals of Vignoli, in indiculo int. cit. cod. MSS. Blanchini, t. 1, p. 4. Besides there were three of the predecessors of Callistus buried in that cemetery; viz. Anicetus, Soter, and Zephyrinus. It now goes under the name of the catacomb of St. Sebastian, who was first buried there, and is patron of the church situated at the entrance of it. This is one of the seven principal churches of Rome; it was magnificently rebuilt in 1612 by Cardinal Scipio Borghese, who placed in it reformed Cistercians, known in France by the name of Feuillants. The pious and learned Cardinal Bona, who died at Rome in 1674, was abbot of it. The church is adorned with fine paintings and enriched with many relics; amongst others, those of SS. Sebastian, Fabian, and Callistus. It is three miles from the gate of St. Sebastian, formerly called Capena, from an ancient city of Latium, twelve miles from Rome. In the church we read an inscription, setting forth, “that one hundred and seventy-four thousand holy martyrs, and forty-six illustrious bishops, were buried in the cemetery of Callistus;” and, from this, some authors think that forty-six popes were buried there. But we can pronounce with certainty of sixteen, viz. Anicetus, Soter, Zephyrinus, Anterus, Pontianus, Fabian, Lucius, Stephen, Sixtus, Eutychian, Caius, Eusebius, Melchiades, (who are mentioned in the Pontificals of Vignoli and Blanchini,) Urban, Denis, and Cornelius (according to the Pontifical of Anastasius); for though Urban was deposited in the cemetery of Prætextatus, it belonged to that of Callistus, as Blosius and other authors observe. To the above-mentioned popes we are to add the apostle St. Peter.
Prudentius, (Hym. 11, v. 53,) St. Paulinus, (Poem 27, nat. 13,) &c., say that the multitude of martyrs buried in the catacombs was innumerable; but we are not therefore to infer, that none but martyrs were buried in them; for they were common to all the faithful, as is proved by Onuphrius Panvinus, (l. de cœmeter. c. 11; Scacchus, de not. et sign. sanctitatis, sæct. 9; Bened. XIV. de Canoniz. t. 4, part. 2, c. 26, n. 6,) &c. Sometimes catechumens are found, as appears from certain inscriptions. (See the Dissertation of Moretti on St. Callistus, c. 4, p. 97; Mazochi, Ep. ad ill. D. Georgi, an. 1745; Mabillon de Cultu SS. ignot. &c.) From what we have said, it is evident that the faithful admitted none but their brethren into those catacombs, which they revered as sacred places, containing the bodies of the saints who reign with Christ.
In that of Callistus there is an ancient altar of stone, which, according to a popular opinion, belonged to that holy pope. But Fonseca observes that it was rebuilt since the pontificate of St. Sylvester: the altars before that period being stone tables, of which some are yet seen in Rome. Ancient monuments make no mention of the decree attributed to this pope, for having the altars made of stone, for such were common at that time. In the first six ages the altars were hollow underneath, consisting of a plank or board, supported on pillars, under which the bodies of martyrs were deposited. (See Bocquillon, sur la liturg. p. 24, et sur S. Callist. Fonseca. de Basil. S. Laur. in Damaso, c. 8, p. 51). The throne of the ancient popes, which was in the subterraneous chapel of the same catacomb, (Onuph. Panvin. de 7, Eccl. c. 4, p. 96,) was removed to the church of the knights of St. Stephen of Pisa. See Boldetti, l. 1, c. 10, p. 37, and Fonseca, loc. cit. p. 50.
Christians in the primitive ages were ambitious to be buried near the tombs of the martyrs, hoping for this devotion to be assisted by their prayers, and desiring to rise in their glorious company at the last day. In the sixth and seventh centuries very holy men and newly baptized children were allowed burial with the martyrs in churches: which was afterwards extended to others, and tolerated by the bishops, though the very words of the consecrations of churches and cemeteries show the first to be properly for the living, the latter for the dead. Moreover, too great a multitude of burials in churches in large cities breaks the pavements, and disfigures the buildings; but, moreover, where the graves are not deep, or the vaults ill closed, it sensibly infects the air. See Haguenot, Prof. en Médecine à Montpellier, Mémoire sur le Danger des Inhumations dans les Eglises, an. 1748. [back]
Note 3. Lamprid. in Alex. [back]
Note 4. We learn from the Martyrologies of Bede, Ado, &c., that Calepodius, a priest full of zeal, was attached to the service of the Roman Church under the pontificate of Callistus, and having baptized a great number of illustrious pagans, he was martyred with many others of the faithful. Callistus, who took the care of his burial, was shortly after interred by his side. He is honoured on the 10th of May. [back]
Note 5. Moretti de S. Callisto, Disq. 1, p. 67, and Claudius Sommierus, t. 1; Hist. Dogmasticæ S. Sedis, l. 2, p. 159. [back]
Note 6. From St. Peter to St. Sylvester we read of no other pope holding ordinations but in the month of December. See Vignoli, lib. Pontif. &c. [back]
Note 7. Lactant. Instit. l. 5, c. 11. [back]
Note 8. Dio. l. 80, &c. [back]
Note 9. See Baron. ad ann. 761; Diplom. Pauli I. et Greg. IV. Anastas. Bibl. &c. [back]
Note 10. Flodoard, Hist. Rhem. l. 4, c. 1, 6. [back]
Note 11. See this evidently demonstrated from the Decretal of Callistus II. in 1123, to Peter, cardinal of the title of St. Mary Trastevere. Also from Innocent II. and III. &c., and the archives of that church in Moretti, t. 1, p. 254. [back]
Note 12. Monast. Anglic. t. 1, p. 6. [back]
Note 13. Julian. Aug. ep. 49, ad Arsacium. [back]
Note 14. “What can be more absurd than by unsuitable, pompous, feathered pageantry, by dainty feasts and intemperance, and by lying flattering epitaphs, to seek the gratification of a foolish vanity from the grave itself, the utmost humiliation of human nature? In funerals, whatever does not tend to awake in us a lively hope, or other sentiments of religion, and to excite serious reflections on virtue, the knowledge of ourselves and eternity; whatever does not breathe an air of modesty, gravity, and simplicity, and suitable to Christian piety and mourning, is out of character, if not shocking to good sense and humanity. The Christian funerals which so strongly affected the infidels, and appeared awful and edifying to a most impious heathen scoffer and apostate, tempered and enlivened the gravity of a religious mourning with the most tender and heavenly devotion, and solemn rites expressive of a firm faith in a divine Redeemer, and an assured hope of immortality. The ancients were sparing and modest in their epitaphs; these seldom present more than necessary names and dates. The most elegant ages of wit and taste confined them to a modest line or two. Had statues been formerly as cheap at Athens or Rome as pompous monuments and inscriptions are now-a-days, an honest Roman or Greek would have thought them rather a disgrace to his name than an honour. Custom has taught us to suspect the marble of lying flattery, attributing to men after their deaths the names at least of virtues which they never possessed whilst they were living. That monument perpetuates the memory of a man’s virtues on earth, which he raises to himself by his actions and exploits, and which, by the example of his life, he engraves on the hearts of those who come after him; whose single name is the most glorious epitaph, and whose valour and virtues men know and proclaim without a flattering marble prompter. Our artists and men of genius seem to discover a great dearth of invention or ignorance of the noble examples and emblems of all virtues, in which the scriptures, and mysteries and rites of our holy religion are most fruitful, since sepulchral monuments, even in churches, begin to be adorned with whole groups of heathen deities. They are meant as emblems of virtues; but may not some stranger be led into mistakes who sees the crosses, images of the patriarchs and apostles, and such like ornaments banished to make room for the figures of Pallas, Mars, Mercury, Apollo, and the like monsters; and this sometimes perhaps where Bacchus, Venus, or Adonis, might with justice (with what propriety I do not say) challenge the chief places of honour?” [back]
Note 15. See Morestellus, Pompa Feralis, sive Justa Funebria Veterum, ap. Grævium, Antiq. Roman. t. 12, and Gutherius, De Jure Manium, ibid. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. October 14.