St. Pius I., Pope and Martyr
ACCORDING to the pontificals, he was the son of one Rufinus, and a native of Aquileia. He had served the church among the clergy at Rome many years under Adrian and Antoninus Pius, 1 when, according to Tillemont, in the fourth year of the reign of the latter he succeeded St. Hyginus in the papacy in 142. He condemned the heresiarch Valentinus, and rejected Marcion, who came from Pontus to Rome after the death of Hyginus, as we have related elsewhere. The conflicts which St. Pius sustained obtained him the title of martyr, which is given him not only in Usuard’s Martyrology, but also in many others more ancient; though Fontanini, a most judicious and learned critic, strenuously maintains, against Tillemont, that he died by the sword. He passed to a better life in 157, and was buried at the foot of the Vatican hill on the 11th of July. See Tillemont, t. 2, p. 312, and especially Fontanini, who discusses at length all things relating to this pope, in his Historia Literaria Aquileiensis, l. 2, c. 3 and 4. 1
Note 1. Among the heathen emperors of Rome, Titus, the two Antonines, and Alexander deserved the best of their subjects, and the three last gained a great reputation for moral virtue. The Antonines were eminent for their learning, and devoted themselves to the Stoic philosophy. Arrius Antoninus, who had distinguished himself by his moderation and love of justice in several magistracies, was adopted by the Emperor Adrian in 138, and upon his death in the same year ascended the imperial throne. He was truly the father of his people during a reign of twenty-two years, and died in 161, being seventy-seven years old. He obtained the surname of Pius, according to some, by his gratitude to Adrian; but, according to others, by his clemency and goodness. He had often in his mouth the celebrated saying of Scipio Africanus, that he would rather save the life of one citizen than destroy one thousand enemies. He engaged in no wars, except that by his lieutenants he restrained the Daci, Alani, and Mauri, and by the conduct of Lollius Urbicus quieted the Britons, confining the Caledonians to their mountains and forests by a new wall. Yet the pagan virtues of this prince were mixed with an alloy of superstition, vice, and weakness. When the senate refused to enroll Adrian among the gods, out of a just detestation of his cruelty and other vices, Antoninus, by tears and entreaties, extorted from it a decree by which divine honours were granted that infamous prince, and he appointed priests and a temple for his worship. He likewise caused his wife Faustina to be honoured after her death as a goddess, and was reproached for the most dissolute life of his daughter Faustina the Younger, whom he gave in marriage to his adopted son, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
Xiphilin writes that the Christians shared in the mildness of his government. Yet though he did not raise by fresh edicts any new persecution, it is a notorious mistake of Dodwell and some others, who pretend that no Christians suffered death for the faith during his reign, at least by his order. Tertullian informs us (l. ad Scapul. c. 4,) that Arrius Antoninus, when he was only proconsul of Asia, put in execution the old unjust rescript of Trajan; and having punished some Christians with death, dismissed the rest, crying out to them: “O wretches, if you want to die, have you not halters and precipices to end your lives by?” St. Justin, in his first apology, which he addressed to Antoninus Pius, who was then emperor, testifies that Christians were tortured with the most barbarous cruelty without having been convicted of any crime. Also St. Irenæus, (l. 3, c. 3,) Eusebius, (l. 4, c. 10,) and the author of an ancient poem which is published among the works of Tertullian, are incontestable vouchers that this emperor, whom Capitolinus calls a most zealous worshipper of the gods, often shed the blood of saints. By the acts of St. Felicitas and her sons, it appears what artifices the pagan priests made use of to stir up the emperors and magistrates against the Christians. At length, however, Antoninus Pius, in the fifteenth year of his reign, of Christ 152, according to Tillemont, wrote to the states of Asia, commanding that all persons who should be impeached merely for believing in Christ, should be discharged, and their accusers punished according to the laws against informers, adding, “You do but harden them in their opinion, for you cannot oblige them more than by making them die for their religion. Thus they triumph over you by choosing rather to die than to comply with your will.” See Eusebius, l. 4, c. 26, where he also mentions a like former rescript of Adrian to Minutius Fundanus. Nevertheless, it is proved by Aringhi (Roma Subterran. l. 3, c. 22,) that some were crowned with martyrdom in this reign after the aforesaid rescript, the pusillanimous prince not having courage always to protect these innocent subjects from the fury of the populace or the malice of some governors.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. July 11.