Sixtus II was pope from August 30, 257 to August 6, 258, following Stephen I as bishop of Rome in 257. He died as a martyr during the persecution by Emperor Valerian.
According to the Liber Pontificalis, he was Greek by birth. He restored the relations with the African and Eastern churches which had been broken off by his predecessor on the question of heretical baptism.
In the persecutions under Emperor Valerian I in 258, numerous priests and bishops were put to death. Pope Sixtus II was one of the first victims of this persecution, being crucified on August 6.
He is thought to be the author of the pseudo-Cyprianic writing Ad Novatianum, though this view has not found general acceptance. Another composition written at Rome, between 253 and 258, is generally agreed to be his.
In the year 257 Saint Sixtus II, an Athenian, became pope. It is said that it was he who ordered that the bodies of Saint Peter and Saint Paul should be transported from the place where they rested to the catacombs during the raging of the persecution. Then the faithful regularly chanted the Psalms until the ninth hour in those sacred chambers.
The dispute relative to the baptism of heretics still existed, but there was no longer a fatal discord to be deplored. Sixtus defended the doctrine of Stephen I. Dionysius, the celebrated Bishop of Alexandria, offered to mediate with Sixtus II on the Easter question, as Saint Irenaeus had with Victor. Sixtus yielded to the reasonings of Dionysius, and allowed the dissenting churches to keep to their customs until the question should be authoritatively settled by the sentence of a general council. The effect proved the wisdom of this idea. The Eastern Churches, perceiving that they were suspected of error, examined the question more attentively, and various African churches in succession, laying aside the new custom, adopted that of Rome an event which led to the belief that Saint Cyprian himself had gradually abandoned his system.
The early years of the rule of the Emperor Valerian had promised some tranquillity to the Church, but his good inclination was perverted by a minister. The execution of Pope Saint Stephen presaged the fate of Sixtus. Macrinus, a man of great influence on account of his warlike skill and courage, was infatuated with the mysteries of magic. He persuaded the emperor that the true secret for rendering his reign prosperous lay in propitiating the demons by magical operations. At the same time he urged that those operations would be ineffectual unless accompanied by the extermination of the Christians, those chief enemies of the demons and magicians. Valerian s feelings towards the Christians were thus changed ; his former love became hatred, and he gave orders for the destruction alike of the bishops, priests, and deacons. Saint Sixtus was arrested and led to execution. The order was that the bishops should be first executed. Saint Laurence, the principal of the deacons, was not on that day among the number of the victims. He, weeping, followed Sixtus, and exclaimed: "My father, whither are you going without your son? You are not accustomed to offer sacrifice without the assistance of a minister. How have I displeased you? Try me, whether I am worthy of the choice that you have made of me for the distribution of the blood of our Lord." Sixtus replied: "I do not abandon you, my son; but God reserves you for a greater combat. Doubt it not; in three days you will be with me." Having uttered those prophetic words, he ascended to heaven.
Saint Sixtus was buried in the cemetery of Pretextatus. Fleury thus relates the execution of Saint Laurence :
"However, the prefect of Rome, believing that the Christians had great treasure concealed, and desiring to ascertain the fact, caused Saint Laurence to be brought before him, as being, in his quality of archdeacon, the Christian treasurer also. When Saint Laurence was placed before him, the prefect said: It is your common complaint that we treat you cruelly; there are no torments. I mildly ask you what entirely depends upon yourself to answer. It is stated that in your ceremonies the pontiffs offer libations in vessels of gold, that the blood of the victims is received in vessels of silver, and that, to illuminate your nocturnal sacrifices, your tapers are borne in golden candelabra. It is further stated that, to defray the expenses of these things, the brethren sell their inheritance, and often reduce their children to poverty. Bring forth these hidden treasures ; your prince has need of them for the payment of his troops. I understand that it is your doctrine that you should "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" ; and I do not suppose that your God coins money. When he came into the world he brought no money with him, but only words. Give us the money, and rest content with words. Saint Laurence calmly replied: I confess that our Church is rich ; and the emperor has not such great treasures. I will show you what our Church has of the most precious; only give me a little time to put all in order, to make the calculation, and to draw up the statement.
"That reply satisfied the prefect, who, imagining that he was about to grasp the treasures of the Church, granted a delay of three days. During those three days Saint Laurence traversed the city, gathering together the poor who were supported by the Church, the halt, the lame, and the blind, of whom he knew more than any other person did. Having got them together, he took down their names, and drew them up in a line before the church. On the day appointed for the production of the Church treasures, he went to the prefect and said: Come and behold the treasures of our God; you will see a great courtyard filled with vessels of gold, and whole talents of gold heaped together beneath the galleries. The prefect accompanied him, and, on beholding those paupers of hideous and sordid aspect, who importuned him for alms, he, with angry and threatening glances, turned to Saint Laurence, who mildly inquired: Why are you angry? The gold which you so ardently desire is a vile metal drawn from the earth, and is what causes so many crimes. The true gold is the light of which these poor people are the disciples ; their bodily weakness is their spiritual advantage; the real diseases of our race are the vices and the passions ; the great people of the time are the really wretched and contemptible people. Behold the treasures that I promised you, and to them I will add pearls and diamonds. You see these widows and virgins? They are the crown of the Church ; make these riches profitable to Rome, to the emperor, and to yourself. " Do you make sport of me thus? said the prefect. I know that you Christians affect to despise death, and therefore I will not have you promptly killed. Then he caused a framework of iron bars to be set over a slow fire, in order to take a longer time to burn the martyr to death. Saint Laurence was stripped and laid upon the gigantic gridiron.
To the newly baptized Christians his countenance seemed to shine with an extraordinary brightness. When the martyr had lain thus for some time on one side, he said to the prefect: Tell them to turn me over; I am done enough on this side/ Then, looking up to heaven, he prayed to God for the conversion of Rome, and gave up the ghost. Some senators, converted by his example, carried his body on their shoulders, and he was buried near the Tiburtean road, in a grotto, on the loth of August, A.D. 259."
But for the hasty cruelty of the prefect, the clergy of Rome would doubtless have named the courageous Saint Laurence as the successor in the pontificate of Sixtus I, and we should reckon that intrepid confessor of the faith among those who have occupied the chair of Saint Peter.
Shortly afterwards, Saint Cyprian received the crown of glory at Carthage.
Preceded by: Saint Stephen I
Pope of the Roman Catholic Church August 31, 257 to August 6, 258
Succeeded by: Saint Dionysius
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