Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Anicetus, Pope and Martyr
See Eusebius, b. 5, c. 24. Tillemont, t. 2, p. 442.
HE succeeded St. Pius in the latter part of the reign of Antoninus Pius, sat about eight years, from 165 to 173, and is styled a martyr in the Roman and other Martyrologies: if he did not shed his blood for the faith, he at least purchased the title of martyr by great sufferings and dangers. He received a visit from St. Polycarp, and tolerated the custom of the Asiatics in celebrating Easter on the fourteenth day of the first moon after the vernal equinox, with the Jews. His vigilance protected his flock from the wiles of the heretics, Valentine and Marcion, instruments whom the devil sent to Rome, seeking to corrupt the faith in the capital of the world. Marcion, in Pontus, after having embraced a state of continency, fell into a crime with a young virgin, for which he was excommunicated by the bishop who was his own father. He came to Rome in hopes to be there received into the communion of the church, but was rejected till he had made satisfaction, by penance, to his own bishop. Upon which he commenced heresiarch, as Tertullian and St. Epiphanius relate. He professed himself a stoic philosopher, and seems to have been a priest. Joining the heresiarch Cerdo, who was come out of Syria to Rome, in the time of Pope Hyginus, he established two gods, or first principles, the one, the author of all good; the other of all evil: also of the Jewish law, and of the Old Testament: which he maintained to be contrary to the New. Tertullian informs us,1 that he repented, and was promised at Rome to be again received into the church, on condition that he brought back all those souls which he had perverted. This he was labouring to effect when he died, though some understand this circumstance of his master Cerdo. He left many unhappy followers of his errors at Rome, in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Persia, and Cyprus.2
The thirty-six first bishops of Rome, down to Liberius, and, this one excepted, all the popes to Symmachus, the fifty-second, in 498, are honoured among the saints; and out of two hundred and forty eight popes, from St. Peter to Clement XIII. seventy-eight are named in the Roman Martyrology. In the primitive ages, the spirit of fervour and perfect sanctity, which is now-a-days so rarely to be found in the very sanctuaries of virtue, and in the world, seems in most places scarcely so much as known, was conspicuous in most of the faithful, and especially in their pastors. The whole tenour of their lives, both in retirement and in their public actions, breathed it in such a manner as to render them the miracles of the world, angels on earth, living copies of their divine Redeemer, the odour of whose virtues and holy law and religion they spread on every side. Indeed, what could be more amiable, what more admirable, than the perfect simplicity, candour, and sincerity; the profound humility, invincible patience and meekness: the tender charity, even towards their enemies and persecutors; the piety, compunction, and heavenly zeal, which animated all their words and their whole conduct, and which, by fervent exercise under sufferings and persecutions, were carried to the most heroic degree of perfection? By often repeating in our prayers, sacred protestations of our love of God, we easily impose upon ourselves, and fancy that his love reigns in our affections. But by relapsing so frequently into impatience, vanity, pride, or other sins, we give the lie to ourselves. For it is impossible for the will to fall so easily and so suddenly from the sovereign degree of sincere love. If, after making the most solemn protestations of inviolable friendship and affection for a fellow-creature, we should have no sooner turned our backs, but should revile and contemn him, without having received any provocation or affront from him, and this habitually, would not the whole world justly call our protestations hypocrisy, and our pretended friendship a mockery? Let us by this rule judge if our love of God be sovereign, so long as our inconstancy betrays the insincerity of our hearts.
Note 2. The liberality of Pope Clement VIII. in giving the body of St. Anicetus, found in the Catacombs, to the domestic chapel of the prince of Altemps at Rome, induced John Angelo, Prince of Altemps, to write his Vita Aniceti, Papæ et Martyris. [back]