Saintly Popes of the Early Catholic Church
Details about many popes who served in the earliest days of the Catholic Church have been lost to the mists of time, yet they’re still considered saints. Here’s a brief recap of what is known about these holy men.
Pope St. Cletus (a.d. 76–a.d. 88): Born a Roman as Cletus, he was also known by his name in Greek, Anacletus. He’s listed in the Roman Canon of the Mass. His feast day is April 26.
Pope St. Evaristus (a.d. 97–a.d. 105): Evaristus, of Greek origin, was the fifth pope. He’s buried next to St. Peter in the Christian cemetery on Vatican Hill, the site of the 16th-century basilica. His feast day is October 26.
Pope St. Sixtus I (a.d. 115–a.d. 125): St. Sixtus reigned for ten years before meeting a martyr’s death. He’s believed to be buried near the site of the first-century cemetery on Vatican Hill. He is remembered on April 3.
Pope St. Pius I (a.d. 140–a.d. 155): St. Pius I battled heretics that threatened the faith. So clear were Pope Pius I’s teaching and preaching that he won over converts, including St. Justin Martyr. His feast is celebrated on July 11.
Pope St. Anicetus (a.d. 155–a.d. 166): St. Anicetus hung out with some notable theologians, such as St. Polycarp of Smyrna and St. Justin Martyr. He’s most likely a martyr as well, even though no official details are known. His feast is on April 16.
Pope St. Soter (a.d. 166–a.d. 175): St. Soter introduced the solemnity of Easter as an annual celebration. Though no conclusive proof is available, he is traditionally considered a martyr and is remembered on April 22, along with another pope, St. Caius.
Pope St. Eleutherius (a.d. 175–a.d. 189): Eleutherius was a deacon in Rome before becoming a priest and then a bishop. He’s remembered for his declaration that anything suitable for human consumption is suitable for Christians to eat. His feast is on May 26.
Pope St. Victor (a.d. 189–a.d. 199): Victor so strongly believed that the Church should observe a uniform date for the solemnity of Easter that he excommunicated certain churches in the East who preferred their own calendar and calculations. His feast is celebrated on July 28.
Pope St. Urban I (a.d. 222–a.d. 230): Urban reigned during the rule of Emperor Alexander Severus. Not much is known about him, other than the fact that he was a charitable and kind leader. He’s buried in the papal chapel of the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, and his feast is noted on May 25.
Pope St. Anterus (a.d. 235–a.d. 236): Anterus, a Greek, was responsible for creating the Acts of the Martyrs, a collection of biographies on the early Christian martyrs documenting when, where, and how they died. He was only pope for 43 days before being martyred himself by order of Emperor Maximinus Thrax; he was buried in the newly built papal chamber of the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. His feast is celebrated on January 3.
Pope St. Felix I (a.d. 268–a.d. 274): Felix ordered the celebration of Mass over the tombs of martyred Christians in the catacombs. His feast is May 30.
Pope St. Eutychian (a.d. 275–a.d. 283): Eutychian wasn’t martyred but has been considered a saint since antiquity. He reigned during a very peaceful respite between persecutions. He was the last pope to be buried in the papal chamber of the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. His feast day is December 7.
Pope St. Marcellus I (a.d. 308–a.d. 309): Marcellus wanted repentant lapsi to perform appropriate penances, an unpopular position that led to riots. Emperor Maxentius exiled Marcellus in an effort to calm down the populace. He died in a.d. 309 and is buried in the church named after him in Rome. His feast is memorialized on January 16.
Pope St. Eusebius (a.d. 309): Eusebius sought substantial penances from repentant lapsi, leading Emperor Maxentius to exile him to Sicily, where he died. Eusebius’s body was transferred to Rome and buried in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. His feast is celebrated on August 17.
Pope St. Mark (a.d. 336): Mark’s pontificate only lasted eight months, but he established two churches in Rome: one named after the evangelist Mark, currently incorporated in Palazzo di Venezia, and the second in the cemetery of St. Balbina, which has since been destroyed. Two important documents also came out of his pontificate: the Episcopal and Martyr Deposits, both of great historical value for the Church. His feast is recalled on October 7.
Pope St. Anastasius I (a.d. 399–a.d. 401): Anastasius settled theological controversies concerning an early Church father of theology, Origen. Origen had many good theological points but had confusing ones as well. Anastasius had to clarify matters and condemn those parts that were heretical, which earned him praise from St. Jerome. Anastasius’s feast day is celebrated on December 19.
Pope St. Zosimus (a.d. 417–a.d. 418): In his short time as pope, Zosimus dealt with heresy and battled against episcopal intrigue and skulduggery surrounding imperial politics. Though not the most astute in areas of Church politics, he was a holy, kind, and charitable man. His feast is December 26.
Pope St. Simplicius (a.d. 468–a.d. 483): Simplicius saw the western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus, defeated by barbarian invaders, thus causing the city and empire to fall once and for all in a.d. 476. Pope Simplicius also had to deal with the usual heresies of the times. His feast is March 10.
Pope St. Felix II (III) (a.d. 483–a.d. 492): Some historians, to separate him from the anti-pope Felix II, list this pope as Felix III. He worked with the emperor to fight heresy throughout the empire. He’s buried at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls; his feast is March 1.
Pope St. Symmachus (a.d. 498–a.d. 514): Symmachus was archdeacon of the Eternal City (another name for Rome); his election to the papacy, however, was fraught with controversy as he faced struggles with the anti-pope Laurence. Symmachus embellished many churches throughout Rome and helped refugees in exile from heretical tyrants. He died on July 19 and is buried at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pope St. Hormisdas (a.d. 514–a.d. 523): Not much is known about Hormisdas, who, like the first pope, St. Peter, had a wife. She died and left him a son, who later became Pope Silverius. Hormisdas compiled a confession of faith, Hormisdas Formula allowing heretics to reenter the Church. His feast day is August 6.
Pope St. Silverius (a.d. 536–a.d. 537): Silverius was a subdeacon in Rome when elected pope. He was forced to abdicate his papacy in a.d. 537, falling victim to scheming by Empress Theodora, who wanted the pope to restore heretical leaders to their respective dioceses. When Silverius refused, the enraged empress plotted his downfall. He was reinstated to the throne of St. Peter by the emperor, who wasn’t aware of his wife’s skullduggery. Pope St. Silverius’s feast day is June 20.
Pope St. Adeodatus I (a.d. 615–a.d. 618): After more than 40 years as a priest, Adeodatus was elected to the papacy at a late age. He was the first pope to use lead seals on papal decrees (called bulls). In his will, he left a year’s salary to local clergy. His feast is November 8.
Pope St. Eugene I (a.d. 654–a.d. 657): Eugene was a priest in Rome when chosen pope and struggled with the emperor over Monothelitism. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Martin I, who openly condemned the Patriarch of Constantinople for his Monothelite opinions, Eugene chose to be more diplomatic and tone down the rhetoric without denying the faith. He did refuse to sign a document that the patriarch sent to the pope, further confusing the issue of how many wills Christ had. The advancing Muslim troops against the Eastern Empire preoccupied the emperor and the patriarch, and Eugene was spared the humiliation and imprisonment suffered by his predecessor, Martin. He died in a.d. 657; his feast is June 2.
Pope St. Leo II (a.d. 682–a.d. 683): Leo II was an outstanding preacher who loved music but cared for the poor even more. The emperor often interfered with Church policies, and this was the case in Leo’s election. It took 18 months before the emperor gave his approval and Leo could go through the coronation ceremonies. The controversy centered on the sixth ecumenical council of Constantinople III (a.d. 680), which condemned both the heresy of Monothelitism and Pope Honorius I (accusing him of having heretical opinions). Leo confirmed the condemnation of the heresy itself and of his predecessor’s (Honorius) private opinions while making it clear that these theories never enjoyed formal approval. His feast is celebrated on July 3.
Pope St. Benedict II (a.d. 684–a.d. 685): When it came time for Benedict, proficient in both sacred music and Scripture, to be considered for the papacy, the Church of Rome still elected the popes, and they had to wait for imperial recognition before they could actually ascend the throne. Benedict got the emperor to agree to cede his approval authority to the local ruler in Italy, thus saving time between election and papal coronation. His feast is May 8.