April 17, 2021: POPE ST. ANICETUS
April 17, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. ANICETUS, POPE AND MARTYR
“Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, O Lord. And hast placed him over the works of thy hands.”
O God, who, by the yearly solemnity of blessed Anicetus, thy Martyr and Bishop, rejoicest the hearts of thy faithful; mercifully grant that we, who celebrate his martyrdom, may enjoy his protection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
A Pope and Martyr of the second century appears on the Calendar to-day. The Martyrs stand in clusters near our Risen Lord; they are the Eagles, of which he speaks in his Gospel, as gathering together around their longed-for object (St. Matth, xxiv. 28). Anicetus is not the only Pope, whose Martyrdom has to be celebrated during Paschal Time; others will come, adding to our Easter joy. The Saint who claims our attention today, is one of those whose holy actions are shrouded in the venerable gloom of the Church; and yet, his memory will be held in veneration to the end of time, not only as being the eleventh successor of St. Peter, in the See of Rome, but as having imitated him also in holiness of life. St. Polycarp, whose Feast we kept on the twenty-sixth of January, came from Smyrna to Rome, in order to visit him and receive his advice. There have also been transmitted to us one or two instances of the zeal, wherewith he defended the Church against the heresiarchs, Valentine and Marcion. In a word, we know that he was a Martyr; and that is enough to immortalise his name.
The Church makes the following commemoration of the holy Pontiff.
Anicetus, a Syrian by birth, governed the Church during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. He passed a decree, which forbade Clerics to nourish their hair. The ordinations, which he held in five Decembers, gave seventeen Priests, four Deacons, and nine Bishops for divers places. His Pontificate lasted eight years, eight months, and twenty-four days. He was crowned with Martyrdom for the Christian Faith, and was buried, on the fifteenth of the Kalends of May (April 17th), in the Cemetery, (afterwards called the Cemetery of Callixtus,) which is on the Appian Way.
Holy Pontiff! Assist thy Successor who is our Father; assist the Flock intrusted to his charge, for the dangers that now threaten us are extreme. Thy Pontificate was during a stormy period; pray to our Risen Jesus, that he would quell the tempest that is now howling round the Bark of Peter. Beseech him to give us perseverance and courage. Obtain for us that we may fix our hearts on our heavenly country; so that, when God calls us hence, we may be prepared as thou wast. We are the descendants of the Martyrs; their Faith is ours; the Hope that cheered them, must be our consolation.
Facts concerning Pope St. Anicetus
(by Rev. Alban Butler)
He succeeded St. Pius in the latter part of the reign of Antoninus Pius,… 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, 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.
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.
The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Pope St. Anicetus, pray for us.