St. Sixtus II - Martyred By Valerian

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Illumination of St. Sixtus IIThe author of the Liber Pontificalis calls St. Sixtus a Greek and a philosopher, but modern scholars think that Pope Sixtus is confused with another Sixtus, a Pythagorean philosopher. Whether a philosopher or not, Pope Sixtus II was a glorious martyr.

St. Stephen had caused a good deal of excitement by his threat to excommunicate those bishops who did not conform in the matter of heretical baptism. St. Firmilian of Antioch had written a bitter letter to Stephen. St. Dionysius of Alexandria had written a mild letter pleading for mercy and forbearance. To St. Sixtus II, Dionysius addressed a similar appeal. His words were heeded. Pope Sixtus II, though he upheld the traditional Roman doctrine, did not break off relations with those African and Asiatic churches which followed St. Cyprian.

Sixtus felt the full force of Valerian's persecution. That emperor had issued his second more drastic edict of persecution in 258. Soon blood was flowing. Since the Cemetery of Calixtus was too well known to government officials for safety, Pope Sixtus held services across the Appian Way in the Cemetery of Praetextatus. This cemetery seems to have been private rather than Church property. The precaution, however, was in vain. One day when Pope Sixtus was giving a talk to the faithful, the police broke in, arrested Sixtus and his chief clerics, and carried them off to the prefect. On this occasion they do not seem to have bothered about the lay people. According to tradition, the touching scene between St. Sixtus and his chief deacon, St. Lawrence, occurred at this time. Lawrence was absent when the police made their swoop. On hearing the news, he hastened to meet the Pope and asked him, "Where are you going, father, without your son? Where are you going, O priest, without your deacon?" Pope Sixtus replied, "My son, you I am not abandoning. Greater strife awaits you. Stop weeping; you will follow me in three days" (Paul Allard, Les dernieres persecutions du troisieme siecle, p. 91). And so it happened. The police pounced on St. Lawrence and put pressure on him to deliver up the treasures of the Church. St. Lawrence agreed to lead the prefect to the treasures, and since the reserve money of the Church had been distributed to the poor, Lawrence, even as Cornelia pointed to her children as her jewels, pointed to the poor as the Church treasure. The prefect was disappointed. Lawrence met death like a hero.

Pope St. Sixtus II was put to death on August 6 in the cemetery where he had been holding services. He was buried, however, in the Cemetery of Calixtus. His feast is kept on August 6, the anniversary day of his martyrdom.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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