St. Sixtus III - A Gentle Man

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Sixtus was one of those gentle souls who seem to exist for the purpose of binding wounds and healing bruises. A Roman, prominent among the clergy, a friend of St. Augustine, Sixtus was a natural choice for pope. He set himself the task of consolidating the victory over Pelagianism and Nestorianism by kindness and gentleness. Indeed, at one time it appeared as if that clever protagonist of Pelagianism, Julian of Eclanum, was about to pull the wool over the Pope's eyes. But his insincerity was unmasked, and Sixtus refused him readmittance into the Church. At the side of Sixtus in this matter stood a deacon named Leo whose aid was very valuable to the Pope. Of him more shall be heard.

The Pope's kindness had happier results with the Nestorians. In 433, Sixtus held a council at Rome at which he announced that Cyril of Alexandria had informed him that many Nestorian leaders had returned to the Church. Certainly Sixtus made it easy for them to do so.

The condemnation of Nestorianism had been a striking vindication of the honor paid to Mary as Mother of the Person who is God. Indeed, just as the word consubstantial was the keyword of orthodoxy against the Arians, so theotokos (Mother of God) was the keyword of orthodoxy against the Nestorians. The Council of Ephesus precipitated a spontaneous outburst of devotion to Mary. St. Sixtus celebrated the council by rebuilding the old basilica of Pope Liberius and decorating it with magnificent mosaics picturing the childhood of Jesus and the life of Mary. The church, which was dedicated to the Mother of God, is called St. Mary Major.

Sixtus III did much for the churches in Rome. Not only did he redecorate St. Mary Major but he obtained from Emperor Valentinian III a golden image adorned with jewels on which the twelve apostles were represented. This he placed over the tomb of St. Peter. He did some restoration in the old Lateran Basilica and he erected a silver altar and porphyry columns in the Church of St. Lawrence.

St. Sixtus III died August 19, 440. He was buried in that Church of St. Lawrence he did so much to adorn. His feast is kept on August 19.

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

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