With Evaristus' death in 105 through the edict of Trajan, the Roman Pope Saint Alexander I was elected the sixth successor of Peter. This disciple of Plutarch would rule the young Church for ten years. To Alexander are attributed the institution of the use of Holy Water in churches and homes. He also prescribed that hosts to be consecrated be made of unleavened bread.
When Alexander was put to death in 115 at the order of Trajan also, another Roman prelate was chosen the 7th successor of Peter. He was Pope Saint Sixtus I who also served ten years. He ordered that the corporal be made of a linen material and the sacred vessels used in the Mass be handled only by consecrated ministers. That brings up an interesting point when you think that after 1900 years of honoring this, it was basically thrown out after Vatican II when the Eucharistic minister fad stormed churches and parishes everywhere and everybody and their sister were handling the sacred vessels that henceforth had been reserved for consecrated hands only as Sixtus decreed. He died in 125 at the hands of Trajan's successor Hadrian and was buried in the acropolis of Alatri in Rome.
Sixtus was followed by Pope Saint Telesphorus, the second Greek to rise to the throne of Peter. During his eleven year pontificate he composed the Gloria in Excelsis Deo" and instituted the seven week fast before Easter as well as decreeing that each priest had the privilege of celebrating three Masses on Christimas. He also inserted new prayers into the Mass as the liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass began to flourish. The number of deaths increased as well as Hadrian hunted the Christians down including Telesphorus who was put to death in 136.
Pope Saint Hyginus was elected for the next four years and he, too, died a martyr in 140 under Titus Antoninus Pius who was actually lenient toward Christians compared to his predecessors, but radicals sought Hyginus out and had him killed. During his four year papacy he determined the different prerogatives of the clergy and defined the grades of the ecclesiastical hierarchy as well as instituting the use of godparents at baptism to assist the newly-born into the Christian community. He also decreed that all churches be consecrated.
He was followed by Pope Saint Pius I, the first in an illustrious line of Popes named Pius. He enjoyed the longest reign of the Popes to that point, reigning over the Church for fifteen years. Pius is credited with establishing the date of Easter on the first Sunday after the March full moon. Disagreements had arisen over the time of Easter. The Eastern Christians - those from Asia - observed it according to the Jewish Calendar
in the month of Nisan on the fourteenth day. Being a set date, it could have fallen on a Monday, Wednesday or whenever; whereas the Western Christians, following the traditions of Peter and Paul, held to the Sunday
after Good Friday. Many ill feelings developed as paranoia and fear crept in. The Western sect suspected the eastern sect of being in cahoots with the Jews and fought all overtures for compromise; likewise the eastern
followers suspected influence from Rome and rejected reconciliation. The rules he set down for the conversion of the Jewish people are looked on as very important in the manner in which the Church carried this evangelization out.
Pius was succeeded by Pope Saint Anicetus, the first Syrian-born Supreme Pontiff whose papacy lasted eleven years who confirmed the decrees established by Pius of the celebration of Easter according to the tradition of St. Peter. Anicetus also decreed that the clergy not have long hair. He died under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
His successor was the 12th in the line of Peter, a man from Fondi who took the name Pope Saint Soter. During his nine year pontificate he forbade women to burn incense during the congregation of the faithful and ratified matrimony as a sacrament, making it valid only if blessed by a priest. He is best remembered as the "Pope of Charity" for his many kind acts to those persecuted Christians as well as the Romans who had him put to death in 175 at the hands of Antoninus.
The thirteenth successor of Peter was Nicopolis-born Pope Saint Eleutherius whose papal reign lasted fourteen years until he also died a martyr in 189 during the cruel regime of Antoninus' son Commodus. Pope Eleutherius not only sent Fugatius and Damian to the British Isles to convert the Britons, but abolished some Jewish customs concerning the purity and impurity of food which were still being observed by some Christians. It served to be one of the final severences between the Old and the New Covenants.
These customs needed to be universal in form for there was much speculation as to what was right and what was wrong. Arguments ensued and had the Popes not stepped in and decreed various edicts, it would have scattered the faithful into separate churches not in union with Rome. Though this would happen through the centuries, the strong stature of the early Popes helped curb violations which not only persisted but also erupted into physical conflicts in various villages. This was not what Christ had intended. To curtail this
Pope Saint Victor I, the 14th successor to Peter and immediate successor of Eleutherius, called the first universal council together in 191 A.D. This was not one of the Ecumenical Councils for that would not come until 325 at Nicaea. To Victor's chagrin the council voted unanimously in favor of the Eastern tradition. In retaliation, the Pope threatened to excommunicate the Asian and African bishops. That is when Saint Irenaeus, who was dearly respected by both factions, stepped in reminding Pope Victor that Saint Polycarp, a bishop and Pope Anicetus had differed on the same thing but remained united and separated in peace, So also in Galatians 2 Peter and Paul disagreed but Peter, through prayer and discernment, condescended to Paul's views. This wisdom curtailed the excommunication threat and accord was reached. Here the wisdom and humility of a holy Pope helped save the Church. During Victor's ten year pontificate he decreed that, in Baptism, any kind of water could be used in an emergency.
All through the history of the Church there has been disagreement and
discord but that is why Our Lord set up His Church with papal authority so
there would be no mistaking the Will of God. Despite this there was and
continues to be defections. In those first centuries, those who remained
steadfast were persecuted as Christians were murdered in every manner of
torture. Only John died a peaceful death. All the other Apostles
succumbed as martyrs --lambs slaughtered for the sake of the Lamb, as did
countless Christians from Jerusalem to Rome where over two million were
killed under the reign of Nero. Yet, the fruits multiplied as Carthaginian
historian and Christian theologian Tertulian records: "The blood of the
martyrs is the seed of Christianity."
Like those early times when persecutions tested the mettle of the faithful
remnant Christ was forming through His chosen ones, so also today the
fortitude of Christ's little remnant is being tested in the face of
tremendous opposition from both inside and outside the Church, and within
the ranks of the remnant. In the early stages these trials opened new
vistas of grace and a strengthening of faith and the Church itself which
made it possible for the emergence of the golden age of liturgical practice
which would establish the full liturgy of the Mass in Latin for centuries
So also, in these end times of the second millennium, despite all opposition and persecution, His
Church and those among the faithful remnant will be victorious for Christ
will be with us even to the end of the world (cf. Matthew 28:20) and
through their merits, will usher in the Reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
through the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In the next part of this on-going series, we will delve into the struggles of the early Church as well as
transition of the Mass from Greek to Latin and the influence both pagan and
Christian Rome played in the early centuries in propagating the New Sacrifice.