With the death of Pope Saint Fabian on January 20, 250 A.D. Pope Saint Cornelius was chosen as the 21st successor of Peter in March 251 after a year vacancy due to the terrible persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius. During his two year papacy the first schism in the Church occurred with the election of the antipope Novatian who would later be excommunicated. Decius had Cornelius exiled to Civitavecchia where he was put to death in early June 253 after he refused to worship pagan idols and offer burnt offerings to the Roman gods.
On his death Pope Lucius I was elevated to the throne of Peter on June 25th 253 but his pontificate was even shorter, lasting only until March 5, 254. Lucius possessed an ascetical nature and forbade men and women not related by blood, in other words, not immediate family, to live together, thus establishing that deaconesses could not live with clergy even if the lodging was provided per gratis for charity sake. Lucius also died a martyr's death at the hands of Decius' successor Valerian, an even more evil ruler.
The 23rd to assume the Papal Crown was Pope Saint Stephen I who was elected on May 12, 254. During his papacy those who had followed Novatian made waves and Stephen was consumed with stopping this schism. Historians record that he was beheaded on his pontifical chair during a religious function but they are not sure whether it was the Romans or spies for Novatian. Nevertheless, Stephen earned his martyr's crown on August 2, 257.
His successor, a Greek named Pope Saint Sixtus II was elected on August 30, 257 and died a martyr as well a year later on August 6th. It was during his pontificate that he finally settled the schism of Novatian. It was also Sixtus II who identified the remains of Saint Peter and Saint Paul and had their bodies translated to the tomb on Vatican Hill. During his papacy Saint Cyprian was martyred at which the first pronunciation was uttered that would become part of the liturgy of the Church - Deo Gratias.
With the election of the 25th successor of Peter Pope Saint Dionysius or Denis, the Church finally got someone who lasted longer as the Sovereign Pontiff. He was elected on July 22, 259 during the assault of the Roman Empire by the Barbarians at the gates of Rome. This Turio-born Pope is credited with reorganizing the parishes of Rome. He had been a Roman missionary in Gaul under the persecution of Valerian and, because he knew how to deal with the Romans and they were consumed with fending off the barbarians, he was able to obtain liberty for the Christians from Valerian's successor - the Roman Emperor Gallienus. followed him.
Following him was Pope Saint Felix I on January 5, 269 as the 26th in the line of pontiffs. It was Felix who began the custom of burying martyrs under church altars and celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on their tombs, a practice that would be perpetuated with the reliquary in the altar stone. He quelled the heresy of Paul of Samosata, the proud Bishop of Antioch who taught that Christ was no more than a mere man, in Whom the Divine Word dwelt by its operation and as in its temple, with many other gross errors
concerning the capital mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation. Felix called three councils in Antioch to examine the heresy and in the third council, Paul was convicted of heresy, pride, and many scandalous crimes
and Domnus was appointed Bishop of Antioch. Problems still existed with Paul because of his pride for he kept possession of the bishops' house. But Felix appealed to Gallienus' successor - the Emperor Aurelian who, though a pagan, ruled that the house should belong to the Pope to whom the bishops of Rome and Italy answer. This was a major precedent that still exists today. Paul was evicted and eventually Aurelian turned against Felix, possibly because the latter had converted countless infidels and had him killed on December 30, 274.
Pope Saint Eutychian was the next pontiff elected on January 4, 275. He ruled until December 7, 283. It was this Luni-born pontiff who ordered that the martyr's remains should be covered with the Dalmatic, a cloak similar to the one worn by the Roman Emperors. Today it is a sacred vestment worn by deacons at solemn religious functions that resembles a chasuble. It was Eutychian who instituted the blessing of the crops. He died a martyr at the hands of one of the worst Roman emperors to come down the pike - Diocletian.
His successor Pope Saint Caius was born in Salona in Dalmatia and became the 28th successor of Peter on December 17, 283. His uncle, strangely enough, was Diocletian and because of that he and many Christians were spared for a time until Diocletian went off the deep end and ordered all Christians massacred with Caius being one of the first on April 22, 296. It was Caius who decreed that no one could be ordained a bishop until they had passed through the seven stages of Orders which were Hostarius, Reader, Acolyte, Exorcist, Subdeacon, Deacon and Priest.
Caius' successor was the last of the Third Century and he was Pope Saint Marcellinus. The 30th
Pope to be elected reigned during the horrific persecution of the Emperor Diocletian who not only set himself up as a deity, impiously claiming divine honors, but sought to outdo Nero in sheer numbers of Christians massacred with some two million put to death for their belief in Christ. It was during Marcellinus pontificate that the persecutions reached its peak as not only were countless souls murdered including the likes of Saint Agnes, Saint Lucy, Saint Bibiana, Saint Lucian and Saint Sebastian, but churches and sacred texts destroyed as well. Marcellinus joined the ranks of martyrdom on October 25, 304.
Next Week: Installment Eleven: IN HOC SIGNO VINCES