Pope Miltiades was our second Pope that came from Africa. He arrived after a period of sede vacante of the Papacy,or in simpler terms,the Pope’s seat was empty. Rome was a mess. There was Emperor Maxentius and then he had co-emperors that constantly fought with each other. One of the co-emperors named Constantine challenged Maxentius for the rule of Rome,and after defeating him,issued a edict of toleration for all Christians. Why? Before his battle with Maxentius,Constantine had a vision of a cross and heard the words “In this sign will thy conquer”. His soldiers,many still pagan,went into battle with crosses on their shields and they were victorious despite being outnumbered. Constantine then returned houses,shrines and other Church property that had been taken away by earlier emperors and on top of that,he gifted to Pope Miltiades the Lateran Palace to live in. I’m sure Miltiades spent his first night there checking behind all the doors and curtains,expecting Roman soldiers to jump out and martyr him at any minute. The other shoe never dropped. The Bishop of Rome would call this home for the next thousand years and Christianity would soon become the primary religion of Rome. Our next Pope would even baptize the Roman emperor! The horrible Roman persecutions that constantly threatened to destroy Christianity for 300 years were basically over. Early Christians had seen the worst that humanity could throw at them and triumphed. All suffering and setbacks and misery endured out of a fire for Jesus Christ that could never be extinguished. On a final note,I’m glad to finally not have to write about Popes being murdered every week.
Pope Eusebius took over for Pope Marcellus in the midst of Christian in-fighting that had led to riots and bloodshed. The apostates that wanted back into the Church without serving proper penance now had a leader in a priest named Heraclius. The new Pope held the line on the penance that needed to be paid,so the fighting between Christians continued unabated.The constant turmoil was really annoying Emperor Maxentius and so once again he exiled the Pope outside of Rome,but this time he threw out Heraclius for extra measure. Eusebius and Heraclius died that same year from “unknown causes”(murder. Probably murder). Poor guy had only been Pope for four months. Years later Eusebius’s body was brought back to Rome and was given a proper burial in the Catacombs of Callixtus. Pope Damasus I placed an epitaph on Eusebius’s tomb that spoke of his stern but short lived defense of the Catholic Church,and his banishment because of it. His feast day is celebrated on September 26th.
There is a two year gap between Popes due to the unrelenting persecution of Christians during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. A new Emperor named Maxentius came into power and relaxed the anti-Christian laws. The clouds were parting for Christianity and those that had lapsed and renounced their faith for fear of their lives wanted to come back to the Church. Pope Marcellus was one of the Christians that held firm during the persecution and he was in no mood to facilitate a way for apostates to come back into the Church. He demanded severe public penances and tension between Christians soon erupted into riots and bloodshed. The Emperor of Rome,never a friend to Christians,actually had to step in and order the Pope to lighten up on his people. How insane is that? Pope Marcellus refused and he was eventually banished from Rome in 309. He died of unknown causes that same year. His feast day is January 16th and his relics are kept under the altar of the Church of San Marcello al Corso in Rome.
Christianity had enjoyed several years of peace and growth under Pope Caius and Pope Marcellinus,but a renewed pagan movement against Christians threatened to bring it down. Emperor Diocletian took a new,harder stance and a new persecution confiscated Church properties and forbid Christians from serving in the Roman army. This was the time of St Sebastian and St George,two Roman soldiers who defiantly proclaimed their faith and were martyred for it;and then we have Pope Marcellinus.
How ever he handled this new persecution,it was apparently poor,because rumors swirled of him denouncing Christ and praying to pagan gods in exchange for his life. Other sources say he recanted just days later and was martyred. There is no definite concrete proof one way or the other because most Church records at the time were destroyed,but his papacy ended suddenly,under a dark cloud of suspicion and mistrust. Did he die of natural causes? Was he executed? Christians debated over his fate for over a hundred years after his death,and even the great Church doctor St Augustine weighed in on the matter;saying that there was no proof of Marcellinus’ apostasy. Whatever he did,it haunts his legacy to this day. It also gives the Papacy an different depth;that it humanizes it,it shows that these are human beings with the same fears and faults as the rest of us.
The Church of Santa Susanna of Rome was built in the early 1600s and it was built on the site of an earlier Church that can trace its lineage back to when it was the house that belonged to Pope Caius. St. Caius led the Christians in a time that was still very dangerous,but there was also on the horizon a new time when Christians would be accepted,a time when the Roman emperor himself would be a Christian,but that was still just a few decades away. Pope Caius decreed that before a Christian became a Bishop,he must first be a porter,lector,exorcist,acolyte,subdeacon,deacon and finally a priest. This was to ensure that only the most qualified and most wise would become Bishops. He was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus and inside his tomb was later found his ring that he had used to seal documents. This Papal ring would later be known as the Ring of the Fisherman(named for St.Peter’s occupation).Each Pope gets a new ring when elected and the previous Pope’s ring is always destroyed or marked so that no documents can be forged in his name. It’s kind of like the Phantom with his skull rings,only the Pope isn’t going to punch you in the face with it. You’d have to be pretty rotten for a Pope to want to punch you.