Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Zephyrinus, Pope and Martyr
See Tillemont, Ant. Sandini, Vitæ Pont. Rom. ex antiquis Monum. Anastasius, with the notes of Bianchini and Muratori. Mandosi, Bibl. Roman.
ST. ZEPHYRINUS, a native of Rome, succeeded Victor in the pontificate, in the year 202, in which Severus raised the fifth most bloody persecution against the church, which continued, not for two years only, as Dodwell imagined; but to the death of that emperor in 211, as Ruinart, Berti, and others prove from Sulpicius Severus, and other authorities. Under this furious storm this holy pastor was the support and comfort of the distressed flock of Christ, and he suffered by charity and compassion what every confessor underwent. The triumphs of the martyrs were indeed his joy, but his heart received many deep wounds from the fall of apostates and heretics. Neither did this latter affliction cease by the peace which Caracalla restored to the church, and which was not disturbed by Macrinus, by whose contrivance Caracalla was murdered in Mesopotamia, in 217, nor by the successor and murderer of this latter, the impure Heliogabalus, who reigned to the year 221. The chief among these heretics were Marcion, Praxeas, Valentine, and the Montanists; for St. Optatus testifies,1 that all these were vanquished by Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome.
Our saint had also the affliction to see the fall of Tertullian, which seems to have been owing partly to his pride, and partly to one Proclus, or Proculus, an eloquent Montanist, whom Tertullian highly extolled, after he had become an abettor of that heresy. This Proculus was publicly put to confusion at Rome by Caius, a most learned priest of that church, under St. Zephyrinus, who was afterwards ordained a regionary bishopthat is, with a commission to preach the gospel without being fixed in any particular see, as Photius assures us. Eusebius, St. Jerom, and Photius much commend the dialogue of Caius with Proculus; a work which has not reached our times. Photius tells us that Caius also composed a treatise against Artemon, who believed that Jesus Christ was only a mere man, and several other learned works, from which Eusebius took the account he has given us of the penance of Natalis.2 This man lived at Rome, and having confessed the faith before the persecutors, underwent torments in defence of it; but afterwards was seduced into heresy by Asclepiodotus and Theodotus the banker, who were both disciples of Theodotus the tanner, whom Victor, bishop of Rome, had excommunicated for reviving the heresy of Ebion, affirming that Christ was no more than a mere man, though a prophet. These two heretics had persuaded Natalis to suffer them to ordain him a bishop of their sect, promising that he should be furnished monthly with one hundred and fifty silver denarii, upwards of three pounds sterling; but God having compassion on his confessor, warned him by several visions to abandon these heretics; among whom he was detained only by interest and vanity. At length he was whipped a whole night by an angel. The day following he covered himself with sackcloth and ashes, and shedding abundance of tears, went and threw himself at the feet of Zephyrinus: he prostrated himself also before both the clergy and the laity in a manner with which the whole assembly was much affected. However, though he entreated very earnestly, and showed the marks of the stripes he had received, it was with much difficulty that St. Zephyrinus readmitted him to the communion of the church, granting him, in recompense of his great compunction, an indulgence or relaxation of the severity of the discipline, which required a penitential delay and trial. Eusebius tells us, in the same place, that this holy pope exerted his zeal so strenuously against the blasphemies of the two Theodotuses, that those heretics treated him in the most contumelious manner; but it was his glory that they called him the principal defender of Christs divinity. St. Zephyrinus filled the pontifical chair seventeen years, dying in 219. He was buried in his own cemetery (comprised in that of Calixtus, as Aringhi shows) on the 26th of August, on which most martyrologies commemorate him; though those of Vandelbert and Rabanus, with the old martyrology, under the name of St. Jerom, published by Florentinius, mark his festival on the 20th of December, probably on account of some translation, or the day of his ordination, says Berti.3 He is, in some martyrologies, styled a martyr, which title he might deserve by what he suffered in the persecution, though he perhaps did not die by the executioner.
God has always raised up holy pastors, zealous to maintain the sacred deposit of the faith of his church inviolable, and to watch over the purity of its morals, and the sanctity of its discipline. How many conflicts did they sustain! with what constancy, watchfulness, and courage did they stand their ground against idolatry, heresy, and the corruption of the world! We enjoy the greatest advantages of the divine grace through their labours; and we owe to God a tribute of perpetual thanksgiving and immortal praise for all those mercies which he has afforded his church on earth. We are bound also to recommend most earnestly to him his own work, praying that he exalt the glory of his divine name, by propagating his holy faith on earth; that he continually raise up in his church shining examples of all virtue, pastors filled with his spirit, and a people disposed to captivate their understandings to his revealed truths, and subject their hearts to the sweet yoke of his holy love and divine law; watchful to abhor and oppose every profane innovation of doctrine, and all assaults and artifices of vice.