April 8, 2017

Saint Celestine I, Pope of Rome (+ 432)

St. Celestine I, Pope of Rome (Feast Day - April 8)


The chasm all-blessed Celestine,
Does not separate you from the blessed chorus.

Saint Celestine I, Pope of Rome, was a zealous champion of Orthodoxy, who lived during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450). A Roman from the region of Campania, nothing else is known of his early history except that his father's name was Priscus. He is said to have lived for a time at Milan with Saint Ambrose. The first known record of him is in a document of Pope Innocent I from the year 416, where he is spoken of as "Celestine the Deacon". In 418 Saint Augustine wrote to him (Epist. 112) in very reverential language; they seemed to have formed a strong friendship as indicated from other later letters

The virtuous life of the Saint and his authority as a theologian won him the general esteem and love of the clergy and people. After the death of Saint Boniface (418-422), Saint Celestine was chosen to be the Bishop of Rome. He became Pope on 10 September 422.

During this time, the heresy of Nestorius emerged. At a local Synod in Rome in 430, Saint Celestine denounced this heresy and condemned Nestorius as a heretic. After the Synod, Saint Celestine wrote a letter to Saint Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria (Jan. 18), stating that if Nestorius did not renounce his false teachings after ten days, then he should be deposed and excommunicated. Saint Celestine also sent a series of letters to Constantinople and Antioch, in which he unmasked and denounced the Nestorian heresy.

Though he did not attend personally, he sent delegates to the Third Ecumenical Synod of Ephesus in 431, in which the Nestorians were condemned. Four letters written by him on that occasion, all dated 15 March 431, together with a few others, to the African bishops, to those of Illyria, of Thessalonica, and of Narbonne, are extant in re-translations from the Greek; the Latin originals having been lost.

Pope Celestine actively condemned the Pelagians and was zealous for Roman Orthodoxy. He sent Palladius to Ireland to serve as a bishop in 431, and Saint Patrick was sent there to do missionary work. Pope Celestine strongly opposed the Novatians in Rome; as Socrates Scholasticus writes, "this Celestinus took away the churches from the Novatians at Rome also, and obliged Rusticula their bishop to hold his meetings secretly in private houses." He was zealous in refusing to tolerate the smallest innovation on the constitutions of his predecessors. As Saint Vincent of Lerins reported in 434:

Holy Pope Celestine also expresses himself in like manner and to the same effect. For in the Epistle which he wrote to the priests of Gaul, charging them with connivance with error, in that by their silence they failed in their duty to the ancient faith, and allowed profane novelties to spring up, he says: "We are deservedly to blame if we encourage error by silence. Therefore rebuke these people. Restrain their liberty of preaching."

Saint Celestine reposed on 26 July 432. He was buried in the Cemetery of Saint Priscilla in the Via Salaria, but his body, subsequently moved, now lies in the Basilica di Santa Prassede. This translation of his relic took place on 6 April 820, which is why his feast came to be celebrated at this time.