257 AD to 258
Elected 31 Aug., 257, martyred at Rome, 6 Aug., 258. His origin
is unknown. The "Liber Pontificalis" says that he was a Greek by
birth, but this is probably a mistake, originating from the false
assumption that he was identical with a Greek philosopher of the
same name, who was the author of the so-called "Sentences" of
Xystus. During the pontificate of his predecessor, St. Stephen, a
sharp dispute had arisen between Rome and the African and Asiatic
Churches, concerning the rebaptism of heretics, which had threatened
to end in a complete rupture between Rome and the Churches of Africa
and Asia Minor (see SAINT CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE). Sixtus II, whom
Pontius (Vita Cyprian, cap. xiv) styles a good and peaceful priest
(bonus et pacificus sacerdos), was more conciliatory than St.
Stephen and restored friendly relations with these Churches, though,
like his predecessor, he upheld the Roman usage of not rebaptizing
Shortly before the pontificate of Sixtus II the Emperor Valerian
issued his first edict of persecution, which made it binding upon
the Christians to participate in the national cult of the pagan gods
and forbade them to assemble in the cemeteries, threatening with
exile or death whomsoever was found to disobey the order. In some
way or other, Sixtus II managed to perform his functions as chief
pastor of the Christians without being molested by those who were
charged with the execution of the imperial edict. But during the
first days of August, 258, the emperor issued a new and far more
cruel edict against the Christians, the import of which has been
preserved in a letter of St. Cyprian to Successus, the Bishop of
Abbir Germaniciana (Ep. lxxx). It ordered bishops, priests, and
deacons to be summarily put to death ("episcopi et presbyteri et
diacones incontinenti animadvertantur"). Sixtus II was one of the
first to fall a victim to this imperial enactment ("Xistum in
cimiterio animadversum sciatis VIII. id. Augusti et cum eo diacones
quattuor"—Cyprian, Ep. lxxx). In order to escape the vigilance of
the imperial officers he assembled his flock on 6 August at one of
the less-known cemeteries, that of Pr=E6textatus, on the left side
of the Appian Way, nearly opposite the cemetery of St. Callistus.
While seated on his chair in the act of addressing his flock he was
suddenly apprehended by a band of soldiers. There is some doubt
whether he was beheaded forthwith, or was first brought before a
tribunal to receive his sentence and then led back to the cemetery
for execution. The latter opinion seems to be the more probable.
The inscription which Pope Damasus (366-84) placed on his tomb in
the cemetery of St. Callistus may be interpreted in either sense.
The entire inscription is to be found in the works of St. Damasus
(P.L., XIII, 383-4, where it is wrongly supposed to be an epitaph
for Pope Stephen I), and a few fragments of it were discovered at
the tomb itself by de Rossi (Inscr. Christ., II, 108). The "Liber
Pontificalis" mentions that he was led away to offer sacrifice to
the gods ("ductus ut sacrificaret demoniis"—I, 155). St. Cyprian
states in the above-named letter, which was written at the latest
one month after the martyrdom of Sixtus, that "the prefects of the
City were daily urging the persecution in order that, if any were
brought before them, they might be punished and their property
confiscated". The pathetic meeting between St. Sixtus II and St.
Lawrence, as the former was being led to execution, of which mention
is made in the unauthentic "Acts of St. Lawrence" as well as by St.
Ambrose (Officiorum, lib. I, c. xli, and lib. II, c. xxviii) and the
poet Prudentius (Peristephanon, II), is probably a mere legend.
Entirely contrary to truth is the statement of Prudentius (ibid.,
lines 23-26) that Sixtus II suffered martyrdom on the cross, unless
by an unnatural trope the poet uses the specific word cross (" Jam
Xystus adfixus cruci") for martyrdom in general, as Duchesne and
Allard (see below) suggest. Four deacons, Januarius, Vincentius,
Magnus, and Stephanus, were apprehended with Sixtus and beheaded
with him at the same cemetery. Two other deacons, Felicissimus and
Agapitus, suffered martyrdom on the same day. The feast of St.
Sixtus II and these six deacons is celebrated on 6 August, the day
of their martyrdom. The remains of Sixtus were transferred by the
Christians to the papal crypt in the neighbouring cemetery of St.
Callistus. Behind his tomb was enshrined the bloodstained chair on
which he had been beheaded. An oratory (Oratorium Xysti) was
erected above the cemetery of St. Pr=E6textatus, at the spot where
he was martyred, and was still visited by pilgrims of the seventh
and the eighth century.
For some time Sixtus II was believed to be the author of the
so-called "Sentences", or "Ring of Sixtus", originally written by a
Pythagorean philosopher and in the second century revised by a
Christian. This error arose because in his introduction to a Latin
translation of these "Sentences". Rufinus ascribes them to Sixtus of
Rome, bishop and martyr. It is certain that Pope Sixtus II is not
their author (see Conybeare, "The Ring of Pope Xystus now first
rendered into English, with an historical and critical commentary",
London, 1910). Harnack (Texte und Untersuchungen zur altchrist.
Literatur, XIII, XX) ascribes to him the treatise "Ad Novatianum",
but his opinion has been generally rejected (see Rombold in "Theol.
Quartalschrift", LXXII, Tübingen, 1900). Some of his letters are
printed in P.L., V, 79-100. A newly discovered letter was published
by Conybeare in "English Hist. Review", London, 1910.