Saints of the Day – Anicetus, Pope

detail of a statue of Pope Anicetus, artist unknown, date unknown; Church of Saint Laurence, Wolnzach, Germany; photographed on 28 October 2012 by Mattana; swiped off Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Born in Emesa, Syria; died c. 160-166. Towards the end of the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Anicetus was elected pope (about 152). For about eight years he labored to defend the faith against those who said, first that the physical life of Jesus was really illusory (Gnostics), and secondly, that the Jewish background to Christianity was dangerous and needed to be shed completely (Marcionists).

Marcion, after having embraced a state of continence (perhaps as a priest), fell into a crime with a young virgin; for which he was excommunicated by his father, the bishop of Pontus. He ran to Rome in the hope of being restored to communion, but was rejected until he had made penitential satisfaction to his own bishop. Tertullian and Saint Epiphanius relate that rejected this notion he began his career as a heretic. First he professed himself a Stoic philosopher. Then during the time of Pope Saint Hyginus, he joined the heresiarch Cerdo, who was come out of Syria to Rome. According to Marcion, there are two gods: one good, the other evil. The first is the author of the New Testament and opposed to that of the Old Testament and Jewish law. He won many followers to his error in Rome, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Persia, and Cyprus. Tertullian relates that Marcion eventually repented of this idea and was promised that he would be received again into the Church once he had corrected the error in all those he had perverted. He died while in the process of satisfying this penance.

During the reign of Anicetus a further anxiety arose because Christians had begun to quarrel about determining the correct date for Easter. Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of Saint John the Divine, visited Rome to settle this very question, but the conference was unsuccessful. Anicetus agreed to allow the Asiatics to continue to celebrate Easter on the 14th day after the first moon of the vernal equinox. Unsettled, the controversy was to accelerate and grow more heated in the course of the following centuries.

Anicetus died worn out by these troubles which he had been unable to resolve. (Anicetus also forbade priests to wear long hair, perhaps because the Gnostics did so.) Some say he died a martyr’s death, but this seems unlikely. The greater possibility is that he is deemed a martyr because of the suffering he underwent for the faith (Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Coulson, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 June 2020. Web. 27 July 2021. <>