Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Callistus II, Pope

illustration of Saint Callistus II, Pope, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberThe Saint who is honoured, and worthily honoured, on this day in our Calendar is Pope Callistus II. Sprung from one of the noblest families – his father, William, was Count, and his brother, Stephen, Prince of Burgundy, this family being closely connected with the reigning houses of France and England, and also with the Emperor – Guido, for that was his name before he became Pope, at an early age gave up the brilliant worldly prospects to which his birth entitled him, and became a Monk in the Abbey of Cluny. This Monastery was then renowned for the culture of its brethren, and under their careful training our Saint mastered all branches of knowledge, human and divine. In both learning and piety he made such progress, that when old enough he was chosen Abbot of a neighbouring Monastery.

This was but the prelude to greater honours. Soon afterwards he was appointed to the Archbishopric of Vienne, and so successful was he in the discharge of his arduous and responsible duties, that Pope Paschal made him Legate a Latere in France.

At this time the Emperor Henry V was violent in his attacks on the Church, and, though the Pope solemnly censured him in a Council of the Faithful, most of the clergy, dreading Henry’s anger, abstained from publishing this censure. Not so Guido; though a near relative of Henry, he was the first Bishop in France to publish the sentence of excommunication. This courage in defence of the rights of the Church marked him out to the Cardinals, who had withdrawn with Popes Gelasius and Paschal to Cluny, as the fittest successor to Paschal, who had just died. The new Pontiff – he adopted the title of Callistus II – immediately acted with vigour. In a Council which had been summoned to Rheims, he a second time pronounced sentence of excommunication for contumacy against Henry; he extirpated a heresy which was then rife throughout France; compelled the Anti-Pope Burdinus to retire to a monastery, and finally crushed Cincius Frangipanis, who had so often risen in rebellion against Pope Gelasius.

Even that persistent enemy of the Church, the Emperor Henry, was at last brought to his knees. Through the Pope’s exertions a Diet met at Wurzburg, before which Henry was summoned to plead his cause under pain of deposition if he did not attend. Henry attempted to gain time by promises; but the German princes, impatient of delay, transferred the Diet from Wurzburg to Worms, and were determined to deprive Henry of the crown if he did not restore to the Church her rights, especially the right of investiture. Alarmed by this news, the Emperor at once returned from Italy, and made complete submission to the Pope.

Peace being thus restored to the Church, Pope Callistus devoted himself to repairing the losses suffered in the late struggles. The Archbishop of Vienne was raised to the primacy of seven provinces. The same privilege was bestowed on the See of Compostella in Spain, and the life of its patron Saint, Saint James, was written by the Pope’s own hand. The Abbot of Cluny was made a Cardinal, and the Church at Cluny, which the sons of Saint Benedict had built to the Blessed Mother of God – to whose service Callistus had dedicated himself from his earliest years – was consecrated with the usual solemn rites by the Archbishop of Vienne.

After a successful rule of five years, this great Pontiff, who is celebrated both for the greatness of his achievements and the sanctity of his life, died, A.D. 1124.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.