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Pontian, St

A Dictionary of Popes

J. N. D. Kelly,

Michael J. Walsh

Pontian, St 

(21 July 230–28 Sept. 235)

The historian Eusebius (c. 260–c. 340) simply records that he reigned six years, between *Urban I and *Anterus; LP adds that he was a Roman, son of Calpurnius. Virtually nothing is known of his activities, except that he must have presided over the Roman synod which endorsed the sentence of expulsion from Egypt and his teaching post and of demotion from the priesthood passed on Origen, the outstanding Greek theologian, by Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, at two synods in 230/31. For most of his reign the Roman church enjoyed freedom from persecution as a result of the tolerant policies of Emperor Alexander Severus (222–35), but the schism started by *Hippolytus in *Callistus I's reign probably continued. Maximinus Thrax, however, acclaimed emperor in Mar. 235, abandoned toleration and singled out Christian leaders for attack. Among the first victims were Pontian and Hippolytus, who were both arrested and deported to Sardinia, the notorious ‘island of death’. Since deportation was normally for life and few survived it, Pontian abdicated (the first pope to do so), presumably to allow a successor to assume the leadership as soon as possible. He did so, according to the 4th-century Liberian Catalogue, on 28 Sept. 235, the first precisely recorded date in papal history (other apparently secure dates are based on inference). It was not long before he and Hippolytus succumbed to their harsh treatment and conditions, but it is conjectured that, either in prison at Rome or when they arrived in Sardinia, they became reconciled. Pontian's body, with that of Hippolytus, was brought back to Rome by Pope *Fabian in 236 or 237, was interred in the newly completed papal crypt in the catacombs of S. Callisto; fragments of his grave-slab, with his name in Greek and his title of bishop inscribed on it, were discovered there in 1909. Feast formerly 19 Nov.; now with Hippolytus 13 Aug.

Further Reading

Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6. 23. 3, 6. 29. 1Find this resource:

    Jerome, Ep. 33. 4Find this resource:

      LP i, pp. xciv–xcv, 6 (Liberian Cat.), 145 f. (Davis 1: 8, 99, 108)Find this resource:

        Caspar i. 43–6, 48Find this resource:

          DCB iv. 438 (J. Barmby)Find this resource:

            DTC xii. 1253 f. (É. Amann)Find this resource:

              BSS x. 1013–15 (G. D. Gordini)Find this resource:

                PW xxii. 25 (W. Ensslin)Find this resource:

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