Feast Day : August 7 (formerly August 6)
Also known as: Xystus II
Sixtus II may have been a Greek philosopher, though more probably this impression arose from a confusion of names. He served as a deacon in the Church of Rome and succeeded St. Stephen I as bishop on August 30, 257. Sixtus repaired the rift between the sees of Rome and Carthage that had developed under Stephen over the issues of baptism and rebaptism. Like Stephen, Sixtus believed that a single baptism was sufficient to bring persons into the Church but, unlike him, was tolerant of those who disagreed. He is probably best remembered, however, for the way in which he met his death. Early in his reign, Emperor Valerian had shown compassion toward Christians, but later he issued an edict requiring Christians to participate in the national cult of the pagan gods and forbade them to assemble in the cemeteries (or catacombs), at the penalty of death. He followed this up at the beginning of August 258, with an order that all bishops, priests and deacons were to be killed. Flaunting death, Sixtus assembled his followers in the Catacomb of Prætextatus (on the Appian Way across from the Catacomb of St. Callistus) on August 6. He was seated in his chair addressing his flock when a band of soldiers appeared and cut off his head. (He may have been taken before a tribunal, which pronounced sentence on him, then returned to the cemetery and decapitated.) Several other church officers with him suffered the same fate. Followers carried his relics to the papal crypt in the St. Callistus catacomb, placing the blood-stained chair on which he died behind his tomb. Later an oratory (the Oratorium Xysti) was erected over the St. Prætextatus catacomb, becoming a pilgrimage site in the seventh and eighth centuries. There is a legend that on the way to his execution Sixtus met his deacon St. Lawrence, who was to be martyred three days later. Sixtus was one of the most highly esteemed martyrs of the early Church. His name is mentioned in the canon of the Roman Mass. In art, he is shown with Lawrence and St. John the Baptist, holding a money-bag. He may also be shown ordaining Lawrence, giving him a bag of money to distribute to the poor, or with Lawrence on the way to his death.