Who was Sixtus of Rome? Was he a pope? Was he the sixth successor to Peter? Was he even a bishop?
The generally touted Catholic position is that Sixtus (originally spelled Xystus) was the seventh pope and that all subsequent leaders of the true church passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 3). Is that correct?
This article (along with Appendix A) will refer to historical records and Roman Catholic sources to attempt to properly answer those questions.
Sixtus (Xystus) may have been different than the earlier bishops due to his age and how he was granted the office.
While visiting the Vatican in 2004, I purchased a book in its basilica museum bookstore titled The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997). The book states that it is sponsored by the "Pontifical Administration, which has tutelage over the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter".
It makes many claims about the early "bishops" of Rome including this about Sixtus (Xystus):
7. SIXTUS 1, ST. (115-125) Born to the Elividia family in Rome...He established that before taking charge of his seat, a bishop had to show a letter of authorization signed by the pope...He norms for several rites of mass and ordered that holy furnishing be touched only by priests. To him are attributed the following: the triple chant of Sanctus; two apocryphal letters bearing on the Holy Trinity and the primacy of the Church of Rome (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 3).
The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches this about Sixtus:
Pope St. Sixtus I (in the oldest documents, Xystus is the spelling used for the first three popes of that name), succeeded St. Alexander and was followed by St. Telesphorus. According to the "Liberian Catalogue" of popes, he ruled the Church during the reign of Adrian "a conulatu Nigri et Aproniani usque Vero III et Ambibulo", that is, from 117 to 126. Eusebius, who in his "Chronicon" made use of a catalogue of popes different from the one he used in his "Historia ecclesiastica", states in his "Chronicon" that Sixtus I was pope from 114 to 124, while in his "History" he makes him rule from 114 to 128. All authorities agree that he reigned about ten years (Ott M. Transcribed by Scott Anthony Hibbs. Pope St. Sixtus I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Thus, he probably did not come up with norms for several rites of mass or other such things. Those type of sacramental/non-biblically sanctioned items simply were not part of the early church. The fact that Eusebius contradicted his dates of reign also suggests that the facts about him are somewhat nonexistent.
It should be noted that the following is probably the only two things that Irenaeus wrote about Sixtus:
Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telesphorus, who was gloriously martyred (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses (Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 3). Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
For the controversy is not merely as regards the day, but also as regards the form itself of the fast. For some consider themselves hound to fast one day, others two days, others still more, while others [do so during] forty: the diurnal and the nocturnal hours they measure out together as their [fasting] day. And this variety among the observers [of the fasts] had not its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors, some of whom probably, being not very accurate in their observance of it, handed down to posterity the custom as it had, through simplicity or private fancy, been [introduced among them]. And yet nevertheless all these lived in peace one with another, and we also keep peace together. Thus, in fact, the difference [in observing] the fast establishes the harmony of [our common] faith. And the presbyters preceding Sorer in the government of the Church which thou dost now rule--I mean, Anicetus and Pius, Hyginus and Telesphorus, and Sixtus--did neither themselves observe it [after that fashion], nor permit those with them to do so (Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc).
The second account relates to Passover. As these accounts were written about 50 years after Sixtus' death and are the closest records we have about anything that involved Sixtus of Rome, we cannot be sure if they are accurate. They really only tell us that there probably was a Roman leader named Sixtus and that some people after his time (and perhaps by his time) had confusion in Rome about a fast near the observance of Passover.
Actually, because of the Passover issue, we can be reasonably certain that the statement that Sixtus wrote letters on "the primacy of the Church of Rome" is simply untrue as those in Asia Minor refused Roman authority on that starting with at least Polycarp (who refused Anicetus of Rome) and continuing to at least Polycrates (who refused Victor of Rome).
There is no evidence whatsoever that Sixtus wrote about the trinity, though it is possible that he could have written something about the nature of the Godhead.
The position of the Roman Catholic Church is that the term 'trinity' (from the Latin trinitas) was developed 85 years after the last book of the Bible was written:
In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together...The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180...Afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian ("De pud." c. xxi) (The Blessed Trinity. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight).
First of all, it should be understood, that claims of Catholic scholars to the contrary, that Theophilus of Antioch did not teach the trinity or that the Holy Spirit was a person (though Tertullian, who became a Montanist did--the leaders of the churches in Asia Minor and Antioch opposed the Montanists--who taught a type of trinity--before the Romans ever did). It was not until Tertullian (over 100 years since the Book of Revelation was written) that professing Christian writers suggested the concept of the trinity as now understood.
More information can be found in the article The Early Church and the Trinity.
Even the Existence of Sixtus Has Been Challenged
While it is far from certain that any of the early claimed "bishops of Rome" actually existed, at least one Roman Catholic scholar has hinted that perhaps Sixtus has simply a convenient name. Notice:
The earliest list to survive for Rome is the one supplied by Irenaeus, and in it this symbolic function is very clearly at work. Irenaeus underlines the parallels between the Apostles and bishops by naming precisely twelve bishops of Rome between Peter and the current incumbent, Eleutherius. The sixth of these bishops is named Sixtus. It all seems suspiciously tidy. The list is certainly a good deal tidier than the actual transition to rule by a single bishop can have been (Duffy, Eamon. Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes. Yale University Press, New Haven (CT), 2002, p.14).
Hence Sixtus may not have ever existed (nor possibly certain others alleged to have been an early "Bishop of Rome," or if they all did, there is no early evidence that they ruled over all Christendom). There may have been some leader, with a different name. But he was not "Bishop of Rome."
We know almost nothing about Sixtus of Rome. If he existed, he apparently lived in Rome, apparently was some type of leader, and may have had something to do with a Sunday Passover. There is no strong evidence that he actually was a bishop, and he certainly was not a pope (see Appendix A below).
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As scholars have pretty much come to the same conclusions about the lack of information on most of the early alleged bishops of Rome, this section is placed at the end so that the reader (who may have read the articles on Linus of Rome or What Does Rome Actually Teach About Early Church History) will not have to read redundant information). But it is also here so readers will understand that there is absolutely no early historical justification to consider that Sixtus was a pope or even an actual bishop--and that the early historical records support the concept that the early Christian church should be traced through Asia Minor and not Rome.
Dates of Their "Reign"
There does not exist any actual evidence of the precise dates of any "reign" of those considered to have been early Roman Catholic leaders.
As at least one Catholic scholar has noted:
...the available evidence indicates that the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than by a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 80,221-222).
This means that dates assigned to any particular person are quite arbitrary. Although this is more true in relation to the first century listed Roman rulers--Ireneaus essentially states (circa 180) the list, without any dates, is based upon tradition (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, Book III, Chapter 3, Verses 2,3). Whereas the first list claimed to have been composed by Hegesippus around 155 A.D., and we have no copy of that preserved until Epiphanius claimed to have cited Hegesippus (Epiphanius. Haer., xxvii, 6). But even Hegesippus' list contained no dates.
This is essentially also the case for those in the early second century. And this has caused a great deal of historical confusion.
One such controversy would be who was in involved in such matters as Passover switching to Sunday. Irenaeus simply states:
And the presbyters preceding Sorer in the government of the Church which thou dost now rule--I mean, Anicetus and Pius, Hyginus and Telesphorus, and Sixtus--did neither themselves observe it [after that fashion], nor permit those with them to do so (Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc).
And this statement from Irenaeus, combined with another about Telesphorus being killed, seems to be the primary contemporaneous basis for guessing the "reigns" of those presbyters. But if Catholic scholars like F.A. Sullivan are correct, then it is likely that there were a few elders who together managed a church in Rome, then it may not be possible to precisely know who did what or when.
Yet, most seem to accept the dates of these "reigns" as completely factual, even though they appear to mainly be based upon conjecture after the fact.
The "Apostolic Fathers"
The term "apostolic fathers" is used by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike to describe writings believed to have been written by those who knew personally or nearly personally, one or more of the original apostles. These writings probably begin after John finished with the Book of Revelation, and continued through about 156 A.D. (the last document probably being the letter of The Martyrdom of Polycarp or the Epistle to Diognetus--which could have been much later). These documents essentially were preserved by supporters of the Roman Catholic Church and it is unclear if they are exactly as originally written. Here is what the Roman Church teaches about them:
The Apostolic Fathers Christian writers of the first and second centuries who are known, or are considered, to have had personal relations with some of the Apostles, or to have been so influenced by them that their writings may be held as echoes of genuine Apostolic teaching. Though restricted by some to those who were actually disciples of the Apostles, the term applies by extension to certain writers who were previously believed to have been such, and virtually embraces all the remains of primitive Christian literature antedating the great apologies of the second century, and forming the link of tradition that binds these latter writings to those of the New Testament...The period of time covered by these writings extends from the last two decades of the first century for the Didache (80-100), Clement (c. 97), and probably Pseudo-Barnabas (96-98), through the first half of the second century, the approximate chronology being Ignatius, 110-117; Polycarp, 110-120; Hermas, in its present form, c.150; Papias, c.150. Geographically, Rome is represented by Clement and Hermas; Polycarp wrote from Smyrna, whence also Ignatius sent four of the seven epistles which he wrote on his way from Antioch through Asia Minor; Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia; the Didache was written in Egypt or Syria; the letter of Barnabas in Alexandria (Peterson J.B. Transcribed by Nicolette Ormsbee.The Apostolic Fathers. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
What is most interesting is that although the letter often ascribed to Clement mentions Apollos and Cephas (Peter, Chapter 47--which only says that Paul wrote about Cephas and Apollos), Paul (many times), and some messengers (Chapter 65), he never mentions Linus, Sixtus, or anyone who became known as "the bishop of Rome" after him.
Although Ignatius mentions some local bishops in his letters, he also never mentions Linus, Sixtus, or anyone who became "the bishop of Rome"--and his most praise is for Polycarp of Smyrna (see Ignatius' Letter to Polycarp).
In Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, he mentions Ignatius (in a positive light), but also Valens (who was a leader who Polycarp states left the faith, probably in Rome). Polycarp also never mentions Linus, Cletus, or anyone who became the bishop of Rome. The letter titled The Martyrdom of Polycarp is basically all about Polycarp, and it too never mentions Linus, Sixtus, or anyone who became the bishop of Rome.
The Didache (otherwise known as The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles) mentions that deacons and bishops are to be appointed (15:1), but again it never mentions Linus, Sixtus, or anyone who became the "bishop of Rome".
There is simply no direct, nor indirect, reference to Sixtus in any of the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers. Sixtus, according to his complete omission from the writings of the "Apostolic Fathers" (circa 100-160 A.D.) simply did not have a major leadership role in the Church.
Was Irenaeus' Apostolic Tradition Accurate?
The generally touted Catholic position is that Sixtus was the seventh pope, that he was a successor to Linus, and that all other leaders passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 2).
The fact is that the Bible itself mentions nothing about the Church of Rome in terms of any leadership significance for the true church. Other than Paul’s letter to those in Rome and his imprisonment there, only three other, non-related, times does the New Testament use the word ‘Rome’. The first mentions that Jews from Rome and other areas of the world were in Jerusalem around Pentecost (Acts 2:10); the second that Claudius had the Jews depart from Rome (Acts 18:2); and the third that involves Onesiphorus who visited Paul in Rome and later in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:16-18). (While some writers believe that Peter was in Rome when he mentioned this in his first epistle--“The Church saluteth you, that is in Babylon, coelect,” 1 Peter 5:13--this was not a clear reference to Rome (as there was a Babylon in the Asia Minor region at the time), but even if it is referring to Rome, this does not prove that Rome was of central significance to the church--it only suggests that Peter may have once been in contact with Christians from Rome.
No Roman Popes Prior to the 4th Century, No Roman Bishops Prior to the 2nd Century
By not referring to Sixtus as either a pope or a bishop in this paper, I am not being disrespectful to his memory, but historically accurate.
It needs to be understood that the title pope for the bishop of Rome was NOT taken until the late fourth century as nearly all Catholic sources acknowledge. The following are two such sources:
SIRICIUS, ST. (384-399)...was the first to assume the title of pope from the Greek papa meaning father (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 13).
The title pope (papa)...It was apparently in the fourth century that it began to become a distinctive title of the Roman Pontiff. Pope Siricius (d. 398) seems so to use it (Ep. vi in P. L., XIII, 1164) (Joyce G. H. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. The Pope. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Therefore, any person wishing to be accurate would never refer to Sixtus as a pope or pontiff.
But what about bishop?
While there were bishops in the first century in Jerusalem, and at the latest, by the early 2nd century in Asia Minor, this was not the case in Rome.
When Ignatius of Antioch wrote eight epistles just prior to his martyrdom, he mentioned bishops in many areas--the bishop of Smyrna (Polycarp) mentioned the most. His style was to address his letters to the leaders of the various areas, and in areas that had bishops, he mentioned them. However, unlike most of his letters, his Epistle to the Romans never mentions a bishop in Rome by either name nor title. Since Ignatius is believed to have written these epistles in the early second century (circa 108 A.D.) while Sixtus was alive and allegedly in Rome, this provides strong evidence that there was not a bishop of Rome at that time.
Catholic scholars understand that the New Testament provides no support for the idea that one of the apostles appointed someone to be "bishop of Rome", as the shown in the following quote:
We must conclude that the New Testament provides no basis for the notion that before the apostles died, they ordained one man for each of the churches they founded..."Was there a Bishop of Rome in the First Century?"...the available evidence indicates that the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than by a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 80,221-222).
The above admission by the above scholar (who happens to be a professor emeritus at the Gregorian University in Rome) demonstrates the historical accuracy of my position.
Another Catholic scholar, A. Van Hove, wrote this about early bishops:
In other words, Roman Catholic scholars admit that although there were bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor in the first and second centuries, there is no mention of a monarchic episcopate (a bishopric) in other places, like Rome, until about the middle of the second century.
Various Catholic writings state that Hegesippus came to Rome in the mid-2nd century and asked about its early leaders. In some of his writings, F.A. Sullivan suggests that those Romans apparently mentioned names of leaders they had heard of (as most would have had no direct contact with any from the first century) as there were no early records with names. Because there was, at the time of Hegesippus' visit, a bishop of Rome and there had long been bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor, F.a. Sullivan also suggests that Hegesippus and later writers presumed that the early Roman leaders were also monarchical bishops, even though that is not considered to have been likely.
There were probably a lot of elders in Rome in the first 80 or so years after Paul's death. Since no one was necessarily a bishop that early, it seems that the early succession lists are simply an attempt to put an order of some possible elders that served in the church in Rome.
It is true that beginning sometime in the second century that there were truly individuals that could be described as bishops of Rome. But history is clear that there were no early popes in Rome and the idea of an unbroken list of pontiffs (actually bishops) beginning with Peter simply does not have any historical justification prior to sometime in the second century--over a century after Christ died.
Hence it should be clear to any who are interested in the truth, that Sixtus was not a pope nor a bishop.
Was Sixtus Peter's Spiritual Successor?
While I believe that the records of early church history show that Polycarp of Smyrna was the true and most influential leader of the Church of God after the last apostle (John) died, most who claim to be Roman Catholic believe that Linus, then eventually Sixtus, was the actual successor.
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Thiel B. Sixtus of Rome (Xystus). www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2011/2013 1115
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