Monday, July 11, 2011
July 11: The Commemoration of Pope St. Pius I
The Christian Church after the time of the Apostles suffered terribly. It is certain from all the documents left in history from the age of the Roman Empire that the early Christians were arrested, tortured, and executed for their belief in the One True God. It wasn't until 313 that Constantine freed Christians from persecution that they began to crawl from the catacombs. And it has always amazed me that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, was able to survive those times.
Not only was the Church persecuted by the pagan Roman Empire, She faced countless attacks from within. One of the most pervasive problems within the Early Church was the philosophical movement termed Gnosticism, which means "knowledge." The Gnostics believed and taught a host of ideas that were contrary to true Christianity and their ideas flourished during the 1st and 2nd century.
In about 140, Pope Pius I became the head of the visible Church. Not much is really known about him other than his refusal to allow the Gnostics to continue to spread their beliefs and corrupt Christianity. During his pontificate, there were at least two leaders in the Gnostic movement at the time—Valentinus and Marcion. Valentinus taught, among other things, that God was undefinable and, therefore, unknowable. He concluded that Jesus was not the God of the Old Testament and that his physical body was just an illusion. Therefore, God, as Jesus, did not suffer and die for the sins of the world. Marcion, likewise, taught something similar—that the Hebrew God of the Scripture was wrathful and evil and entirely separate from the benevolent God who sent Jesus, the Savior.
Both of these men, Valentinus and Marcion, were quite influential and, at some point, were set to become clerics and quite possibly bishops. Pope St. Pius I was not to allow these heresies to infect the minds of Christians and the life of the newly structured Christian Church. Valentinus continued to draw in many adherents but lived his life in exile on the island of Cyprus. Marcion was excommunicated by Pope Pius I and he went on to establish a church with many followers.
Pope St. Pius I, in excommunicating Marcion, laid the foundation for the first Canon of Scripture. He declared that the God of the Old Testament is indeed the one and same God of the New. He made provisions for Jews to become members of the Christian Church by allowing them to denounce this heresy. He also mandated that the Feast of All Feasts, Our Lord's Resurrection, or Easter be moved to Sunday.
Pope St. Pius I also had a great love for the Eucharist and understood the enormity of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. He is known to have instituted various forms of penance for priests who dropped one morsel of the Precious Body of Our Lord or one drop of His Precious Blood.
Pope St. Pius I was martyred in 157 A.D.
Pope Pius I pray for us as the Church continues to battle attacks and persecution from our pagan society.
Pope Pius I pray for us as the Church continues to fight, from within, the various forms of Gnosticism that are once again thriving.