The Liber Pontificalis is a book of information on the early popes, written in the fourth century. It is not always perfectly accurate and, as archeology reveals more information, new books are published with updated details. I try to get the newest data for these blogs.
Like most of the bishops of Rome before Christianity became legal, little is known about Pope Pontain. We do know that his father’s name was Calpurnius and that he was a Roman native. Pontain was elected bishop july 21, 230 and ruled until 235.
The ongoing problem of Hippolytus was a thorn in Pontain’s side. the antipope’s rigidity in discipline and his arguments on the relationship between Jesus and God the Father, as well as his hatred of Pope Callixtus, lead to his schism with the Church. However, right around 235, Hippolytus was reconciled with the Church and slowly, his followers moved back to the Faith.
One of the other items on Pontian’s plate was Origen. As a young man, Origen established a school of philosophy and theology in Alexandria. It was a very successful school. He did some traveling and on one of his trips, he so impressed the bishop of Cesarea that he was ordained. However, his writings, not quite orthodox, were questioned. A bishop of his acquaintance ordered him excommunicated. Pontian was required to hold a synod in Rome around 232 to discuss Origen’s heterodoxy. The excommunication was upheld.
The first few years of Pontian’s reign was peaceful, under the Emperor, Severus Alexander, who was said to have a statue of Jesus among his chapel furnishings. He also had many Christians in his household. In early 235, Severus Alexander was assassinated by his men during the Germanic wars and was succeeded by Maximinus Thrax, a peasant turned general. Maximinus hated Severus and the nobility and chose to get rid of all the close advisors of Severus. In getting rid of the leaders of the Severus household, Maximinus also went after the leaders of the Church.
Thus started the great persecution of 235. Both Pontian and Hippolytus were arrested and exiled to the island of Sardinia to work in the mines. This was considered a death sentence. Pontian knew what he was in for and resigned as bishop on September 28, 235. He knew this would lead to a more orderly election of the next bishop. This makes Pontian the first pope to ever abdicate. This series of arrests ended the schism, lead by Hippolytus, which had lasted eighteen years. Neither Pontian nor his nemesis survived, suffering under the harsh conditions of the mines.
The remains of the two men were brought back to Rome by Pope Fabian. Pope Pontian was buried in the Catacombs of Callixtus. His memorial was discovered in 1909 and the dates of his reign were clearly etched on it, the first time a date is actually recorded contemporary to the pope. Hippolytus was buried along the Tiburtine Road in Rome. In 1551, a statue was found by an ancient church on the Tiburtine Road. It had a list of Hippolytus’ writings. They had found his burial ground.
Pope St. Pontian, pray for us.