A Pope and martyr of the second century appears in the Calendar today. The martyrs stand in clusters near our Risen Lord; they are the Eagles of which he speaks in his Gospel, as gathering together around their longed-for object. Anicetus is not the only Pope whose martyrdom has to be celebrated during Paschal Time; others will come, adding to our Easter joy. The Saint who claims our attention today is one of those whose holy actions are shrouded in the venerable gloom of the Church; and yet his memory will be held in veneration to the end of time, not only as being the eleventh successor of St. Peter in the See of Rome, but as having imitated him also in holiness of life. St. Polycarp, whose feast we kept on January 26, came from Smyrna to Rome, in order to visit him and receive his advice. There have also been transmitted to us one or two instances of the zeal wherewith he defended the Church against the heresiarchs Valentine and Marcion. In a word, we know that he was a martyr; and that is enough to immortalize his name.
The Church the following commemoration of the holy Pontiff:
Anicetus Syrus, imperatore Marco Aurelio Antonino, præfuit Ecclesiæ. Decrevit ne clerici comam nutrirent. Quinquies mense decembri ordinavit presbyteros decem et septem, diaconos quatuor, episcopos per diversa loca novem. Vixit in Pontificatu annos octo, menses octo, dies viginti quatuor. Propter Christi fidem martyrio coronatus, sepultus est via Appia in cæmeterio, quod postea Callisti appellatum est, decimo quinto kalendas maii.
Anicetus, a Syrian by birth, governed the Church during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. He passed a decree which forbade clerics to nourish their hair. The ordinations, which he held in five Decembers, gave seventeen priests, four deacons, and nine bishops for divers places. His pontificate lasted eight years, eight months, and twenty-four days. He was crowned with martyrdom for the Christian Faith, and was buried on the fifteenth of the Kalends of May (April 17) in the Cemetery (afterwards called the Cemetery of Callixtus), which is on the Appian Way.
Holy Pontiff! who so many long ages ago wast made partaker of the glory of him whose Vicar and martyr thou hadst the privilege to be, we celebrate thy blessed memory today with filial affection. In thee we venerate one of the pillars of the early Church; and though thy name has been handed down to us without the history of those holy deeds which merited for thee a martyr’s palm—we at least know that it was dear to the faithful of the age in which thou didst live. Now that thou art in heaven, thy zeal for the glory of God is greater than it was when thou wast on this earth; pray, then, for the Church of these sad times. Upwards of two hundred Pontiffs have followed thee upon the Chair of Peter; and Christ has not yet come to judge the world. Assist thy successor who is our Father; assist the flock entrusted to his charge, for the dangers that now threaten us are extreme. Thy pontificate was during a stormy period; pray to our Risen Jesus that he would quell the tempest that is now howling round the Bark of Peter. Beseech him to give us perseverance and courage. Obtain for us that we may fix our hearts on our heavenly country; so that when God calls us hence, we may be prepared as thou wast. We are the descendants of the martyrs; their faith is ours; the hope that cheered them must be our consolation.