Today is the feast of St. Sixtus II, Pope and Martyr, and his companions. Who was this fellow?
Pope Sixtus (257-258) died as a martyr during the persecution by Emperor Valerian. The Liber Pontificalis say he was a Greek and a philosophus, a title given to him by Rufinus of Aquileia who thought Sixtus was the author of the Sentences of Sextus. Pontius, the author of the Vita Cypriani said that Sixtus was "a good and pacific priest". Cyprian describes his martydom, perhaps by crucifixion, in a cemetery together with some deacons as a result of an edict by the Emperor Valerian around 258 (cf. ep. 80). Some days afterward his archdeacon St. Lawrence was martyred after horrible tortures and being burned on an iron grate.
By the way… there have only been five Popes named Sixtus. Despite the illustrious men who were named Sixtus, I doubt we will see another. Another Sixtus would have to be "Sixtus the Sixth" (say that a few times fast) and, in Italian, the ridiculous sounding "Sisto Sesto". Only a Pope with a very serious sense of humor would chose this name.
In the Vatican Basilica today is a for Sixtus II. The Proprium Missarum ad usum Sacrosanctae Patriarchalis Basilicae Vaticanae provides those who say Mass at St. Peter’s with a special Sistine…
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
qui beatum Xystum apostolici principatus
martyrii corona illustriorem effecisti,
da Ecclesiae tuae eius patrociniis adiuvari,
cuius laboribus exculta floruit,
et sanguine crevit fecudata.
The vocabulary of this prayer is really interesting. First, there is classical political terminology: conspicuus, praerogativus, principatus, patrocinia. Then we have agrarian language excultus (excolo), floreo, cresco, fecundo. One gets the impression of a parallel between the growth and development of the early Church, on the one hand, with the roots and origins of ancient Rome itself. Rome’s agrarian origins lent much to its later poltical structures and calendar, etc. In any event, this is an interesting prayer.
Almighty eternal God,
who made blessed Sixtus,
distinguished by election as head of the apostolic body,
even more illustrious with the crown of a martyr,
grant to Your Church to be aided by his intecessions,
by whose labors once tended she florished
and by whose blood once fertilized she throve.
Trule Pope Sixtus nourished the early Roman Church with his own blood (sanguine), sweat (laboribus) and tears (martyrii corona).