Fragments of Pope Callistus the First's Edict on Confession

The following are fragments from a document written by Pope St. Callistus I between 208 A.D. and 223 A.D., as well as summaries of the letter's content. The fragments and summaries are taken from a book by Tertullian called On Modesty. Tertullian wrote this book after he had left the Catholic Church and joined Montanism. In part of his book, Tertullian discusses an edict which Pope St. Callistus I had recently issued about Confession. Tertullian occasionally quotes from this edict and summarizes other parts. I am not aware of any primary source containing the text of this papal edict other than the quotations and summaries found in Tertullian's book.

I have also included a section for "Other Possible Fragments." These also come from Tertullian's book. They are lengthier quotations from one or more documents which make some of the same points as the edict from Pope Callistus. It is my personal opinion that they are quotations from the same edict, but I'm not sure, because Tertullian sometimes goes from quoting the pope by the phrase "he says" to quoting these lengthier citations by the phrase "they say." I've included them here because I think they are fragments from the pope's letter, but I am less sure about them than I am about the ones I've listed in the primary section.

Fragments from Pope Callistus the First's Edict

"I remit, to such as have discharged [the requirements of] repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication."

"to his own lord a man stands or falls; who are you, to judge another's servant?"

"...not thinking the sinner's death of so much worth as his repentance..."

" in their turn just as Christ withal has given to us..."

"...a Saviour of all men, most of all of believers..."

"Remit, and remission shall be made to you."

"...abundant in pitiful-heartedness..."

Summaries of the Content of Pope Callistus' Edict

"an edict [has been] set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus—that is, the bishop of bishops—issues [this] edict."

"it is in the church that this [edict] is read, and in the church that it is pronounced."

"[He discusses] the parables, where you have the lost ewe re-sought by the Lord, and carried back on His shoulders."

"Similarly, [he discusses] the parable of the drachma, as being called forth out of the same subject-matter."

"with regard to the parable of the two sons also...they set down...[in] the younger [son]...the Christian sinner...[who] obtain[s] pardon."

"they suspect the Apostle Paul of having, in the second [Epistle] to the Corinthians, granted pardon to the self-same fornicator whom in the first he has publicly sentenced to 'destruction of the flesh.' "

"[they] interpret [the] destruction of the flesh [as] the office of repentance; in that by fasts, and squalor, and every species of neglect and studious ill-treatment devoted to the extermination of the flesh, it seems to make satisfaction to God."

"they argue that the fornicator...[was] delivered by the apostle to Satan, not with a view to perdition, but with a view to emendation, on the hypothesis that subsequently he...on account of the destruction (that is, the general affliction) of the flesh...attain[ed] pardon."

"[They] say...the Church has the power of forgiving sins. ... I now inquire...from what source [they claim] this right. ...the Lord has said to Peter, Upon this rock will I build My Church, to you have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom; [and], Whatsoever you shall have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens."

Other Possible Fragments

"Is it not possible—[granting] that ewes which have been mortally lost, and eaten up, are recovered—that, in accordance also with the example of the drachma, lost and found again, even within the house of God, the Church, there may be some sins of a moderate character, proportionable to the small size and the weight of a drachma, which, lurking in the same Church, and by and by in the same discovered, immediately are brought to an end in the same with the joy of amendment?"

"a 'sheep' properly means a Christian, and the Lord's 'flock' is the people of the Church, and the 'good shepherd' is Christ; and hence in the 'sheep' we must understand a Christian who has erred from the Church's 'flock.' "

"But these [passages] will pertain to the [prohibition] of all immodesty, and the enforcing of all modesty, yet without prejudice to the place of pardon; which [pardon] is not [denied] when sins are condemned, since the time of the pardon is concurrent with the condemnation which it excludes."

" 'The blood of His Son purifies us utterly from every sin.' ... But he subjoins, 'If we say that we have not sin, we are seducing ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, faithful and just is He to remit them to us, and utterly purify us from every unrighteousness.' "

"It is therefore nearly equivalent to saying that John has forgotten himself; asserting, in the former part of his Epistle, that we are not without sin, but now prescribing that we do not sin at all: and in the one case flattering us somewhat with hope of pardon, but in the other asserting with all stringency, that whoever may have sinned are no sons of God."


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