Spirituality for Today – May 2008 – Volume 12, Issue 10

The Twentieth-Firsth Pope

Saint Cornelius

An illustration of Saint CorneliusPope St. Cornelius (251-253) – The persecution of the Church by the Emperor Decius had imprisoned so many of the ranking leaders of the Church that it would be nearly a year before an election of the new pope could take place. Novatian, a presbyter, oversaw the Church in Rome during the interregnum.

Important issues and troubling times greeted the election of Cornelius as Pope. The primary debate during his papacy surrounded the re-admission of lapsed Catholics during the late persecution and the validity of baptism performed by heretics or by schismatics. The pope recognized such baptisms as valid. The opposition was led by Novatian. He attempted to secure his election as pope. With the backing the powerful bishops Cyprian of Carthage and Dionysius of Alexandria, Pope Cornelius won the day.

A fastidious record keeper, Pope Cornelius detailed the number of clergy, widows (esteemed members of the Church), and other information regarding the Church in Rome. It is possible that there were as many as fifty thousand members of the Church residing in the city.

A new persecution of the Church was initiated by the Emperor Gallus. Pope Cornelius was arrested and exiled.

Pope Cornelius was buried in the cemetery of Callistus. A final note, the epitaph on his crypt was in Latin. This was the first pope not to have his epitaph in Greek.

Habemus papam