SAINT SIXTUS III (?-440), pope
Whether it was persecutions, theological issues, heresies, or schisms, the young Church faced formidable challenges. Today, the Church honors Pope Sixtus III, whose pontificate would emphasize the work of spiritual healing and bridge-building in addressing the various divisions within the Church.
Sixtus was born in Rome, Italy and ascended to the papacy in the year 432, becoming the Church’s 44th pope in a direct line of successors, beginning with Peter. Pope Sixtus dedicated himself to the tasks of healing and unifying. There were two heresies that were affecting the Church during his pontificate – Nestorianism and Pelagianism.
Nestorianism stated that Jesus was two distinct persons. The problem with this heresy is that it threatened the idea of atonement. If Jesus is two persons, then which one died on the cross? If it was the “human person” then the atonement is not of Divine quality and thereby insufficient to cleanse us of our sins.
Pelagianism was a heresy which denied that grace was necessary for salvation. Pelagianism taught that man’s nature is basically good. Thus, the heresy denied Original Sin, the doctrine which states that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam. Pelagianism taught that Adam only hurt himself when he sinned, and that all of his descendants were not affected by his fall from grace.
As pope, Sixtus confirmed the Acts of the Council of Ephesus which was convened in 431 A.D. to address several issues, including both of these heresies. The Council condemned Nestorianism and pronounced that Jesus was one person in two distinct and inseparable Natures – Divine and human. It also renewed the condemnation of Pelagianism.
During his pontificate, Pope Sixtus also restored the Basilica of Liberius, now known as Saint Mary Major, enlarged the Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside-the-Walls, and obtained precious gifts from Emperor Valentinian III for Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. He also defended the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome over local bishops.
Having been the Vicar of Christ for only eight years, Pope Sixtus III died in Rome, Italy, on August 18 in the year 440 from natural causes. His remains were interred in the cemetery of Saint Lawrence.
We commemorate his feastday on March 28.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, spirituality.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ pope)
“All-powerful and Ever-living God, You called Saint Sixtus to guide Your people by his word and example. With him, we pray to You: watch over the pastors of Your Church with the people entrusted to their care, and lead them to salvation.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”