The biography of Callixtus I., Bishop of Rome (217?-222?) contains an unresolved puzzle concerning his death. For while both of the most relevant sources -- the Refutatio omnium haeresium and the Passio Callixti -- call Callixtus a martyr, but only one, the less historically reliable Passio, actually ascribes a violent death to him. My paper will examine this puzzle through a careful, contextualized re-reading of both sources.
The only contemporary, but strong polemical source about Callixtus, the refutatio, reports on the sentenced Callixtus and his work as a slave in the
mines of Sardinia. The Author of the refutatio, but also other coevals like
Bishop Victor (189?-199?), see this clearly in conjunction with martyrdom.
In this context, it is important to note that the terminology that was used
at the beginning of the 3rd century wasn't distinctive: the expression
martyr meant confessor as well as martyr in the classical sense. Finally, the refutatio, written after the death of Callixtus, doesn't mention a dreadful death at all. Furthermore, a factual violent death of Callixtus would not only unambiguously point out the upright character of his opponent but also his “first” martyrdom in the mines of Sardinia. At the same time, this would completely destroy the argumentation of the refutatio against Callixtus based on ruining his good reputation.
There is no need for the Passio Callixti to explain the martyrdom of
Callixtus. The refutatio clearly states the criteria on the basis of which
he was declared and later honoured as a martyr. That was obviously not a
problem until the 5th century, when the refutatio was forgotten and a story
of violated death was needed for the making of a martyr. And this was how
the creation of a legend began.