postcards from the pug bus
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Such was the posthumous balls-in-a-bear-trap dilemma faced by Pope Callistus I, who died in 222 C.E.. This former slave, pope, and alleged martyr was also—according to his arch-enemy, biographer, and fellow saint Hippolytus—sympathetic to crooked investment bankers, a companion of prostitutes, defiler of young boys, addicted gambler, deficit spender, and alcoholic. That’s far worse than hanging around with terrorists or turning a blind eye toward sanctuary cities.
Callistus I pissed off Hippolytus I for several reasons. First there was the papal election that Callistus won over Hippolytus, who was still licking those wounds when Callistus poured salt in them by announcing that he would allow repentant murderers, gamblers, and public fornicators to receive communion. Worse yet, Callistus suddenly declared by papal executive order that marriages between free people and slaves were valid even though he had opposed such marriages before. That’s when Hippolytus remembered that the pen is mightier than the sword.
In his biography of Callistus, Dreams of His Father, Hippolytus described how Callistus, while managing St. Paul’s Savings & Loan in Rome, had embezzled money that had been deposited by widows and orphans in Christmas and vacation clubs. He also failed to deliver the final volume of a three-volume Comprehensive History of the Known World, which he had promised to new depositors.
According to Hippolytus, Callistus spent the money on travel, free health care for the poor, paid escorts, lavish clothing, bailing out chariot manufacturers, and extensive renovations on his villa in Tuscany. Callistus fled Rome on a Sicilian cruise ship to avoid prosecution, but when his master caught up with him, Callistus jumped into the sea hoping to escape prison by committing suicide. He failed, and after he had been hauled out of the water, he was brought back to Rome, put on trial, and sentenced to forced labor on the treadmill.
Eventually Callistus won his freedom by convincing his former master, Carporphorus, that he (Callistus) could persuade people to invest in prepaid, whole-life, all-indulgences-included burial insurance policies. Callistus was re-arrested, however, after he had gotten drunk and burst into a meeting at a synagogue, shouting anti-Semitic remarks and asking why Jews are buried standing up (so the money won't fall out of their pockets).
This time Callistus was sent to the mines. There he noticed that some other christians were being released following negotiations between the emperor and the pope (with the help of the emperor's mistress, who turned every cheek she had for christians). Callistus soon conned his way into a get-out-of-jail-free card; but everybody, including the pope and the emperor’s mistress, knew that Callistus didn’t deserve his freedom, so the pope gave Callistus an income and a “no-work situation” away from Rome.
Ten years later a new pope, Zephyrinus the Slow, recalled Callistus to Rome. Zephyrinus was a good-hearted sort, but he knew bupkis about theology. Callistus made himself useful by explaining to Zephyrinus how many choirs of angels can dance on the head of a pin.
When Zephyrinus died in 219 C.E., Callistus was proclaimed pope over the protests of his rival candidate Hippolytus. Callistus died three years later, but Hippolytus lived another fourteen years after that, which gave him plenty of time to work on his late enemy’s biography.
Although Pope Callistus I is often listed as a martyr, there is no record of how or by whom he was martyred, nor is there any record of actual miracles attributed to Callistus—unless one counts as miraculous the ability to make money disappear. St. Hippolytus I, for his part, merely lists the cause of St. Callistus’ death as “misadventure”—the same fate Mitt Romney envisions for Barack Obama.