Today we continue the list of the saints mentioned in the Roman Canon, and incidentally, we continue on down the line of the first popes. Peter, of course, was the first, and St. Linus, who we discussed last week was the second, and that would make St. Cletus the third. He is also referred to as St. Anacletus, so pick whichever name you prefer.
By all accounts, which are very, very few, St. Cletus was a Roman, born of Roman parents, and lived in Rome. We don’t know much about his life prior to (or heck, even during) his papacy, but the fact that he was the third bishop of Rome shows his virtue among all the other disciples of St. Peter.
St. Cletus apparently wanted to do what he could to be more pastoral and take care of the needs of the people of Rome, and since the Roman Church was so large, he needed to harness his skills of organization to do it! He was the first to establish 25 parishes in Rome, and ordained a number of priests to serve in them. Incidentally, the 25 highest ranking Cardinals in the Church are still named as honorary pastors to these parishes today!
St. Cletus was martyred under the Emperor Domitian around 92 AD. Domitian’s persecution was the first of the truly organized persecutions of Christians in the Empire. Sure, Nero killed a number of Christians in 64 AD, including St. Peter and St. Paul, but for the most part, Nero was just lashing out. Domitian’s persecution was very organized and very harmful. Those accused of being Christians were brought before a tribunal, and ordered to take the oath to the Roman Gods and the Emperor. Not giving homage to these gods was considered unpatriotic and atheistic, so many of the early Christians were ironically tried as atheists. When Christians refused the oath, they were condemned. The victims were numerous, including Antipas (mentioned in Revelations 2:13) and members of the Emperor’s own household, which tells you how much Christianity had spread in just 60 years. St. Cletus was one of those put to death as well, and was buried under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome next to his predecessor, St. Linus.
Well, two down, and a few more popes to go! See you next week!