Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pope St. Telesphorus

Reading N°42 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

St. Telesphorus (125-138)
Telesphorus was a Greek, says the Liber Pontificalis, and, before becoming pope, he lived a hermit's life. Must we understand by this that he followed the eremitical manner of living, and that the people and clergy of Rome went to the desert to look for him? Or are we to suppose that he simply belonged to a group of priests living an ascetical life more perfect than that of the rest of the clergy? This much at least is certain, that the pope who took up the government of the Church about A.D. 125 was prepared, by his previous life, to become the defender of morality among the Christians.

The Liber Pontificalis credits him with the institution of the Lenten fast.[1] By these words we must understand the regulation of the Lenten penance, for we know, from St. Irenaeus' explicit testimony, that the Lenten observances go back earlier than this period.[2] Moreover, even after St. Telesphorus, there was great diversity in the length of the fast as in the amount of mortifications practiced in imitation of the Savior's fast, and uniformity in these observances did not obtain universally until the beginning of the fourth century by the fifth canon of the Council of Nicaea.

The Liber Pontificalis also attributes to St. Telesphorus the institution of the Christmas midnight Mass and the introduction of the Gloria in excelsis into that Mass. Pliny's celebrated letter to Trajan[3] informs us that the Christians used to meet together before daybreak to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice. The clergy of the East have kept this practice of saying Mass at early dawn. In the West, once peace came to the Church, the hour of terce[4] was the regular time for the Holy Sacrifice. The Liber Pontificalis alludes to this practice and supposes that it existed at Rome in the time of St. Telesphorus. St. Irenaeus says that this Pope ended his life by a "glorious martyrdom,"[5] but we have no details regarding his last moments. The Western Church honors him on January 5, the Eastern on February 22.


[1] Duchesne, Lib. Pont., I, 129.
[2] Eusebius, H. E., V, xxiv, II. On the beginnings of the Lenten fast, cf. Duchesne, op. cit., p. 129.
[3] Pliny, Letters, X, 96.
[4] By the ancients, the time between 6 o'clock in the morning and 9 o'clock was called the hour of prime; from 9 o'clock to noon, the hour of terce; from noon to 3 o'clock, the hour of sext; from 3 o'clock to 6 o'clock, the hour of none.
[5] Eusebius, H. E., V, vi, 4.


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