Who was Anicetus of Rome? Was he a pope? Was he faithful to the Bible or human tradition?
The generally touted Catholic position is that Anicetus was the eleventh pope and that all subsequent leaders of the true church passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 4). Is that correct?
This article will refer to historical records and Roman Catholic sources to attempt to properly answer those questions.
While visiting the Vatican in 2004, I purchased a book in its basilica museum bookstore titled The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997). The book states that it is sponsored by the "Pontifical Administration, which has tutelage over the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter".
It makes many claims about the early bishops of Rome including this about Anicetus:
11. ANICETUS, ST. (155-166) Born in Syria, he came to Rome as a collaborator of St. Justin in the battle against the heretics...He reactivated the decree of St. Anacletus (the third pope) concerning the consecration of bishops and the vestments of the priesthood...Another heresy, Montanism flourished at that time (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 4).
First, it should be noted although heresies did flourish under Anicetus, that someone from outside of Rome dealt with many of them.
Second, it needs to be understood that Anacletus did not come up with priestly vestments, nor did Anicetus confirm or make such a decree.
The Catholic Encyclopedia admits about the attire of the clergy, through the time of Stephen I (254-257):
In his days the vestments worn by the clergy at Mass and other church services did not differ in shape or material from those ordinarily worn by the laity (Mann H. Transcribed by Kenneth M. Caldwell. Pope St. Stephen I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York)
Hence the statements above regarding Anacletus and Anicetus on these matters is false. It was simply too dangerous at that time for leaders associated with any faith considered to be "Christian" to dress differently than the general public.
Gnostic heretics were a major problem during the time of Anicetus. But neither he, nor any of his Roman successors, had successfully dealt with them.
Though the gnostic problem is clear from the following passage, the solution listed neglected to mention something:
Valentinus, the best known and most influential of the Gnostic heretics, was born according to Epiphanius (Haer., XXXI) on the coast of Egypt. He was trained in Hellenistic science in Alexandria. Like many other heretical teachers he went to Rome the better, perhaps to disseminate his views. He arrived there during the pontificate of Hyginus and remained until the pontificate of Anicetus. During a sojourn of perhaps fifteen years, though he had in the beginning allied himself with the orthodox community in Rome, he was guilty of attempting to establish his heretical system. His errors led to his excommunication, after which he repaired to Cyprus where he resumed his activities as a teacher and where he died probably about 160 or 161 (Healy P.J. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Valentinus and Valentinians. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
What is missing is, who did the excommunication of Valentinus? Anicetus did not excommunicate Valentinus according to any document I have seen. So who did? Polycarp of Smyrna.
The Catholic writer Irenaeus noted:
Valentinus came to Rome in the time of Hyginus, flourished under Pius, and remained until Anicetus…Marcion, then, succeeding him, flourished under Anicetus.
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time -- a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles...Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Dost thou know me?" "I do know thee, the first-born of Satan" (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).
Valentinus and Marcion are considered by Catholics and others to have been Gnostic heretics, while Hyginus, Pius, and Anicetus were "bishops of Rome" (Anicetus was the first sure bishop of Rome and the other two may have been). Thus these quotes from Irenaeus show that the Roman leaders (at least through Anicetus) did not have a higher leadership role than Polycarp of Smyrna had, because it apparently took the stature of the visiting Polycarp to turn many Romans away from the Gnostic heretics.
When in Rome, the aging Polycarp also tried to get Anicetus to stop the practice of observing Passover on Sunday as a resurrection holiday, but instead to change to the biblical date of Nisan 14. Anicetus relied on human tradition and the not the Bible for his position. Also Anicetus apparently conceded enough, that Polycarp may have decided not to publicly denounce him. Irenaeus noted both:
...nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole Church...(Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc.).
Polycarp told what many now consider to have been “the pope” no. This also shows that Rome did not have dominion over the faithful as many now act like that it did. And while this also shows that Anicetus would not accept the authority of Polycarp who was appointed as Christian leader by the apostles, we in the Continuing Church of God do not consider that Anicetus was a saint, yet we and the Church of Rome do consider that Polycarp was one.
Although Irenaeus suggested a peaceful split in his account, some are not convinced that true peace occurred. The Catholic monk Epiphanius wrote:
For long ago, even from the earliest days, the Passover was celebrated at different times in the church…In the time of Polycarp and Victor, the east was at odds with the west and they would not accept letters of commendation from each other (Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verse 9,7. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, p.411).
From what appears to have happened, Polycarp left Rome. And Polycarp was probably disgusted with Rome. This may be why he why or his disciple Papias (Holmes, p. 560) is credited for being Irenaeus' source for items such as that the term 666 may mean Roman man. (Irenaeus himself says he did the calculation based on what those who knew John said). Irenaeus wrote:
Lateinos (Lateinos) has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable [solution], this being the name of the last kingdom" (Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Book V, Chapter XXX, verse 3).
Another heretic that was prominent in Anicetus' time, as noted earlier, was Justin Martyr:
And in Rome ...Anicetus assumed the leadership of the Christians there... But Justin was especially prominent in those days" (Eusebius Church History. Book IV, Chapter 11).
It was partially because of the influence of Justin and his teachings that the church in Rome lost more the truth it still had prior to Justin. Justin held views that should not have been adopted by any true Christian (please see article Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate?).
Also, Roman Catholic, Protestant, nor Eastern Orthodox believers should realize that Justin would not consider them to be Christians, as Justin wrote:
For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians" (Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 80).
But Anicetus was highly influenced by Justin. And the idea of Passover being on Sunday, ultimately led those that followed Roman leadership over the Bible to drop the observance of Passover to what is now known as Easter Sunday.
Was He A Pope?
Technically, Anicetus was not a pope. The Catholic leaders in Rome did not take that title until after Siricius of the late fourth century. He, however, may have been one of the first to take the title "bishop of Rome"--he is perhaps the first that clearly is considered to be the bishop of Rome by most scholars. But of course, Polycarp of Smyrna did not consider that Anicetus had authority over him.
Was Anicetus the First Bishop?
It is important to note that several Catholic scholars recognize that there is no proof that anyone was actually considered to be a bishop in Rome until sometime in the second century. One such Catholic scholar, A. Van Hove, wrote this about early bishops:
In other words, although there were bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor in the first and second centuries, there is no mention of a monarchic episcopate (a bishopric) in other places, like Rome, until the middle of the second century. It is also possible that by this time, the number of people who professed Christ in Rome was starting to become significant as this number probably was much less than those in the areas of Asia Minor, Antioch, and Jerusalem in the early second century.
Furthermore, it needs to be understood that even more recent Catholic scholars understand that the New Testament provides no support for the idea that one of the apostles appointed someone to be "bishop of Rome":
We must conclude that the New Testament provides no basis for the notion that before the apostles died, they ordained one man for each of the churches they founded..."Was there a Bishop of Rome in the First Century?"...the available evidence indicates that the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than by a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 80,221-222).
Various Catholic writings state that Hegesippus came to Rome in the mid-2nd century and asked about its early leaders. F.A. Sullivan suggests that those Romans apparently mentioned names of leaders they had heard of (as most would have had no direct contact with any from the first century) as there were no early records with names. Because there was, at the time of Hegesippus' visit, a bishop of Rome and there had long been bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor, F.A. Sullivan also suggests that Hegesippus and later writers presumed that the early Roman leaders were also monarchical bishops, even though that is not considered to have been likely.
One interesting point that Tertullian raises is that he claims that the heretic Valentinus wanted to be made bishop:
We know, I say, most fully their actual origin, and we are quite aware why we call them Valentinians, although they affect to disavow their name. They have departed, it is true, from their founder, yet is their origin by no means destroyed; and even if it chance to be changed, the very change bears testimony to the fact. Valentinus had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, that another obtained the dignity by reason of a claim which confessorship had given him, he broke with the church of the true faith. Just like those (restless) spirits which, when roused by ambition, are usually inflamed with the desire of revenge, he applied himself with all his might to exterminate the truth; and finding the clue of a certain old opinion, he marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent (Tertullian. Against the Valentinians, Chapter 4. Translated by Alexander Roberts. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Presuming that Valentinus came to Rome near the time prior to Hyginus's death, it is probable that he wanted to be considered the leader in Rome to replace Hyginus. However, the actual leader of the Roman Church, prior to Anicetus, was apparently Pius I.
Anicetus apparently referred to his predecessors as presbyters. Irenaeus records this:
And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus…For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. (Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc).
Though this does not mean that none could not have been called "bishop", it should be noted that there is no contemporaneous proof that anyone such as Pius I actually held the title "Bishop of Rome", but it is possible that he did (he apparently immediately preceded Anicetus).
It may be that the reason that Anicetus was the first Roman leader to clearly hold the title "Bishop" of Rome was that others in the area of Rome decided that one with the title "bishop" was necessary to show that someone had higher authority than the various heretical leaders that were in the area of Rome at that time (such as Valentinus and Marcion, for two examples).
I would speculate that even though Anicetus and Pius were influenced by one who combined some Greek philosophy with his form of Christianity (Justin), they were not nearly as gnostic as Valentinus, who was apparently too gnostic for the Romans to accept.
Valentinus is believed to have moved to Cyprus c.140 after whatever appointment/recognition was received by Pius (although it is possible that he left when it was clear that Anicetus would become bishop). It should be noted that there is no contemporaneous proof that Pius actually held the title "Bishop of Rome", but it is possible that he did. But this is not clear. What is clear is:
...we have good reason to conclude that by the time of Anicetus (155-66), the church of Rome was being led by a bishop whose role resembled Ignatius or Polycarp (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 143).
That is an astounding admission. That Roman Catholic scholar (who happens to be a professor emeritus at the Gregorian University in Rome) is essentially admitting that there was no possible succession of bishops beginning with Peter in Rome but that there was such a possibility with Polycarp (for more information, please see the article Apostolic Succession).
I believe that the records of early church history show that Polycarp of Smyrna was the true and most influential leader of the Church of God after the last apostle (John) died, most who claim to be Roman Catholic believe that Linus, then eventually Anicetus, was the actual successor. Conclusions tend to depends on how one views tradition and the Bible.
There was a Roman Catholic bishop named Anicetus. He did not have the authority, nor did his predecessors, to stop the major heretics of his day as he needed one with the stature of Polycarp of Smyrna (the successor to the Apostle John) to resolve some of the heresies occurring in Rome.
Anicetus relied on tradition and not the Bible to defend his position on observing Passover on a Sunday instead of Nisan 14. That is not acceptable to those of us in the Church of God, but does seem to be sufficient for those who accept that and other unbiblical doctrines.
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Thiel B., Ph.D. Anicetus of Rome. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2009/2013 0607
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