Catholic Encyclopedia: Alexander I, Saint and Pope
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing in the latter quarter of the second century, reckons him
as the fifth pope in succession from the Apostles, though he says nothing of his
martyrdom. His pontificate is variously dated by critics, e. g. 106-115 (Duchesne) or
109-116 (Lightfoot). In Christian antiquity he was credited with a pontificate of about
ten years (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. IV, i,) and there is no reason to doubt that he was on the
"catalogue of bishops" drawn up at Rome by Hegesippus (Eusebius, IV, xxii, 3) before
the death of Pope Eleutherius (c. 189). According to a tradition extant in the Roman
Church at the end of the fifth century, and recorded in the Liber Pontificalis he
suffered a martyr's death by decapitation on the Via Nomentana in Rome, 3 May. The
same tradition declares him to have been a Roman by birth and to have ruled the
Church in the reign of Trajan (98-117). It likewise attributes to him, but scarcely with
accuracy, the insertion in the canon of the , or words commemorative of
the institution of the Eucharist, such being certainly primitive and original in the Mass.
He is also said to have introduced the use of blessing water mixed with salt for the
purification of Christian homes from evil influences (constituit aquam sparsionis cum
sale benedici in habitaculis hominum). Duchesne (Lib. Pont., I, 127) calls attention to
the persistence of this early Roman custom by way of a blessing in the Gelasian
Sacramentary that recalls very forcibly the actual Asperges prayer at the beginning of
Mass. In 1855, a semi-subteranean cemetery of the holy martyrs Sts. Alexander,
Eventulus, and Theodulus was discovered near Rome, at the spot where the above
mentioned tradition declares the Pope to have been martyred. According to some
archaeologists, this Alexander is identical with the Pope, and this ancient and
important tomb marks the actual site of the Pope's martyrdom. Duchesne, however
(op. cit., I, xci-ii) denies the identity of the martyr and the pope, while admitting that
the confusion of both personages is of ancient date, probably anterior to the beginning
of the sixth century when the Liber Pontificalis was first compiled [Dufourcq, Gesta
Martyrum Romains (Paris, 1900), 210-211]. The difficulties raised in recent times by
Richard Lipsius (Chronologie der romischen Bischofe, Kiel, 1869) and Adolph Harnack
(Die Zeit des Ignatius u. die Chronologie der antiochenischen Bischofe, 1878)
concerning the earliest successors of St. Peter are ably discussed and answered by F. S.
(Cardinal Francesco Segna) in his "De successione priorum Romanorum Pontificum "
(Rome 1897); with moderation and learning by Bishop Lightfoot, in his "Apostolic
Fathers: St. Clement ' (London, 1890) I, 201-345- especially by Duchesne in the
introduction to his edition of the "Liber Pontificalis" (Paris, 1886) I, i-xlviii and lxviii-
lxxiii. The letters ascribed to Alexander I by PseudoIsidore may be seen in P. G., V,
1057 sq., and in Hinschius, " Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae " (Leipzig, 1863) 94-105.
His remains are said to have been transferred to Freising in Bavaria in 834 (Dummler,
Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini, Berlin, 1884, II, 120). His so-called " Acts " are not genuine,
and were compiled at a much later date (Tillemont, Mem. II, 590 sqq; Dufourcq, op.
THOMAS J. SHAHAN
Transcribed by Gerard Haffner
Taken from the New Advent Web Page (www.knight.org/advent).
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