Pope Anacletus, the third Bishop of Rome

In Catholic tradition, Pope Saint Anacletus (d. c. 88 – 92 C.E.), was the third bishop of Rome, after Saint Peter and Saint Linus. Whether he was the same as Pope Cletus was formerly the subject of much discussion, but today both Catholic and non-Catholic authorities agree that the two were probably identical. The name “Cletus” in Ancient Greek means, “one who has been called,” and “Anacletus” means “one who has been called back.”

According to the Liber Pontificalis, Cletus/Anacletus was a Roman, although his Greek name leads some to speculate otherwise. This source gives his reign (as Cletus) as being 12 years. However, it also provides dates from the regal years of certain Roman consuls that imply a reign of about half that long.

One of the few surviving records concerning Anacletus’ papacy describes him as having ordained 25 priests, and tradition holds that it was he who divided Rome into 25 parishes. Anacletus, as a different person from Cletus, is also credited with adorning the sepulcher of Saint Peter.

Cletus/Anacletus is said to have died as a martyr, perhaps about the year 91, although no details of his death have survived. He was reportedly buried next to his predecessor, Pope Saint Linus, in St. Peter’s Basilica, in what is now Vatican City.

Most contemporary scholars, including many Catholics, do not believe that the office of popeexisted as such at Rome during the first century C.E.Rather, a collective leadership of several bishops or presbyters was more likely the case. The term “pope” is thus thought to have been applied to leaders like Anacletus retroactively.

Whatever his role was, however, there is considerable uncertainty about Anacletus’ identity. The Church Fathers Irenaeus, Eusebius, Augustine, and Optatus, all use both “Anacletus” and “Cletus” in speaking of the same person. On the other hand, the Catalogus Liberianus, the Carmen contra Marcionem, and the Liber Pontificalis—all considered highly respectable due to their antiquity—make Cletus and Anacletus distinct from each other. Some sources hold that Anacletus was a Greek, while Cletus as a Roman.

Tertullian omits Cletus/Anacletus altogether, and to add to the confusion, Cletus comes before Clement of Rome in some lists and after him in others. The order of the bishops in Irenaeus and the Liber Pontificalis is thus Linus, Cletus/Anacletus, Clement; but Augustine, Optatus, and the Apostolic Constitutions put Clement before Cletus/Anacletus. Modern scholarship has tended to agree with those authorities who consider the “two” popes, Cletus and Anacletus, as one, placing him in line after Linus and before Clement.

Legacy

In February 1961, the Vatican decreed that “the feast of ‘Saint Anacletus’… is transferred to April 26, under its right name, ‘Saint Cletus’.” The contemporary Roman Martyrology mentions the pope in question only under the name of “Cletus.”

The current Pontifical Yearbook (Annuario Pontificio) admits: “For the first two centuries, the dates of the start and the end of the pontificate are uncertain.” It gives the years 80 to 92 as the reign of Pope Cletus/Anacletus. Other contemporary sources give the years 77 to 88.

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