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Who was St. Sylvester?

         by Martin Ederer            looking  in  opposite  directions.  pope  from  314  until  his  death  on
               ost   German-speaking Hence  this  was  solid  imagery  for  Dec.  31,  335.  Most  remaining  de-
               parts  of  Europe  refer  to putting the old in the past and the  tails  about  his  pontificate  –  some
      MNew  Year’s  Eve  as  Sil- new  in  the  future.  The  Gregorian  more accurate than others – have to
      vesterabend.  That  name  refers  to Calendar made it official – although  do with his (often challenging) rela-
      feast of St. Sylvester, which falls on Protestant  and  Orthodox  parts  of  tionship  with  the  Roman  Emperor
      Dec.  31.  On  the  current  calendar Europe  hesitated  to  adopt  the  new  Constantine. Most importantly, Syl-
      that  is  the  last  day  of  the  year.  It (but  better)  “Catholic  calendar.”  vester  had  the  distinction  of  being
      bears mention that prior to the new The Protestant British, for example,  the  first  pope  to  serve  his  entire
      Gregorian Calendar – authorized by clung  to  the  older  Julian  Calendar  pontificate over a fully legal Christi-
      the  Council  of  Trent  (1545-1563) until 1752. Russia did not adopt it  anity after Constantine had ended all
      and finally rolled out in 1582 during until  –  ironically  –  the  Bolshevik  Roman  legal  sanctions  against  the
      the  pontificate  of  Pope  Gregory Revolution.               Christian church. The vast majority  Pope Sylvester I portrayed turning a dragon out of the Roman Forum
      XIII – New Year’s Day could vary  So  how  does  St.  Sylvester  fit  of Sylvester’s predecessors had died  and reviving its victims.
      from place to place. In many places into  the  story?  In  large  part  by  martyr’s deaths.  cultural  heritage.  As  a  result,  Syl- called Nicaea I. One of the reasons
      in Europe, the date could have been chance and by having a feast in the  Since Christianity had only been
                                                                                                  vester is credited with construction Constantine  had  legalized  Christi-
      (among others) March 1 (very an- right place at the right time. St. Syl-  legalized in 313, Sylvester had be-  of the Basilica of the Holy Cross in anity was to help foster unity in a
      cient  Roman  tradition),  March  25 vester, by the way, really had noth-  come the recipient of Constantine’s
                                                                                                  Jerusalem,  Rome’s  great  Lateran badly fragmented Roman Empire –
      (Feast of the Annunciation) or Dec. ing  to  do  with  any  German  largesse  –  owing  to  the  emperor’s  Basilica, and the original St. Peter’s only  to  discover  that  Christianity
      25 (Christmas), or Jan. 1 (later Ro- connection.  German-speaking  peo-  reported  vision  at  the  Milvian
                                                                                                  Basilica which stood until the cur- had internal divisions of its own. In
      man tradition) – all solid choices.  ple are also not the only people to  Bridge in 312, to the fact that Con-  rent  Renaissance-era  Basilica  re- the end, the Arian heresy lingered
         Prior  to  the  rollout  of  the  new speak of Sylvester when referring to  stantine’s mother, St. Helena was a
                                                                                                  placed it.                     on into the 700s, but the council had
      Gregorian Calendar, Jan. 1 regained New Year’s Eve.           Christian,  and  also  owing  to  Con-  Sylvester also sent delegates to made clear what “official” Christi-
      growing  popularity  as  the  start  of  Who was St. Sylvester anyway?  stantine’s   eagerness   to   make  the  First  Council  of  Nicaea  (325), anity  needed  to  believe.  Sylvester
      the new year. It made some sense. The few things we know about him  amends for earlier government per-  which  definitively  condemned  the for his part helped to further solidi-
      The  Roman  god  Janus,  for  whom is that he was the son of a Roman  secution of Christianity and destruc-
                                                                                                  Arian Heresy, and resulted in a de- fy growing teachings that papal au-
      January was named, had two faces named  Rufinus.  He  was  the  33rd  tion  of  their  churches  and  their
                                                                                                  finitive statement of basic Christian thority  stood  over  all  secular
                                                                                                  doctrines  that  we  now  call  the authority.
                                                                                                  Nicene  Creed.  Ironically  enough,  Sylvester was also credited (in-
                                                                                                  Constantine, not yet a Christian, had correctly) by the 500s with baptiz-
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