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December 31

Pope St Sylvester I - December 31

Saint Sylvester I

Pope and Confessor

(Around 250 – 335)

“Timothy left to me only the heritage of his faith and courage.

Pope Saint Sylvester I’s reply to accusation about hiding the martyr’s treasures

Saint’s Life Story

His Early Life

Sylvester was born around 250 in Rome, Italy with the exact date of his birth is unknown.  He was raised as a Christian under the care of his pious parents, Rufinus and Justa.  At a young age, his mother put him under the care of a priest to be taught literature and theology.   He was ordained a priest by Pope Saint Marcellinus. 

Timothy of Antioch

When Sylvester reached the age to dispose of his fortune, he took pleasure in giving hospitality to Christians passing through the city. He would take them with him, wash their feet, serve them at table, and in sum give them in the name of Christ, all the care that the most sincere charity inspired.

One day, Timothy of Antioch, an illustrious confessor of the Faith, arrived in Rome. No one dared receive him, but Sylvester considered it an honor. For a year Timothy, preaching Jesus Christ with unflagging zeal, received at Sylvester’s dwelling the most generous hospitality. After Timothy died as a martyr, Sylvester buried his remains, but was quickly accused of having hidden the martyr’s treasures. But Sylvester was soon denounced to the prefect and accused of having hidden the martyr’s treasures. The governor had Sylvester imprisoned.

In reply to the accusation, Sylvester said, “Timothy left to me only the heritage of his faith and courage.”

After the governor one day swallowed a fish bone and died, the guards’ hearts were softened.  So, they set Sylvester free. Sylvester’s courageous acts became known to Pope Melchiades, who elevated him to the diaconate.

Christian Persecution

Sylvester was a young priest when persecution of the Christians grew worse under the tyrant Diocletian. Idols were erected at the street corners, in the market-places, and over the public fountains. It was scarcely possible for a Christian to go abroad without being put to the test of offering sacrifice, with the alternative of apostasy or death. During this fiery trial, Sylvester strengthened the confessors and martyrs.  God preserved Sylvester’s life from many dangers. It was indeed he who was destined to succeed the Pope who had recognized his virtues.

Elected Pope

In January 31, 314, Sylvester was elected Pope, succeeding Pope Miltiades. This was less than a year after the Edict of Milan under the Emperor Constantine that allowed Christians to practice their faith freely without fear of persecution. He is remembered in particular for his leadership through two heretical controversies in the Church – Donatism and Arianism – as well as the baptism of Constantine and the triumph of the Church over its former persecutors.

Donatists, led by the bishop Donatus, were extremist separatists in northern Africa who took a hardline view against Christians who had lapsed from the faith in order to save their lives during the brutal empire-wide persecution under Diocletian.  A council convened by Constantine in 313 and the Council of Arles convened by Pope Sylvester in 314 both condemned the Donatists’ actions.

Arianism, led by the Alexandrian Christian priest Arius, denied Jesus’ divinity and equality with God.   It taught that Jesus was not equal with God the Father and not eternal.   In 325, Pope Sylvester convened the First Council of Nicaea, the first general Council of the Church, which reiterated Jesus’ divinity and reaffirmed that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father

Legend of Constantine’s Conversion

A memorable (but doubtful) legend from his pontificate involved Constantine, who was attacked by leprosy while he was still a pagan.   One night, Saitnt Peter and Saint Paul appeared to Constantine and commanded him to call for Pope Sylvester, who would cure him by giving him the sacrament of baptism.   According to the legend, Pope Sylvester I baptised him and Constantine was converted.  

Donation of Constantine

The so-called Donation of Constantine is a document which purports to be from this time in the fourth century. According to its contents, Emperor Constantine granted to Pope Sylvester I and his successors, as inheritors of Saint Peter, dominion over lands in Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, Africa, as well as the city of Rome, with Italy and the entire Western Roman Empire, while Constantine retains imperial authority in the Eastern Roman Empire from his new imperial capital of Constantinople. The text claims this was Constantine’s gift to Sylvester for instructing him in the Christian faith, baptizing him and miraculously curing him of leprosy.

His Death

Pope Saint Sylvester died on December 31, 335 in Rome, Italy.  During his pontificate were built the great churches founded in Rome by Constantine, including St Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and the Basilica of St John Lateran. Pope Saint Sylvester I was one of the first non-martyrs to be honored as a saint. His pontificate of 21 years is the 10th longest of all popes. Pope Saint Sylvester I was a very strong and wise man that preserved the essential independence of the Church in the face of the overpowering figure of the Emperor Constantine. 

Born:                   Around 250 assumed to be near Rome, Italy

Died:                   December 31, 335 in Rome, Italy

Beatified:           Pre-Congregation

Canonized:        Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:         December 31

Patron Saint:    Animals;  For Good Harvests;  Order of Saint Sylvester;  Stone Masons



Pope Saint Sylvester I had to achieve a difficult balance between gratitude to the emperor and maintaining the Church’s independence. He presided over the ordinations of various priests, deacons, and bishops, and sent delegates to the Council of Nicea in 325 (which officially defined the Church’s teaching that Jesus is both truly human and truly divine). This council gave us the Nicene Creed that every Sunday we proclaim that we believe in Jesus Christ, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, One in being with the Father…” 

How do you balance worldly enticements with loving God with all your heart and mind? Through constant daily prayer, God gives us the grace to be candles to shine God’s love through our words and actions to all we encounter today.


Pope Saint Sylvester I, you grew up in an environment of Christian persecution. As Pope, you brought stability through your wisdom and courage to the Christians you led in the 4th century. Give to our current Pope a measure of your steadiness and boldness in guiding the people of the Church from false to true belief, from darkness to light, and from chains to freedom. Help our Pope to sanctify, shepherd, and govern well in an often hostile atmosphere.

Saint Sylvester I, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint Sylvester, Pope and Confessor

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 31 December – St Pope Sylvester I (Died 335)

Angelus – Saint of the day: Pope Sylvester

A Reason2BCatholic – Saints Alive! | St Sylvester I, Pope

Bartleby – Rev. Alban Butler. Volume XII: December. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. December 31 St. Sylvester, Pope and Confessor

Catholic Culture  – St. Sylvester

Catholic Exchange – Pope St. Sylvester I

Catholic Fire – St. Sylvester I, Pope and Confessor

Catholic Ireland – Dec 31 – St Sylvester (314-335)

Catholic News Agency – St. Sylvester, Pope Feast Day: Dec 31

Catholic Online – Pope St. Sylvester I (314-335)

CatholicSaints.Info – Pope Saint Sylvester I

Franciscan Media – Saint Sylvester I

Independent Catholic News – St Sylvester

Loyola Press – Pope Sylvester I Feast day December 31

My Catholic Life – Saint Sylvester I, Pope

New Advent – Kirsch, J.P. (1912). Pope St. Sylvester I (314-335). In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Pope Sylvester I’s Story

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint Sylvester I (d.335)

Sanctoral – Saint Sylvester Pope and Confessor (280-335)

uCatholic – Pope Saint Sylvester

Wikipedia – Pope Sylvester I

Video Links

Pope Saint Sylvester I – YouTube Video (Cradio)