Pope Saint Telesphorus was bishop of Rome c. 128 to 138 C.E., during the reigns of Roman Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. He was Greek by birth, he is said to have been a monk before becoming a bishop.
Irenaeus of Lyons recognized Telesphorus as a martyr, the first of the Roman bishops whom Irenaeus designates as such after Saint Peter. In the Roman Martyrology his feast is celebrated on January 2. The Greek Church celebrates it on February 22.
The Liber Pontificalis credits him with intiating the tradition of Christmas Midnight masses, the celebration of Easter on Sundays, the keeping of a seven-week Lent before Easter, and the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo. However, historians doubt that such attributions are accurate, except that there is indeed evidence that he celebrated Easter on Sunday.
Telesphorus is traditionally reckoned as being the seventh Roman bishop in succession after Saint Peter. The Liber Pontificalis mentions that he had been an anchorite (or hermit) monk prior to assuming office. According to the testimony of Irenæus (Against Heresies III.3.3), he suffered a "glorious" martyrdom. Although all early popes are called martyrs by sources such as the Liber Ponificalis, Telesphorus is the first to whom Ireneaus, writing considerably earlier, gives this title.
Eusebius (Church History iv.7; iv.14) places the beginning of his pontificate in the twelfth year of the reign of Emperor Hadrian (128-129) and gives the date of his death as being in the first year of the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-139).
A fragment of a letter from Irenæus to Pope Victor I during the Easter controversy in the late second century, also preserved by Eusebius, testifies that Telesphorus was one of the Roman bishops who always celebrated Easter on Sunday, rather than on other days of the week according to the calculation of the Jewish Passover. Unlike Victor, however, Telesphorus remained in communion with those communities that did not follow this custom.
None of the other statements as to the liturgical and other decisions instituted by Telesphorus are considered accurate, even by Catholic scholars, as they are based on sources of a later date which display an agenda intended to prove the papacy's authority by exaggerating its legislative role.
In the current Roman Martyrology his feast is listed under January 2. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates it on February 22. The Telesphorus commemorated on January 5 in the earlier General Roman Calendar (as in 1954) was in fact not the Pope but an otherwise unknown African martyr.
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