Saint of the Day – 28 July – Saint Pope Victor I (Died 199) Pope, Martyr, Confessor – born in Africa, exact location not recorded in the early years of the 2nd Century. His Papal Ascension was in 189 and died by being Martyred 198-199 (though the date of his death and whether he was martyred is not certain). He was the first Bishop of Rome born in the Roman Province of Africa—probably in Leptis Magna (or Tripolitania). Nothing else is known of his younger years.
Victor’s reign showed many changes in the Church. Culture had begun to change in the Roman Empire. No longer was Greek the standard language. Latin had taken precedence as the official language of the Church, as well. Victor, unlike many of his predecessors, wrote in Latin. During the time of peace in the Church, Victor acted more like a ruler than many of the previous Bishops of Rome had been able to.
The mistress of Emperor Commodus was a woman named Marcia. It is said that she was a secret Christian, or at least, a woman tolerant towards Christianity. At one time, she called Victor to her, asking for a list of names of the Christians who had been sentenced to work in the mines of Sardinia. He gave her a list. This implies that the Christians were a tight group who knew each other well enough to keep tabs on one another. Marcia had them pardoned and sent the presbyter Hyacinthus, who may have been her advisor, to secure their release. One man, Callistus, chose to remain behind, possibly to preach to the pagans there. The Roman Christians sent him a stipend until he left.
At the time, not only was there peace but Christians could practice their religion and serve in the imperial court, which some did. This was a time when the Church attracted men and women of position and wealth.
Victor sought to solidify Roman control of the Church throughout the Mediterranean. He proclaimed that Easter was to be celebrated only on Sunday, a continuing battle, if you have read other entries on the Popes. Many Middle Eastern Christians had moved to Rome and were celebrating Easter as they did at home, following the Passover dates, rather than having Easter on a specific day. Victor requested their Bishops to send him a letter indicating how many people followed this custom. It was the great majority. Victor was not pleased and he went so far as to demand that the Eastern churches follow his rule. He set up the first Synod of Rome to deal with this. But, Eastern churches chose to ignore Victor and continued as they were, despite his threat of excommunication. St Ireneas, Bishop of Lyons and others wrote to Victor asking him to not be so harsh and demanding that he keep the Middle Eastern Churches within the fold. There are no letters of response from Victor but he must have relented because the Eastern churches remained.
There was a Priest who had known St Polycarp and was probably taught by him. The man’s name was Florinus. He began to teach questionable doctrine and eventually Gnostic heresy. St Ireneas wrote two treatises against Forinus’ preaching then notified Victor of the man’s work. Pope Victor immediately excommunicated sndf defrocked Florinus.
Another man, Theodotus, came to Rome from Asia and preached that Jesus was just a normal man until he was Baptised and was endowed with the Spirit. As much as Victor tried to excommunicate him, Theodotus continued his preaching. He and his followers developed a schismatic group which continued for a while.
In addition to these two, the Montanists were still troubling the churches of Asia with their odd prophecies, indicating that marriage was as much a sin as adultery and on and on. At first, from a distance, Victor thought them to be just zealously pious. But when some came to speak to him, he realised his mistake and ordered excommunication.
In addition to Victor’s writings about the paschal question, he was known to have written a treatise against gambling.
Considering the attitudes of the government at the time, it is thought that St Pope Victor probably did not die as a Martyr.