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Pope Victor 1
Pope Victor 1

The First African Pope

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Pope Victor I, was a bishop of Rome, The First African Pope, in history of the Catholic Church, during the late second century. The date of birth of St. victor is unknown, but we do know that he was Pope from 26 May 189 – 28 July 199 (10 years, 63 days).

There is a Second Africa Pope

The Second African Pope

How do we know he was pope?
The Liber Pontificalis (“Book of Popes”) lists Pope StVictor I as following St. Eleutherius as Bishop of Rome. Church historian Eusebius, writing around 325 AD, also confirms Victor as 14th pope.

Give me the scoop on StVictor I.
Pope StVictor I is traditionally remembered as the first African pope, though we’re unsure of his date of birth. St. Jerome (writing in the 5th Century) mentions that Victor wrote several letters teaching the universal Church, thus using his authority as bishop of Rome.

One of those letters may have been correcting a false teaching proposed by a heretic named Theodotus, who attempted to preach that Christ was adopted by God and simply endowed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. StVictor, though he didn’t have the Nicene Creed to go off of, knew that Christ was instead “begotten, not made; consubstantial with the Father.” As a result, he laid the doctrinal smackdown and excommunicated Theodotus for teaching error.

What was he known for?
Pope Victor I was known for having a bit of a fiery personality, and also for seeking to unite the Church on when it celebrated Easter. Here’s the backstory: Most of the Church celebrated Easter on Sunday, the day of the week on which Christ rose from the dead. Others, however, celebrated Easter on the 14th day of Nisan, a month in the Hebrew calendar, which could fall on any day of the week. You’ll recall St. Polycarp’s disagreement with Pope St. Anicetus on this front.

There was a bit of tension and controversy, since the churches celebrating the “quartodeciman” practice (14th day; “quarto” = 4; “deci” = 10) did so because it was the practice of St. John the Apostle. Wanting to unite the Church, but apparently not wanting to deal with sass, Victor threatened to excommunicate those who didn’t cooperate and celebrate Easter on Sunday. Thankfully, St. Irenaeus wrote the pope a letter saying, “Hey. Chill.” because there was no doctrinal issue at stake. The pope reconsidered, and the Church was united in its celebration of Easter soon after Victor’s pontificate.

Fun fact: Pope StVictor I is credited with helping release a future pope, St. Callixtus I, from slavery. Taking advantage of a period of peace between Christians and the Roman Empire, Pope StVictor was a catalyst in the pardon of many Christian prisoners from the mines of Sardinia, thanks to the Christian mistress (Marcia) of the Roman emperor Commodus.

What else was going on in the world at the time? 
Galen, the prominent Greek doctor and philosopher, published The Art of Curing, a work on pathology, and Pharmacologia, a work on medicines.

More about Victor

Victor was a native African, probably in Leptis Magna (or Tripolitania) and his father’s name was Felix. He is known for having obtained the release of many Christians who had been deported to the mines of Sardinia, and for being the first Pope to celebrate the liturgy and write Church documents in Latin rather than Greek.

Leptis Magna (Arabic: لَبْدَة‎‎ Labdah) Great Leptis, or simply Leptis, known as Lebda to modern-day residents of Libya, was a prominent city of the Roman Empire. It was also known as Lectis Magna or Lepcis Magna as variations in Latin, Lpqy to ancient Berbers, and Neapolis to Ancient Greeks; today it is called as Lebida in transcriptions of Fusha Arabic. Magna means great in Latin, and the name Leptis Magna contrasts with Little Leptis, or Leptis Parva, in modern-day Tunisia.

The ruins of Leptis Magna are located in Khoms, Libya, 130 km (81 mi) east of Tripoli, on the coast where the Wadi Lebda meets the sea. The site is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.

He is most famous, however, for decreeing that Easter be universally celebrated on a Sunday, a practice already common in the West (Roman Rite), but not so in the East (Jewish Rite).

He died in 199, possibly from martyrdom.

NOTE: He is known for excommunicating Theodotus of Byzantium. Quartodecimanism controversy. He also decree that in emergency baptism any kind of water can be used.

Summary of Pope Victor I:

  • Born: Africa Proconsularis, Tunisia
  • Died: 199 AD, Rome, Italy
  • Successor: Pope Zephyrinus
  • Predecessor: Pope Eleuterus
  • Position: 14th  Pope in the history of the Catholic Church
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