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Saint Victor I

First of the 'African' Popes


Victor I, who is believed to have come from Roman North Africa (likely in Leptis Magna), was pope from around 189 CE to 198 (or 199) CE. His feast day is 28 July.

Date of Birth: unknown, likely born at Leptis Magna, North Africa
Date of Death: 5 days before the Kalends of Augustus, 198 (or 199) CE, Rome

As with all three 'African' Popes (Victor I, Miltiades, and Gelasius I), little is known about Pope Victor I. He succeeded Eleutherius in 189 CE (during the reign of the Roman Emperor Commodus) to become the 14th pope, in a line that starts with St Peter (32--67 CE). He died in 198 (or 199) CE in Rome and was succeeded by Zephyrinus.

The Liber Pontificalis states "Victor, natione Afer", which roughly translates as "Victor, an African by birth." But Afer was the Roman term for its North African province -- present day Tunisia and Algeria -- so he was likely either Carthaginian, Roman, or perhaps Berber, by decent. (People from sub-Saharan Africa were known as Aethiopes ('Ethiopians') from the Greek "aitho" and 'ops" effectively meaning "burnt face"].)

During the latter years of the Reign of Emperor Commodus a number of Christians were released from forced labor in the mines of Sardinia -- supposedly those given by a list written on Commodus' request to Pope Victor. Those released included the future 16th Pope, Callistus I.

Victor I is recorded as the first to endorse the change of the official date for Easter from that of the Quartodecimans (from 'quartus' meaning fourth and 'decimus' meaning tenth) who celebrated the holiday on the 14th of Nisan to the Roman Catholic celebration on the following Sunday. (Nisan being the Hebrew month which begins the ecclesiastical year and starts on a new moon, meaning that the 14th is a full moon.) Pope Victor I held a synod of Italian Bishops in Rome, the first known Roman synod, and took council over what is now known as the Easter Controversy. The Quartodeciman bishops, under the influence of Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus, were threatened with excommunication if they did not acknowledge the change to the Roman Easter. This is believed to be the first papal act which affected the Eastern Patriarchs of Asia Minor. In the end, conversion of the Roman Catholic date for Easter was slow, and was only finally resolved by the first Council of Nicaea (325 CE), which precisely set the method for calculating the date of Easter.

In addition, Victor I is accredited as the pope who made Latin the official language of the Roman catholic church -- it had, until then, been Greek. It was, however, some time before Latin was universally used as the language of the Mass (which was probably not until the mid 4th century).

Principal Sources:
• 'Liber Pontificalis (Late 6th century A.D.)', Retrieved 10 February 2013, from http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/liberpontificalis1.html
The Book of the Popes: Liber Pontificalis trans. by Louise Ropes Loomis, Columbia University Press, 1916.

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