28 Jul Pope Saint Victor I, Martyr
Today is the feast day of Pope Saint Victor I. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Victor I date of birth is unknown. The “Liber Pontificalis” makes him a native of Africa and gives his father the name of Felix. This authority, taking the “Liberian Catalogue” as its basis, gives the years 186-197 as the period of Victor's episcopate.
The Armenian text of the “Chronicle” of Eusebius (Leipzig, 1911, p. 223) places the beginning of Victor's pontificate in the seventh year of the reign of the Emperor Commodus (180-87) and gives it a duration of twelve years; in his “Church History” (V, xxxii, ed. Schwarts, Leipzig, 1902, p. 486) Eusebius transfers the beginning of the pontificate to the tenth year of the reign of Commodus and makes it last ten years.
There was peace throughout much of Pope Victor's reign. Internal dissensions during this era affected the Church at Rome. The dispute over the celebration of Easter grew more acute. The Christians at Rome, who had come from the province of Asia, were accustomed to observe Easter on the 14th day of Nisan, whatever day of the week that date might happen to fall on, just as they had done at home. This difference inevitably led to trouble when it appeared in the Christian community of Rome.
Pope Victor decided, therefore, to bring about unity in the observance of the Easter festival and to persuade the Quartodecimans to join in the general practice of the Church. He wrote, therefore, to Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus and induced the latter to call together the bishops of the province of Asia in order to discuss the matter with them. This was done; but in the letter sent by Polycrates to Pope Victor he declared that he firmly held to the Quartoceciman custom observed by so many celebrated and holy bishops of that region.
Victor called a meeting of Italian bishops at Rome, which is the earliest Roman synod known. He also wrote to the leading bishops of the various districts, urging them to call together the bishops of their sections of the country and to take counsel with them on the question of the Easter festival. Letters came from all sides: from the synod in Palestine, at which Theophilus of Caesarea and Narcissus of Jerusalem presided; from the synod of Pontus over which Palmas as the oldest presided; from the communities in Gaul whose bishop of Irenaeus of Lyons; from the bishops of the Kingdom of Osrhoene; also from individual bishops, as Bakchylus of Corinth. These letters all unanimously reported that Easter was observed on Sunday. Victor, who acted throughout the entire matter as the head of Catholic Christendom, now called upon the bishops of the province of Asia to abandon their custom and to accept the universally prevailing practice of always celebrating Easter on Sunday. In case they would not do this he declared they would be excluded from the fellowship of the Church.
This severe procedure did not please all the bishops. Irenaeus of Lyons and others wrote to Pope Victor. They blamed his severity, urged him to maintain peace and unity with the bishops of Asia, and to entertain affectionate feelings toward them. Irenaeus reminded him that his predecessors had indeed always maintained the Sunday observance of Easter, as was right, but had not broken off friendly relations and communion with bishops because they followed another custom (Eusebius, Church History V.23-25). We have no information concerning the further course of the matter under Victor I so far as it regards the bishops of Asia. All that is known is that in the course of the third century the Roman practice in the observance of Easter became gradually universal.
Image: This illustration is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by Chevalier Artaud de Montor, New York: The Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911. It was originally published in 1842. (2)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff