Pope Saint Victor I, (born , Africa—died 199, Rome?; feast day July 28) pope from about 189 to 198/199
Pope St Victor, son of Felix, was born in Africa, in what is now known as Leptis Magna in Tunisia. His birth was probably in the second quarter of the second century. 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 be sure they were released. 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 Asian 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 the Asian 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 Asian churches follow his rule. He set up the first synod of Rome to deal with this. But, Asian churches chose to ignore Victor and continued as they were despite his threat of excommunication. Ireneas, bishop of Lyons, and others wrote to Victor asking him to not be so harsh and demanding and to keep the other churches within the fold. There are no letters of response from Victor, but he must have relented, because the Asian churches remained.
There was a presbyter 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. Ireneas wrote two treatises against Forinus’ preaching then notified Victor of the man’s work. Florinus lost his place in the Church.
Another man, Theodotus, came to Rome from Asia, and preached that Jesus was just a normal man until he was baptized 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 realized his mistake and ordered excommunication.
In addition to Victor’s writings about the paschal question, he was known to have written a treatise against dice throwers, or gamblers.
Considering the attitudes of the government at the time, Victor probably did not die a martyr, but is held up as a confessor of the Church.