Pope St. Victor I

Pope St. Victor I was the 14th pope, and the first one to be born in Africa. His accomplishments include establishing that Easter would always be celebrated on Sunday, and declaring that Latin, rather than Greek, would be the official language of the church.


Lifetime: Early 100s to 199
Region: Leptis (modern Libya)
Patronages: African Christians; Latin speakers
Iconograpy: Papal vestments; Dark skin
Feast Day: July 28

Little is known about Victor's early life. Sources indicate that he was born in northern Africa, in an area that came under the control of the Roman empire during Victor's life. They also give his father's name as Felix, though there is no indication of other details about his family.

Though there were several periods where the Roman empire persecuted Christians, Victor lived in a time of relative harmony between the two. In fact, one influential woman in the empire worked with Victor to create a list of all the Roman Christians who had been sent to a labor mine so they could release them.

As Pope, Victor was an important figure at standardizing some Christian beliefs and practices. He excommunicated one prominent writer who taught that Jesus was just a man, and not God at all until the resurrection. This idea was a heresy against Jesus' nature as both fully God and fully man from the moment of his conception.

Victor also established Latin as the official language of the Christian church, replacing Greek, and this standard continued until the second Vatican council in the 1960s (and still continues today in some churches and church documents). He wrote all his papal documents in Latin, including the only remaining letters we have from him.

Those letters were some of the most controversial aspects of his papacy. At the time, some Christians celebrated Easter on Sunday, as is the practice today. But others based their calculation on the number of days after Passover, rather than the days of the week after Passover, and would celebrate Easter 14 days later, no matter what day of the week it fell on.

This caused some issues, because it meant that some Christians were celebrating the Easter feast while others were still fasting for Lent. Victor thought it was important to get all Christians celebrating at the same time. 

However, this was proving to be no easy feat. Several councils had gathered together to discuss the issue, and couldn't come to an agreement. Since both dates were calculated based on scripture directly, there was no way to declare one superior over the other. Victor tried writing the aforementioned letters to some of the dissenting bishops, but they wrote back saying that they would not change. He collected opinions on the matter from bishops all over Rome, and the majority landed on the side of celebrating Easter on Sunday.

Victor, in a move that many at the time criticized, declared that as the head of the Christian church, all Christians had to celebrate Easter on Sunday, and that anyone who didn't would be removed from the church. This was a much harsher response than many thought appropriate, and established a precedent of papal supremacy that would eventually expand until it culminated in the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in 1054.

Not much is known about Victor's death except that it occurred in 199 and that he is believed to have been martyred. However, his is known to be the first pope born in Africa, and is widely considered the first Black pope.

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