St. Victor I - Easter Controversy Continues

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St. Victor's reign is noted for a lull in the persecution and a crisis in the Easter controversy.

According to the "Liber Pontificalis," Victor was an African, the son of Felix. He decreed that after an emergency baptism, whether in river, spring, sea, or marsh, the neophyte should be treated as a Christian in full standing.

The lull in the persecution was due to a woman named Marcia, who seems to have been a sort of morganatic wife of the Emperor Commodus. Marcia had great influence on Commodus. Friendly to Christianity, she used this influence to soften the lot of the hard-pressed Christians. She asked Pope Victor for a list of the Christians condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia and secured the release of these poor victims.

At this time the controversy over the day for celebrating Easter came to a head. In Rome, where there lived many Asiatics, it must have been disconcerting to see one group of Christians observing the fast of lent and commemorating Christ's passion while other Christians were joyously celebrating the feast of the resurrection. Pope Victor determined to put a stop to this and ordered Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, to hold a council of Asiatic bishops and get them to follow the Western custom of celebrating Easter on Sunday. Polycrates did indeed assemble the bishops, but informed the Pope that neither he nor the Asiatic bishops could abandon the tradition of St. John and St. Philip. Pope Victor put his foot down and ordered the Church to celebrate Easter on Sunday. All but the bishops of Asia Minor obeyed. Thereupon Victor excommunicated them. St. Irenaeus, now bishop of Lyons, pleaded with the Pope that after all, was only a matter of discipline and that the Pope's illustrious predecessors had allowed the divers of dates. Furthermore, St. Irenaeus argued, it was a sad thing for the glorious see of Ephesus to be cut off from Catholic unity. Pope Victor, convinced, seems to have relented. At any rate after this time the practice of celebrating Easter on Sunday spread throughout the East.

Right at Rome a certain Blastus refused to obey the Pope and started a little church of his own. The Pope also had to excommunicate Theodotus, leather seller who had come from Byzantium Rome. This tanner denied the divinity of Christ and also set up a little church of his own. The Gnostics too gave trouble to Victor.

Pope St. Victor wrote several treatises including (probably) one on dice throwers. St. Jerome calls him the first Latin writer in the Church.

According to the "Liber Pontificalis," St. Victor died a martyr and was buried on the Vatican near St. Peter. His feast is kept on July 28.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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