Pope St. Victor I

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Pope Victor I was Bishop of Rome from 189-199 A.D.  According to an anonymous writer quoted by Eusebius, Victor excommunicated Theodotus of Byzantium for teaching that Christ was a mere man (Philip Schaff: NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine – Christian Classics Ethereal Library). During the reign of Victor I, bishop of Rome, a universal dispute arose amongst the Christians concerning the feast of the Passover and what was the proper day on which they should observe Easter.  This dispute is referred to as the “Quartodeciman Controversy“.  A synod was convened to discuss the issue, and those in attendance agreed that the paschal fast must end on a Sunday.  According to Eusebius of Caesarea, the churches of Asia, basing themselves on an ancient custom which they traced back to the apostles Philip and John, celebrated Easter “on the fourteenth day of the moon, (the day on which the Jews were ordered to sacrifice the lamb),” — the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month Nisan. The rest of the Christian world, however, celebrated the Resurrection on Sunday. 

The Asian bishops, led by Polycrates of Ephesus, vigorously defended their custom of celebrating Easter on 14 Nisan. Later on, adherents of this practice became known as quartodecimans, from the Latin for “fourteenth.”  St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a contemporary of Pope Victor I and a fellow Church Father, pointed out that not only did discrepancies exist about the day for celebrating Easter, but even about the customs regarding the fast, with some fasting for one day, others fasting for two, and others even longer. Irenaeus also cited the practice of previous authorities within the Roman Church, who, although they had disagreed with the Asiatics, had not taken the drastic step of excommunicating them.  Eusebius reported that the decree of Victor “did not please all the bishops without exception.” That may be explained by the severity of the decree, which according to Eusebius not only excommunicated the Asiatics, but condemned them as heterodox as well.

Source Used:   Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers:  Series II, Vol. XIV.  Translated by Henry Percival.  Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.)

Quotes and Excerpts:

“Synods and assemblies of bishops convened, and with one mind consigned to writing the ecclesiastical teaching for the faithful everywhere, that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord from the dead should only be celebrated on the Lord’s day [Sunday]…” [-Historia Ecclesiastica 5:23 by Eusebius of Caesarea]

“Upon this Victor, who presided at Rome, immediately tried to cut off from the common unity the dioceses of all Asia, together with the adjacent churches, on the ground of heterodoxy, and he indited letters announcing that all the Christians there were absolutely excommunicated. But by no means all were pleased by this, so they issued counterrequests to him to consider the cause of peace and unity and love towards his neighbors. Their words are extant, sharply rebuking Victor. Among them too Irenaeus, writing in the name of the Christians whose leader he was in Gaul, though he recommends that the mystery of the Lord’s resurrection be observed only on the Lord’s day, yet nevertheless exhorts Victor suitably and at length not to excommunicate whole churches of God for following a tradition of ancient custom… [Historia Ecclesiastica 5:24 by Eusebius of Caesarea]

“In Asia Minor most people kept the fourteenth day of the moon, disregarding the sabbath: yet they never separated from those who did otherwise, until Victor, bishop of Rome, influenced by too ardent a zeal, fulminated a sentence of excommunication against the Quartodecimans in Asia.” -Scholasticus, Socrates. Ecclesiastical History (Book V, Ch. 22 ed.).

“On this day, a great Council met at Rome, at the time when Victor was pope there, and at the time of Demetrius, patriarch of Alexandria [189-232]. This was the cause of the Council… When our father Demetrius was proclaimed [bishop of Alexandria] …he composed the calculation of the cycle by which the [lenten] fast and the Resurrection are determined… then he sent a copy of it to our father Victor, pope of Rome, one to our father Maximus, patriarch of Antioch [and] one to our father Agapius at Jerusalem. When the letter reached the three sees, our father Victor, pope of Rome, found the one addressed to himself excellent; he read it and it gave him great joy. From among the dioceses of his see, he convoked fourteen bishops from among the learned, and some learned priests. He read them the calculation; they approved it, accepted it and made many copies, which they sent to other episcopal sees.” –The Coptic Synaxarion for 10 Hatur [R. Graffin & F. Nau, Edd. Patrologia Orientalis. Paris 1907-. Original editions and translations of numerous eastern works, especially synaxaria, or Lives of the Saints. 3:275;  Arabic version Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 78 (Arab. 12): 111-112]

“We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man…I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.” –Polycrates of Ephesus (quoted by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History Book V, Ch. 23-24 ed.) 

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