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Victor, Bishop of Rome

Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

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Victor (1), bp. of Rome after Eleutherus, in the reigns of Commodus and Severus. The Eusebian Chronicle assigns him 12 years, ending 198 or 199; Eusebius ( H. E. v. 28) 10 years, and says that Zephyrinus succeeded him about the 9th year of Severus, i.e. a.d. 202. Lipsius ( Chron. der röm. Bischöf. ) supposes his episcopate to have been from 189 to 198 or 199. Soon probably after his accession he excommunicated Theodotus of Byzantium (ὁ σκυτεύς ), who had come to Rome, and taught that Christ was as mere man (Eus. H. E. v. 28; cf. Epiphan. Haeres. liv. 1). Eusebius is quoting from an opponent of the sect of Artemon, who afterwards under pope Zephyrinus maintained a similar heresy. It appears from the quotation that the Artemonites alleged all the bps. of Rome before Zephyrinus to have held the same views with themselves, and the allegation is refuted by the fact of Victor, the predecessor of Zephyrinus, having excommunicated Theodotus, "the founder and father of the God-denying apostasy." Montanism also was rife in Asia Minor during the reign of Victor, who is supposed by some to have been the bp. of Rome alluded to by Tertullian ( adv. Prax. c. 1) as having issued letters of peace in favour of its upholders, though afterwards persuaded by Praxeas to revoke his approval. But others think it more probable that Eleutherus was referred to. See, however, MONTANUS.

Victor's most memorable action was with regard to the Asians on the Easter question. They still persisted in the Quartodeciman usage, pleading the authority of St John for keeping their Pasch on the 14th of Nisan, on whatever day of the week it fell. So far intercommunion between them and the church of Rome had not been broken on this account. In the time of Victor the usage of the Asians (in which, according to Eusebius, they stood alone among all the churches of Christendom) attracted general attention. Synods were held on the subject in various parts—in Palestine under Theophilus of Caesarea and Narcissus of Jerusalem, in Pontus under Palmas, in Gaul under Irenaeus, in Corinth under its bishop, Bachillus, at Osrhoene in Mesopotamia, and elsewhere, by all of which synodical letters were issued, unanimous in disapproval of the Asian custom, and in declaring that "on the Lord's Day only the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord from the dead was accomplished, and that on that day only we keep the close of the paschal fast" (Eus. H. E. v. 23). But the general feeling was that the retention of their own tradition by the Asians was no sufficient ground for breaking off communion with them. Victor alone was intolerant of difference. He had issued a letter in behalf of the Roman church to the like effect with those of the synods held elsewhere. From a reply to it we may conclude it to have been peremptory in its requirement of compliance. This reply was from Polycrates, bp. of Ephesus, as head of the Asian churches, who, at Victor's desire, had convened an assembly of bishops which concurred with Polycrates in his rejoinder. He resolutely upholds the Asian tradition, supporting it by the authority of Philip the apostle, who, with his two aged virgin daughters, was buried at Hierapolis; of another saintly daughter of his who lay at Ephesus; of St. John, also at rest at Ephesus; of Polycarp of Smyrna, bishop and martyr; of Thraseas of Eumenia, also bishop and martyr, who slept at Smyrna. After naming others who had kept the 14th day according to the Gospel, he speaks of seven of his own kinsmen, all bishops, who had maintained the same usage. He adds, "I therefore, having been for 65 years in the Lord, and having conferred with the brethren from the whole world, and having perused all the Holy Scripture, am not scared with those who are panic-stricken. For those who are greater than I have said, 'It is right to obey God rather than men.'" After receiving this reply Victor endeavoured to induce the church at large to excommunicate the Asians, but failed. Whether he himself, notwithstanding, renounced communion with them on the part of the Roman church is not clear from the language of Eusebius. Socrates ( H. E. v. 22) says he did; and this is probable. Jerome ( de Vir. Ill. c. 35) speaks only of his desire to have them generally condemned. Evidently the judgment of the bp. of Rome did not in that age carry any irresistible weight with other churches, for Eusebius expressly tells us that "these things did not please all the bishops," and that they wrote "sharply assailing Victor." He cites a letter sent on the occasion to Victor by Irenaeus, who, though holding with him on the question at issue, exhorted him in the name of a synod of the church of Gaul "that he should not cut off whole churches of God for preserving the tradition of an ancient custom." Lastly, he cites "the elders before Soter," chiefs of the Roman church, who had been at peace with those from other dioceses differing from them in the matter at issue; and especially Anicetus, who, though unable to persuade the blessed Polycarp to give up the custom which, "with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom John lived," he had always observed, and though himself not persuaded to renounce the custom of the elders in his own church, had still honourably accorded the Eucharist in the church to Polycarp, and parted from him in peace (Eus. H. E. v. 24). Jerome ( u.s. ) alludes to several letters written by Irenaeus to the same purpose. The Quartodecimans seem to have maintained their usage till the council of Nicaea, which enjoined its discontinuance. The intolerance of Victor evidently neither won general approval nor effected his intended purpose. Victor is mentioned by St. Jerome (op. cit. c. 34) as a writer of a treatise on the Easter question and other works.


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Victor, Bishop of Rome'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​v/victor-bishop-of-rome.html. 1911.
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