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Opinion: “The Missing Legacy Of The First African Pope”

The prospect of a Black African pope understandably excites Christians of all political persuasions. For the emeritus pope Benedict XVI, “the prospect of an African pope has been labeled as entirely plausible and a wonderful sign for all Christianity.

The election of an African pope will boost the popularity of the church, which is facing strong competition in Africa from Pentecostal, Baptist, and Evangelical denominations. “
As we keep high our hopes for an African pope, it would interest you to know that Africa has had three of her sons who sat on the throne of St. Peter in the history of the church, since the first century when Christian activity begun in Africa.

Many important members of the early Church were from Africa, including Mark the Evangelist who according to the tradition of the Coptic orthodox church is a native of Africa precisely Pentapolis modern-day Libya although he is of Jewish parents, Origen, Tertullian , Saint Augustine of Hippo and Clement of Alexandria .

Until history repeats itself for an African to rise to the papacy, the legacy of the three Sons of Africa who once sat on the throne of St. Peter in the history of the Church must enormously be celebrate and they are Pope Victor I (reigned c . 189 to 199), Pope Miltiades (reigned 311 to 314) and Pope Gelasius I (492 to 496); all three were North African men. Paramount to be discussed among these gallant men of Africa is St. Victor I.

Many important members of the early Church were from Africa, including Mark the Evangelist , Origen, Tertullian , Saint Augustine of Hippo  and Clement of Alexandria . Until history repeats itself the three  Sons of Africa who once sat on the throne of St. Peter in the history of the Church are Pope Victor I (reigned c . 189 to 199), Pope Miltiades (reigned 311 to 314) and Pope Gelasius I (492 to 496); all three were North African men. Paramount to be discussed among these gallant men of Africa is St. Victor I.

POPE VICTOR I                                                               

POPE MILTIADES     

 

POPE GELASIUS I

Saint Victor was born in the Roman Province of Africa and bore a Latin name as most Africans did at that time. He served during the reign of Emperor Septimus Servus of Rome, also African, who had led Roman legions in Britain, he happened to be the fourteenth Pope in the history of the Catholic Church. He was of Berber origin.

The dates of his tenure are uncertain, but Eusebius Church history [V, xxxii] places his reign between the closing reign of commodus and the early years of emperor Septimus servus, dating him around 189 and gives the year of his death as 199. He was the first bishop of Rome born in the Roman Province of Africa. He was later considered a saint. His feast day was celebrated on 28 July as “St Victor I, Pope and Martyr”.

Many are the contributions of this first African Pope famous among these are; Pope Victor I was the son of the Church who made Latin as the official language of the Catholic Church in 195 A.D. Until Victors time, Rome celebrated the Mass in Greek; according to Saint Jerome, Victor I was the first Christian author to write his theological works in Latin and may have been the first Roman bishop to use a Roman liturgy [Chronicon, ad an. Abr.2209] Pope Victor changed the language of the church officially from Greek to Latin, which was spoken in his native North Africa. This legacy of the African pope lives on even till today.

During his reign, he disputed over many religious practices. One of which was the date of Easter. In Rome, Easter was always observed on Sunday, but the roman Christians who had come from the province of Asia were accustomed to observe Easter in relation to the timing of the Passover. Asiatic churches observed Easter on fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan regardless of the day of the week.

This caused commotion between people celebrating Easter and the others who may still be fasting for lent. So, Pope Victor ordered all churches to celebrate Easter on the same Sunday as the Romans and those who refused to obey, he declared to be excommunicated. In doing so, he suppressed any further outrage toward the church and was able to compromise with both parties, and thus reaffirming the holy feast of Easter to be held on Sunday as Pope Pius had done [Eusebius,Hist. eccl., V, xxii-xxv]. He is most famous today for decreeing that Easter be universally celebrated on Sunday.

He also condemned and excommunicated Theodore of Byzantium because of the denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Theodore was a leather seller who had come from Byzantium to Rome.
He was pope for 10 years, 2 months and 10 days. After his death, he was buried near the body of the apostle, Peter, the first Pope, in the Vatican.

Needless to say that because of the dominance of the westerners in the history of the papacy, there is sometimes the temptation for the contemporary mind to assume that the papacy is a purely European institution, and predominantly an Italian one to boot, but this is untrue. After so many centuries, the church is yet to have the fourth and not the first African pope in the nearly 2,000 years of the history of the papacy.

 

Authored by Sir Divine Agyenim -Boateng Bassanio – ADM NEWS

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