African Popes

There were three African Popes, who came from the region of North Africa, and although there are no authentic portraits of these popes, there are drawings and references in the Catholic Encyclopedia as to their being of African background. And all are saints!

All of these Popes accomplished many noble tasks during their papacy. However, this seems to be overlooked because of their ethnic backgrounds

Pope Saint Victor 1- (the 14th Pope-189-199 A.D.)

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. 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 Asiatic churches observed Easter on fourteenth day after the vernal equinox, regardless of the day of the week. This caused commotion between people celebrating Easter and fasting for lent. So, Pope Victor ordered all churches to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the fourteenth day of the vernal equinox. 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. He called Theophilious, Bishop of Alexandria on the carpet for not doing this. He also condemned and excommunicated Theodore of Byzantium because of the denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ. He added acolytes to the attendance of the clergy. He was pope for 10 years, 2 months and 10 days. Until Victor’s time, Rome celebrated the Mass in Greek; Pope Victor changed the language to Latin, which was spoken in his native North Africa. Some reports say that he died a natural death and others say that he was martyred. After his death, he was buried near the body of the apostle, Peter, the first Pope, in the Vatican. Pope Saint Victor 1's feast day is July 28th.

Pope Saint Miltiades-(32nd Pope-311-314 A.D.)

Pope Miltiades was also born in Africa. Before he was elected pope, there was an outcry to banish the Bishops of Rome. To stop this, Governor Maxentius elected Miltiades, who at the time was a priest in Africa. It was Miltiades who led the church to final victory over the Roman Empire. During his papacy, Emperors Galarius, Licinius and Constantine put an end to the persecution of Christians; they were permitted to live as such and to reconstruct their places of religious worship.  Pope Miltiades was also given back all the ecclesiastical buildings and possessions that had been confiscated during the persecutions. Constantine’s wife later let him stay in the Lateran Palace in Rome, becoming the first pope to have an official residence. He is also known for having been granted permission by Constantine to build the Lateran Basilica, which would become the principle church of Rome and the residency of every pope for over 1,000 years. Miltiades decreed that none of the faithful should fast on Sunday or on the fifth day of the week (Thursday)…because this was the custom of the pagans. Pope Miltiades found residing in Rome a Persian based religion called Manichaeism, a system of religious doctrines that included elements of a number of religions, including Christianity, taught by a Persian prophet named Mani. Miltiades was pope for 4 years, 7 months and 8 days. He was buried in the Catacomb of St. Callistus on the famous Appian Way. He was the last pope to be buried in a catacomb. In the 13th century, Pope Miltiades was included with the mistaken qualification of a martyr and on Roman calendar for Celebration on December 10th. In 1969, his feast day was removed from that calendar of obligatory celebrations and moved to January 10th,the date of his death, without the indication of martyr. 

Pope Saint Gelasius 1-(49th Pope-492-496 A.D.)

Pope Gelasius who was born in Rome of African parents and was a member of the Roman clergy from his youth. Of the three African popes, he seems to have been the busiest. He served 4 years, 8 months and 18 days. Gelasius followed up Miltiades’ work with the Manicheans. He exiled them from Rome and burned their books before the doors of the Basilica of the Holy Mary. He delivered the city of Rome from the peril of famine. He was a writer of strong letters to people of all rank and classes. One of the most influential tasks Gelasius accomplished was something that could not be comprehended during modern times: the separation of Church and State. His theory on the relations between Church and state are explained in the Gelasian Letter to the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius. In the letter to Emperor Anastasius he wrote, “You must know, that the authority of Popes is much greater, inasmuch as on the Judgment Day, they will have to render to God an account of the souls of kings.” He is said to be one of the fairest Popes of his time. He denounced Lupercailia, a fertility rite celebration. He asked them sternly why the gods they worshipped had not provided calm seas so the grain ships could have reached Rome in time for the winter. He wrote to Femina, a wealthy woman of rank, and asked her to have the lands of St Peter, taken by the barbarians and the Romans, be returned to the church. The lands were needed for the poor who were flocking to Rome. He divided the revenues of the Church into fourths; one of those fourths went to the poor. He was known for his austerity of life and liberality to the poor. There is today in the library of the Church at Rome a 28 chapter document on Church Administration and Discipline. Pole Gelasius' feast day is November 21st.