Fondi, Lazio, Italy
Pope Saint Soter was a second century bishop of Rome, born in Fondi, Lazio, Italy. The name Soter derives from the Greek word "σωτήρ" (sōtēr), meaning savior, or deliverer. The successor of Anicetus, he held the office about eight years and was succeeded by Eleutherus, his deacon.
Soter is attested to have provided generous support to various other churches, especially that of Corinth. Little else is known of him with certainty, although it is likely that in his time Rome began to celebrate the yearly Easter feast. During his episcopacy, the Roman church continued to be challenged by "heretical" teachings, especially Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism.
Soter's dates, like all of the popes during this period, are uncertain, due to conflicting sources. His reign began 162-168 and ended in 170-177. His feast day was traditionally marked on April 22, the same as Pope Caius (283-296). They were celebrated jointly in the Tridentine Calendar and in the successive versions of the General Roman Calendar until 1969, after which they are omitted.
Soter was traditionally believed to have suffered martyrdom. However, the Roman Martyrology does not give him this title, since his death as a martyr is not historically confirmed.
The Liber Pontificalis relates that Soter hailed from the city of Fondi in Italy, located between Rome and Naples in the region of Lazio (formerly Latium) and that his father's name was Concordius. His father was of Greek origin. Although little else is known about Soter, a letter from Bishop Dionysius of Corinth testifies to him as a man of significant charity. In his letter, preserved by Eusebius, Dionysius praises Soter and the Roman church for their generosity, saying:
From the beginning it has been your custom to do good to all the brethren in many ways, and to send alms to many churches in every city, refreshing the poverty of those who sent requests, or giving aid to the brethren in the mines, by the alms which you have had the habit of giving from old, Romans keeping up the traditional custom of the Romans; which your blessed Bishop Soter has not only preserved, but has even increased, by providing the abundance which he has sent to the saints, and by further consoling with blessed words with brethren who came to him, as a loving father his children (Eusebius, Church History IV.24).
Dionysius' letter has long been appealed to by Catholics as evidence of Rome's longstanding preeminence in the early church, as well as its exemplary leadership and service. Dionysius further states that he intends to have Soter's own letter to the Corinthians read publicly in church, as was done previously with the letter of Clement, thus affording the epistle semi-scriptural status. Unfortunately, Soter's letter no longer exists.
It is probable that in Soter's time, Rome instituted a special feast in celebration of Easter, which it had not done previously. The church at Rome no doubt also continued its struggle against the teachings of Marcion and other more overtly Gnostic teachers such as Valentinus. Its attitude toward the prophetic-ecstatic movement of Montanism during this time is uncertain. The Roman church may have begun to treat the Montanists as heretics as early as the time of Soter's predecessor Anicetus or as late his successor, Eleutherus.
The circumstances of Soter's death are unknown. The Roman Martyrology says of him simply: "Saint Soter, Pope, whom Dionysius of Corinth praises for his outstanding charity towards needy exiled Christians who came to him, and towards those who had been condemned to the mines."
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