Feast Day of Saint Octavian, martyred by the Arian Vandals

2 comments March 22nd, 2020 Headsman

March 22 is the feast day of Saint Octavian of Carthage — a martyr for orthodox Nicene Christianity to its rival tradition of Arianism.

Ninth century illustration of Constantine burning Arian writings

One of the most consequential of the ancient world’s many confusing christological ruptures, the Arian controversy arose in the fourth century when the bishoppriest Arius of Alexandria preached that Christ was a subordinate entity to God the father — distinct from what is now the mainline trinitarian Christian position that God the father and Christ the son are equal and consubstantial divinities. The Arian position enjoyed substantial support, and it was largely to resolve this controversy that the Emperor Constantine convened the Nicene Council to define the church’s official line.

Nicene Christianity ruled Arianism heretical which the emperor — concerned above all to enforce uniformity within his realm — backed up with book-burnings and anathemas. But the doctrine proved tough to extinguish, waxing and waning in the ensuing decades and often finding a sympathetic ear among Constantine’s own successors.

And crucially, while all this was shaking out, it was Arian missionaries who converted the Germanic tribes fringing the empire’s borders — Goths, Gepids, Burgundians, and (crucial for this post) Vandals — and made Gothic Christianity a carrier of of the Arian contagion long after it had been suppressed within the Latin and Greek worlds.

Come the fifth century, the Vandals had established a kingdom in Carthage on the North African coast, stretching to Sicily and Sardinia and harrying in the Mediterranean the failing Roman state. These polities, however rivalrous, were brother-nations within Christendom — except that the Vandals were still Arians, a gulf that could easily be worth a martyr’s crown.

That’s where our man Octavian comes in. As the (Nicene) archdeacon of Carthage, he was inherently exposed any time the civil authorities might feel like making an example. The Vandal king Hun(n)eric, inheriting the throne of the Vandal Kingdom in 477 from the legendary Genseric, had this feeling exactly; he’s notorious for unleashing an anti-Nicene persecution. Besides Octavian, that persecution also claimed Saints Victorian and Frumentius, who are commemorated on March 23 of the Roman martyrology.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Tunisia,Uncertain Dates,Vandal Kingdom

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