Who was Soter of Rome? Was he a pope? Was he faithful to the Bible or human tradition?
The generally touted Catholic position is that Soter was the twelfth pope and that all subsequent leaders of the true church passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 4). Is that correct?
This article will refer to historical records and Roman Catholic sources to attempt to properly answer those questions.
While visiting the Vatican in 2004, I purchased a book in its basilica museum bookstore titled The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997). The book states that it is sponsored by the "Pontifical Administration, which has tutelage over the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter."
It makes many claims about the early bishops of Rome including this about Soter:
12. SOTER, ST. (166-175) He was born at Fondi (Latium), but his father was of Greek origin...During this period a violent persecution...raged at Corith...Soter send material aid...Soter was the first to note that sacramental nature of marriage. Any union that was not blessed by a priest was not considered valid. During religious functions, he forbade women to burn incense or to touch the Patten and the chalice (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 4).
The idea that Soter decreed about marriage or that he forbade women to touch certain items during religious functions are without historical evidence.
However, it is true that Soter was considered to be generous, at least according to the following purportedly written by Dionysius of Corinth:
For from the beginning it has been your practice to do good to all the brethren in various ways, and to send contributions to many churches in every city. Thus relieving the want of the needy, and making provision for the brethren in the mines by the gifts which you have sent from the beginning, you Romans keep up the hereditary customs of the Romans, which your blessed bishop Soter has not only maintained, but also added to, furnishing an abundance of supplies to the saints,, and encouraging the brethren from abroad with blessed words, as a loving father his children (Eusebius. Church History IV, Chapter 23, Verse 10)
The Catholic Encyclopedia comments about this:
We possess a fragment of an interesting letter addressed to him by St. Dionysius of Corinth...The traditional generosity of the Roman Church is again referred to by St. Dionysius of Alexandria to Pope Dionysius in the middle of the third century, and Eusebius says it still continued in his time. Nothing further is known of this pope (Chapman J. Transcribed by Matthew Reak. Caius and Soter, Saints and Popes. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
While some historical sites claim that Soter was the one that formally enforced the change of Passover from the 14th of Nisan to the Sunday after it, there is no primary historical evidence that I have seen that truly supports it. And like most of the early bishops of Rome, almost nothing is truly known about him.
Here is something else Eusebius records:
In the eighth year of the above-mentioned reign Soter succeeded Anicetus as bishop of the church of Rome, after the latter had held office eleven years in all. (Eusebius. Church History IV, Chapter 19, Verse 1)
3. And when I had come to Rome I remained there until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. (Eusebius. Church History IV, Chapter 22, Verse 3)
Soter was around when Valentius was:
1. In the same reign, as heresies were abounding in the region between the rivers, a certain Bardesanes, a most able man and a most skillful disputant in the Syriac tongue, having composed dialogues against Marcion's followers and against certain others who were authors of various opinions, committed them to writing in his own language, together with many other works. His pupils, of whom he had very many (for he was a powerful defender of the faith), translated these productions from the Syriac into Greek. 2. Among them there is also his most able dialogue On Fate, addressed to Antoninus, and other works which they say he wrote on occasion of the persecution which arose at that time. 3. He indeed was at first a follower of Valentinus, but afterward, having rejected his teaching and having refuted most of his fictions, he fancied that he had come over to the more correct opinion. Nevertheless he did not entirely wash off the filth of the old heresy. About this time also Soter, bishop of the Church of Rome, departed this life. (Eusebius. Church History IV, Chapter 30, Verses 1-3)
Soter should have stood against Valentinus but there does not seem to be evidence that he did.
Was He A Pope?
Technically, Soter was not a pope. The Catholic leaders in Rome did not take that title until after Siricius of the late fourth century.
Was Soter Peter's Spiritual Successor?
While I believe that the records of early church history show that Polycarp of Smyrna was the true and most influential leader of the Church of God after the last apostle (John) died, most who claim to be Roman Catholic believe that Linus, then eventually Soter, was the actual successor. Conclusions tend to depends on how one views tradition and the Bible. As well as historical facts (please see the article titled Apostolic Succession). The truth points to Soter not possibly being Peter's true spiritual successor.
There was a Roman Catholic bishop named Soter.
There is no evidence that he ever overturned tradition to favor the Bible, and if he enforced a Sunday Passover, he took the opposite stand. Because of certain heresies that began to be in the church of Rome, that suggest he held a non-biblical view of Christianity. That is not acceptable to those of us in the Church of God, but does seem to be sufficient for those who accept that and other unbiblical doctrines.
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Thiel B., Ph.D. Soter of Rome. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2012/2016 0423
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