Eleutherius, Pope, St.

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Pontificate: 171 or 177 to 185 or 193. His dates are uncertain. According to Hegesippus, Eleutherius was a deacon under anicetus. Eusebius (Chron. ) places his accession in the seventeenth year of Marcus Aurelius (177) and his death under Pertinax (192), but in his Ecclesiastical History (4.22; 5.1, 36, 22) he dates Eleutherius' death in the tenth year of Commodus (189). Most authorities agree on a fifteen-year reign. His pontificate was in general a peaceful one. The Liber pontificalis says that he was a Greek, the son of Habundius from Nicopolis, and that he maintained that Easter should be celebrated on Sunday. It also attributes to Eleutherius the regulation that no food be rejected as naturally unclean by a Christian, but such a rule was more suitable to fifth-century Rome in view of Manichaean food taboos.

Merely legendary is the strange report in the Liber that a King Lucius of Britain asked Eleutherius for missionaries, although it was elaborated by Bede and later medieval chroniclers. However, Rome's growing importance is attested by visits of polycarp, justin martyr, and hegesippus. Its most important visitor at this time was the famous theologian St. Irenaeus, who came to Rome in 177178 with letters from the Gallic martyrs and the Christians of Lyons asking Eleutherius to judge and mediate the question of montanism.

Tertullian, a convert to Montanism, says that the Roman bishop originally sent out conciliatory letters admitting the authenticity of Montanists' prophetic claims and only later rejected the movement. The pope thus decided in favor of spiritual governance by an institutionalized hierarchy rather than by the charismatic promptings of individual prophets.

Irenaeus's list of Roman bishops, a major source for early Roman Church history, ends with Eleutherius. The statement of the Liber that Eleutherius was buried in the Vatican near Peter is not supported by modern excavations under St. Peter's.

Feast: May 26.

Bibliography: Liber pontificalis, ed. l. duchesne (Paris 188692, 1958) 1:ciiciv, 5861, 136. a. clerval, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) 4.2:231920. Acta Sanctorum, May 3:363364; May 6:360362. e. caspar, Geschichte de Papsttums von den Aufängen bis zur Höhe der Weltherrschaft (Tübingen 193033) 1:8, 13, 48, 52. j. haller, Das Papsttum (Stuttgart 195953) v.1. f. x. seppelt, Geschichte der Päpste von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des 20. Jh. (Leipzig 193141, Munich 195459) v.1. e. ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York 1997), 1:368. j. n. d kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986), 1112. g. schwager, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche (Freiburg 1995).

[e. g. weltin]