|Papacy began||c. 174|
|Birth name||Eleuterus or Eleutherius|
Rome, Roman Empire
|Feast day||26 May|
Pope Eleuterus (died 189), also known as Eleutherius, was the Bishop of Rome from c. 174 to his death in 189. (The Vatican cites 171 or 177 to 185 or 193.) According to the Liber Pontificalis, he was a Greek born in Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece. His contemporary Hegesippus wrote that he was a deacon of the Roman Church under Pope Anicetus (c. 154–164), and remained so under Pope Soter, whom he succeeded around 174.
The 6th-century recension of The Book of the Popes known as the "Felician Catalog" includes additional commentary to the work's earlier entry on Eleuterus. One addition ascribes to Eleutherius a decree (or reïssuance of a decree) that no kind of food should be despised by Christians. Such a decree might have been issued against early continuations of Jewish dietary law and against similar laws practiced by the Gnostics and Montanists. It is also possible, however, that the editor of the passage attributed to Eleuterus a decree similar to another issued around the year 500 in order to give it greater authority.
Another addition credited Eleuterus with receiving a letter from "Lucius, King of Britain" or "King of the Britons", declaring an intention to convert to Christianity. No earlier accounts of this mission have been found. It is now generally considered to be a pious forgery, although there remains disagreement over its original purpose. Haddan and Stubbs considered the passage "manifestly written in the time and tone" of St Prosper, secretary to Pope Leo the Great in the mid-5th century, and supportive of the missions of SS Germanus and Palladius. Duchesne dated the entry a little later to the pontificate of Boniface II around 530 and Mommsen to the early 7th century. Only the last would support the conjecture that it aimed to support the Gregorian mission to the Anglo-Saxons led by St Augustine, who encountered great difficulty with the native British Christians, as at the Synod of Chester. Indeed, the Celtic Christians invoked the antiquity of their church to generally avoid submission to Canterbury until the Norman conquest but it is noteworthy that no arguments invoking the mission to Lucius appear to have been made by either side during the synods among the Welsh and Saxon bishops.
The first British writer to mention the story was Bede and he seems to have taken it, not from native texts or traditions, but from The Book of the Popes. Subsequently, it appeared in the 9th-century History of the Britons traditionally credited to Nennius: the account relates that a mission from the pope baptized "Lucius, the Britannic king, with all the petty kings of the whole Britannic people". The account, however, dates this baptism to AD 167 (a little before Eleuterus's pontificate) and credits it to Evaristus (reigned c. 99 – c. 107). In the 12th century, more details began to be added to the story. Geoffrey of Monmouth's pseudohistorical History of the Kings of Britain goes into great detail concerning Lucius and names the pope's envoys to him as Fagan and Duvian. The Book of Llandaf placed the court of Lucius in southern Wales and names his emissaries to the pope as Elfan and Medwy.
An echo of this legend penetrated even to Switzerland. In a homily preached at Chur and preserved in an 8th- or 9th-century manuscript, St Timothy is represented as an apostle to Gaul, whence he went into Britain and baptized a king named Lucius, who himself became a missionary to Gaul and finally settled at Chur, where he preached the gospel with great success. In this way Lucius, the early missionary of the Swiss district of Chur, became identified with the alleged British king of the Liber Pontificalis.
Harnack suggests that in the document which the compiler of the Liber Pontificalis drew his information the name found was not Britanio, but Britio. Now this is the name (Birtha- Britium) of the fortress of Edessa. The king in question is, therefore, Lucius Ælius Septimus Megas Abgar IX, of Edessa, a Christian king, as is well known. The original statement of the Liber Pontificalis, in this hypothesis, had nothing to do with Britain. The reference was to Abgar IX of Edessa. But the compiler of the Liber Pontificalis changed Britio to Brittanio, and in this way made a British king of the Syrian Lucius.
According to the Liber Pontificalis, Pope Eleutherius died on 24 May and was buried on the Vatican Hill (in Vaticano) near the body of St. Peter. Later tradition has his body moved to the church of San Giovanni della Pigna, near the pantheon. In 1591, his remains were again moved to the church of Santa Susanna at the request of Camilla Peretti, the sister of Pope Sixtus V. His feast is celebrated on 26 May.
- Kirsch, Johann Peter (1909). "Pope St. Eleutherius (Eleutheros)" in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Brusher 1980, p. 26; Butler, Attwater & Thurston 1956, p. 423.
- Hegesippus, cited in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, 4.22; translated by G.A. Williamson, Eusebius: The History of the Church (Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1965), p. 181
- Latin: Catalogus Felicianus, named for its ending during the pontificate of Felix IV. The earliest surviving codex dates to the 9th century.
- The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis), p. 6. University Press[which?] (Liverpool), 1989. (Latin) & (English)
- Et hoc iterum firmavit ut nulla esca a Christianis repudiaretur, maxime fidelibus, quod Deus creavit, quæ tamen rationalis et humana est. ("And he again affirmed that no food should be repudiated by Christians strong in their faith, as God created it, [provided] however that it is sensible and edible".)
- Hadden, A.W. & al. (ed.). Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I, Appendix A: "Date of Introduction of Christianity into Britain", p. 25. Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1869.
- Knight, David J. King Lucius of Britain, p. 14. History Press (Stroud), 2008. Reprinted 2012. ISBN 9780752474458.
- In Haddan & Stubbs, this passage is given as Hic accepit epistulam a Lucio Brittaniæ Rege ut Christianus efficeretur per ejus mandatum. ("He accepted a letter from Lucius, King of Britain, that he might become a Christian by his own will.") In Knight, the passage is quoted as Hic accepit epistolam a Lucio Brittaniorum rege ut Xrianus efficeretur per ejus mandatum ("He accepted a letter from Lucius, king of the Britons, that he might become a Xian by his own will.")
- Beda Venerabilis [The Venerable Bede]. Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum [The Ecclesiastical History of the English People], Vol. I, Ch. IV, & Vol. V, Ch. XXIIII. 731. Hosted at Latin Wikisource. (Latin)
- Bede. Translated by Lionel Cecil Jane as The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Vol. 1, Ch. 4, & Vol. 5, Ch. 24. J.M. Dent & Co. (London), 1903. Hosted at Wikisource.
- "Nennius". Edited by Theodor Mommsen. Historia Brittonum, Vol. II, Ch. xxii. c. 830. Hosted at Latin Wikisource. (Latin)
- "Nennius". Translated by J.A. Giles & al. as Nennius's History of the Britons, §22, from Six Old English Chronicles of Which Two Are Now First Translated from the Monkish Latin Originals: Ethelwerd's Chronicle, Asser's Life of Alfred, Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History, Gildas, Nennius, and Richard of Cirencester. Henry G. Bohn (London), 1848. Hosted at Wikisource.
- Galfredus Monumetensis [Geoffrey of Monmouth]. Historia Regnum Britanniae [History of the Kings of Britain], Vol. IV, Ch. xix. c. 1136. (Latin)
- Geoffrey of Monmouth. Translated by J.A. Giles & al. as Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History, Vol. IV, Ch. XIX, in Six Old English Chronicles of Which Two Are Now First Translated from the Monkish Latin Originals: Ethelwerd's Chronicle, Asser's Life of Alfred, Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History, Gildas, Nennius, and Richard of Cirencester. Henry G. Bohn (London), 1848. Hosted at Wikisource.
- Rees, William (ed.). 26, 65
- Harnack, Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie 1904, I, 906–916
- Butler, Alban; Attwater, Donald; Thurston, Herbert (1956). Butler's Lives of the Saints (Volume 2). London: Burns & Oates.
- Brusher, Joseph Stanislaus (1980). Popes Through the Ages. San Rafael, California: Neff-Kane. ISBN 978-0-89-141110-9.
- "Pope St. Eleutherius". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
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