Pope Eleuterus

For other saints with similar names, see Saint Eleutherius.
Pope Saint
Papacy began c. 174
Papacy ended 189
Predecessor Soter
Successor Victor I
Personal details
Birth name Eleuterus or Eleutherius
Born Nicopolis, Epirus
Died 189
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.[1] (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.[2][3] 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.[4]

Dietary law

The 6th-century recension of Liber Pontificalis ('Book of the Popes') known as the "Felician Catalog"[lower-alpha 1] includes additional commentary to the work's earlier entry on Eleuterus. One addition ascribes to Eleutherius the reïssuance of a decree:[lower-alpha 2][5] "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." 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.

British mission

Main article: Lucius of Britain

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.[lower-alpha 3] 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, Stubbs, and Wilkins[6] 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 St Germanus and St Palladius.[6] 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 Englishman to mention the story was Bede[8][9] 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 baptised "Lucius, the Britannic king, with all the petty kings of the whole Britannic people".[10][11] 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).[10][11] 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.[12] [13] The 12th-century Book of Llandaf placed the court of Lucius in southern Wales and names his emissaries to the pope as Elfan and Medwy.[14]

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 Roman Britain and baptised 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.[15] 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 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.

See also


  1. Catalogus Felicianus, named for its ending during the pontificate of Felix IV. The earliest surviving codex dates to the 9th century.
  2. "Et hoc iterum firmavit ut nulla esca a Christianis repudiaretur, maxime fidelibus, quod Deus creavit, quæ tamen rationalis et humana est."
  3. In Haddan, Stubbs, and Wilkins,[6] 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,[7] 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.')


  1. Kirsch, Johann Peter (1913). "Pope St. Eleutherius". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. Brusher, Joseph Stanislaus (1980). Popes Through the Ages. San Rafael, California: Neff-Kane. ISBN 978-0-89-141110-9.
  3. Butler, Alban; Attwater, Donald; Thurston, Herbert (1956). Butler's Lives of the Saints (Volume 2). London: Burns & Oates.
  4. Hegesippus, cited in Eusebius. Historia Ecclesiastica. 4.22.. Edition: Eusebius: The History of the Church. Translated by Williamson, G. A. London: Penguin. 1965. p. 181.
  5. The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis). Translated by Davis, Raymond (1st ed.). Liverpool University Press. 1989. p. 6.
  6. 1 2 3 Haddan, Arthur West; Stubbs, William; Wilkins, David, eds. (1869). "Appendix A: Date of Introduction of Christianity into Britain". Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Vol. I. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 25.
  7. Knight, David J. (2012) [2008]. King Lucius of Britain. Stroud, England: History Press. p. 14. ISBN 9780752474458.
  8. Bede (1903) [731]. The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. Translated by Lionel Cecil Jane. London: J.M. Dent & Co. Wikisource. Book I, Ch. 4. Also in Book V, Ch. 24
  9. Beda Venerabilis [Venerable Bede] (731) (in Latin). Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum [The Ecclesiastical History of the English People]. Wikisource. Book I, Ch. IV. Also in Book V, Ch. XXIIII
  10. 1 2 Nennius [attributed] (1848) [c. 830]. History of the Britons. Translated by W. Gunn and J. A. Giles. Wikisource. §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. London: Henry G. Bohn. 1848..
  11. 1 2 Nennius [attrib.] (1898) [c. 830]. Mommsen, Theodor. ed (in Latin). Historia Brittonum [History of the Britons]. Wikisource. Vol. II, Ch. xxii.. From: "Historia Brittonvm cvm additamentis Nennii". Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Cronica Minora, Saec. IV.V.VI.VII. Vol. III. Berlin: Societas Aperiendis Fontibus Rerum Germanicarum Medii Aevi. 1898.
  12. Geoffrey of Monmouth (1848) [c. 1136]. Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History. Translated by Aaron Thompson and J. A. Giles. Wikisource. Vol. IV, Ch. XIX. From: Giles, J. A., ed. (1848). Six Old English Chronicles. London: Henry G. Bohn.
  13. Geoffrey of Monmouth (1854) [c. 1136]. Historia Regnum Britanniae [History of the Kings of Britain] (in Latin). Vol. IV, Ch. xix via Google Books. From: Schulz, A., ed. (1854). Gottfried's von Monmouth Historia Regum Britanniae, mit literar-historischer Einleitung und ausführlichen Anmerkungen, und Brut Tysylio, altwälsce Chronik in deutscher Ueberseizung. Halle, Germany: Eduard Anton.
  14. Rees, William Jenkin (ed.), pp. 26, 65.
  15. Harnack, Adolf von (1904). Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie. Vol. I. pp. 906–916.
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Titles of the Great Christian Church
Preceded by
Bishop of Rome

Succeeded by
Victor I
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