St Eleutherius (Eleutherus)

(c. 174—189)

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(c. 174–89)

Last in the succession list of bishops of Rome transmitted by Irenaeus (c.180), he was twelfth in the line inaugurated by the Apostles Peter and Paul, thirteenth pope by the convention which reckoned St Peter the first. According to LP he was a Greek from Nicopolis, in Epirus, and reigned fifteen years and three months; Hegesippus, who was in Rome in the 160s, says that he was deacon to Pope Anicetus, the first recorded example of a clerical career path in Rome. LP adds that a British king, Lucius, wrote to him asking to be made a Christian. This enigmatic story, which was taken up by Bede and later chroniclers, has been shown to rest on a confusion with Agbar IX, also named Lucius, king of Edessa (Urfa in Turkey) in northern Mesopotamia, who was later converted and may have sent enquiries to the pope. In 177/8 Eleutherius received a visit from Irenaeus of Lyons, bringing a letter from the church there, then suffering grievous persecution, setting out its views on Montanism, the ‘New Prophecy’ recently started in Phrygia and now the subject of intense discussion. The pope's attitude to it remains unclear, but he evidently did not regard it as a danger and passed no judgement on its prophetic claims. His reign was a peaceful one, and while the sources differ about the date of his accession, it seems that he died in the tenth year of Emperor Commodus (180–92), i.e. 189. He is first mentioned as a martyr in the Martyrology of Ado of Vienne (compiled in 858). Feast 26 May.

Further Reading

Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 3. 3. 3Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4. 22. 3 (Hegesippus), 5. 3. 4, 5. 22LP i, pp. cii–civ, 136 (Davis 1: 6, 98)A. Harnack, ‘Der Brief des britischen Königs Lucius an den Papst Eleutherus’, SAB1904, 909–16DHGE xv. 147 f. (B. Botte)EThC 32 (G. Schwaiger)NCE v. 148 (E. G. Weltin)Lampe

Subjects: Christianity.

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