According to the "Liber Pontificalis," St. Eleutherius was a Greek from
Nicopolis in Epirus. His father's name was Habundius. He ordered that no
food which was fit for a human being should be despised by Christians. This
decree, if authentic, probably was aimed at the Montanists, a fanatical
puritanical sect, or the Manicheans, who despised meat.
St. Irenaeus, the famous father of the Church, was sent by St. Pothinus and
the clergy of Lyons to confer with Pope Eleutherius about Montanism.
Unfortunately Eusebius, who narrates the fact, did not preserve the details
of this interesting mission. Montanism was a peculiar exaggeration or
parody of Christianity started by a Phrygian ex-priest of Cybele, Montanus.
This man taught that inspiration and ecstasy rather than the hierarchy
should guide the faithful, that martyrdom should be rashly sought, that
marriage was wrong, and that Montanus was, if not the Holy Ghost himself,
the authentic herald of the Holy Ghost. In a modified form this heresy
infiltrated into the West. Since its most common manifestation was an
exaggerated strictness and since at first in the West it did not seek to
break away from the Church, it is not surprising that it took a little time
before it was discovered for the heresy it was. It is not clear whether
Pope St. Eleutherius condemned Montanism at this time.
A very interesting item in the
Liber Pontificalis concerns the reception
by Pope Eleutherius of a letter from Lucius, the king of Britain, asking
for instruction in the Christian faith: very interesting but almost
certainly untrue. Britain at this time was a Roman province. It is true
that some high land chief from beyond the wall might call himself king, but
it is quite unlikely that such a remote red-shanks should have written to
Rome. The early British historian Gildas makes not the slightest mention of
such an incident. Most modern scholars agree that the story is apocryphal.
An interesting theory advanced by some modern scholars is that the author
of the Liber Pontificalis or a copyist confused Lucius, king of Britain,
with Lucius, king Britium in Mesopotamia.
St. Eleutherius was buried near St. Peter in the Vatican. He is honored by
the Church as a martyr. His feast is kept on May 6.