St. Eleutherius - A Greek By Birth

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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.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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