September 2007 - Volume 12, Issue 2

The Thirteenth Pope

Saint Eleutherius

Photo of an old painting of Saint Eleutherius the thirteenth pope Pope Saint Eleutherius (175-189) – Eleutherius had served the papacy as deacon the Pope Anicetus some years before his own election as pope. He may have served in the capacity of deacon for Pope Soter also.

The Roman Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus were in power during the time of Pope Eleutherius. The Church in Rome lived through a relatively tranquil period throughout this pope's reign.

A highlight of his reign surrounds the heresy of Montanism with it strict asceticism and apocalyptic teachings. The pope was made aware of the effect of these teachings by the visit to Rome of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons who bore a letter from the faithful. The people of Lyons, southern Gaul (France), were perturbed by the presence of Montanist preachers in their area and needed direction from Rome regarding these teachings. There is ambiguity respecting the pope's response to this visit. Tertullian, a convert to Montanism and a prominent theologian, claimed that the pope, at first, was tolerant somewhat toward Montanism. Pope Eleutherius did condemn Montanism eveentually.

There was a widely held belief that the king of Britain requested of Pope Eleutherius that missionaries be sent to Britain. This alleged request of the king is questionable.

He is noted as a martyr in a ninth century list, but no evidence from the time of Pope Eleutherius' reign is extant. It is improbable during this time. Britain was a Roman province and a "king" would have been a local chieftain at best.

Although he is found in a list of martyrs from a ninth century compilation, there is no evidence to confirm the martyrdom of Pope Eleutherius.

Habemus papam.