Eleutherius of Rome
By COGwriter

Who was Eleutherius of Rome? Was he a pope? Was he faithful to the Bible or human tradition?

The generally touted Catholic position is that Eleutherius was the thirteenth pope and that all subsequent leaders of the true church passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 5). Is that correct?

This article will refer to historical records and Roman Catholic sources to attempt to properly answer those questions.

Certain Claims

While visiting the Vatican in 2004, I purchased a book in its basilica museum bookstore titled The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997). The book states that it is sponsored by the "Pontifical Administration, which has tutelage over the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter".

It makes many claims about the early bishops of Rome including this about Eleutherius:

13. ELEUTHERIUS, ST. (175-189) Born at Nicopolis in Epirus, he was a disciple of Pope Anicetus...He dispensed with the obligations of Christians to follow several dietary laws of Judaic origin (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 5).

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes this about him:

(c. 174-189). The Liber Pontificalis says that he was a native of Nicopolis, Greece. From his contemporary Hegesippus we learn that he was a deacon of the Roman Church under Pope Anicetus (c. 154-164), and evidently remained so under St. Soter, the following pope, whom he succeeded about 174...The Montanist movement, that originated in Asia Minor, made its way to Rome and Gaul in the second half of the second century, more particularly about the reign of Eleutherius; its peculiar nature made it difficult to take from the outset a decisive stand against it...Just when the Roman Church took its definite stand against Montanism is not certainly known. It would seem from Tertullian's account (adv. Praxeam, I) that a Roman bishop did at one time address to the Montanists some conciliatory letters, but these letters, says Tertullian, were recalled. He probably refers to Pope Eleutherius, who long hesitated, but, after a conscientious and thorough study of the situation, is supposed to have declared against the Montanists. At Rome heretical Gnostics and Marcionites continued to propagate their false teachings. The "Liber Pontificalis" ascribes to Pope Eleutherius a decree that no kind of food should be despised by Christians (Et hoc iterum firmavit ut nulla esca a Christianis repudiaretur, maxime fidelibus, quod Deus creavit, quæ tamen rationalis et humana est) (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by WG Kofron. Pope St. Eleutherius (Eleutheros). The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Copyright © 1909 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Roman Bishops Were Not Early Anti-Montanists

The Montanists were allowed to not even be rebuked by Eleutherius, though as The Catholic Encyclopedia reported, he considered it. This shows that he did not feel he had the doctrinal integrity and/or authority to stand against them. No bishop of Rome was considered to have had universal authority by most professing Christians by Eleutherius' time.

However, the church leaders in Antioch and Asia Minor took a stand against the Montanists. Serapion of Antioch, Apollonius of Ephesus, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Thraseas of Eumenia opposed the Montanist heresies (since Apollinaris of Hierapolis and Thraseas of Eumenia were Quartodecimans, it is likely that Serapion and many other anti-Montanists were as well). Eusebius records that:

This same Apollonius states in the same work that, at the time of his writing, it was the fortieth year since Montanus had begun his pretended prophecy...

Serapion, who, as report says, succeeded Maximinus at that time as bishop of the church of Antioch, mentions the works of Apolinarius against the above-mentioned heresy. And he alludes to him in a private letter to Caricus and Pontius, in which he himself exposes the same heresy, and adds the following words:

"That you may see that the doings of this lying band of the new prophecy, so called, are an abomination to all the brotherhood throughout the world, I have sent you writings of the most blessed Claudius Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia." In the same letter of Serapion the signatures of several bishops are found, one of whom subscribes himself as follows: "I, Aurelius Cyrenius, a witness, pray for your health." And another in this manner: "Aelius Publius Julius, bishop of Debeltum, a colony of Thrace. As God liveth in the heavens, the blessed Sotas in Anchialus desired to cast the demon out of Priscilla, but the hypocrites did not permit him" (Eusebius Book V, Chapters 18-19).

Of the Montanists, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia:

the date of Thraseas is therefore about 160, and the origin of Montanism must be yet earlier...We hear of no false doctrines at first...St. Jerome's account, written in 384...describes them as Sabellians in their idea of the Trinity (Chapman J. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Montanists. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

One of the so-called Montanist Oracles was:

"I am the Father and the Son and the Paraclete." (Didymus, De trinitate iii. 41. 1.) (Assembled in P. de Labriolle, La crise montaniste (1913), 34-105, by Bates College, Lewston (Maine) http://abacus.bates.edu/Faculty/Philosophy%20and%20Religion/rel_241/texts/montanism.html 01/31/06).

This is one of the first references to a trinitarian view of the Godhead (the other earliest one was from the heretic Valentinus). The paraclete is a term used to signify the Holy Spirit (it is from the Greek term parakletos).

Since the true Church of God is binitarian, it is logical that any affiliated with it would have opposed any trinitarian teachings. Roman leaders, however, seemed to be tolerant of the Montanists until sometime after Serapion and others in Asia Minor condemned them (Rome finally condemned the Montanists, but not for its trintarian doctrine).

Interesting, the Gnostic heretics Marcion and Valentinus were apparently allowed to continue to be considered a Roman Catholic until sometime after Eleutherius became bishop. Notice Tertullian's account:

Where was Marcion then, that shipmaster of Pontus, the zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple of Platonism? For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago,—in the reign of Antoninus for the most part,—and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled (Tertullian. The Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 30. Translated by Peter Holmes. Electronic Version Copyright © 2006 by Kevin Knight. All rights reserved).

Even though Marcion and Valentinus were condemned by Polycarp as a heretic about two decades before Eleutherius became bishop, apparently they were not put out of the Roman Catholic Church then. (Marcion gave a large financial contribution that kept him in good graces for a while--though the Roman Church allegedly returned that contribution after some time.)

Declaring Unclean Meat Clean?

The accounts of Eleutherius that he declared unclean meats to be clean are somewhat suspect. But even if he made this pronouncement, it shows that many who professed Christ still as late as the late second century did not believe they should eat biblically unclean meat.

This appears to be confirmed by Irenaeus, who most likely wrote the following prior to Eleutherius' alleged pronouncement:

Now the law has figuratively predicted all these, delineating man by the [various] animals: whatsoever of these, says [the Scripture], have a double hoof and ruminate, it proclaims as clean; but whatsoever of them do not possess one or other of these [properties], it sets aside by themselves as unclean...The unclean, however, are those which do neither divide the hoof nor ruminate...But as to those animals which do indeed chew the cud, but have not the double hoof, and are themselves unclean...the Lord says, "Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say to you?" For men of this stamp do indeed say that they believe in the Father and the Son, but they never meditate as they should upon the things of God, neither are they adorned with works of righteousness; but, as I have already observed, they have adopted the lives of swine and of dogs, giving themselves over to filthiness, to gluttony, and recklessness of all sorts. Justly, therefore, did the apostle call all such "carnal" (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 8 , Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

And while Irenaeus is describing how humans can be clean or unclean, he never suggests that one should eat anything that is unclean--especially since he condemns gluttony and adopting the lives of swine and dogs (both of whom eat unclean meats).

But according to the Liber Pontificalis, this was changed by Bishop Eleutherius near the time the above was written:

He also decreed that no kind of food in common use should be rejected especially by the Christian faithful, inasmuch as God created it; provided it was a rational food and fit for human kind (Book of the Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis) 2nd edition. Translation by Raymond Davis. Liverpool University Press - Translated Texts for Historians, Liverpool, 2001, p.17).

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

The "Liber Pontificalis" ascribes to Pope Eleutherius a decree that no kind of food should be despised by Christians (Et hoc iterum firmavit ut nulla esca a Christians repudiaretur, maxime fidelibus, quod Deus creavit, quæ tamen rationalis et humana est).

Lopes book The Popes, (which I purchased at the Vatican itself), this states this about Eleutherius:

He dispensed with the obligations of Christians to follow dietary laws of Judaic origin" (page 5).

The above book should have said the obligations of biblical origin as the dietary restrictions began with God and not Jews (the distinction between clean and unclean animals was known by at least Noah's time, since God so declared in Genesis 7:2-3; no one called of God in the Old Testament is ever shown to have consumed unclean meat). Hence the Catholics (and the Protestants that follow this edict) are relying on a pronouncement of a bishop of Rome.

Now, I should add that the Liber Pontificalis was composed in the fifth/sixth centuries and has a reputation, even amongst Roman Catholic scholars, for arbitrarily assigning events with certain "popes" (some of this is documented in the article What Does Rome Actually Teach About Early Church History?). It would seem, however, that this could have been assigned any earlier than because of Irenaeus' writings. Hence, it is clear that well into the second century, the laws concerning clean and unclean meats were considered to have been in force for Christians. And that it is due to a later Catholic tradition that unclean animals became food for Roman supporters.

While traditions of men may say otherwise, the New Testament never teaches nor endorses the concept that true followers of Christ ever ate meat that the Bible called unclean. This is documented in the article The New Testament and Unclean Meats.

Was He A Pope?

Technically, Eleutherius was not a pope. The Catholic leaders in Rome did not take that title until after Siricius of the late fourth century.

Was Eleutherius Peter's Spiritual Successor?

While I believe that the records of early church history show that Polycarp of Smyrna was the true and most influential leader of the Church of God after the last apostle (John) died, most who claim to be Roman Catholic believe that Linus, then eventually Eleutherius, was the actual successor. Conclusions tend to depends on how one views tradition and the Bible.


There was a Roman Catholic bishop named Eleutherius. He may have ruled against the Bible on the subject of eating unclean meats.

There is no evidence that he ever overturned tradition to favor the Bible. Because of certain Montanist heresies he would not address, and that Valentinus was considered to be part of his church for a time, that suggests he held a non-biblical view of Christianity.

That is not acceptable to those of us in the Church of God, but does seem to be sufficient for those who accept that and other unbiblical doctrines.

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