ELEUTHERUS, el"iū-thê'rus: Pope, c. 174 189. He is first heard of as deacon to Pope Anicetus (c. 154 169); from his name it is probable that he was a Greek. During his pontificate the Church at Rome was little molested by the government, there being but one martyrdom (that of Apollonius, q.v.). It was much troubled, however, by heresy. Marcionites, Valentinians, and other sectaries formed influential congregations by the side of the true Church, and Eleutherus had to continue the struggle against the Montanists begun by his predecessor, Soter. Gallic Christians about 178 sent him letters on the subject by the hand of Irenæus, then a presbyter of Lyons, whom they commend warmly. Their aim was probably to exhort the pope to be steadfast against Montanism (cf. Salmon in DCB, iii. 937 938), and their admonition may have had the more weight as the Churches of Lyons and Vienne were then undergoing severe persecution (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., v. 1 2). The Liber pontificalis gives much detailed but worthless information about Eleutherus. It includes the statement that he received a letter from a British king, Lucius by name, "that he might be made a Christian by his mandate," which is generally admitted to be a fabrication of the seventh century, devised to support the claims of the Roman party in England against the British Church (see CELTIC CHURCH IN BRITAIN AND IRELAND). Bede knew of the statement and refers to it in three places (De temporum ratione, 331; Hist. eccl., i. 4, v. 24), and it was often repeated and much elaborated in later times.
The first mention of the Lucius legend is in the recension of the Liber pontificalis known as the Catalogus Felicianus, written about 530. It is not in the earlier Catalogus, written shortly after 353. Gildas knows nothing of it. The more important of Bede's references (Hist. eccl., i. 4) is as follows: "In the hundred and fifty-sixth year of the incarnation of the Lord, Marcus Antoninus Verus became emperor, the fourteenth from Augustus, with his brother, Aurelius Commodus. In their time, while Eleutherus, a holy man, held the pontificate of the Roman Church, Lucius, king of the Britons, sent to him a letter, asking that he might be made a Christian by his command. And presently he attained his pious request, and the Britons retained the faith which they received, uncorrupted and entire, in peace and tranquility, until the time of the emperor Diocletian." The Historia Britonum (end of the eighth century; see NENNIUS) reads Eucharistus for Eleutherus and has all the chieftains of Britain baptized with Lucius. The Liber Landavensis (twelfth century) names the messengers of Lucius and locates the narrative in Wales. At about the same time William of Malmesbury localizes it at Glastonbury. Geoffrey of Monmouth names the missionaries sent and makes them found three archbishoprics and twenty-eight bishoprics. The Welsh triads (of uncertain date) connect the story with Llandaff. A compilation of the time of Edward II. gives a letter from Eleutherus to Lucius. Later Lucius became a benefactor to the Church and the schools, and, being confused with a continental teacher of the same name, was represented as missionary and martyr.
Bibliography: Eusebius, Hist, eccl., iv. 22; v. pr0emiem. 3-6, 22. Liber pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, i. 4-5, 136, Paris, 1886, cf. pp. cii.-civ.; J. Langen, Geschichte der römischen Kirche bis zum Pontifikate Leo's I., i. 157-159, Bonn, 1881; Harnack, Litteratur, II. i. 144-146; Bower, Popes, i. 15-17. For the Lucius Legend, W. Bright, Chapters of Early English Church History, pp. 3-5, Oxford, 1897; Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, i. 25-26; L. Duchesne, in Revue Celtique, vi (1870), 491-493; Chronica minora, ed. T. Mommsen in MGH, iii., Auct. ant., xiii (1898), 115-116, 164; Plummer, note to Bede's Hist. eccl., i. 4; H. Zimmer, Nennius vindicatus, pp. 141-154, Berlin, 1893.