Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 161
The Council of Carthage (North Africa, AD 390) threatens with demotion presbyters who perform their duties without the consent of their bishops.
Canon 9
Vt si praesbyter inconsulto episcopo agendam celebrauerit, honore priuetur.
Numidius episcopus Maxulitanus dixit: in quibusdam locis sunt presbyteri qui, aut ignorantes simpliciter aut dissimulantes audaciter, praesente et inconsulto episcopo, cum plurimis in domiciliis agant agendam, quod disciplinae et in congruum esse cognoscit sanctitas uestra.
Geneclius episcopus dixit: fratres et coepiscopi nostri dignae suggestioni tuae respondere non morentur.
Ab uniuersis episcopis dictum est: quisquis presbyter inconsulto episcopo agendam in quolibet loco uoluerit celebrare, ipse honori suo contrarius existit.
(ed. Munier 1974: 16-17)
Canon 9
The presbyter who celebrates without the consent of his bishop should be deprived of his office.
Numidius, bishop Maxulitanus, said: there are presbyters in some places who are either simply ignorant, or boldly deceitful, and who celebrate with other people in their houses, when the bishop is present [in the town?], but ignorant of it. Your sanctity knows that this is against the discipline.
Bishop Geneclius said: let our brothers and fellow bishops not delay in answering your worthy suggestion.
All the bishops said: if a presbyter wanted to act in any place without the consent of their bishop, he proves to be unworthy of his office.
(trans. S. Adamiak)


The canon gives us information about the activity of presbyters who remained beyond the control of their bishops: performing services in private houses. We do not know what exact religious services are meant by "agenda", although we may presume that the goal of the canon is to forbid the Eucharist and baptism from being performed without the knowledge or permission of the bishop. Neither do we know what the "domicilia" refer to: the houses of rich people where presbyters acted as private chaplains or the households of their origin where they remained after ordination and acted as chaplains to their families.
The canon is not especially harsh, it condemns such actions as "proving unworthiness to be a presbyter", but it does not actually threaten the culprits with immediate demotion, it also tends to attenuate their guilt by explaining that it may be caused by ignorance, and only later talking about the possibility of deceitfulness. In any case, the canon shows the limits of bishops' control over the liturgical activities taking place in their dioceses.
Repeated in the Breviary of Ferrandus [749].

Place of event:

  • Latin North Africa
  • Carthage

About the source:

Title: Council of Carthage 390, Concilium Carthaginense a. 390, Concilium Carthaginis Africae secundum
Origin: Carthage (Latin North Africa)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
The plenary council of Catholic bishops of Africa gathered in Carthage in AD 390. It was chaired by the bishop of Carthage, Geneclius, but his archdeacon and successor, Aurelius, was also present. It was the first of a long series of African councils of the late 4th and early 5th centuries.
Ch. Munier ed., Concilia Africae a. 345-a. 525, Corpus Christianorum. Series Latina 149, Turnhoult 1974.


Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
    Ritual activity - Private mass
      Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
        Ritual activity
          Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER161,