Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 1649
Pope Innocent I writes to Bishop Marcianus of Niš about the clerics ordained by Bishop Bonosus before his condemnation for heresy. Innocent I, Letter 16, ca AD 412/414.
Letter 16
Innocentius Marciano episcopo Naissitano.
Superiori tempore, si tamen recte recordor, memini me tam ad dilectionem tuam, quam ad fratres et coepiscopos nostros Rufum et caeteros huiusmodi litteras de clericis Naissensibus transmisisse, his videlicet, qui se ante damnationem Bonosi assererent ab eodem tam presbyteros quam diaconos ordinatos, ut si relicto atque damnato eius errore vellent Ecclesiae copulari, libenter reciperentur, ne forte qui essent digni recuperandae salutis, in eodem deperirent. Verum nunc in Ravennati urbe mihi constituto, propter Romani populi necessitates creberrimas, Germanio, qui se asserit esse presbyterum, atque Lupentius, qui se diaconum dicit, multorum talium quasi legatione suscepta, prece fusa, dolores proprios exprimere gestiverunt, asserentes se quidem ecclesias in dilectionis tuae constitutas paroeciis retinere, sed tuam communionem non potuisse se mereri, ea videlicet ratione, quia Rusticius quidam nomine, iterata ordinatione presbyterium suscepisset. Et non levi impedimento fit, dum aut illi dolent, huiusmodi hominem in Ecclesia retineri, aut ille sic peccari debere in alios arbitretur, quemadmodum in se agnoscit esse peccatum. Et quamvis de eadem re plenius litterae meae contineant, quas superius memoravi; tamen etiam nunc admonendam duximus fraternitatem tuam, ut si vere constat, aliquos ante damnationem Bonosi ab eodem ordinatos, postea voluisse vel nunc velle reverti, eos recipiendos esse censemus; maxime cum memorati asserant, se in tantum anteriori tempore ordinatos, ut sanctae recordationis virum Cornelium episcopum Sirmiensis urbis, necnon et fratrem nostrum Nicetam, aliosque nonnullos fuisse praesentes, cum honoribus, quos se habere commemorant, augerentur. Unde, frater charissime, si eorum assertio fidem recipit veri, suscipiendos esse ambigere non debes, quos tam diu ecclesias sibi creditas passus es retinere.
(ed. Coustant 1845: 519-521)
Letter 16
Innocent to Marcian, the bishop of Niš.
As you probably remember, some time ago I sent a letter to Your Charity, and to our brothers and fellow bishops Rufus and the others about the clerics from Niš, those who say that they were ordained as presbyters and deacons by Bonosus before his condemnation. I wrote that if they had rejected and condemned his error, and wanted to unite with the Church, they should be freely accepted lest those who may be restored to health die in error. Now, when I am posted in the city of Ravenna, because of numerous needs of the people of Rome, Germanius, who says to be presbyter, and Lupentius, who says to be deacon, sent as if in embassy by many [clerics] similar to them with the requests, expressed their anguish, claiming to possess the churches in the diocese of Your Charity, but not be able to be considered in the communion with you, because a certain Rusticius received the repeated presbyterial ordination. It is also a heavy hindrance that either they are afflicted by such man being permitted in the Church, or he deemed that the others sin  just as he recognizes it to be a sin in himself.
There was more about it in my letter than I presented above. However at this moment we just want to admonish you, our brother, that if it is proven true that some of those who had been ordained by Bonosus before his condemnation wanted later or want now to come back, we judge that they should be received. It is so especially because those mentioned here say that they were ordained such a long time ago that Cornelius, bishop of the city of Sirmium, of blessed memory, our brother Nicetas, and some others were present, when they were exalted to their dignities which they recall to have. Therefore, dearest brother, if their declaration is to be believed, you should not hesitate to accept those, whom you permitted to be held back from the Churches in their charge for such a long time.
(trans. S. Adamiak)


Bonosus was an Illyrian bishop, probably of Serdica, who lived at the end of the 4th century, and followed Helvidius in denying the perpetual virginity of Mary.
The letter presented here is the second of the letters sent to the Illyrian bishops, dealing with the issue of the presbyters and deacons ordained by Bonosus before his condemnation. It was traditionally dated to ca AD 409/410, but Dunn 2013 argues that it must have been composed between AD 412 and 414, when Letter 17 [1650] was written.
This letter was caused by the mission of  Germanius and Lupentius who came to Ravenna to complain to Innocent about the reordination of Rusticius, required by Marcian as the condition to accept other clerics ordained by Bonosus.  "The fact that Innocent involved himself in a matter about presbyters was contrary to, or an expansion of, canon 17 of the Synod of Serdica in 343, that limited the right of appeal of lower clergy against their bishop to neigbouring bishops only" (Dunn 2013: 333).
Rusticius and other clerics in question seem to act as the pastors of some Churches in their own right ("ecclesias sibi creditas").

Place of event:

  • Rome
  • Danubian provinces and Illyricum
  • Rome
  • Niš

About the source:

Author: Innocent I
Title: Letters, Epistulae
Origin: Rome (Rome)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Innocent I was the bishop of Rome from AD 401 to 417. Several of his letters, especially to the bishops of Gaul and Spain, are "decretals": authoritative letters containing papal rulings, usually in response to the questions raised by the bishops.
P. Coustant ed., S. Innocentii Papae Epistolae et Decreta, Patrologia Latina 20, Paris 1845, 463-608.
L. Decousu, La perte de l’Esprit Saint et son recouvrement dans l’Eglise ancienne: la reconciliation des heretiques et des penitents en occident du IIIe siecle jusqu’a Gregoire le Grand, Leiden-Boston 2015.
G.D. Dunn, "The Letter of Innocent I to Marcian of Niš”, [in :] Saint Emperor Constantine and Christianity. International Conference Commemorating the 1700th Anniversary of the Edict of Milan, 31 May - 2 June 2013, ed. D. Bojovič, v. I, Niš 2013, 319–338.
D. Jasper, H. Fuhrmann, Papal Letters in the Early Middle Ages, Washington 2001.


Travel and change of residence
Change of denomination
Functions within the Church - Parish presbyter
Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
Impediments or requisits for the office - Heresy/Schism
Ecclesiastical administration - Ecclesiastical envoy
Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
Relation with - Deacon
Relation with - Heretic/Schismatic
Religious grouping (other than Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian) - Unspecified 'heretic'
Impediments or requisits for the office - Improper ordination
Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER1649,