Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 1810
In a letter to Bishop Rusticus of Narbonne (Gaul), Pope Leo the Great refers to the conflict between Rusticus and two presbyters from Narbonne, Sabinianus and Leo, over the severity of punishment imposed on adulterers. Letter 167 of Pope Leo the Great, written in Rome, AD 458/461.
Letter 167 [inc. "Epistolas fraternitatis tuae"]
Leo episcopus Rustico Narbonensi episcopo.
Epistolas fraternitatis tuae, quas Hermes archidiaconus tuus detulit, libenter accepi, diversarum quidem causarum connexione multiplices, sed non ita patientiae legentis onerosas, ut aliquid earum inter concurrentes undique sollicitudines fuerit praetermissum. Unde totius sermonis tui allegatione concepta, et gestis quae in episcoporum honoratorumque examine confecta sunt, recensitis, Sabiniano et Leoni presbyteris actionis tuae intelleximus fiduciam defuisse, nec eis iustam superesse querimoniam, qui se ab inchoatis disceptationibus sponte subtraxerint. Circa quos quam formam quamve mensuram debeas tenere iustitiae, tuo relinquo moderamini: suadens tamen charitatis hortatu, ut sanandis aegris spiritalem adhibere debeas medicinam; et dicente Scriptura: Noli esse nimium iustus, mitius agas cum eis qui pudicitiae zelo videntur modum excessisse vindictae; ne diabolus, qui decepit adulteros, de adulterii exsultet ultoribus.
Further on, Leo discourages Rusticus from giving up his office in the face of difficulties and offences.
(Patrologia Latina 54, 1199-1200 = Ballerini 1753: 1416-1417)
Letter 167 [inc. "Epistolas fraternitatis tuae"]
Leo, the bishop, to Rusticus, bishop of Narbonne.
Your letter, brother, which Hermes your archdeacon brought, I have gladly received; the number of different matters it contains makes it indeed lengthy, but not so tedious to me on a patient perusal that any point should be passed over, amid the cares that press upon me from all sides. And hence having grasped the gist of your allegation and reviewed what took place at the inquiry of the bishops and noble men (honorati), we gather that Sabinianus and Leo, presbyters, lacked confidence in your action, and that they have no longer any just cause for complaint, seeing that of their own accord they withdrew from the discussion that had been begun.  What form or what measure of justice you ought to mete out to them I leave to your own discretion advising you, however, with the exhortation of love that to the healing of the sick you ought to apply spiritual medicine, and that remembering the Scripture which says "be not over just," [Eccl. 7:17] you should act with mildness towards these who in zeal for chastity seem to have exceeded the limits of vengeance, lest the devil, who deceived the adulterers, should triumph over the avengers of the adultery.
Further on, Leo discourages Rusticus from giving up his office in the face of difficulties and offences.
(trans. Ch. Lett Feltoe 1895: 109)


Leo and Sabinianus, presbyters of Narbonne, took some kind of disciplinary action towards a person (or persons?) accused of adultery (qui pudicitiae zelo videntur modum excessisse vindictae). Bishop Rusticus apparently was displeased with the severity of this punishment and summoned the presbyters to a gathering at which other bishops and laymen of high rank (honorati) were also present. The presbyters, however, refused to come, because they had "lost confidence in the action" (Sabiniano et Leoni presbyteris actionis tuae intelleximus fiduciam defuisse) of Rusticus. Leo the Great agrees with Rusticus that Sabinianus and Leo went too far, but advises Rusticus to discipline them with moderation.

Place of event:

  • Rome
  • Gaul
  • Rome
  • Narbonne

About the source:

Author: Leo the Great
Title: Letters, Epistulae
Origin: Rome (Rome)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Leo the Great was the bishop of Rome from AD 440 to his death in AD 461. We have the collection of 173 letters of Leo.
The present letter is not dated and various possible datings were proposed in the scholarship. The most convincing is a conjecture of Ballerini that the letter was written not before 458:
1) Leo`s letters safely dated to 458 such as Letter 159 to Bishop Nicetas of Aquileia and Letter 166 to Bishop Neo of Ravenna also mention Romans held in captivity by the pagan or heretical barbarians.
2) In Letter 166 to Neo of Ravenna (dated to 23 October 458), Leo refers to a problem of former Roman captives who return home not knowing whether they were baptized or not, as something new and unheard; the same issue is discussed by Leo in the letter of Rusticus which needs to be later than that to Neo.
The letter was written before 461, the year of death of Leo, but also before the episcopal promotion of the Archdeacon Hermes which took place still during the pontificate of Leo (see PCBE, Gaule, v. 1, Hermes).
P. and G. Ballerini eds., Sancti Leoni Magni Romani pontificis opera, vol. 1, Venice 1753
Patrologia Latina, vol. 54


Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
Ritual activity - Reconciliation/Administering penance
Ecclesiastical administration - Participation in councils and ecclesiastical courts
Public law - Ecclesiastical
Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
Relation with - Noble
Administration of justice - Ecclesiastical
Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: M. Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER1810,