Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 490
The Liber Pontificalis (written in Rome), AD 530/546, relates the largely imaginary history of the Arian-Catholic conflict at Rome in the middle of the 4th century: the exile of Pope Liberius (352-366), the ordination of the presbyter Felix as bishop (with the participation of the priests), the condemnation of the presbyters Ursacius and Valens by Felix, and the persecution of the Catholic clergy at Rome. The construction of a basilica by Felix, then presbyter, is also mentioned.
37. Liberius: [...] Hic exilio deportatur a Constantio eo quod noluisset heresi arrianae consentire, et fecit in exilio annos III. Et congregans sacerdotes cum consilio eorum Liberius ordinavit in locum eius Felicem presbiterum episcopum, venerabilem virum. Et fecit concilium Felix et invenit duos presbiteros consentientes Constantio Augusto arriano, nomine Ursacium et Valentem, et damnavit eos in concilio XLVIII episcoporum. Post paucos autem dies zelo ducti Ursacius et Valens rogaverunt Constantium Augustum ut revocaret Liberium de exilio, ut unam tantum participatio communionis conveniret cum hereticis, tantum ut non rebaptizarent. Tunc revocaverunt Liberium de exilio. […] Et ingressus Roma, in ipsa hora Constantius Augustus fecit concilium cum hereticis, simul etiam Ursacium et Valentem, et eregit Felicem de episcopatu, qui erat catholicus, et revocavit Liberium. Ab eodem die fuit persecutio in clero ita ut intra ecclesiam presbiteri et clerici necarentur et marytrio coronarentur. [...] et persecutio magna fuit in urbe Roma, ita ut clerus et sacerdotes neque in ecclesia neque in balnea haberent introitum. [...]
38. Felix: [...] Hic fecit basilicam via Aurelia cum presbiterii honore fungeretur et in eadem ecclesia emit agrum circa locum quod obtulit ecclesiae quam fecit.  [...] Qui etiam capite truncatur cum multis clericis et fidelibus occulte iuxta muros Urbis, ad latus forma Traiani, III id. novemb. Et exinde rapuerunt corpus eius christiani cum Damaso presbitero et sepelierunt in basilica supradicta eius, via Aurelia.
(ed. Duchesne 1886: 207-208.211)
37. Liberius: [...] He was cast into exile by Constantius, because he did not want to consent to the Arian heresy, and he spent three years in exile. And Liberius gathered the priests and with their counsel he ordained as bishop in his place the presbyter Felix, a venerable man. Felix made a council and he found two presbyters, named Ursacius and Valens, who agreed with Constantius Augustus, the Arian, and he condemned them in a council of 48 bishops. After not many days, driven by jealousy, Ursacius and Valens asked Constantius Augustus to revoke Liberius’ exile, if he agreed at having only one participation in communion with heretics, if only they do not rebaptize. And so they revoked Liberius’ exile. [...]
When Constantius Augustus entered Rome, he made a council with heretics, together with Ursacius and Valens, and ejected Felix, who was Catholic, from the episcopate. From that day there was a persecution of the clergy, so that presbyters and clerics were killed inside church and crowned with martyrdom. [...] And there was a great persecution in the city of Rome so that the clergy and priests could enter neither churches nor the baths. [...]
38. Felix: [...] While still a presbyter, he made the basilica on Via Aurelia, and in that church he bought the land around it, and gave it to the church that he had constructed. [...] He was beheaded secretly, together with many clerics and the faithful, near the walls of the City, by the aqueduct of Traian, on 11th November. After that Christians, with presbyter Damasus, got hold of his body and buried it the aforementioned basilica on Via Aurelia.
 (trans. S. Adamiak)


The passage has very loose ties to the reality of the Arian controversy in the fourth century. Certainly there was no persecution of the Catholics at the time, and Felix (II) was not killed. Ursacius and Valens indeed played an important role in the controversy, but they were Illyrian bishops, and not Roman presbyters.
The council of "priests" ("sacerdotes") imagined in the passage would have consisted of presbyters rather than bishops.
As far as the Arian persecutions (imagined by the author of the Liber Pontificalis) go, the Felician abbreviation mentions only "the presbyters and clerics being killed", whereas the Cononian one tells about the Catholic clergy impeded from entering churches and baths (Duchesne 1886: 82). The expression "presbiteri et clerici" suggests that the title of "clerici" is reserved here for the lower clergy.

Place of event:

  • Rome
  • Rome

About the source:

Title: Liber Pontificalis, The Book of Pontiffs, Gesta Pontificum Romanorum
Origin: Rome (Rome)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Liber Pontificalis is a major source for the history of the papacy in the first millenium. It is a collection of the lives of popes, starting from St Peter and kept going through to 870. Liber Pontificalis is prefaced by two apocryphical letters of Pope Damasus and Jerome, but it cannot be dated to that period. Although Mommsen tended to put the date of the actual compilation as late as the seventh century, nowadays Duchesne`s view is generally accepted that there were two editions made in the 530s-540s. The first, presumably completed soon after 530, has not survived as such, though we have two epitomes made from it (known as “Felician” and “Cononian” from the names of the popes at which they end). Duchesne tried to reconstruct it in his edition, but we follow the second edition presented by him, which was completed by the siege of Rome in 546. The work was then left aside for some time, and taken up again probably under Honorius (625-638) or shortly afterwards; hence the additions were written shortly after each pontiff`s death.
Liber starts to provide some more reliable information with the times of Pope Leo I (440-461), and becomes very well informed with the end of the fifth century. The lives of earlier popes cannot be considered as a valid source of information about their lifetime. However, those notices are a precious source for the sixth century: we learn what was considered an old tradition at the time, and how the past of the Roman church was being seen and constructed then. It is especially important when we deal with the liturgy.
 L. Duchesne ed., Le `Liber Pontificalis`, vol. 1., Paris 1886.
 T. Mommsen ed., Liber Pontificalis pars prior, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Gesta Pontificum Romanorum 1, Berlin 1898.
 The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis). The ancient biographies of the first ninety Roman bishops to AD 715, revised edition, translated with an introduction by R. Davis, Liverpool 2000.


Religious grouping (other than Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian) - Arian
Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
Described by a title - Sacerdos/ἱερεύς
    Ritual activity - Burying the dead
    Ecclesiastical administration - Construction/Renovation
    Ecclesiastical administration - Participation in councils and ecclesiastical courts
      Economic status and activity - Ownership or possession of land
      Economic status and activity - Indication of wealth
      Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
      Relation with - Heretic/Schismatic
        Food/Clothes/Housing - Health & hygiene
          Conflict - Violence
            Devotion - Donations and offerings
            Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER490,