Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 135
The Council of Carthage (North Africa, AD 390) forbids presbyters to perform chrismation, reconciliation and the blessing of virgins.
Canon 3
Vt chrisma et benedictio puellarvm et reconciliatio paenitentivm a presbyteris non fiat.
Numidius episcopus maxulitanus dixit: si iubet sanctitas uestra, suggero, nam memini praeteritis conciliis fuisse statutum, ut chrisma uel reconciliato paenitentium, necnon et puellarum consecratio a presbyteris non fiat; si quis autem emerserit hoc facere, quid de eo statuendum sit?
Geneclius episcopus dixit: audiuit dignatio uestra suggestionem fratris et coepiscopi nostri numidii; quid ad haec dicitis?
Ab uniuersis episcopis dictum est: chrismatis confectio et puellarum consecratio a presbyteris non fiat, uel reconciliare quemquam publica missa presbytero non licere, hoc omnibus placet.
(ed. Munier 1974: 13)
Canon 3
Presbyters should not do bless chrism or virgins, or reconcile penitents.
Numidius, bishop Maxulitanus, said: if this pleases your sanctity, since as I remember it has been constituted in previous councils, that chrism and the reconciliation of penitents, and the consecration of virgins, should not be done by presbyters; so if it turns out that someone has been doing it, what should be done about him?
Bishop Geneclius said: your dignities have heard the suggestion of our brother and co-bishop Numidius; what do you say to it?
All the bishops said: the blessing of chrism and the consecration of virgins should not be done by presbyters, and it is illicit for them to reconcile anyone during a public mass. All agree to it.
(trans. S. Adamiak)


The canon shows what liturgical functions were a disputed area between presbyters and bishops. These are: reconciliation, "puellarum consecratio", meaning the consecration of virgins, and "crisma", or more precisely "crismatis confectio", which is probably related not to any primitive form of confirmation, but to the very act of consecrating the oil of chrisma, which was used later, e.g. in baptism. One of the bishops says explicitly that these activities were still performed by presbyters, despite previous prohibitions, and he asks for punishment to be established for such infringements. Other bishops agree with him as to the rule, but they do not reach any decision about possible sanctions.
See, however, the next canon from the same council [158], which allows presbyters to reconcile penitents if the bishop is absent and consents to it.
We do not know where the see of Bishop Numidius was.

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
    Usurping episcopal power
      Ritual activity - Eucharist
        Ritual activity - Anointment with chrism
          Ritual activity - Blessing of oil
            Ritual activity - Reconciliation/Administering penance
              Administration of justice - Administration of justice
                  Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
                    Ritual activity - Blessing virgins/widows
                      Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER135,