Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 484
Pope Silvester (314-335) is said to have established the rules of the advancement through clerical grades. Account of the Liber Pontificalis (written in Rome), AD 530/546.
39. Silvester: [...] Hic constituit ut si quis desideraret in ecclesia militare aut proficere, ut esset lector annos XXX, exorcista dies XXX, acolitus annos V, subdiaconus annos V, custus martyrum annos X, diaconus annos VII, presbiter annos III, probatus ex omni parte, et etiam a foris qui sunt, testimonium habere bonum, unius uxoris virum, uxorem a sacerdote benedictam, et sic ad ordinem episcopatus accedere; nullum maiorem vel prioris locum invadere, nisi ordinem temporum cum pudore congnoscere, omnium clericorum votiva gratia, nullum omnino clericum contradicentem. [...]
(ed. Duchesne 1886: 171-172)
39. Silvester: [...] He established that if someone wanted to serve the Church, he should be a lector for thirty years, an exorcist for thirty days, an acolyte for five years, a subdeacon for five years, a guardian of the martyrs for ten years, a deacon for seven years, a presbyter for three years; he should be proved from every side, even by those who are outside; he should be given a good testimony; he should be a husband of one wife, a wife blessed by a priest, and so proceed to the order of episcopate; he should not take the place of someone senior, if not by knowing the order of time with the sense of modesty, by the votes of all clerics, with no cleric raising any objections. [...]
(trans. S. Adamiak)


The cursus honorum proposed in this passage seems strange for several reasons. The reference to the "guardian of the martyrs", as the special clerical grade established for the cult of the saints is unique. On the other side, the grade of ostiarius is not mentioned here. The lengths of various offices are incomprehensible, in particular the thirty years of being a lector and thirty days - an exorcist. The sum adds to an improbable sixty years of ecclesiastical service before becoming a bishop. We know from the Liber Pontificalis itself, that at least at Rome deacons tended to be elected as bishops much more frequently than presbyters, both in the fourth and the sixth century (when John II was the only presbyter to become a pope).
There are some differences in the first edition, the most important is the addition of the lay faithful as the possible source of opposition to someone's ordination: "nullum omnino clerico vel fidele in contra dicentem" (Duchesne 1886: 76).
See also [467].

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.


Family life - Marriage
    Former ecclesiastical career - Lower clergy
      Former ecclesiastical career - Deacon
        Further ecclesiastical career - Bishop
          Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
            Ritual activity - Blessing marriages
              Impediments or requisits for the office
                Impediments or requisits for the office - Ecclesiastical career
                  Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER484,