Christians in possession of libelli or certificates stating that, particularly during the Decian persecution (251–253), they had offered or were willing to offer sacrifice in the prescribed fashion. Copies of the official certificates signed by an imperial commissioner have been discovered in Egypt, though they may have belonged to pagans for whom they posed no moral problem. The term was also applied earlier to requests for pardon (libelli pacis ) given to the lapsi or fallen Christians by incarcerated confessors of the faith demanding that the bishop admit them to reconciliation. Tertullian mentions the practice of the martyrs' granting libelli pacis asking pardon for sinners (Ad mart. 1.6); but he later condemned their misuse (De pud. 22.1–2). The request was based on the notion that the martyrs' sufferings in themselves gave him power to forgive sins, and that the bishop had merely to take note of this fact (cyprian, Epist. 21.3). Cyprian of Carthage strongly opposed this movement (Epist. 27.1–2) while admitting the value of the martyrs' intercessory prayers and sufferings to abbreviate the time of penance for the lapsi, particularly for those seeking reconciliation before death. The practice seems to have been known but early repudiated in Rome; it apparently spread from the Church in North Africa to Egypt and Asia Minor.
Bibliography: h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris 1907–53) 9.1:78–79. a. d'alÈs, l'Édit de Calliste (Paris 1914). b. poschmann, Paenitentia secunda (Bonn 1940). l. faulhaber, Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 43 (Vienna 1919) 439–466, 617–657. e. bourque, Histoire de la pénitence-sacrament (Quebec 1947) 88–92, 98–104. j. r. knipfing, "Libelli of the Decian Persecution," Harvard Theological Review 16 (1923) 345–390.