Facts of History Which Refute and Contradict
Roman Catholic Claims for the Papacy
One of the major issues in the ongoing debate between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox and Protestant Churches is that of authority. The Roman Catholic Church has long claimed to be the one true Church with an infallible teaching and ruling authority given it by Christ. Inherent in the authority issue is the exclusive right to rule the Church universal, to formulate dogmas and to interpret scripture. The teachings of Vatican I on the papacy can be summed up in the following propositions:
Christ gave Peter the primacy of jurisdiction over the Church universal as well as the entire world.
This right of jurisdiction is passed down to Peter’s successors, the Bishops of Rome, for all time.
The Roman Pontiff has absolute authority in himself, possesses authority over all Councils and his judgment cannot be questioned. He, himself, can be judged by no human tribunal.
These teachings have always been held in the entire Church through all the ages and can be validated by the scriptures, the canons of general Councils and the unanimous consent of the fathers.
It has at all times in the history of the Church been necessary that every Church throughout the world should agree with the Roman Church.
When speaking ex cathedra the pope is endowed with the gift of infallibility.
As a basis for these claims Vatican I references two major areas of proof: scripture and history. Scripturally, it claims that its teachings can be supported by Matthew 16:18, Luke 22:32 and John 21:15-17. Historically, it claims that its teaching, and the scriptural interpretations upon which it is based, can be validated by the universal teaching of the fathers and the practice of the Church of the patristic age. So the foundation of the authority claims of Rome is grounded upon the papal interpretation of the petrine passages (Matthew 16, Luke 22, and John 21). And then Rome claims it rests upon 2 historical pillars that are rooted in that scriptural foundation: the unanimous consent of the fathers which has to do with the historical interpretation of the petrine passages, especially Matthew 16:18; and the second is the historical practice of the early Church. Vatican I then goes on to state in unequivocal terms that it is necessary for salvation that individuals embrace its teachings on the papacy and that they submit themselves to the authority of the Roman Pontiff in all areas of faith, morals and discipline. It states that if anyone disagrees with these teachings and does not submit to them he cannot be saved and is anathematized:
If any one, therefore, shall say that blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of all the Apostles and the visible Head of the whole Church militant; or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema.
If, then, any should deny that it is by institution of Christ the Lord, or by divine right, that blessed Peter should have a perpetual line of successors in the Primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.
If, then, any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fulness of this supreme power; or that power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the churches, and over each and all the pastors and the faithful: let him be anathema.
This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and salvation (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, 1877), Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, Chapters I, II, III).
Therefore faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God our Saviour, the exaltation of the Christian religion, and the salvation of Christian people, the sacred Council approving, we teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church. But if any one—which may God avert—presume to contradict this our definition: let him be anathema (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, 1877), Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, Chp. 4, pp. 266-71).
Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment, or by her ordinary and universal magisterium, proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed. And since, without faith, it is impossible to please God, and to attain to the fellowship of his children, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will any one obtain eternal life unless he shall have persevered in faith unto the end (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, (New York: Harper, 1877), Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, On Faith, Chapters III, Volume 2, pp. 244-245).
A thorough examination of the patristic exegesis of the Matthew 16 passage can be found here. That article examines the interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18 by the fathers of the early Church to see if there is a unanimous consensus of the meaning of this passage as well as John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:32. Is the Vatican I interpretation of these famous passage the same as that of the early Church fathers? The evidence clearly reveals the church fathers did not interpret the rock of Matthew 16 as supportive of the Roman Catholic papacy or that they believed the bishops of Rome to be infallible when teaching in their official capacity ex cathedra. A patristic consensus for the Roman Catholic interpretation of the petrine passages simply does not exist. This completely undermines the theological foundation upon which the edifice of the papacy is erected.
In this article then we want to turn our attention to the historical practice of the early Church. This is the second pillar of the foundation upon which the Roman claims for the papacy rests. Vatican I has stated that its particular teaching on the papacy has been held from the very beginning and throughout the history of the Church. It claims that these assertions can be validated by the universal practice of the Church. In this article we will examine the legitimacy of this teaching by looking at a number of historical situations from the patristic age. We will begin with an examination of the Ecumenical Councils and then of individual Church fathers. The question is this: Do the actions of the Councils and the Church fathers reflect an ecclesiology consistent with the monarchial papal teachings of Vatican I?
The Ecumenical Councils
What was the attitude of the Ecumenical Councils towards the bishops of Rome? If Roman Catholic teaching is correct and has been accepted throughout the history of the Church as orthodox, then the popes should have always exercised supreme authority over the Church and all Church Councils. We should find this historically acknowledged by the Councils both in teaching and proceedings. But the facts reveal quite a different story. The Ecumenical Councils never viewed the position of the bishop of Rome as one of supreme authority over the Church. The Councils, in fact, always operated independently of Rome and with an authority derived, in their view, directly from the Holy Spirit, and not in any sense dependent on Roman approval. Contrary to seeing themselves under the authority of the Roman see, the Councils viewed the popes as subject to the authority of the Council itself, often refusing to submit to him. In the canons passed by these Councils we find that they saw the bishops of Rome as possessing a primacy of honor within the Church but on an equal footing with the other major sees in authority, exercising their authority of jurisdiction within well defined geographical limits. Döllinger makes these points about the relationship of the Councils to the bishops of Rome:
(1) The Popes took no part in convoking Councils. All Great Councils, to which bishops came from different countries were convoked by the Emperors, nor were the Popes ever consulted about it beforehand.
(2) They were not always allowed to preside, personally or by deputy, at the Great Councils, though no one denied them the first rank in the Church. At Nice, at the two Councils of Ephesus in 431 and 449, and at the Fifth Great Council in 553, others presided; only at Chalcedon in 451, and Constantinople in 680, did the Papal legates preside. And it is clear that the Popes did not claim this as their exclusive right.
(3) Neither the dogmatic nor the disciplinary decisions of these Councils required Papal confirmation, for their force and authority depended on the consent of the Church, as expressed in the Synod, and afterwards in the fact of its being generally received. The confirmation of the Nicene Council by Pope Silvester was afterwards invented at Rome, because facts would not square with the newly devised theory (Janus (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870), pp. 63-64).
These Councils were responsible for passing a number of canons which dealt directly with the issue of jurisdiction within the Church and the authority of the Roman See. These would be found in particular in certain canons from Nicaea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451). It is apparent from these Councils that Rome was given a primacy of honor in the Church because it was located in the capital city of the empire and had witnessed the martydom of Peter and Paul. But the canons of Constantinople and the 28th canon of Chalcedon elevate Constantinople, as the new capital of the empire, and give it a place of primacy next to Rome. These canons further specify that the sees of the different patriarchates were to hold equal authority within well defined limits. These canons make it clear that the early Church did not view the bishop of Rome as having a right of rule over the entire Church. These canons have provoked much controversy and discussion. But there is a consensus of scholarly opinion as to their meaning and intent. We will look at each of these canons individually to give some historical context in order to properly understand them.
The Council Of Nicaea
Nicaea was convoked by the emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. Canon 6 of this Council demonstrates that the church of Rome had a very limited jurisdiction which was not universal. The canon states:
The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places, since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome. Similarly in Antioch and the other provinces the prerogatives of the churches are to be preserved. In general the following principle is evident: if anyone is made bishop without the consent of the metropolitan, this great synod determines that such a one shall not be a bishop. If however two or three by reason of personal rivalry dissent from the common vote of all, provided it is reasonable and in accordance with the church’s canon, the vote of the majority shall prevail (Norman Tanner S.J., Ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University, 1990), Volume I, First Council of Nicaea, Canon 6, pp. 8-9).
George Salmon makes the following observations about this canon:
If we want to know the true tradition of the early Church, we have no better evidence than the general councils…(Note) the celebrated Nicene canon: ‘Let the ancient customs prevail; with regard to Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, that the bishop of Alexandria should have authority over all these, since this is also customary to the bishop in Rome; and likewise in Antioch and the other provinces that the prerogatives of the Churches be preserved; so if any be made bishop without consent of the metropolitan, the council adjudges him to be no bishop.’
It is evident that the council regarded the supremacy of Alexandria as then an old thing; and secondly, that the council treats this supremacy as quite parallel to that exercised elsewhere by the bishops of Rome and Antioch. There could not be a stronger implicit denial of the right of Rome to rule the whole Church, or to enjoy any exclusive privilege, than the use of such an argument as, The bishop of Rome has such and such powers in his neighborhood, therefore the bishop of Alexandria ought to have like in his. At the same time the right of Rome is acknowledged to rule the Churches in the immediate neighborhood.
How far did that right extend? Rufinus, who translated these canons towards the end of the fourth century, says, Rome has the care of the suburbicarian Churches. Commentators differ as to what exactly this means. It is clear, however, that Rome had not patriarchal authority as yet over the whole West, as indeed is proved by the case of Apiarius (George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (London: Murray, 1914), p. 420, 421-422).
John Meyendorff gives the following summary:
In the East, the canonical rights of all four patriarchates had been defined with some clarity by the councils. Thus, the highly centralized Alexandrian ‘papacy’ had been condoned, as a local ‘ancient custom’ by canon 6 of Nicaea, whereas the rights of Constantinople were clearly described both geographically and canonically in canon 28 of Chalcedon, as a right to consecrate metropolitans in the imperial dioceses of Thrace, Pontus and Asia. The canons also implied that Antioch and Jerusalem enjoyed similar rights within defined areas. In the case of Rome, there was only custom and a certain moral prestige, but no conciliar definitions on rights, territory, or jurisdiction. Rome itself never either exercised or claimed to exercise ‘patriarchal’ rights over the entire West. Such ‘patriarchal’ jurisdiction of Rome existed de facto over the so-called suburbicarian dioceses, which covered a relatively large territory—ten provinces—which were within the civil jurisdiction of the prefect of Rome. The power of the pope upon this territory was, in every way, comparable to the jurisdiction of Eastern patriarchs (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 328).
James McCue states:
Nicaea I, which took place during Sylvester’s episcopate, is of interest…because of canon 6. It invoked ancient customs in assigning Egypt, Libya, and the Pentapolis to the bishop of Alexandria, affirming the customary jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, and asserting the traditional authority of the bishop of Antioch and of the provincial metropolitans. The canon does not fix the boundaries of Roman regional power. But the expansion of the canon in Rufinus (345?–410) seems to limit Rome’s authority to the suburbicarian sees. This may reflect the actual jurisdictional situation at the end of the fourth century…Nicaea presupposes a regional leadership of Rome, but indicates nothing more. Thus one concludes that down through the Council of Nicaea, a Roman universal primacy of jurisdiction exists neither as a theoretical construction nor as de facto practice awaiting theoretical interpretation (Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Papal Primacy and the Universal Church (Augsburg: Minneapolis, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 72, 77).
Peter L’Huillier, Adjunct Professor of Canon Law at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, likewise confirms these judgments in these words:
The object of canon 6 is the official recognition by the council of the rights of the bishop of Alexandria over several civil provinces…To justify respecting the ancient customs giving the bishop of Alexandria jurisdiction over several provinces, the fathers of Nicea based themselves first and foremost on the example of Rome. Now we know with sufficient certitude that at that time the bishop of the capital exercised the authority of a metropolitan over all the civil territories dependent on the vicarius urbis, that is, over central and southern Italy as well as over Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. Several ancient Latin translations in paraphrase of this canon highlight quite accurately that we are not dealing with a wider zone over which the see of Rome extended its influence and which later would correspond to the patriarchate of the West. In these translations, it is a matter of loca suburbica, of the vicinae provinciae, and of the suburbicariae ecclesiae (Peter, L’Huillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1996), p. 46, 47).
As the consensus of the above historians confirms, according to canon 6 of Nicaea, Rome had a limited jurisdiction in the Church. Some Roman apologists state that the original Roman version of canon 6 contained the words: ‘Rome has always had the primacy.’ This is used as supposed historical evidence for belief in and acceptance of papal primacy in the early Church. However, such an argument completely lacks historical validity. Canon 6 of Nicaea as quoted above is from the official Roman Catholic translation of the canons. This statement—Rome has always held the primacy—is nowhere mentioned. This is because it was never part of the original Nicene canons. At Chalcedon, the papal legates claimed this statement as part of canon 6 of Nicaea but they were repudiated by the Eastern bishops because the statement was not found in the original transcripts of the Council. As Robert Eno states:
There was also circulating an interpolated western version of the sixth canon of Nicaea which stated flatly that the Roman church had always had the primacy. This had been presented at Chalcedon by the Roman representatives but had been rejected as inauthentic (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), p. 123).
Karl Morrison also confirms this in his comments on the proceedings of the Council of Chalcedon:
Every point of Leo’s instructions was discarded. Contrary to his express demands, Dioscorus was admitted to the first session of the Council, the faith was discussed, and the order of primatial sees was changed to include Constantinople in the second place, after Rome. The Roman text of the Nicene Canon which, Leo argued, forbade this last measure, began, ‘The Roman church has always had the primacy.’ When Leo’s legates read it, the imperial commissioners could not find that reading among the transcripts of Nicaea and barred it as inauthentic, recalling at the same time the pronouncement of the ‘oecumenical’ council of 381 in favor of Constantinople (Karl Morrison, Tradition and Authority in the Western Church (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), p. 67).
The Arabic Canons
Another issue raised from time to time that relates to the Nicene canons is that of the so–called Arabic Canons. These are purported to be an Arabic collection of the canons of Nicaea but they do not correspond to the Latin and Greek versions. The Latin and Greek list twenty canons while the Arabic gives eighty. In addition, there are statements in the Arabic version which are very supportive of a papal primacy. Some Roman apologists have suggested that this discrepancy proves that the Latin and Greek canons are incomplete and that the Arabic canons are more reflective of the true extent of the canons as well as the overall ecclesiological mindset of the Eastern church of that day. However such reasoning is fallacious for these canons have proven to be spurious. They are the product of a later age. The New Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this when it says, ‘Nicaea promulgated 20 disciplinary decrees…In later times certain Syriac and Arabic canons (pseudonicaeni) were falsely attributed to the Council (The New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), Volume X, Nicaea I, Council Of, p. 433).
The true number of Nicene canons is that of the Greek and Latin Church, as listed in the official Roman Catholic translation, The Ecumenical Councils. Philip Schaff gives the following historical evidence supporting the number of Nicene canons as twenty in number, thereby repudiating the notion that the Arabic Canons are a legitimate reflection of Nicaea:
Let us see first what is the testimony of those Greek and Latin authors who lived about the time of the Council, concerning the number.
A. The first to be consulted among the Greek authors is the learned Theodoret, who lived about a century after the Council of Nicaea. He says in his History of the Church: ‘After the condemnation of the Arians, the bishops assembled once more, and decreed twenty canons on ecclesiastical discipline.’
B. Twenty years later, Gelasius, Bishop of Cyzicus, after much research into the most ancient documents, wrote a history of the Nicene Council. Gelasius also says expressly that the Council decreed twenty canons; and, what is more important, he gives the original text of these canons exactly in the same order, and according to the tenor which we find elsewhere.
C. Rufinus is more ancient than these two historians. He was born near the period when the Council of Nicaea was held, and about a century after he wrote his celebrated history of the Church, in which he inserted a Latin translation of the Nicene canons. Rufinus also knew only these twenty canons; but as he has divided the sixth and the eighth into two parts, he has given twenty–two canons, which are exactly the same as the twenty furnished by the other historians.
D. The famous discussion between the African bishops and the Bishop of Rome, on the subject of appeals to Rome, give us a very important testimony on the true number of the Nicene canons. The presbyter Apiarius of Sicca in Africa, having been deposed for many crimes, appealed to Rome. Pope Zosimus (417–418) took the appeal into consideration, sent legates to Africa; and to prove that he had the right to act thus, he quoted a canon of the council of Nicaea, containing these words: ‘When a bishop thinks he has been unjustly deposed by his colleagues he may appeal to Rome, and the Roman bishop shall have the business decided by the judices in partibus.’ The canon quoted by the Pope does not belong to the Council of Nicaea, as he affirmed; it was the fifth canon of the Council of Sardica…What explains the error of Zosimus is that in the ancient copies of the canons of Nicaea and Sardica are written consecutively, with the same figures, and under the common title of the canons of the Council Nicaea; and Zosimus might optima fide fall into an error—which he shared with Greek authors, his contemporaries, who also mixed the canons of Nicaea with those of Sardica. The African bishops, not finding the canon quoted by the Pope either in their Greek or in their Latin copies, in vain consulted also the copy which Bishop Cecilian, who had himself been present at the Council of Nicaea, had brought to Carthage. The legates of the Pope then declared that they did not rely upon these copies, and they agreed to send to Alexandria and to Constantinople to ask the patriarchs of these two cities for authentic copies of the canons of the Council of Nicaea. The African bishops desired in their turn that Pope Boniface should take the same step (Pope Zosimus had died meanwhile in 418)—that he should ask for copies from the Archbishops of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. Cyril of Alexandria and Atticus of Constantinople, indeed, sent exact and faithful copies of the Creed and canons of Nicaea; and two learned men of Constantinople, Theilo and Thearistus, even translated these canons into Latin. Their translation has been preserved to us in the acts of the sixth Council of Carthage, and it contains only the twenty ordinary canons.
E. All the ancient collections of canons, either in the Latin or Greek, composed in the fourth, or quite certainly at least in the fifth century, agree in giving only these twenty canons to Nicaea. The most ancient of these collections were made in the Greek Church, and in the course of time a very great number of copies of them were written. Many of these copies have descended to us; many libraries possess copies…The Latin collections of the canons of the Councils also give the same result.
F. Among the later Eastern witnesses we may further mention Photius, Zonaras and Balsamon. Photius, in his Collection of the Canons, and in his Namocanon, as well as the two other writers in their commentaries upon the canons of the ancient Councils, quote only and know only twenty canons of Nicaea, and always those we possess.
G. The Latin canonists of the Middle Ages also acknowledge only these twenty canons of Nicaea. We have proof of this in the celebrated Spanish collection, which is generally but erroneously attributed to St. Isidore…and in that of Adrian (so called because it was offered to Charles the Great by Pope Adrian I). The celebrated Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, the first canonist of the ninth century, in his turn attributes only twenty canons of Nicaea, and even the pseudo–Isidore assigns it no more (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Series II, Volume VII, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, pp. 43-45).
The Council of 1 Constantinople
In 381 A.D. at Constantinople the emperors Gratian and Theodosius I convoked what has become known historically as the Council of I Constantinople or the Second Ecumenical Council. In canons 2 and 3 this Council dealt with the issue of authoritative jurisdiction within the Church and elevated the see of Constantinople to a position of primacy second only to Rome. These canons read as follows:
Diocesan bishops are not to intrude in churches beyond their own boundaries, nor are they to confuse the churches: but in accordance with the canons, the bishop of Alexandria is to administer affairs in Egypt only; the bishops of the East are to manage the East alone (whilst safeguarding the privileges granted to the church of the Antiochenes in the Nicene canons); and the bishops of the Asian diocese are to manage only Asian affairs; and those in Pontus only the affairs of Pontus; and those in Thrace only Thracian affairs. Unless invited bishops are not to go outside their diocese to perform an ordination or any other ecclesiastical business. If the letter of the canon about dioceses is kept, it is clear that the provincial synod will manage affairs in each province, as was decreed at Nicaea. But the churches of God among barbarian peoples must be administered in accordance with the custom in force at the time of the fathers.
Because it is new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome (Norman Tanner S.J., Ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University, 1990), Volume I, First Council of Constantinople, Canons 2 and 3, pp. 31-32)….
The Bishop of Constantinople shall hold the first rank after the Bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1895), Volume II, I Constantinople, Canon 3, p. 357).
W.H.C. Frend explains the significance of this canon:
Between 378 and 398 one senses a major change in the manner in which papal authority was asserted. The pope now spoke as the mouthpiece of the apostle Peter, as the Apostolic See, superior to all others and even to church councils. The churches in Gaul and Spain, but not North Africa, were prepared to accept the situation. But as these claims were being made, and perhaps even provoking them, the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 had conferred on Constantinople equal status to Rome ‘save in honour,’ ‘because Constantinople is New Rome.’…Determined that the see of Constantinople should not become the object of outside interference, particularly from Egypt, canon 2 forbade ‘bishops outside a diocese to enter on churches beyond their borders,’…Then, almost as an afterthought, in an appendix to canon 2 it was asserted, ‘However the Bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honour after the Bishop of Rome, for Constantinople is New Rome’ (canon 3). For the government at Constantinople the reasoning was impeccable, Rome was one, whether on the Tiber or the Bosporous, and its bishops were therefore coequal, but Rome as the older city could claim precedence (W.H.C. Frend, Reprinted from The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), pp. 629, 639. Used by permission of Augsburg Fortress).
Francis Dvornik, the Roman Catholic historian, gives these insightful comments on the historical background of canon 3:
In the West there was only one see—Rome—that could claim apostolic foundation…The see of Rome was left as the only city of the West that could boast apostolic origin: it had been founded by the first of the Apostles, Peter. But the question of the apostolic character of a see was viewed in quite different fashion in the East. There had been many important sees in the East which had been founded by an Apostle: this was the case for Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Ephesus. Apart from these great sees, there was a large number of less important ones in Asia Minor and in Greece which, according to both authentic and apocryphal writings, had at least been visited by an Apostle. For this reason the principle of apostolic origin never took very deep root in the ecclesiastical organization of the East and the principle of accomodation to the political divisions of the Empire remained always preponderant. It is in this light that we must examine Canon III of the Council of Constantinople, in 381, which gave the Bishop of Constantinople the second rank in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. For the Orientals this promotion was altogether natural granted the change that had taken place in the political organization of the Empire. The new capital of the Empire, the residence of the Emperor, could not remain subordinate to the metropolitan of the diocese of Thrace, Heracleia. When Constantinople became the New Rome, it acquired the right of occupying a place immediately after Rome, the ancient capital of the Empire (Francis Dvornik, Byzantium and the Roman Primacy (New York: Fordham University, 1966), pp. 43-44).
George Salmon states:
One of the Constantinopolitan canons forbids the bishops at the head of the great ecclesiastical divisions to meddle out of their own provinces, or to throw the Churches into confusion; but that according to the canons the bishop of Alexandria should alone administer the affairs of Egypt, the bishops of the East those of the East, and so on…What the council would be willing to grant to the bishop of Rome appears from what they granted to the bishop of Constantinople. They did not give him any right to meddle out of his own province, but they said that he should have precedency of honour…next after the bishop of Rome, ‘because this city was new Rome (George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (London: Murray, 1914), p. 420, 421-422).
In the first years of his reign, emperor Theodosius I (379–395) presided over the liquidation of Arianism at the general council of the East—eventually to be recognized as the ‘second ecumenical’ council—in Constantinople (381). Canon 3 of that council gave the bishop of Constantinople ‘an honorary seniority…after the bishop of Rome, because that city is the New Rome.’ The text could easily be interpreted as implying that the primacy of ‘old’ Rome had become obsolete after the transfer of the imperial capital to Constantinople…The ancient tradition…recognized the bishop of Rome as the ‘first bishop,’ or ‘primate’ of the universal episcopate. However, the council of Constantinople, by attributing the second rank to the bishop of the new imperial capital could also be understood as implying that the pope had been honored for no other reason than the political position of ‘older’ Rome. This interpretation of canon 3 will be formally endorsed in 451 by the council of Chalcedon (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), pp. 61-62).
An additional significant fact about I Constantinople is that Meletius presided over the council while he was out of communion with Rome. This proves that communion with Rome was not a necessary prerequisite for being part of the communion of the Church as a whole. As Arthur Piepkorn affirms:
The Meletian schism from 362 to 391 is a special and complex case…There is at least no explicit evidence that Meletius (died 381) was reconciled to the Roman see before his death. But Meletius presided over the Council of Constantinople in 381. Although it was convoked as an all–Eastern regional assembly without any Western bishops present, the bishops of Rome from the sixth century on recognized it as ecumenical. In the view of some, however, the primacy of the bishop of Rome is called into question if it is possible to preside over a Council like Constantinople I and not be in fellowship with the Roman see. It cannot be shown that this situation meant then what it would mean to Roman Catholics today (Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Papal Primacy and the Universal Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), pp. 82-83).
The Council of Chalcedon
It is clear from I Constantinople that the early councils granted primacy to certain cities due to their political importance within the empire. This is what Dvornik has called the principle of accomodation. This becomes even more evident from the 28th canon of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. This canon reads as follows:
Following in every way the decrees of the holy fathers and recognising the canon which has recently been read out—the canon of the 150 most devout bishops who assembled in the time of the great Theodosius of pious memory, then emperor, in imperial Constantinople, new Rome—we issue the same decree and resolution concerning the prerogatives of the most holy church of the same Constantinople, new Rome. The fathers rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of older Rome, since that is an imperial city; and moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honoured by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equalling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her (Norman Tanner S.J., Ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University, 1990), Volume I, Council of Chalcedon, Canon 28, pp. 99-100).
This canon states that the see of Rome had been granted a certain primacy in the Church because it was located in the capital of the empire. Therefore, based upon this principle, the fathers at Chalcedon, in passing canon 28, reaffirmed canon 3 of 1 Constantinople granting Constantinople the second place of primacy next to Rome because Constantinople was new Rome. This reveals that the fathers of the early Church viewed the Roman primacy as primarily political in nature, not based on a Petrine succession. The following historians give the background and importance of Chalcedon and the significance of its 28th canon:
John Meyendorff says:
The text makes two major points. First—reflecting the desire of the government of emperor Marcian and his wife Pulcheria to associate Rome and Constantinople, as the two ‘imperial’ centers of the Church against the pretensions of Alexandria—the text confirms the decision of 381 to give ecclesiastical ‘New Rome’ the second place of honor after the ‘Old Rome.’ It then goes further than the council of 381, by explicitly interpreting the primacy of both Romes in purely empirical or political terms, as determined by ‘the presence of the emperor and the Senate.’ The second point consists in formally establishing a ‘patriarchate’ of Constantinople (whose position, so far, had been purely honorary), and giving its bishop the right to consecrate the metropolitans in three imperial dioceses: Thrace, Pontus and Asia. The second point was of a purely practical and administrative nature, but the first consisted in a formal denial of the very basis of Leo’s ecclesiology: the primacy of Rome was of a political nature, established ‘by the Fathers,’ and not a divine institution, or ‘chair of Peter.’…The canon endorsed the principle of a purely political rationale for the existence of primacies: the older Rome itself, it proclaimed, was granted privileges ‘by the fathers’ because it was the imperial capital, not because it was founded by St. Peter. Logically, therefore, the new capital, although it had no ‘apostolic’ foundation, was entitled to the same status (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), pp. 175, 183).
W.H.C. Frend states:
One hundred eighty–three of these assembled bishops signed the canon, but the Roman legates left in indignation. It was not, however, an unreasonable decision. The de facto seniority of Constantinople among the Eastern bishoprics had long been acknowledged…Moreover, in less than guarded moments the papal delegation had acknowledged Constantinople’s precedence over the other Eastern patriarchs. The council also had settled other issues of ecclesiastical order. The boundaries of Antioch and Jerusalem had been established. Why, therefore, should not the vastly more important issue of authority of the see of Constantinople be decided? Henceforth, Christendom was to be divided into five patriarchates, whose bishops were supreme within the boundaries of their jurisdiction, and on whose harmony the peace of the church would rest. Rome’s opposition to granting Constantinople the status agreed to at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 served notice that harmony would be difficult to achieve (W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), pp. 772-773).
Karl Morrison emphasizes the following points regarding the validity of the council of Chalcedon and Leo’s rejection of its 28th canon:
The opposition to a canon of the very Council which he set on a level with Nicaea indicates the crux of Leo’s thought on tradition, the dimensions of his conservatism and his revisionism. The decree to which he objected conformed entirely with his views on appropriate change in the administrative order of the Church. Since it was framed by an oecumenical council that had been summoned by imperial edict and papal assent, it expressed the consensus of the Fathers, the ratification of the universal Church, as much as did the approval of Leo’s Tome. The criteria of episcopal agreement, conciliar approval, and universality urged its legitimacy. Against it, Leo advanced only the sixth canon of Nicaea in a sense which the East had steadfastly repudiated for at least a century, and the warning that nothing could be firm apart from the rock of St. Peter (Karl Morrison, Tradition and Authority in the Western Church (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), p. 95).
As Dvornik pointed out in the comments above on canon 3 of I Constantinople, the Petrine claims set forth by the bishops of Rome were of little significance to the East for, in their thinking, this was not the exclusive possession of the bishops of Rome. The East was home to numerous sees that could claim apostolic foundations of a Petrine character more ancient than Rome, most notably Antioch and Jerusalem. These facts are further confirmed by John Meyendorff:
Three Churches are mentioned in Canon 6 (Nicaea) as enjoying presbeia: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch…Through what particular merit did these three cities acquire the authority which was now confirmed? Was it because of their apostolicity? This did not seem to be the case, at least as far as Alexandria was concerned. The tradition according to which the Church was established there by St. Mark would have been, by itself, insufficient for the Church of Alexandria to claim privileges similar to those of Rome: a very large number of Eastern Churches could claim a much more impressive apostolic foundation accredited by New Testament writings. In particular, this was the case for Antioch which was content with third place, after Rome and Alexandria. Moreover—and this has been pointed out several times by historians—a Church’s apostolic origin was a far too common factor in the East to have had the importance it acquired in the West where the Roman See was the only apostolic see and the main center from which evangelization spread (John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1966), pp. 55-56).
When the Council of Nicaea, in its famous Canon 6, vaguely mentioned the ‘ancient customs’ which recognized an exceptional prestige to the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome, the selection of these particular churches was determined not by their apostolic foundation, but by the fact that they were located in the most important cities of the empire. For if apostolicity were the criterion, as later Western interpretations insist, the position of Alexandria, purported to have been founded by a minor apostolic figure, Mark, could not be greater than Antioch’s, where Peter’s presence is attested by the New Testament (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University, 1974), pp. 99-100).
The papal legates strenuously objected to the passage of canon 28 and Leo, the bishop of Rome, refused to accept it. However, the Council refused to acquiesce to papal demands and received the canon as valid, overriding the papal objections. As Meyendorff states:
The commissioners bluntly declared the issue closed—‘All was confirmed by the council,’ they said—explicitly denying any papal right of veto (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 183).
W.H.C. Frend comments:
By Canon 28 not only were the decisions in favor of Constantinople as New Rome ratified, but its patriarchal jurisdiction extended into Thrace on the one hand, and Asia and Pontus in Asia Minor on the other. The legates were not deceived by the primacy of honor accorded to Rome. They protested loud and long. The Council, however, had decided, and the decision of the Council was superior to the wishes even of the Bishop of Rome (W.H.C. Frend, The Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965), p. 232).
Even though Leo rejected this canon—and the Eastern bishops eagerly sought his approval— his nonacceptance did not affect the validity of the canon. As Robert Eno observes:
The easterners seemed to attach a great deal of importance to obtaining Leo’s approval of the canon, given the flattering terms in which they sought it. Even though they failed to obtain it, they regarded it as valid and canonical anyway (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), p. 117.
From a jurisdictional standpoint it is clear that Nicaea, I Constantinople and Chalcedon do not support the teaching of Vatican I on papal primacy. After pointing out that Chalcedon refused to submit to the demands of the Bishop of Rome, Frend sums up the historical reality of the ecclesiology of the patristic age with these observations:
So ended Chalcedon. The Church was still the Church of the great patriarchates, maintaining an equilibrium in respect of each other, whose differences could be solved, not by the edict of one against the other but by a council inspired and directed if no longer presided over by the Emperor. It was a system of Church government opposed to that of the papacy, but one which like its rival has stood the test of time (W.H.C. Frend, The Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965), p. 232).
The fact that the Council fathers at Chalcedon received canon 28 as valid in direct opposition to papal demands demonstrates conclusively that papal primacy was not an historical reality at that time. Some have asserted, however, that because the Eastern bishops sought Leo’s confirmation of the canon, this proves that they implicitly acknowledged the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Herbert Scott, for example, states:
Impartial examination of this celebrated XXVIIIth Canon of Chalcedon and its circumstances…shows that instead of depreciating papal claims it supports them…The Headship of Rome is shown and confessed in the very act of the bishops of this fragment of a council trying to obtain Leo’s confirmation of their canon (S. Herbert Scott, The Eastern Churches and the Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 199).
While it is true that the Eastern bishops sought Leo’s confirmation of canon 28, it is not true to assume their belief in papal primacy. This is demonstrated from a very simple historical reality: The bishops did not submit to papal demands. They sought Leo’s confirmation, even using strongly primatial language in their appeals to him, but in the end they received the canon as valid despite his continuing opposition. The early Church greatly valued unity and sought it whenever possible. This was the desire of the bishops of Chalcedon in trying to obtain a unanimous decision regarding canon 28. However, the lack of confirmation by the Bishop of Rome did not prevent this canon from becoming ratified and received into the canon law of the Eastern Church and eventually that of the West as well. From a jurisdictional standpoint, therefore, it is clear that neither Nicaea, I Constantinople nor Chalcedon support the teaching of Vatican I on papal primacy.
It is sometimes claimed that Leo’s role as theologian in the Christological controversy dealt with at Chalcedon proves that the Roman bishops were the ultimate standard of orthodoxy in the early Church and had the final say in theological disputes. However facts do not support this contention. Historically the popes, with the exception of Leo, were relatively uninvolved in the theological controversies of the early Church. Most of the theological controversies were settled by Eastern bishops. However, with Leo we find an exception. Leo wrote his Tome, his theological defense of the Trinity and the nature of Christ, which he presented to the Council of Chalcedon. In his mind it was a final and sufficient standard of orthodoxy to settle the issue before the council. He requested that it be received without debate. The Eastern bishops gave great praise to Leo’s Tome, but they did not receive it uncritically. They were only willing to receive it when they were convinced that Leo’s views were consistent with those of Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria. Leo’s teaching was subjected to the standard of this Eastern bishop and theologian. Robert Eno makes the following observation:
In the christological controversies of the fifth century…most of the theological discussion was carried on in the East, but in later stages Roman intervention was significant….The Roman outlook of Celestine and Leo implied very strongly that as far as they were concerned their decisions were the significant ones. The councils agreed with Rome. The Eastern view seemed to be rather that the conciliar decisions were the significant ones, and the Eastern bishops were pleased that the popes agreed with the councils. In general the Roman contribution to the theological elaboration of these doctrines was meager. Even the Tome of Leo was a summation of the relatively unsophisticated Western christological development rather than a ‘doctrinal definition.’ Looked at from the level of the universal church, it would be difficult to maintain that a Roman decision was the sole decisive factor in any theological dispute of the patristic age (Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Teaching Authority & Infallibility in the Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978). Robert Eno, Some Elements in the Pre-History of Papal Infallibility, p. 249).
Meyendorff amplifies these thoughts with these observations:
Leo did not participate personally in the council, but his legates at Chalcedon carried with them another remarkable letter addressed to the assembled fathers and expressing the pope’s wish that ‘the rights and honor of the most blessed apostle Peter be preserved’; that, not being able to come himself, the pope be allowed ‘to preside’…at the council in the persons of his legates; and that no debate about the faith be actually held, since ‘the orthodox and pure confession on the mystery of the Incarnation has been already manifested, in the fullest and clearest way, in his letter to bishop Flavian of blessed memory.’ No wonder that his legates were not allowed to read this unrealistic and embarrassing letter before the end of the sixteenth session, at a time when acrimonious debates on the issue had already taken place! Obviously, no one in the East considered that a papal fiat was sufficient to have an issue closed. Furthermore, the debate showed clearly that the Tome of Leo to Flavian was accepted on merits, and not because it was issued by the pope. Upon the presentation of the text, in Greek translation, during the second session, part of the assembly greeted the reading with approval (‘Peter has spoken through Leo!’ they shouted), but the bishops from the Illyricum and Palestine fiercely objected against passages which they considered as incompatible with the teachings of St Cyril of Alexandria. It took several days of commission work, under the presidence of Anatolius of Constantinople, to convince them that Leo was not opposing Cyril. The episode clearly shows that it was Cyril, not Leo, who was considered at Chalcedon as the ultimate criterion of christological orthodoxy. Leo’s views were under suspicion of Nestorianism as late as the fifth session, when the same Illyrians, still rejecting those who departed from Cyrillian terminology, shouted: ‘The opponents are Nestorians, let them go to Rome!’ The final formula approved by the council was anything but a simple acceptance of Leo’s text. It was a compromise, which could be imposed on the Fathers when they were convinced that Leo and Cyril expressed the same truth, only using different expressions (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 155-156).
Georg Kretschmar states it succinctly: ‘The kind of questions that were asked in the trinitarian and christological controversies were determined wholly by Greek theology, and even the Latin formulas that were accepted at Nicaea and Chalcedon had first to undergo interpretation by Greek theologians’ ((The Councils of the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), The Councils of the Ancient Church, p. 78).
W.J. Sparrow–Simpson likewise affirms the fact that the history of Chalcedon proves that the early Church held to a view of Church government which was antithetical to that formulated by the Roman Bishops and Vatican I:
What was the true relation of the Pope and the Council to each other? How was it understood in primitive times? Did the Collective Episcopate regard itself as subordinated, with no independent judgment of its own, to decisions of the Roman authority? Or was the Council conscious of possessing power to accept or refuse the papal utterances brought before it? Bossuet maintained that the treatment of Papal Letters by the early General Councils afforded convincing proof against their belief in any theory of papal in errancy. The famous letter of Leo to Flavia was laid before the Council of Chalcedon in the following terms: ‘Let the Bishops say whether the teaching of the 318 Fathers (the Council of Nice) or that of the 150 (Constantinople) agrees with the letter of Leo.’ Nor was Leo’s letter accepted until its agreement with the standards of the former Ecumenical Councils had been ascertained. The very signatures of the subscribing Bishops bears this out—‘The letter of Leo agrees,’ says one, ‘with the Creed of the 318 Fathers and of the 150 Fathers, and with the decisions at Ephesus under St Cyril. Wherefore I assent and willingly subscribe.’ Thus the act of the Episcopate at Chalcedon was one of critical investigation and authoritative judgment, not of blind submission to an infallible voice (W.J. Sparrow Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London: John Murray, 1909), p. 28).
II Constantinople (The Fifth Ecumenical Council)
In 553 A.D. the emperor Justinian convened the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople without the assent of the pope. One of the chief objectives of the Council was to examine the orthodoxy of what has become known as the ‘Three Chapters.’ This refers to certain writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ibas of Edessa. Previous to the general Council Pope Vigilius had issued an official papal decree, known as the Judicatum, in which he opposed and anathematized these men and their writings. But the history of his involvement in the controversy, as well as the final outcome of the judgment of the Council reveal once again that history proves fatal to the dogma of papal primacy and infallibility. While the Council was in session, Vigilius reversed his first decree, and issued another entitled the Constitutum, in which he refused to condemn the authors of the Three Chapters, as he had previously done, stating that the letter of Ibas contained nothing worthy of condemnation. He then stated that the men themselves should not be condemned but left to the judgment of God since they were already dead and he decreed that the Council should drop the whole question of the Three Chapters. Hefele records the actual decrees of Vigilius:
The Constitutum finally closes with the words: ‘We ordain and decree that it be permitted to no one who stands in ecclesiastical order or office, to write or bring forward, or undertake, or teach anything contradictory to the contents of this Constitutum in regard to the three chapters, or, after this declaration, begin a new controversy about them. And if anything has already been done or spoken in regard of the three chapters in contradiction to this our ordinance, by any one whomsoever, this we declare void by the authority of the apostolic see’ (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1895), Volume IV, pp. 322-23).
The Council, however, far from acknowledging the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome, refused to submit to his decrees and ‘infallible’ judgment and condemned the Three Chapters. It anathematized the authors and any who refused to condemn them or who defended the writings of Ibas—which is a direct reference to Vigilius, though it does not mention him by name. This is precisely what he had done in his Constitutum, and so the Council is, in effect, anathematizing Vigilius and his papal decrees and theological judgments.
This is an amazing course of events given the persistent claims of Rome that the Church as a whole has always recognized papal infallibility and authority over Councils. The pope is not recognized here as infallible by the Council. It anathematized him. The Council did not submit to the papal decrees but on its own authority condemned what the pope had specifically sanctioned on issues directly related to doctrine. Since both the Ecumenical Councils and the pope are considered infallible in Roman Catholic theology there is a very real problem here. It becomes even bigger when, after the judgment of the ecumenical Council, Vigilius completely reversed himself again by submitting to the decrees of the Council, thereby repudiating his former declarations in his Constitutum, which itself had been a reversal of his decrees in his Judicatum. Here is irrefutable historical evidence of a pope officially contradicting himself on matters directly related to issues of doctrine. This new edict was issued in 554 A.D. and is known as the second Constitutum. Hefele gives the following description of Vigilius’ actions after the Council had condemned the Three Chapters:
That Pope Vigilius had given his assent to the fifth Synod sometime after its close, has long been known from Evagrius and Photius, and from the Acts of the sixth Ecumenical Synod, eighteenth session…More than seven months had passed since the end of the Synod when Vigilius arrived at his new resolve. Here he says: ‘The enemy of the human race, who sows discord everywhere, had separated him from his colleagues, the bishops assembled in Constantinople. But Christ had removed the darkness again from his spirit, and had again united the Church of the whole world…There was no shame in confessing and recalling a previous error; this had been done by Augustine in his Retractations. He, too, following this and other examples, had never ceased to institute further inquiries on the matter of the three chapters in the writings of the Fathers. Thus he had found that Theodore of Mopsuestia had taught error, and therefore had been opposed in the writings of the Fathers…The whole Church must now know that he rightly ordained the following: We condemn and anathematise…Theodore, formerly bishop of Mopsuestia, and his impious writings; also that which Theodoret impiously wrote against the right faith.
Finally, we subject to the same anathema all who believe that the Three Chapters referred to could at any time be approved or defended, or who venture to oppose the present anathema…Whatever we ourselves or others have done in defence of the Three Chapters we declare invalid’ (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1895), Volume IV, pp. 347-48).
Thus, Pope Vigilius twice revokes his previous ‘infallible’ decrees and ultimately fully submits himself to the authority and judgment of the Council which had opposed him. The fact that he appealed to Augustine’s Retractations is interesting. It seems to lend the weight of the authority of this eminent Church Father to his position. But it is one thing for Augustine, who was not infallible to write retractions, and quite another for a supposedly ‘infallible’ pope to do so. It would appear that though later Roman Catholic theology would promote the dogma of infallibility, it was not even believed by the popes of themselves, at least not by Vigilius, and obviously not by the Councils.
III Constantinople (The Sixth Ecumenical Council)
Pope Honorius reigned as bishop of Rome from 625 to 638 A.D. In a number of letters written to Sergius I, patriarch of Constantinople, and several other individuals, Honorius officially embraced the heresy of montheletism, which teaches that Christ had only one will, the divine. The orthodox position is that Christ, though one person, possesses two wills because he is divine and human. There is absolutely no doubt that he held to the teaching of one will in Christ. Jaroslav Pelikan makes these comments:
In the controversy between East and West…the case of Honorius served as proof to Photius that the popes not only lacked authority over church councils, but were fallible in matters of dogma; for Honorius had embraced the heresy of the Monotheletes. The proponents of that heresy likewise cited the case of Honorius, not in opposition to the authority of the pope but in support of their own doctrine, urging that all teachers of the true faith had confessed it, including Sergius, the bishop of New Rome, and Honorius, the bishop of Old Rome (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1974), Volume Two, pp. 150-151).
There are many past and present Roman apologists who downplay the importance of Pope Honorius. It is typical in Roman Catholic writings to find the issue of Honorius dealt with in a very superficial way. For example the following comments by Karl Keating are representative:
Actually, Honorius elected to teach nothing at all. Ronald Knox, in a letter to Arnold Lunn reprinted in their book Difficulties, put the matter like this: ‘And Honorius, so far from pronouncing an infallible opinion in the Monothelite controversy, was “quite extraordinarily not” (as Gore used to say) pronouncing a decision at all. To the best of his human wisdom, he thought the controversy ought to be left unsettled, for the greater peace of the Church. In fact, he was an opportunist. We, wise after the event, say that he was wrong. But nobody, I think, has ever claimed that the Pope is infallible in not defining a doctrine (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), p. 229).
In one paragraph Keating dismisses this whole issue as trivial and Protestant objections as nothing more than misrepresentation of the true facts. But one thing Mr. Keating does not do is to give the judgment of the Council itself in its own words. He simply states that Honorius did not teach anything and is therefore not guilty of heresy. Is this how the Council understood the situation? Absolutely not! To allow the Council to speak for itself is enough to dispel Keating’s and Knox’s assertions. The facts speak for themselves. Honorius was personally condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This was ratified by two succeeding Ecumenical Councils. He was also condemned by name by Pope Leo II, and by every pope up through the eleventh century who took the oath of papal office. In his classic and authoritative series on the history of the Councils, Hefele affirms this verdict in relating the following irrefutable facts regarding Honorius and the Sixth Ecumenical Council:
It is in the highest degree startling, even scarcely credible, that an Ecumenical Council should punish with anathema a Pope as a heretic!…That, however, the sixth Ecumenical Synod actually condemned Honorius on account of heresy, is clear beyond all doubt, when we consider the following collection of the sentences of the Synod against him.
1) At the entrance of the thirteenth session, on March 28, 681, the Synod says: ‘After reading the doctrinal letter of Sergius of Constantinople to Cyrus of Phasis (afterwards of Alexandria) and to Pope Honorius, and also the letter of the latter to Sergius, we found that these documents were quite foreign…to the apostolic doctrines, and to the declarations of the holy Councils and all the Fathers of note, and follow the false doctrines of heretics. Therefore we reject them completely, and abhor…them as hurtful to the soul. But also the names of these men must be thrust out of the Church, namely, that of Sergius, the first who wrote on this impious doctrine. Further, that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter of Constantinople, and of Theodore of Pharan, all of whom also Pope Agatho rejected in his letter to the Emperor. We punish them all with anathema. But along with them, it is our universal decision that there shall also be shut out from the Church and anathematized the former Pope Honorius of Old Rome, because we found in his letter to Sergius, that in everything he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrine.’
2) Towards the end of the same session the second letter of Pope Honorius to Sergius was presented for examination, and it was ordered that all the documents brought by George, the keeper of the archives in Constantinople, and among them the two letters of Honorius, should immediately be burnt, as hurtful to the soul.
3) Again, the sixth Ecumenical Council referred to Honorius in the sixteenth session, on August 9, 681, at the acclamations and exclamations with which the transactions of this day were closed. The bishops exclaimed: ‘Anathema to the heretic Sergius, to the heretic Cyrus, to the heretic Honorius, to the heretic Pyrrhus…’
4) Still more important is that which took place at the eighteenth and last session, on September 16, 681. In the decree of the faith which was now published, and forms the principal document of the Synod, we read: ‘The creeds (of the earlier Ecumenical Synods) would have sufficed for knowledge and confirmation of the orthodox faith. Because, however, the originator of all evil still always finds a helping serpent, by which he may diffuse his poison, and therewith finds fit tools for his will, we mean Theodore of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, Peter, former bishops of Constantinople, also Honorius, Pope of Old Rome, Cyrus of Alexandria, etc., so he failed not, by them, to cause trouble in the Church by the scattering of the heretical doctrine of one will and one energy of the two natures of the one Christ.’
5) After the papal legates, all the bishops, and the Emperor had received and subscribed this decree of the faith, the Synod published the usual (logos prosphoneticos), which, addressed to the Emperor, says, among other things: ‘Therefore we punish with exclusion and anathema, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius, Paul, Pyrrhus, and Peter; also Cyrus, and with them Honorius, formerly bishop of Rome, as he followed them.’
6) In the same session the Synod also put forth a letter to Pope Agatho, and says therein: ‘We have destroyed the effort of the heretics, and slain them with anathema, in accordance with the sentence spoken before in your holy letter, namely, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus,’ etc.
7) In closest connection with the Acts of the sixth Ecumenical Council stands the imperial decree confirming their resolutions. The Emperor writes: ‘With this sickness (as it came out from Apollinaris, Eutyches, Themistius, etc.) did those unholy priests afterwards again infect the Church, who before our times falsely governed several churches. These are Theodore of Pharan, Sergius the former bishop of this chief city; also Honorius, the Pope of old Rome…the strengthener (confirmer) of the heresy who contradicted himself…We anathematise all heresy from Simon (Magus) to this present…besides, we anathematise and reject the originators and patrons of the false and new doctrines, namely, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius…also Honorius, who was Pope of Old Rome, who in everything agreed with them, went with them, and strengthened the heresy.’
It is clear that Pope Leo II also anathematized Honorius…in a letter to the Emperor, confirming the decrees of the sixth Ecumenical Council…in his letter to the Spanish bishops…and in his letter to the Spanish King Ervig.
Of the fact that Pope Honorius had been anathematized by the sixth Ecumenical Synod, mention is made by…the Trullan Synod, which was held only twelve years after…Like testimony is also given repeatedly by the seventh Ecumenical Synod; especially does it declare, in its principal document, the decree of the faith: ‘We declare at once two wills and energies according to the natures in Christ, just as the sixth Synod in Constantinople taught, condemning…Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, etc.’ The like is asserted by the Synod or its members in several other places…To the same effect the eighth Ecumenical Synod expresses itself.
In the Liber Diurnus, i.e. the Formulary of the Roman Chancery (from the fifth to the eleventh century), there is found the old formula for the papal oath…according to which every new Pope, on entering upon his office, had to swear that ‘he recognised the sixth Ecumenical Council, which smote with eternal anathema the originators of the heresy (Monotheletism), Sergius, Pyrrhus, etc., together with Honorius’ (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1896), Volume V, pp. 181-187).
The significance of these facts cannot be overstated. An Ecumenical Council, considered infallible by the Roman Catholic Church, and pope Leo II, who is also supposedly infallible, condemned and anathematized an ‘infallible’ pope for heresy. In light of the historical evidence the theory of papal infallibility as propounded by Vatican I is bankrupt. It is simply not true. Döllinger comments:
This one fact—that a Great Council, universally received afterwards without hesitation throughout the Church, and presided over by Papal legates, pronounced the dogmatic decision of a Pope heretical, and anathematized him by name as a heretic—is a proof, clear as the sun at noonday, that the notion of any peculiar enlightenment or inerrancy of the Popes was then utterly unknown to the whole Church (Janus (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1870), p. 61).
Roman Catholic apologists generally attempt to salvage the dogma of papal infallibility from the case with Honorius by saying that he was not giving an ex cathedra statement but merely his opinion as a private theologian. Therefore he was not condemned in his official capacity as the pope. According to the Roman Catholic Church there are certain conditions which must be met for the teaching of the pope to fall within the overall guidelines of that which is considered to be ex cathedra. He must be teaching in his official capacity as the pope and he must be defining doctrine for the entire Church. The claim is made that Honorius did not meet these conditions. However, a careful reading of the official acts of the Council prove that it thought otherwise. The reader can judge for himself from the Council’s own statements how the situation with Honorius was viewed and whether it would have agreed with the assertions of Keating and Knox that Honorius did not actively teach anything. The Council makes the following statements:
Session XIII: The holy council said: After we had reconsidered, according to the promise which we had made to your highness, the doctrinal letters of Sergius, at one time patriarch of this royal God–protected city to Cyrus, who was then bishop of Phasius and to Honorius some time Pope of Old Rome, as well as the letter of the latter to the same Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations of the holy Councils, and to all the accepted Fathers, and that they follow the false teachings of the heretics; therefore we entirely reject them, and execrate them as hurtful to the soul. But the names of those men whose doctrines we execrate must also be thrust forth from the holy Church of God, namely, that of Sergius some time bishop of this God-preserved royal city who was the first to write on this impious doctrine; also that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, who died bishops of this God–preserved city, and were like–minded with them; and that of Theodore sometime bishop of Pharan, all of whom the most holy and thrice blessed Agatho, Pope of Old Rome, in his suggestion to our most pious and God–preserved lord and mighty Emperor, rejected, because they were minded contrary to our orthodox faith, all of whom we define are to be subject to anathema. And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.
Session XVI: To Theodore of Pharan, the heretic, anathema! To Sergius, the heretic, anathema! To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema! To Honorius, the heretic, anathema! To Pyrrhus, the heretic, anathema! To Paul, the heretic, anathema!…
Session XVIII: But as the author of evil, who, in the beginning, availed himself of the aid of the serpent, and by it brought the poison of death upon the human race, has not desisted, but in like manner now, having found suitable instruments for working out his will (we mean Theodorus, who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus…and moreover, Honorius, who was Pope of the elder Rome…), has actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling blocks of one will and one operation in the two natures of Christ our true God, one of the Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in novel terms, amongst the orthodox people, an heresy similar to the mad and wicked doctrine of the impious Apollinaris (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, pp. 342-344).
The above statements prove that the condemnation of Honorius meets the basic criterion for ex cathedra statements. The following points show this to be the case:
• The Council condemns him specifically as a heretic and anathematized him in his official capacity as pope and not as a private theologian.
• He is condemned for following after and confirming the heresy of montheletism.
• He is condemned for actively disseminating and propagating heretical teachings in his official capacity as pope which affected the whole Church.
To suggest that the Sixth Ecumenical Council does not invalidate the teaching of papal infallibility because Honorius did not make an ex cathedra statement is historically absurd. This is to erect arbitrary conditions which were not existent at the time to save oneself the embarrassment of a historical fact which undermines one’s position. The issue is not what does Karl Keating or Ronald Knox say, but what did the Sixth Ecumenical Council say. On what basis did it condemn Pope Honorius? By its own words it condemned him in his official capacity as the bishop of Rome, not as a private theologian, for advancing heretical teachings which it says were Satanically inspired and would affect the entire Church. It specifically states that Honorius advanced these teachings, approved of them, and in a positive sense was responsible for disseminating them. And it condemns him by name as a heretic, anathematizing him as such. We need to remember that an Ecumenical Council, according to official Roman teaching, is infallible. So an infallible Ecumenical Council has condemned as a heretic a bishop of Rome for teaching heresy. It is quite obvious that these Eastern fathers did not view the bishops of Rome as infallible.
John Meyendorff states that, contrary to the assertions of Keating and Knox, Honorius did in fact teach the doctrine of monotheletism in a positive sense and helped confirm Sergius in the heresy. Meyendorff gives this summary:
This step into Monotheletism, which he was first to make, is the famous ‘fall of Honorius,’ for which the Sixth ecumenical council condemned him (681)—a condemnation which, until the early Middle Ages, would be repeated by all popes at their installation, since on such occasions they had to confess the faith of the ecumenical councils. It is understandable, therefore, that all the critics of the doctrine of papal infallibility in later centuries—Protestants, Orthodox and ‘anti–infallibilists’ at Vatican I in 1870—would refer to this case. Some Roman Catholic apologists try to show that the expressions used by Honorius could be understood in an orthodox way, and that there is no evidence that he deliberately wished to proclaim anything else than the traditional faith of the Church. They also point out—quite anachronistically—that the letter to Sergius was not a formal statement, issued by the pope ex cathedra, using his ‘charisma of infallibility,’ as if such a concept existed in the seventh century. Without denying the pope’s good intentions—which can be claimed in favor of any heresiarch of history—it is quite obvious that his confession of one will, at a crucial moment and as Sergius himself was somewhat backing out before the objections of Sophronius, not only condoned the mistakes of others, but actually coined a heretical formula—the beginning of a tragedy, from which the Church (including the orthodox successors of Honorius on the papal throne) would suffer greatly (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood:St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 353).
The condemnation by Pope Leo II is significant. He affirmed the condemnation of Honorius as a heretic, confirming by this that Honorius had actively undermined the orthodox faith. W.J. Sparrow Simpson summarizes Leo’s viewpoint in these comments:
Leo accepted the decisions of Constantinople. He has carefully examined the Acts of the Council and found them in harmony with the declarations of faith of his predecessor, Agatho, and of the Synod of the Lateran. He anathematized all the heretics, including his predecessor, Honorius, ‘who so far from aiding the Apostolic See with the doctrine of the Apostolic Tradition, attempted to subvert the faith by a profane betrayal’ ( W.J. Sparrow Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London: John Murray, 1909), p. 35).
It is significant that the letter of Honorius to Sergius was used in the East by the proponents of the Monothelite heresy as justification for their position. As Sparrow Simpson observes: ‘This letter of Honorius was utilised in the East to justify the Monothelite heresy—the existence of one will in Christ’ (W.J. Sparrow Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London: John Murray, 1909), p. 33).
The definition of what the Roman Catholic Church refers to as ex cathedra teaching was not enunciated and defined until 1870. One needs to keep this in mind when applying this test to the case of Honorius and the judgment of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. In the mind of this ‘infallible’ Council the pope was a heretic. In their official condemnation of him, he is judged on the basis of the criteria for ex cathedra statements which was defined some 1200 years later. One simply cannot avoid the historical facts. An ‘infallible’ Ecumenical Council has condemned an ‘infallible’ pope, in his official capacity, for heresy. No redefining of terms can erase the simple facts of history or the implications of those facts for the dogma of papal infallibility. This has direct bearing upon the issue of authority and jurisdiction. If an Ecumenical Council can excommunicate a bishop of Rome then the ultimate authority in the Church is not the bishop of Rome but the Council.
It is clear from this brief history of the Councils that the early Church did not view the bishops of Rome as possessing universal jurisdiction or supreme authority over the Church. We can summarize the historical reality in these comments by W.H.C. Frend:
The Papacy had laid claim sporadically to the primacy of Christendom in earlier centuries, but these claims had either been denied or ignored by those to whom they had been addressed. The same was by and large to be true in the first half of the fifth century…In both East and West the decision of a council rather than the fiat of the Pope was the supreme instance of Church government. Against the Africans led by men like Augustine and Aurelius the popes were powerless. In the East they were confronted by a theory of Church government which had a place for episcopal authority, but none for Roman Primacy. ‘Since when do the Orientals accept dictates from the West?’ The question addressed to Pope Julius still had its relevance (W.H.C. Frend, The Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965), pp. 221, 223).
This historical reality is further confirmed, as Frend implies, by the practice of individual Church fathers in their relations with the Bishops of Rome.
Cyprian and Pope Stephen
Cyprian was one of the most distinguished and important fathers of the patristic age. He was bishop of Carthage in North Africa in the mid–third century and died a martyr around 258 A.D. We have already noted that his exegesis of Matthew 16 is not supportive of a Roman primacy. We see the same opposition to such an ecclesiology in his relations with Stephen, the bishop of Rome. There are two highly significant historical incidents which underscore Cyprian’s antipathy to the teachings of Vatican I. The first has to do with a major doctrinal conflict between Cyprian and Stephen over the re–baptizing of converted heretics. The second relates to an issue of discipline which bears directly upon the jurisdictional authority of the bishop of Rome. We will look at each of these in turn.
The conflict regarding heretical baptism was over whether or not it was necessary to rebaptize those who had been baptized by Novationist groups—which baptized in the name of the Trinity—who were then later converted and sought membership in the orthodox Church. Cyprian and many Eastern bishops said yes, while Stephen said no. The controversy escalated to the point where Stephen demanded submission by Cyprian and the others to his point of view on pain of exclusion from communion with Rome upon refusal. Stephen went so far as to denounce Cyprian as a false prophet and deceitful worker. It is evident from Cyprian’s correspondence that such a demand by Stephen was made on the basis of his application of Matthew 16 to himself as Peter’s successor. In light of this, the response of Cyprian and the Eastern bishops is significant. Did they submit to Stephen?
They did not. In fact, Stephen’s demand, his interpretation of scripture, and the ecclesiology which it represented, was unanimously repudiated by these bishops. Their response was a North African Council in 256 A.D., attended by eighty–six Eastern and Western bishops. All agreed with Cyprian in rejecting not only Stephen’s theology and practice on heretical baptism but also his claims to authority. In their opening remarks to the Council the bishops give the following remarks which clearly reflect their understanding of ecclesiology:
It remains that we severally declare our opinion on this same subject, judging no one, nor depriving any one of his right of communion, if he differ from us. For no one setteth himself up as a Bishop of Bishops, or by tyrannical terror forceth his Colleagues to a necessity of obeying; inasmuch as every Bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he can himself judge another. But we must all await the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has the power of both setting us in the government of His Church, and of judging of our acts therein (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, The Judgments of Eighty-Seven Bishops in the Council of Carthage on the Question of Baptizing Heretics, pp. 286-287).
It is obvious from these comments that these bishops reject the notion that one particular bishop holds a position of authority over other bishops as head of the Church universal. No single bishop can legitimately claim to be ‘Bishop of Bishops’ as they put it. This is further illustrated by Firmilian, the leading bishop of Cappadocia, who completely supported Cyprian in his opposition to Stephen. In a personal letter to Cyprian he expressed his own personal opposition to Stephen by stating that Stephen had fallen into error and adopted a false ecclesiology by misinterpreting Matthew 16. He gives his point of view in the following words:
But how great his error, how exceeding his blindness, who says, that remission of sins can be given in the synagogues of heretics, and abideth not on the foundation of the one Church which was once fixed by Christ on a rock, may be hence learnt, that Christ said to Peter alone, Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven: and again in the Gospel, when Christ breathed on the Apostles only, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. The power then of remitting sins was given to the Apostles, and the Churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the Bishops who succeeded them by vicarious ordination.
And herein I am justly indignant at such open and manifest folly in Stephen, that he who boasts of the seat of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, introduces many other rocks, and buildeth anew many Churches, in that by his authority he maintains baptism among them…Nor does he perceive that he who thus betrays and abandons unity, casts into the shade, and in a manner effaces, the truth of the Christian Rock…Stephen, who proclaims that he occupies by succession the chair of Peter, is roused by no zeal against heretics…He who concedes and assigns to heretics such great and heavenly privileges of the Church, what else does he than hold communion with them, for whom he maintains and claims so much grace?…But as to the refutation of the argument from custom, which they seem to oppose to the truth, who so foolish as to prefer custom to truth, or not to leave darkness, when he sees light?…And this you of Africa may say in answer to Stephen, that on discovering the truth you abandoned the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the custom of the Romans we oppose custom, but that of truth; from the beginning holding that which was delivered by Christ and by His Apostles (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, Epistle LXXV. 17, 18, 20, pp. 279-281).
Firmilian expresses a view of the overall government of the Church which is directly opposed to that of Vatican I. He states that the keys were given to Peter alone as a representative of the Church universal, but were subsequently given to all the Apostles who then passed them on to every legitimate succeeding bishop. In the mind of Firmilian, all bishops are on an equal footing. He mocks Stephen’s claim of superiority to other bishops based on his possessing a unique Petrine succession. According to Firmilian all bishops possess the chair of Peter and are built upon the rock. This is not the exclusive and unique possession of the bishops of Rome. And if, as Firmilian claims Stephen did, they depart from the unity of the Church which is expressed in the collegiality of its bishops, they separate themselves from the rock and foundation of the Church. Because Stephen, in Firmilian’s view, had departed from Apostolic truth, he was no longer in unity with Apostolic succession and the rock foundation of the Church. The Roman see itself was not inherently authoritative simply because it could claim a Petrine foundation and succession. This did not impress the Eastern bishops. The important thing to them, and to Cyprian as well, was conformity to Apostolic truth. Where Roman custom opposed what they considered to be truth, they felt obliged to oppose the bishop of Rome. These bishops did not submit to the bishop of Rome and Cyprian died out of communion with him. They clearly did not view the Roman bishop as the universal ruler of the Church, nor communion with him a necessary condition for membership in the Church universal. Cyprian could say, ‘He who does not have the Church for his mother does not have God for his father,’ but in so stating he did not mean submission to and communion with the bishop of Rome. Karl Morrison sums up the controversy between Stephen and Cyprian and the Eastern bishops in these words:
Stephen had condemned Cyprian as ‘false Christ, false apostle, and practicer of deceit,’ because he advocated re–baptism; and the Bishop of Carthage reciprocated in kind. Since the headship which Stephen claimed was unwarranted, by the example of St. Peter, he could not force his brethren to accept his views. Even worse, his judgment opposed the authentic tradition of the Church. The bishop of Rome, wrote Cyprian, had confounded human tradition and divine precepts; he insisted on a practice which was mere custom, and ‘custom without truth is the antiquity of error.’ Whence came the ‘tradition’ on which Stephen insisted? Cyprian answered that it came from human presumption. Subverting the Church from within, Stephen wished the Church to follow the practices of heretics by accepting their baptisms, and to hold that those who were not born in the Church could be sons of God. And finally, Cyprian urged that bishops (Stephen was meant) lay aside the love of presumption and obstinacy which had led them to prefer custom to tradition and, abandoning their evil and false arguments, return to the divine precepts, to evangelical and apostolic tradition, whence arose their order and their very origin.
In a letter to Cyprian, Firmilian endorsed everything the bishop of Carthage had said and added a few strokes of his own…Recalling the earlier dispute about the date of Easter, he upheld the practice of Asia Minor by commenting that, in the celebration of Easter and in many other matters, the Romans did not observe the practices established in the age of the Apostles, though they vainly claimed apostolic authority for their aberrant forms. The decree of Stephen was the most recent instance of such audacity, an instance so grave that Firmilian ranked Stephen among heretics and blasphemers and compared his doctrines and discipline with the perfidy of Judas. The Apostles did not command as Stephen commanded, Firmilian wrote, nor did Christ establish the primacy which he claimed…To the Roman custom, Firmilian, like Cyprian, opposed the custom of truth, ‘holding from the beginning that which was delivered by Christ and the Apostles.’ And, Firmilian argued, by his violence and obstinacy, Stephen had apostacized from the communion of ecclesiastical unity; far from cutting heretics off from his communion, he had cut himself off from the orthodox and made himself ‘a stranger in all respects from his brethren, rebelling against the sacrament and the faith with the madness of contumacious discord. With such a man can there be one Spirit and one Body, in whom perhaps there is not even one mind, slippery, shifting, and uncertain as it is?’ (Karl Morrison, Tradition and Authority in the Western Church (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), pp. 31-32).
These facts are certainly no endorsement of the views promulgated by the First Vatican Council. The writings and practice of Cyprian reveal that he held an opinion directly opposing that of Vatican One on papal supremacy. William Jurgens affirms this in the following summation of Cyprian’s practice which reflected his theory of ecclesiology:
Although Cyprian was on excellent terms with Pope St. Cornelius…he fell out sharply with Cornelius’ successor, Pope St. Stephen…on the question of the rebaptizing of converted heretics. It was the immemorial custom of the African Church to regard Baptism conferred by heretics as invalid, and in spite of Stephen’s severe warnings, Cyprian never yielded. His attitude was simply that every bishop is responsible for his own actions, answerable to God alone (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 216-217).
The Spanish Bishops
In 254 A.D. Cyprian wrote a letter to the bishops in Spain in response to an appeal for their help (Ep. 67, Oxford Edition). The Church in Spain had deposed two unworthy bishops, Basilides and Martialis. During the Decian persecution they had lapsed and embraced paganism. Basilides went to Rome to appeal their case and to seek reinstatment. Stephen, the bishop of Rome, judged in their favor, ruling that they should be reinstated. Upon returning to their respective congregations, the Spanish Churches wrote to Cyprian for help. Cyprian promptly called a council into session which decided in favor of the Spanish congregations. He writes them to disregard Stephen’s ruling. Appealing to scripture, he states that they must adhere to their original decision and judgment, openly defying and contradicting the pope’s ruling. W.H.C. Frend gives the following background to this incident:
The bishops of Leon and Merida in Spain, Basilides and Maritalis, had lapsed and accepted testimonials to their adherence to paganism, and of the two, the conversion of Maritalis seems to have been complete. Basilides had repented and gratefully accepted the position of a layman, and both sees had been filled. Both exbishops had then had second thoughts. Basilides had gone to Rome (already therefore a place where appeals could be lodged by bishops) and persuaded Stephen to allow him and his colleague to be restored to their sees and they returned to their indignant congregations. These now acted on their own, placing their case before Cyprian who summoned a council of thirty–seven bishops to decide the issue in the autumn of 254.
While Stephen may have followed Callistus’ precedent and allowed ostensibly penitent clergy to resume their orders, Cyprian had made his own view of such cases clear directly after the Decian persecution. A cleric who had become apostate was in a ritually impure state. ‘Flee from the pestilential contact of these men,’ Cyprian urges in The Lapsed. ‘Their speech is a cancer, their conversation is a contagion, their persuasion more deadly and poisonous than the persecution itself.’ These ideas were supported unanimously by the council and applied to the case of the Spanish bishops. Stephen’s recommendation was overturned. In a remarkable letter to their congregations, the people of Leon and Merida, Cyprian gave his correspondants an insight into the thinking of the North African Christians. Their exbishops were apostates, and tested by an appeal to Scripture…they were unfit to minister…The congregations were urged to separate themselves from their abandoned clerics and choose worthy pastors in their stead (W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), pp. 353-354).
These certainly are not the actions of one who believed the bishop of Rome held supreme and universal authority in the Church. Cyprian obviously believed that the authority of a council superceded that of any bishop, including the bishop of Rome.
Augustine, the North African Church and Pope Zosimus
Pope Zosimus reigned from 417 to 418 A.D. During the Pelagian controversy, Zosimus, in an encyclical letter—therefore speaking authoritatively on a matter related to faith and morals—rebuked Augustine and the North African Church for their official condemnation of Pelagius. He declared Pelagius and his main disciple Caelestius orthodox in their teaching and demanded that the North African Church change its views towards them and submit to his judgment and authority. This was done in opposition to the opinion and authoritative judgment of Pope Innocent I, Zosimus’ predecessor as bishop of Rome. The North African Church refused to submit to this ‘infallible’ pope, demonstrating that the early Church did not believe that the popes were infallible. This is the view, in particular, of Augustine, the premier Church father of the first four centuries and leader of the North African Church. Hefele, the Roman Catholic historian, relates the following background to the controversy:
In the beginning of 417 he (Innocent) sent answers to those bishops who had assembled at Carthage and those who had met at Milve…He fully agreed with the sentence passed upon Caelestius and Pelagius by the Carthaginian bishops, praised the Africans for their discernment, confirmed the sentence of excommunication pronounced upon Caelestius, threatened with the same punishment all their adherents, and found in the work of Pelagius many blasphemies and censurable doctrines.
Innocent’s successor, Zosimus, who in the commencement of his reign in 417 was deceived by the ambiguous confession of faith of Pelagius and Caelestius, adopted another line. He had not long entered upon his office when Caelestius…gave him a confession of faith…Zosimus immediately assembled a Roman Synod, at which Caelestius in general terms condemned what Pope Innocent had already condemned…He so influenced the Pope in his favour, that, in a letter to the African bishops, he declared Caelestius to be orthodox, blamed their former conduct, and represented Heros and Lazarus, Caelestius’ chief opponents, as very wicked men, whom he had punished with excommunication and deposition.
Shortly after this Zosimus also received the confession of faith which Pelagius had already addressed, together with a letter, to Pope Innocent I. Zosimus…at once addressed a second letter to the Africans, to the effect that Pelagius, like Caelestius, had most completely justified himself, and that both recognised the necessity of grace. Heros and Lazarus, on the contrary, were bad men, and the Africans were much to blame for having suffered themselves to be influenced by such contemptible slanderers (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1895), Volume II, pp. 456-457).
J.E. Merdinger, who did doctoral studies under W.H.C. Frend, makes these comments:
Augustine…could see through the entire charade. The pope had neglected to inquire rigorously into the Pelagian’s (Caelestius) understanding of grace.; he had been content to accept superficial responses…A second letter from Zosimus to the Africans, Postquam a nobis written in September 417, did nothing to dispel Augustine’s worries. Pelagius had written to the pope once again, thoroughly convincing him of his orthodoxy, and Zosimus had ordered Pelagius’ letters to be read aloud at the papal court in order that everyone could be apprised of his orthodoxy. To the Africans Zosimus ebulliently exclaimed: ‘Would that some of you, dearest brethren, could have been present at the reading of the letters. What was the joy of the holy men who were present; what was the admiration of each of them! Some of them could scarcely restrain themselves from tears and weeping that such men of absolutely correct faith could have been suspected. Was there a single place in which the grace of God or his aid was omitted?’ At the end of his letter, however, the pope lambasted the Africans as ‘whirlwinds’ and ‘storms of the church’ and accused them of judging Pelagius and Caelestius wholly unfairly (J.E. Merdinger, Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine (New Haven: Yale University, 1997), p. 128).
The African bishops warned Zosimus that he was being misled by Pelagius and Caelestius and appealed to him to uphold the official judgment rendered by his predecessor Innocent. He wrote back saying that he had given the whole affair his thorough consideration and all further consideration of the matter must cease. He demanded submission to his decree. As Merdinger observes:
In Quamuis patrum written in March 418, he deliberately flaunted his apostolic authority and claimed that no one should should dispute his judgment…’So great is our authority that no decision of ours can be subjected to review.’…Such is the authority of Peter and the venerable decrees of the church that all questions concerning human and divine laws, as well as all disciplinary matters, must be referred to Rome for ultimate resolution. This was high–flown language indeed and, as far as the Africans were concerned, totally unacceptable (J.E. Merdinger, Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine (New Haven: Yale University, 1997), p. 129).
The North Africans then assembled a general synod of their own with some 200 bishops present in which they passed a number of canons specifically condemning the teachings of Pelagius. This was done in defiance of the express decrees of Zosimus. As a result of their opposition and the fact that the emperor had sided with the judgment of the North African bishops, Pope Zosimus reversed his position and rejected the Pelagian heresy. Here is how Philip Schaff describes the incident:
The Africans were too sure of their cause, to yield submission to so weak a judgment, which, moreover, was in manifest conflict with that of Innocent. In a council at Carthage, in 417 or 418, they protested, respectfully but decidedly, against the decision of Zosimus, and gave him to understand that he was allowing himself to be greatly deceived by the indefinite explanations of Coelestius. In a general African council held at Carthage in 418, the bishops, over two hundred in number, defined their opposition to the Pelagian errors, in eight (or nine) Canons, which are entirely conformable to the Augustinian view.
These things produced a change in the opinions of Zosimus, and about the middle of the year 418, he issued an encyclical letter to all the bishops of both East and West, pronouncing the anathema upon Pelagius and Coelestius…and declaring his concurrence with the decisions of the council of Carthage in the doctrine of the corruption of human nature, of baptism, and of grace. Whoever refused to subscribe the encyclical, was to be deposed, banished from his church, and deprived of his property (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), Volume Three, p. 798-799).
Robert Eno adds these thoughts:
The one theological controversy of note that originated and ended in the West was Pelagianism. Here Pope Innocent accepted and confirmed the African condemnation issuing from the Councils of Carthage and Milevis (416). He said specifically that since all the theological points had been explained by the Africans, ‘no testimony is added here by us.’ Whether Innocent in fact accepted all the presuppositions of the African viewpoint is debated, but the fact that his successor Zosimus apparently was considering reversing the condemnation does not help the view that the Roman condemnation was considered infallible (Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Teaching Authority & Infallibility in the Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978). Robert Eno, Some Elements in the Pre-History of Papal Infallibility, p. 249).
The incident with Zosimus is not a case of a pope expressing a private opinion, becoming better informed, and then changing his mind. This pope not only reversed the judgment of a previous pope, but officially contradicted himself. He retracts what he had authoritatively announced in an encyclical letter on an issue of major doctrinal importance. This is an authoritative declaration addressed to all the North African bishops demanding their submission to his decrees. Did Augustine and the North African bishops comply with this papal decree? No! They withstood Zosimus to his face, resolutely refusing to submit to his error, demonstrating from their actions that they considered the pope neither infallible nor the supreme ruler of the Church. In practice, the North Africans are repudiating the assertions of Vatican I. But what about the famous statement of Augustine—in the Pelagian incident—to which Roman apologists often refer: ‘Rome has spoken, the case is closed.’ Roman Catholic historian Robert Eno helps us to understand the proper interpretation of Augustine’s statement:
It was at this point that the famous words of Augustine were uttered (as misquoted): Roma locuta est; causa finita est. Actually he said (sermo 131): ‘Already two councils on this question have been sent to the apostolic see; and replies have also come from there. The case is closed; would that the error might sometime be finished as well.’ But, beyond any quibbling over precise words, the greater irony is the use of this ‘quotation’ in later centuries. We have all heard it used in the following sense: Rome has made its decision. All further discussions must cease (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Glazier, 1990), p. 73).
Note that Eno gives the same quote used by Roman apologists but as Eno points out it is actually a misquote. The conclusions drawn do not reflect what Augustine really said. Eno speaks of the irony of using this misquotation. He says sarcastically: ‘We have all heard it used in the following sense: Rome has made its decision. All further discussion must cease.’ Employed in this way, says Eno, it is a wrong application. And this is the judgment of a Roman Catholic historian, not a Protestant.
Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger was one of the most renowned historians in the Roman Catholic Church of the last century. He gives the following comments on Augustine’s statement:
The Pelagian system was in his eyes so manifestly and deadly an error (aperta pernicies), that there seemed to him no need even of a Synod to condemn it. The two African Synods, and the Pope’s assent to their decrees, appeared to him more than enough, and so the matter might be regarded as at an end. That a Roman judgment in itself was not conclusive, but that a ‘Concilium plenarium’ was necessary for that purpose, he had himself emphatically maintained: and the conduct of Pope Zosimus could only confirm his opinion (Janus (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870), p. 58).
The reaction of Augustine and the North African bishops to Zosimus is proof that the all too common ‘spin’ put on Augustine’s words was not his intent. This becomes even clearer from the letter written by Augustine and the North African bishops to Pope Celestine, the successor of Zosimus. They explicity deny that the bishop of Rome has authority in himself to be the final judge of any theological issue. As the Orthodox historian John Meyendorff explains:
Writing to pope Celestine in 420, the Africans proclaimed what amounted to a formal denial of any ‘divine’ privilege of Rome. ‘Who will believe,’ they stated, ‘that our God could inspire justice in the inquiries of one man only (i.e. the pope) and refuse it to innumerable bishops gathered in council?’ (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 65).
The Case of Apiarius
The lack of historical precedent for the papal teachings of Vatican I is further illustrated by another incident which occurred between the North African Church and Zosimus. A certain presbyter by the name of Apiarius, had been rightly deposed by a bishop who was a friend of Augustine. Apiarius appealed to Rome over the authority of the North African Church seeking a reversal of its decision. Pope Zosimus sided with Apiarius and judged that he should be reinstated. But the North African Church resolutely refused to submit to this imposition by the bishop of Rome. Zosimus appealed to the canons of the Sardican Synod held in 342 A.D. but claimed that they were actually part of the canons of Nicaea. The North African Church could not find the canons in their copy of Nicaea. They were willing to submit to the ruling of the bishop of Rome if it could be proved that the canons were genuinely part of the Nicene Council. When it was finally determined that they were not from Nicaea, the North Africans rejected these canons as giving the bishop of Rome any authority to interfere in the sphere of their own jurisdiction. Significantly, in 424 A.D., at a Synod in Carthage, the Church passed decrees of its own forbidding all appeals in Church controversies to other sees apart from their own. In their thinking, there was no higher authority or court of appeal than the local bishop, except for the authority of a general Council. If papal supremacy were the common belief, teaching and practice of the Church, the North African bishops and Augustine would certainly have responded in submission and obedience and would not have prohibited appeals to any other see but their own. They were willing to obey a general Council but not the bishop of Rome. George Salmon comments:
Apiarius…was an African presbyter, excommunicated for misconduct by his bishop. He went to Rome, and prevailed on Pope Zosimus to take up his cause with some warmth. The pope’s interference and the claims on which it was founded were the subject of discussions in at least three African synods. Zosimus…founded his right to interfere on the Sardican canons…but which he quoted as Nicene. The African prelates, in council assembled, declared that there was no such canon in their copy of the Nicene code; and they begged the pope to write to Constantinople and Alexandria, requesting that the Greek copies there might be collated, in order to ascertain whether the disputed canons had really been passed at Nicaea.
The result of the mission appears from the final letter of the African bishops. In this, after giving a short account of what had been done, they request that the pope will not in future receive persons excommunicated by their synods, this being contrary to the canons of Nicaea. They protest against appeals to foreign tribunals; they deny the pope’s right to send legates to exercise jurisdiction in his name, which they say is not authorized by any canon of the Fathers, and they request that the pope will not send any agent or nuncio to interfere with them in any business for fear the Church should suffer through pride and ambition (George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (London: John Murray, 1914), pp. 414-415).
Appeals of Eastern Fathers to Rome
An historical argument often used by Roman apologists is that of the appeals by various Eastern fathers to the bishops of Rome during times of theological or personal crisis. The argument presented is that these Church fathers appeal to Rome as the final and supreme aribiter in ecclesiastical disputes thereby demonstrating the attitude of the early Church towards the bishops of Rome. While it is true that Eastern fathers throughout Church history from time to time appealed to Rome for aid, they did not appeal to Rome exclusively as the only court of appeal. In addition to their communication with Rome they often appealed to the bishops of other important sees. One notable example of this is John Chrysostom.
When he was unlawfully deposed as bishop of Constantinople and sent into exile, Chrysostom wrote Pope Innocent I detailing the illegalities of his case and appealing for his aid. However, this letter was not addressed to Innocent alone but also to Venerius and Chromatius, the bishops of Milan and Aquileia, the two most important and influential sees in Italy next to Rome. Dom Chrysostom Baur, in his biography of Chrysostom’s life, gives the following background to his appeals to Rome:
Shortly before the last crisis had arisen, and Chrysostom had been sent from Constantinople for the second time, he and his friends had decided to set forth in detail all the events of the last months in a letter to the Pope and the Western Bishops…The note in the record which states that ‘this letter was also sent to Venerius…and Chromatius,’ cannot first have been added in Rome; so it cannot be that the Pope gave the order to send it to the two Bishops. It must have been thus in the original itself, since Chrysostom speaks to the recipients of the letter in the plural, in the text. That point is important for the question…as to whether this letter can be considered a formal proof of the ‘primacy’ of Rome.
This letter has usually been classed among the great ‘appeals’ which apologists and dogmaticians quote in proof of the recognition of the Roman primacy. But such significance cannot be given to this ‘appeal,’ which Chrysostom addressed not only to Pope Innocent, but also at the same time and in the same words, to the Bishops of Milan and Aquileia. The essence of the letter is this: Chrysostom begs the Pope and the two named bishops, that they would be pleased not to let themselves be drawn to the cause of injustice by the efforts of his enemies, not to acknowledge his unjust banishment, and above all that they would not bring to an end the fellowship of the Church with him, but help according to their power, that the injustice which had been done him would be reversed, and the guilty persons judged by an impartial ecclesiastical court. He could naturally have written thus to any bishop. Actually Chrysostom demanded nothing so formal and consequential as the calling of a new impartial synod, and that was just what the Pope sought, with all his energy, to attain. So one cannot very well state that Chrysostom had appealed from the unjust judgment of a synod to the personal decision of the Pope (Dom Chrysostumus Baur, O.S.B., John Chrysostom and His Time (Westminster: Newman, 1959), Volume II, pp. 299, 301-302; Vol. I, pp. 349-350).
P.R. Coleman–Norton adds these comments:
Though S. Chrysostom elicits the interference of Pope S. Innocent, yet he does not appeal to him as to a supreme arbitrator. That S. Chrysostom expected Pope S. Innocent to show his Letters to neighboring prelates is apparent from his use of the plural and from Palladius’ note that the first epistle was addressed also to the bishops of Milan and Aquileia—a use and an action which can be understood only in the supposition that S. Chrysostom wrote to the Pope as a bishop to a brother-bishop (P.R. Coleman-Norton, The Correspondence of John Chrysostom (With Special Reference to His Epistles to Pope S. Innocent I). Found in Classical Philology, Volume 24, 1929, p. 284).
So, the mere fact that a father appeals to Rome is not evidence that he is expressing belief in papal ‘primacy.’ In fact, as is clearly evident from Chrysostom’s exegesis of Matthew 16 and his overall writings, he expresses no belief in a papal primacy.
Theodore the Studite
Another example of appeals to Rome is that of Theodore the Studite, a leading Eastern theologian of the ninth century. Theodore experienced considerable conflict with the religious and political leadership of his day in the iconoclastic controversy. He found a ready ally in the see of Rome and occasionally appealed to Rome for aid. In addressing the pope he uses exalted language but this can be very misleading. It was a common Eastern practice when seeking political or ecclesiastical aid to use the language of flattery and hyperbole to try and gain the aid of a prospective ally. Karl Morrison recounts historical examples of this:
The old challenges to Roman ecclesiology remained alive. Counter–doctrines continued to claim the adherence of some western clergy. To be sure, from the East hyberbolic affirmations came invoking the assistance of Martin I against Monothelitism, and two monks from Asia Minor addressed the pope as ‘supreme and apostolic pope, head of all the priestly order beneath the sun, supreme pope truly oecumenical, apostolic pope and coryphaeus.’ In 681, the Byzantine bishops wrote to the Emperor Constantine IV on concluding peace with the Roman See, ‘The supreme prince of the Apostles worked in concert with us; for we have had as patron his imitator and successor in his see, to explain in writing the mystery of the divine sacrament…Peter spoke through Agatho.’ But these exalted phrases, recalling the acclamation of the Council of Chalcedon that Peter had spoken through Leo, were little more than diplomatic instruments (Karl Morrison, Tradition and Authority in the Western Church (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), p. 141).
Meyendorff affirms this Eastern practice in these comments:
The reformed papacy of the eleventh century used a long–standing Western tradition of exegesis when it applied systematically and legalistically the passages on the role of Peter (especially Mt. 16:18, Lk. 22:32, and Jn. 21:15-17) to the bishop of Rome. This tradition was not shared by the East, yet it was not totally ignored by the Byzantines, some of whom used it occasionally, especially in documents addressed to Rome and intended to win the pope’s sympathy. But it was never given an ultimate theological significance (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University, 1974), p. 97).
This certainly seems to be an accurate portrayal of Theodore’s position, for like Chrysostom, he not only addresses his letters to the bishop of Rome but also to the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. He used exalted ‘primatial’ language in addressing all of them. The similarities between the correspondence of Theodore and Chrysostom is striking. In her biography of Theodore, Alice Gardner gives the following perspective on his correspondence:
The most interesting part of Theodore’s correspondence is that by which he sought to obtain the help of the Roman See in putting down the heresies of the East…It was…to Paschal that Theodore now appealed…He addresses the Pope as ‘Master and Apostolic Father,’ and acknowledges him as possessor of the keys, and as corner–stone of the church. He narrates briefly the misfortunes that have occurred, the imprisonment of the Patriarch, the insult done to the sacred images, and through them to their Prototype; the exile of the priests and monks; the great suffering inflicted on the faithful; the general terror. ‘And thou when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren’; now is the time and place; help us according to the command received from God. Stretch forth thy hand as far as thou canst; thou hast power from God in that thou art above them all…Good shepherd, lay down thy life for the sheep…Let it be heard under heaven that by thee the presumptuous ones have been synodically accursed.’ At the same time, Theodore wrote to friends in Rome, begging for their co–operation, especially to the Archimandrite Basil, to whom he insisted on the essential unity of the Church. With the idea of a Synod in his mind, Theodore wrote also to the other parties whose presence was necessary for a lawful council, the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, to whom he sent an identical letter, and to the Patriarch of Jerusalem (Alice Gardner, Theodore of Studium (New York: Burt Franklin, 1974), p. 82-183).
In the following comments Meyendorff summarizes the situation with Theodore. He demonstrates that when other comments of Theodore are taken into account, it is clear he does not hold to the papal primacy espoused by Vatican I which is so contradictory to the overall view of the Eastern Church of Theodore’s time:
The support given to the Orthodox party during the iconoclastic period by the Church of Rome, the friendly correspondence which Theodore was able to establish with Popes Leo III (795-816) and Paschal I (817-824), contrasted with the internal conflicts which existed with his own patriarchs, both iconoclastic and Orthodox. These factors explain the very high regard he repeatedly expressed toward the ‘apostolic throne’ of old Rome. For example, he addressed Pope Paschal as ‘the rock of faith upon which the Catholic Church is built.’ ‘You are Peter,’ he writes, ‘adorning the throne of Peter.’ The numerous passages of this kind carefully collected by modern apologists of the papacy are, however, not entirely sufficient to prove that Theodore’s view of Rome is identical to that of Vatican I. In his letters, side by side with references to Peter and to the pope as leaders of the Church, one can also find him speaking of ‘the five-headed body of the Church,’ with reference to the Byzantine concept of a ‘pentarchy’ of patriarchs. Also, addressing himself to the patriarch of Jerusalem, he calls him ‘first among the patriarchs’ for the place where the Lord suffered presupposes ‘the dignity highest of all.’
Independence of the categories of ‘this world,’ and therefore of the state, was the only real concern of the great Studite. The apostolic claim of Rome, but also no less real, but much less effective, claims of the other Eastern patriarchs, provided him with the arguments in his fight against the Byzantine state and Church hierarchies. Still, there is no reason to doubt that his view of the unity of the Church, which he never systematically developed, was not radically different from that of his contemporaries…In Rome, Theodore the Studite saw the foremost support of the true faith, and expressed his vision and his hope in the best tradition of Byzantine superlative style (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University, 1974), pp. 57-58).
Jaroslav Pelikan supports the comments by Meyendorff that Theodore held to the Eastern ecclesiological view of the pentarchy in the jurisdiction of the Church. He gives a quote from the writings of Theodore in which he is commenting on the meaning of Matthew 16:
Citing the words of Matthew 16:18-19, Theodore of Studios asked: ‘Who are the men to whom this order is given? The apostles and their successors. And who are their successors? He who occupies the throne of Rome, which is the first; he who occupies the throne of Constantinople, which is the second; and after them those who occupy the thrones of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. This is the pentarchic authority in the church; these patriarchs have jurisdiction over divine dogmas’ (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1974), Volume II, p. 164).
The Libellus of Pope Hormisdas
Another historical incident often claimed as undeniable proof for the reality of papal primacy in the early Church is the libellus of Pope Hormisdas. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. resulted in a Monophysite rebellion leading to much political upheaval within the Eastern empire. In 476 A.D. Zeno became emperor. He attempted through political and ecclesiastical pressure to achieve unity within the borders of his empire. He issued a document known as the Henotikon, which was an attempt to find a unified theological common ground which all parties could accept. Zeno demanded its acceptance among the Monophysites and Chalcedonian parties within the Church. As a result of the emperor’s pressure Acacius, the patriarch of Constantinople (471–489), though himself committed to Chalcedonian orthodoxy, entered into communion with the Monophysite bishop of Alexandria, Peter Mongos, whom Rome had declared excommunicated. He simply disregarded Rome’s decision. This resulted in a reaction in Rome by Pope Felix III. He deposed Acasius, resulting in what has become known as the Acasian schism. During the reigns of the emperors Zeno (474—491) and Anastasius (491—518), Monophysitism gradually gained prominence, with Anastasius going so far as to expel all Chalcedonian bishops from the empire. The only sees which consistently stood against this Monophysite dominance were Constantinople in the East and Rome in the West.
With the death of Anastasius, the political and ecclesiastical situation changed dramatically. The new emperor, Justin I (518—527), was a pro–Chalcedonian ruler, who restored Chalcedonian orthodoxy to favor in the empire. He also desired to bring about ecclesiastical and political unity between the East and the West, hoping for the eventual restoration of the empire in the West. The Western Empire had collapsed in 476 A.D. and Italy was now ruled by the Goths. The Roman Church was completely independent of Eastern interference. Justin believed that if he could effect a reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches he could gain a political foothold and influence in Italy through the pope. He approached Hormisdas (the bishop of Rome) with plans for a restoration of communion between the Roman Church and the East. Hormisdas was receptive to these overtures but only if certain conditions were accepted by the East. He demanded that all those who had been excommunicated by Rome, including Acacius, should likewise be excommunicated by the East. He also demanded the acceptance of his libellus—a document which set forth a rule of faith, the condemnation of certain bishops and the teaching that the pope is the criterion of orthodoxy. Hormisdas makes the following assertion regarding the orthodoxy of the Roman Church: ‘In the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved without stain’ (Libellus professionis fidei. Cited by H. Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma (London: Herder, 1954), St. Hormisdas, p. 73). The following is the text of the libellus:
Our first safety is to guard the rule of the right faith and to deviate in no wise from the ordinances of the Fathers; because we cannot pass over the statement of our Lord Jesus Christ who said: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church’ (Matt. 16:18). These words which were spoken, are proved by the effects of the deeds, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved without stain. Desiring not to be separated from this hope and faith and following the ordinances of the Fathers, we anathematize all heresies, especially the heretic Nestorius, who at one time was bishop of the city of Constantinople, condemned in the Council of Ephesus by the blessed Celestine, Pope of the City of Rome, and by the venerable man Cyril, high priest of the City of Alexandria. Similarly anathematizing both Eutyches and Dioscorus of Alexandria condemned in the holy Synod of Chalcedon which we follow and embrace, which following the sacred Council of Nicea proclaimed the apostolic faith, we detest both Timothy the parricide, surnamed the Cat, and likewise his disciple and follower in all things, Peter of Alexandria. We condemn too, and anathematize Acacius, formerly bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Apostolic See, their confederate and follower, or those who remained in the society of their communion, because Acacius justly merited a sentence in condemnation like theirs in whose communion he mingled. No less do we condemn Peter of Antioch with his followers, and the followers of all mentioned above.
Moreover, we accept and approve all the letters of blessed Leo the Pope, which he wrote regarding Christian religion, just as we said before, following the Apostolic See in all things, and extolling all its ordinances. And, therefore, I hope I may merit to be in the one communion with you, which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which there is the whole and the true and the perfect solidity of the Christian religion, promising that in the future the names of those separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, not agreeing with the Apostolic See, shall not be read during the sacred mysteries. But if I shall attempt in any way to deviate from my profession, I confess that I am confederate in my opinion with those whom I have condemned. However, I have with my own hand signed this profession of mine, and to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable Pope of the City of Rome, I have directed it (Libellus professionis fidei. Cited by H. Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma (London: Herder, 1954), St. Hormisdas, p. 73-74).
Under political pressure the Eastern bishops, along with John of Constantinople, signed the libellus but not without qualifications. Although the Eastern bishops signed the document they did so only under pressure from the emperor and they took an essentially different view of it from that of Hormisdas. This is clear because John, the patriarch of Constantinople, changed the wording of the document before signing, significantly changing its meaning. John Meyendorff gives the following historical background to the signing of the libellus in the East:
The signature implied an unprecedented recognition, by Easterners, of Roman doctrinal prestige. It would be wrong to believe, however, that both sides had suddenly acquired the same perception of authority in the Church and an identical understanding of the events which followed Chalcedon. For the Greeks, the text of the libellus, meant a factual recognition that the apostolic Roman church had been consistent in orthodoxy for the past seventy years and, therefore, deserved to become a rallying point for the Chalcedonians of the East. Essentially this was for them a simple acknowledgment of an historic achievement. Interestingly, patriarch John, before signing the text, added a sentence, declaring that the churches of Old and New Rome are one church: ‘I declare,’ he wrote, ‘that the see of the apostle Peter and the see of this imperial city are one.’ The phrase, while recognizing Rome’s apostolicity and honorary priority, suggested the identity and equality of the two sees, in the sense in which they were defined in canon 28 of Chalcedon, as the churches of the first and second capitals of the one empire (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 213-214).
Karl Morrison makes these comments:
The reconciliation which Hormisdas and Justin effected did not, however, lead to a general conversion of eastern clergy to Roman ecclesiology. Even the letters of John of Constantinople showed how far acceptance of Roman ecclesiology was from being an integral part of the reunion…In the very letter in which he subscribed to the anathematization of Nestorius and Acacius…and affirmed that he followed in all things the Apostolic See and preached what was decreed by it, he placed a severe qualification on his oath by one sentence: ‘I accept,’ he wrote, ‘the most holy churches of God—that is your elder and this new Rome—and I judge the see of the Apostle Peter and of this August city to be one.’
John might well rejoice at reunion, ‘understanding that both churches, that of the elder and that of the new Rome, are one, and judging that there is rightly one see between them both.’ A synod of Constantinople under Epiphanius, John’s successor, could likewise without scruple take satisfaction in the peace restored between the two Romes. For no point had been sacrificed of the ecclesiology which Acacius gave practical meaning, the doctrine which asserted that Constantinople was the peer of Rome. Epiphanius could write to Hormisdas in good conscience that he wished to be united with the pope, since nothing was more precious than the divine teachings which had been handed down from the disciples and Apostles of God, especially to the See of St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles; for to his mind the reconciliation had not changed the proper hierarchic order of the Church. Neither John nor Epiphanius were of one mind with Hormisdas in understanding Christ’s commission to St. Peter…For them, St. Peter was representative and the first spokesman of the Church’s true confession, not the first bishop of one particular see, and, in claiming that Constantinople and Rome were one see, John of Constantinople gave an important hierarchic cast to his thought. He undercut Hormisdas’s ecclesiology with the premise that his see and Rome were, not equal, but identical (Karl Morrison, Tradition and Authority in the Western Church (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), pp. 115-116).
Far from demonstrating an acceptance of Roman ecclesiology the facts surrounding the libellus prove otherwise. There was widespread resistance to and rejection of the libellus throughout the East as a whole. As Meyendorff points out: ‘The Easterners—as they had done already at the time of pope Damasus in the late fourth century—de facto disregarded papal demands’ (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 215).
Wholesale, blatant disregard of papal demands is evidence of a mindset that is antagonistic to the doctrine of papal supremacy as formulated by Vatican I. The historical reality conclusively demonstrates that the claims of Vatican I cannot be supported by the facts of history.
One hundred fifty years after Hormisdas composed his libellus, Pope Agatho (678—681) made a similar assertion to that of Hormisdas, of Roman orthodoxy, which was accepted by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (III Constantinople). Agatho stated: ‘This apostolic see…will never be convicted of erring from the path of apostolic tradition’ (Cited by Brian Tierney, The Origins of Papal Infallibility (Leiden: Brill, 1972), p. 9).
Some have suggested that the Eastern acceptance of the statements of Roman consistency in orthodoxy by Hormisdas and Agatho is an implicit acceptance of the Roman interpretation that the bishops of Rome are the ultimate criterion of orthodoxy and an implicit affirmation of papal infallibility. This, it is claimed, is historical validation for the teaching of Vatican I. However, as Brian Tierney has pointed out, the same Council which acknowledged Agatho’s statement also condemned a bishop of Rome, Pope Honorius, as a heretic. Tierney states:
It is difficult for us to know exactly what men of the sixth and seventh centuries understood by formulas like those of Hormisdas and Agatho. But we do know that the general council which accepted Agatho’s formula also anathematized Agatho’s predecessor, Pope Honorius, on the ground that he ‘followed the views of the heretic Sergius and confirmed his impious dogmas.’ Agatho’s successor, Pope Leo II, in confirming the decrees of the council, added that Honorius ‘did not illuminate the apostolic see by teaching the apostolic tradition but, by an act of treachery strove to subvert its immaculate faith.’ Whatever the council fathers may have meant by the formula they accepted concerning the unfailing faith of the apostolic see, their meaning can have had little connection with the modern doctrine of papal infallibility (Brian Tierney, The Origins of Papal Infallibility (Leiden: Brill, 1972), p. 11).
The Papacy: A Process of Gradual Development
All these historical accounts reveal something of great importance. In the early Church there was no such thing as a ‘pope’ in the sense of a supreme ruler of the Church. That was a much later development which was restricted totally to the West, and even then under much protest as the Conciliar and Reform movements demonstrate.
In the early centuries of the Church there is a gradual development of a hierarchy and an episcopal form of government. This began with what the New Testament calls a presbyter or bishop in charge of a single congregation. This was the concept of a pastor with responsibility for his congregation ruling in concert with other elders of the same congregation. In the New Testament writings the two major offices mentioned for the oversight of the Church are those of overseer or elder and deacon. These offices relate to the functions of teaching, ruling and practical ministry. The overseer is designated as one who is called of God to teach and rule, and the deacon is called to minister in practical service. The two terms used for overseer in the New Testament—presbuteros and episkopos—which are translated elder and bishop respectively are used interchangeably in the New Testament and in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. For example, in 1 Timothy 3:1–2 Paul says, ‘It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer (episkopos), it is a fine work he desires to do.’ The word for overseer is the Greek word episkopos, which is also translated bishop. In Titus 1:5–7 Paul writes: ‘For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders (presbuteros) in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer (episkopos) must be above reproach as God’s steward…’ In this letter Paul uses the terms elder and bishop interchangeably and in the New Testament the terms overseer, bishop and elder are names for the same office with responsibility for both ruling and teaching. The New Testament exhorts believers to be submissive and obedient to the elders God has placed in authority over them (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5, Heb. 13:17). And as Philip Schaff points out the writings of the Apostolic Fathers use the terms elder (presbuteros) and bishop (episkopos) to speak of the same office:
Later, at the close of the first and even in the second century, the two terms are still used in like manner for the same office. The Roman bishop Clement, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians says, that the apostles, in the newly founded churches, appointed the first fruits of the faith, i.e., the first converts, ‘bishops and deacons.’ Here he omits the (presbuteroi), as Paul does in Phil. 1:1, for the simple reason that they are in his view identical with (episkopoi); while conversely, in c. 57, he enjoins subjection to presbyters, without mentioning bishops. The Didache mentions bishops and deacons, but no presbyters. Clement of Alexandria distinguishes, it is true, the deaconate, the presbyterate, and the episcopate; but he supposes only a two–fold official character, that of presbyters, and that of deacons—a view which found advocates so late as the middle ages, even in pope Urban II, A.D. 1091. Lastly, Irenaeus, towards the close of the second century, though himself a bishop, makes only a relative difference between episcopi and presbyteri; speaks of successions of the one in the same sense as the other; terms the office of the latter ‘episcopatus’; and calls the bishops of Rome ‘presbyters.’
The express testimony of the learned Jerome, that the churches originally, before divisions arose through the instigation of Satan, were governed by the common council of the presbyters, and not till a later period was one of the presbyters placed at the head, to watch over the church and suppress schisms. He traces the difference of the office simply to ‘ecclesiastical’ custom as distinct from divine institution (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), Volume Two, pp. 139-140).
So in the early Church the elder or elders would rule over a single congregation. Eventually, certain bishops or presbyters were given responsibility for several Churches in a given geographic region. This developed into the rule of Patriarchs who were located in major metropolitans of the East and West and ruled on an equal basis over a specific area of jurisdiction. Over time the most influential sees were those of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Rome. And the Roman see, as we have seen, held a position of preeminence among these metropolitans due to its location in the capital city of the empire and held a primacy of honor due to its apostolic importance—both Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome. But apart from the claims of the Roman bishops, beginning in the late fourth century, the Patriarchs viewed themselves as an oligarchy; that is, elders in the Church who had responsibility for the rule of the Church over a specified geographic region within the empire, and were equal to one another in authority. No one bishop had the right to rule the entire Church. Hans Küng, in discussing the theological uncertainty of apostolic succession, gives the following description of the historical development of Church government and the rule of bishops:
It is true that there was church leadership from the beginning, whether through the apostles or through other charismatic ministries. But it must be traced back, not to ‘divine institution,’ but to a long and complex historical development, (a) that the episkopoi (presbyters) prevailed against prophets, teachers and other charismatic ministries as the chief and finally sole leaders of the community…(b) that the monarchial episcopate of an individual episkopos, by contrast with the plurality of episkopoi (presbyters), increasingly penetrates the communities…(c) that, with the spread of the Church from the towns to the country, the episkopos as president of a congregation now becomes president of a whole area of the Church, of a diocese, etc., a bishop in the modern sense.
On the basis of what has just been explained, it would be impossible to prove that the bishops have more advantage over the presbyters than simply the supervision (jurisdiction) of a greater area of the Church. A canonical and disciplinary demarcation is possible and reasonable; a theological–dogmatic is unjustified and impossible. Originally, episkopoi and presbyters were either otherwise or not at all distinguished from one another…The tripartite division of offices (episkopoi–presbyters–deacons) is not to be found in the New Testament, but in Ignatius of Antioch, and is therefore a development which took place first in the region of Syria (Hans Küng, Infallible? An Inquiry (Garden City: Doubleday, 1971), pp. 82-83).
In the middle of the ninth century, a radical change began in the Western Church, which dramatically altered the Constitution of the Church, and laid the ground work for the full development of the papacy. The papacy could never have emerged without a fundamental restructuring of the Constitution of the Church and of men’s perceptions of the history of that Constitution. As long as the true facts of Church history were well known, it would serve as a buffer against any unlawful ambitions. However, in the 9th century, a literary forgery occurred which completely revolutionized the ancient government of the Church in the West. It provided a legal foundation for the ascendancy of the papacy in Western Christendom. This forgery is known as the Pseudo–Isidorian Decretals, written around 845 A.D. The Decretals are a complete fabrication of Church history. They set forth precedents for the exercise of sovereign authority of the popes over the universal Church prior to the fourth century and make it appear that the popes had always exercised sovereign dominion and had ultimate authority even over Church Councils. Nicholas I (858–867) was the first to use them as the basis for advancing his claims of authority. But it was not until the 11th century with Gregory VII that the these decretals were used in a significant way to alter the government of the Western Church. It was at this time that the Decretals were combined with two other major forgeries, The Donation of Constantine and the Liber Pontificalis, along with other falsified writings, and codified into a system of Church law which elevated Gregory and all his successors as absolute monarchs over the Church in the West. These writings were then utilized by Gratian in composing his Decretum, which became the basis of all canon law in the Church and Scholastic theology. Some Roman Catholic apologists claim that though there were forgeries in the Church, these really had very little impact upon the advancement and development of the papacy, since it was already an established reality by the time the forgeries appeared. Karl Keating, for example, states that practically all the commentators, with the exception of fundamentalists, agree with this assessment. But this is totally false. We have seen from the historical facts that the papacy was never a reality. There are many eminent Roman Catholic historians who have testified to that fact as well as to the importance of the forgeries. One such historian is Döllinger who makes these important comments:
In the middle of the ninth century—about 845—arose the huge fabrication of the Isidorian decretals…About a hundred pretended decrees of the earliest Popes, together with certain spurious writings of other Church dignitaries and acts of Synods, were then fabricated in the west of Gaul, and eagerly seized upon Pope Nicholas I at Rome, to be used as genuine documents in support of the new claims put forward by himself and his successors.
That the pseudo–Isidorian principles eventually revolutionized the whole constitution of the Church, and introduced a new system in place of the old—on that point there can be no controversy among candid historians.
The most potent instrument of the new Papal system was Gratian’s Decretum, which issued about the middle of the twelfth century from the first school of Law in Europe, the juristic teacher of the whole of Western Christendom, Bologna. In this work the Isidorian forgeries were combined with those of the other Gregorian (Gregory VII) writers…and with Gratia’s own additions. His work displaced all the older collections of canon law, and became the manual and repertory, not for canonists only, but for the scholastic theologians, who, for the most part, derived all their knowledge of Fathers and Councils from it. No book has ever come near it in its influence in the Church, although there is scarcely another so chokeful of gross errors, both intentional and unintentional (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1870), pp. 76-77, 79, 115-116).
George Salmon explains the importance and influence of Pseudo–Isidore:
In the ninth century another collection of papal letters…was published under the name of Isidore, by whom, no doubt, a celebrated Spanish bishop of much learning was intended. In these are to be found precedents for all manner of instances of the exercise of sovereign dominion by the pope over other Churches. You must take notice of this, that it was by furnishing precedents that these letters helped the growth of papal power. Thenceforth the popes could hardly claim any privilege but they would find in these letters supposed proofs that the privilege in question was no more than had been always claimed by their predecessors, and always exercised without any objection…On these spurious decretals is built the whole fabric of Canon Law. The great schoolman, Thomas Aquinas, was taken in by them, and he was induced by them to set the example of making a chapter on the prerogatives of the pope an essential part of the treatises on the Church…Yet completely successful as was this forgery, I suppose there never was a more clumsy one. These decretal epistles had undisputed authority for some seven hundred years, that is to say, down to the time of the Reformation.
If we want to know what share these letters had in the building of the Roman fabric we have only to look at the Canon Law. The ‘Decretum’ of Gratia quotes three hundred and twenty-four times the epistles of the popes of the first four centuries; and of these three hundred and twenty–four quotations, three hundred and thirteen are from the letters which are now universally known to be spurious (George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (London: John Murray, 1914), pp. 449, 451, 453).
In addition to the Pseudo Isidorian Decretals there were other forgeries which were successfully used for the promotion of the doctrine of papal primacy. One famous instance is that of Thomas Aquinas. In 1264 A.D. Thomas authored a work entitled Against the Errors of the Greeks. This work deals with the issues of theological debate between the Greek and Roman Churches in that day on such subjects as the Trinity, the Procession of the Holy Spirit, Purgatory and the Papacy. In his defense of the papacy Thomas bases practically his entire argument on forged quotations of Church fathers. Under the names of the eminent Greek fathers such as Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria and Maximus the Abbott, a Latin forger had compiled a catena of quotations interspersing a number that were genuine with many that were forged which was subsequently submitted to Pope Uraban IV. This work became known as the Thesaurus of Greek Fathers or Thesaurus Graecorum Patrum. In addition the Latin author also included spurious canons from early Ecumenical Councils. Pope Urban in turn submitted the work to Thomas Aquinas who used many of the forged passages in his work Against the Errors of the Greeks mistakenly thinking they were genuine. These spurious quotations had enormous influence on many Western theologians in succeeding centuries. The following is a sample of Thomas’ argumentation for the papacy using the spurious quotations from the Thesaurus:
That the same (the Roman Pontiff) possesses in the Church a fullness of power.
It is also established from the texts of the aforesaid Doctors that the Roman Pontiff possesses a fullness of power in the Church. For Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, says in his Thesaurus: “As Christ coming forth from Israel as leader and sceptre of the Church of the Gentiles was granted by the Father the fullest power over every principality and power and whatever is that all might bend the knee to him, so he entrusted most fully the fullest power to Peter and his successors.” And again: “To no one else but Peter and to him alone Christ gave what is his fully.” And further on: “The feet of Christ are his humanity, that is, the man himself, to whom the whole Trinity gave the fullest power, whom one of the Three assumed in the unity of his person and lifted up on high to the Father above every principality and power, so that all the angels of God might adore him (Hebr. 1:6); which whole and entire he has left in sacrament and power to Peter and to his Church.
And Chrysostom says to the Bulgarian delegation speaking in the person of Christ: “Three times I ask you whether you love me, because you denied me three times out of fear and trepidation. Now restored, however, lest the brethren believe you to have lost the grace and authority of the keys, I now confirm in you that which is fully mine, because you love me in their presence.”
This is also taught on the authority of Scripture. For in Matthew 16:19 the Lord said to Peter without restriction: Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven.
That he enjoys the same power conferred on Peter by Christ.
It is also shown that Peter is the Vicar of Christ and the Roman Pontiff is Peter’s successor enjoying the same power conferred on Peter by Christ. For the canon of the Council of Chalcedon says: “If any bishop is sentenced as guilty of infamy, he is free to appeal the sentence to the blessed bishop of old Rome, whom we have as Peter the rock of refuge, and to him alone, in the place of God, with unlimited power, is granted the authority to hear the appeal of a bishop accused of infamy in virtue of the keys given him by the Lord.” And further on: “And whatever has been decreed by him is to be held as from the vicar of the apostolic throne.”
Likewise, Cyril, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, says, speaking in the person of Christ: “You for a while, but I without end will be fully and perfectly in sacrament and authority with all those whom I shall put in your place, just as I am also with you.” And Cyril of Alexandria in his Thesaurus says that the Apostles “in the Gospels and Epistles have affirmed in all their teaching that Peter and his Church are in the place of the Lord, granting him participation in every chapter and assembly, in every election and proclamation of doctrine.” And further on: “To him, that is, to Peter, all by divine ordinance now the head, and the rulers of the world obey him as the Lord Jesus himself.” And Chrysostom, speaking in the person of Christ, says: “Feed my sheep (John 21:17), that is, in my place be in charge of your brethren” (James Likoudis, Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism (New Rochelle: Catholics United for the Faith, 1992), St. Thomas Aquinas, Against the Errors of the Greeks, pp. 182-184).
With the exception of the last reference to Chrysostom all of Thomas’ references cited to Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom and the Council of Chalcedon are forgeries. The remainder of Aquinas’ treatise in defense of the papacy is similar in nature. Edward Denny gives the following historical summary of these forgeries and their use by Thomas Aquinas:
As the Pseudo‑Isidorian Decretals were by no means the first, so they were not the last forgeries in the interests of the advancement of the Papal system. Gratian himself, in addition to using the forged Decretals and the fabrications of others who preceded him, had incorporated also into the Decretum fresh corruptions of his own with that object, but amongst such forgeries a catena of spurious passages from the Greek Fathers and Councils, put forth in the thirteenth century, had probably, next to the Pseudo‑lsidorian Decretals, the widest influence in this direction.
The object of this forgery was as follows: The East had been separated from the West since the excommunication by Pope Leo IX of Michael Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and that of the former by the latter in July 1054, in which the other Eastern Patriarchs concurred. The Latins, especially the Dominicans, who had established themselves in the East, made strenuous efforts to induce the Easterns to submit to the Papacy. The great obstacle in the way of their success was the fact that the Orientals knew nothing of such claims as those which were advanced by the Roman Bishops. In their belief the highest rank in the Hierarchy of the Church was that of Patriarch. This was clearly expressed by the Patrician Babanes at the Council of Constantinople, 869. ‘God,’ he said, ‘hath placed His Church in the five patriarchates, and declared in His Gospel that they should never utterly fail, because they are the heads of the Church. For that saying, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” meaneth this, when two fall they run to three; when three fall they run to two; but when four perchance have fallen, one, which remains in Christ our God, the Head of all, calls back again the remaining body of the Church.”
They were ignorant of any autocratic power residing jure divino in the Bishop of Rome. They regarded Latin authors with suspicions as the fautors of the unprimitive claims of the Bishop of Old Rome; hence if they were to be persuaded that the Papalist pretensions were Catholic, and thus induced to recognise them, the only way would be to produce evidence provided ostensibly from Greek sources. Accordingly a Latin theologian drew up a sort of Thesaurus Graecorum Patrum, in which, amongst genuine extracts from Greek Fathers, lie mingled spurious passages purporting to be taken from various Councils and writings of Fathers, notably St. Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and Maximus the Abbot.
This work was laid before Urban IV, who was deceived by it. He was thus able to use it in his correspondence with the Emperor, Michael Palaeologus, to prove that from ‘the Apostolic throne of the Roman Pontiffs it was to be sought what was to be held, or what was to be believed, since it is his right to lay down, to ordain, to disprove, to command, to loose and to bind in the place of Him who appointed him, and delivered and granted to no one else but him alone what is supreme. To this throne also all Catholics bend the head by divine law, and the primates of the world confessing the true faith are obedient and turn their thoughts as if to Jesus Christ Himself, and regard him as the Sun, and from Him receive the light of truth to the salvation of souls according as the genuine writers of some of the Holy Fathers, both Greek and others, firmly assert.”
Urban, moreover, sent this work to St. Thomas Aquinas…The testimony of these extracts was to him of great value, as he believed that he had in them irrefragable proof that the great Eastern theologians, such as St. Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and the Fathers of the Councils of Constantinople and Chalcedon, recognised the monarchical position of the Pope as ruling the whole Church with absolute power. Consequently he made use of these fraudulent documents in all honesty in setting forth the prerogatives of the Papacy. The grave result followed that, through his authority, the errors which he taught on the subject of the Papacy were introduced into the schools, fortified by the testimony of these fabrications, and thus were received as undoubted truth, whence resulted consequences which can hardly be fully estimated.
It was improbable that the Greeks, who had ample means of discovering the real character of these forgeries, should finally accept them and the teaching based on them; but in the West itself there were no theologians competent to expose the fraud, so that these forgeries were naturally held to be of weighty authority. The high esteem attached to the writings of St. Thomas was an additional reason why this should be the case (Edward Denny, Papalism (London: Rivingtons, 1912), pp. 114-117).
Döllinger elaborates on the far reaching influence of these forgeries, especially in their association with the authority of Aquinas, on succeeding generations of theologians and their extensive use as a defense of the papacy:
In theology, from the beginning of the fourteenth century, the spurious passages of St. Cyril and forged canons of Councils maintained their ground, being guaranteed against all suspicion by the authority of St. Thomas. Since the work of Trionfo in 1320, up to 1450, it is remarkable that no single new work appeared in the interests of the Papal system. But then the contest between the Council of Basle and Pope Eugenius IV evoked the work of Cardinal Torquemada, besides some others of less importance. Torquemada’s argument, which was held up to the time of Bellarmine to be the most conclusive apology of the Papal system, rests entirely on fabrications later than the pseudo‑Isidore, and chiefly on the spurious passages of St. Cyril. To ignore the authority of St. Thomas is, according to the Cardinal, bad enough, but to slight the testimony of St. Cyril is intolerable. The Pope is infallible; all authority of other bishops is borrowed or derived from his. Decisions of Councils without his assent are null and void. These fundamental principles of Torquemada are proved by spurious passages of Anacletus, Clement, the Council of Chalcedon, St. Cyril, and a mass of forged or adulterated testimonies. In the times of Leo X and Clement III, the Cardinals Thomas of Vio, or Cajetan, and Jacobazzi, followed closely in his footsteps. Melchior Canus built firmly on the authority of Cyril, attested by St. Thomas, and so did Bellarmine and the Jesuits who followed him. Those who wish to get a bird’s–eye view of the extent to which the genuine tradition of Church authority was still overlaid and obliterated by the rubbish of later inventions and forgeries about 1563, when the Loci of Canus appeared, must read the fifth book of his work. It is indeed still worse fifty years later in this part of Bellarmine’s work. The difference is that Canus was honest in his belief, which cannot be said of Bellarmine.
The Dominicans, Nicolai, Le Quien, Quetif, and Echard, were the first to avow openly that their master St. Thomas, had been deceived by an imposter, and had in turn misled the whole tribe of theologians and canonists who followed him. On the one hand, the Jesuits, including even such a scholar as Labbe, while giving up the pseudo–Isidorian decretals, manifested their resolve to still cling to St. Cyril. In Italy, as late as 1713, Professor Andruzzi of Bologna cited the most important of the interpolations of St. Cyril as a conclusive argument in his controversial treatise against the patriarch Dositheus ((Janus) Johan Joseph Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council (Boston: Roberts, 1870), pp. 233-234).
The following is a summation of the forgoing facts from leading Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic historians. Their quotations provide scholarly validation of the facts and conclusions presented above. They give an overall consensus of opinion regarding the ecclesiology of the Eastern Church throughout history and its attitude toward the see of Rome. They demonstrate that the assertions of Vatican I are simply not true to the facts of history.
Dr. Papadakis is an Orthodox historian and Professor of Byzantine history at the University of Maryland. He gives the following analysis of the Eastern Church’s attitude towards the claims of the bishops of Rome especially as they were formulated in the 11th century Gregorian reforms. He points out that on the basis of the exegesis of scripture and the facts of history, the eastern Church has consistently rejected the papal claims of Rome:
What was in fact being implied in the western development was the destruction of the Church’s pluralistic structure of government. Papal claims to supreme spiritual and doctrinal authority quite simply, were threatening to transform the entire Church into a vast centralized diocese…Such innovations were the result of a radical reading of the Church’s conciliar structure of government as revealed in the life of the historic Church. No see, regardless of its spiritual seniority, had ever been placed outside of this structure as if it were a power over or above the Church and its government…Mutual consultation among Churches—episcopal collegiality and conciliarity, in short—had been the quintessential character of Church government from the outset. It was here that the locus of supreme authority in the Church could be found. Christendom indeed was both a diversity and a unity, a family of basically equal sister-Churches, whose unity rested not on any visible juridical authority, but on conciliarity, and on a common declaration of faith and the sacramental life.
The ecclesiology of communion and fraternity of the Orthodox, which was preventing them from following Rome blindly and submissively like slaves, was based on Scripture and not merely on history or tradition. Quite simply, the power to bind and loose mentioned in the New Testament had been granted during Christ’s ministry to every disciple and not just to Peter alone…In sum, no one particular Church could limit the fulness of God’s redeeming grace to itself, at the expense of the others. Insofar as all were essentially identical, the fulness of catholicity was present in all equally. In the event, the Petrine biblical texts, cherished by the Latins, were beside the point as arguments for Roman ecclesiology and superiority. The close logical relationship between the papal monarchy and the New Testament texts, assumed by Rome, was quite simply undocumented. For all bishops, as successors of the apostles, claim the privilege and power granted to Peter. Differently put, the Savior’s words could not be interpreted institutionally, legalistically or territorially, as the foundation of the Roman Church, as if the Roman pontiffs were alone the exclusive heirs to Christ’s commission. It is important to note parenthetically that a similar or at least kindred exegesis of the triad of Matt. 16:18, Luke 22:32 and John 21:15f. was also common in the West before the reformers of the eleventh century chose to invest it with a peculiar ‘Roman’ significance. Until then, the three proof–texts were viewed primarily ‘as the foundation of the Church, in the sense that the power of the keys was conferred on a sacerdotalis ordo in the person of Peter: the power granted to Peter was symbolically granted to the whole episcopate.’ In sum, biblical Latin exegetes before the Gregorian reform did not view the New Testament texts unambiguously as a blueprint for papal sovereignty; their understanding overall was non–primatial.
The Byzantine indictment against Rome also had a strong historical component. A major reason why Orthodox writers were unsympathetic to the Roman restatement of primacy was precisely because it was so totally lacking in historical precedent. Granted that by the twelfth century papal theorists had become experts in their ability to circumvent the inconvenient facts of history. And yet, the Byzantines were ever ready to hammer home the theme that the historical evidence was quite different. Although the Orthodox may not have known that Gregorian teaching was in part drawn from the forged decretals of pseudo–Isidore (850’s), they were quite certain that it was not based on catholic tradition in either its historical or canonical form. On this score, significantly, modern scholarship agrees with the Byzantine analysis. As it happens, contemporary historians have repeatedly argued that the universal episcopacy claimed by the eleventh–century reformers would have been rejected by earlier papal incumbents as obscenely blasphemous (to borrow the phrase of a recent scholar). The title ‘universal’ which was advanced formally at the time was actually explicitly rejected by earlier papal giants such as Gregory I. To be brief, modern impartial scholarship is reasonably certain that the conventional conclusion which views the Gregorians as defenders of a consistently uniform tradition is largely fiction. ‘The emergence of a papal monarchy from the eleventh century onwards cannot be represented as the realization of a homogenous development, even within the relatively closed circle of the western, Latin, Church’ (R.A. Marcus, From Augustine to Gregory the Great (London: Variorum Reprints, 1983), p. 355).
It has been suggested that the conviction that papatus (a new term constructed on the analogy of episcopatus in the eleventh century) actually represented a rank or an order higher than that of bishop, was a radical revision of Church structure and government. The discontinuity was there and to dismiss it would be a serious oversight (Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1994), pp. 158-160, 166-167).
Jaroslav Pelikan likewise affirms that the Eastern view of ecclesiology was not oriented towards a Roman primacy and universal jurisdiction but the sharing of jurisdiction on an equal basis between the five major patriarchal sees, a view known as pentarchy:
The Western version of apostolic polity, by contrast with the Eastern, had definitely become a form of monarchy by the time of the collision between Old Rome and New Rome in the ninth century. The Eastern version…was not the monarchy of New Rome in the place of the monarchy of Old Rome, but the doctrine of pentarchy. This doctrine came to its focus in the schism of the eleventh century, but its basic elements had been present earlier. Pentarchy was the theory that the apostolic polity of Christendom would be maintained through the cooperation between five patriarchal sees: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1974), Volume II, p. 164).
Yves Congar affirms the fact that the Eastern Church did not have the same view of ecclesiology as that which developed over many centuries in the Western tradition, and that in practice, as well as in theology, it never viewed the Roman Church as having authority over the Church universal:
It must be confessed that the consciousness of the Roman primacy was not expressed in the East at the period when the primacy became classically fixed in tradition, at least not with a clarity that alone could have avoided schism. In the great councils held in the East, there had never been a formula on the universal primacy by divine right…We do not find texts in the East as strong as those in the West; the rescripts of Theodore and of Valentinian II and Valentinian III concern the West. In a number of documents Rome is merely portrayed as an ecclesiastical and canonical court of first instance. In other texts, Rome is recognized as having the right as first See, of intervening to preserve the purity of doctrinal tradition, but not to regulate the life of the churches or to settle questions of discipline in the East. Finally—and to our mind this is the most important point—although the East recognized the primacy of Rome, it did not imply by this exactly what Rome herself did, so that, even within the question on which they were in agreement, there existed the beginning of a very serious estrangement bearing upon the decisive element of the ecclesiastical constitution and the rule of communion (Yves Congar, After Nine Hundred Years (New York: Fordham University, 1959), pp. 61-62).
The East never accepted the regular jurisdiction of Rome, nor did it submit to the judgment of Western bishops. Its appeals to Rome for help were not connected with a recognition of the principle of Roman jurisdiction but were based on the view that Rome had the same truth, the same good. The East jealously protected its autonomous way of life. Rome intervened to safeguard the observation of legal rules, to maintain the orthodoxy of faith and to ensure communion between the two parts of the church, the Roman see representing and personifying the West…In according Rome a ‘primacy of honour’, the East avoided basing this primacy on the succession and the still living presence of the apostle Peter. A modus vivendi was achieved which lasted, albeit with crises, down to the middle of the eleventh century…From the perspective of an ecclesiology which is not only theoretical but is also put into practice, we are confronted by two logics. The East remained oriented on the logic of local or particular churches in communion with one another in the unity of faith, love and eucharist; this unity was realized by means of exchanges and communications and then, when the need made itself felt, by the holding of a council. It was a unity of communion. The West, which Islam had cut off from North Africa, accepted the authority of the Roman see, and over the course of history Rome occupied an increasingly prominent place. It is a fact that the two gravest crises between Byzantium and Rome arose in times when the papal authority was affirmed most strongly: with Photius under Nicholas I and John VIII, and with Cerularius at the time of the so-called Gregorian Reform (Nicholas II, Leo IX, Humbert, Gregory VII) (Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion (Mystic: Twenty-Third, 1982), pp. 26-27).
John Meyendorff summarizes the views of the later Byzantine theologians towards the whole issue of apostolic succession showing how their ecclesiology was rooted in the patristic tradition. He clearly demonstrates that though the East recognized a position of primacy in the apostle Peter, in that they refer to him as chief of the apostles and first disciple of Christ, and rock of the Church, that this does not mean that they transfer this same view to the bishops of Rome, for in their minds all bishops are successors of Peter:
The reformed papacy of the eleventh century used a long-standing Western tradition of exegesis when it applied systematically and legalistically the passages on the role of Peter (especially Mt. 16:18, Lk. 22:32, and Jn. 21:15-17) to the bishop of Rome. This tradition was not shared by the East (emphasis mine) (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University, 1974), p. 97).
Eastern theologians repeat the views of the Eastern Fathers on the Petrine passages…The Eastern Churches had always recognized the particular authority of Rome in ecclesiastical affairs, and at Chalcedon had emphatically acclaimed Pope Leo as a successor of Peter, a fact which did not prevent them from condemning the monothelite Pope Honorius at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 681…The Byzantines unanimously recognized the great authority of old Rome, but never understood this authority in the sense of absolute power. The prestige of Rome was not due, in their eyes, only to the ‘Petrine’ character of this church. Indeed the famous Canon 28 of Chalcedon was for them one of the essential texts for the organization of the Church: ‘It is for right reasons, that the Fathers accorded privileges to old Rome, for this city was the seat of the Emperor and Senate…’ The Roman authority was thus the result of both an ecclesiastical consensus and of those historical realities, which the Church fully recognized as relevant to her own life, namely, the existence of a Christian Empire. The fact of the Pope’s traditional definition as the successor of Peter was by no means denied, but it was not considered as a decisive issue. In the East there were numerous ‘apostolic sees’: was not Jerusalem the ‘mother of all Churches’? Could not the Bishop of Antioch claim also the title of successor to Peter?…But the reason why the Roman Church had been accorded an incontestable precedence over all other apostolic Churches was that its Petrine and Pauline ‘apostolicity’ was in fact added to the city’s position as the capital city, and only the conjunction of both these elements gave the Bishop of Rome the right to occupy the place of a primate in the Christian world with the consensus of all churches…In their (the East) conception of the nature of primacy in the Church, the idea of ‘apostolicity’ played a relatively unimportant role, since in itself it did not determine the real authority of a Church.
It is therefore comprehensible why, even after the schism between East and West, Orthodox ecclesiastical writers were never ashamed of praising the ‘coryphaeus’ and of recognizing his preeminent function in the very foundation of the Church. They simply did not consider this praise and recognition as relevant in any way to the papal claims, since any bishop, and not only the pope, derives his ministry from the ministry of Peter.
The great Patriarch Photius is the first witness to the amazing stability in Byzantium of the traditional patristic exegesis. ‘On Peter,’ he writes, ‘repose the foundations of the faith.’ ‘He is the coryphaeus of the Apostles.’ Even though he betrayed Christ, ‘he was not deprived of being the chief of the apostolic choir, and has been established as the rock of the Church and is proclaimed by the Truth to be keybearer of the Kingdom of heaven.’ One can also find expressions in which Photius aligns the foundation of the Church with the confession of Peter. ‘The Lord,’ he writes, ‘has entrusted to Peter the keys of the Kingdom as a reward for his right confession, and on his confession he laid the foundation of the Church.’…By confessing his faith in the Divinity of the Saviour, Peter became the Rock of the Church.
All Byzantine theologians, even after the conflict with Rome, speak of Peter in the same terms as Photius…Their quiet assurance proves once more that they did not think of these texts (Mt. 16:18; Lk. 22:32; Jn. 21:15-17) as being an argument in favour of Roman ecclesiology, which they moreover ignored, and the ‘logic’ of which was totally alien to Eastern Christianity. The following points however seemed evident to them:
1) Peter is the ‘coryphaeus’ of the apostolic choir; he is the first disciple of Christ and speaks always on behalf of all. It is true that other apostles, John, James, and Paul are also called ‘coryphaei’ and ‘primates,’ but Peter alone is the ‘rock of the Church.’
2) The words of Jesus on the road to Caesarea Philippi—‘On this rock I will build my Church’—are bound to the confession of Peter. The Church exists in history because man believes in Christ, the Son of God; without this faith there can be no Church. Peter was the first to confess this faith, and has thus become the ‘head of theologians.’
3) The Byzantine authors consider that the words of Christ to Peter (Matt. 16:18) possess a final and eternal significance. Peter is a mortal man, but the Church ‘against which the gates of hell cannot prevail,’ remains eternally founded on Peter.
We must note…the essential distinction made between the function of the apostles and that of the episcopal ministry in the Church; the function of Peter, as that of the other apostles, was to be a witness for the whole world, whereas the episcopal ministry is limited to a single local church…Thus the Byzantine theologians explain the New Testament texts concerning Peter within a more general ecclesiological context and more specifically in terms of a distinction between the episcopal ministry and the apostolic one. The apostles are different from the bishop in so far as the latter’s function is to govern a single local church. Yet each local church has one and the same fullness of grace; all of them are the Church in its totality; the pastoral function is wholly present in every one, and all of them are established on Peter.
Faced by Roman ecclesiology, Byzantine theologians defend the ontological identity and the equality in terms of grace of all local churches. To the Roman claims to universalism, based on an institutional centre, they oppose the universalism of faith and grace.
But then why was the Church of Rome vested with primacy among other Churches, a primacy ‘analogous’ to the one Peter had among the Apostles? The Byzantines had a clear answer to this question: this Roman primacy came not from Peter, whose presence had been more effective and better attested in Jerusalem or in Antioch than in Rome, but from the fact that Rome was the capital of the Empire. Here all the Byzantine authors are in agreement: the 28th Canon of Chalcedon is for them an axiom.
For the whole patristic tradition, accepted also by the Byzantines, the succession of Peter depends on the confession of the true faith. The confession is entrusted to each Christian at his baptism, but a particular responsibility belongs, according to the doctrine of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, to those who occupy in each local church the very throne of Christ in apostolic succession, i.e. to the bishops. The responsibility belongs to every one of them, since each local church has the same fullness of grace. Thus the teaching of the Byzantine theologians agrees perfectly with the ecclesiology of St. Cyprian on the ‘Cathedri Petri’: there is no plurality of episcopal sees, there is but one, the chair of Peter, and all the bishops, within the communities of which they are presidents, are seated, each one for his part, on this very chair…Such is the essential notion of the succession of Peter in the Church in Orthodox ecclesiology (John Meyendorff, St. Peter in Byzantine Theology. Taken from The Primacy of Peter (London: Faith, 1963), pp. 7-29).
In light of the historical evidence it is clear that the Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility and primacy is simply not true to the facts of history. It cannot be supported by the Church fathers, the Church Councils or by the experience of the popes themselves. While it is certainly true that the bishops of Rome, beginning with the late fourth century, began to set forth an ecclesiology of papal supremacy, it is equally true that such assertions were consistently resisted and repudiated by the Eastern and the Western fathers. We have seen that the papal emphasis in the exegesis of Matthew 16, Luke 22 and John 21 was unanimously opposed by the patristic interpretation of those passages. The papal position only gradually won acceptance in the West and that on the basis of forgeries which were received as legitimate expressions of the history of the ancient Church. The Fathers in the East, though acknowledging a primacy of honor due to the great see of Rome—because it was in the capital of the empire and the place of Peter and Paul’s martydom—did not in any sense hold to the Roman view of authority over the entire Church. And they almost universally interpreted the rock of Matthew 16:18 to be Peter’s confession of Christ or Christ himself, rather than the person of Peter. The Eastern Church did not view the bishop of Rome as the head of the universal Church and in practice the East was not subject to Rome. Its ecclesiology was based on the shared authority of the five great patriarchates, all equal in honor and dignity. The highest authority in the Church was an ecumenical Council.
The papal teaching of Vatican I is grounded upon a misinterpretation of scripture that directly contradicts the patristic consensus and upon a misrepresentation of the facts of history. This completely undermines its claims of authority. The Roman Catholic Church has proven conclusively that it is not an infallible interpreter of Scripture. And if Rome can be shown to be wrong in its claims, exegetically and historically, it behooves us to seriously examine the gospel message proclaimed by this Church in the light of the ultimate authority of scripture. I would implore you to go to the scriptures and examine the official teachings of the Church of Rome. Compare its teachings to the clear teaching of the word of God.