Pope St. Leo the Great – Universal Jurisdiction


A.D. 400-461

Epistle 65
“Through the most blessed Peter, chief of the Apostles, the holy Roman church holds the principiate over all the churches of the whole world” (Epistle #65, M.P.L. 54.879) 

Sermon 5
“…For although the pastors, each one singly, preside over their flocks with a special care and know that they have to render an account for the sheep entrusted to them, we have a duty which is shared with all; in fact the function of each one is part of our work: so that when men resort to the see of the blessed Apostle Peter from the whole world, and seek from our stewardship that love of the whole Church entrusted to him by the Lord, the greater our duty to the whole, the heavier we feel the burden to rest on us. There is further reason for our celebration: not only the Apostolic but also the episcopal dignity of the most blessed Peter, who does not cease to preside over his see, and obtains an abiding partnership with the eternal priest. For the stability which the rock himself was given by that Rock [Christ] ,he conveyed also to his successors, and wheresoever any steadfastness is apparent, there without doubt is to be seen the strength of the Shepherd.” (Leo’s Sermons #5 – PL 54 153)

Epistle to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessaloniki
“But in this present letter the affection displayed seems to us greater than usual: for it informs us of the state of the churches, and urges us to a vigilant exercise of care, by a consideration of our office, so that being placed, as it were, on a watch-tower, according to the will of the Lord, we should both lend our approval to things when they run in accordance with our wishes, and correct, by applying the remedies of compulsion, what we observe gone wrong through any aggression: hoping that abundant fruit will be the result of our sowing the seed, if we do now allow those things to increase which have begun to spring up to the spoiling of the harvest” (Leo’s Letters, # VI)

Another Epistle to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessaloniki
“Seeing that, as my predecessors acted toward yours, so too I, following their example have delegated my authority to you, beloved: so that you, imitating our gentleness, might assist us in the care which we owe primarily to all the churches by Divine institution and might to a certain extent make up for our personal presence in visiting those provinces which are far off from us….” (Letter XIV)

To the Bishops of Sicily
“By God’s precepts and the Apostle’s admonitions we are incited to keep a careful watch over the state of all the churches: and, if anywhere ought is found that needs rebuke, to recall men with speedy care either from stupidity of ignorance or from forwardness and presumption. For inasmuch as we are warned by the Lord’s own command whereby the blessed Apostle Peter had the thrice repeated mystical injunction pressed upon him, that he who loves Christ should feed Christ’s sheep, we are compelled by reverence for that SEE which, by the abyndance of the Divine grace, we hold, to shun the danger of sloth as much as possible: lest the confession of the chief Apostle whereby he testified that he loved God be not found in us: because if he [Peter], through us, carelessly feed the flock so often commended to him he is proved not to love the Chief Shepherd” (Letter XVI)

Leo’s epistle to the Synod of Ephesus (449 AD)
“The devout faith of our most clement prince, knowing that it especially concerns his glory to prevent any seed of error from springing up within the catholic church, has paid such deference to the Divine institutions as to apply to the authority of the Apostolic See for a proper settlement: as if he wished it to be declared by the most blessed Peter himself what was praised in his confession….” (Letter XXXIII)

Letter of Appeal to Bishop Leo of Rome from Flavianus of C’ople from Ephesus 449
“When I began to appeal to the throne of the Apostolic see of Peter, the prince of the Apostles, and to the whole sacred synod which is obedient to your holiness, at once a crowd of soldiers surrounded me and barred the way when I wished to take refuge at the holy altar…Therefore I beseach your holiness not to permit these things to be treated with indifference…but to rise up first on behalf of the cause of our orthodox faith, now destroyed by unlawful acts…further to issue an authoritative instruction, so that a like faith may everywhere be perached, by the assembly of a united synod of the fathers, both eastern and western. Thus the laws of the fathers may prevail and all that has been done amiss be rendered null and void: bring healing to this ghastly wound” (Dr William Carrol, The Building of Christendom, page 114)

Letter from Galla Placidia Augusta (wife of Western Emperor) to Theodosius (Eastern Emperor)
“…the synod held at Ephesus (the Robber synod) is alleged to have rather stirred up hatred and contention, intimidating by the presence of soldiers, Flavianus, the bishop of Constantinople, because he had sent an appeal to the Apostolic SEe, and to all the bishops of these parts by the hands of those who had been deputed to attend the Synod by the most reverend bishop of Rome, who have been always wont to attend, most sacred Lord and Son and adored King, in accordance with the provisions of their Nicene Synod. For this cause we pray your clemency to oppose such disturbances with the Truth, and to order the faith of the catholic religion to be preserved without spot, in order that according to the standard and decision of the Apostolic See, wherein assuredly He first adorned primacy, who was deemed worthy to receive the Keys of heaven: for it becomes us in all things to maintain the respect due to this great city which is the mistress of all the earth; and this too we must most carefully provide that what in former times our house guarded seem not in our day to be infringed, and that by the present example schisms be not advanced either between the bishops of the most holy churches” (Letter LVI from Leo’s collections)

Pope Leo’s letter to Chalcedon
” [The Emperor]…has desired your holy brotherhood to assemble for the purpose of destroying the snares of the devil and restoring the peace of the Church, so far respecting the rights and dignity of the most blessed Apostle Peter as to invite us too by letter to vouchsafe our presence at your venerable Synod….” (Letter XCIII)

Letter from Chalcedon to Leo
“.For if where two or three are gathered together in His name, He has said that there He is in the midst of them , must He not have been much more particularly present with 520 priests, who preferred the spread of knowledge concerning Him to their country and their ease? Of whom you were chief, as the head to the members, showing your goodwill in the person of those who represented you; while our religious Emperors presided to the furtherance of due order, inviting us to restore the doctrinal fabric of the Church, even as Zerubbabel invited Joshua to rebuild Jerusalem…..and besides all this, he [heretic Dioscorus of Alexandria] stretched forth his fury even against him who had been charged with the custody of the vine by the Saviour, we mean of course, your holiness…Accordingly, we entreat you, honour our decision by your assent, and as we have yielded to the head our agreement on things honourable, so may the head also fulfil for the children what is fitting.” (Letter XCVIII)

In response to canon 28, Leo writes to Pulcheria, wife of Marcian (Eastern Emperor)
“…But the bishops’ assents (in passing canon 28), which are opposed to the regulations of the holy canons composed at Nicaea, in conjunction with our faithful grace, we do not recognize, and by the blessed Apostle Peter’s authority, we absolutely dis-annul in comprehensive terms….”

Bishop Anatolius of C’ople to Leo conceding not to accept canon 28
“As for those things which the universal Council of Chalcedon recently ordained in favor of the church of Constantinople, let Your Holiness be sure that there was no fault in me, who from my youth have always loved peace and quiet, keeping myself in humility. It was the most reverend clergy of the church of Constantinople who were eager about it, and they were equally supported by the most reverend priests of those parts, who agreed about it. Even so, the whole force of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness. Therefore, let Your Holiness know for certain that I did nothing to further the matter, knowing always that I held myself bound to avoid the lusts of pride and covetousness.” — Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople to Pope Leo, Ep 132 (on the subject of canon 28 of Chalcedon).

Letter from Leo to Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus, on perservering in the faith of Chalcedon
“…But blessed be our God, whose invincible Truth has shown you free from all taint of heresy in the judgement of the Apostolic See. To whom you will repay due thanks for all these labours, if you keep yourself such a defender of the universal Church as we have proved and do still prove you. For that God has dispelled all calumnious fallacies, we attribute to the blessed Peter’s wondrous care of us all, for after sanctioning the judgement of his See in defining the faith, he allowed no sinister imputation to rest on any of you, who have laboured with us for the catholic faith….” (Letter CXX)

Pope Victor I (189-98) & the Roman Primacy – Critical Analysis


Many have heard the story about Pope St. Victor I and his confrontation with some Eastern churches on the proper dating of the celebration of Easter,  but many of the details and surrounding history are left omitted, and so it is often thought that this scenario could be used as evidence against the Papal theory of Church government. Let’s review the sequence of events, with some added details.

During the short 11 or 12 year pontificate of Victor I ( 189-199), the variance between churches over the celebration date of Easter became a grave controversy. The difference in practice between Rome and some Eastern churches already existed as is evidenced by the record of St. Irenaeus of St. Polycarp’s meeting with Pope St. Anicetus. St. Polycarp held the celebration of Easter to be observed on the 14th day of Nisan, also known as Quartodeciman (the fourteenth) practice. Neither of them were able to persuade each other of the which was day was the correct day to celebrate. Despite this, they were able to maintain peace with each other, and Pope St. Anicetus allowed St. Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day. That was in AD 154/5. About 11/12 years later, the debate over the date of Easter occurred in Laodicea (a city of Asia) between Asiatics themselves, requiring some of their own to attempt to defend the Quartodeciman practice (Bishop Melito of Sardis). A contemporary bishop of Hierapolis, Claudius Apolinarius, wrote in protest to the Quartodeciman practice likely in response to this Eastern complication in Laodicea:

“There are some now who, from ignorance, love to raise strife about these things, being guilty in this of a pardonable offence; for ignorance does not so much deserve blame as need instruction. And they say that on the fourteenth [of Nisan] the Lord ate the paschal lamb with his disciples, but that He himself suffered on the great day of unleavened bread [i.e. the fifteenth of Nisan]; and they interpret Matthew as favoring their view from which it appears that their view does not agree with the law, and that the Gospels seem, according to them, to be at variance” (Chronicon Paschale)

By year 190, Pope St. Victor obviously knew about the variance between Asia and the consensus of the churches, and so requested synods to be held everywhere concerning the question. There was a synod held in Palestine under Theophilus of Caesarea, Narcissus of Jerusalem, a synod in Pontus under Palmas, another in Gaul under St. Irenaeus. Other bishops involved were the pastor of the church in Osrhoene,  Bacchylus of Corinth,  Cassius of Tyre, Clarus of Ptolemais, and our historical witness Eusebius of Caesarea also notes that there were “letters from many others who expressed the same opinion and judgement and cast the same vote. And the view [Roman tradition] which has been described above was accepted by them all” (Historia Ecclesiastica, V, 23-25). Also, St. Clement, head of the school at Alexandria, published a summation of traditions that he collected and they all agreed with the position of Rome.

All these churches across East and West ruled in favor of celebrating Eastern on Sunday, the Lord’s day. Except the synod in Asia Minor under St. Polycrates of Ephesus. Rather than suggesting that the tradition was open to disagreement, Polycrates insisted in his letter to Pope Victor that the clerics that preceded him in Ephesus and in surrounding Asia all had “kept the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the to the gospel, never departing from it but obeying the rule of faith (ibid 24). Notice here that the Synod of Asia understood that the Quartodeciman practice to be part of the “rule of faith“, even though so many other churches around the world thought opposite. To suggest that the rest of the churches were deviant from the regula fidei was a mighty claim. Often times readers of this historical event find themselves directing their disgust with Pope Victor, not realizing this implication from Asia. In the same letter, Polycrates adds “I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord and have communed with brethren from all the world have examined every sacred scripture, am not daunted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said : ‘We ought to obey God rather than man'”.  Now, according to our historian Eusebius, the Asian synod had written this letter in response to Pope Victor who himself had requested Asia to hold a synod on the question. The letter states “I could name the bishops who are here assembled whom you requested me to summon and I did summon“. It is likely that the synods that were held elsewhere we also summoned by Victor himself as well. This requesting of the summoning of synods reveals a hint at how Rome understood her responsibility in ensuring ecclesial unity. On what grounds, we aren’t really told. But I want to point out here that when the Asian synod said “We must obey God rather than man” in protest against changing their quartodeciman rule, it is likely that they are not responding to Victor alone, but to Victor and all the synods of the Christian churches, since it was not until receiving this letter that “thereupon Victor, who was head of the Church at Rome, immediately undertook to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia and such churches as agreed with them as heterdox and he wrote letters pronouncing all the brethren there totally excommunicate“.  It was only after receiving this note of nonconformity that the excommunications were sent. We might think a bit differently if we realize that this initial response of Asia is not merely an act of papal rejection but also a rejection of the consensus of the rest of the world. But even so, the staunch anti-Papalist Edward Denny’s Papalism (page 252-3) seems to only notate that if Asia believed in a Roman Pontiff with an infallible teaching authority and universal jurisdiction would never write “We must obey God rather than man” in response to this Pope. But, as pointed out, this was in response to the entirety of the synods held in both East & West. If Denny’s point is conceded, it will have to equally concede on behalf of the Monophysites who didn’t accept Chalcedon, since they didn’t find the wider Church via Chalcedon to be of any authority for them to obey, and so on. For Denny, then, the churches should never allow any mode of ecumenical authority with any the ability to enforce binds. This, of course, cuts through the Ecumenical Synods. But as an Anglican, how hard was it to deny the authority of Synods? Given the current climate in England, no such feat is thought difficult.

Eusebius also inserts a quotation from a letter from the Palestinian synod mentioned above, whose addressee [most likely Victor] is unknown but which content is entirely relevant to the contemporary controversy. It says, “Do you endeavor to send copies of our letter to every parish, that we may not be blamable for those who carelessly deceived their own souls. And we assure you that in Alexandria also they keep the same day that we do. For letters are carried from us to them and from them to us, so that with one accord and at the same time we keep the sacred day” . It would not seem as though these Eastern folks thought it was such a light issue, either.

We don’t know exactly how this ordeal ended with Pope Victor. Some have tended to believe that he relented from his act of excommunication, but I’ve not come across any good evidence to support this. Victor’s name is in the Roman Calendar as a Martyr, so we may suspect that he died in good faith. Some historians have the following to comment on this Pope and his actions:
“At no point in its history is this pre-eminence [primacy] so evident as under Pope Victor, 189-90: when ‘from Gaul to Osrhoene [on the Euphrates]” his invitation for the summoning of councils to effect a settlement of the Paschal controversy was everywhere accepted. ‘This initiative of Pope Victor alone, an initiative proved to be effective, suffices to show how evident in those ancient times was the exceptional situation and the ecumenical authority of the Roman church'” (Dr. Beresford Kidd, The Roman Primacy to AD 461, page 18-19)


13104876705_383f15d152_b“Pope Victor initiates a movement in favor of unity of observance. Councils are simultaneously held at his request throughout Christendom, and all publish decisions that Easter must be celebrated only on Sunday. The Asiatic churches alone resist this decision. St. Victor ‘tries to cut them off from the common unity’. Some other bishops think this too harsh, for the Bishop of Ephesus had pleaded a tradition received from the Apostle St. John, and they ‘took Victor to task somewhat sharply’. Amongst these St. Irenaeus ‘becomingly’ urged Victor to consider that the difference in the custom of the fast only brought the unity of faith more clearly into relief….However this may be, we find in this incomplete story of a Pope conscious that it is he who is to see the uniformity in the Christian churches. We see councils assembled everywhere at his demand. We see him claim to have the right to excommunicate not, as before, merely individual heresiarchs, but numerous and populous churches of Apostolic foundation .His action ‘did not please all the bishops’, so we see that many were, in fact, satisfied….There is no trace of any denial of the right, but only of the justice of its exercise” (Dom John Chapman, Bishop Gore and Catholic Claims, page 66-67)


“Victor, who was bishop of Rome, contemporary and friend of Ireaeus, was penetrated with care for all the churches; to this his conduct in the Paschal controversy bears sufficient witness, for his action extended to all the churches of the East, from Egypt to Asia, which he made it his business to rally to the same date for Easter — and was sufficiently energetic for Renan to be able to say of it ‘The Papacy is already born and well born'” (Monsignor Pierre Battifol, Catholicism and Papacy, page 111)


“There is no trace of a protest against Victor’s action on grounds of princ
iple. No one suggested that he had not the right to act as he had done.” (Trevor Jalland, Church and Papacy, page 121)

What we do know is that the Quartodeciman problem persisted, and was continually addressed as time goes forward. For example, at the Council of Arles (314), the bishops wrote their canons in address to newly elected Pope Sylvester I, and the 1st canon reads: “In the first place, as regards the observance of the Lord’s Easter, it was resolved that we should observe it on the same day and at the same time throughout the world and that you should send out letters, according to custom, to everyone” . Arles intended Pope Sylvester to transmit these canons to the wider network of churches, perhaps like the Synod of Palestine sought from Victor [see above]. We know this by the preface of the already quoted letter which states, “…the assembly of bishops gathered in the city of Arles to their most holy lord and brother, Sylvester. What we in common council have decreed we report to your charity, so that everyone may know what ought to be observed in the future”. While this Council met without the Pope since, according to the bishops present, Sylvester “was not able to to leave the place where the Apostles to this day have their seats [place of judge] and where their blood without ceasing witnesses to the glory of God..” , they clearly intended to get their canons ratified by the authority of the Roman see. (Synodical letter to Sylvester, Sylloge Optatiana, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, XXVI, 206-208). They acknowledge to the Pope that were it that he thought it “wise to attend this great assemblage, we firmly believe that a more severe verdict would then have been passed against them [Donatists] and if you had been judging here with us, we should all have rejoiced with deeper joy… and we resolved to write first of all to you, who hold the greater dioceses, that through you preferably our resolutions should be made known to everyone.” (Ibid). On a side note, the 8th canon, the bishops of Arles condemned the Cyprianic position of re-baptism, confirming the position of Pope Stephen (250).


Thereafter, the Council of Nicaea (325) confronted the issue head on and wrote in the concluding section of the Council’s letter to the Eyptians:

We also send you the good news of the settlement concerning the holy pasch, namely that in answer to your prayers this question also has been resolved. All the brethren in the East who have hitherto followed the Jewish practice will henceforth observe the custom of the Romans and of yourselves and of all of us who from ancient times have kept Easter together with you. Rejoicing then in these successes and in the common peace and harmony and in the cutting off of all heresy, welcome our fellow minister, your bishop Alexander, with all the greater honour and love. He has made us happy by his presence, and despite his advanced age has undertaken such great labour in order that you too may enjoy peace.

The Council of Nicaea implicitly recognizes the priority that Rome placed upon the right celebration of Easter, and even rules that future observance will be in according to the Roman and wider Eastern practice. But it is worth pointing out here that St. Irenaeus’ letter, while it may have come into play with Pope Victor, did not factor in to mitigate the decision of Nicaea. Many of the Papal detractors who have utilized the Victorian pontificate as an evidence against the Papal theory have commented on how much of an overreach Victor made when cutting off the Asian churches. Well, what do we conclude about Nicaea?

But did Quartodecimanism cease because the great and almighty council of Nicaea ruled against it? No, for the Constantinpolitan historian Socrates Scholasticus from the 5th century speaks of St. John Chrysostom having deprived the Quartodecimans of their churches since he ordained Heraclides of Ephesus. (, Historia ecclesiastica, 6.11 (NPNF2 2, pp.  145–147). St. John Chrysostom was born in 354 AD, about 25 years after Nicaea. By the time John was ordained 381 AD, Nicaea had already been passed by more than 50 years. So the existence of Quartodecimans out-lived Nicaea despite the Councils decision. Does that mean that the Council of Nicaea did not have any authority to intrude upon the disciplinary practice of churches all over the world? I can’t seem to think how the Eastern Orthodox or, perhaps, the Anglo-Catholics would be able to deny this. I would expect it from the post-Reformed Protestant historians.


So what typically gets gleaned from the scenario between Victor vs Asia is that the Pope is disobeyed, and ergo, the Pope held no jurisdiction over the universal Church. Whatever we might say in response to this, one would have to ask just what the person who believes this first sentence would constitute as evidence of authority? Surely, Victor himself thought it his right, and surely, his position would eventually become the norm of all. No bishops at the time protested his right to excommunicate. Moreover, as we saw, the Asian synod who flaunted their orthodoxy to Victor claimed their Quartodeciman practice to be the only one which was consistent with the “rule of faith”, in contradistinction to all the synods of East & West. This was not Asia vs Rome, this was Asia vs East/West. So those who find themselves fanning on the side of Asia, for whatever sake, have to maintain consistency and assert that the synodal processes of the universal church likewise have no authority to make binding enforcement on the universal church. Even more so since Quartodeciman practice out-lived the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. I would suggest, in contradiction to those who would merely cite that the Asian synod didn’t heed Pope Victor, that at this point in history (180AD) we have a witness to the Roman primacy in act, rather than any stated theory. And that is most likely due to the fact that we don’t have many of the survived documents.

Papal Office is internal to the Episcopate , Some Notes On The Mutual Dependency of Bishops to the Pope, Citations from the Church Fathers


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Father, when under Fr Josef Ratzginer, published a wonderful paper entitled “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church”. Certainly, a must-read for understanding more clearly the unique role of the Papacy in the Church’s universal mission. I will be here quoting a portion which pertains to the separation of powers that exist between Pope and the bishops of the Episcopal College, and provide some demonstration from the Fathers, as well as make a brief comment on the often posed question of how far can the Pope act alone:

“All the Bishops are subjects of the sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum as members of the Episcopal College which has succeeded to the College of the Apostles, to which the extraordinary figure of St Paul also belonged. This universal dimension of their episkope (overseeing) cannot be separated from the particular dimension of the offices entrusted to them. In the case of the Bishop of Rome – Vicar of Christ in the way proper to Peter as Head of the College of Bishops – the sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum acquires particular force because it is combined with the full and supreme power in the Church: a truly episcopal power, not only supreme, full and universal, but also immediate, over all pastors and other faithful. The ministry of Peter’s Successor, therefore, is not a service that reaches each Church from outside, but is inscribed in the heart of each particular Church, in which “the Church of Christ is truly present and active”, and for this reason it includes openness to the ministry of unity. This interiority of the Bishop of Rome’s ministry to each particular Church is also an expression of the mutual interiority between universal Church and particular Church.”

[my notes]

You will see here that *all the bishops are subjects of the sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum*. This means that Christ Himself has given to the entirety of the episcopate this common vocation of the “care for all the church”. The Orthodox East  might be surprised to find that this very concept is found in a Papal letter to the Council of Ephesus in 431, and it was read aloud at the Council. Pope Celestine, who believed his judgement against Nestorius’ doctrine was the final word, and who was not silent about the nature of ontological Petrinias in the Roman See, writes to the East:

“This duty of preaching has been entrusted to all the Lord’s priests in common, for by right of inheritance we are bound to undertake this solicitude, whoever of us preach the name of the Lord in various lands in their stead for he said to them, Go, teach all nations. You, dear brethren, should observe that we have received a general command: for he wills that all of us should perform that office, which he thus entrusted in common to all the Apostles. We must needs follow our predecessors. Let us all, then, undertake their labours, since we are the successors in their honour. And we show forth our diligence in preaching the same doctrines that they taught, beside which, according to the admonition of the Apostle, we are forbidden to add anything. For the office of keeping what is committed to our trust is no less dignified than that of handing it down” (Letter of Celestine to Ephesus)

A very similar point was made at the Council of Constantinople 553:

“But also the Holy Fathers, who from time to time have met in the four holy councils, following the example of the ancients, have by a common discussion, disposed of by a fixed decree the heresies and questions which had sprung up, as it was certainly known, that by common discussion when the matter in dispute was presented by each side, the light of truth expels the darkness of falsehood. Nor is there any other way in which the truth can be made manifest when there are discussions concerning the faith, since each one needs the help of his neighbour, as we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: A brother helping his brother shall be exalted like a walled city; and he shall be strong as a well-founded kingdom; and again in Ecclesiastes he says: Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. So also the Lord himself says: Verily I say unto you that if two of you shall agree upon earth as touching anything they shall seek for, they shall have it from my Father which is in heaven. For wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Anyhow, all bishops are subject to this divine vocation, and the Pope cannot remove that divine calling from his brother bishops. Thus, each Pope finds himself in a situation where, although He is head of the episcopal college, he must submit to the reality of the episcopal college as of divine institution. Often times, people think of the Pope as the singular bishop, where all others rent from his sole power. Nonsense.

That being said, Fr Ratzinger continues to note on the unique prerogative of the Head of the episcopal college, that he has full & supreme authority over the other bishops in the College. I think right there, some Catholics who deny Papal *supremacy* would find, if not a blatant contradiction, a pain for them to explain how it all meshes together.

And Ratzinger’s final point is the most important, and harkens back to what I was speaking about concerning the Papal perpective of the Church fathers. The position of the Pope is not an external office, reaching towards the other bishops from without. Rather, his position is internal to the episcopate, and thus reaches to them from within the very nature of the episcopate. This is why, for us, no matter what failures are in respect to the Papal succession, it remains of the esse of the Church, and thus something to continue with as the Church grows in her mission. When a bishop or group of once valid bishops begins to teach heresy, the episcopate is not said to have been diminished, or proven to be of man-made origin. Rather, those persons sever themselves from the episcopate. In the same way, Papal failures do not diminish the ontological role of the Papacy, nor does it prove it is of man-made origin or that it is an external machinery created for the sake of good order, but it continues to be of the essential constitution.

The East never wrote extensively in agreement with this in the post Schism era, with the exception of a few byzantine’s in the 14th/15th century. But even then, they most likely understood the Papal office to be an external office from the episcopate, coming to it *from the outside*, for the sake of good order. But their predecessors , and I mean here the Greek Catholicism of the 1st millennium, understood that this Papal office came from *within the episcopate*. Some statements from early Byzantine prove this:

During the Pontificate of Pope Symmachus, Greeks appealed to him on behalf of the Eastern christians who were suffering from the mono-physite fall out:

“You who are taught daily by your sacred teacher, Peter, to feed the sheep of Christ entrusted to you throughout the whole habitable world” (Mansi, 8.221)

Two bishops of Thessaly write to Pope Boniface II in 521:

“For these things we appeal to your blessedness and the Apostolic See, and through it we believed we hear and adore thrice blessed Peter, and the chief Shepherd of the Church, Christ our Lord” (Mansi, 8.748)

Also, I wanted to mention a scenario which took place some half a century before the outbreak of the Three Chapters controvery, which involves a Western saint venerated by the Orthodox themselves, St Avitus of Vienne. In 499 AD, King Theodoric wanted the Italian bishops to judge deposed Pope Symmachus for some moral crimes he was accused of. The Synod of Italian bishops, including St Avitus write the following:“..the person who was attacked [Symmachus] ought himself to have called a council, knowing that to his See in the first place the rank of Chiefship of the Apostle Peter, and then the authority of venerable councils following out the Lord’s command, had committed a power *without its like in the churches*; nor would a precedent be easily found to show, that in a similar matter the prelate of the aforementioned see had been subject to the judgement of his inferiors” (Mansi 8.248)

In a letter from the Italian bishops (including the name Avitus of Vienne) to the Roman Senators [the ones wishing Symmachus condemned] , they write:

“We were in a state of anxiety and alarm about the cause of the Roman church , in as much as we felt that our order was endangered by an attack upon its head…What license for accusation against the headship of the universal church ought to be allowed? As a Roman senator and a Christian bishop, I conjure you that the state of the Church be not less precious to you than that of the commonwealth. If you judge the matter with your profound consideration , not merely is that cause which was at Rome to be contemplated, but as, if in the case of any other bishop any danger be incurred, it can be repaired, so if the Pope of the city be put in question, not a single bishop, but the Episcopate itself, will appear to be in danger. He who rules the Lord’s flock will render an account how he adminsters the care of the lambs entrusted to him; but it belongs not to the flock to alarm its own shepherd , but to the judge [God].” (Mansi 8.293)

And even some years later St Avitus writes to Pope Hormisdas:

“Whilst you see that it is suitable to the state of religion, and to the full rules of the Catholic faith, that the ever watchful care of your exhortation should inform the flock committed to you throughout all the members of the universal Church. As to the devotion of Gaul, I will promise that all are watching for your sentence respecting the state of the faith” (Mansi 8.408)

And in another letter to the Count of Patrimony of Theodoric, Senarius, Avitus writes:

“you know that it is one of the laws regarding councils, that, in things which pertain to the state of the Church, if any doubt arises, we should , as obedient members , recur to the supreme bishop of the Roman church , as to our head” (Gallandi x.726)

And even after the Three Chapters controversy was well on its way, Pope Gregory I writes:

“To all who know the gospel , it is manifest that the charge of the whole Church was entrusted by the voice of the Lord to blessed Peter, chief of all the Apostles. For to him it was said ‘Peter , lovest thou me? Feed my lambs’….he hath received the keys of the kingdom of heaven the power of binding and loosing is given him , the care of the whole church is committed to him and the primacy , and yet he is not called universal Apostle” (Book 5, letter 20 – To the Emperor)

So you see here that the Papal office comes from the voice of Christ, and is not an external reality to the Church’s government, as if it is added atop. Rather, it is part of that government; indeed, a vital component. And secondly, notice how Gregory sees a certain universalism with regard to Peter’s position in the Church, but voids out the notion of an universal apostle. What Gregory means is that Peter was not the only Apostle, but yet his primacy is nevertheless universal and from Christ. So likewise, the Roman See always taught that the Bishop of Rome is not the only bishop, but that his primacy is universal, and from the Lord. Gregory thought the title “Universal Bishop” excluded the existence of other bishops.

So we have, then, a recognition by the Church fathers this idea that the Petrine primacy of the Roman See is not an external reality, as though it was added unto the episcopal constitution. Rather, it is one with the episcopal constitution. Secondly, that this essential element of the episcopal constitution is not something which can pertain to any and all Sees, but only that of the Roman See (we can explain concerning more about Gregory’s letter wherein he speaks of 3 locations of Peter’s see if it is brought up in rebuttal) since it alone receives the succession to Peter’s primacy.On the other hand, we saw from the Fathers that all bishops, including the Pope, have received a common calling from the divine Christ, and thus neither the Pope nor the bishops can eradicate each other. They must work in concord.

However, this does not mean that the ministry of the Petrine primacy cannot, if need so, act in such a way so as to impose upon the bishops what a certain group, or even majority, might say in opposition. A perfect example would be the subject of contraception & birth control. Some members of the holy episcopate in the 19th/20th centuries ruled in favor of it, but Pope Paul VI shut it down with the publication of Humanae Vitae.

But, we can ask, can the Pope go against the entire episcopate? I answer no, in both theory & practice. Here is why. It is not because the supreme & immediate power does not reside in the Pope over all the bishops [Vatican I is clear that this is the case], but rather it is because Christ always sustains a remnant, if not all, in the divine vocation of the Episcopate that will always be on the right-believing side of things. Thus, by way of accident [from our perspective], and not by absolute necessity, the Pope will never be alone in his own Papal magisterium for this reason.