Answers to Eastern Orthodox Objections (Part 3) – Code of Justinian (Petrine Primacy), Conciliarism, Papalism, and Pope Honorius I



After reading my last post, Max has made some more objections. Again, his in bold, my answers in normal letters.

The Emperor Justinian (527-65) fixed the rank of the five major sees, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, in imperial law (Novellae 131, 2; cf 109 praef.; 123, 3), thus constituting what became known as the Pentarchy. The bishop of Rome was seen as the first in the order (taxis), without however the Petrine tradition being mentioned.

Max would would like to have his readers believe that Justinian did not attribute the origin of Rome’s primacy to the divine vocation of Peter. However, he is, in fact, probably wrong about this. In Book I of the Justinian Code, under Chapter I “Concerning the most Exalted Trinity and the Catholic Faith” beside point #4, Justinian inserted a letter from Pope St. John I (523-26) to  himself . That Justinian inserted into his official Imperial code is evidence he agreed with the statements made therein, unless further proof to the contrary is made manifest. In this Papal letter, John writes that Justinian had been “learned in ecclesiastical discipline”, and as a result “preserved reverence for the see of Rome, and have subjected all things to its authority, and have given it unity“. Obviously, John is alluding to the reconciliation with Rome under the Pontificate of Pope Hormisdas in 518. John goes on to say, “The following precept was given to its [see of Rome] founder [Peter], that is to say, the first of the Apostles, by the mouth of our Lord, namely: ‘Feed My Lambs’. This see is indeed the head of all churches, as the rules of the Fathers and the decrees of Emperors assert”. In the same point is added a reply letter from Justinian to Pope John. In it he writes: “With honor to the Apostolic See, and to Your Holiness, which is, and always has been remembered in Our prayers, both now and formerly, and honoring your happiness, as is proper in the case of one who is considered as a father, We hasten to bring to the knowledge of Your Holiness everything relating to the condition of the Church, as We have always had the greatest desire to preserve the unity of your Apostolic See, and the condition of the Holy Churches of God, as they exist at the present time, that they may remain without disturbance or opposition. Therefore, We have exerted Ourselves to unite all the priests of the East and subject them to the See of Your Holiness, and hence the questions which have at present arisen, although they are manifest and free from doubt, and, according to the doctrine of your Apostolic See….For we do not suffer anything which has reference to the state of the Church, even though what causes the difficulty may be clear and free from doubt, to be discussed without being brought to the notice of Your Holiness, because you are the head of all the Holy Churches, for We shall exert Ourselves in every way (as has already been stated), to increase the honor and authority of your See.”. There cannot be any doubt that Justinian is referring to the signed agreement of the Formula of Hormisdas here. It is interesting to see how he can explain the situation of events. He says that he unites “all the priests of the East and subject them to your Holiness”. For Justinian, this is how the transaction can be shortly described. Now, before we hear that I either skipped, forgot, or instigate an oddity, I will note that Justinian himself never stated the authority of the Roman See had come from Peter in his official law. We can be quite certain Max will point this out. However, to what profit? Justinian includes the letter from Pope John who made the Petrine foundation of the Roman primacy explicit. We have good reason to believe Justinian agreed. Elsewhere Justinian wrote in an epistle to Pope Agapetus (535-36) saying that Rome is the “…the source of the priesthood…the venerable See of the most high Apostle Peter” (The Eastern Churches and the Papacy by S. Herbert Scott, p. 231). In his own code, we read, “The ancient city of Rome has the honor of being the mother of our laws, and no one can doubt that in it the summit of the supreme pontificate lies. This is why we have also found it necessary to honoour this cradle of the law, this source of the priesthood, by a special decree of our sacred will.”
(Novel 9, ca. 535 a.D.). This last “source of the priesthood” sounds similar to the ecclesiology of St. Cyprian and the late 4th & early 5th century Popes.

History shows us that Papal Decrees were on their own were INSUFFICIENT and did not put an end the theological controversy or dispute …WHY was the Third Council of Constantinople (680) needed to address the heresy of Monothelitism ? After all Rome and Pope Martin I had condemned Monothelitism as heretical almost 30 years earlier at the Council of Lateran (649) in Rome. Similarly, WHY was the Second Council of Nicaea (787) needed to address the heresy of Iconoclasm? After all Rome and Pope Gregory III had condemned Iconoclasm as heresy outright almost 56 years earlier at two Synods (730, 732) held in Rome. These Ecumenical councils did operate with the premise Rome has spoken, you MUST comply….

There are plenty of misunderstandings and false presuppositions here. In the first place, it is assumed that in order for the Papal-doctrines to be true, history must involve each and every dispute being solved by an individual act of a particular Pope in the form of a decree, which then in turn has all members of the Church humbly submitting for the sake of their salvation. This is ascribing far too much to the Pope than Catholics themselves. This is a Papal-doctrine akin to Wizardry. We don’t believe the Pope is omniscient, nor that he is perfectly intelligent, a perfect theologian (let alone a good one), or even an intelligent individual.  What our Eastern friend is mistaking for the Papal-office is a perfect & omniscient theologian, ready to compute the right answer at moment of a question. Sort of like a Pope-answer machine. The fact is the gift of theological understanding had, more often than not, been granted to persons who were not even Popes, sometimes not even bishops. For example, St. Athanasius the Great, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Gregory of Nazianzan, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Sophronius of Jerusalem for bishops. Take St. Maximos the Confessor, St. John of Damascus, or St. Thomas Aquinas for non-bishops, even. The Pope’s can be horrible theologians, ill-versed in Sacred Scripture, and quite unintelligent. We’ve had some Popes like this. There can even be very unwise, wicked, and ungodly Popes. The position of the Holy See is to “confirm the brethren” for the sake of doctrine, morals, and discipline. His is the position of legal officiator, umpire, judge, or ecclesial arbiter. We don’t necessarily say of earthly judges that they must be possessed of perfect intelligence, or that they have perfect knowledge of every single case brought before them. We do say that, at least on the level of law, their decision is binding, unless appeals can be sent. It is the place of arbitration. The Supreme Court of the United States would be comparable to the Court of the Holy See. Once it makes a decision, it is no longer permissible to act against it. Of course, there are conditions for this. This is why the Church has taught there are levels of certainty and degrees of assent. Sometimes, the Holy See will resist giving decision on a theological matter, but will enforce that no one outwardly question the truth of a particular doctrine; only to have years, sometimes centuries go by before giving a judgement. This happened, for instance, in the case of the Immaculate conception doctrine. The Council of Trent had this to say in the V session on Original Sin: “This same holy Synod doth nevertheless declare, that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the mother of God; but that the constitutions of Pope Sixtus IV., of happy memory, are to be observed, under the pains contained in the said constitutions, which it renews.” You see here a hesitancy to define, showing clearly the Church didn’t believe the Pope, nor the bishops in Council, were omniscient. And what was Pope Sixtus IV’s constitution? In 1476 he issues Cum Praeexcelsa, allowing the celebration of the feast for the conception of Mary, and the Pope himself wrote a work on the truthfulness of the Immaculate conception. Shortly there after there was a papal mandate disallowing the public condemnation of the doctrine, but did not yet affirm its truth with official magisterium.
But I think the strongest evidence we can provide for our questioner is that even the most pro-Papal Pope’s, such as Popes Innocent I, Leo I, Gelasius, or even Pius IX, all of who were very explicit on both the divine origin of Papal authority as well as the detrimental condemnation self-accrued to the Church’s members for disobeying their authority, continued to not only cooperate with Councils, but recommended them. Let’s say, out of accommodation, that the “heretical” Papal claims did not emerge in the Latin West until the 11th century, as some Eastern readers have claimed, you still have the Council of Lyons, the Lateran Councils, Basel, Florence, Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II. Are we supposed to think that since the Latin West had convened these bishops, often out of attendance from a Pope, that they did not believe in Papal supremacy?
Moreover, the questioner presupposes that the Papacy is an entity in ontological separateness from the other bishops of the world. However, this is patently false. The episcopal college is *made up* of both Head and Members, much like an organism. There is equally a divine law originating both the members as there is the Head. The Head must understand that there is a supernatural vocation in the teaching of the bishops, otherwise he himself misunderstands the reality of his own office.
Lastly, to his question concerning the 3rd Council of Constantinople and the Council of Nicaea II , dealing with Monotheletism and Iconoclasm, respectively. This brings us to another aspect of Councils. Is it always the purpose of Councils to learn anew what the Christian faith is? Nay. Often, it is for the benefit of the Church, and in particular, for the Church leaders then present. For instance, would it be the only option for a Pope to write up a single decree to all the Eastern churches requiring signature, or else excommunication? It is possible, and such was the case during the resolution of the Monophysite catastrophe pot-Chalcedon unto 517/19 AD. But it need not always be that way. The Popes may think that the issues being discussed require the learning of the bishops to better solidify his decision. What part of this would undermine the Catholic dogma? We’ve already excluded a charism for Papal omniscence. Perhaps, it may be that, for the sake of understanding, translation, and nuanced explanation (which cannot be done via letters), a Council of bishops who can converse in real-time is more prudent. But even with all these possibilities, the case of the 3rd Council of Constantinople – the matter, from Rome’s perspective, was not on gaining an education the Christology of wills. That she already had under Popes Martin and Theodore at the Roman synod 649 held at Lateran. This is why Pope Agatho, not present in the Council, wrote up a letter defining the orthodox faith. What would have happened if the East refused to believe it? Well, then there would have been another schism. But then, wouldn’t that be supporting the objection state above ? If the Pope was seen as this infallible arbiter, why not the submission of all ? Well, before answering this, we must realize that it is a false criteria that is being presupposed. For example, for the Eastern Orthodox, they must realize that all 7 Councils were met with opposition from the members of the Church. Does that thereby nullify the authority of Councils? I think not. Or to Christians in general – that Jesus Christ was not understood, believed, and followed by all men in his earthly life, does that thereby nullify the authority of Christ? And then, to all human beings – that God is not fully submitted to is evident by your clicking on the News in the AM. Does that thereby nullify the authority of God Himself? I know it doesn’t. And anyone should know it doesn’t. Now , to give a more concrete answer. Our Eastern questioner seems to think that the Council of Nicaea II is what put an end to Iconoclasm. But even this is false. There were still iconoclasts even after 787 AD. In fact, it was only under the regency of Theodora (whose son was Michael III) that Patriarch Methodius, an iconodule, was made substitute for John VII , who was an iconoclast and had, with the backing of Emperor Leo V, reinstated  iconoclasm at an eastern synod in 815. In 843 , the recovery of the veneration of icons was celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent, which is still to this day celebrated by the East as the “Festival of Orthodoxy”. Does this mean that since the Patriarchs and Emperors thumbed their nose at Nicaea II (787) that the Council was devoid of authority? Or worse, does the recovery of images being the result of the action of the Empress-Regent indicate that Imperial authority, at the end of the day, is what possessed authority over the Church? I dare not come to this conclusion.

If the faith of Popes like Pope Honorius failed, whats the point of “Papal infallibility” and the catch-phrase “upon this Rock”?

Again, the presupposition of “rock” here is that it means everyone will be perfectly orthodox and the Pope will always be there to answer the questions infallibly. A presupposition of Papal omniscience, indeed. The fact is we know that both Popes and bishops have behaved badly. We can run the background song “Bad Boyz” by Inner Circle with a survey of Popes, bishops, priests, Emperors, politicians, theologians, and laity who have hurt the Church. What is consistent with the promise of Christ is that the “gates of hell will not prevail”. Not that the structure will always be without the force of storm.

But, having said that, the very 3rd Council of Constantinople acknowledged the charism of infallibility by receiving the epistle of Pope Agatho. This letter includes the following:

“Therefore the Holy Church of God, the mother of your most Christian power, should be delivered and liberated with all your might (through the help of God) from the errors of such teachers, and the evangelical and apostolic uprightness of the orthodox faith, which has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error, [that faith I say] the whole number of rulers and priests, of the clergy and of the people, unanimously should confess and preach with us as the true declaration of the Apostolic tradition, in order to please God and to save their own souls.”

“exhorting to embrace them returning to the unity of the orthodox faith, and awaiting their conversion to the full rectitude of the orthodox faith: that they might not make themselves aliens from our communion, that is from the communion of blessed Peter the Apostle, whose ministry, we (though unworthy) exercise, and preach the faith he has handed down, but that they should together with us pray Christ the Lord, the spotless sacrifice, for the stability of your most strong and serene Empire.

“But we, although most humble, yet strive with all our might that the commonwealth of your Christian empire may be shown to be more sublime than all the nations, for in it has been founded the See of Blessed Peter, the prince of the Apostles, by the authority of which, all Christian nations venerate and worship with us, through the reverence of the blessed Apostle Peter himself.”

“…the [Roman] Apostolic Church of Christ, has both in prosperity and in adversity always held and defended with energy; which, it will be proved, by the grace of Almighty God, has never erred from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Saviour himself, which he uttered in the holy Gospels to the prince of his disciples: saying, Peter, Peter, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that (your) faith fail not. And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren. Let your tranquil Clemency therefore consider, since it is the Lord and Saviour of all, whose faith it is, that promised that Peter’s faith should not fail and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, how it is known to all that the Apostolic pontiffs, the predecessors of my littleness, have always confidently done this very thing: of whom also our littleness, since I have received this ministry by divine designation, wishes to be the follower, although unequal to them and the least of all.”

The letter of Honorius, even if it does contain error, only means that there is a difference between the Pope writing in his official capacity , but not yet fully intending on his decree to binding upon the whole church. But there is very good evidence to suggest Honorius was not a monothelite. Be that as it may, the Council still condemned him as a heretic, and so believed it was possible for a Pope to be a heretic. And yet, isn’t this what Catholics even believe today? Those of us who believe God draws straight through crooked lines , even with those institutions which He created, can see that the Papacy had brought peace and unity to the Church on several occasions, even if at the cost of many times being an absolute failure. The veracity of the Papacy is not born from its effectiveness, but from its being divinely instituted.

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