St. John Chrysostom (349-407) & Vatican 1 (1870) – Agree on “Rock” (Matthew 16:18)


St. John Chrysostom


Recently, I had someone reference an an article by well known Protestant William Webster which seeks to disprove the early acceptance of the Papal-theory as codified especially at the Vatican Council of 1870. I wanted to make sure a certain point was understood before the merits of that article are weighed, though this is not meant to engage with the whole of the article. At points, Webster is keen to find where he thinks the Patristic authors disassociated the “rock” (Matt 16:18) from “Peter”, but even more important is that even if this was associated, there was no continuing succession of Peter as the rock as some divine institution for the well-being of the Church. This later piece will not be addressed here, since I have a much finer point intended. But if readers are interested, I recommend my articles on St. Augustine, the Greek fathers, and some Patristic citations.

That the “rock” of St. Matthew’s account of the holy Gospel is Peter’s “confession of faith” is perfectly harmonious. In fact, if you go to the link here, under the show notes, you will find a citation from the Catholic Catechism which says the “rock” is the confession of Peter’s faith.
In any case, I wanted to show how one particular church father, St. John Chrysostom, not only proves Catholic doctrine on the matter, but even teaches precisely what the Vatican Council taught specifically concerning the relationship between the “rock” and “Peter”.
So let’s first take a quick look at what the Vatican Council said about the rock and its relation to Peter. Chapter 2, Paragraph 3 reads as follows:

Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ


Pope Pius IX

himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the Church which he once received ” (Vatican, 1870)

What is the “rock-like strength” Peter was granted? Let’s observe the text which is commonly cited from St. John Chrysostom which supposedly contradicts.:
“‘And I say unto you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church’, that is on the faith of his confession” (Homily 54 on the gospel according to St. Matthew)
So it would seem as though the Vatican Council goes way beyond Chrysostom here. But that is only if we cut it short here. If we continue reading in Chrysostom’s homily, we read the following:
“…that is on the faith of his confession. Thus he shows many will believe and raises his mind and makes him shepherd. Do you see how he himself leads Peter to high thoughts of him, and reveals himself and shows that he is the Son of God by these two promise? For those things which are peculiar to God alone, namely to forgive sins, and to make the Church immovable in such an onset of waves, and to declare a fisherman to be stronger than any rock while all the world wars against him, these things he himself promises to St._John_Chrysostom,_lower_register_of_sanctuarygive; as the Father said, speaking to Jeremiah, that he would set him as a column of brass and as a wall — but him [Jeremiah] for one nation [Israel], this man [Peter] for all the world. I would ask those who wish to lessen the dignity of the Son, which gifts were greater, those which the Father gave to Peter, or those which the Son gave to him? The Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son, but the Son gave to Peter to sow that of the Father and of himself throughout the world; and to a mortal man he entrusted such authority over all things in heaven, giving him the keys, who extended the Church throughout the world and declares it to be stronger than heaven” (Patrologia Graeca 58 ,534; Homily 54 in St. Matthew,

So it turns out that just like the Catholic Church has always believed, Chrysostom teaches the rock is the faith of Peter but it is a “rock-like” strength given to him and has an intricate association with Peter such that this faith is channeled into the ministry of Peter, such that it lifts him up to be a strength unto the nations, much like, albeit in a greater way, the ministry of holy Jeremiah.

Now, there is nothing in St. John Chrysostom himself that we have in the survived corpus which speaks of a specific continuation of the rock in the successors of St. Peter. But if you check the three links in the first paragraph, one could hardly argue that it was not held by both East and West in the early centuries of the holy and undivided Church of the first millennium.

Eastern Orthodox Pope of Elder Rome, St. Gelasius I and Papal Supremacy (A.D. 492-496)


No student of Church history underestimates the important place of the Council of Chalcedon 451, held in modern day Kadıköy (district of Istanbul). This Council established the 2-in-1 [2 natures in 1 Person] doctrine of Christ as opposed to the followers of Eutyches and Dioscorus who wanted to say Christ had 1 single nature [Mono-physite]. Following the Council, there was relative peace between Rome and Constantinople due to Patriarch Anatolius’ obedience to Pope St. Leo I’s annulment of the 28th canon, but soon enough things were destined to change because the Monophysites had been, with relatively strong arguments, pressing for a new Council to overturn Chalcedon. In an attempt to conciliate the Monophysites and the Chalcedonians, Emperor Zeno issued his “henoticon”, a document of Christology sought to pave the way for union. The henoticon would be accepted by Acacius, Patriarch of Constantinople, Peter Mongus, Patriarch of Alexandria, and Peter the Fuller, Patriarch of Alexandria. This brought about what is known as the Acacian Schism, and lasted from 484 to 519, a total of 35 years. When Pope St. Gelasius entered Papal office in 492, this schism had been operating for already 8 years. Not only was the “reform” on Chalcedon in Zeno’s henoticon an issue of dispute between Rome and the East, but also the assumption that Constantinople should occupy 2nd place in Christendom, which is what Canons 3/28 of Constantinople 381 and Chalcedon had attempted to pass as an ecumenical canon. Acacius must have not taken seriously the words of his predecessor Anatolius who wrote the following to Pope Leo I on this – “the whole force of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness.” (Patrologia Latina 54.1082B). Concerning the same canons, Pope St. Leo claimed that “by the blessed Apostle Peter’s authority we absolutely dis-annul in comprehensive terms” (Ep. 105). No doubt, therefore, Chalcedon is completed by the recognition of Petrine supremacy over the field of an Ecumenical Council. Acacius, however, was of a different mind on this. Though St. Gelasius, as well as his successors  Anastasius II and St. Symmachus, attempted to bring the East back into the fold of Christ, it was not until Pope St. Hormisdas that re-union was established through his Formula of Reunion which required a recognition of much of what St. Gelasius had already been writing on.  Below, I will be posting material found in the letters of Pope St. Gelasius,  drawing from three sources: (1) his letter to the Bishops of Dardania (495), (2) his instructions to a Papal legate Magister Faustus, and (3) his letter to the Emperor Anastasius.
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What Everyone (especially Anglicans) Considering Eastern Orthodoxy Should know : The Conversion of Frederick Joseph Kinsman (1868-1944)

Many contemporary readers on things Catholic, Anglican, and even Eastern Orthodox are at least familiar with the name John Henry Cardinal Newman, the 19th century Anglican who converted to Catholicism, if not with his whole story. Well, another Anglican who came after Blessed Newman’s time is Frederick Joseph Kinsman, a Bishop of the American Episcopal Church and Oxford trained Professor of Ecclesiastical History who converted to Catholicism in 1919 after resigning from his Bishopric in Delaware. While Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua is his very scholarly review of his defenses for his journey to Catholicism, Kinsman’s Salve Mater is less scholarly and much more practical. Like Newman, He taught and lectured in many places, though his specialty was History and not Theology. What I find more practical about Kinsman is that, unlike Newman, he engaged with the Greek and Russian Orthodox Apologetic, which makes for something a tad more relevant to our contemporary times wherein we are beginning to see many traditional Catholics make an exodus to Eastern Orthodoxy in light of the current situation. Now, I don’t happen to agree with every point Kinsman brings up contra-Orthodoxy, but overall he summarizes the primary reason I chose to remain Catholic and not go Orthodox, namely, that the Papal office is as essential to the Church as the Bishop’s office, and thus we cannot have the Church at x-point in history with the Papacy and then y-point in history without the Papacy. Many Orthodox today are willing to concede a great amount of recognition of Rome’s authoritative primacy in the 1st millennium, though relegate its institution to more ecclesiastical institution, and thus leaving it to an institution even less divine than the office of Deacon. In other words, the Church can do with it or without it. Others, of course, not as plentiful, have stated that the current Patriarch of Constantinople assumes the same position of the Pope in the 1st millennium, and so attempt to say that the Orthodox have never really dumped the universal Primate from its constitutions, for reasons, at times, which run along the lines of synodality being non-existent without primacy. As faithful to history as this all may or may not be, the fact that there is a variety of divergent voices in Orthodoxy on the matter is already an indication which makes Kinsman’s apologetic contra-Orthodoxy just as relevant as it was to him in the early 1900’s. Ultimately, if the Papal office, being the office of St. Peter, is a creation of Jesus Christ, then the earthly Church has no rights to remove it from the visible constitution of the Church without axing off something essential to itself. Below, I have taken the time to type out large sections from Kinsman’s Salve Mater which deals with his reasons for going to Rome and not Constantinople. For those who wish to read more, I recommend getting the whole book, which can be read online for free here  , or the physical book can be purchased at relatively low costs via AbeBooks.
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Another Anglican Concession (1846 – 1917)

A. Theodore Wirgman, H.D., D.C.L., late Anglican Scholar of Magdalene College, Cambridge , author of The Constitutional Authority of Bishops in the Catholic Church admits that St. Cyprian understands a universalist relation between the See of Peter as source of unity and the whole network of churches in the world, rather than merely to North African and Southern Italy, or the West, as Dr. Kidd had claimed in his Roman Primacy. Wirgman writes:

“S. Cyprian tells Pope Cornelius of the schismatics of his diocese who ‘dare to set sail, and carry letters to the Chair of Peter and to the principal Church whence sacerdotal unity has taken its rise‘ (St. Cyprian, Ep. 54). We cannot well limit the meaning of unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est to the probably fact that the Bishop of North Africa and Italy traced their Apostolic succession to the Roman see. It implies that the Church of Rome is a centre of unity for the whole Church”.  (Chapter II, Note A, page. 90)

However, he ducks the incoming inference of this implying somewhat a foundation for the Papal claims by resolving:

“But it is not de fide that separation from the communion of the See of Rome involves separation from the communion and unity of the Catholic Church.”

Photius & Papacy: A Glimpse (A.D. 879-80)


A quick look at the 9th century Orthodox confrontation with Papal supremacy.

Just before the Synod of Constantinople 879-80, Pope John VIII had written a letter to Emperor Basil I concerning the re-instating of Photius upon the death of St. Ignatius, who occupied the episcopal throne prior to. Photius had actually been reconciled to St. Ignatius, and actually canonized him after his death. This letter from John VIII contained clear indication of some of the basic elements of the definitions @ Vatican 1 on the founding and prerogatives of Papal power, and that in both Latin & Greek versions. Here is the passage I am referring to:
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St. Cyril of Alexandria was Papal legate at Ephesus I (A.D. 431)


Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Leontiy of Rostov

Besides the fact that in the very Acta of the Council of Ephesus, the list of names has the following for St. Cyril of Alexandria:

“By Cyril of Alexandria, who managed the place of the most holy and sacred [Pope] Celestine, Archbishop of the Roman Church” (translation from Ryan Grant)

The Greek and Latin can be seen side-by-side at this link.

But besides that, I came across an interesting citation while reading Fr. Francis Dvornik’s “The Idea of Apostolicity in Byzantium” (Page 135). Apparently, when Emperor Anastasius had inquired to Pope Anastasius II (497) on how to resolve the Acacian schism, some legates from the Patriarch of Alexandria had given a letter to the Papal legates in Constantinople. That letter says the following:

“The venerable holy churches of the cities of Rome and Alexandria have always preserved concord, not only in the true and immaculate faith from the time the word of salvation was preached in them, but also in divine ministry. That is to say in both of them the foundation of faith was laid by the same man — we mean the blessed Apostle Peter, whose imitator in everything was the holy evangelist Mark – so that, whenever it happened that in times of uncertainty some councils of bishops were due to be held, the most holy man who presided over the church of Rome used to delegate the most reverend archbishop of the city of Alexandria to take his place” (Collectio Avellana, pg 469) For Latin , see link.

So, obviously this is a lot of pomp, but it shows that in A.D. 497, the Patriarch of Alexandria thought that in the past the Roman bishop had delegated to the Bishop of Alexandria to hold his place at Councils. No doubt, Cyril at Ephesus is in mind.

In the historical context just before the Council of Ephesus, Pope Celestine’ wrote an epistle to Cyril with the instructions for Nestorius’ excommunication, and herein he delegates Cyril with the following words:

“And so, appropriating to yourself the authority of our see, and using our position, you shall with resolute severity carry out this sentence [of excommunication]….” (P.L. 50, 463)

The Council of Ephesus itself made reference to this Papal letter in its own epistle to Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian in July 11th, 431:

“And now they have approved with one accord our sentence concerning the faith, and those who differed they have pronounced to be cut off from the priesthood. And before the assembly of this synod, Celestine, bishop of great Rome, showed by his letter to Cyril, beloved of God, bishop of the great city of Alexandria, whom he appointed to act in his place….” (source)

And as almost all know, the Papal legates at the Council made it clear that the Bishop of Rome was the head of the Council, and that the decisions of the bishops to unite themselves to their Head was most appropriate. I quote here below:

“Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince (ἔξαρχος) and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation (θεμέλιος) of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus  Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Cœlestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy synod, which the most humane and Christian Emperors have commanded to assemble, bearing in mind and continually watching over the Catholic faith. ‘ ” (Session III)


“Philip, presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: We offer our thanks to the holy and venerable Synod, that when the writings of our holy and blessed pope had been read to you, the holy members by our [or your] holy voices, you joined yourselves to the holy head also by your holy acclamations. For your blessedness is not ignorant that the head of the whole faith, the head of the Apostles, is blessed Peter the Apostle.” (Session II)

 I think there is enough evidence here to suggest that the Council of Ephesus accepted the Roman Primacy at least on Petrine grounds, and that his judgment was revered as coming from the one who presides over Councils. I think, at the very least, this should serve as a corrective to those who would argue that the Eastern christians never accepted the Petrine origin of Rome’s primacy, and that it was Peter who was the rock and keyholder over the Kingdom of Christ. Philip the legate even says the succession of Peter is perpetual, without any contest. But, we would need more information to settle the significance of that. 

I think Dom Christopher Butler nicely summarized the initiative of Pope St. Celestine (A.D. 430) when he was notified of the obstinate heresy of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, and the latter’s own perspective on the matter:

“This very brief resume shows that the bishop of Rome had been prepared to excommunicate the Bishop of Constantinople from the Catholic Church on his own authority, and that Cyril of Alexandria was ready to act on the Pope’s mandate in executing this sentence; that when the Emperor interposed a Council, the Council regarded itself as obliged to carry out the Pope’s instructions; and that, on a matter which those instructions had not foreseen (the case of John of Antioch and his fellows), the Council’s action was not regarded as final by the Pope, whose desire for a more peaceful solution was accepted and effectuated. Cyril was, of course, the leading personality at the Council, and one can sympathize with the complaint of the condemned Nestorius, who writes:

‘Who was judge ? Cyril. Who was accuser? Cyril. Who was Bishop of Rome? Cyril. Cyril was everything’

Thus Nestorius feels that the authority of the head of the Church was being abused by his own bitterest enemy. On the other hand, of Eutyches, who later fell into the opposite error to his own, Nestorius says: ‘He had received judgment. What other judgment was requisite beyond that which the bishop of Rome had made?’ ” (The Church and Infallibility, Dom B.C. Butler – Page 174)


Fr. John Meyendorff – Infallibility of Councils?


“Not ‘ecumenicity’ , but the truthfulness of the councils makes their decisions binding for us. We are touching here on the basic mystery of Orthodox teaching on the Church: the Church is the miracle of God’s presence with men, beyond any form ‘criterion’ and any formal ‘infallibility’.  It is not sufficient to convoke an ecumenical council, so that it may proclaim the truth,  whatever historical reality may be understood in this concept of the council; what matters is the presence in the midst of those assembled also of him who said: ‘I am the Way , the Truth , and the Life’. Without this presence, the assembly, however numerous and representative it may be, is not in the truth.

“Protestants and Catholics usually have difficulty grasping this basic truth of Orthodoxy. Both Protestants and Catholics materialize God’s presence in the Church: the former in the letter of Scripture, the latter in the person of the Pope. They do not thereby evade the miracle, but give it a concrete form. The sole ‘criterion of truth’ (for Orthodoxy remains God himself, who lives mysteriously in the Church, leads her on the way of truth, and makes known his will in the wholeness (‘catholicity’) of her life. The councils — particularly the ‘ecumenical’ councils — in the course of history have been merely means of declaring the truth: for it is quite plain that the Orthodox faith is not exhaustively contained in the decisions of the seven councils, which merely established some basic truths about God and about Christ.

“The totality of the Orthodox faith remains in the Church continuously: it finds its expression in local councils (for example, in the councils of Constantinople in the fourteenth century, which defined the Orthodox doctrine of grace) and in the works of various theologians; it is likewise always and everywhere known in the Orthodox liturgy, in the sacraments and in the life of the saints. This life did not come to a standstill with the last ecumenical council (787): the truth is always and everywhere living and active in the Church. It can also be made known in a new ‘ecumenical’ council, gathering together not only the Orthodox Churches, but also the Western Christians” (What is an Ecumenical Council?, Vestnik I, 1959 (Russia))