St. Theodore the Studite (759-826) on Papal Primacy , Part 1

Theodore_Studite_(Menologion_of_Basil_II) (1)

Saint Theodore the Studite

One of the most explicit defenders of the privilegium Petri and the primacy of the Roman See is the ardent Greek defender of holy images, St. Theodore, monk of Studium.

During the course of his life, he suffered 3 exiles. The first exile was caused by his protest against the Emperor Constantine VI who put away his valid wife Mary the Armenian and had taken Theodote in her place. The reigning Patriarch of Constantinople, Tarasius, likewise protested, but eventually compromised, but refused to take part in the ceremony of “marriage”, which was blessed by a Byzantine priest named Joseph. St. Theodore, accompanied by his uncle Plato, were exiled from the monastery of Saccudion. This exile lasted only a few months until the death of the Emperor. Thereafter, he regained his freedom and brought his monks to a new monastery, called the Studion, named after the founder, the consul Studion.

When Patriarch Tarasius died (806), the new Emperor, Nikephoros I “the Logothete“, had appointed a laymen to take his place, also named Nikephorus (who would later be canonized as a Saint). The Emperor had him rushed through the process of ordination. At the same time, the priest Joseph who had blessed the marriage of the former Emperor and his adulterous wife was rehabilitated and given the status of grand steward after being stripped of his priesthood.

St. Theodore exclaimed  to the Patriarch that such a restoration of the presbyter Joseph was against the canons, but nothing was done. The Emperor decided to hold a Synod which justified the invalid re-marriage of Emperor Constantine IV . At this Synod it had been deemed by the heretodox present that the Emperors do not live under the law of the Church, and that the orthodox Monks’ appeal to St. John the Baptist contra Herod and St. John Chrysostom’s preaching against the immorality of the court of Eudoxia were therefore useless.

What interests us here is the letter St. Theodore wrote to Pope St. Leo III . In his appeal to the Pope, the following words are read :

To the most holy and great father of fathers, to our lord Leo, apostolic pope, Theodore, the most humble priest and abbot of the Studion….
Since it is to the great Peter that Christ our God gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven and entrusted the dignity of chief of the flock , it is to Peter, that is to say, his successor, that one ought to submit every innovation which is made in the Catholic Church by those who turn aside from the truth. That is what we humble and lowly monks have learnt from the ancient fathers. Therefore, a new teaching having arisen recently in the midst of our Church here, we believed we ought, first through the medium of one of our fathers, the most holy archimandrite Ephiphanius, and then by this simple letter, to submit it to the angel of your supreme beatitude. There has been held, o Ruler divine of all rulers, a synod of prevaricators, as says the prophet Jeremiah, a council of adulterers. These men have not been content to conspire in favor of the priest who blessed the adulterous marriage and to receive him into communion, but, to merit the name of perfect heretic, have excommunicated in a second synod all those who do not cleave to their error, or rather the Church catholic herself…I borrow now the cry of the coryphaeus of the Apostles, calling Christ to his succor when the waves of the sea were risen up, and I say to your blessedness who are the Representative of Christ, ‘O first shepherd of the Church which is under heaven’, save us now, we perish. Imitate the Christ your master, stretch out your hand to your Church as he stretched out his hand to Peter. Peter began to sink in the waves, while our Church is still once more submerged in the depths of heresy. Emulate, we beg you, the great Pope whose name you bear, and just as he on the appearance of the Eutychian heresy, stood erect spiritually as a lion with his dogmatic letters, so in your turn (I dare to say it because of your name) roar divinely, or rather send forth your thunders against the present heresy. For if they, usurping an authority which does not belong to them, have dared to convene a heretical council, while those who, following ancient custom, have not even the right of convoking an orthodox one without your knowledge, it seems absolutely necessary, we dare to say it to you, that your divine primacy should call together a lawful council, so that the Catholic dogma may drive away heresy and that neither your primacy may be anathematized with all the orthodox by these new voices without authority, nor that wills evilly disposed may find in this adulterous council an excuse for being involved in sin. It is in order to obey your divine authority as chief pastor that we have set forth these things as it befitted our nothingness, we the least members of the Church. For the rest we beg your holiness to count us among your sheep and to enlighten and to strengthen us by your holy prayers… It is of myself, a humble fishermen held in prison, that I write to you this letter, because my father and companion the monk, as well as my brother the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, are imprisoned in other islands. But they say the same things as I, and with me prostrate themselves at the sacred feet of your blessedness” (Patrologia Graeca 99, 1017 – Epistle 1)


In summary, our blessed Monk of the East accepted the following concerning the Roman See:(1) Peter was given the Keys of the Kingdom in a special and authoritative way

(2) Peter was Chief of the Apostles

(3) The Bishops of Rome are the Successors to Peter and his Primacy

(4) All doctrinal questions threatening the Churches are to be laid before the Pope

(5) Pope St. Leo’s letter were in the character of dogma to Chalcedon contra Eutychios

(6) Councils held without the assent of the Pope are illegal (cf. Constantinople II, pre-Vigilius/Pelagius’ acceptance)

(7) Theodore, his monks, and the Archbishop of Thessaloniki were of the same mind at the time

(8) They all accepted that they were sheep in the fold which is cared for by the Successor of Peter

Now, one might dispute how far less this goes than what is claimed today by the Papists. However, what is said is a great deal, and can hardly be tucked away in some write-off which says he was just exhibiting Byzantine flattery. Nor can his other statements on the divine Pentarchy deflect what he decided to say here when exclusively commenting on Rome and its own Petrine prerogatives.

St. Maximos the Confessor – The Scripture Condemns Any Who Preach Against the Truth, including…..Rome


St. Maximos the Confessor

<Below I give 3 possible explanations for St. Maximos’s statements before his interrogators when asked if he would submit to Rome if she had taught Monotheletism, and then a concession>

St. Maximos most likely wrote a few documents where it is said quite explicitly that the Roman see, due to the promise of Christ, is indefectible in faith (citation below). However, it cannot be denied that in the instance of his interrogation by the Monothelite heretics under the Byzantine Emperor , where it was insisted to him that Rome had become Monothelite, he at least verbally suggested that in this scenario, however hypothetical or realistic it may have been to Maximos himself, he would refuse obedience to a heretical Pope and remain faithful to the Church Fathers and the Council of Lateran 649, which, for him, only confirmed the former.

So what does this do for the Roman Catholic appeal to St Maximos? Well, for the Orthodox, it would appear that St. Maximos is off the witness list for the Papacy. Is this necessary? There are a variety of reasons for why St. Maximos would have answered as he did. One should immediately observe the glaring quotation of St. Paul’s epistle to the churches of Galatia, wherein St. Paul says “Even if an angel from heaven were to preach a different gospel, let him be unto thee anathema” (Gal 1:6). This would entail that St. Maximos is describing subjects who would altogether not be expected to preach heresy. The literary function of St. Paul’s words are hyperbolic, and are meant to say something like “I don’t care if it is an Apostle like me, or an Angel from the throne of God, he they say something contrary to the gospel of Christ, do not listen to them!”. That should immediately tell the historian that St. Maximos thought the Roman see to be of this kind of unlikely, conceptually impossible, messenger of heresy.
Secondly, it could mean that St. Maximos had an overblown understanding of Papal infallibility beforehand, and thought that the Popes could *never* err in faith. The words he wrote in his epistle to Peter the politician in the East, otherwise cited as Opuscula 12, does show a general idea of indefectibility in Rome’s teaching ministry. In this epistle, we read the following from St. Maximos:
For from the coming down of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the Churches in every part of the world have possessed that greatest Church alone as their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ our Saviour, the gates of Hell do never prevail against it, that it possesses the keys of a right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the most High”.

If this second possibility is true, and it seems the most reasonable one to me, then that leaves the Roman Catholic with recognizing that St. Maximos was right to connect together the promised investiture of infallibility from Jesus to Peter with the teaching ministry of the Roman See, something far beyond what you’d find in later Byzantine texts, but that he erred in giving it a too overblown application;  and also left at his disposal is the belief of the Latin West , at least from Reformation times, had taken care to distinguish between an ex cathedra teaching of a validly reigning Pope versus something less than that. In the latter mode, the Pope is open to err, and it does not ruin our doctrine. If Maximos were to have not had this distinction in mind, then one can see how a change of mind occurred. If so, does he merit the “anathema of Rome!” ? Given his circumstances, I don’t think he would be. For starters, the doctrine of Papal infallibility had not been defined yet. Secondly, he knew that Rome taught dyotheletism dogmatically @ the Council of Lateran 649, under the presidency of Pope St. Martin, who likewise would suffer martyrdom for the same doctrine. In all likelihood, he did not trust what his interrogators were telling him.  Dogmas in Rome become binding and condemning laws when they are defined, not in pre-mature times. That this saintly monk of Constantinople would say the words that he did concerning the authority of Rome is not to be ignored (unless one contests the authenticity of authorship).

Thirdly, there is the possibility that Maximos was only giving credence to what he thought an impossible hypothetical for the sake of argument, thereby leaving his personal and inward adherence to Papal infallibility intact. This might seem attractive to a Catholic, but there are grounds to speculate on this. Usually when someone grants a heretical premise, in this case the dispensable nature of communion with Rome, for the sake of argument, there is subsequently a manifest turn around where the one giving the grant shows his contrary position. But Maximos sort of leaves it to his questioners that he would be willing to be excommunicated from Rome if she were to enter communion with the Monothelites. Is it possible he was merely granting the premise while inwardly believing otherwise? Sure. Now, I think there is good reason to suspect that he never disbelieved Papal infallibility, but I think its clear that he articulated a last resort when found in the spot where he needed to deal with the possibility of Rome going heretical. He may have been confirmed in his beliefs were he to found out Rome never actually did commit heresy.

Lastly, there is the possibility that St Maximos had always disbelieved Papal infallibility, his former statements either being forged by some insincere pro-Papalist or his words being typical of Byzantine flattery, and that his act of condemning a heretical Pope followed smoothly from his already held beliefs. In this case, St. Maximos is not witness at all, Catholics should stop appealing to him, and they should also begin to consider more honestly the arguments proffered contra-Papacy from the Orthodox. I am ready to accept this, but am left to wonder why the data from the 2nd possibility is to be unconsidered.

Now, for the concession . I concede that there lays a burden on the Roman Catholic to demonstrate, or show probable, that this distinction between ex cathedra and non-ex cathedra teachings modes existed, or was recognized by 1st millennium churchmen. And for time I’ve given to this study, I’ve not been able to find adequate historical justification.

Tome of Pope St. Leo – Critically Examined by the Council of Chalcedon?


Portion of Pope St. Leo’s Tome [in Greek]

When the years following the Council of Ephesus 431 drew nigh, a fellow named Eutyches, a 70 year-old  Archimandrite who headed monastery just outside the walls of Constantinople, had been accused by a Eusebius of Dorylaeum of the heresy which posited 1-nature in Christ our God. In a Synod in Constantinople in the year 448, Eutyches was condemned under the Patriarch St. Flavian, the city’s Bishop. But since Eutyches had some influence on the Emperor Theodosius II, a Council was called in order to vindicate the teaching of Eutyches, as well as blame St. Flavian for condemning the former. Pope Leo had sent legates carrying his famous epistle to St. Flavian, otherwise referred to as his Tome, which would soundly refute Eutyches and promote what would become a standard in orthodox christology. Leo’s letter to the Council shows what he thought about his Tome. Concerning his invitation to Council from Theodosius II, the Pope writes: “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


Pope St. Leo the Great

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 33). In a letter to the Emperor himself, Leo writes: “But what the Catholic Church universally believes and teaches on the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation is contained more fully in the letter which I have sent to my brother and fellow bishop Flavian” (Letter 29). Thus, Leo understood his Tome to be the standard by which the Council of Ephesus 449 was to judge the orthodoxy of Eutyches.  This Council failed, and is known as the Robber Synod 449. Even thereafter Pope Leo continued to think his Tome was the standard of orthodoxy for the next Council held in Chalcedon, which would eventually condemn Eutyches and those who share in Monophysite Christology. But he was not alone in this.

In his letter to the Pope , the new Emperor Marcian mentions that things which “conduce to the Catholic faith shall be laid down as your holiness, in accordance with the canons of the Church, has ruled” (Epistle 76 – Leo). This “ruling” was nothing less than the Tome. Another letter to St. Leo from the Empress St. Pulcheria calibrates our perspective on the how the Tome was understood.; she writes that the Council of Chalcedon was summoned “that the bishops may decide by your authority in accordance with what the faith and the Christian religion demands” (Epistle 77 – Leo). And these two statements, from Emperor and Empress, set the plot for what is going to happen in Chalcedon. In fact, at the Council, St. Leo’s tome is put on par for the criteria of orthodoxy with the Nicene Creed and other former dogmatic canons, as we shall see. But in any case, it was quite clear on Pope Leo’s part that his Tome was non-negotiable, seeing as how this Pope understood his role in the universal Church. Anglican scholar J.N.D. Kelly writes that Leo held the Tiara-and-keysconviction that “supreme and universal authority in the Church, bestowed originally by Christ on Peter, had been transmitted to each subsequent bishop of Rome as the Apostle’s heir. As such he assumed Peter’s functions, full authority, and privileges; and just as the Lord bestowed more power on Peter than on the other apostles, so the pope was the ‘primate of all the bishops’, the Apostle’s mystical embodiment” (Oxford Dictionary of the Popes, p. 43)

How did the Bishops of the Council receive the Tome of Leo? In Session 1, we have recorded the words of Patriarch Maximus of Antioch which are in defense of St. Flavian but which speak to our point: “Archbishop Flavian, of holy memory, expounded the faith rightly and in agreement with the most blessed and holy Archbishop Leo, and we all eagerly receive it” (Session 1). At the end of this session, wherein Dioscorus was judged worthy of deposition, the Imperial commissioners expected the Bishops, on the morrow,  to freshly expound their exposition of faith “in writing” (Mansi vi, 936), to ensure agreement. However, the next day came, the Bishops explained that no new exposition of faith is allowed, and that a mere maintenance of Nicaea 325 and Ephesus 431 were sufficient by law.  The words used are pertinent: Cecropius, Bishop of Sebastopol had spoken in the Session, “The Eutychian matter has sprung up; on this a form [ordinance] has been given by the most holy Archbishop Leo, and we go)  by it, and have all subscribed the letter“, to which the Bishops shouted, “That we also say, the explanation already given by Leo suffices; another declaration of faith must not be put forth” (Mansi vi, 954).

The Commissioners were not going to let up, and suggested that the Patriarchs should come together to the center of the Church of St. Euphemia and to corroborate on the faith so as to ensure absolute unity. To this a Bishop Florentius of Sardes spoke out: “As those who have been taught to follow the Nicene synod, and also the regularly and piously assembled Synod at Ephesus, in accordance with the faith of the holy fathers Cyril and Celestine, and also with the letter of the most holy Leo, cannot possibly draw up at once a formula of the faith, we therefore ask for a longer delay; but I, for my part, 12932717_1174900739195072_5059321974461727922_n-1believe the letter of Leo is sufficient” (ibid). The Bishops then proceeded to read aloud the Nicene Creed and the anathema against Arius, the faith of Constantinople 381, then the letter from St. Cyril to Nestorius & John of Antioch, and then finally St. Leo’s Tome to St. Flavian. After St. Leo’s Tome was read, the Bishops exclaimed:

That is the faith of the fathers! That is the faith of the Apostles! We all believe thus, the orthodox believe thus! Anathema to him who believes otherwise! Peter has spoken through Leo! Thus Cyril taught! That is the true faith! Why was that not read at Ephesus [the Robber synod 449]? Dioscorus kept it hidden” (ibid , 971)

However, in the 4th Session, we come to learn that bishops from Illyricum and Palestine took issue with 3 passages, thinking that they contradicted St. Cyril’s christology.  This group of questioning bishops together formed 48 bishops out of the nearly 600 Bishops in total attendance. Aetius, deacon of Constantinople and one who subscribed to the Tome, responded by reconciling the first 2 problem passages with St. Cyril’s letter to Nestorius, and the 3rd was left for Theodoret of Cyrus ( Hefele, History of Councils, vol. iii, page 318-318).

After this the Imperial Commissioners ask “Has any one still any doubt“? to which the Bishops responded “No one doubts” . But then Atticus of Nicopolis, one of the Illyricum bishops, requested a few days’ delay. The Imperial Commissioners resorted to allowing this delay so that the questioning bishops could be “instructed“. But then it was cried out “None of us doubts, we have already subscribed” (Mansi vi, 974).  This of course was the voice of the majority. Even so, the commissioners permitted Anatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to choose certain learned from the vast majority who unquestionably subscribed to the Tome to the task of instructing these extreme minority bishops.

To the idea that this request by Atticus and members of the Illyrian & Palestinian party for a few days break to examine the Tome shows that the Council gave a critical examination of the Tome of Leo before agreeing with it, the summary of Dr. Luke Rivington is more than sufficient:

“So far, it will be seen, there was no conciliar investigation or examination of the Tome of Leo, unless anyone were to dignify with such a name the interruptions of these few Illyrian and Palestinian bishops, who were immediately set right by the Archdeacon [Aetius] and Theodoret, or unless we consider the decision of the Commissioners and 300px-st_leo_the_greatSenate to refer these few bishops to Anatolius to be ‘taught’ in his house, a conciliar examination. In truth, the objection that has been so confidently raised, that the Tome of Leo was sanctioned by the Synod after examination as by a superior authority, collapses fr want of evidence, so soon as we take the whole of the facts into consideration. So far, it had been made from the very beginning the test of orthodoxy. The bishops, by signing it, witnesses to their own orthodoxy rather than set a seal to that of Leo. Their witness, however, did give to the Tome that external recommendation which, though not needed for the strong, was calculated to assist the weak by its impressive exhibition of the Church’s unity. And as events proved, every help was needed to preserve the faith in the coming century” (The Roman Primacy: A.D. 431-451, page 269)

Wrapping up the question of faith in the 4th session, the Imperial Commissioners asked the Council bishops to express its mind. Papal legate Paschasinus answered on behalf of all saying: “The rule of faith as contained in the creed of Nicaea, confirmed by the Council of Constantinople, expounded at Ephesus under Cyril, and set forth in the letter of Pope Leo when he condemned the heresy of Nestorius and Eutyches” (Mansi vii, 9A-B ). Answers from others came likewise. Anatolius of Constantinople answered: “The letter of Leo is in harmony with the [Nicene Creed] as well as with what was done at Ephesus under Cyril” and the Papal legates said : “It is plain that the faith of Leo is in harmony with the Creed, and with the Ephesian definitions, and therefore his letter is of the same sense as the Creed” (ibid, 12A)

Now, as Dr. Rivington already alluded above, some have thought that since the Bishops were verifying the Tome in accordance with Nicaea, Ephesus, and more particularly St. Cyril, that they did not think the Tome had any superior authority to the Council. This is taken up by the Anglican historian Dr. Beresford Kidd in his book “Roman Primacy” (Page 143-44), and many have followed in the same argument. The logic goes like this – if the Council had to measure it, then it was the Council that judged the Tome, not the other way around. This is not necessary, and for obvious reasons. The Creed of Nicaea and the Christology of Ephesus 431 are both, in themselves, infallible; this is the belief of Eastern/Coptic/Syrian Nicaea_iconOrthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. In other words, these were Ecumenical Councils, and as such, possess the supreme authority in matter of faith and morals. Yet, at Nicaea, the duty of the bishops was to measure its Creed against the deposit of faith which was apprehended in the Holy Scriptures and in the Christology which was passed down by the prior forefathers. But just because the bishops of Nicaea were measuring their Creed by this former rule does not negate the Council of Nicaea’s own infallibility proper. In the same way, when the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus met and measured its deliberation on Christ and the Mother of God against the Creed of Nicaea, it did not thereby diminish its own infallibility proper. But then, why is it that when we come to join the Council of Chalcedon, and we find that Leo’s tome is measured against the former Councils of Nicaea/Ephesus, we immediately think the tome is fallible? It is because some have thought, together with the Anglican theologian George Salmon, who wrote an oft cited book against the doctrine of Papal infallibility (which cuts through Ecclesial/Conciliar Infallibility with the same swipe of the sword), that an infallible Church should only inflexibly demand unquestionable and immediate assent to its teaching. For an infallible Church to admonish her members to examine the grounds of her infallible teaching seem to sound out of place. To this, the great Anglican convert to Benedictine Catholicism Dom Christopher Butler, wonderfully rebuts in his abridged reply to Salmon entitled Infallibility and the Church by saying:

“I would reply, the Church will naturally encourage her children to ‘examine the grounds’. She will do for the obvious reason that any Catholic may be asked by a non-Catholic enquirer to ‘give account’ of his faith; and for the non-Catholic the ‘grounds’ are of great importance. But she will do so also because faith ordinarily requires, for its bene esse, an instructed reason and an understanding which mere assent is not calculated to engender.” (Page 21)

This analogy could also apply to the study of Sacred Scripture. More often than not, the same persons who tout that Leo’s tome was the opinion of one bishop are often times serious Bible readers. It would be a far stretch for any of these persons to say that they have struggled one or twice with a certain passage in Romans 4 being in harmony with James 2. And yet, with all the ink spilled trying to reconcile this together over the last 500 years, not once has the idea come up that by doing such critical exegesis, one effectively doubts the infallibility or the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. But be sure, if the bishops at Chalcedon work to understand how the Tome of Leo is in harmony with prior dogma of the Church, it must be because the Tome is a base document of man’s opinion.



In conclusion, I think there is ample evidence to believe that the Council of Chalcedon submitted obediently to the Tome of Leo. In the very letter which the Council wrote to Pope Leo after their proceedings were done, this very point is proved. On the Tome of Leo, the Council writes: “And we were all delighted, reveling, as at an imperial banquet, in the spiritual food, which Christ supplied to us through your letter: and we seemed to see the Heavenly Bridegroom actually present with us. 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” (Letter 98). Who better than the Council to ask who was Head of the Synod? Whether the Tome was critically examined? Or whether Leo’s letter was merely just an opinion? Indeed, no other testimony is better.