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 a monastery just outside the walls of Constantinople, had been accused by Eusebius, Bishop of Dorylaeum, of the heresy which posited 1-nature in Christ our God, after the unionization of the Word and humanity. Consequently, a Synod was convened in Constantinople in the year 448, and Eutyches was condemned under the presiding authority of 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 him. Pope St. Leo had sent legates carrying his famous epistle to St. Flavian, otherwise referred to as his Tomewhich would soundly refute Eutyches and promote what would become a standard rule in orthodox christology. Leo’s letter to the Council shows what he thought about his Tome. Continue reading