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.

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

  1. I don’t know a single publication that has all of them. However, Patrick O’Connell wrote a book on the Ecclesiology of a close contemporary of St. Theodore, St. Nikiphorus of Constantinople. In this book, he has a whole chapter of St. Theodore’s view of the Roman Primacy

  2. Pingback: Highlights From Chadwick’s “East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church” – Orthodox Christian Theology

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