A certain Hieromonk Enoch (whose clerical status I cannot vouch for) produced a blog post wherein he seeks to show an early testimonial against the teaching of the Papacy as understood by the Catholic Councils of Lyons (1274), Florence (1438-1444), Vatican (1870), and re-affirmed at Vatican II (1962-68). Here is my rebuttal to this article and which seeks to look at some of the surrounding facts which will completely block the force of his post. Let me first describe the historical situation, and then the critique will proceed thereafter.
Pope St. Vitalian (venerated by the Eastern Orthodox on July 23rd) ordered Metropolitan of Ravenna, Maurus (in office from 642-671), to travel to Rome in order to verify his theological positions in a Synod, but Maurus refused to obey the summons. Vitalian ended up excommunicating Maurus, and Maurus attempted the same for the Pope. Maurus appealed to the Emperor in Constantinople for intervention, and it ended up being successful. In 662, Emperor Constans II, who himself was particularly interested in releasing Ravenna from Roman oversight given that the Byzantine exarch , by then, resided in Ravenna, granted autocephaly to the See of Maurus and it was decreed that all future elections to episcopal office in that see would not be required to be conducted by Rome, as was formerly the case, but rather that the Emperor himself would confirm elections along with three nearby suffragans. It is recorded that when Maurus died in 671, his last words on his deathbed was for his colleagues to not submit to the authority of Rome. This event actually has a bigger backdrop. There had been previous tension between Rome and Ravenna, but that is outside the purview here.
Alright, so what’s wrong with Fr. Enoch’s article? In the first place, Maurus was seeking to be released from the Patriarchal authority of the Roman See, not specifically the Universal Papal authority. Ravenna had been within the Patriarchal oversight of Rome since Pope Celestine (430) decreed it to be so with approbation from Emperor Valentinian III. And so for the Pope to issue orders summoning the Metropolitan of Ravenna to attend a Synod in Rome was not an “encroachment” at all. . Needless to say, Maurus’s appeal was to the secular arm of Byzantine caesaro-papism, and it ended up being a mere minor set back for Rome since this ill-achieved autonomy from Rome only lasted 7 years. Metropolitan Theodore, 2nd successor to Maurus after Reparatus, was, like his predecessor Maurus, summoned to Rome by Pope St. Agatho I, third successor after Pope St. Vitalian, and, while there, negotiations were conducted and the autonomy acquired by Maurus was rescinded. This agreement was constitutionally confirmed, and thus Roman patriarchal authority over Ravenna restored, under the Pontificate of Pope St. Leo II with the approprobation of the new Emperor Constantine
Some more data which exposes Fr. Enoch’s idea of the event between Pope St. Vitalian vs. Maurus is to be detailed below.
(1) As already stated, it was in the year 430 that Ravenna was elevated to Metropolitan status by a decree of the Pope and with approbation from Emperor Valentinian III. This happened when a certain John was occupant of the see of Ravenna. St. Peter Chrysosologous, successor to John, was also ordained by the Bishop of Rome, was an ardent supporter of the Petrine supremacy of the Pope when he wrote to Eutychios of Constantinople saying ““We exhort you [Eutychios], honorable brother, that you obediently listen to what has been written by the blessed Pope of the city of Rome, since blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own See, offers the truth of the faith to those who seek. For we, in our zeal for peace and faith, cannot decide questions of faith apart from the consent of the bishop of Rome..” (St. Peter Chrysologus, Ad Eutychem, 449 AD). In any case, Fr. Enoch already begins with the premise that Maurus is rightfully retaining an independence from Rome, as if it was his right. In fact, it was not.
(2) Some 55+ years before this split from Ravenna and Rome occurred, during the Pontificate of St. Gregory the Great (A.D. 600), there was a letter from another John, Metropolitan of Ravenna, and in this letter John makes it clear that Rome was the source of Ravenna’s Metropolian privileges. He writes: “And how should I be so daring as to presume to oppose that most holy see, which transmits its laws to the universal Church, for maintaining whose authority, as God knows, I have seriously excited the ill-will of many enemies against myself?”, and “……Wherefore let no one endeavour to insinuate anything against me to my lord, since if any one wishes to do so, he cannot prove that any novelty has been introduced by me. For in what manner I have obeyed your commands and served your interests when cause required, may Almighty God make manifest to your most sincere heart: and I attribute it to my sins that after so many labours and difficulties which I endure within and without I should deserve to experience such a change. But again this among other things consoles me, that most holy fathers sometimes chastise their sons for the purpose only of advancing them the more, and that, after this devotion and satisfaction, you will not only conserve to the holy Church of Ravenna her ancient privileges, but even confer greater ones in your own times.“, and “…… that as often as priests or levites of the Church of Ravenna have come to Rome for the ordination of bishops or for business, they all have proceeded with napkins before the eyes of your most holy predecessors without any blame. Wherefore also at the time when I, sinner as I am, was ordained there by your predecessor, all my presbyters and deacons used them while proceeding in attendance on the lord pope. And since our God in His providence has placed all things in your hand and most pure conscience, I adjure you by the very Apostolical See, which you formerly adorned by your character, and now govern with due dignity, that you in no respect diminish on account of my deservings the privileges of the Church of Ravenna, which is intimately yours; but, even according to the voice of prophecy, let it be laid upon me and upon my father’s house, according to its deserving. I have, therefore, for your greater satisfaction, subjoined all the privileges which have been indulged by your predecessors to the holy Church of Ravenna, though none the less finding assurance in your venerable archives in reference to the times of the consecration of my predecessors. But now whatever, after ascertaining the truth, you may command to be done, is in God’s power and yours; since I, desiring to obey the commands of my lord’s Apostleship, have taken care, notwithstanding ancient custom, to abstain till I receive further orders.”
And so Maurus would be combating prerogatives and privileges which former Meotropolitans of Ravenna gladly said belonged to Rome.
(2) The whole dispute would make it seem as though Maurus was in the right, and Vitalian was in the wrong. However, I wonder Maurus even a Saint venerated by the East? Fr. Enoch’s article seems to say so, but I cannot find any source material for that. I am not sure. Interestingly enough, it is Pope St. Vitalian who is venerated by today’s Orthodox. So if Fr. Enoch wanted to stick with the idea that this event was an act of Rome usurping authority, then he will be accusing an Eastern Orthodox Saint of Papalism. Secondly, since, as we saw, the brief autonomy of Ravenna, established by the Emperor, lasted only 7 years and Roman jurisdiction was restored under Popes St. Agatho and Leo II, then Fr. Enoch would have to say that these latter 2 saints, also venerated by the modern Orthodox, were guilty of Papalism since they sought to restore what they lost in Maurus.
(3) Other events in Pope St. Vitalian’s life indicate that he was an ardent Papalist. Catholic Encyclopedia describes his relations with the churches of the East: “ Vitalian also had occasion to enforce his authority as supreme judge in the Eastern Church. Bishop John of Lappa in Crete, deposed by a synod under the presidency of the MetropolitanPaulus, appealed to the pope, and was imprisoned for so doing. He escaped, however, and went to Rome, where Vitalian held a synod in December, 667, to investigate the matter, basing its action on the records of the metropolitan Synod of Crete, and pronounced John guiltless. Vitalian wrote to the MetropolitanPaulus demanding the restoration of John to his diocese, and the return of the monasteries which had been unjustly taken from him. At the same time the pope directed the metropolitan to remove two deacons who had married after consecration. Vitalian also wrote respecting John to an imperial official and to Bishop George of Syracuse, who had supported the deposed bishop. Some of the letters attributed to this pope are spurious. He was buried at St. Peter’s.” So here one is curious as to why Fr. Enoch, an Orthodox cleric, is seeking to establish evidence in Maurus and Emperor Constans II against the Papacy when it is his own Saints who were on the opposing side? How can it be credible that the Orthodox Church would venerate all three of these Popes which Fr. Enoch insinuates were “encroaching” their Papal authority over Ravenna and then turn around to defend the logic of Maurus in the whole process mid-7th century? These questions, I believe, indicate that this would a rather instinctive guess at what may have thought to be a significant challenge to Papal authority. However, in the end, it was quite outside the purview, and had more to do with the Patriarchal rights of Rome over Ravenna being suspended by the force of the Byzantine Emperor.
(1) Oxford Dictionary of Popes, J.N.D. Kelly
(2) The Formation of Christendom, Judith Herrin
(3) The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages (476-752), Jeffrey Richards
(4) Writing Ravenna: The Liber Pontificalis of Andreas Agnellus, Joaquín Martínez Pizarro
(5) Churches of Eastern Christendom, Beresford Kidd
(6) History of the Church vol. II, Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger
(7) Catholic Encyclopedia, art. “Pope Vitalian”