Dialogue on Papal Universal vs Roman Patriarchal Jurisdiction


This is an exchange I had recently with an Orthodox Christian. I wanted to save it for my own purposes but, as always, I thought I would also share it for the sake of public record. My interlocutor’s words are in bold/italic block-quote, and mine are in regular text.

_*Per your OP Brian, I didn’t think it was really that big of a concession! However, as I think John pointed out, it does create historical confusion as many take examples of areas where Rome had “Patriarchal jurisdiction” as it were and apply this to mean they have jurisdiction everywhere, and that they can excommunicate Bishops outside of this “immediate” Jurisdiction with this excommunciation being final without the consent of these other jurisdictions.We see this in the Great Schism. Rome clearly was violating the 8th ecumenical council, and even if this council is just disciplinary, their view of Rome’s role makes it philosophically possible to simply say everyone outside of Rome is wrong, they are excommunicate, and in the process it is THEY who went into schism even though she broke communion off from them*_


As you know, the supra-metropolitical jurisdiction exercised by Rome over the suburbicurean territories was not a concession to a restricted Primatial jurisdiction of the West, but was rather a happily accepted tradition which accords with the principle of accommodation with the geo-political boundaries of the Roman Empire. Some of the most ardent Papalist Popes (St. Innocent, St. Boniface, etc,etc) , who were not shy to speak of their universal jurisdiction in the universal, Apostolic, and Petrine sense, were those who equally were strict to never violate the rights of metropolitans who were outside of the supra-metropolitical territories of the Roman See. Therefore, it is neatly consistent with the Papal theory. As for the power of excommunication – As discussed, Pope St. Celestine, who is venerated by both East/West (even Coptics), believed it was well within the power of his See to issue an “open sentence” of “excommunication” upon the Bishop of Constantinople through the legatine mediation of St. Cyril of Alexandria who himself bought into the plan. The Council convened by Theodosius II, whose planning had been done unbeknownst of the Pope’s letter of impending excommunication, was a matter of acquiescing on the part of the Pope. Like I mentioned, the Pope saw this as an opportunity for Nestorius to repent of his error and/or to confirm him in heresy. In the Council’s “Decree Contra Nestorius”, the Council fathers mention 2 causes which “compelled” their decision to excommunicate and depose Nestorius. (1) That he would not heed the summons to appear, and (2) the letter of St. Celestine of Rome. The rationale for this was, as overtly stated by Philip the Presbyter, “the Lord Christ gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter, and made him the rock and foundation of the Church, as one who binds and looses in heaven…who today lives and judges in his successors…and Pope Celestine holds his place”. This statement was followed by an affirmation of both St Cyril and the Council. If that is not an exercise of universal spiritual jurisdiction, at least in matters of doctrine, then I would not know what would be.

_*I think, if we are honest without ourselves, these jurisdictions even are historical developments. For example, it appears that Rome had Patriarchal jurisdiction over North Africa (Tunisia), Greece, and everywhere northwest (Gaul, Spain, England) of these geographies. This is no minor territory to say the least and it is easy to how this may be conflated with having jurisdiction nearly over the entire earth as all that was left was maybe Thrace (which really was not evangelized from what I can tell), Asia Minor, Arabia, and Egypt.*_

These “jurisdictions” (Rome over the Suburbicurean, Antioch over Asia, Alexandria over Egypt, and then C’ple over Thrace, etc,etc) were certainly of historical development. This is why it is important to distinguish between (a) the Apostolic Petrine universal primacy and (2) the rise of Metropolitans & Patriarchs. There are a convergence of location between the three Petrine Sees and the Tri-fold metropolis’s of the Empire, and so it just so happens that the three main centers of the Roman world would become the three Sees of Peter. However, Rome did not possess this limited and restricted jurisdiction over North Africa, nor over Gaul, Spain, England, or Greece. The Vicariate of Thessaloniki which oversaw the episcopal elections in the Illyrian peninsula was established in the Pontificate of Liberius, Damasus, or Siricius (I forget which), and so the Papal function is quite outside this strata of jurisdiction. As we move into the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries, there is more of a de-facto jurisdiction over the mainline Western sees than de jure. For example, Acquielia and Ravenna were johnny-come-lately. All this to say that we must distinguish between two different strata of ecclesial jurisdiction – (1) Papal, which is universal and has no restriction, and (2) Metropolitical/Patriarchal. They are not synonomous.

_*Well, this makes us ask, why did Rome have this jurisdiction? The obvious answer at first appears to be that they inherited jurisdiction over whereever Peter and Paul had churches and over whatever churches, like Gaul and North Africa, those churches then created.*_


It is difficult to say precisely. The original polity design is shrouded in obscurity. What we do know is that certain Sees whose Metropolis Bishop served as a convenient nodal point of communio for the surrounding churches became a certain Head for which the surrounding bishops could resort to for council and administrative purposes. Again, quite outside the Apostolic Papal function.


_*There is an immediate problem that arises, historically that is. The churches in Turkey were started by Paul, yet seemingly not under Rome’s “Patriarchal” jurisdiction in the 2nd century. Further, Egypt (theoretically) was under Mark, who left Peter’s side in Rome itself. Yet, they were never under Rome’s patriarchal jurisdiction. Further, we have obvious examples, such as North Africa, where these Bishops expressed complete independence (such as the third century rebaptism controversy, though they asserted themselves similarly against Pope Zosimus [sp?] during the Pelagian controversy), and the world appeared to recognize this without controversy. All too often, the Roman view of history deals with this by concluding flippantly that “they were condescending themselves to wayward Bishops and not asserting their ‘real’ authority”, which is no less special pleading than the standard Orthodox line that “eastern Bishops were just using flowery flattery and didn’t really mean all that pro-Papal stuff they said.” Maybe the truth is not somewhere in the middle, but I really think it is.*_


The Churches of Turkey had a different Metropolis. That is the sole reason they did not fall under Rome’s patriarchate. The Illyrian peninsula served as an outlying oddity. It was most likely to have easier touchstone communications with the East. It was more Papal discretion than any de jure or geo-political inevitability.

_*The East did use flowery language. The Pope did have “Patriarchal” jursidiction over half of the civilized European/Meditteranean and therefore Christian world. Lastly, this Bishop of Rome, clearly the most important in Christendom by the sheer size of his Patriarchate and his inheritance of Peter’s and Paul’s authority would have been an obvious bishop to appeal to in times of disputes. *_


We must remember that Rome’s Patriarchate was purely political, restricted, church-created, and existing on a different plane than her Papal, Apostolic, unrestricted, and divine jurisdiction. In fact, Rome’s Patriarchate was, for the first 450+ years, much smaller than that of Alexandria’s.

_*And in fact, this is what did happen. However, none of this translates into that same Bishop having authority over the other “patriarchates” as it were nor being capable to impose doctrines under thread of cutting of these Patriarchates not merely from communion with Rome, but the Church itself. Sure, Rome thought this, but no one else did nor appeared the least bit concerned about it. Ironically, the “Great Schism” literally occurred over Patriarchal lines. All those sees part of the Roman Patriarchate after the 8th century went with Rome. All those that didn’t went with their historical Patriarchates…even after centuries of Latin occupation and evangelizing. In my honest opinion, this takes roots in a historical ecclesiology that is centuries deep and precedes the Roman view being imposed outside of its bounds.*_


You are absolutely right. The Patriarchal lines of the Roman Patriarchate do not involve the Eastern churches. Nor did it involve all the Western churches either.

_*Consent was relevant when, as I alluded to before, North Africa said no to rebaptism and had communion with the whole world other than Rome. That is, they refused to consent, but they were recognized as still being in the Church. This showed that even within a Patriarchate, as we see in one of the Apostolic Canon, the chief Metropolitan cannot operate apart from the consent of the lesser Bishops*_


Carthage was not in the “Patriarchate” of Rome in the 3rd century. The very term itself doesn’t appear to be common Western parlance until the 7th century.


_*What I think history plainly shows us is that the Church is a hierarchial organism, but it did not stand and fall over Roman recognition. Rome was not the chief arbiter in all affairs everywhere and if they so chose, they can cut you off and you were literally out of the Church. Or, in other words, we cannot define the Church as merely being in communion with Rome, which is ultimately how Rome defines the Church–no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Because, clearly this Roman view is simply not the case by any stretch during the first 5 centuries of the Church.*_


Well the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and so there are higher order explanations to her essence than merely “being in communion with Rome”. However, as St. Leo said, _”the greater cities should undertake a fuller responsibility, through whom the care of the universal Church should converge towards Peter’s one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its Head”_. I would also suggest that there is at least a good argument to be made that an enormous amount of data does show that Rome determined what was true doctrine, and thus the terms of ecclesial communion. This is what the Rome asked of the East through the Formula of Hormisdas (515-519) and which was received by the Patriarch of Constantinople alongside 200+ bishops in the Orient. That statement not only demanded that Rome should be followed in all things, but it offered a reason for that: the promise of Christ our God to blessed Peter that he would build His Church upon him, and that the gates of hell would never prevail against it. This is the very same line of thinking we see in St. Maximos, St. Theodore, St. Theodore Abbu Quara, St. Nikiphorus, St. Stephen of Dor, St. Sophronius of Jerusalem, and, ironically, the Council of C’ple 681.


_*Ultimately, this is why I think the Roman schism is epistemological. They have re-defined what the Church is. *_


What would Rome be asking the Orthodox to believe that is lacking in the Formula of Hormidas of the 6th century, over 4 centuries before the final break?


_*They ignore basic history (such as Egypt being independent), not intentionally as I am not accusing RCs of stupidity in this regard, but being unaware of the ramifications of these obvious ecclesiological truths in the early centuries. The idea Rome can say half the Church is wrong about the Filioque, which no council and no eastern local church consented to, and then go ahead and invade the lands of foreing Patriarchates and establish a parallel church with Latin Bishops where the norm, and not the exception, was that they would foist Latin “liturgical reforms” which were as RC scholars admit today western innovations that broke with earlier Roman practice is honestly unthinkable in the early centuries. How would this not be an obvious schism, on the part of Rome, if it were not ecclesiologically impossible, according to Rome’s epistemology, to even be in schism because the Church is after all being in communion with Rome?*_


I, too, am annoyed by some of the decisions of our Popes. Certainly, I’m not happy about the East/West divide. But realize that Rome had bee making these claims from very early on. They were the leaders of Christendom. The demand of Papal absolutism (in a sense) was required for communion. We see this with the writing of St. Leo’s Tomos. In between Ephesus 449 and Chalcedon 451 (and before the latter was even a plan of action), the Pope required Pope Theodosius II/Marcian to have Eastern bishops sign off on the Tome as a condition for communion with the Papal See. The Popes asked for nothing less during the Council of Chalcedon and the healing of the Acacian schism. Mind you, it was during the healing of the Acacian schism that Justinian I applied violent force to ensure the Monophysite of Egypt and Syria would comply with St. Leo’s Tome, and the Church of Alexandria had a “parallel” jurisdiction. No fond memories.


_*So, in closing, this is why I can surely concede that Rome had a rather larger and expansive immediate jurisdiction in the early centuries. However, we saw this jurisdiction actually fragment by the second century in parts (Egypt) and we never saw it operate apart from the consent of these local churches, nor did it operate over churches such as Antioch which she had no jurisdiction over. Modern Papalism honestly appears to develop via precedent…all starting with Paul Samosata (sp?) and appeals to Rome. This become codified in Canon Law in Serdicia. Then this appelate court power became viewed to be over and above an ecumenical council, or in effect, all the faithful everywhere. We have no indication that any of these precedents were derived from an actual Apostolic prerogative. In fact, we see any assertions of such prerogatives rejected in the 2nd century and during the rebaptism controversy. This is why Erick could say, well, the idea is there but it obviously evolved. I think the Orthodox agree. It sure did evolve…into a whole other organism!*_

But again, your viewing the Papal jurisdiction as something which began with its local metropolia, later its Patriarchate, and then even later its full blown claim to universal dominion. But that is not how any Catholic sees it. The Papal jurisdiction was *ALWAYS* universal…even when Rome’s metropolitical jurisdiction was confined to wee little suburbicurea.

2 thoughts on “Dialogue on Papal Universal vs Roman Patriarchal Jurisdiction

  1. I enjoyed reading your comments. I don’t look to contradict them but rather offer clarification of my own thoughts 🙂

    -My comments were written about 3:00am in the morning or something, trying to get back to sleep. I apologize for the typos and lack of nuance in parts.
    -I am well aware that the concept of “Patriarch” is an anachronism in the first two centuries of the Church. What we did have, however, were Bishops who were aware who their Mother Church was. Rome, probably due to it being the resting place of Paul and Peter, its roads, its size, and its saintly Popes, was the Mother Church to at least half the Christian world. The effects of this cannot be understated. Even without the word “Patriarch,” this is really what Rome was. A daughter Church, in a dispute with another daughter, goes to its Mommy. I honestly think (though I admit I do not photographically remember Cyprian’s two versions of On The Unity of the Catholic Church) this explains how Cyprian sources all unity with Rome, based upon Matt 16:18, but does not conclude with Papal Supremacy as a result. It also makes sense that Rome, as the Elder Momma, is going to settle disputes between the other Mommas out there without having jurisdiction over them. Quite frankly, the Canon of Nicea banning such invasions of Jurisdiction, though Rome was not named, clearly would condemn the sort of prerogatives that Rome thought she had since Victor I.
    -I agree that all of these historical explanations ultimately do no answer whether or not Victor I was correct in his Papalist ecclesiology. He could be right and most of the Church wrong! I just think that probability weighs with the greater number of saints against Victor I, against Stephen I, etcetera.This sort of argumentation does not offer epistemological certainty, because its an argumentum ad populum, but I don’t see another sort of argument offered by the fathers.

    I made some recent comments on Rome’s role in the Paul of Samosata affair that might be of interest of you recently in my article about Dyer: https://orthodoxchristiantheology.com/2019/03/16/brief-comments-about-jay-dyers-chrismation-and-debate-with-nick-fuentes/

    God bless,

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