Tome of Pope St. Leo – Critically Examined by the Council of Chalcedon? Part 2: Response to Ubi Petrus



Council of Chalcedon (source)

A new blog article, belonging to an anonymous author who goes by the pesudo-name UBIPETRUS2019 (Ubi Petrus), has rebutted arguments I made in an article I wrote back in September of 2017 concerning the famous letter of Pope St. Leo to St. Flavian of Constantinople, otherwise known as his Tome, and its reception by the Council of Chalcedon (451). Here below is my response to this critique. Citations from Ubi Petrus in blue.

Ubi Petrus attempts to prove two things in his article. (1) That I’ve not read the Acts of Chalcedon, nor am I familiar with the history of the Council except from secondary sources and quote mines, and (2) That neither Pope St. Leo nor the Bishops at the Council considered the Tome to be an ex-cathedra, or something “foisted on the bishops”; instead, both the Pope and the Council considered the Tome to be a statement of one Patriarch (of the West)  submitted to the higher authority of the Council to review it for either approval or disapproval.

My preliminary answer to these two points as as follows: (1) I have not read the absolute entirety of the Acts. After all, there are pages which include hundreds of names and bishoprics. There are pages which consist of the repetitious record of the bishops saying they agree with the Council. There is also a rehearsing of the Acts of the Council of Ephesus (449) in Session I of Chalcedon, and so one reads this Council as well as Chalcedon if we were to read it in its entirety. Maybe one day I can find the time to read every word from cover to cover, but I believe I’ve read extensively the pertinent sum which pertain to the dispute that is central to the topic at hand. And many times, at that. And (2), I think that it would be a tad bit anachronistic to expect a full-blown ex-cathedra recognition of this Papal letter. As I say below, this is probably not intended to be an ex-cathedra decree, even if one could argue that after its composition, the Pope intended it to be the standard of orthodoxy (which he did). However, the Pope certainly did not open his Tome for review by the Council, and this much is transparently admitted by Richard Price, the Patristics scholar who has translated the Acts of Chalcedon into English. This same scholar, however, understood the Council to have had a different mindset, namely, that the Pope’s primacy was that of a primus inter pares model. In other words, Price believes the Council thought itself above the Pope’s authority. I disagree with this, and I’ll give expanded reasons below, but for now I’d say that there is clearly a majority view in support of Leo’s tome, full stop. They don’t tell us whether they saw the entrance of the Tome into the Council space as on par with the Old and New Testaments, nor do they tell us that they had to review the Tome for themselves in order to ensure it passed the test of orthodoxy. I will take into account the session where the Bishops all cite, over and over, that the Tome was accepted because it was judged in accordance with Nicaea, Ephesus, St. Cyril, etc,etc., and explain how this doesn’t mean what Ubi Petrus takes it to mean. On the other hand, those who contested the contents of the Tome are clearly in the small minority, and this shouldn’t be considered a problem at all for the doctrine of the Papacy. If Ubi Petrus is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church (I am assuming he/she is), then it should be noted that just after Chalcedon, many bishops resisted the Council itself, and held that Ephesus (449) was valid and in force. Would we then say that the Council itself was merely a submission for review, for either approval or disapproval of various episcopal synods abroad? It is my opinion that the Eastern view has changed its policy on the subject of Councils, and today is forced to conclude that Councils themselves do not wield the authority to determine their irreformable status. Instead, the Council itself is submitted to be reviewed by the “whole Church”, and the latter, instead of the Council, discerns the status of the Council. Therefore, if one wanted to look at the minority of bishops who contested the Papal Tome at Chalcedon and deduce a force that undermines the Papacy, then what of the great number of Bishops who refused to uphold the Ecumenical Council? We have even seen Orthodox resort to the epistemic framework which identifies the status of a Council on the basis of whether it “taught the truth”. In other words, the truth validates a Council. While this paradigm is possible, it would appear to greatly vitiate the necessary attribute of visibility to Christ’s Church, since each episcopal group is entitled to choose which “truth” is true to them, and then it leaves one having to choose which episcopal group got it right. Some folks feel this plane will fly, and others think it takes off the ground on a drop of gasoline.

Now, I will go into more detailed responses.



Ubi Petrus (UP from here forward) claims that my article seeks to argue that Leo’s tome is an exercise of the infallible magisterium of the Pope. About me, UP states:

He is arguing that not only was the Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great an exercise of the Extraordinary Magisterium of the Pope (i.e. an Ex-Cathedra statement) but that it was received so by the vast majority of the council who simply signed it on the good word of the source. 

As far as I recall, I did not intend to argue in my article for the extraordinary infallibility of the Leo’s tome. While I believe a good case can be made for it to be an ex-cathedra decree, that is not the proposition I was committed to in the article, and so I am puzzled by this first statement. I used the phrase “Magisterium of Rome“, and the author immediately assumed I intend to mean the extraordinary and infallible magisterium of Papal ex-cathedra definitions. I cannot recall if that is what I had in mind or not, but the author should take note that “Magisterium of Rome” is not an exclusive reference to the infallible magisterium of of the Pope’s teaching ministry. For example, in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, the Council wrote:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”

So we can see here that the “magisterium of the Roman Pontiff” is not automatically synonymous with “speaking ex cathedra“. In any case, one could argue that Leo’s tome, being at least an exercise of the authentic magisterium of Rome, albeit not infallible, deserved to be received with “religious submission of mind and will” by the recipients as defined here by Lumen Gentium. Leo’s tome was not originally a decree sent out to all the churches, but a letter to the Bishop of Constantinople, Flavian. Nevertheless, he intended it to serve as the standard of orthodoxy in the dispute over the teaching of Eutyches, Archimandrite of Constantinople.

In truth, my article is committed to answering one specific question, namely, as the title suggests, was Leo’s tome critically examined by the Council of Chalcedon? I believe what prompted me to write this article were the claims made by both Orthodox and Protestant historical theologians who claim that the Tome was intellectually spanked by the council fathers before it finally was deemed to be acceptable, or,  in harmony with the more prominently revered writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria. I believe this to be a revision, and ergo, my article. UP doesn’t actually plant his two feet in front of that position as I laid it down, and so his confrontation is with a straw monster.

With the above clarification, this will blunt the force of UP’s rebuttal. However, it puts the ball back in my court as to just what aspect of the Papacy is manifested at Chalcedon? I’ll get to this below.

(2) He then moves to concede that the Council of Chalcedon and pertinent figures associated with it recognized that the Pope had authority, but authority understood by the Latin noun auctoritas, which he proceeds to define as follows:

The term St. Leo uses in the Latin original here is “auctoritas” and though it does mean ‘authority’, it does not mean so in the sense Mr. Ybarra thinks. “Auctoritas” (and this is common knowledge for those who study classics) does not mean ‘authority’ in the sense of juridical power (“potestas”) but instead refers to soft power, i.e. the ability to convince others to do what you want them to do because of your good reputation.

So we have here the claim that Pope Leo only claims to possess an auctoritas over the universal Church, whereas the Latin word for juridical power, “potestas”, is purposefully avoided. In other words, UP would have us believe that Pope St. Leo claimed to have an authority of influence and persuasion, a “soft power”, but not the kind of authority which puts a binding requirement on the subject to obey or face legal penalties.

This is a gross oversimplification of the use of these terms in the 5th century Church, let alone how St. Leo uses it. Nevertheless, I will give a brief run down of how these two words were used in the late antique Rome, and how they developed.

For the Romans, government or the act of governing was a compound of exercising initiative and power, otherwise called auctoritas and potestas. The noun auctoritas referred to the qualities possessed by the auctor, i.e. the subject who has auctoritas. A man who is an auctor is a man who originated something, like an author, designer, founder, or progenitor. Therefore, the word stood for the character of origination, or causation, i.e. being the source from which the other comes from. If an author wrote a book, a architect designed a building, or an inventor invented a machine, or if someone initializes an event which extends into a further sequences, etc.,etc., these were auctores. Now, when we are thinking in terms of the auctoritas of a leader over other human beings, we have to see what it would mean to be an auctor in relation to persons. Most obviously, the progenitor or father of a family who be the auctor. Adam and Abraham would be two perfect examples of auctores in relation to humanity, in the case of the first, and the household of Israel, in the case of the second. Not only would this be the case in terms of physical generation, but even another sort of cause and effect, such as Adam’s sin bring ruin to the human race, thereby being the auctor of humanity’s fall. To get more specific, the verb augere, from which auctor and auctoritas derive, means to augment or increase.

Bringing this concept of auctor and auctortias from the basic level of origination to the populus Romanus (the Roman people), there is none other than the mythical figure of Romulus as the founding father of the Roman people, and thus would be the auctor of these people. What role did the auctores who came thereafter have when they stood as leaders of Rome? Historically because Romulus was believed to have ordained 100 heads from prestigious families of early Rome to serve as counselors, it was the Senate which bore pre-eminent auctoritas. This sort of influence was to give teaching, guidance, education, and moral initiative to the production of policy, but not the sort which could make commands and execute legal direction. It was the wise teacher, and not the commander, of the res publica. Therefore, the senatorial auctoritas didn’t include rights to be obeyed, but only the right to be heard and considered, and based off moral authority or for being prestigious, wise, and learned.  It is therefore no wonder why the Roman jurisconsults were said to have auctoritas. These men were well educated in the law, and were recognized as its wisest interpreters. However, they had no magisterial office to enforce the law, or execute the demands of the law. They could give guidance, but not judgment. They were honored and respected, but they were not consulted for authoritative implementation of what they studied in theory.

The Roman Empire, therefore, could not be governed simply by auctoritas. Perhaps a fitting analogy here would be that of the function of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda in the 5th and 6th Episode of Star Wars. Yoda and Kenobi were the masters of wisdom who could teach, train, and guide. But this mere auctoritas, one could say, would be insufficient to restore balance to the force and restore the Empire. The potestas, one might say, which was principally in the hands of the Imperium, led by Darth Sidious, could only be overcome by the postestas of the Rebel Alliance.

In comes the role of potestas. This is translated as “power”, understood as legal and coercive power, i.e. the office of state, and shouldn’t be mistaken for physical power (potentia). Although, the proper subject exercising potestas could qualify to use potentia. Now, the sort of potestas which has import for our subject was the imperium, the sort of authority which a military commander might have.

One can clearly see the divergence in the meaning of these terms. They are clearly different. However, as the Roman republic developed its constitution, it was the Augustus (lit. exalted/venerable; the title given to Octavian, the first Roman Emperor), interestingly derived from the verb augere (as we saw, lit. to augment/increase), who was seen to have acquired auctoritas together with potestas, and he was also referred to as the princeps (a word used later to refer to St. Peter in the Apostolic College, and the Pope of Rome in relation to the universal Church), which means literally first in order, but effectively meaning the Leader of the Roman Empire when attributed to Augustus. This Princeps, then, brought together the aucoritas and potestas in a single subject. If we add the notion of potestas as imperium, as well, then we have the ruler of the imperium Romanum and the supreme ruler of the Roman people. (For more information on this, consult prestigious political theorist Michael Oakeshott’s Lectures in the History of Political Thought , pages 213-229)

Given the above brief description of the usages of these words at the inception of the Roman Empire, would not this support the argument made by UP against my article? I argue no.

I will give plenty of references further below, but the most famous text where auctoritas and potestas is used is that of the Tome of Pope St. Gelasius, and this passage, ironically enough, appears to rank the auctoritas of bishops above that of the potestas of the Imperium. Gelasius writes:

“There are in fact two..Emperor Augustus, by whom the world is originally (principaliter) governed: the consecrated authority of bishops (auctoritas sacrata pontificum) and the royal power (regalis potestas). Of these, the responsibility of the bishops is the more weighty, since even for rulers of men they will have to give account at the judgment seat of God. For you know, most gracious son, that, though in your office you preside over the human race , yet you bow your head in devout humility before those who govern the things of God and await from them the means of your salvation; you realize that in the use and fitting administration of the heavenly sacraments you ought to submit to Christian order, not to be its master, and that in these matters you ought to be subject to their judgment” (Epistolae Romanorum pontificum 557; English taken from Trevor Jalland’s “Church and Papacy” , pg. 326)

On the distinction between auctoritas and potestas, Anglican historian Dr. Trevor Jalland, during his lecture series delivered at Oxford in 1942 entitled “Church and Papacy” (now put into book form, see above reference), stated:

“Here lies a distinction familiar to students of Roman constitutional law. Auctoritas belonged to the ideal and moral sphere, and just because its force was derived from tradition or from public opinion, it was strictly an ethical concept, as in the case of the Roman Senate, and so differed from the physical potestas endowed with executive imperium, which in the republican period belonged to the populus and was entrusted to the magisttrates only for the period of their office. There was therefore a clear though undefined sense in which auctoritas if compared with potestas could be regarded as the higher of the two, just as moral influence is superior to physical force” (ibid. p. 327)

Similarly, the Medieval historian Dr. Walter Ullman states:

“Whilst, however, this fundamental difference between the pontifical auctoritas and the imperial potestas was clear to anyone versed in Roman juristic terminology and ideology, Gelasius superimposed a typical Christian argument upon it: in a Roman-Christian world, the sacred pontifical auctoritas is all the greater, as it has to render an account even for the doings of the kings themselves on the day of judgment” (The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages, pg. 21-22)

On the other hand, the matter here is not as clear for some other scholars. One British historian, Jeffery Richards, surveys the various views on the above Tome:

“In this letter Gelasius appears to contrast auctoritas and potestas. Much ink and fury has been expended over the years in trying to define just what he meant. There have been four main interpretations. Erich Caspar argued that potestas meant power and auctoritas meant moral authority and that Gelasius was restating the strictly dualist view of the world. Walter Ullman has argued that in Roman legal terms, auctoritas meant the God-given right to rule and potestas merely delegated executive power and that this is a statement of Papal supremacy. Francis Dvornik has argued that in Roman legal terms, potestas meant sovereignty and auctoritas merely traditional authority and that it is a statement of Imperial supremacy. A.K. Ziegler has suggested that it is merely a rhetorical device to avoid using the same word twice, and he quotes a letter written by Gelasius for Felix III in which he is clearly using auctoritas and potestas as synonyms” (The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages: 476-752, link)

Contrary to what one may think, therefore, the precise definition of auctoritas in contrast to potestas, when it comes to understanding how the authority of the Pope was understood in St. Leo’s day, is not  as easy to discern. It would appear that auctoritas should be less “binding” than potestas, as something which doesn’t inherently require obedience and conformity, strictly. But in this case, the auctoritas of the Pope seems to carry with it the function of representing something sacred, even divine. In that case, it can be seen to cover far more than any sort of potestas could have, either imperial or ecclesiastical. It is from this vantage point that I believe Dr. James Greenaway, whose dissertation was in the field of medieval political philosophy, and whose published book is on the subject of authority in the medieval context, gets closest to what is being described by the Pope’s when they claim auctoritas over the whole universal church. Greenaway writes:

“..papal auctoritas signified an ‘activity of guardianship rather than “rule”, a right to advise, and to teach, and to admonish’. Papal authority, then, extended to the custodianship of Christian doctrine as its sole authoritative interpreter” (The Differentiation of Authority: The Medieval Turn Toward Existence, pg. 208)

Greenaway then immediately quotes Oakeshott:

“The Pope had authority to ‘guard and to augment and to interpret Christian belief…But the Pope was not only recognized to have auctoritas over Christian doctrine; he claimed, as he often successfully exercised, auctoritas over kings and emperors of Christendom…The ground of this auctoritas was the Pope’s position as guardian of the Christian Church; and it was often used to instruct kings and emperors in their duties as Christian rulers and protectors of the Church'” (ibid)

I think a good definition is one provided by Ullman: auctoritas ” is the faculty of shaping things creatively and in a binding manner, while potestas is the power to execute what the auctoritas has laid down“. (Growth of Papal Government, pg. 21).

This squares nicely with what St. Gelasius put down. The potestas of the imperium is also based on divine foundation (Rom 13), but the pontifical auctoritas (chiefly in the successor of St. Peter) is the supreme judge on the content of Christian doctrine, faith, discipline, and morals, and thus ranks higher in order than the power of state. It isn’t a question, therefore, that auctoritas is superior in this context.

However, one may say that this certainly is true when the distinction is between the authority of the Church versus the authority of the state. But what about the use of auctoritas and potestas when the distinction is between the authority of the Pope and the authority of the bishops and councils?

We would do well to look at some of the early documents of the Church where the word auctoritas is used in order to see whether the strict bifurcation above would make any sense given the contexts. Before giving these, I should give a summary of my findings, and one can read notes underneath the references below for commentary which is more strictly specific.

 Since we have Church Fathers using auctoritas to describe the authority of almighty God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Scripture, Ecumenical Councils, and the binding Patristic tradition ( consensus patrum), we should understand that even if auctoritas were to be that of “prestige” and “persuasive gravitas”, it should still be understood as persuasive gravitas of the highest and most supreme value. It could not be subsumed into the idea of “soft power”, or something which does not require obedience. Such would be absurd. The auctoritas of the Creator is absolute and supremely binding upon all of creation. Therefore the auctoritas of the Apostolic See , being rooted in the divine plan of Christ our Lord in blessed Peter and his successors, is not an attempt to claim Rome’s pre-eminence, albeit as “soft power”. It could very well be a reference to an absolutely binding authority, opposition to which results in the peril of the soul. With that being stated, I would have to turn to UP and ask if he/she is comfortable with saying God, Christ, the Church, the consensus patrum, and Ecumenical Councils are all a “soft power” which doesn’t strictly bind the conscience with an infallible force of authority? It would appear as if UP sees auctoritas as belittling the Papal authority from that of absolute and supreme to something along the lines of moral prestige. I am curious if the same logic would belittle God’s authority (auctoritas).

Now, here below are several instances from the 4th to the 8th centuries on the usage of auctoritas, and I believe we get a different picture than what UP drew for us.


A significant Council was convened by the Emperor Constantine in response to appeals from Donatist bishops of North Africa. Meeting in 314 A.D. in the city Arles (modern day Southern France), therefore representing early 4th-century usage of the Latin language, it is a good place to look for its use of the auctoritas word.


Council of Alres - authority of our GOd
An English translation :

“Here we have suffered from troublesome men, dangerous to our law and tradition — men of undisciplined mind, whom both the authority (auctoritas) of our God, which is with us, and our tradition and the rule of truth reject, because they have neither reason in their argument, nor any moderation in their accusations, nor was their manner of proof to the point. Therefore by the judgment of God and of Mother Church, who knows and approves her own, they have been either condemned or rejected” (taken from E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority A.D. 96-454, p. 88; Latin text from Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 26.206)

It is clear, here, that the Synod bishop at Arles understood the Donatist bishops to be condemned by the judgment of God. But what is interesting is what the text suggests this judgment of God rests upon, namely, the auctoritas of God, which they say was “with us”. It follows that their judgment is the judgment of “Mother Church”, and that judgment is the judgement of almighty God because His auctoritas was “with” them. Now, not only is it difficult to square God having a “soft power” or the mere influence of advice and persuasion (not necessarily to be obeyed), but if auctoritas truly means the moral authority of persuasion or merely prestige, it would be even more curious as to why they think the presence of God’s moral prestige (which needn’t be obeyed) would ground the Council’s authority to condemn the African bishops. It would appear that auctoritas, whatever it means, can serve to ground the legitimacy of a binding and legal power to judge and execute discipline.



damasus presented with vulgate

St. Jerome presents Vulgate to Pope St. Damasus I

In a famous letter of St. Jerome to Pope St. Damasus , there are some striking statements made with regard to the primacy of the Roman See, and its auctoritas in particular.


Jerome I am in communion with the chair of peter on that rock

“I speak with the successor of the fisherman, with the disciple of the cross. Following none in the first place bu Christ, I am in communion with your beatitude, that is with the chair of Peter. On that rock I know the Church is built. Whoever shall eat the Lamb outside this house is profane. If any be not with Noah in the ark, he shall perish in the flood” (Letter 15)

Jerome whoever is not in communion with you scatters

“..I follow here your colleagues the Egypian confessors; and under these great ships, my little vessel lies hid. Vitalis I know not, Meletius I reject; I ignore Paulinus. Whoso gathereth not with thee scattereth, that is, he who is not of Christ is anti-Christ.” (ibid)

Jerome authority of your communion

“Wherefore I beseech your holiness, by the crucified Saviour of the world, that you will write and authorize me to say or refuse the hypostases..Likewise inform me with whom I ought to communicate at Antioch; for the Campenses are joined to the heretical Tarsenes, and desire nothing but to preach three hypostases in the old sense, as if supported by the authority (aucoritate) of your communion” (ibid)

It is clear from the above that St. Jerome understands the Roman communion to be absolutely indispensable. He makes it clear that communion with Christ depends on communion with St. Damasus in a sense not shared by any other bishop. He says that whoever does not join with Rome scatters (i.e. is in schism), and that whoever celebrates the Eucharistic Lamb outside of communion with Rome is unlawful. He also identifies the Roman communion and its Chair of Peter as the rock upon which the Church is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. Therefore, the Roman communion here is not a great option which has moral gravitas to it due to some historical accidents with St. Paul and St. Peter. Rather, this is divinely founded, rooted in the will of Jesus Christ. Therefore, at the end, for St. Jerome to say that the Roman communion has “auctoritate” , it must include the notion of a binding law, and not a well-to-do option based on moral and historical prestige.  It stands to reason, therefore, that when 4th or 5th century Latins refer to the aucoritas of Rome, they could be speaking of something as strong as what St. Jerome says here.


Milevis to Innocent - Authority of your holiness drawn from the authority of scripture

“We consider that by the help of the mercy of our Lord God, who deigns both to direct your counsel and to hear your prayers, those who hold such perverse and pernicious opinions will more easily yield to the authority (auctoritati) of your holiness, drawn from the authority (auctoritate) of Holy Scripture, so that we may be congratulated by their correction, than saddened by their ruin” (Council of Milevis to Pope St. Innocent; Augustine Ep. 176; PL 33.763)

This was a request from the regional Council of North Africa, held in Milevis, for the Pope to anathematize the heresy of Pelagianism. This African synod makes a reference to the auctoritas of the Pope as what will carry the sort of force to which the dissenters will yield. But then the Council fathers say that the Pope’s auctoritas is drawn from the auctoritas of Holy Scripture. Now, before we even interpret what this means, we should pause on the fact that Scripture, the very voice of almighty God, and unto which the mouth of all men is shut, is said to possess auctoritas. Now, it would be certainly odd to read this as the “soft power” of God and His holy word. It is more than likely that this auctoritas of Scripture, even though not a bearer of potestas, since Writings do not inflict penalties, is understood to be of the highest form of persuasive authority. Indeed, an infallible auctoritas. Now, having said that, how is the Pope’s auctoritas drawn from Scripture’s auctoritas? Is it because the Council fathers in Milevis thought the Pope would gather references from Scripture? This is possible, but unlikely, for the Council of Milevis had already adduced a number of Scriptural texts themselves, and so if it were merely a matter of garnering Scripture and its own authority, they already had this. Therefore, it is far more likely that what is meant is the implicit connection between the Roman See and the invested auctoritas in St. Peter by the Lord (Matt 16, Luke 23, John 20). The authority of the Apostolic See is grounded in the authority given to St. Peter. This would corroborate with what had already been said around 30+ years earlier by Pope St. Damasus when he said that “though all the catholic churches diffused throughout the world are but one bridal chamber of Christ, yet the holy Roman Church has been set before the rest by no conciliar decrees, but has obtained the primacy by the voice of our Lord and Savior in the Gospel : ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I shall build My church and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven‘” (Roman Synod 382; PL 13.374).




St. Augustine


Innocent to Africa - by its authority the just decree may be strengthened

Reply of St. Innocent to Carthage (417 AD)

“You decided that it was proper to refer to our judgment , knowing what is due to the Apostolic See….So also, you have by your priestly office preserved the institutions of the fathers , and have not spurned that which they decreed by a sentence not human but divine, that whatever is done, even though it be in distant provinces, should not be ended until it comes to the knowledge of this See, that by its authority (auctoritate) the whole just pronouncement should be strengthened, and that from there the other churches (like waters proceeding from their natal sources and flowing through the different regions of the world, the pure streams of an uncorrupt head) should take up what they ought to enjoin…” (Pope St. Innocent to Carthage; PL 33.780).

In this reply of the Pope to the Council of Carthage, which had written to Rome with the same request as that of Milevis (above), the Pope makes it clear that whatever is deliberated by bishops anywhere in the world, it should not be considered a closed matter until it is reviewed by the Apostolic See, so that by its auctoritas, the decisions can be finalized. While this is certainly not a reference to potestas, it is a reference to a supreme arbiter on matters of doctrine, and he even compares the other churches as streams of water which flow from an uncorrupt head, i.e. the teaching office of Rome.






Innocent to Milevis

Pope St. Innocent to the Council of Milevis (417)

“It is therefore with due care and fitness that you consult the secrets of the Apostolic Office (that Office, I mean, to which belongs, besides those things that are outside, the care of all the churches) as to what opinion should be held on doubtful matters, following the form of the ancient rule which, you and I know, has ever been kept in the whole world….Especially as often as questions of faith are to be ventilated, I think all our brothers and fellow bishops ought to refer to none but Peter, that is to the author of their name and office, even as your affection has now referred [to us], a matter which may benefit all churches in common throughout the world….Therefore your charity will do a double good ; for you will obtain the grace of having observed the canons, and the whole world will share your benefit…..We declare that Pelagius and Celestius , that is the inventors of new doctrines which, as the Apostle said, are wont to produce no edification, but rather utterly empty questionings, should by the authority (auctoritate) of apostolic vigor be deprived of apostolic communion..” (Pope St. Innocent to Milevis ; PL 33.784)

Here, we see a description of the historic institution of the Papal office, which holds the “care of all the churches” , and to which all the bishops should refer to. One significant part is where St Innocent says that Peter should be the one referred to, and then described Peter as the “author of their name and office”. In other words, Peter is the origin of the universal episcopate (c.f. Cyprian & Optatus). The Latin of this sentence goes like this “….sui nominis et honoris auctorem referre debere”. Right there we see our auctor-word, which is translated as “author” or “beginning”. This confirms that auctoritas carries the meaning of origin or authorship, and so Rome’s auctoritas involves its being the foundation of origin in ecclesiastical organization.





Zosimus - Reply to Africa

Zosimus Response to Carthage

“Although the tradition of the fathers has assigned such great authority (auctoritatem) to the Apostolic See, that no one would dare to dispute its judgment, and has kept this always by canons and rules and church order, and in the current of its laws pays the reverence which it owes to the name of Peter, from whom it descends; for canonical antiquity , by the consent of all, has willed such power (potestatis) to this apostle , so that the promise of Christ our God, that he should loose the bound and bind the loosed, is equally given to those who have obtained, with his assent, the inheritance of his See; for he [Peter] has the care of all the churches , especially for this where he sat, nor does he permit any of its privileges or decisions to be shaken by any blast, since he established it on the firm and immovable foundation of his own name, which no one shall rashly attack , but at his peril. Peter then is the head of so great authority (auctoritatis) …Such then being our authority (auctoritatis) , that no one can revise our sentence ….”
(Pope St. Zosimus to the Council of CarthagePL 20.676)

Space will not allow the context of this letter to be given, but suffice it to say that Pope St. Zosimus felt the need to reassert the nature of Papal authority. What interests us here is the usage of auctoritas and potestas, as if the latter is drawn from the former. It is almost as if, for Zosimus, to have one is to have the other, in the instance of St. Peter and his successors. Notice the auctoritas is of the type which renders Rome’s judgments irreformable, and even stipulated by the canonical law. This is another instance where defining auctoritas as “soft power” or “moral influence which needn’t be obeyed” won’t suffice in ecclesiastical usage.



St. Augustine

Augustine Contra Academicos III 20 43 authority of Christ is the highest

“This above all is clear to me: never depart from the authority (auctoritate) of Christ. I find none stronger. (Augustine Contra Academicos III.20.43; English translation taken from Robert Eno’s Teaching Authority in the Early Church , p. 138)



St. Augustine

Augustine Contra fundamental epistle of Manichean - I would not believe the gospel unless the authority of the Church


“But if you come across a person who does not yet believe the Gospel, what would you do, if he said to you: ‘I do not believe’? As for myself, I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority (auctoritas) of the Catholic Church moved me to.”  (Against the Manichaean, V.6; English from Eno, p. 135)

Vincent of Lerins - stephen authority of his place PL 50 674

” When, then, all protested  against the newness of this practice (rebaptizing), and the priests everywhere each as his zeal prompted him , opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, prelate of the Apostolic See, acting indeed with his colleagues, but even so efore them, opposed it, thinking it right, as I imagine, so far to excel all the rest in is devotion to the faith as he surpassed them by the authority (auctoritate) of his place ” (Commonitorium 6; English from E. Giles, p. 272;  Patrologia Latina 50.645)

This is a well known episode from the mid-3rd century. Pope St. Stephen attempted to excommunicate persons who did not conform to the traditional understanding of baptism outside the true Catholic Church, and this move to do so is described by St. Vincent as auctoritate, or rather being founded upon it. This would entail that auctoritas could carry implications of an ability to exercise jurisdiction in a binding way (at least in the mind of St. Stephen).

Vincent of Lerins - whether anything has been decreed of old by al the priests of the catholic church with the authority of a general council

“First they should ascertain whether anything has been decreed of old by all the priests of the Catholic Church with the authority (auctoritate) of a universal Council…” (Commonitorium, St Vincent of Lerins ;  Patrologia Latina 50.647 ;English from E. Giles p. 275)

No Orthodox Christian I know would say that the content of Ecumenical Councils is simply a “soft power” which we should pay close attention to, but not the absolute necessity to obey. And yet here, St. Vincent of Lerins appears to the auctoritas of Ecumenical Councils as a supreme authority in the task to discover true doctrine. However one chooses to define it in this context, it cannot be relegated to a non-binding character. The decrees and doctrinal formulas of Ecumenical Councils are supremely binding.




Pope St. Celestine I

Celestine to Cyril - Authority to your see

“And so, appropriating to yourself the authority (auctoritate) of our see, and using our position, you shall with resolute severity carry out this sentence….” (Celestine to Cyril , Epistle 11; English from E. Giles p. 241; Patrologia Latina 50.465)

St. Cyril of Alexandria had written to Pope St. Celestine to inform him of the heresy of Nestorius of Constantinople. The Pope convened a small synod in Rome, and drew up a letter which contained a threat of excommunication to Nestorius if he did not recant of his errors. What is important here is that the Pope ordains St. Cyril as his vicar to carry out this sentence of excommunication, and he does so by delegating to St. Cyril his auctoritas. Undoubtedly, the context is that of jurisdiction, and so the Papal auctoritas can include the force and ability to make binding decisions requiring obedience.




St. Anatolius of Constantinople

Anatolius to Leo - whole force and confirmation reserved for the authority of your blessedness


“As for those things which the universal council of Chalcedon recently ordained in favour of the Church of Constantinople, let your holiness be sure that there was no fault in me, who from my youth have always loved peace and quiet , keeping myself in humility. It was the most reverend clergy of the Church of Constantinople who were eager about it, and they were equally supported by the most reverend priests of those parts, who agreed about it. Even so the whole force and confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority (auctoritati) of your blessedness” (Anatolius to Leo, Ep. 132; E. Giles, p. 330Patrologia Latina 54.1094)

Here, the very Bishop of Constantinople admits to the Roman Pontiff that the “whole force” of the canons of an Ecumenical Council lie in his auctoritas. Now, since this is a power which involves the ability to confirm or annul decisions of councils, it is fittingly in the legal context and one which involves a binding decision which requires assent and obedience.



Pope St. Leo the Great

Leo the Great on Annulment of Canon 28

“Indeed resolutions of bishops which are repugnant to the rules of the holy canons composed at Nicaea, in conjunction with the loyalty of your faith, we dismiss as invalid, and by the authority (auctoritatem) of Peter, the blessed apostle, we absolutely disannul by a general decree in all ecclesiastical cases…” (Leo to Empress Pulcheria; Epistle 104; Patrologia Latina 54.998; English from E. Giles, p. 328)

The authority to annul or cancel the decrees, decisions, or canons of Ecumenical Councils is far more than merely one’s prestigious wisdom and ability to persuade. What is being appealed to here by St. Leo is real authority which binds and legally overpowers. And yet, he refers to the auctoritas of St. Peter as being wielded by the decision of the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, auctoritas can mean something which could imply the ability to exercise potestas.



Pope St. Gelasius I



Bond of Anathema Gelasius

Pope St. Gelasius – Bond of Anatema

“But other things, those which were done or simply talked about through foolish presumption, things which the Apostolic See in no way ordered, which were clearly and speedily rejected by the legates of the Apostolic See, which the Apostolic, even with the Emperor Marcian asking for them, in no way approved, which the Bishop of Constantinople at the time, Anatolius, claimed not to have sought and did not deny was in the power of the bishop of the Apostolic See: in sum, as we said, that which the Apostolic See has not accepted, because it was shown to be contradictory to the privileges of the universal Church, can in no way be accepted” (Epistolae Romanorum pontificum 557-559; English taken from Eno, p. 167)

This text, often referred to as the Bond of Anathema by Pope Gelasius, is particularly interested, for it uses the word “potestas” to describe the power of Pope St. Leo in annulling the 28th canon that attempted to get passed at the Council of Chalcedon. As shown above, St. Leo referred to the “auctoritas” of St. Peter to annul this canon, and yet St. Gelasius understands that “potestas” came out from this “auctoritas”. In general, I think it is clear that St. Gelasius understands that it is up to the potestas of the Apostolic See whether canons get ratified or not, and that this can be ultimately rooted in the auctoritas of the Roman See.



Pope St. Martin I

Theodore John of Philadelphia

Pope St. Martin I, attempting to address ecclesiastical ordinations of heretics in the East, wrote a letter to Bishop John of Philadelphia (Metropolis of West Asia Minor, modern day Turkey) appointing him as his Vicar to:

“correct things which are wanting, and appoint Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons in every city of those which are subject to the See both of Jerusalem and of Antioch; we charging you to do this in every way, in virtue of the Apostolic authority (auctoritate) which was given us by the Lord in the person of most blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles; on account of the necessities of our time, and the pressure of the nations” (Mansi X.806; English from Thomas William Allies, The See of Peter, p. 120)

Pope St. Martin I is clearly exercising the power of jurisdiction in and through this Eastern bishop in the internal affairs of Antioch and Jerusalem, and he appeals to the auctoritas given to St. Peter and his successors as the legitimizing rationale. It would therefore be strange to justify the power to depose and/or ordain in foreign dioceses on the basis of auctoritas if the latter carried no significance of the ability to exercise potestas.


Now, to wrap up this discussion on Papal auctoritas versus potestas, I think UP’s rebuttal to my first article doesn’t really do justice to the meaning of the term auctoritas in the relevant Latin literature. While, in a Roman classical perspective, auctoritas has a pretty clear and standard definition, it still carried with it a divine foundation in the Pope’s ministry, and which could therefore be the cause for making binding decisions in the Church. As we saw, there were times where even potestas and auctoritas could be nearly interchangeable. Not that their definitions become the same, but they they can be so bound up with one another that to say one is to imply the other. As we saw, Pope St. Leo annulled the 28th canon of Chalcedon by his auctoritas. Pope St. Gelasius understood this auctoritas of St. Leo to be an exercise of potestas (c.f. Bond of Anathema). Pope St. Zosimus understood the greatness of Rome’s auctoritas to imply the potestas to juridically close cases as irreformable. Pope St. Martin I appealed to the auctoritas given to St. Peter and his successors as the ground upon which to enter into the Sees of Antioch and Jerusalem and begin ordaining clergy. The bishops at the Council of Arles (314) understood that the whole Council (its decrees/canons/sentences) were under the auspices of God’s auctoritas, which surely ranked higher than the potestas of disciplinary sentences (its grounded them!). St. Vincent of Lerins appeals to the highest and supreme authority (auctoritas) of an Ecumenical council as a terminus of what the Christian faith is. St. Augustine referred to the supreme auctoritas of Holy Scripture and the Church in her presentation of the Gospels. Indeed, St. Augustine said there is no stronger authority than the auctoritas of Jesus Christ. Now, while this doesn’t entail that Pope St. Leo’s appeal to auctoritas vis-a-vis the Council of Chalcedon is an appeal to supremely binding authority (jurisdiction), but it does mean that one cannot use the word auctoritas itself as a way to discount this.

I said above that Ullman provided a good definition for auctoritas. However, in light of the data I’ve presented, I think he provides an even better one in his “A Short History” of the Papacy in the Middle Ages when he states:

“Once more the ancient Roman constitution served the papacy well: it chose the term of auctoritas which designated the final and supreme and unchallengeable ruling in any controversial matter. Auctortias as claimed by the papacy from now onwards meant the faculty of laying down in a binding manner the fundamental guide lines that were to direct Christian soceity. That was the idea behind the (Roman) concept of the principatus of the Roman church which itself was the constitutional term for Roman monarchy” (p. 32). 

That goes quite nicely with what St. Leo said in Epistle 65:

“Through the most blessed Peter, chief of the Apostles, the holy Roman church holds the principiate over all the churches of the whole world” (Epistle #65, M.P.L. 54.879)




(3) UP moves on to insist that St. Leo did not intend for his Tome to be the final judgement on the matter of the doctrine being disputed, namely, whether Christ has two natures joined hypostatically in one person. Nor did anyone, he insists, believe that Leo’s tome was of any binding authority until it was accepted by the vote of bishops who met in Council. Well, let’s note first what Price has to say about this question.

In his Acts of the Council of Constantinople (553), Price comments on Chalcedon and St. Leo saying:

“Before the council of Chalcedon, Pope Leo had claimed that an ecumenical council to discuss the faith was uncalled for since his own Tome had settled the question at issue” (Price, 56)

In Volume I of Price’s Acts of Chalcedon, he writes:

“In all, Pope Leo regarded the doctrinal controversy as having been settled by his Tome; if there had to be a council, he held that, apart from settling the status of persons, it should simply acknowledge and confirm the teaching of the Tome, as the definitive ruling on the points at issue; the last thing he wanted was a reopening of the debate, as if the teaching of the heir and successor of St. Peter were simply one among a plethora of competing voices” (Price; Chalcedon I.91)

In Volume III of the same, he writes:

“It will be remembered  that Pope Leo had originally opposed the convocation of a council, since he considered that the doctrinal issue had already been resolved by his Tome and that the disciplinary matters arising from Ephesus II could be dealt with by his own representatives, acting in concert with Anatolius of Constantinople.” (III.108)

Now, while Price is a Roman Catholic, he can’t be accused of not being able to reliably translate Greek or Latin. While I try my best, I never leave myself as the final word on translation. If UP wishes to question my knowledge of Greek or Latin once again, I would just announce to the readers now that the English translations of the Greek and Latin are taken from reputable scholars, and in many instances non-Catholic. I would also add that I’ve compiled the scholarly assessment of St. Leo’s view of the Papacy in the universal Church from 15+ non-Catholic historical theologians, and they all understood him to be promoting a high view of Papal Office, in terms of jurisdiction and divine right. That UP would come forward to deny this should already inform his readers that he is in the minority view on the pontificate of St. Leo.

Before moving on, there is still more to look at with regard to St. Leo’s view of his Tome and the view of others on the authority of the Holy See.

With regard to the letters available to us, the preparatory and confirmatory letters  indicate that the Pope would be the judge over the Council. In his first letter of request for Papal intervention, Emperor St. Marcian writes to St. Leo as follows:

“Therefore, on behalf of the venerable and catholic religion of the Christian faith, by the help of which we trust that the strength of our power will be directed, we believe it to be proper that your holiness, possessing primacy in the episcopate of the divine faith, be first addressed by our sacred letters….so that….by the removal of every impious error through holding a council on your authority (te auctore), perfect peace should be established among all the bishops of the catholic faith…” (Leo, Ep. 73; Price I.92-93)

The Emperor understood the Council to be under the Pope’s authority. Since we’ve established that auctor/auctoritas can carry far more stronger implications than mere “urging” or “influence”, this opening letter of the Emperor for the Pope’s auctoritas to head the Council retains the same significance I called for it in my original article, effectively making UP’s critique, i.e. auctoritas means merely “respectable opinion” or “prestigious initiative”, insufficient.

UP also pointed out how St. Leo did not want a Council to be called, and how the Emperor convened one anyway. I assume this was an attempt to show that the Emperor thought he was the boss of the Pope, and could dictate decisions himself over the universal Church. However, this notation is dimmed when we see what happened after the Council dissolved. The Emperor St. Marcian ran into a bit of a back and forth with the Pope on the confirmation of the Council, in particular canon 28. St. Leo had put up enough resistance that it appeared to many in the East as if Chalcedon, as big and bad as it was, did not obtain the approval of the Apostolic See. Ironically, the Eutychians in the East were appealing to St. Leo’s failure to clearly ratify the Council as a way to thumb their nose at all the disciplinary and civil threats by the Emperor for their not accepting the Council. In a letter from St. Marian to St. Leo, we see this very clearly:

“We are extremely surprised that after the Council of Chalcedon and the letter of the venerable bishops sent to your God-belovedness, in which they related all the proceedings at this council, in no way at all have letters been sent back by your clemency of the kind that ought to come to the knowledge of all, evidently through being read in the most holy churches. In the minds of some who even now follow the heresy and perversity of Eutyches this has created much uncertainty as to whether your beatitude has confirmed the decrees of the holy Council. For this reason your devoutness will deign to send a letter that will make it clear to all the churches and congregations that the proceedings at the holy council have been confirmed by your beatitude” (Price III.150)

My, my! One would think that if the Emperor is the boss of the Pope, that he wouldn’t be needing letters from Rome confirming the Council. If the Emperor calls, convenes, and dictates the terms of Councils, even over the Pope, then what in the world happened in the interim of the Council and the composition of this letter which shows deference to Papal authority over the Council’s decrees? The obvious answer is that the Emperor did submit himself to the Pope, but that the calling of Chalcedon and the place where it will convene was popularly thought to be in the hands of the Emperor who is responsible, by God, for the realm. But as for what content goes into it and is judged acceptable, this is not in the hands of the Emperor.

In fact, when Emperor St. Marcian advertised Chalcedon to the East in one particular edict, he describes the Council in this manner:

“There followed something granted by the deity to his merits, namely that a venerable council of almost innumerable priests assembled at Chalcedon, which, while it diligently examined the faith on the authority of the most blessed Leo bishop of the eternal city of Rome and laid the foundations of religion, bestowed on Flavian the palm of a holy life and and a glorious death” (Price III.132)

I have already cited what the Bishop of Constantinople said about the authority of the Pope on the decrees of the Council in my list of citations above on auctoritas, but in case it was not caught, this bishop admitted that the decrees of Chalcedon were “reserved for the authority” of the Pope.

What further did St. Leo say in regards to his authority in the matter?

In St. Leo’s first letter to Chalcedon, he writes that the Tome sent previously to St. Flavian was “in accordance with gospel authority, the prophetic sayings, and the apostolic teaching…..declared most fully and most lucidly what is the pious and pure confession of the mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Leo, Ep. 93; Price I.104). It would appear that Leo thought his Tome to be the last word. Why then a Council? In the same letter, Leo answers:

“But because we are not ignorant that through vicious factionalism the condition of many churches was disrupted and that a great number of bishops were expelled from their sees and sent into exile because they would not accept heresy…the remedy of justice should first be applied to these wrongs…those who have laboured on behalf of the faith should have their rights restored together with all their privileges”.

Thus, Leo’s aim at a Conciliar examination of the question has more to do with fixing the mess created by Ephesus (449) where many orthodox bishops lost their place in the episcopate, and other egregious matters related. In other words, UP is operating under the assumption that if the Pope were truly what the Catholic Church has defined him at the Councils of Lyons (1274), Florence (1439), and Vatican I (1870), then all Councils would be rendered superfluous. But this is a non-sequitur. There are a variety of reasons to hold a Council. When further business than merely the correct doctrine is in proximity, for example, the restoring of right bishops to their proper jobs, then face-to-face meetings are more appropriate. Also, by having a Council of bishops, the subscriptions to the decrees puts an extra layer of accountability on those who might forsake their first commitment, furnishing greater proof of pertinacious rebellion. These things cannot be ascertained nor accomplished in a mere letter from the Pope.

Is it anyhow possible that, however much correct it was, St. Leo still understood his Tome to be simply a vote of one amidst the “fuller judgment” of the Council of bishops? UP appeals to letter 33 in the Leonine epistolary, which is his letter to the Council of Ephesus (449)  which has St. Leo saying:

“But because the healing even of such men must not be neglected, and the most Christian Emperor has piously and devoutly desired a council of bishops to be held, that all error may be destroyed by a fuller judgment…and settle in common with you what is in accordance with the Lord’s will” (Letter 33)

UP cites this portion of letter 33, but seems to ignore the first part of the letter which precedes the “But” in the above citation. This is actually how letter 33 opens up:

Leo, bishop, to the holy Synod which is assembled at Ephesus. 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 authority of the Apostolic See for a proper settlement: as if he wished it to be declared by the most blessed Peter himself”

Right off the bat, St. Leo recognizes that the “proper settlement” of the doctrinal controversy lies with the “authority of the Apostolic See” which is resting on the “Divine institutions”. Indeed, the judgment of the Apostolic See is equivalent to the judgment of “the most blessed Peter himself”. The ideology behind this is only consistent with modern Catholic ecclesiology, and not Eastern Orthodox, let alone Protestant.

St. Leo continues to describe what is entailed by the confession of St. Peter:

“For Peter received this answer from the Lord for his confession. ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church: and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ . But he who both rejects the blessed Peter’s confession, and gainsays Christ’s Gospel, is far removed from union with this building; for he shows himself never to have had any zeal for understanding the Truth, and to have only the empty appearance of high esteem, who did not adorn the hoary hairs of old age with any ripe judgment of the heart.”

Having already equated the judgement of the Apostolic See with that of St. Peter, St. Leo unpacks what is entailed in the judgment or “confession” of St. Peter. And what we read is that the Lord made St. Peter the rock of His Church (as seen in the metaphor of a foundation and a building atop) for which the gates of hell should never prevail. Moreover, since Rome’s confession is St. Peter’s confession, and since those who reject the blessed Peter’s confession are “far removed from union with this building“, it is clear St. Leo was implying the irreformable nature of his Tome. UP tried to equate St. Leo’s confidence in the rightness of his Tome with that of any ordinary Bishop. Well, these comments here make it clear St. Leo has something much stronger and far more exclusive to the See of Peter in mind.

What then of St. Leo’s idea in the next paragraph which says that the Council can give a “fuller judgment”?  Well, we know it cannot mean that St. Leo is nullifying everything he wrote in the opening paragraph concerning the irreformable nature of St. Peter’s confession, i.e. Rome’s confession. However, as Price noted, when St. Leo takes aim at the goal of healing the dissidents of their errors, St. Leo is willing to go with a Council where things are discussed and settled in common. I am not sure what the problem with this is? In fact, this is perfectly compatible with Catholic doctrine. Sure, as St. Leo implies, the judgment of Rome is final and irrevocable, but for the sake of ensuring that men are led more fully to the truth, it is better to have them both learn and be convinced of that truth inwardly rather than to impose some outward mandate with a threat of excommunication. And this is precisely what St. Leo says – “But because the healing even of such men must not be neglected…”. Another benefit (as I’ve already alluded) to having a Council instead of one dictatorial statement from the Pope, is that the dissidents would be required to publicly renounce their errors in the presence of the Church, and so put further obligation to follow through with that commitment. This posture is pretty consistent throughout the centuries, even to this day, where the Pope is opening up judgments to the free deliberation of the Bishops.

In a different letter to Empress Pulcheria,  wife of Emperor St. Marcian, St. Leo makes it clear he isn’t inviting feedback from the Council, but rather set the norm. He writes:

“…I have nevertheless accepted with such lack of disdain as to appoint two of my fellow-bishops and two fellow-presbyters who may suffice to represent me. There have been sent to the venerable council appropriate letters, to inform the convoked brotherhood what forms should be observed in this adjudication, lest any rashness should thwart the rules of the faith, the decrees of the canons, or the remedies of benevolence” (Leo, Ep. 95; Price I.105).

It is obvious here that so far as the faith is concerned, St. Leo is completely settled on his Tome, but there also appears to be instructions for handling the disciplinary crisis in the East on account of the Ephesus 449.

What of Letter 120? Is it the case that this letter, as UP understands, shows that St. Leo did not ratify the Tome, but rather the Council both reviewed it and ratified it. The implication being that the Pope cannot judge ahead the Council the truth or falsity of a doctrine in question. But Letter 120 says something more compataible with Catholic ecclesiology. This letter is from the Pope to Theodoret of Cyrrhus.

Wherefore we make our boast in the Lord, singing with the prophet: our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth : who has suffered us to sustain no harm in the person of our brethren, but has corroborated by the irrevocable assent of the whole brotherhood what He had already laid down through our ministry: to show that, what had been first formulated by the foremost See of Christendom, and then received by the judgment of the whole Christian world, had truly proceeded from Himself: that in this, too, the members may be at one with the Head. (Letter 120)

It would be irresponsible to read these words in a way that would make St. Leo’s other statements either contradictory or meaningless. St. Leo had already stated that the confession of St. Peter, of which he represents by occupying Peter’s See, and which the Tome represents, was the standard of orthodoxy. He said whoever separates themselves from the confession of Peter is outside the building. Here in this letter, St. Leo understands that God has intervened into the situation so as to create no “no harm in the person” of the brother Bishops. What “harm”? The harm of disagreement, of course. The harm of schism. This is what St. Leo means when he says God, who is our Help, “has suffered us to sustain no harm in the person of our brethren”. We already know that St. Leo understood the thieving Synod of Ephesus II (449) to have caused “harm” in the brethren, and it was for this reason that the Emperor called a new Synod. Therefore, the harmless convocation of Chalcedon is what the Pope is here referring to, i.e. it did not end up like the previous Synod. Secondly, notice how St. Leo says that God has “corroborated” what “He had already laid down through our ministry”. In other words, God was equally behind the production of the Tome as He was providing the grace of agreement in the “whole brotherhood”. St. Leo is looking at this whole ordeal from a heavenly perspective. This is why he continues on saying that God did this in order to “show that, what had been first formulated by the foremost See of Christendom” had truly proceeded from Himself”, namely, that unanimity in the faith is a better manifestation of the Lord’s confirmation. Some might read this as if St. Leo completely flattens Papal authority with that of the Council. However, that is not necessarily what is going on. After all, when Ephesus II did not accept his Tome, St. Leo did not deduce from this that his Tome was thereby “not from the Lord” or lacking in authority. In fact, he doubled down. Rather, St. Leo here is emphasizing a point which any Catholic Papalist today would gladly admit, namely that when there is no contest between the disciples, and all agree together in harmony, this is a better show of the Lord’s confirmation that what is being agreed upon is proceeding from Truth Himself. When and if there is a contest between the Apostolic See and other Sees, there is suffering, schism, and division. St. Leo is showing that God has come in to provide what He Himself wishes for the Church, and thereby makes even more manifest the divine origin of the Tome. It is therefore impossible to extract from this observation that St. Leo aligns himself with the conciliarist polities of the East, which, as I already stated in the beginning, has been even more neutered to the Receptionist paradigm (i.e. even the Council doesn’t have authority to determine whether it is Ecumenical or not).

He goes on:

For lest the assent of other Sees to that [See] which the Lord of all has appointed to take precedence of the rest might seem mere complaisance, or lest any other evil suspicion might creep in, some were found to dispute our decisions before they were finally accepted. And while some, instigated by the author of the disagreement, rush forward into a warfare of contradictions, a greater good results through his fall under the guiding hand of the Author of all goodness. For the gifts of God’s grace are sweeter to us when they are gained with mighty efforts: and uninterrupted peace is wont to seem a lesser good than one that is restored by labours. Moreover, the Truth itself shines more brightly, and is more bravely maintained when what the Faith had already taught is afterwards confirmed by further inquiry. And still further, the good name of the priestly office gains much in lustre where the authority of the highest is preserved without it being thought that the liberty of the lower ranks has been at all infringed. And the result of a discussion contributes to the greater glory of God when the debaters exert themselves with confidence in overcoming the gainsayers: that what of itself is shown wrong may not seem to be passed over in prejudicial silence. (ibid)

Here we get further rationale behind the words of St. Leo. In order that that the agreement of the other Sees would appear as mere “complaisance”, i.e. being forced to agree, the Pope sees a providence in that some of the Eastern bishops disputed the Tome. It is significant to see that St. Leo understood this disputation with his Tome as emanating from the Devil himself (possible Dioscorus or Eutyches, but most likely the Devil). From this evil, good came. It is important to see this logic here. By and through the evil disputing of the Tome, a greater good resulted because by the process or arguing and debating, it became even more ingrained into the hearts and minds of the Bishops that the Tome was reflecting the truth. It would be a misunderstanding of St. Leo to take from this that he was a conciliarist, because the logic here is quite plain, and shows evidence of the Papacy. The underlying principle here is when St. Leo says, “God’s grace is sweeter to us when it is gained with mighty efforts” and “the Truth shies more brightly when the faith already taught is confirmed by further inquiry”. This is not to say that the Tome was in a state of review, only to later arise to the level of authority. Rather, all the Pope is saying here is that when people actually have to work through the doctrinal problems and find the truth for themselves (i.e. Illyrians, Egyptians, etc,etc), they actually produce a better certainty and acknowledgement of the truth of what is at stake than if there were to just give outward obedience. In other words, there is “mere compliasance”, as St. Leo said above, in which case all the Bishops would just outwardly assent to the Tome without internalizing its contents, but then there is this permitted evil of debate, dispute, and contradiction, such that by working through the disputation with the Lord providing the grace of illumination, the bishops then come to have a better internalization of just why the Tome was from God. This is the sort of providential argument that St. Leo is making here. This is confirmed by the statement wherein he says, “…the good name of the priestly office gains much in lustre where the authority of the highest is preserved without it being thought that the liberty of the lower ranks has been at all infringed”. First thing to notice here is that St. Leo understood the Tome to be the “highest”, and the Council’s deliberation to be of the “lower ranks”. Full stop. The authority and decrees of the Apostolic See, like St. Leo said in many other places, is the confession of St. Peter which is the rock of the universal Church, outside of which there is no salvation. However, in the Church of God, it should not be the case that we need to see authority exercise itself in a war with others. Christ our Lord was supreme in authority, and yet He called Himself the “Least” and the “Servant” of all. In the same way, St. Leo here is saying that the authoritative decrees of the Pope are “highest” in authority, but that this authority should not, in the first instance, need to be preserved by a combat between the Pope and the bishops, but rather, when the Pope and the bishops can reach agreement out of free will. It is quite striking that some Protestant and Eastern Orthodox brothers, when looking for evidence of the Papacy, only sift through and try to find instances where the Pope has to contradict and fight with others, in order to see who wins the fight. This is fleshly. Even Emperors and Monarchs understand the diplomacy and mutual agreement is the first and most sought for mode of running an Empire or a Kingdom. We wouldn’t say that a King is not supreme if and when he allows a royal decision to first undergo counsel, review, or even a vote. That would be ridiculous. In the same way, there is ample evidence of the Papal theory (as St. Leo gives) while also recognizing that this government should be regulated according to the wisest and holiest principles of synodality and unanimity, if possible.

But what about when St. Leo says that the Council “ratified” the Tome? We read:

“…for in the letter which we issued from the Apostolic See, and which has been ratified by the assent of the entire holy Synod, we know that so many divinely authorised witnesses are brought together, that no one can entertain any further doubt, except one who prefers to enwrap himself in the clouds of error, and the proceedings of the Synod whether those in which we read the formulating of the definition of Faith, or those in which the aforesaid letter of the Apostolic See was zealously supported by you, brother, and especially the address of the whole Council to our most religious Princes, are corroborated by the testimonies of so many fathers in the past that they must persuade any one, however unwise and stubborn his heart, so long as he be not already joined with the devil in damnation for his wickedness.”

UP takes note of this epistle, and feels as though the Tome was not, even in St. Leo’s mind, a binding document until the Council, which has supreme authority over the Pope, ratified it. Indeed, UP believes that when the Council ratified the Tome, it was only then that the Tome was ratified. UP states:

“Far from signing on or simply accepting the Tome due to its source, it went through a ratification process, and the Council’s approval is what made the document binding. Had that not been the case, those who had not signed onto the Tome previously would have already been excommunicated if not openly, then by latae sententiae (this point becomes exceptionally important in the two trials of Dioscorus held at Chalcedon).”

He adds also:

“Second, “declaro” is a synonym of “confirmo”, which in fact, means ‘to ratify’. The emperor is telling Pope St. Leo what Pope St. Leo later reiterates in letter 120: The bishops ratified the Tome, not the other way around.”

For UP, the word “declaro” and “confirmo” automatically signifies that the subject who confirms or ratifies is the subject giving the Tome the authority it enjoys. However, he might be proving too much, for in many examples do we see Ecumenical Councils saying they “confirm” Nicaea, Constantinople I, or something else the Church holds as already irreformable dogma. Therefore, the word itself doesn’t tell us what UP would wish to have it say. Secondly, we would only need to look at the documents which go back and forth from St. Leo and the East after Chalcedon dissolved. The Council fathers submitted the decrees of the Council to Pope St. Leo to confirm (c.f. Leonine Epistolary 98 & 101). No scholar denies that the Bishop of Constantinople, the Council of Chalcedon itself, and the Emperor all sought for St. Leo to ratify the 28th Canon. But even with this aside, when St. Leo didn’t give clear evidence that he approved the Council, many in the East believed it should not be obeyed because of that. As I have already cited atop, the Emperor wrote a letter almost two years after Chalcedon dissolved, in order to request a confirmation of the Council. If, as UP insinuates, the Council has the right to ratify the Tome of St. Leo, which is a doctrinal statement, then the Council would surely have the authority to ratify its own canons with or without the agreement of the Pope (a discipline of a lesser order than doctrine). But even Apostolic Canon 34 , which the Orthodox like to cite as a proof text against the Papacy, would indicate that the ratification of the Head is just as important as the ratification of the body, and yet UP would have it that the ratification of the Head was nothing until it was ratified and confirmed by the Council. But, as we’ve indicates, St. Leo (Ep. 12) believes almighty God has already laid down the faith authoritatively by the Petrine ministry before the Council. All in all, the Council’s ratification or confirmation of the Tome was a real act of authority, as current Catholic teaching says on the authority of the Episcopal College, but it doesn’t follow from this that the Tome was in the queue for review prior to. Since UP would not say Nicaea, Constantinople 381, nor that Ephesus 431 was in queue for review until Chalcedon 451 and the Councils afterward on account of these latter including statements which say they “confirm” the previous Councils, it stands to reason this argument of UP emanates from sheer ignorance.


(4) Next, UP jumps on my article for a glaring mistake, one which he says is “embarrassing”. He says:

“Mr. Ybarra makes an embarrassingly glaring mistake here; there were not ‘600+’ bishops at the council, and had he actually read Fr. Richard Price’s translation and commentary of the Acts instead of resorting to quote mines, he would have seen the number was roughly around 370 actual bishops and representatives.”

I have to admit that this caught me off guard. I did take it as a given from several sources I’ve read (Price speaks of it at length in an Appendix, and not in the body of his translation of the Acts). But this charge that UP throws out at me has more bark than bite, for Price himself states that most historians take the view that Chalcedon had anywhere from 520 to 630 bishops. He writes:

“Sources after the Council tend to give 600 or 630 as the number of bishops attending: the figure of 600 was already given by a bishop in the fourth session (IV.53)…A slightly lower figure of 500 comes in the letter of the Council fathers to Pope Leo, while Marcian’s Fourth Edict confirming the council’s decrees gives 520. Most historians still repeat these figures, but what support o they receive from the list of bishops in the conciliar Acts?”

So UP’s bark that this should cause myself to be embarrassed clearly reveals the disingenuous nature of his/her critique. What Price tries to argue is that while the contemporary voices at and around the Council of Chalcedon were claiming 600+ or 520+ bishops in attendance, they were mistaken on the basis of an incorrect numbering of valid names which count as real attendees. Price goes from the claim of 600+ bishops, down to 391, and then down even further to 370 bishops. I happen to not find his reasoning compelling. Why should I believe him over what the Bishops there said it was? Moreover, I laud the principle of lex orandi lex credendi, and I would trust the contemporaries and the Church’s hymnography over that of a overly skeptical scholar.

At the Council of Chalcedon (IV.53, Price), Lucentius, the Bishop-Legate of Pope St. Leo the Great, spoke out and said:

“If they are in error, let them learn from your magnificence that ten men cannot prejudice a council of six hundred bishops and the Catholic faith”

In the Council’s letter to Pope St. Leo, they say:

“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? ” (Ep 98, Leo)

The Emperor himself in one of his letters confirming the Council says:

“Therefore we have ordained and ordain that those things which were decreed…..are to be observed…because it is extremely appropriate to observe with the greatest veneration he decrees of 520 priests who worship God with a pure mind…” (III.134, Price)

The Council of Trullo (692), in its 1st canon states:

” Moreover we confirm that faith which at Chalcedon, the Metropolis, was set forth in accordance with orthodoxy by the six hundred and thirty God-approved fathers in the time of Marcian, who was our Emperor, which handed down with a great and mighty voice, even unto the ends of the earth, that the one Christ, the son of God, is of two natures, and must be glorified in these two natures”   (Council of Trullo, Canon 1)

I understand there are those who look to the sheer number of signatures, but it doesn’t adequately explain away how the contemporaries and the Catholic Church following would be so far off on this figure.


(5) Then, UP hones in on this idea that the Bishops “scrutinize” St. Leo’s Tome. This is what my original article was written to refute, and I don’t think he has said anything to seriously challenge what I’ve argued. As I have stated above, I don’t accept the numbering that Price gives of the bishops, and nor should UP if he respects his own canons and hymnography. The appeal to symbolism also doesn’t suffice in that regard. But even if we were to go out and accept this numbering that price gives, it is less than 17% of the bishops who show any sort of “scrutinizing” of the Tome of St. Leo. But even if we were to give this statistic any consideration (we shouldn’t, since those who scrutinized St. Leo’s tome were far less than 17%), I am not sure what weight this carries in the anti-Papal effort of UP’s rebuttal? UP has no problem saying that Councils are infallible in their final decisions, but what happens when a portion of the Church disagrees with the Council such as in the case with Chalcedon? The Bishops of Egypt, and many others, believed Chalcedon was a “Synod of Thieves” (Miaphysites). Does this partial acceptance of Chalcedon injure the Council’s status of supreme and infallible authority? If not, then I don’t see why UP can’t accept that St. Leo’s Tome was treated as a document divinely binding on the Church, even if it had some resistance in the process. As I argued in my original article, the vast majority of the Council (versus the inconsiderable minority, which was absolutely negligible), responded to St. Leo’s Tome with, “This is the faith of the Fathers! This is the faith of the Apostles!….Peter has spoken through Leo!”.  And thus, no, the Tome was not critically examined by the Council. After all, this was my argument the whole time.

The simple fact of the matter is this, it was the Law of the Empire and the Law of Councils that the Prelate of the Apostolic See was the head of the universal Church and that all decrees, canons, or formulas of Councils must require the authoritative seal of Peter’s successor before it obtains universal binding authority. We see this in the many policy statements of St. Marcian the Eastern Emperor, as well as Valentinian III the Western Emperor, and the confession of bishops both East and West. The sort of authority claimed by St. Leo the Great and attributed to him by the Church could never be used today to describe the office of the Ecumenical Patriarch. If it were ever claimed so, it would at once be denounced by many Orthodox clergy as a unlawful Papal pretension. Therefore, whatever it is that went on in the 5th-century regarding Pope St. Leo, Chalcedon, and the Emperors, they were not operating off Eastern Orthodox polities, but far more closely to what exists today in Roman Catholicism. And while I’m not eager to advertise modern Catholicism with all its many faults and challenges, nor eager to downsize Eastern Orthodoxy, I’m certainly no thereby ready to re-write history and pretend like the Church of the 5th-century held to the ecclesiology of today’s 14 autocephalous Church bodies in the Eastern Orthodox communion. The fact that St. Leo comes anywhere close to the Papalism of Vatican I, which was admitted to be the case by the late famous Russian Orthodox historian Basil Bolotov, and he is accompanied in that conviction by Anglican historian Dr. Beresford Kidd , is already enough to render sufficient astonishment. Here is a man of the “Eastern Orthodox” Church (for St. Leo is not “Roman Catholic” by Eastern Orthodox standards) who from far out in the West leads the Eastern Council of Chalcedon, and even claims power over the Council by an inheritance of supreme authority in blessed Peter’s apostolic office given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not be seeing a flinch of this so far back as the 450s AD, per Orthodoxy accusations in the 11th-century, but oh well, this is what we have.

There are some other statements about me that would seem to try and show that I am “poser”, and I don’t know anything about history and all that. Well, I’ve given my reply to show otherwise, and if the author wishes to continue the dialogue, I’m happy to read their reply. It was also said that I rely on quote-mines from mistranslations, and that I had all sorts of errors in Latin/Greek original, etc,etc. Well, I’d be curious to know further what instance could be substantiated that proves this?

7 thoughts on “Tome of Pope St. Leo – Critically Examined by the Council of Chalcedon? Part 2: Response to Ubi Petrus

  1. What would you say to those Orthodox who object that, if the Bishop of Rome really did have a special authority over the rest of the Church, then a connection between Peter and his rockiness should have been made by early Church writers such as Chrysostom. But we do not see any early Chuch Fathers speak of Peter the Rock and connect it to the Bishop of Rome as he currently is, thereby admitting the BoR has Petrine authority in succession??

    Furthermore, some even bring up the fact how Chrysostom heaps praise on the Apostle Paul, saying he is the greatest apostle in the kingdom of Heaven etc, and praises him beyond Peter. What would you say about these two points?

    • To clarify, the first objection from our Orthodox brethren is that, if an unique Petrine authority did exist in the early Church, then we would expect many early Church Fathers to not only speak of Peter as being the unshakeable Rock, but also necessarily connect it to the Bishop of Rome since the Bishop of Rome is supposed to be the successor of Peter’s authority.

      But we don’t see this connection being made, ergo the early Church didn’t believe in a continuous Petrine primacy – at least that’s what the Orthodox say.

      • Hi John,

        I am sorry if I don’t normally get to respond. But amazingly I have found time here on this Sunday afternoon.

        To the question of whether St. John Chrysostom identified the “rock” as St. Peter the man, I have written an article showing that Chrysostom and Vatican I overlap in their interpretation of Matt 16. See this article here below:

        As for connecting Peter, the rock, and his successors, I do think the Church fathers clearly teach this as well. The first instance of this is in a letter of St. Firmilian to St. Cyprian which is written around the 250s. You can access that letter here:

        The relevant passage is in quotes below (Firmilian is critical of the Pope, but shows that the Bishop of Rome was making this claim as early as the 3rd century, but most likely even before that)

        “And in this respect I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen, that he who so boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, should introduce many other rocks and establish new buildings of many churches; maintaining that there is baptism in them by his authority….Stephen, who announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter, is stirred with no zeal against heretics”

        Moreover, the Council of Sardica (343), which is held by both East and West, includes a statement which says that “it is appropriate for the Lord’s bishops from every province to report to their Head, the See of the Apostle Peter”. This was the Synod which put into canonical law Rome as the final court of appeals.

        Future Councils which are accepted by the Orthodox say the same, and whatever is accepted on an ecumenical level is good enough to define what the faith was projected backwards into the beginning of the Church. Otherwise the Orthodox would have to admit they accepted the Papal innovation just as the West did.

  2. @Erick Ybarra,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond so early!

    So there is in fact evidence in the early Church that suggests the Bishop of Rome was associated with Peter continuously. And I would consider especially important the Council of Sardica directly admitting the See of Rome is called the See of Peter – which basically proves that Peter and Rome were connected even after Peter’s death.

    Also, I’ve recently watched a debate of yours with Craig Truglia where Craig mentions how Pope Stephen seemingly disallows rebaptism of all heretics,including the Marcianites and Gnostics by saying “…if someone comes to you from any heresy whatsoever, let nothing be renewed…”. I simply have to mention that this is easily refuted.

    After listening to Craig make this argument, and after reading the Stephen quote, my thoughts were immediatly of the fact this could easily be rhetorical excess – or a general allowance that isn’t meant to be literally absolute (especially since, if the translation is literal, Stephen says ANY and not ALL), which is very likely since this style of talking is common and easily noticeable.

    The confirmation of this interpretation comes from Eusebius, which you quoted in your article, who says: “…as no small controversy had arisen as to whether those who had turned from any heresy should be purified by baptism. For the ancient custom prevailed in regard to such…”. This shows Eusebius quoting the particular words “any heresy”, and yet it’s obvious nobody is taking it to mean literally ANY heresy – rather a general allowance, perhaps because most heretics in the 3rd century were Trinitarian, and a minority were non-Trinitarian. Cyprian is likely misusing Stephen to bolster his own position when he later points out the consequence that this means the Church shouldn’t rebaptise Marcionites and Gnostics (who weren’t Trinitarian when baptising), and this fits with Cyprian going the absolute opposite direction contrary to Stephen of saying ANYONE who isn’t directly a part of the Church should be re-baptised.

    What do you think?

    • To clarify the later part, Cyprian’s belief on rebaptism is that ANY schismatic or heretic should be rebaptised, yet this goes against future councils that say some should be rebaptised while others shouldn’t on the basis of the Trinitarian formula used (or rather, not used). Cyprian is trying to paint Stephen as saying that ALL heretics are acceptable without rebaptising them – so Cyprian and Stephen’s alleged position can be seen as two diametrical opposites.

      So Cyprian could have been accusing (or rather, misunderstanding) Stephen of this position to contrast with his own position that is the complete opposite of that.

  3. great riposte Erick on the heretical and inconsistent dunce who wrote that article.

    I seen it after Jay Dyer got possessed after the video that exposed him came out by MHFM. Jay started linking all garbage materials attacking Catholicism.

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