Debate Resolution: The Catholic Doctrine on Papal Primacy given at Vatican I is Faithful to Apostolic Tradition
Presented by Erick Ybarra for Pints for Aquinas (02/19/2021)
The question before us today is whether the doctrine of Papal Primacy as formulated at the Council of Vatican I is taught in Apostolic Tradition. Let me begin by defining the Council’s definition. The Council’s decree, Pastor Aeternus, which means The Eternal Shepherd (referring to Jesus Christ), gives a definition in 4 parts. These 4 parts describe (1) the institution, (2) permanence, (3) nature, and (4) infallible prerogative of Papal primacy. I will explain each of these briefly.
The Council states that the Apostle Peter was given a primacy over the universal Church of God directly and immediately from Jesus Christ, the Eternal Shepherd.
In order to maintain the Church’s episcopal government as one and undivided, this universal primacy must be permanent as a perpetual principle of unity until the end of time, fixed in the bishopric of the Roman Church, according to the authoritative design of Jesus Christ.
This primacy is universal and jurisdictional (or legally binding). This jurisdiction is immediate, direct, and ordinary over the whole Church of God. This is founded upon the fact that full power to govern the Church was directly given to Peter, with no intermediation. As such, Peter and the person of his successor is the supreme judge of all the faithful, and is free to exercise his authority it at will.
Included in this primacy is the supreme power of teaching or magisterium. On certain conditions, the Pope can propose unchallengeable teaching that is protected from all error, and which must be adhered to with the assent of faith, the refusal of which would result in excommunication.
What is Apostolic Tradition?
For our purposes we may simply say that Apostolic Tradition is the faith delivered by the Apostles to the Church to be guarded and safely transmitted by their successors, the Bishops. The contents of Apostolic Tradition, for both Catholics and Orthodox, are contained in divine revelation as given in Scripture and Tradition. Therefore, if the Vatican Council’s definition of Papal Primacy is sufficiently implied in Scripture and Tradition, then this debate’s resolution is upheld and demonstrated. Since I am debating an Orthodox Christian, I will be focused mainly on Tradition since in many ways Tradition regulates the proper interpretation of the Scripture. Therefore, I will be looking primarily at Bishops, Church Fathers, and Holy Councils. Nevertheless, Scripture does have 3 main passages which show forth the basic idea of the Vatican’s definition.
This is the famous passage where Christ is recorded as establishing Peter as the rock and foundation support for the edifice of the Church he has built, and gives to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which is the power of binding and loosing. A superstructure continually depends on its foundation for stability and strength. Ergo, Peter must have an enduring function in giving said strength to the universal Church as long as the Church requires its need.
Here Luke records how Christ singles out Peter to pray for his faith that it might not fail. Once Peter is strengthened by the prayer of Christ, he is to strengthen the faith of his brethren. This signifies a Christo-Petrine dynamic where Christ fortifies His Church through the faith of Peter, and serves as a picture utilized by the fathers to describe the Roman See vis-à-vis the universal Church.
Christ gives to Peter the three-fold commission to shepherd and pastor the universal flock. This is seen in the command, “Feed My Sheep.” To feed sheep is a metaphor for governing the Disciples of Christ towards eternal salvation.
Now, for some traditional evidences from the Church’s tradition:
In the 2nd century, we read from Irenaeus of Lyons that the Apostolic Tradition as held by the Roman See is a universal norm unto which all Churches must agree. This means Rome’s perspective was supremely credible. Contemporary to Irenaeus is Pope Victor who attempted to enforce the bind of excommunication from the “common union” of Christ’s body upon the churches of Asia. This shows a sense of legal responsibility (i.e. jurisdiction) over all.
In the 3rd century, Pope Stephen appealed to the Matthean text situating Peter and his successors as the rock upon which the Church is built in order to legitimize his enforcement of the Roman policy on baptism in North Africa. The 5th century Vincent de Lerins, a Saint cherished by both Catholics and Orthodox, corroborates that not only was Stephen correct in policy but also in authoritative procedure over his interlocutors (That is from the 6th chapter of his Commonitorium).
Concerning the event with Pope Victor, the late Orthodox Archbishop and theologian Stylianos Harkianikis states the following: “It was at this point (St. Victor’s excommunication of Asia) that the differentiation between the Catholic Church of the West from that of the East began.” (Infallibility of the Church in Orthodox Theology, 146). Orthodox theologian Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck in his book His Broken Body states the following: “One could therefore argue that the Great schism started with Victor, continued with Stephen and remained underground until the 9th century” (155-56). Clearly, therefore, Victor and Stephen, both Saints in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, gave the impression of a primacy of universal jurisdiction.
In the 4th century, Eastern provincial councils were overturned by annulments enacted by the authority of the Roman court, and the Council of Sardica (343) insisted that such was appropriate since the Roman See was, as the See of Peter, the head of all the Bishops in the East and the West. Athanasius the Great was present and subscribed to its decrees. This clearly shows the legal authority of Rome’s disciplinary and doctrinal court in light of a continued possession of Peter’s primacy. That this primacy was held superior to even councils is clear from the testimony of Pope Innocent I who wrote the following in 416: “…whatever is done, even if it be in distant provinces, should not be ended without being brought to the knowledge of this See, that by its authority the whole just pronouncement should be strengthened.” Clear evidence comes from the presbyter Philip who stated at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) that Christ divinely singled out Peter as the rock, foundation, bearer of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, head of the Apostles, and the whole Church who “today and forever lives and judges in his successors.” This was read aloud in both Latin and Greek, and was inscribed into the official Acts. When Emperor Theodosius II convened the Council of Ephesus (449), Flavian of Constantinople appealed over its court to the throne of Peter in order to annul its decrees. This is perhaps the clearest instance of a Saint appealing to the Sardican privilege of Rome in order to check the decrees of an Ecumenical Council.
In the 3rd session of the Council of Chalcedon, the official sentence of excommunication against Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, states that Pope Leo, through the Council “together with the thrice blessed and all glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, has stripped [Dioscorus] of his episcopate…” Clearly, the Matthean text which invested Peter with a universal primacy of jurisdiction is here understood to be living and active in the enforced authority of his successor, Leo the Great. In Sermon 51, Leo states that of all things which are petitioned in the Church, “only that should be ratified in heaven which had been settled by the judgment of Peter[i.e. Rome’s judgment].” This is why Leo felt qualified to annul the 28th canon of Chalcedon “by the authority of Peter” (Letter 105). Though there are many pastors and bishops in the universal Church, says Leo in Letter 14, “all should converge toward Peter’s one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its head.”, i.e. the Apostolic See of Rome.
In the 6th century, a 30-year schism between Rome and the Eastern Churches was healed by a universal subscription to a Formula put down by Pope Hormisdas in 519. In that Formula, it was clearly annunciated that the divine promise of our Lord to protect His Church was through the instrumentality of preserving Peter’s faith in the teaching ministry of the Apostolic See of Rome, which is the rock and solidity of the whole Christian religion. Countless Bishops of both East and West signed and returned into full communion with the Church. Concerning this Formula, the late and great Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who was a historian in his own rite, states: “… characteristic of this eternal compromise with Rome was the signing of the formula of Pope Hormisdas by the Eastern bishops in 519, ending the thirty-year schism between Rome and Constantinople. The whole essence of the papal claims cannot be more clearly expressed than in this document, which was imposed upon the Eastern bishops” (The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, 240).
At the Council of Lateran (649), the Eastern Bishop Stephen of Dor, a unique disciple of Sophronius of Jerusalem, described how he and Sophronius were of the mind that, in order to official condemn Monotheletism, they must appeal to the Roman See “that rules and presides over all others (I mean your sovereign and supreme see), in quest of healing for the wound inflicted. It has been accustomed to perform this authoritatively from the first and from of old, on the basis of its apostolic and canonical authority, for the reason, evidently, that the truly great Peter, the head of the apostles, was deemed worthy not only to be entrusted, alone out of all, with ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ … but also because he was the first to be entrusted with shepherding the sheep of the whole catholic church. As the text runs, ‘Peter, do you love me? Shepherd my sheep’. And again, because he possessed more than all others, in an exceptional and unique way, firm and unshakeable faith in our Lord, [he was deemed worthy] to turn and strengthen his comrades and spiritual brethren when they were wavering, since providentially he had been adorned by the God who became incarnate for our sakes with power and priestly authority over them all.” (Price, Acts of the Council of Lateran, 143-44). Here there is an unmistakable usage of the three most famous Petrine texts of the New Testament to prove the supremacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff. Maximus the Confessor was both present and subscribed to all the utterances in this Council. Maximus too, however, unambiguously held that the Roman see held “supreme dominion, authority, and power over all of God’s churches throughout the world to bind and loose.” (Opscula 12; translation from Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev in his book Orthodox Christianity, vol. 1, p. 110)
In the same 7th century, Pope Martin delegated his Petrine authority to John, a Bishop in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to clean up Church offices that were seized by heretics in the East. The Pope states that John must “correct the 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 charge you to do this in every way, in virtue of the Apostolic authority which was given us by the Lord in the person of most holy Peter, prince of the Apostles; on account of the necessities of our time, and the pressure of the nations” (Mansi X.806; translation from Thomas William Allies, The See of Peter, 120). Very clear testimony to jurisdiction being exerted in the East by virtue of the investments given to Peter immediately by Christ by a Martyr-Pope highly venerated by the Orthodox Church.
At the Council of Constantinople (681), Pope Agatho’s letter was read aloud in Greek and Latin and was approved by the Greeks as the voice of Peter. In that letter, Agatho stated that the Roman Church “had never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error, whose authority, as that of the Prince of the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced, and followed in all things… “. He goes on to say that the teaching of Rome “remains undefiled according to the divine promise of the Lord and Saviour himself” and then cites Christ’s promise in Luke 22:31-32. The late Protestant historian Philip Schaff wrote: “Agatho quotes the words of Christ to Peter… in favor of Papal infallibility, anticipating, as it were, the Vatican decision of 1870”
Lastly, in the 8th century, Pope Hadrian I sent dogmatic letters to be read aloud at the Council of Nicaea (787), in which he states: “For the blessed Peter himself, the chief of the Apostles, who first sat in the Apostolic See, left the chiefship of his Apostolate, and pastoral care, to his successors, who are to sit in his most holy seat forever”. This was also read aloud in both Greek and Latin, and inscribed into the official Acts of Nicaea II, Session II. According to Orthodox theologian Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck, the Eastern bishops gave “total recognition that the pope of Rome held Peter’s See, and that Rome was in a unique way heir of Christ’s promises to Peter” (His Broken Body, 200).
By way of conclusion, I want to continue quoting Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck. He states: “Since the time of Stephen, the Roman Church has consistently taught that her bishop is the successor of Peter in a unique sense and that he holds by divine right a primary of power over the universal Church… This was expressed consistently and unambiguously by a number of Popes commemorated as Saints in the Orthodox Church, including such luminaries as Agatho and Hadrian. As we have seen, this ecclesiology was accepted by a number of Eastern Saints.” Moreover, Fr Cleenwerck states that “St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Theodore the Studite expressed the view that Rome was the unique chair of Peter that would not fall into heresy” (His Broken Body, 213)
Again, Fr. Alexander Schmemann states: “The theory of the ‘power’ (potestas) of the Roman primate was openly proclaimed in Rome in the era of the ecumenical councils… but the East, without ever really accepting it, until the ninth century never once expressed its non-acceptance or rejection of it in any clear way…When Catholic scholars now assert, on the basis of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, that the East recognized the primacy of Rome at that time but later rejected it, it is rather difficult to answer the charge on the basis of formal historical evidence, since one may in fact conclude from the history of those two councils that the Greek bishops admitted the special prerogatives of the Roman bishop” (The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, 240-41)
From the statements adduced by Saints and Holy Councils, many of which remain recorded in the text of the highest ranking books by both Catholic and Orthodox standards, it is sufficiently implied that the Church of the 1st millennium believed that Christ the Lord, and not the Church, set Peter over the whole Church with a universal primacy of jurisdiction as the supreme judge of all the faithful, whose prerogatives continue in the person of his successors, and empowers them to issue infallible doctrine that cannot be challenged by any human power. The definition of Vatican 1, therefore, is well within the bloodstream of Apostolic Tradition.
Post-Debate Review/Debate Part 2 w/ Father Patrick (John Ramsey)
Presented on Reason and Theology on March 1st, 2021
- If the Pope has Vatican 1 primacy, then we would see obedience to it by everyone at all times since the time of the Apostles.
The Church of Christ is organized in a hierarchical communion, rather than simply just a Pope versus everyone else. Pope Pius XI states:
“Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” Pope Pius XI, “Quadragesimo Anno.”
This principle of maintaining lesser and subordinate organs to resolve issues on the smallest level prior to climbing up the hierarchical ladder to higher authorities is, according to the Catholic Church, the ordinary way to maintain proper order. Therefore, asking for exercises of the highest authority in the Church over all the subjects of the Church is, by the very nature of the Catholic Church, something which should be and is indeed extremely rare. The bishop should not be involved in every dispute between parishoners under a rector of a parish. A metropolitan should not be involved in every dispute between a priests. A Patriarch should not be involved in every dispute between bishops. And even less, the Pope should not be involved in every dispute between metropolitans, and perhaps not even Patriarchs in every instance. The Catholic doctrine of the Hierarchical Headship of St. Peter does not obliterate the various levels of government, but rather strongly maintains them and condemns their violation.
Nevertheless, there is sufficient testimony coming from the voice of the Holy Fathers that shows it was held that the Pope, in light of his pastoral commission in blessed Peter by Christ, can intervene into the affairs of the church anywhere in the world in order to execute discipline and issue commands that tough on the good-standing of that particular region. We see this in particular with the motion taken by Pope St. Stephen I against the North African and Eastern policy on rebaptism. We know that this was an exercise of jurisdiction by Rome in foreign dioceses because St. Cyprian accused the Pope of invasion at the Council of Carthage 257. Fr. Patrick pointed out that the North African bishops rejection of Rome’s orders is partial proof against the doctrine of universal Papal jurisdiction. However, this runs the risk of presumption since it neglects to realize that the viewpoint of Pope St. Stephen I is just as ancient as the complaint of St. Cyprian, and a contest between Rome and Carthage doesn’t have a winner simply because one prefers one over the other. In fact, we have supporting weight towards the Papal posture from the records of the great St. Vincent de Lerins, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and implicitly from St. Dionysios of Alexandria. As I said alluded in my opening statement, St. Vincent describes the Pope in the following words against St. Cyprian:
“…in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith.” (Commonitorium, 6)
If St. Vincent de Lerins thought it was right for the Pope Stephen to intervene in the affairs of other churches for the sake of tradition, then certainly he would have thought it was appropriate when St. Victor intervened in Asia and when Pope St. Callistus enforced the famous so-called “edict” to the churches of North Africa, according to Tertullian. I pointed out how Orthodox theologians such as Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck and Archbishop Stylianos Harkianikis recognized that since Pope Victor, the clear manifestation of the Roman belief in her universal jurisdiction begins. Indeed, as history moves forward, the authority of Rome over the universal Church gets augmented, rather than diminished. The Roman acquittal of Athanasius, overturning Eastern provincial synods shows an exercise of jurisdiction, justified by the Serdican privilege. Lodging appeals to Rome over the decrees and canons of an Ecumenical Council , such as in the case of Ephesus (449) shows that even general Councils are subordinate to the decision of the Pope. Fr. Patrick said that Ephesus (449) was only “ecumenical” by intention but was not ecumenical in reality. However, to all the players involved, including Emperor Theodosius II and the Eastern Patriarchs, that Council was legitimate, however much subject to Roman review. Fr. Patrick, in my cross examination, said that Orthodox ecclesiology was exemplified by the moral consensus of the good-standing bishops of the 1st millennium. However, the Formula sent to Constantinople was understood by the East to be an “order” sent by Rome to be obeyed, and part of that involved accepting all the letters of St. Leo the Great. If the entire corpus of St. Leo is accepted, then the basic foundation for the Papacy is accepted by hundreds of Eastern bishops here in the year 519. Fr. Patrick gives the highest respect for the authority of Ecumenical Councils, and said that Vatican I primacy should be evidenced by them. I think the universal acceptance of the letter of Pope St Agatho, where Roman indefectibility was pronounced emphatically more than once, suffices to demonstrate the Council’s acceptance. Agatho’s letter was inscribed into both the Latin and Greek official Acts of the Council. The bishops said “Peter spoke through Agatho”. Now, even if one takes that as simply a statement that the bishops decided his epistle was right, they implicitly accept its contents as well. Fr. Patrick had asked for examples of a Pope ordaining under-clergy in foreign dioceses anywhere in the 1st millennium, and I responded by first saying that the theoretical power to do so is amply demonstrated by the statements of many saints and councils, but then I referred to the creation of Papal Vicars by Popes Theodore and Martin to excommunicate and depose heretical bishops within the Jerusalemite and Antiochian Patriarchate. Eastern Orthodox historian Andrew J. Ekonomou states that this action was an “assertion of Papal authority over matters within the jurisdiction of an Eastern Patriarchate” (Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes, 98). I pointed out that the text of Pope Martin’s commission to the Papal Vicar John specified that he was empowered to do so by a certain investment of power by Christ in St. Peter, and therefore his by virtue of succession to Peter’s chair. Lastly, the acceptance of Hadrian’s letter by Nicaea II (787) sufficiently proclaim the perpetuity of the supremacy of St. Peter in Rome’s bishop until the end of time. The listener should also realize that Rome and the Lateran synod was the only orthodox operation going at the time.
To summarize this point: Fr. Patrick said we should see obedience to Rome by everyone at all times. I respond simply by saying that Rome’s exercise of universal authority was always rare, and during very significant moments of Rome’s exercise thereof, both the Western and Eastern Bishops, many of which are highly venerated Saints by the Orthodox Church, accepted both its theory and practice as valid. This is why Fr. Alexander Schmemann cites an unnamed Russian historian who said the following:
[The Byzantine Bishops] “not only silently signed the papal formulations, but they themselves, by their appeals to Rome, heedless of the juridical implications, supported the sincere illusions of the Romans that the Greeks, too, shared the Western concept of the Papacy” (The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, 241).
If an Orthodox historian can recognize this, I think that it is unfair to require, as a condicio sine qua non, that only a Pope’s physical ordination of under-clergy by his own hands for foreign dioceses can be considered evidence of Vatican I primacy. All the examples I’ve given reflect the 4 major elements of Vatican I’s definition on papacy primacy. They reflect the institution, the perpetuity, the jurisdictional nature, and the unchallengeable doctrinal authority.
- If Vatican 1 is true, we would see this power of the Pope exercised at the Ecumenical Councils
It is important to recognize that the Catholic Church has always understood that Councils where both Bishops and Popes judge together on a matter is the most preferred and solemn manner of the Church’s authority, and even after the Greek and Latin schism of 1054 (symbolically dated), even after the Dictatus Papae, and even after the Council of Vatican I, the Catholic Church has continued to rely on the methodology of Councils and the presidency of the Holy Spirit to fill up all its members with the right faith. But besides this, the Council of Ephesus (431), C’ple (681), and Nicaea II (787) all give emphatic expression to Papal principles which have no room in contemporary Orthodox ecclesiology.
- There exists disputes between Saints and the Pope
We must readily admit that there were many episodes of resistance to Papal power. However, just as there are resistances to bishops by laity, metropolitans by bishops, so Patriarchs by metropolitans, so it is in the nature of human kind to rebel and resist the Pope. In fact, one could say that hierarchical insubordination is something men are more prone to do than they are obedience, and hence the ongoing struggle with Church discipline that the Church suffers with since the time of the Apostles. However, none of this somehow makes a showcase of proof against the legitimacy of Church authority. What has to be shown by the Orthodox is that the world-wide Church throughout all ages of the 1st millennium rejected both the theory and exercise of Papal power. As even Orthodox scholars admit, the East never really clearly rejected this. Perhaps the clearest exposure of the Papal theory was from Popes Leo the Great, Gelasius, Hormisdas, Nicholas I, Hadrian II, and John VIII, and the Byzantines never required any trial for heresy against them.
However, if I can recount one important example given by Fr. Patrick in our debate. It was on the Cyprianic policy on rebaptism that he thinks won over the Roman policy, and he then insists that the world-wide Church embraced Cyprian’s view, thereby showing Roman discipline isn’t binding upon the whole Church. However, this is extremely at odds with the documented history and some of the finest scholarship in the Eastern Orthodox world. According to Dr. Maxwell E. Johnson, Professor of Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, “… it was the view of Stephen and the Church of Rome that ultimately triumphed in this controversy…” (The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation, 71). Johnson says the same thing on page 43 of his article in The Oxford History of Christian Worship. According to Fr. John Erickson, former Canon Law Professor and Dean at St. Vladimir Seminary, “… the text of Cyprian’s baptismal council circulated in eastern canonical collections from antiquity onward; but in the Byzantine period it was frequently abridged and abbreviated, and commentators tended to regard its provisions as obsolete,” and even goes so far as to say the “standard answer in Byzantium would relegate [Cyprian] and his position to the dustbin of history.” (The Challenge of our Past, 120). According to the late Archbishop Peter L’Huillier, the Council of Carthage 256 “had only a limited relevance, being the expression of a local custom.” (The Church of the Ancient Councils, 133). I would also appeal to a current blog article published by Codex Justinianeus at his blog “Ancient Insights” entitled “Do Valid Sacraments Exist Outside the Church? A Florilegium” which gives a long list of evidence from the Church Fathers and Councils showing that even within the Eastern Orthodox patrimony, the Cyprianic policy on rebaptism had been rejected by the majority. If I may, I also have an article on my blog ErickYbarra.org, search rebaptism, and you’ll find a similar florileglium on the subject, proving the Stephenite view is what won out. Beside this, there is plain reason: Cyprian denied that baptism could be either valid or effectual outside the true Church, save for some extraordinary mercy on God’s part. The Church of both East and West never took this view into her authoritative formulas, nor in the majority of her ecclesial life. Rather, Stephen’s view, which says valid baptism can exist outside the church on certain conditions, is what won out.
There is also the issue of Cyprian’s own transformation of ecclesiological thought, quite specifically on the Cathedra Petri. For Cyprian, he believes the authority of Bishops is built off the idea that the bishop is St. Peter to his flock (diocese). Cyprian realized that in order to have unity in a local church, there needs to be one head whose will is to be obeyed by all. This sort of schema for visible unity demands that just like you need a singular head who has coercive authority governing local churches in order to secure unity, there also needs to be a singular head who has coercive authority on the universal level that unites the churches of God spread throughout the world. Cyprian at one time attributed a special unifying power in the see of Rome before he came into the crosshairs of Rome’s discipline, and then he folded towards the utter and complete autonomy of local churches. Pope Stephen took the view that Rome has this unifying power over all the churches, and it would be the line taken up and developed especially by Rome for centuries going forward. Cyprian’s view seems to have dropped away.
- Constantinople is equal to Rome
Fr. Patrick brought up the 28th canon of Chalcedon which says that Rome is equal to Constantinople. However, it seems clear to me that the “equal privileges” between Rome and Constantinople pertain to their regional positions as Patriarchs. This is proven simply by the fact that the canon itself seeks to enlarge its regional oversight to include the dioceses of Pontus, Thrace, and Asia, much like the oversight of Rome over the suburbicurian churches spread in and around Italy. While one might argue that Constantinople had in mind something like a superiority within the East over Alexandria and Antioch in the hierarchy, this canon does not equate the universal-Petrine primacy of Rome with the primacy of Constantinople. Fr. Patrick conflates the Petrine quality of Rome with a Petrine quality of Constantinople, as though they equally share in one Petrine primacy over the whole world, albeit one being Elder and the other being Younger. In the first place, the 28th canon was not immediately registered into the canonical collection of even the Byzantine Church until the 6th century. The 28th canon is not included in the canonical collection of St John Scholasticus. C.f. Hadrian’s letter to Constantinople complaining about Tarasius.
As Richard Price states: “The ‘equal privileges’ with those of Rome that the canon awards to Constantinople meant simply a comparable authority over subordinate metropolitan sees: they did not undermine the primacy of Rome as the first see of Christendom. Nor did the stress on the status enjoyed by Constantinople as one of the two imperial cities mean that the Petrine authority of the Roman see was ignored.” (Acts of Chalcedon, Vol. 3, 71).
Therefore, the equality was still a regional quality. There is no equality between Rome and Constantinople in Rome’s universal primacy. Remember, there are distinct layers of primacy, and the Antiochene and Alexandrine primacies are regional. The same for Jerusalem and Constantinople. Thus, equality is not made between Rome’s unique universal commission in St. Peter. I realize this will strike at another difference in our beliefs. Catholics recognize a Petrine element to the Sees of Antioch and Alexandria, but not this is to be essentially distinguished with the Petrine character of the Roman See. For starters, I can share with you the words of Pope St. Boniface, writing in the early 5th century:
“The universal ordering of the Church at its birth took its origin from the office of blessed Peter, in which is found both its directing power and its supreme authority. From him as from a source, at the time when our religion was in the stage of growth, all churches received their common order. This much is shown by the injunctions of the Council of Nicaea, since it did not venture to make a decree in his regard, recognizing that nothing could be added to his dignity: in fact it knew that all had been assigned to him by the word of the Lord. So it is clear that this Church is to all Churches throughout the world as head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to its fellowship.” Epistle XIV, PL 20.777, Eng. Trans: E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority A.D. 96-454, 230)
We know from St. Leo the Great that Alexandria and Antioch required canonical assignment at the Council of Nicaea, but here Boniface makes a special distinction between Rome and the all other churches by divine institution, particularly the personal investiture given by Christ to St. Peter. This illustrates the special succession to St. Peter’s primacy that the Roman bishop has that neither the Alexandrine nor the Antiochene bishop have. Pope St. Siricius (384) also testified to this when he wrote to the Bishops of Tarragona that he, above all, has the care of all the churches as the “heir to St. Peter’s government.” The late Medievalist historian Walter Ullman has provided the best explanation to summarize St. Leo’s conception of an individuated inheritance solely by the Roman bishop and no one else in pointing out how St. Leo uses the Roman legal concept of “heir”. The person of St. Peter’s heir, of which there can only be one, is the only person to inherit all of his prerogatives over the universal Church. The primacies of Alexandria and Antioch are based more from custom and ancient usage, finally to be canonically assigned in the 4th century. No time needs to be spent on demonstrating how the See of Constantinople has no universal Petrine commission since no one ever defended this idea. Not only did the 28th canon intend to equate Rome’s universal headship with Constantinople, modern Orthodox scholarship has recognized this was never the case (c.f. L’Huillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils), and significant medieval Orthodox commentators on the Canons teach this as well.
- Legitimate Primacy respects the rights of bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs
In response to this idea that the Papal Office as defined by the 1st Vatican Council destroys the validity and reality of the whole hierarchy subordinate to the Pope, the Catholic Encyclopedia:
“To this it is replied that no difficulty is involved in the exercise of immediate jurisdiction over the same subjects by two rulers, provided only that these rulers stand in subordination, the one to the other. We constantly see the system at work. In an army the regimental officer and the general both possess immediate authority over the soldiers; yet no one maintains that the inferior authority is thereby annulled. The objection lacks all weight.” (The Pope)
The Vatican Council itself states:
“This power of the supreme pontiff in no way derogates from the ordinary immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, in virtue of which the bishops, who, appointed by the Holy Spirit, have succeeded to the place of the Apostles as true pastors, feed and rule their several flocks, each the one which has been assigned to him: that power is rather maintained, confirmed and defended by the supreme pastor”
The Catholic Church simply says that there is a universal primate under whom all levels of government are subordinate to. This does not entail the obliteration or destruction of all layers of government. Normally speaking, the Pope’s authority
- According to St. Gregory the Great, Peter’s Chair is equal in three different churches (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch)
Something which undercuts Fr. Patrick’s understanding of the Primacy of Constantinople is St. Gregory’s restriction of the Cathedra Petri to three locations presided by three bishops, rather than 4, which would have been John of Constantinople. Gregory says the personal investiture of power in St. Peter by the keys and the pastoral commission to “Feed the Sheep” pertains to the primacies of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, but completely excludes Constantinople from this, and so confirms that he does not understand Constantinople as sharing in the Petrine government. Secondly, in Book 6 Epistle 24, St. Gregory tells Marinianus, Bishop of Ravenna, that a certain dispute within the Ravenna region is certainly to be decided by the superior tribunal of Rome since even the judgements made by the court of Constantinople are subordinate to the tribunal of Rome. Very clearly, therefore, Gregory understood the tribunal of Constantinople to be subordinate to that of Rome, excluding equality of prerogative.
Protestant historian Philip Schaff states the following: “On the other hand, it cannot be denied that Gregory, while he protested in the strongest terms against the assumption by the Eastern patriarchs of the antichristian and blasphemous title of universal bishop, claimed and exercised, as far as he had the opportunity and power, the authority and oversight over the whole church of Christ, even the East.” (Vol 4, Medieval Christianity, in History of the Church, 224).
To prove that Schaff is correct, Gregory made it clear in 3 places that the Apostolic See of Rome is higher in authority than all other churches, including Alexandria and Antioch.
“For as to what they say about the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See, as both the most pious lord the emperor and our brother the bishop of that city continually acknowledge?” (9.12)
“… as to his saying that he is subject to the Apostolic See, if any fault is found in bishops, I know not what bishop is not subject to it. But when no fault requires it to be otherwise, all according to the principle of humility are equal.” (9.59)
“Inasmuch as it is manifest that the Apostolic See is, by the ordering of God, set over all Churches…” (3.30)
Very clearly, Rome is superior to Alexandria and Antioch by these statements. Therefore, Gregory’s statements to Eulogius that the three bishops in three different locations summing up the one chair of Peter has to be interpreted as hyperbole, since the language demands that. In the first place, there it is not possible for three bishops to preside over one see, and thus we already have reason to understand this as symbolic and not literal. The sees of Alexandria and Antioch are bonded with Rome in that they have primacies that stem from Petrine elements. However, if they were equal as explicitly as Gregory says they are, then what would be the principle of differentiation such that Gregory claims superior authority of Rome over the other two? If a dispute involving Alexandria and Antioch, it is resolved by the superior tribunal of Rome. If the principle of differentiation were Rome as the capital of the Empire, then Gregory would have included Constantinople in the Petrine order. Therefore, Gregory understands the principle of differentiation to be bound up with Rome’s special and unique relationship to St. Peter. And what is that relationship? I think St. Leo answered it fully and finally, and it was described best by Walter Ullman: Rome alone holds the heirship of Peter’s primacy while Alexandria and Antioch have customary privileges based off St. Peter and St. Mark’s missionary work. Saying that three city churches are the one see of Peter itself does not preclude one of those churches having a higher authority, as is evidenced by Gregory’s claims about Rome.