Sunday, September 18, 2005

Did the Bishop of Rome originally have only "primacy of honor?"

I've heard the claim that the Catholic Church did not begin until much later in the history of Christianity. When this supposed "later" occurred often varies, depending upon the subjective view of the antagonist. Yet, the claim goes something like this:

"The original Church taught that authority was vested in a college of bishops, each one being equal in authority. The Church in Rome was run by a group of presbyter-bishops until the mid-second century. The Bishop of Rome had nothing more than primacy of honor, being the "first among equals." There was no such thing in the early church as the Bishop of Rome having jurisdictional authority over the other bishops."
Let's compare this claim to the evidence of history...

St. Ignatius (AD 50-11) wrote:

"Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father" (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).

"You [the church at Rome] have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force" (ibid., 3:1).
This coming from a guy who learned his Christianity directly from St. John the Apostle. Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch from AD 70 until his martyrdom in Rome (ca. AD 110), presiding as Bishop in the place where they were first called Christians.

Only the Catholic Church treats the "presidency" of the Bishop of Rome to be a matter of both honor and jurisdiction, to such an extent that what the Church of Rome enjoined in their instructions should remain in force.

According to non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox authors:

"Let us turn to the facts. We know that the Church of Rome took over the position of 'church-with-priority' at the end of the first century." (THE PRIMACY OF PETER : Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church edited by John Meyendorff, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1992, page 124)

"... the Church of Rome, at the end of the first century, exhibits a marked sense of its own priority, in point of witness about events in other churches [cf. 1 Clement, AD 80]. Note also that the Roman Church did not feel obliged to make a case, however argued, to justify its authoritative pronouncements on what we should now call the internal concerns of other churches. There is nothing said about the grounds of this priority....Apparently Rome had no doubt that its priority would be accepted without argument." (ibid, page 125-126)

"Speaking of the Church of Rome, Ignatius [AD 110] uses the phrase 'which presides' in two passages. ... The term 'which presides' [Greek given] needs no discussion; used in the masculine it means the bishop, for he, as head of the local church, sits in the 'first place' at the eucharistic assembly, that is, in the central seat. He is truly the president of his church...[Ignatius] pictured the local churches grouped, as it were, in a eucharistic assembly, with every church in its special place, and the church of Rome in the chair, sitting in the 'first place.' So, says Ignatius, the Church of Rome indeed has the priority in the whole company of churches united by concord....In his period no other church laid claim to the role, which belonged to the Church of Rome." (page 126-127)

St. Irenaeus, writing between AD 175 and 190 provides the earliest extant list of popes from Peter to Eleutherius (Adv. Haer. 3:3:3; Eusebius, "Hist. eccl." 5:6). Another extant list, called the Liberian Catalogue (AD 354) provides a list of popes from Peter to Liberius, with the length of their respective episcopates, the consular dates, the name of the reigning emperor, and in many cases other details. The list of popes is identical with that of Irenaeus, save that Anacletus is doubled into Cletus and Anacletus, while Clement appears before, instead of after, these two names. The order of Popes Pius and Anicetus has also been interchanged, all of which are likely to be copyist errors. Another witness is from Eusebius, from his "History" and his "Chronicle." Eusebius' Eastern list of popes is identical with the Western list of pops by Hippolytus, except that in the East the name of Linus' successor seems to have been given as Anecletus, but in the original Western list as Cletus. The two authorities presuppose the following list: (1) Peter, (2) Linus, (3) Anencletus [Cletus], (4) Clement, (5) Evarestus, (6) Alexander, (7) Sixtus, (8) Telesophorus, (9) Hyginus, (10) Pius, (11) Anicetus, (12) Soter, (13) Eleutherius, (14) Victor, (15) Zephyrinus, (16) Callistus (17) Urban, (18) Pontian (Harnack, "Chronologie", I, 152).

We learn from Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 4:22) that in the middle of the second century Hegesippus, the Hebrew Christian, visited Rome and that he drew up a list of bishops as far as Anicetus, the then pope. Eusebius does not quote his catalogue, but scholars see ground for holding that we possess it in a passage of Epiphanius (Haer. 27:6), in which the bishops as far as Anicetus are enumerated. This list of Hegesippus, drawn up less than a century after the martyrdom of St. Peter, was he believes, the foundation alike of the Eusebian and Hippolytan catalogues (Clement of Rome I, 325 so.). This view has been accepted by many scholars, both Catholic and non-Catholic. [The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII, "Chronological Lists of Popes"]

Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly in his book, Oxford Dictionary of the Popes says, "The Papacy is the oldest of all Western institutions with an unbroken existence of almost 2000 years." Kelly lists the papacy from Peter to John Paul II. During the time of the Arian controversy in the fourth century, Kelly had this to say about the papacy:

"Since its occupant [ie. the pope] was accepted as the successor of St. Peter, the prince of the apostles, it was easy to draw the inference that the unique authority which Rome in fact enjoyed, and which the popes saw concentrated in their persons and their office, was no more than the fufillment of the divine plan" (JND Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, pg 417)
Thus, many non-Catholics admit that the evidence of history shows the Catholic papacy started in the first century, but they theorize that it must have only originally had a primacy of honor, not that of jurisdiction. I find this thesis lacking historical support, however. Observe...

Eastern Father, St. Athanasius, called the Council of Sardica: "the great Council" (Defense Against the Arians, 1) and "the Holy Synod" (Letter to the People of Antioch, 5). Take note of what that council, which St. Athanasius was a member, in fact affirmed in a letter to the Pope Julius (AD 342):

"So it seems to us right and altogether fitting that priests of the Lord from each and every province should report to their HEAD, that is, to the See of Peter, the Apostle"

(Council of Sardica, To Pope Julius, as cited by prominent historian James T. Shotwell and Louise Ropes Loomis, The See of Peter (New York:Columbia, 1927), pp.527-528.)

Now, I'm a military man, and I know what "report to" and "head" means. It's not something merely "of honor" but clearly means both honor and jurisdiction. Just in case that isn't evidence enough, there's more ...

Just like St. Ignatius (AD 50-110), we find later on in St. Irenaeus' works (AD 189) what the "presidency" of the Church of Rome means to orthodox Christians of the second century:

"... we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of
its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world
, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition
" (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [A.D. 189]).

If "honor" includes "all the faithful in the whole world" must agree with the Church in Rome, then that sounds particularly Catholic, no? Who still insists upon this second century assertion to this day? The Catholic Church.

According to Eastern Orthodox scholarship:

"...Irenaeus [AD 189] insists that anyone looking for the truth can find it in the Tradition of the Apostles, which every local church has preserved. So we must suppose he thought that the Apostolic Tradition and the Faith proclaimed to mankind were preserved in the Roman Church more fully than in others, or, at least, in a more manifest way. "

(THE PRIMACY OF PETER : Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church edited by John Meyendorff, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1992)

According to St. Cyprian of Carthage (AD 251):

"The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]). ... On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were also what Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

"Cyprian to [Pope] Cornelius, his brother. Greeting. . . . We decided to send and are sending a letter to you from all throughout the province [where I am] so that all our colleagues might give their decided approval and support to you and to your communion, that is, to both the unity and the charity of the Catholic Church" (Letters 48:1, 3 [A.D. 253]).

"Cyprian to Antonian, his brother. Greeting ... You wrote ... that I should forward a copy of the same letter to our colleague [Pope] Cornelius, so that, laying aside all anxiety, he might at once know that you held communion with him, that is, with the Catholic Church" (ibid., 55[52]:1).

"With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to
the chair of Peter
and to the principal church [at Rome], in which sacerdotal unity has its source" (ibid., 59:14).

From Eastern Orthodox scholarship:

"...according to [Cyprian's] doctrine there should have really been one single bishop at the head of the Universal Church....According to Cyprian, every bishop occupies Peter's throne (the Bishop of Rome among others) but the See of Peter is Peter's throne-par excellence-. The Bishop of Rome is the direct heir of Peter, whereas the others are heirs only indirectly, and sometimes only by the mediation of Rome. Hence Cyprian's insistence that the Church of Rome is the root and matrix of the Catholic Church [Ecclesiae catholicae matricem et radicem]. The subject is treated in so many of Cyprian's passages that there is no doubt: to him, the See of Rome was -ecclesia principalis unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est- [the Principal Church from which the unity of the priesthood/episcopacy has its rise]."

(THE PRIMACY OF PETER : Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church edited by John Meyendorff, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1992, page 98-99)

According the St. Cyprian, the PRINCIPAL Church is at Rome, and it is from that Church that the unity of the priesthood/episcopacy has its source. It is clear that holding fast to the chair of Peter defines, for St. Cyprian, whether one is truly in the Church.

A contemporary of St. Athanasius, Optatus (AD 367) wrote the following:
"You cannot deny that you know that in the city of Rome the Chair was first conferred on Peter, in which the prince of all the Apostles, Peter, sat ... in which Chair unity should be preserved by all, so that he should now be a schismatic and a sinner who should set up another Chair against that unique one." (Optatus of Mileve, The Schism of Donatists, 2:2-3)
I'm seeing a definite Catholic theme here.

Now comes the most explicit evidence of jurisdictional authority, from the Ecumencial Council of Chalcedon (accepted by Eastern Orthodox):
Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod 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, hath stripped him (Dioscorus, Bishop of Alexandria) of his episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic worthiness." (Acts of Chalcedon, Session 3)
Hmmmm... it seems the primacy of the See of Peter included the juridic authority to strip the Patriarch of Alexandria of his episcopate. There's more...

From the letter to Pope Leo from the Bishops of Chalcedon:

"You are set as an interpreter to all of the voice of blessed Peter, and to all you impart the blessings of that Faith. ... (Chalcedon to Pope Leo, Ep 98)

Besides all this, he (Dioscorus, Bishop of Alexandria) extended his fury even against him who had been charged with the custody of the vine by the Savior. We refer to Your Holiness. ... (ibid)

Knowing that every success of the children rebounds to the parents, we therefore beg you to honor our decision by your assent, and as we have yielded agreement to the Head in noble things, so may the Head also fulfill what is fitting for the children. (ibid)
Notice that the Eastern and Western Bishops of Chalcedon are asking for Pope Leo's ratification of their councilar decisions, yielding their agreement to the "HEAD" of the Church. Note that they consider themselves "CHILDREN" to Pope Leo. Also note that they assert that Pope Leo had been charged with "CUSTODY OF THE VINE BY THE SAVIOR" and not by political gain or the mere consent of the other bishops.

These claims agree with Catholicism. Pope Leo undoubtedly had singular juridic authority to either ratify or to reject the councilar decisions. No other bishop was asked to ratify the councilar decision, because no other bishop had been charged with "custody of the vine by the Savior."

So, what did Pope Leo do? There were 28 canons decided upon at Chalcedon. Pope Leo ratified all of them except canon 28, which attempted to elevate Constantinople with wording that was contrary to Catholic teaching. Pope Leo exercised his VERY REAL juridic authority and rejected canon 28. Subsequently, Anatolius, the Bishop of Constantinople, wrote to Pope Leo, and apologetically stated,

"As for those things which the universal Council of Chalcedon recently ordained in favor of the church of Constantinople [ie. canon 28], 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 of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness. Therefore, let Your Holiness know for certain that I did nothing to further the matter, knowing always that I held myself bound to avoid the lusts of pride and covetousness.
(Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople to Pope Leo, Ep 132, on the subject of canon 28 of Chalcedon)

The evidence of history is clear. Pope Leo had juridic authority to veto that which an Ecumenical Council of Bishops agreed to. Only the Bishop of Rome has ever exercised this clear jurisdictional authority in the history of Christianity. Did Pope Leo "preside" only in honor or did he have real authority to either ratify or reject councilar decisions? It seems clear the latter is true, contrary to the opinion of later revisionists. Why did Pope Leo have this authority? The bishops of both East and West at Chalcedon in the fifth century asserted as the Catholic Church asserts today: the pope has been charged with the custody of the Vine by the Savior.

God bless,