The Primacy of the Pope in the Early Church

The Pope and the Patriarchs by Father Southwell
The Primacy of the Pope in the Early Church

Editors Remarks:

It is often times asserted that their is very little evidence in the Early Church for the Primacy of the Pope and his universal jurisdiction. This article which demonstrates the role of the Pope in settling disputes in the early church uses letters, remarks from synods and references various ecumenical councils to illustrate the primacy of the Pope was in fact knowledge in the early church.

"He said to him: Feed my sheep." John 21:17

“He said to him: Feed my sheep.” John 21:17

This article was corrected for spelling errors that occurred from the extracted text, no major alterations were made to its content.


The proofs of the Catholic doctrine, and of each article that goes to make up the whole creed, are of astonishing variety. Some of these proofs appeal to some classes of thinkers, others to others. But there is one proof which overshadows all others, and forms the ground of certainty with respect to all, at those moments when the mind loses her hold of what she before saw clearly, and when she is disposed to admit the first insidious approaches of doubt. The proof that we speak of is in itself a doctrine; but it is a doctrine which is quite independent of the others : all the others might supposedly be left, though this were taken away; this one might, on another hypothesis, remain, and all the rest be changed. The other doctrines of the faith are intimately bound together in essential material and form; the doctrine of the authority of the Church stands apart from the rest, unconnected with them in nature,—their witness, not their maker. Mgr. Gerbet has called the doctrine of the Eucharist le dogme generateur. Theologians have developed the few simple phrases in which the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation were revealed into whole systems of theology. All these doctrines might be true, might even be certified to men, by other means than the Church. On the other hand, we cannot call the Church a dogme generateur. Given only the proposition of the authority of the Church, and no one could deduce from this what was the precise message she had to deliver. Yet without the Church, the creed would be but a philosophy, without any demonstrative evidence of its reality. Without the creed, the Church would be a laborious legislator, an elaborate educational establishment, with nothing to teach or to legislate about.

It cannot be denied that the Catholic dogma, apart from the testimony of the Church, contains many elements which recommend it to belief, especially to philosophical minds. Its unity, its marvellous consistency, its disorganisation under the manipulations of the would-be improve, prove it not to be the mere production of human thought. ” What thought can think, another thought can mend,” says one of our old martyrs. But this proof is too subtle for the ordinary intelligence, and too evanescent even for the most extraordinary. Beauty, perfection, and completeness may be characters of a mere subjective thought; they cannot form any safe criterion of the external and objective reality of the thing. Hence, however a man’s mind has been drawn to the Church,—whether by the philosophy of her dogma, the beauty of her morals, or the dignity and poetry of her ritual,—some time or other he is sure to want a more technical, objective, legal proof; his philosophy or his poetry will be a staff that bends in his hands; he will require a stronger, a more common-sense, a rougher witness than his own thoughts and feelings.

The tribunal of the Church is just this witness. Her establishment by Christ, and the authority she claims, are matters of dogma ; like all other dogmas, they are founded on various proof; but they do not prove themselves. They prove other dogmas: once believe the Church, and you must believe what she teaches. But we cannot be told to believe the Church solely because the Church tells us to believe her. Her existence must be always matter of appeal to the private judgment and common sense of men, just as the existence of any other fact is. We must prove it, and discuss it with the same freedom as a Protestant uses with regard to doctrines which we have no right to treat in this way, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation. The Church cannot say less of herself than our Lord said of Himself: “If I (alone) bear witness to myself, my witness is nothing.”

Hence the doctrine of the Church is one which should be carefully studied by every person likely to have to do with controversy. And in a Protestant land who is not each moment liable to be called on for some such act of charity? It may not be the first doctrine which engages the attention of converts, neither need it be the most attractive in drawing them; but sooner or later all will have to retire into this stronghold. There will be moments when all other grounds are felt to be deficient in certainty; and if the authority of the Church is not well worked into our minds, no one can tell what mischief may be the result.

And in proportion to the immense importance of this doctrine, are the proofs that have been collected around it. Together they form a rope, each strand of which is strong enough to hang our faith to. Take the probability, that if there is a revelation, there will be some provision that the revelation should be kept from dying out; the argument from analogy, that all pretended revelations were attempted to be preserved by hierarchies somewhat similar to that of the Church; the fact that, admitting the Jewish writers to have written what they did at the time supposed (a mere historical question), the Christian Church is clearly predicted. Admitting the New Testament to be a true record of the words and deeds of our Lord, the Church was clearly founded by Him; admitting the authenticity of the Apostolic writings, some such institution is clearly mentioned and confirmed. It appears in history ; in historical records we may trace the history of its action, the history of opinion concerning it, and the histories of its sufferings and conflicts with other religions. Each of these lines, and many others beside, would furnish matter for an argument, in itself convincing, for the authority of the Church. No doctrine has such a concurrent weight of testimony; for no conclusion could we construct such various arguments, all taking independent lines, yet all converging to the same point. Most of these arguments, from the nature of the case, must be historical. Thus, for instance, one argument might be drawn exclusively from the representations which heathen authors give of the Christian hierarchy. Another might be drawn from the institutions which the different heresies attacked. A third from the history of the Christian patriarchates. This last line of argument is so fruitful, and at the same time so capable of being briefly set forth, that we are tempted to lay it before our readers.

Part I The Authority of the Pope

If Christianity is anything objective at all; if it is anything apart from the mere opinions of individuals; if there is any external organisation, any institution of priests or preachers, to continue it; if our Lord did not intend simply to abolish all order, all religious society, all the hierarchical spirit that had been so carefully cultivated in Judaism, and to sow in its place a mere impalpable opinion in the earth, depending not on social teaching, but on independent individual dreaming, —then we must surely look for the organisation which He intended to establish in that which, in fact, we find established in the first glimmerings of ecclesiastical history. And what does this first glimmering light reveal to us?

We find the Church teaching the same doctrine throughout the world, governed in each city by a Bishop; the Bishops we find acknowledging a hierarchical gradation among themselves,looking up to the Bishop of the greatest town in the province; and all of these together more or less subject to one or other of the three patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, —for in those early days Constantinople and Jerusalem had put in no claim to a place in this rank. Let us look, then, at these three patriarchates, and inquire whether the ecclesiastical authority was equally divided among them or given to one, and whether this one had the power from the first, or only a primacy of honour; whether, in fact, Rome in the first ages had, as a late Russian writer affirms, only “the right of presiding over the four other patriarchal chairs, granted by the councils to the See of Rome, and by degrees transformed into the authority of the Pope over the whole Church,—an illegal sovereignty never recognised by the Orientals,” and now combated by the occidental Protestants as well; or whether, in order to constitute and perpetuate the unity which Christ wished to be the one great note of His Church, it was necessary that Bishops and Patriarchs should all recur to Rome as the fountain of their authority and their fixed centre; whether the words of St. Leo to Anastasius Bishop of Thessalonica are not true, that ” the connection of the whole body constitutes a unity of healthiness, a unity of beauty, requiring a unity of mind, but depending chiefly on the concord of the priesthood.

All priests have a common dignity, but not a general equality of rank; since, even among the Apostles, there was a similarity of honour, but a distinction of power; and though all had an equal election, yet to one there was given preeminence over the rest. From this exemplar the distinction of episcopal rank has taken its rise. And special care has been taken that all should not claim for themselves all power, but that in each province one should be esteemed first among his brethren, and that some whose sees were in the greater cities should have a wider jurisdiction, and that through these the care of the Universal Church should converge to the one see of Peter, so that nothing should ever be separated from its head.

To begin, then, with the institution of Patriarchs, about which the tradition of the Fathers is constant and precise. From the Apostles’ times there existed three great churches, superior to all the rest, at Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Eusebius the historian directs his view in a most especial manner to these churches; he is careful to give a perfect catalogue of their Bishops, and in the Praeparatio Evangelica he says of them, “When I consider the power of the Word, whereby the illiterate disciples of Jesus founded such great churches, not in some obscure places, but in the chief seats of empire,—in Rome, the queen of cities, in Alexandria, in Antioch,—I am forced to own that they could not have performed so mighty an exploit except by the superhuman and Divine power of Him who said to them, ‘ Teach all nations.'”
Now it is remarkable, that of all the numerous Apostolic churches, the three which were to be patriarchates were founded by St. Peter. He was chief of the Apostles; this primacy was for the sake of unity; and Providence left it to him to set up the episcopal throne in the three cities which were then the capitals of Europe, Africa, and Asia. St. Gregory the Great puts this clearly in his answer to the glowing panegyric of the prerogatives of the Holy See sent him by Eulogius of Alexandria : “He who has written to me concerning the chair of Peter, himself sits in Peter’s chair. It is said to Peter, * To thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven;’ ‘confirm thy brethren;’ ‘feed my sheep.’ And so, though there are many Apostles, yet on account of his primacy, his chair alone, in the three places where it was pitched, preserved the chief authority. He gave its preeminence to the see where he finally rested, and where he closed his earthly career. He gave its honour to the see to which he sent his disciple the Evangelist. He gave its power to the see where he sat seven years, though he was not to remain there. Since, therefore, the chair is one, and his alone, in which now by God’s authority three Bishops sit, whatever good I hear of you I take to myself: and if you believe any good of me, think it belongs to your stock of merits ; for we are one in Him who says, ‘ That they all may be one, as Thou Father art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.” In another letter to the same, St. Gregory says, ” As everybody knows that the Blessed Evangelist Mark was sent to Alexandria by his master St. Peter the Apostle, so are we united in the unity of the master and disciple. Thus I seem to preside over the disciple’s see through the master, and you over the master’s see through the disciple.” St. Innocent I. speaks in an analogous way about Antioch : ” We know that it has this attribute, not so much for the magnificence of the city, as because it is shown to be the first see of the first Apostle, where also our religion was first called Christian, and where the celebrated gathering of the Apostles took place. A see which would not yield in importance to that of Rome, except that it only received St. Peter on his passage, while Rome received him for good, and possessed him till he died.”

St. Chrysostom tells the people of Antioch that ” Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given, who had power over all to bind and to loose, was commanded to reside here a long time: for this cause our city is the complement of the world.” And again : “This is the single prerogative of the dignity of our city, that it had from the beginning the Prince of the Apostles for its teacher. For it was just that the city where the name of Christians was first pronounced should receive the first Apostle as its pastor. But though we received him as our teacher, we did not keep him for good, but gave him up to Rome.”

Though the see of Antioch was founded by St. Peter in person, that of Alexandria only by his deputy Mark, whom he sent from Rome to Egypt, yet Alexandria had the higher rank. Bellarmine says, because St. Mark as Evangelist took precedence of Evodius, St. Peter’s successor at Antioch ; Baronius, because Alexandria was the more important city. But whatever was the reason, the order of the sees was well known, and always rigidly preserved.
Hence it is evident, and beyond all controversy, that Rome was first of the three. But was she only first among equals, or essentially superior? The Fathers do not speak of the Church’s authority being triple, but single. It was needful for our Savior to establish one Visible Head of the Church, ” to take away the occasion of schism,” and “to found unity upon a unit,” as Jerome and Pacian say. ” For the good of unity St. Peter was made head of all the Apostles,” says St. Optatus. ” There is one God, and one Christ, …. and there ought to be one Bishop in the Catholic Church,” was, according to St. Cyprian, the profession of Maximus and the other confessors on their return from the Novatian schism.  ” There is one God, and one Christ, and one Church, and one see founded upon the rock by the word of the Lord,” is the confession of St. Cyprian for himself. If one see is supreme, and if this one supreme see can only be looked for in the three patriarchal chairs founded by Peter, which among them shall we choose as most truly arid naturally Peter’s? Not that which, St. Chrysostom says, “received him, but did not keep him for good,” but was left to Evodius. Nor that where he never was in person, but only by deputy. It remains, then, that the one see is that church which Peter, with the cooperation of Paul, ruled till his death as true and only pastor, and ” into which those most glorious Apostles,” as Tertullian says, “poured forth all their doctrine with their blood.”

This argument was produced by St. Gelasius in an allocution to a Roman synod concerning the three patriarchal churches. ” Although all the Catholic churches throughout the whole world constitute but one bridal-chamber of Christ,yet the holy Roman church was preferred before the rest, not by the constitutions of synods, but by the words of our Lord and Saviour, in the gospel by which he conferred the primacy, ‘ Thou art Peter, and on this rock,’ &c. The first see of Peter is the Roman church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. The second was erected in Alexandria,in Peter’s name, by Mark the Evangelist, his disciple The third, that of Antioch, receives its honour in the name of the same Peter, because he resided there before he came to Rome, and there the name of Christians was first given to the new people.”

Thus the honours of Alexandria and Antioch, derived solely from Peter, so far from being derogatory to the primacy of Rome, are its illustration and confirmation. Hence the Popes were always most anxious to defend the honour of these churches, and to prevent Peter’s name being blasphemed through them. This was especially remarkable when the clergy of Constantinople took advantage of the vacancy that followed the deposition of Dioscorus from the see of Alexandria, and of the disturbed state of Antioch, to glorify their church, and claim for Anatolius their Bishop a place among the Patriarchs only second to that of the Pope. Innocent I. declares that the order of the patriarchates had been fixed by the Council of Nice; St. Leo the Great produced the canons of this council, and contended against the claims of Constantinople as earnestly as if he had been defending his own church : “Let the church of Alexandria lose nothing of the dignity which Mark, the disciple of Peter, brought to it. Nor, though Dioscorus falls through his obstinacy in heresy, let the glory of so great a church be darkened by a fault that is not its own. Let the church also of Antioch, where, while Peter preached, the name of Christian first arose, retain the rank it had in the constitutions of the fathers. It is ‘the third see;’ let it not be reduced below itself. The sees are one thing, those who sit in them another.”

Here we may as well trace the rise of Jerusalem and Constantinople to patriarchal rank. The seventh canon of the Council of Nice was made in favour of the church of Jerusalem, then called AElia. ” As a custom has been established, and an ancient tradition, that the Bishop of AELia. should be honoured, let him have the consequence of honour; reserving, however, its own dignity to the metropolis.” Here the question is only about the prerogative of honour given to Jerusalem in memory of our Lord’s passion, and its foundation by the Apostles ; yet on condition of the prerogative of jurisdiction still remaining to the Bishop of Caesarca, in Palestine,
as its metropolitan. In the first Council of Constantinople a similar privilege was given to the see of Constantinople by the third canon. ” Let the Bishop of Constantinople have the primacy of honour after the Bishop of Rome, as it is New Rome;” where it is evident that we must understand the clause “reserving its own dignity to the metropolis,” not only from the use of the word honour, but still more from the second canon, wherein the ecclesiastical territory is so distributed as to leave none to be put under the jurisdiction of the see of Constantinople. This conclusion is confirmed by the words of St. Gelasius: ” Was the Apostolic See to wait for the judgment of a suffragan of the church of Heraclea, that is, of the Bishop of Constantinople ?”

Here it is plainly asserted that Constantinople was subject to Heraclea as its metropolis. It must also be remarked, that this council, consisting entirely of Oriental Bishops, was not cecumenic of itself, but is only reckoned among the general councils so far forth as it was approved by the Apostolic See. Now how far this was done St. Gregory the Great tells us. “The Roman church to this day has not seen nor received these canons, or the acts of this synod. She, however, receives all the definitions made by this synod against Macedonius.” St. Leo had previously written to Anatolius of Constantinople: ” Your request is in no way strengthened by the subscription of certain Bishops, made, as you assert, sixty years since, and never made known to the Apostolic See by your predecessors; which subscription, invalid at first, and long ago fallen through, it is now too late to prop up by your useless endeavours, and by coaxing your brethren into an apparent consent, which modesty, wearied by importunity, might grant to its own injury.” This invalid canon had been fortified by a new one, which a part of the Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, in their fifteenth session, during the absence of the Papal legates, had made (can. 28), wherein they decreed that the Prelate of New Rome, on account of the preeminence of the city, should possess the primacy after the Bishop of Old Rome, and should have patriarchal authority over all the provinces of Asia, Pontus, and Thrace. In the following session the Roman legates protested strongly against the usurpation; more strongly still St. Leo in his letters to the Emperor Marcian, St. Pulcheria, the Empress, and Anatolius. The effect of all this was that Anatolius retracted, and the fraudulent canon fell completely to the ground.

St. Gelasius records this in his epistle to the Bishops of Dardania : ” Let them listen to Marcian, who praised Leo, the Pope of holy memory, so highly, because he would on no account suffer the canonical rules to be broken. Let them listen to Anatolius, who confessed that the attempt was made by the clergy of Constantinople rather than by himself, and who said that all depended on the power of the Roman Pontiff.” Then, speaking of the Acacians, ” We have laughed at the idea of Acacius having a right to this prerogative, because he was a Bishop of a royal city. Surely when we speak of dignity, the dignity of the Bishops of the cities of the second and third sees (Alexandria and Antioch) is greater than that of the Bishop of a city which not only is not numbered among the (patriarchal) sees, but is not even reckoned among those which have metropolitan rights.”

Nor at the end of the ninth century did Nicholas I. retreat from the position of his predecessors; he thus replied to a doubt of the Bulgarians: “You desire to know how many patriarchates there are. They are truly to be held to be Patriarchs who hold the Apostolic Sees by succession of Bishops, namely, those of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.” Then of the see of Constantinople he added : “Its Bishop is called Patriarch rather by the favor of princes than for any legitimate reason.” In the meantime, however, the Popes had courteously given the title of Patriarchs to the Bishops of Constantinople, so far as the honor was concerned. But the patriarchal rights which they claimed were never recognized as lawful before the thirteenth century, when Innocent III., in the Council of Lateran, put the Church of Constantinople before those of Alexandria and Antioch, which had long lost their dignity by schism.

We have given the merest outline of this history, but quite enough to show the supreme authority of the Roman See ; an authority so great, that by itself it adds or withholds the character of oecumenicity to or from the decrees of councils, as even the Greeks confessed in their retractation of the twenty-eighth canon of Chalcedon. But, indeed, in the very canon itself they had confessed the primacy of Rome; for they argued from the political preeminence of the city, Now certainly in their opinion, as then in fact, New Rome was superior, or at least equal to, Old. Therefore by strict reasoning they ought to have made their pretended patriarchate at least equal, if not superior, to that of Rome; and yet they expressly made it inferior; so penetrated were they with the persuasion that the See of Rome had a divine not a human right to the primacy of the Church, that they preferred to sin against the laws of logic rather than against the known truth. As to the patriarchate of Jerusalem, Juvenal the Bishop endeavored  in the Council of Ephesus, to transform the prerogative of honor allowed it by the Nicene Fathers to a prerogative of jurisdiction, and to claim authority over some portions of the patriarchate of Antioch. But his hopes were disappointed by the resistance of St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Pope. Afterwards, in the Council of Chalcedon, the same Juvenal, with the consent of the judges of the council, made an agreement with Maximus of Antioch for a division of the patriarchal authority; but St. Leo the Great rescinded the compact by the same authority whereby he had made void the canon about the patriarchate of Constantinople. But the Bishops of Jerusalem usurped authority over Palestine with the help of the secular arm, and kept this doubtful jurisdiction till the fourth Lateran council.

Part 2 The Rights of the Patriarchates

Let us now pass to the rights of the patriarchates. They are thus defined in the seventeenth canon of the eighth general council: ” 1. The Patriarchs confirmed all the metropolitans subject to them in their episcopal dignity, either by consecrating them, or by sending them the pallium;” to which we may add, that the distant Bishops were consecrated by their metropolitans with the Patriarch’s consent, the neighboring Bishops by himself. ” 2. They had power to convoke a synod, when necessary.” “3. To take cognizance of the more important causes, especially those of the metropolitans ” But before we draw from this definition of their rights an argument in favor of the power of the Pope over the Patriarchs, we must shortly sketch the limits of their respective territories.

In the first ages of the Church the Roman Empire was divided into several “dioceses,” each consisting of several provinces, each province of several cities with their territories, the chief of which was called the Metropolis. The administration of the dioceses belonged to the Praefectus Praetorio, of whom there was at first but one for the whole empire. Corn Modus Caesar doubled the number, but did not divide their authority, giving them common power over the whole. Constantine, however, divided this single office into four, and assigned to each prefect a certain number of dioceses. This distribution remained till Arcadius and Honorius divided the Roman empire between them; for then Illyria was divided into eastern and western. And so, according to the statistics of the empire under Arcadius and Honorius, the Praefectus Praetorio of the East administered five dioceses, the East, Egypt, Asia, Pontus, and Thrace ; the Praefectus Praetorio of Illyria had two dioceses, Macedonia and Dacia; the Praefectus Praetorio of Italy three dioceses, Italy, Western Illyria, and Africa; the Praefectus Praetorio of the Gauls had the Gauls, Spain, and Britain.

The ecclesiastical division was nearly the same, since the Apostles and their successors distributed the territories and the rank of Bishops as nearly as possible according to the civil divisions of the empire; and the Church always made a great difficulty in changing this primitive arrangement, whatever changes the political state of the provinces might afterwards undergo. The limits of the patriarchates are therefore easy to describe. The Roman included altogether eight dioceses; those, namely, administered by the Praefecti Praetorio of Italy, Gaul, and Illyria. For although Macedonia and Dacia passed over to the Eastern Empire on the division, the Popes never allowed these dioceses to be severed from their patriarchate, and the Emperor Honorius obtained from Theodosius the younger that the Papal authority should remain in Illyria as it was before the division. From that time the Popes deputed the Bishops of Thessalonica in Macedonia to exercise patriarchal authority in their place over Eastern Illyria, as may be seen in the letters of St. Damasus, Siricius, Innocent I., Boniface I., Celestine, Xystus, Leo the Great, and other Popes, which Boniface II. ordered to be read in the Roman synod to defend his rights over Illyria against the Bishops of Constantinople; they show the truth of what Theodosius Bishop of Echina in Thessaly declared in that Synod, “that the Popes of Rome, although the Apostolic See justly claimed primacy over all the churches in the world, and though all must appeal to her alone in ecclesiastical causes, had yet proved a special right to the government of the churches of Illyria.” This is but a small part of what might be said about the Vicariate-Apostolic of Thessalonica. The other portions of the Roman patriarchate need not be enumerated, as there never was any controversy about them. We will only add an apposite remark of Peter de Marca, that the Popes, though they always exercised patriarchal authority over the whole West, never used the name Patriarch, but founded their claim on the title of Apostolic See. This is very remarkable in St. Gregory the Great and Innocent III., who assert expressly that there are four patriarchates, and enumerate Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, to the exclusion of Rome, showing that its dignity is not merely patriarchal, but something higher and larger.

Again, the territories of the other patriarchates were much smaller than that of Rome. The Alexandrian ruled the single diocese of Egypt, consisting first of four, then of six, and at last of eight provinces, enumerated by St. Epiphanius (Hfsres. 68). The Patriarch of Antioch also ruled but one diocese, that called the East in a limited sense, consisting of fifteen provinces. But the dioceses of Asia, Pontus, and Thrace, which the Bishops of Constantinople afterwards usurped, belonged originally to no patriarchate, but constituted three separate exarchies. The ten provinces of the diocese of Asia, alluded to by St. Jerome when he says that St. John the Evangelist ” founded and ruled the churches of all Asia,” were under the exarchate of the Bishop of Ephesus, the successor of St. Timothy, whom St. Paul made Bishop of that place. The Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia was exarch of the diocese of Pontus, with its ten provinces. Heraclea was the head of the six provinces of the diocese of Thrace.

The exarchs exercised exactly the same power over their dioceses as the Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch over their patriarchates. Thus in the exarchate of Pontus, in the third century, St. Gregory the Illuminator came from Armenia to Cappadocia with sixteen legates of the king Tiridates, to be consecrated Bishop by Leontius exarch of Caesarea; and then, as St. Nico the Armenian testifies, he forbade under an anathema the primate of the Armenians to be ordained by any other than ” the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia for the time being.” St. Basil used his right by deposing the intruding Bishop of Nicopolis, the metropolitan see of Armenia, and by ordering the clergy to obey Euphronius, who was legitimately placed there by him. He wrote, moreover, to the same clergy, ” Wait for our arrival ; for, please God, we intend to come to you, and suggest to your piety face to face that of which we could not admonish you by letter.” There is also an epistle of Basil directed, not to one province only, but commanding all the Bishops of the exarchate of Pontus to meet at Caesarea, according, as he says, to the ancient custom. But these three things—the institution of metropolitans, the judgment of their causes, and the summoning of the Bishops of more than one province to a synod— constituted, as we showed, the patriarchal rights. The same might be shown of the exarchates of Ephesus and Heraclea.

All this is confirmed by the canons of general councils. The sixth canon of Nice is well known, because it has been freely used by writers who object to the primacy of Rome, or to its divine origin. But Natalis Alexander and others have clearly proved that this canon speaks only of the patriarchal rights; it was made to vindicate the right of the Bishop of Alexandria from the schismatical attempts of Meletius, the Metropolitan of Lycopolis, who, as St. Epiphanius testifies, was everywhere setting up Bishops, priests, and deacons, and erecting private churches, contrary to the privileges of the see of Alexandria, “for the ambition of rule,” as St. Athanasius says. That the canon was not, nor could be otherwise understood, is most evident from the synodical epistle of the Council of Nice to the churches of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis. The common reading of this canon is: ” Let the ancient custom be preserved throughout Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, that the Bishop of Alexandria have power over them all. For the Bishop of the city of Rome has a parallel custom. So also in Antioch, and in the other provinces, let the privileges of each church be preserved.” But in the copy which Paschasinus the Papal legate produced in the Council of Chalcedon it stood, ” the sixth canon of the three-hundred-and-eight Fathers. That the Roman church always had the primacy ; but let Egypt also have that the Bishop of Alexandria,” &c. A question has therefore arisen which is the genuine reading ; as also whether in Paschasinus’ copy, with which some other Mss. have been found to agree, the words concerning the primacy of Rome have been transferred from the title to the text, or otherwise. Meanwhile it is certain that the Fathers of Chalcedon did not protest against Paschasinus’ reading, but, on the contrary, openly professed it: “We adjudge that all primacy and the chief honor should be preserved to the Archbishop of Old Rome, according to the canons.” It is equally certain that, though the words, ” that the Roman church always had the primacy,” were erased, yet the signification of the canon is such as, not perhaps to prove or confirm, but to assume as undoubted the primacy of the Pope. For, 1. as Natalis Alexander observes, the canon decreed nothing about the Pope; but its decree concerned the other Patriarchs, and the Pope is brought forward only as the exemplar and model of the spiritual authority of the Bishop of Alexandria over Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis. 2. The Patriarch of Antioch was present at the council; yet the Nicene Fathers did not adduce him as this model, nor say, ” because the Bishop of Antioch has a parallel custom,” but ” because the Bishop of Rome has a like custom.” Was not this because the authority of the Bishop of Antioch, like that of Alexandria, was defined by positive law, so that Meletius might as well have rebelled against one as against the other; while the universal authority of the Pope was founded on divine right, as being ” taken out of the Holy Scriptures,” as St. Augustine writes to Innocent I. ? Besides, why does the Nicene Synod confirm the jurisdiction and authority of the Alexandrian and Antiochene patriarchates, but not that of the Bishop of Rome ? Surely because his authority is derived from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself, and so does not depend on the votes of synods. It was not, then, the intention of the Nicene Council to confine the jurisdiction of Rome to certain territories, but rather to adduce its authority over the Universal Church as the type and exemplar of that authority which the other patriarchates have over their provinces and dioceses. With reason, then, Nicholas I. wrote to the Emperor Michael: “If the orders of the Council of Nice are carefully examined, it will be found that that synod conferred no augmentation whatever on the Roman church ; but rather after its type it took that particular form which it gave to the church of Alexandria.” And long previously St. Boniface J. wrote to the Thessalian Bishops: ” The order of the Universal Church in its origin arose from the honour of St. Peter, in whom its rule and its primacy are lodged. From his source the ecclesiastical discipline was spread throughout all churches with the spread of religion. The canons of Nice bear witness to this very thing, in that it did not dare to make any addition to his power, knowing that nothing could be given beyond his merit; for it knew that every thing had been granted to him by the word of the Lord.” Here also we must call particular attention to these words of the Nicene canon : ” Likewise at Antioch and the other provinces let each church preserve its own privileges.” What churches are here intended, the first Council of Constantinople will tell us, which thus explains that of Nice: ” According to the established rules, let the Bishop of Alexandria have authority only over Egypt; let the Bishops of the East govern the East only, preserving the honors of the primacy to the church of Antioch; let also the Bishops of the Asian diocese rule all that is in Asia, and whatever relates exclusively to the Asian diocese; let the Bishops of the Pontican diocese take care only of the Pontican diocese ; and those of Thrace of the diocese of Thrace exclusively.” Here any one can see that the exarchates of Asia, Pontus, and Thrace, are made equal in jurisdiction to the patriarchates, and are even declared independent of the Patriarchs, when it is decreed that he of Alexandria shall have Egypt only, and he of Antioch only the East. St. Jerome understood this aright when he thus attacked John of Jerusalem, who had appealed to Theophilus of Alexandria, a foreign Patriarch, contrary to the decrees of councils: ” Why, when you are challenged by one, do you turn your arms against another? You are questioned at Palestine; you answer at Antioch. . . . Challenged for Palestine; you speak for Alexandria. . . . You who look for the rules of the Church, and use the canons of

Nice, and endeavour to usurp for yourself the clergy of others who remain with their own Bishops; answer me, what has Palestine to do with the Bishop of Alexandria? If I mistake not, it is there decreed that Caesarea is the metropolis of Palestine, and Antioch of the whole East. Either, then, you ought to have referred to the Bishop of Caesarea ; … or, if you must get a decision from a greater distance, you should rather have directed your letters to Antioch.”So also St. Chrysostom, when he refused to be judged by Theophilus of Alexandria, because, as he wrote to St. Innocent I., according to the laws of the Fathers judgments were not to be extended beyond their limits, nor the affairs of provinces considered outside the provinces; ” nor is it reasonable that he who governs Egypt should judge those who are in Thrace.” And further, “If this custom is established, and any body is allowed at any distance to invade the provinces of others, and to depose whom he will, and to do what he likes by his own authority, know that every thing will go to ruin, and an implacable war will be waged throughout the world, every one deposing every body else and being deposed in his turn.”

Hence it is clear that the rights of the Patriarchs, great and venerable as they are, were yet denned within certain limits, and fixed to certain territories, beyond which all that they attempted to do by their authority was reckoned void and empty ; and that not only if they invaded another patriarchate, but even an exarchate, like Thrace. Hence we derive a very strong argument for the universal jurisdiction of the Popes. For if they had been only equal to the other Patriarchs and Exarchs, they would have had no power in the Eastern Church either to create Bishops, or to convoke synods, or to adjudicate greater causes. For all these things would have belonged wholly and solely to the prelates of each patriarchate or exarchate. But every one of these things was done by the Popes with a high hand. St. Clement, as Irenseus tells us, “when a great discord had arisen among the brethren at Corinth, wrote most powerful letters to the Corinthians, bringing them together to peace, and renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which they had presently received from the Apostles.” St. Victor, in the second century, ordered a synod to be convoked in Palestine about the question of Easter, and threatened excommunication to those who impaired its authority. St. Julius, “in accordance with the prerogative of the Roman Church,” as Socrates says, sent back to the East St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Paul of Constantinople, and other Bishops of Oriental sees, with very free-spoken letters restoring each man his see, and at the same time condemning those who had irregularly deposed the aforesaid Bishops. So they departing from Rome, and trusting to the letters of the Bishop Julius, entered every one into his own see.” These words, says Schelstratius, were written by Socrates and Sozomen, contemporary Greek authors at Constantinople twelve hundred years ago; and in them the supreme authority of the Apostolic See in determining the great causes of Bishops is shown too manifestly and clearly for any one to raise a question about it. The same may be said of the cause of St. Chrysostom, who, while he protested against the Patriarch of Alexandria having any right over the diocese of Thrace, by his appeal acknowledged the right of the Pope over the Universal Church; and who, though condemned by a synod, was absolved by the Apostolic See without a synod, as St. Gelasius expressly asserts in his epistle to the Bishops of Dardania, where he brings forward several instances of the same kind. St. Basil may also be cited, who wrote as follows to Athanasius the Great: ” It appears to me reasonable that the Bishop of Rome should be written to, to consider what is being done here, to give his advice and, . . . making use of his authority in this cause, to choose proper persons to correct those who are awry and crooked amongst us.” These words, directed from the Exarch of Pontus to the Patriarch of Alexandria, manifestly show that the Bishop of Rome is greater in authority than either of them. Nor is the act of St. Martin I. less remarkable, who in the seventh century made John Bishop of Philadelphia his vicar in the East, with this commission : ” that so prospering in the Lord, you may correct what is wanting ; and may appoint in every city that is subject either to the see of Jerusalem or to that of Alexandria Bishops, priests, and deacons, according to the plenary commands which we give you by our apostolical authority, given to us by the Lord through the most holy Peter, the prince of the apostles.” Such were the acts which the Popes performed in the East as well as the West; but if any Patriarch had dared to do one of them beyond the limits of his patriarchate, he would at once have been reckoned guilty of breaking the laws of the Church.

Moreover, as we have shown from St. Jerome, the canons allowed no one to appeal to any other Patriarch than his own; but appeals might be made to the Pope from all parts of the world. Thus, in the second century, as St. Epiphanius informs us, Marcian, condemned by his own Bishop, came to Rome to ask absolution from the Roman church. And the fourth and seventh canons of Sardica not only approve these appeals, but expressly forbid that any Bishop who has been condemned in his own province, and has appealed to Rome, should be deposed, and another substituted, “unless the cause was determined by the judgment of the Bishop of Rome.” These canons are thus approved by St. Gelasius in his letter to Faustus: ” These are the canons which ordained that the appeals of the whole Church should be brought under the examination of this see ; but they did not allow that any appeal could be made from it to any other quarter.” And in his letter to the Bishops of Darofania, ” The canons would have appeals made to it from any part of the world whatever; but from it no one is allowed to appeal.”

There is another point which eminently distinguishes the Popes from the other Patriarchs: for they could only convoke the Bishops of their own patriarchates to a synod ; but the Popes could call a general council. This is a subject too long to be treated here ; we will only notice that St. Cyril of Alexandria considered himself so inferior to the Pope in this respect, that though he was Bishop of the second see, he thought himself highly honoured in being made legate of St. Celestine in the Council of Ephesus, and he over and over again professed openly that whatever he had done in the cause of Nestorius had been all done by command of Celestine: wherein he was very different from Theophilus, who had dared to condemn Chrysostom by a usurped authority.

There are some other things which show not only the inferiority, but the dependence of the patriarchal sees on that of Rome. Among these is the fact, that no one could rightly hold a patriarchal see without the consent of the Pope. The Patriarchs were elected by their own clergy, and were soon afterwards consecrated, to prevent the see being too long unoccupied; but they were bound to inform the Pope of their ordination by a legate with synodical letters, and to request his letters of peace and communion. On obtaining these, they were by him ipso facto canonically confirmed, as may be seen by the sentence of the Council of Chalcedon, annulling all that was done in the pseudo-council of Ephesus, ” except that about St. Maximus, the Bishop of the great city of Antioch, because St. Leo, the Archbishop of Rome, by receiving him into communion, adjudged him to be prelate of the see of Antioch.” But if the Pope did not assent to the ordination that had been given, the Patriarch was reckoned illegitimate, as Boniface I. shows in his epistle to Rufus of Thessalonica by the following example : ” When the church of Antioch had been long in trouble, and many appeals had been made from thence on that account, it is manifest that the Roman See was consulted first by Meletius, and afterwards by Flavianus. After many things done by our church to (establish) his authority, everyone knows that Flavianus received the favour of communion, which he would have ever wanted unless the decree to that effect had gone forth from hence.” The Popes even sometimes made their confirmation conditional, as St. Innocent I., who acknowledged Alexander as Patriarch of Antioch on condition of his receiving the clerics ordained by Evagrius with their orders and ranks; or else they remedied the canonical defects in the election and ordination of the Patriarchs by their plenary power, as St. Simplicius, when, for peace-sake, he confirmed the consecration of Stephen the Younger to the patriarchate of Antioch, which had been performed at Constantinople contrary to the canon of Nice, and at the same time absolved Acacius, the consecrator of St. Stephen, who had set the rights of the Church at naught, and who confessed that he deserved to be suspended.

With regard to ecclesiastical judgments, it was admitted by all antiquity as a positive axiom, ““That no one could give sentence on the Pope of Rome, and that the Roman See was judged by none,” as Bellarmine proves, and as the Fathers of Chalcedon clearly express in their epistle to Leo the Great, wherein they declare that they had condemned Dioscorus for several reasons, but chiefly for having presumed to give sentence against the first see. On the contrary, it is perfectly notorious that the Popes had the right to judge the affairs of the other patriarchal churches, and the Patriarchs themselves. The church of Alexandria acknowledged this right when, as Athanasius records, they accused St. Dionysius their Bishop to the Pope of the same name; Dionysius himself acknowledged it, when he defended his cause by sending an apologetical epistle to the Pope. St. Julius I. claimed the same right, when he wrote to the Eusebians, “The right thing would have been to write to all of us, that all of us might have determined what was proper; for they were Bishops who suffered, and no common churches that were troubled, but churches which the Apostles themselves governed. But why was nothing written to us about the church of Alexandria specially? Do you not know that the custom is that we should be first written to, and that from this place the judgment should go forth? Certainly if any suspicion of this kind was incurred by the Bishop of that city, the proper course was to write to this church.” Nor did he merely claim the right, he also exercised it, in restoring Athanasius the Great and the other Bishops to their sees. His successor, St. Liberius, raised Paulinus to the see of Antioch by his legate Lucifer of Cagliari. It is also quite notorious what St. Jerome thought of the power of the Pope to interpose when three Bishops were quarrelling for the see of Antioch. He wrote to Damasus, “The Church, split into three parts, hastens to engage me on its side. The ancient authority of the neighbouring monks presses me. Meanwhile I cry out, If anyone is united with the See of Peter, he is mine. Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus all declare they stick to you. I might believe it if one made this assertion ; but now either two are liars, or all. Wherefore I beseech your blessedness by the cross of the Lord to write to me, to tell me with whom I ought to communicate in Syria.” And again, “I, following no chief but Christ, am united in communion with your blessedness, that is, with the See of Peter. On that rock I know the Church is built; whoever collects not with you, scatters.”

St.Gelasiusalso cites two notable examples of the exercise of this right in his epistle to the Bishops of Dardania : “The Apostolic See, by its own authority, condemned Dioscorus, the Bishop of the second see.” And again : “The See of St. Peter received not Peter of Alexandria, whom she knew she had condemned, but did not know she had absolved.” Lastly, Nicholas I., in his epistle to the Emperor Michael, after enumerating eight Bishops of Constantinople deposed by the Apostolic See, recites this clear testimony from the acts of the Council of Ephesus: “John of Antioch, Bishop of the third see, among other things is recorded to have been condemned by the synod of Ephesus because he had presumed irregularly to condemn Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop of the second see; the same venerable synod demanding this in a letter to Celestine, the prelate of the chief see, and saying, “Your religiousness must be adequately angry at all this ; for if license is granted to all who choose to insult the greater sees, and to give sentence against those over whom they have no power, contrary to laws and canons, the affairs of the Church will get into extreme confusion.”

Hence we gather two conclusions : 1. The canons did not allow one Patriarch to judge another; 2. The Pope had a perfect right to judge the Patriarchs. We are obliged to omit a great number of other instances, to keep our article within reasonable bounds ; but what we have adduced is sufficient to demonstrate the universal truth of the definition of the Council of Florence: “The Holy Apostolic See and the Pontiff have the primacy over the whole world; and the Pope of Rome is the successor of St. Peter the Prince of the Apostles, and the true Vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church, and the father and doctor of all Christians; and to him in St. Peter was committed by our Lord Jesus Christ full power of feeding, ruling, and governing the universal Church ; as is also contained in the acts of the general councils and in the sacred canons.” Such is the general conclusion which results from an examination of the special question of the relative rank of the patriarchates.

Excerpt from
The Rambler Vol X September 1858 by London :Burns and Lambert. VOL. X. New Series. SEPTEMBER 1858. PART LVII.

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