OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE BISHOPS OF
Friday, April 11, 2014
Réné-Francois Guettée - The Papacy - part seven
Another text which at first sight seems very favourable to Romish pretensions, is that of St. Optatus of Melevia, which is quoted on all occasions by those theologians. Reasonably interpreted, this text is no more in their favour than those of the other Fathers. The holy bishop of Melevia was opposing, the Donatists who had established a bishopric at Rome. He wished to prove to them that this bishopric was not legitimate. To do this it was necessary to prove that the only legitimate bishopric was that which had descended in direct line from the Apostles--for there was but one only Apostolate of which Peter typified the unity, and
nothing outside of that Apostolic see--that is, this apostolate--could claim to be legitimate. St. Optatus, therefore, thus addresses his adversary:†
Thou canst not deny it--thou knowest that the bishop's chair was first given to Peter in the city of Rome; upon that chair sat Peter the chief of all the Apostles; thou knowest why he was called Peter; that thus in that one see, unity should be preserved by all; lest each of the other Apostles should claim a separate see for himself; and that he should be schismatic and sinful who should establish another bishopric beside that only see."
“For the sake of unity," he elsewhere says,‡ the blessed "Peter (for whom it had been enough had he only obtained pardon after denying his Master) deserved to be preferred to all the Apostles, and alone received the keys of the kingdom of heaven to impart them to others."
St. Optatus was arguing against a man who denied the unity of the ministry and its Apostolic origin. In order to convince him he holds up before him
Rome--the only Apostolic church of the West whose origin was incontestable. He shows him that Peter, who was the type of sacerdotal unity, founded the see of Rome; that, consequently, he must be with this see, if he would be in the unity and would give an Apostolic character to his ministry; but from this to an authority over the whole Church is a long step.
The whole argument of St. Optatus proves this to have been his idea in the preceding
Our angel,"§ he says, "dates back to St. Peter—yours only to Victor.** Address
yourself, if you like, to the seven angels which are in Asia; to our colleagues--those churches to whom
St. John wrote, and with which you are evidently not in communion. Now all outside of these seven churches is foreign. If you have any one of the angels of the seven churches with whom you are one, you commune through him with the other angels; through them with the churches, and through the churches with us. Such not being the case, you have not the characteristics of a Catholic church-you are no true Catholics."
Such is a faithful analysis of the argument of St. Optatus. He does not seek in his work to prove that the legitimate Bishop of Rome had universal authority--he only proves that he was descended in direct line from the Apostles, and that his Donatist rival was illegitimate. He proves that all the Apostolic churches of the East were in communion with the Apostolic Bishop of Rome, and that, consequently, the Donatists were not in Catholic or universal unity. We really cannot see how such teaching can be quoted to support the pretensions of the modern Papacy. Nay, more. We may certainly justly quote it against them.
We have now reviewed the strongest texts upon which the Ultramontanes and modern Gallicans have rested their theories about the papacy. The former see in them the papal autocracy, the latter a limited monarchy of which the Pope is the head--not absolute nor infallible, but subject to the laws and decrees of the councils. Both have misinterpreted the
† S. Optat. Lib. II. cont. Parm.
‡ Ib. Lib. I. cont. Parm.
§ He alludes to the angels of the churches, which in the Apocalypse mean the bishops.
** This was the bishop the Donatists had established at Rome.
texts and have drawn false conclusions from them; it would be sufficient to set them the one against the other in order to confound them. The only facts proved by the texts are the following:
First. St. Peter was the first among the Apostles; but this title gave him no authority. Secondly. Peter cooperated with St. Paul in founding the Church of Rome.
Thirdly. This Church is consequently an Apostolic see.
The advocates of papal authority would conclude from these facts, that the Bishops of Rome, as successors of St. Peter, have inherited that Apostle's prerogatives. But the texts prove neither the prerogatives of Peter nor their descent to the Bishops of Rome. That
Bishop is no more the heir of St. Peter than of St. Paul. He merely holds his bishopric in the same church where those Apostles exercised their apostleship. Peter and Paul died at Rome, but if by their death they glorified the Church, non constat that they have bequeathed their apostolate any more than the other apostles have bequeathed theirs to the churches in which they died. Those prerogatives which were intended to be perpetuated in the Church, have been transmitted not by the death of the Apostles, but by ordination. It is to this end that they ordained and established bishops in all the churches they founded; at Rome as much as anywhere else. Accordingly, as appears from the records of the first centuries, the first Bishop of Rome was Linus, and not St. Peter. The Roman episcopate, therefore, only dates back to Linus, and that episcopate draws its origin from the Apostolate; from Paul first, who ordained the first two bishops, then from Peter, who ordained Clement, who was chosen to fill the see of Rome after the death of Anencletus, and long after Peter's death. The Bishops of Antioch are traced in precisely the same manner to the apostolate of Peter and Paul; those of Alexandria also go back to Peter by St. Mark, who was the delegate and disciple of that Apostle. The other Apostolic Sees, Jerusalem, Smyrna, Byzantium, etc., can be traced like
Rome to some one of the Apostles. Their episcopate is thus Apostolic, but it is not the
Before concluding our examination of the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, we must mention, in the way of objection, some texts of St. Jerome that seem favourable to such papal extravagances. We must premise:
First. That even should the words of this Father be taken literally, they could prove nothing, since he would be alone against all; and the opinion of a single Father proves absolutely nothing as to Catholic doctrine.
Secondly. That these texts of
St. Jerome cannot be taken literally without making him contradict himself.
Writing to Pope Damasus, his friend and protector, Jerome thus expresses himself:* " Although your greatness awes me, your goodness reassures. I ask of the priest the saving sacrifice--of the shepherd the help he owes to the sheep. I speak to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. Following NO CHIEF save Christ, I am united in communion with your Holiness; that is to say, with the see of Peter. I know the Church is built upon this rock. Who eats not of the lamb in this house is defiled. Whoever dwells not in Noah's ark will perish at the time of the deluge. I do not know Vitalis; I repel Meletius ; I ignore Paulinus.* Whoever does not reap with you, scatters his harvest; that is, he who is not of Christ is of Antichrist.'' Then he asks Damasus if he shall, speak of the divine hypostases, or be silent.
And addressing Damasus or the Roman ladies, particularly, Eustochia Jerome speaks in very nearly the same terms of the Roman see.
* St. Hieron. Epis. 57 ad Damas.
* this alludes to the dissensions in the
. church of Antioch
Should his words be taken literally, or should we not rather see in them only a bit of flattery addressed to the Pope--the rather that Damasus had given to Jerome pledges not only of protection but of friendship? At all events, it is certain that we cannot take them literally without making St. Jerome contradict himself. We notice, in the first place, that he
recognized but ONE FIRST in the Church--Jesus Christ ; that he calls the Apostle Peter the rock on which the Church is built, asserting at the same time that Christ alone is that rock, and that the title of secondary stones belongs equally to all the Apostles and to the Prophets. The stones,"† he says, “must be understood to mean the Prophets and the Apostles. The Church is the rock founded upon the most solid stone." He teaches that the Church is represented by
the Apostles and Prophets, meaning that it is established upon both--"super prophetas et apostolos constituta." Yet, in his letter to Damasus, he seems to say that Peter is the foundation of the Church, to the exclusion of the others.
But did he not, perhaps, mean to imply that Peter had some superiority as a foundation of the Church? Not so; for he clearly says the contrary: "The solidity of the Church," he says, “is supported upon them (the Apostles and Prophets) equally.‡ He calls Peter prince of the Apostles; but he also says: “He (Christ) shows us Peter and Andrew-- princes of the Apostles--established as teachers of the Gospel."
Was this principality of Peter an authority, as might be inferred from the letter to Damasus? Jerome answers that question in the following passage:§1 “What can be claimed for Aristotle that we do not find in Paul? for Plato that does not belong to Peter? As Plato was the prince of philosophers, so Peter was the prince of Apostles, upon whom the Church
of the Lord was built as upon a solid rock." Elsewhere,** he represents
St. Paul saying: “I am in nothing inferior to Peter; for we were ordained by the same God for the same ministry.” Clearly, if inferior in nothing, (in nullo,) then equal in every thing.
The Romish theologians cannot deny that the Fathers have generally taught the
equality of the Apostles among themselves; on this point, tradition is unauimous. No Father of the Church has taught any other doctrine. But these theologians affect to give no weight to so important a fact. They try to evade the overwhelming testimony of the Fathers by this distinction: the Apostles, they say, were equal in respect of the apostolate, but not in respect of the primacy.†† But clearly, such a primacy, as it is understood at
, cannot coexist Rome
with any equality whatsoever. The Fathers cannot teach the equality of the Apostles without denying the superiority of any one of them. They teach that equality absolutely. To resort, then, to a distinction that takes away this absolute character, is to falsify their testimony. After all, has St. Jerome conceded to the see of Rome any exceptional prerogatives, as we might be led to think from his letters to Damasus and Eustochia? Let us see what he says in another letter:*
“We must not believe that the city of Rome is a different church from that of the whole world. Gaul, Britain, Africa, Persia, the East, India, all the barbarous nations, adore Jesus Christ, and observe one and the same rule of truth. If one is looking for authority, the world is greater than one city. Wherever there is a Bishop, be he at Rome or at Eugubium, at Constantinople or at Rhegium, at Alexandria or at Tanis, he has the same authority, the same
† S. Hieron. adv. Jovinian.
‡ S. Hieron. adv. Jovin.
§ St. Hieron. adv. Pelag. Lib. I. ch. 4.
** S. Hieron. comment. in Epist. ad Galat.
†† Lest we be accused of falsely attributing this distinction to the Romish party, let us here say that it may be found in the works of a theologian of great authority in that party, Father Perrone. Tract de Loc. Theol. part 1st, sect. 2d, chap. 1. Difficult respons. ad 6.
* St. Hieron. Epist. 146 ad Ev.
merit, because he has the same priesthood. The power that riches give, and the low estate to which poverty reduces, render a Bishop neither greater nor less."
It cannot be more distinctly stated that the rule of truth dwells only in the entire episcopal body, and not at Rome; that the Bishop of Rome is no more, as bishop, than the humblest bishop of the Church; that the power he possessed because of his riches, did not make him superiour to the rest. One might almost think that St. Jerome exerted himself, in all his works, to refute his own letters to Damasus.
But, say the Roman theologians, the papal prerogatives were so well recognized, that even the heretic Jovinian mentions them. And, in fact, in order to prove to St. Jerome that the estate of marriage was superior to that of virginity, he says: “St. John was a virgin, and St. Peter was married; why, then, did Christ prefer St. Peter to St. John to build his Church on him?" The Romanists stop here, but do not give us St. Jerome's answer to Jovinian--a proceeding not creditable to their good faith, as we shall see. Here is St. Jerome's answer:† “If he chose Peter rather than John for this honourable distinction, it was that it was more expedient not to confer it upon a young man, nay a child, as John was, in order to excite no jealousy. But if Peter be an Apostle, so is John also. The one is married, the other is virgin; but Peter is only an Apostle, and John is an Apostle, an Evangelist, and a Prophet."
St. Jerome could not have reasoned thus, if he had had the same idea of St. Peter's primacy as is held at Rome concerning that of the Pope. His reasoning against Jovinian would have been worthless if that heretic had considered Peter's primacy otherwise than as a priority, in virtue of which he was the representative of the Apostolic college, and the type of unity; for he (
St. Jerome) grounds his argument upon this conceded point: that St. Peter was but an Apostle like the others. If Jovinian had believed that Peter was any thing more than this, St. Jerome's argument would have been ridiculous. And if St. Peter had been the chief-- the prince of the Apostles in the sense that Rome now gives to these expressions--would St. Jerome have laid down as the first principle of his argument, that St. John was superiour to
St. Peter, because of his characters of Evangelist and Prophet?
After the review we have given of the constant and universal tradition of the Church, during the first five centuries, we may well be amazed to hear Cardinal Orsi‡ assert, that nothing could be opposed to papal pretensions except a few isolated texts, which do not contain the true sense of Catholic tradition; to hear all the advocates of the Papacy declare that Catholic tradition is in favour of their system, especially in the first centuries!
† S. Hieron. Lib. I. adv. Jovin.
‡ Orsi, de Infallib. Rom. Pintif.
OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE BISHOPS OF
ROME DURING THE SIXTH, SEVENTH, AND EIGHTH CENTURIES.
OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE BISHOPS OF
WE have already seen that the œumenical councils of Constantinople and Chalcedon had given to the Bishop of Constantinople the second place in the Catholic episcopacy, and that St. Leo, Bishop of Rome, had opposed this law, as changing the hierarchal order established at the first Œcumenical Council of Nicea.
We may believe that St. Leo was indeed only moved to this opposition by his respect for the canons. But his successors, probably, had another motive. They feared lest the Bishop of Constantinople should soon supplant them in the primacy. Such fears were the more reasonable that the Council of Chalcedon had only given as the reason of the primacy the dignity of the city of Rome, the capital of the empire. Now Rome was daily growing less influential. The Roman empire in the West had fallen under the blows of the barbarians;
Rome was passing successively through the hands of various tribes, who destroyed every thing--even to the signs of her former greatness. Constantinople bad become the only centre of the empire, and increased in splendour in proportion as Rome was humbled. On the other hand, the emperor added daily to the prerogatives of the Bishops of Constantinople, thus increasing their influence, while they quite forgot the Bishops of Rome. It was therefore natural that the Roman Bishops Should be jealous of the prerogatives and honours of their brethren of Constantinople, and that jealousy betrayed itself in the relations necessary to be preserved between them. It was no less natural that the Bishops of Constantinople should show some degree of arrogance toward those of Rome, who had merely the semblance of a primacy and the memories of a glory that each day left more dim.
Such was the beginning of the struggles between the sees of Rome and Constantinople during the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, and the motive that impelled the Roman Bishops to aid in the establishment of a new Western empire, in which, thanks to the new emperors, they might so enlarge their prerogatives, that they should eclipse those of the see of Constantinople.
We must not lose sight of these general considerations if we would comprehend the history of the Papacy and those struggles which led to the rupture between the Eastern and Western churches.
No one denies that the emperors of Constantinople strove to increase the influence of the bishops of that city. They issued numberless decrees for this purpose; and the Emperor Zeno even made the twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Chalcedon a law of the state. The heads of the new empire of the East thought that they were adding to their own glory when they surrounded the see of their capital with splendour and power. In consequence of his position, the Bishop of Constantinople was the sole medium of intercourse not only between them and the other Oriental, but also the Western bishops. He became so powerful, that there grew up a custom to choose him from the members of the imperial or the most illustrious families.
The Bishop of Constantinople had, at first, only enjoyed an honorary title in virtue of the third canon of the second œcumenical council, (381.) Some time after, the Emperor Theodosius the younger, made two laws for the purpose of giving him a real authority over the provinces of Asia and
Illyria. The Council of Chalcedon gave its ecclesiastical sanction to these laws, (451,) and extended the authority of the Bishop of Constantinople over Pontus
Thrace, in consequence of the ecclesiastical troubles that afflicted these countries. The Bishop of Constantinople himself thought himself entitled to extend his jurisdiction over the other Patriarchal sees of the East.
To trace the beginning of these undertakings we must go back to the fifth century. In 476 Acacius was Bishop of Constantinople, and Simplicius Bishop of
Basiliscus having driven Zeno from the imperial throne, declared himself in favour of the heretics condemned by the Council of Chalcedon, and recalled from exile Timothy Ælurus, the heretic Bishop of Alexandria, and Peter the Fuller, heretic Bishop of Antioch, both canonically deposed. These churches were filled with confusion, and a new council was talked of, to revoke the decrees of Chalcedon. Simplicius wrote to Basiliscus against the heretics, and at the same time applied to Acacius to obtain from the Emperor the expulsion of
Timothy, and to dissuade that prince from convoking a new council.∗ But Basiliscus was
overthrown, and Zeno reäscended the imperial throne. Simplicius at once wrote to him, praying him to expel the heretics, especially Timothy of Alexandria.
Acacius sent a deacon to the Bishop of Rome, that he might consult with him upon the best means to remedy the evils of the churches. Simplicius replied, that under God, the Emperor only could remedy them; and advised that he should issue a decree exiling Timothy, and John of Antioch, who had supplanted Peter the heretic, and was no better than he had been; in a word, all the heretical bishops opposed to the Council of Chalcedon.
It is noteworthy that if the universal and absolute authority of the Bishop of Rome, now ascribed to him, had been recognized at that time, he would not have needed imperial intervention to reestablish order and respect for the laws in the churches. The usurpers of bishoprics and the deposed bishops could not have had so numerous partisans.
Simplicius invoked the good offices of Acacius with Zeno in order to obtain the decree he desired, and to cause those to be excommunicated who were to be exiled. The Emperor issued the decree that- Simplicius and Acacius asked for, and convoked a council of Eastern bishops, who excommunicated the heretical bishops, and particularly Peter and John, the usurpers of the see of Antioch, and Timothy of that of Alexandria. The council wrote to Simplicius praying him not to receive into his communion any of those who, had been condemned. Then Simplicius, on his part, excommunicated them, and gave Acacius notice
of his sentence, entreating him at the same time to solicit from -the Emperor the execution of the decree of proscription.
Timothy Ælurus, already feeble through age and infirmity, was permitted to die at Alexandria. After his death, his supporters elected Peter, surnamed Mongus, or " the Hoarse;" but the Emperor Zeno had him driven away, and reestablished in the chair of Alexandria Timothy Salofaciolus, who had been unjustly expelled.† The three Bishops of Rome, Constantinople, and Alexandria were thus in perfect communion, and mutually pledged themselves thereof.
But the Bishop of Antioch, who had taken the place of the two usurpers, Peter and John, was now killed in a riot. For that church was sadly divided, and the religious parties carried on a war to the knife there. To obtain pardon of the Emperor they now agreed to give up their right of election, and asked that Zeno should himself choose a bishop for them. He chose Stephen, who was consecrated at Constantinople by Acacius. This choice was not canonical; they knew that at Constantinople as well as at Rome; but they alleged the peculiar circumstances of the case as their excuse, and notified the Pope of what had occurred, in
∗ See Simplic. Epist. in Labbe’s Collection. Evag. Hist.
† The Roman court is now so little acquainted with these facts, that in a work published by it against the Eastern
Church, over the name of Mr. Pitzipios, it makes Peter the Hoarse a Patriarch of Antioch.
ch. 2. See Part I.
order that he should not refuse to enter into communion with the new bishop. Simplicius agreed to what had been done by the Emperor and Acacius, insisting, however, that such a choice, contrary to the canons of Nicea, should not establish a precedent. This was agreed to at Constantinople; but it is certain that the troubles of the churches of Antioch and
Alexandria served to extend the influence of the Bishop of Constantinople over the whole Eastern Church; for the Emperor necessarily interfered in these troubles, and availed himself, in ecclesiastical matters, of the cooperation of the bishop nearest at hand, whose advice he could most easily obtain. Simplicius was not blind to the progress of the rival see, and that is why be so carefully appealed to the canons to prevent the interference of Acacius from becoming a matter of custom.
Nevertheless, upon Stephen's death, the Emperor chose Calandion to succeed him;
and Acacius conferred the ordination.
Calandion, according to custom, wrote a letter of notification to the Bishop of Rome, who entered into communion with him.*
The see of Alexandria, after the death of Timothy Salofaciolus, gave greater trouble. John Talaïa was regularly elected and ordained; but Acacius declared against him, and persuaded the Emperor that John was unfit to be a bishop, and urged him to restore the see to Peter the Hoarse. This seemed to him to promise a restoration of peace; for Peter promised
to abandon, with his followers, his opposition to the Council of Chalcedon; and the faithful would have no further objection to him if he were once canonically consecrated. The Bishop of Rome did not agree with Acacius, and declared that, though he would not grant intercommunion to John Talaïa, he never could recognize Peter the Hoarse as the legitimate bishop. Zeno overruled his opinion, and established Peter; and Acacius, deceived by the orthodox declarations of this wicked bishop, granted him communion.
John Talaïa, flying from Alexandria, went to Antioch and thence to Rome. In these two cities he made the most overwhelming charges against Mongus, and was received into
communion by Calandion and Simplicius. He wrote to Acacius to ask for his removal; but
Acacius replied that be did not recognize him as legitimate Bishop of Alexandria. Simplicius at once wrote to Acacius, blaming him for having granted communion to Mongus. He died before receiving the answer of the Bishop of Constantinople, (483.) He was succeeded by Felix, before whom John Talaïa at once pleaded his cause. John wrote a petition against Acacius; and Felix assembled a council at Rome, which decided that Acacius must reply to the petition of John, and pronounce an anathema against Peter the Hoarse. These decisions were sent to the Emperor.† In the letters that Felix wrote to Zeno and to Acacius he bitterly complains that there had not even been an answer to the letters of his predecessor concerning the troubles of the Church of Alexandria. Zeno, by mingled terror and flattery, induced the envoys of Felix to communicate with Acacius and Peter Mongus; but the adversaries of these two bishops denounced these legates at Rome, and they were deposed. They had brought back letters in which Acacius and Zeno explained their conduct respecting Peter Mongus,
and denied the accusations against that bishop.
This conduct wounded the Pope, who at once assembled a council of Italian bishops to excommunicate Acacius and depose him. He served on him a notice of the sentence, which was signed, " Felix, Bishop of the holy Catholic Church of Rome."
This sentence pronounced against Acacius was null and anti-canonical, since it was rendered outside of the district where the accused resided, and without the participation of the Eastern bishops, who were necessary judges in this case. The sentence has, moreover, a
* In the work before mentioned letters of communion are confounded with requests for confirmation, proving that the Roman court is no better acquainted with canon law than with historical facts.
ch. 3. See Part I.
† Felic. Epist. Labbe’s Collection, vol. iv. Evag. Hist. Eccl.
very passionate character; and in it Felix affects to give to his see of Rome the title of Catholic--that is, universal--in order that his authority should seem to extend over the whole Church.
From this we perceive that if the Bishops of Rome did not, as Gregory the Great tells us, accept for their persons the title of œcumenical or universal which the Council of Chalcedon is said to have offered them, they endeavoured, shortly after, to claim for this see, not merely an honorary title, but an œcumenical authority, as contrary to the intentions of the council as to the traditions -of the entire Church. The Bishop Of Rome showed himself disposed to exaggerate his prerogatives, in proportion as Acacius became more influential in the direction of the affairs of the Eastern Church; he became more angry as the Bishop of Constantinople treated him with more arrogance. Acacius despised the sentence of the Bishop of Rome, and even refused to receive it. Some bishops having declared against him, he caused them to be deposed; and Rome, on her part, excommunicated his adherents. After the death of Acacius, in 489, the dissension respecting him continued. If one could doubt the share that the jealousy of Rome had in her opposition to Acacius, such doubt would not survive the perusal of what Pope Gelasius wrote on this subject in 495. Having received a letter from the bishops of Dardania in which he was informed that, the partisans of Acacius relied principally, upon the irregularity of the sentence passed against him by the Italian Council, Gelasius replied to them, justifying himself by the Council of Chalcedon, which, he claimed, "condemned in advance those who should oppose it.* But this was precisely the question--whether Acacius; had failed in the respect due to the Council of Chalcedon, by endeavouring to quiet the troubles raised in the East respecting that assembly. One evident fact is, that Acacius, in his efforts to settle these troubles, and in showing himself tolerant toward men, had sacrificed nothing of the Catholic doctrine defined at
Chalcedon. No less clear is it that the men condemned first at Constantinople, afterward at Rome, had never been heard face to face with their accusers; that they had numerous supporters; that they had been
condemned banished, and persecuted through the imperial power from which the Roman
bishops were incessantly demanding severity, as their letters show. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that Acacius, even after his death, should have been regarded in the East as a great and holy bishop, and that the sentence of the Italian Council should have been considered as null and void. Gelasius is not happy in his answer to the objection of the bishops of Dardania to the illegality of this sentence. In return, he shows a great deal of temper when he tries to confute the argument drawn in favour of Acacius from the importance of the Byzantine see. "We laughed," he says,† "at the prerogative that they (the Eastern bishops) claim for Acacius because he was bishop of the imperial city. Did not the Emperor reside for a long time at Ravenna, Milan, Sirmium, and Tréves? Have the bishops of these cities exceeded, on this account, the limits that antiquity has prescribed to them? If the question be upon the dignity of cities, the bishops of a second or third-rate see have more dignity than the bishops of a city which is not even, a metropolis. The power of the secular empire is one thing, and the distribution of ecclesiastical dignities quite another. However small a city may be, it does not diminish the greatness of the prince who dwells there; but it
is quite as true that the presence of the emperor does not change the order of religion; and such a city should rather profit by such an advantage to preserve the freedom of religion by keeping peaceably within its proper limits."
* It was therefore under the false pretext of his opposition to the council of Chalcedon that Rome had deposed Acacius, which bellies the assertion contained in the work already cited, that no dogmatic question was pending between Rome and Constantinople under Acacius. Part I. ch. 3.
† Gelas. Ep. ad Episcop. Dard.
But what, then, was the foundation of the dignity of the Roman Church? Gelasius could indicate none other but the Council of Nicea. Now has not one œcumenical council the same rights as another? If at Nicea the Church had so ruled the hierarchal rank that Rome
and Alexandria should be superiour to Antioch and Jerusalem, because their sees were more important, why should not the Council of Chalcedon have had the right to put Constantinople before Alexandria, and even before Rome? If, in the spirit of the Council of Nicea, Rome
and Alexandria must precede Antioch and Jerusalem, it was evidently only because of their political importance, as was very properly expressed by the Council of Chalcedon. Why, then, should not Constantinople--already more important than Alexandria, and now the capital of the empire--why should she not be raised to a superiour hierarchal rank?
Gelasius was far from the point when he spoke of the imperial residences of Trèves, Milan, Ravenna, and Sirmium; for these cities were never reigning cities or capitals, like Rome and Constantinople. He went so far in his anger as to refuse Constantinople the bare title of metropolis, because the ancient Byzantium was not one. It is thus that, while accusing and condemning Acacius for his alleged opposition to the Council of Chalcedon, Rome affected to trample on the decrees of that very same Council. Of what consequence is
it that Pope Leo protested against these decrees, under cover of those of Nicea? It is none the less true that those of Chalcedon are of equal value, since that assembly was equally œcumenical.
It is not our business, however, to notice all the historical blunders and erroneous assertions of the letter of Gelasius. We have only sought to show that the more Constantinople increased in influence the more Rome sought to humble her. The motive of this is easily understood. Rome was in the hands of the barbarians, losing each day more her prestige, while Constantinople, on the contrary, was at the height of her splendour.
In one of his treatises against Acacius* Gelasius reviews the decree of the Council of
Chalcedon, which granted the second rank in the Church to the Bishop of Constantinople. He pretends that this decree is of no force because it was rejected by the Roman see. Why, then, does this see take for the foundation of its argument the Council of Nicea, as having of itself a superiour authority, to which Rome herself should submit? Was it not because the Council of Nicea was œcumenical? But was not the Council of Chalcedon equally so, and hence was not its authority the same as that of the Nicene Council ?
Evidently Rome, by reason of her antipathy against Constantinople, put herself in a false position. To escape from it there was but one course open to her, namely, to proclaim that she held her authority from God, and was superiour to that of the councils. This course she took. She so affirmed timidly at first, openly when she saw a favorable opportunity.
These papal tendencies first appeared in the letters and instructions from the Popes in matters connected with those troubles which had arisen from the pretended deposition of Acacius. Nearly the entire East regarded this sentence as null. The Popes sustained it, and confounded that affair with that of the Council of Chalcedon, in order to give it more importance; nevertheless, the prevailing doctrine even in these documents, is that the council could alone determine the basis of reconciliations, thus excluding the idea of a central and sovereign authority at Rome or elsewhere. That thought chiefly pervades the writings of Gelasius, and Hormisda, who took the chief part in the troubles of the East.† Peace was restored in a council held at Constantinople, (A.D. 519,) and upon conditions discussed with equal authority by either side. When, in 525, Pope John I. went to Constantinople by order
of Theodoric, King of Italy, to plead for the Arians, he was invited to celebrate mass on
* Gelas. de. Anath.
† See their letters in Labbe’s Collection of Councils, vol. iv.
Easter-day. He accepted on condition that he might be permitted to occupy the first seat. None denied him this privilege; still the demand betrays in the Papacy a serious anxiety on the subject of the Roman primacy. The Bishop of Constantinople was then rich and influential; the Bishop of Rome, on the contrary, subject to the whims of heretical kings, was in such poverty, that in 536, when Agapitus was made to go to Constantinople by order of Theodotus, king of the Goths, he was forced to sell some of the consecrated vessels in order to raise money sufficient for the journey. Agapitus was received by the Emperor Justinian with honours. The Emperor had called to the see of Constantinople Anthymus, Bishop of Trebizond, known for his attachment to the errours of Eutyches. The bishops who were at Constantinople availed themselves of the presence of the Pope, to hold with him a council against Anthymus, who preferred to return to his see of Trebizond, rather than to make a Catholic confession of faith. Mennas, chosen in his place by the clergy and people, and
confirmed by the Emperor, was consecrated by the Pope. In a letter from the Eastern bishops it is remarked, that they give to Agapitus the titles of Father of fathers and Patriarch, and
that in a letter from the monks, he was called Archbishop of the ancient Rome and œcumenical Patriarch.* These titles were merely honorary and in the style of the age, especially in the East. They gave the title of Father of fathers to every bishop whom they particularly wished to honour. This proves nothing in favour of an authority which the Popes themselves did not yet claim.
The discussions relating to the "Three Chapters" furnish an incontestable proof of our assertion.
Ever since the Council of Chalcedon, the East had been filled with the most animated discussions ; the most subtle reasoning was resorted to. Some openly tampered with the doctrine of the council, in order that they might attack it to better advantage; others denied its orthodoxy, as contrary to the Council of Ephesus and to St. Cyril. The latter charge arose from this, that the Fathers of Chalcedon had given cause to believe that they approved of the
doctrine of Theodorus, Bishop of Mopsuestia, a letter of Ibas, and the writings of Theoderet
against the anathemas of St. Cyril. The Emperor Justinian took great part in theological discussions, partly from inclination, and also because the various factions, each seeking to enlist him on their side, referred their causes to him. He thought that he had found the means of reuniting men's minds on the subject of the Council of Chalcedon, by clearing up the misunderstandings which the three writings above mentioned had occasioned, and condemning them, which he did, in fact. These are called the Three Chapters. They
certainly had a Nestorian tendency; the authors were no longer at hand to explain them; and all that was requisite was to condemn the Nestorianism in their writings.
Justinian sent the condemnation of the Three Chapters to all the bishops, with orders to sign it. Some obeyed this, others resisted, regarding that condemnation only as in attack on the Council of Chalcedon. Pope Vigilius was ordered to Constantinople by Justinian. After refusing to concur in the condemnation, he consented without prejudice to the Council of Chalcedon. This reservation left unsatisfied the enemies of the council, while it did not excuse the condemnation in the eyes of the other party. The bishops of Africa, Illyria, and Dalmatia, and many other bishops individually, separated from the communion of Vigilius. Those of Africa solemnly excommunicated him in a council in 551.†
Without passing on the question at issue, these facts show clearly that in the sixth century the Bishop of Rome was regarded neither as infallible nor as the centre of Catholic
* Labbe, vol. v.
† See Facundi op., edit. of Father Sirmond; and for the documents, Labbe’s Collection of Councils. See also the
Eccl. Hists. of Evag. and Theoph.
unity; that this centre was believed to rest only in the pure and orthodox faith, and in the councils that represented the whole Church.
Vigilius, alarmed by the condemnations that were showered upon him, asked the Emperor for an œcumennical council to close the discussion. Justinian consented, and convoked the bishops. Vigilius withdrew his signature, and it was agreed that all should let the matter rest until the decision of the council. This proves that at Rome, as elsewhere, no infallible doctrinal authority was recognized, except that of the episcopate--the only interpreter of the universal faith.
Vigilius refused to attend the meetings of the council under pretext that the West was not as numerously represented as the East. He was told that the number of Western bishops then at Constantinople was greater than it had been at the other œcumenical councils. This objection raised by Vigilius proves that he did not think he could, by his presence or by delegation, give an œcumenical character to a council, as is now assumed at Rome. Nevertheless, Vigilius sent to the council his opinion upon the Three Chapters, opposing
their condemnation. The council paid no heed to his opposition, examined carefully the three writings, and condemned the doctrine in them as opposed to anteriour councils, particularly
to that of Chalcedon, which was solemnly recognized as œcumenical, on the same ground with those of Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus.
Before giving sentence, the council rehearsed its proceedings in respect to Vigilius. "When The Most Pious Vigilius," it said,* "was in this city; he took part in all the discussions concerning the Three Chapters, and condemned them several times both in writing and by word of mouth. After this he agreed, in writing, to come to the council and examine them with us, in order to come to a common decision. The Emperor having, in pursuance of our agreement, exhorted us to assemble, we were obliged to entreat Vigilius to fulfil his promise, recalling to him the example of the Apostles, who, filled with the Holy Ghost individually, and needing no deliberation, would not, nevertheless, determine the question ‘whether the
Gentiles must be circumcised,' until they had met in council and had strengthened their
opinions by passages from Scripture. The Fathers who in times past have held the four councils, have followed the ancient examples, and have decided together all questions concerning heretics; for there is no other way of knowing the truth in questions of faith.
"According to Scripture, each one has need of his brother’s aid, and when two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ, he is in the midst of them. We have therefore repeatedly invited Vigilius, and the Emperor has sent officers to him for the same object; but he has only promised to give his judgment in private touching the Three Chapters. Having heard his reply, we have all considered what the Apostle says, ‘That every one shall give account of himself to God;' and on the other hand, we have feared the judgment with which those are threatened who scandalize the brethren."
Then the council relates all that was done in examining the Three Chapters; it condemns them, while it declares its respect for the Council of Chalcedon. By this wise decision, the fifth œumenical council disproved the accusations that passionate men had spread among the Westerns touching the evil dispositions of most of its members. At the same time it exposed the pretexts held out by the adversaries of the Council of Chalcedon, for rejecting the decisions of that holy assembly. It thus powerfully contributed to quiet the dissensions.
Vigilius saw he had been wrong in undertaking the defence of a bad doctrine, under pretence of his respect for the Council of Chalcedon. Six months after the closing of the council, he wrote to Eutychius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, acknowledging that he had
* Labbe’s Collection of Councils. Counc. of Const. session 8.
sinned against charity in separating himself from his brethren. He adds that no one should be ashamed to retract, when he discovers the truth. "Having," he says, “examined the matter of the Three Chapters, I against find them condemnable" Then he declares against those who sustain them, and condemns his own writings in their defence. He publishes finally a long memorial to prove that the Three Chapters contained unsound doctrine.* He returned to communion with those whom he had previously anathematized, and peace was restored.
The fifth œumenical council was neither convoked nor presided over by the Bishop of Rome, although he was present in the city where the council was held. The meetings were held not only without him, but against him. Nevertheless, the decision of this council was considered canonical, and the Pope himself, after some objections, arising out of his
ignorance of certain facts, submitted to it. The West concurred with the council thus assembled without the Pope and against the Pope, and thus the assembly acquired its œcumenical character.
All the circumstances of this great fact of ecclesiastical history prove, beyond dispute, that nothing was known in the sixth century, even at Rome, of these pretended prerogatives that are now ascribed to the Papacy.
The discussions that took place at the close of that century, between John the Faster, successor of Eutychius, at Constantinople, and Pope Gregory the Great, clearly establish the same truth.
We have already mentioned that the title of œcumenical had been given to the Bishop of Rome as a mere honour in the Council of Chalcedon; that Pope Felix bad affected to give to his see the title of catholic in the same sense; and that some Oriental monks had called Pope Agapitus ecumenical Patriarch. These precedents were copied at Constantinople. The emperors were bent upon raising the Patriarch of that capital, which they called the new Rome, to the same degree of honour as belonged to the one of ancient Rome, still keeping
him in the second rank, but only in respect of seniority. The Emperor Maurice thus gave to
John the Faster the title of œcumenical Patriarch.
Pope Pelagius II. and his successor Gregory the Great protested against this title. Gregory then wrote those famous letters which so absolutely condemn the modern Papacy. We will give some extracts from them.
At the beginning of his episcopate, Gregory addressed a letter of communion to the Patriarchs John of Constantinople, Eulogius of Alexandria, Gregory of Antioch, John of Jerusalem, and to Anastasius, formerly Patriarch of Antioch, his friend. If he had considered himself the chief and sovereign of the Church; if he had believed he was so by divine right, he would certainly have addressed the Patriarchs as subordinates ; we should find in that
encyclical letter some traces of his superiority. The fact is quite the reverse of this. It speaks at great length of the duties of the episcopate, and not even dreams of mentioning the rights which such a dignity would have conferred on him.
He particularly insists upon the duty of a bishop not to permit himself to be engrossed by the cares of external things, and concludes his encyclical letter with his confession of
faith, in order to prove himself in communion with the other Patriarchs, and through them with all the Church.†
Such silence on St. Gregory's part concerning the pretended rights of the Papacy is of itself significant enough, and Romish theologians would find it difficult of explanation. What, then, shall they oppose to the letters from which we are about to give a few extracts,
* Labbe’s Collection, vol. v.
† St. Greg. Pap. Epist. 25, lib. 1. \
and in which St. Gregory most unreservedly condemns the very idea which is the foundation of their Papacy as they understand it--that is, the universal character of its authority?
Gregory to John, Bishop of Constantinople:
"You remember, my brother, the peace and concord which the Church enjoyed when you were raised to the sacerdotal dignity. I do not, therefore, understand how you have dared to follow the inspiration of pride, and have attempted to assume a title which may give offence to all the brethren. I am the more astonished at it that I remember your having taken flight to avoid the episcopate; and yet you would exercise it to-day, as if you had run toward it, impelled by ambitious desires. You who used to say so loud that you were unworthy of
the episcopate, you are no sooner raised to it than, despising your brethren, you aspire to have alone the title of bishop. My predecessor, Pelagius, of saintly memory, wrote very seriously to your Holiness upon this subject. He rejected, in consequence of the proud and magnificent title that you assumed in them, the acts of the synod which you assembled in the cause of Gregory, our brother and fellow-bishop; and to the archdeacon, whom, according to usage, he had sent to the Emperor's court, he forbade communion with you. After the death of Pelagius, having been raised, notwithstanding my unworthiness, to the government of the Church,* it has been my care to urge you, my brother, not by writing, but by word of mouth, first by my envoy,† and afterward through our common son, Deacon Sabinian, to give up
such assumption. I have forbidden him also to communicate with you if you should refuse to yield to my request, in order that your Holiness may be inspired with shame for your ambition, before resorting canonical proceedings, in case shame should not cure you of pride so profane and so reprehensible. As before resorting to amputation, the wound should be tenderly probed, I pray you--I entreat you--I ask with the greatest possible gentleness, that you, my brother, will resist all the flatterers who give you an erroneous title, and that you will not consent to ascribe to yourself a title as senseless as vainglorious. Verily I have tears for this; and from the bottom of my heart I ascribe it to my own sins that my brother has not been
willing to return to lowliness-he who was raised to the episcopal dignity only to teach other
souls to be lowly ; that he who teaches others the truth would neither teach it to himself, nor consent, for all my prayers, that I should teach it him.
"I pray you, therefore, reflect that by your bold presumption the peace of the whole Church is troubled, and -that you are at enmity with that grace, which was given to all in common. The more you grow in that grace, the more humble you will be in your own eyes; you will be the greater in proportion as you are further removed from usurping this extravagant and vainglorious title. You will be the richer as you seek less to despoil your brethren to your profit. Therefore, dearly beloved brother, love humility with all your heart. It is that which insures peace among the brethren, and which preserves unity in the Holy Catholic Church.
“When the Apostle Paul heard certain of the faithful say, ‘I am of Paul of Apollos,
and I of Cephas’ he could not see them, without horror, thus rending the body of the Lord, to attach his members to various heads; and he exclaimed, ‘Was Paul crucified for you?--or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?' If he could not bear that the members of the body of
the Lord should be attached piecemeal to other heads than that of Christ, though those heads were Apostles, what will you say to Christ, who is the head of the universal Church--what
will you say to him at the last judgment--you who, by your title of universal, would bring all his members into subjection to yourself? Whom, I pray you tell me, whom do you imitate by
* According to St. Gregory, every bishop has a part in the government of the Church, the authority residing in the episcopate.
† The Bishop of Rome had kept representatives at the court of Constantinople ever since that city had become the imperial residence.
this perverse title if not him who, despising the legions of angels, his companions, endeavoured to mount to the highest, that he might be subject to none and be alone above all others; who said, ‘I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the North; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High' ? What are your brethren, the
bishops of the universal Church, but the stars of God? Their lives and teaching shine, in truth, through the sins and errours of men, as do the stars through the darkness of the night. When, by your ambitious title, you would exalt yourself above them, and debase their title in comparison with your own, what do you say, if not these very words, I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God? Are not all the bishops the clouds that pour forth the rain of instruction, and who are furrowed by the lightnings of their own good works? In despising them, my brother, and endeavouring to put them under your feet, what else do you say than that word of the ancient enemy, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds? For my part, when, through my tears, I see all this, I fear the secret judgments of God; my tears flow more abundantly; my heart overflows with lamentations, to think that my Lord John--a man so holy, of such great abstinence and humility, but now seduced by the flattery of his familiars--should have been raised to such a degree of pride that, through the lust of a wrongful title, he should endeavour to resemble him who, vaingloriously wishing to be like God, lost, because he was ambitious of a false glory, the grace of the divine resemblance that had been granted to him, and the true beatitude. Peter, the first of the Apostles, and a member of the holy and universal Church; Paul, Andrew, John--were they
not the chiefs of certain nations? And yet all are members under one only head. In a word, the saints before the law, the saints under the law, the saints under grace—do they not all constitute the body of the Lord? Are they not members of the Church? Yet is there none among them who desired to be called universal. Let your Holiness consider, therefore, how much you are puffed up when you claim a title that none of them had the presumption to assume. Not even Peter.
"You know it, my brother ; hath not the venerable Council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of universal upon the bishops of this Apostolic See, whereof I am, by
GOD’S will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given to him; none hath assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren.
. . . . 'The Lord, wishing to recall to a proper humility the yet feeble hearts of his disciples, said to them, ‘If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all;' whereby we are clearly taught that he who is truly high is he who is most humble in mind. Let us, therefore, beware of being of the number of those 'who love the chief seats in the
synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.' In fact, the Lord said to his disciples, ‘Be ye not called Rabbi, for one is your Master. . . . and all ye are brethren. Neither be ye called Fathers, for ye have but one Father.'
"What then could you answer, beloved brother, in the terrible judgment to come, who desire not only to be called Father, but universal Father of the world? Beware then of evil suggestions; fly from the counsel of offence. 'It is impossible,’ indeed, 'but that offences will come; but,’ for all that, ‘WOE unto him through whom they come!’ In consequence of your wicked and vainglorious title, the Church is divided and the hearts of the brethren are offended.
. . . "I have sought again and again, by my messengers and by humble words, to correct the sin which has been committed against the whole, Church. Now I myself write. I have omitted nothing that humility made it my duty to do. If I reap from my rebuke nothing better than contempt, there will nothing be left for me but to appeal to the Church."
By this first letter of St. Gregory we see, first, that ecclesiastical authority resides in the episcopate, and not in any one bishop, however high in the ecclesiastical hierarchy; secondly, that it was not his private cause that Gregory defended against John of Constantinople, but that of the whole Church; thirdly, that he had not himself the right to judge the cause, and was compelled to refer it to the Church; fourthly, that the title of universal bishop is contrary to God's word, and vainglorious and wicked; fifthly, that no bishop, however high in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, can assume universal authority, without invading the rights of the entire episcopate and lastly, that no bishop in the Church can claim to be Father of all Christians without assuming a title which is contrary to the Gospel, vainglorious, and wicked.
John of Constantinople, having received his title of universal from the Emperor, Gregory wrote the following letter to that prince:*
"Our very pious lord does wisely to endeavour to accomplish the peace of the Church that he may restore peace to his empire, and to condescend to invite the priesthood to
concord and unity. I myself desire it ardently; and as much as in me lies, I obey his worshipful commands. But since not my cause alone, but the cause of God is concerned; since it is not I alone who am disturbed, but the whole Church that is agitated; since the canons, the venerable councils, and the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ himself are attacked, by the invention of a certain pompous and vainglorious word; let our most pious lord cut out this evil; and if the patient would resist him, let him bind him with the bonds of his imperial authority. In binding such things you will give liberty to the commonwealth, and by excisions of this sort you will diminish the malady of your empire.
“All those who have read the Gospel know that the care of the whole Church was confided by our Lord himself to St. Peter, first of all the Apostles. Indeed, he said to him,
'Peter, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.’ Again it was said to him, 'Satan has desired to sift
thee as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.' It was also said to him, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it: and l will give thee the
keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' He thus received the keys of the celestial kingdom; the power to bind and loose was given to him; the care of all the Church and the primacy were committed to him; and yet he did not call
himself universal Apostle. But that most holy man, John, my brother in the priesthood, would fain assume the title of universal bishop. I can but exclaim, O tempora! O mores!"
We cannot pass over these words of St. Gregory without pointing out their great importance. This learned doctor interprets, as we have seen, the texts of the Gospel, which refer to St. Peter, in the sense most favourable to that Apostle. He exalts Peter as having had the primacy in the Apostolic college; as having been intrusted by the Lord himself with the care of the whole Church. What does he infer from all this? Ever since the Popes have abused the texts that he quotes, in order to attribute to themselves an absolute, and universal authority in the Church, we know how they reason. They give to the language of the Gospel, in the first place, the very broadest and most absolute sense, and then apply it to themselves
as the successors of St. Peter. St. Gregory acts quite otherwise: he places Peter's prerogatives side by side with his humility, which kept him from claiming universal authority; he is so far from holding himself out as Peter's heir, that he only quotes the example of that Apostle to confound John of Constantinople, and all those who would claim universal authority in the
* Letters of St. Gregory, Book V. Letter 20, Benedictine edition.
Church. Thus he attacks, by St. Peter's example, the same authority that the popes have since claimed in the name of St. Peter and as his successors.
St. Gregory continues:
" Is it my cause, most pious lord, that I now defend ? Is it a private injury that I wish to avenge? No; this is the cause of Almighty God, the cause of the universal Church.
"Who is he who, against the precepts of the Gospel and the decrees of the canons, has the presumption to usurp a new title? Would to Heaven there were but one who, without wishing to lessen the others, desired to be himself universal.......
" The Church of Constantinople has produced bishops who have fallen in the abyss of heresy, and who have even become heresiarchs. Thence issued Nestorius, who, thinking, there must be two persons in Jesus Christ, mediator between God and man, because be did
not believe that God could become man, descended thus to the very perfidy of the Jews. Thence came Macedonius, also, who denied that the Holy Spirit was God consubstantial with the Father and the Son. But if any one usurp in the Church a title which embraces all the faithful, the universal Church--O blasphemy!--will then fall with him, since he makes
himself to be called the universal. May all Christians reject this blasphemous title--this title which takes the sacerdotal honour from every priest the moment it is insanely usurped by one!
" It is certain that this title was offered to the Roman Pontiff by the venerable Council of Chalcedon, to honour the blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles. But none of us has consented to use this particular title, lest, by conferring a special matter upon one alone, all priests should be deprived of the honour which is their due.
How, then, while we are not ambitious of the glory of a title that has been offered to us, does another, to whom no one has offered it, have the presumption to take it?"
This passage of Gregory is very remarkable. He first asserts that it was a council that offered the Bishops of Rome the honour of being called universal Would this council have done this with a view to honour these bishops if it had believed that they already had universal authority by divine right? Moreover, St. Gregory asserts that the council wished to honour the bishops as an honour to St. Peter. He, therefore, did not believe that universal authority came to them by succession from that Apostle. The Church of Rome has cause to glory in St. Peter, for he made her illustrious by his martyrdom. It was, therefore, in remembrance of this martyrdom, and to honour this first of the Apostles, that the General Council of Chalcedon offered the Bishops of Rome this honorary title. How shall we reconcile these statements of St. Gregory with the pretensions of the modern Bishops of Rome, who believe that of divine right they are invested not only with the title of universal Bishop and common Father of the Faithful, but also with an universal sovereignty?
These letters of St. Gregory are unquestionable records attesting that the universal Church was startled from the moment there appeared in her bosom the first glimmerings of an universal power residing in a single bishop. The whole Church understood that such authority could not be established without depriving the entire episcopate of its rights; in fact, according to divine institution, the government of the Church is synodical. Authority can, therefore, only reside in the entire body of legitimate pastors, and not in any individual pastor.
We cannot declare in favour of the universal authority of one without destroying the divine principle of the organization of the Church.
This truth stands out prominently from the writings of Pope Gregory the Great.
He writes upon the same subject to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria, and Anastasius, Bishop of Antioch. He says to them: " Eight years ago, in the life of our predecessor, Pelagius, of saintly memory, our brother and fellow-bishop, John, taking occasion from some
other matter, assembled a synod in the city of Constantinople, and sought to assume the title of universal, which our predecessor no sooner learned than he sent letters by which, in virtue of the authority of the Apostle St. Peter, he nullified the acts of the synod."
Romish theologians have strangely misused this passage in favour of their system. Had they compared it with the other texts from St. Gregory on the same subject, and with the whole body of his doctrine, they might have convinced themselves of two things: First, that
in this passage Gregory only refers to the primacy granted by the councils to the Bishop of Rome because of the dignity of his see, made glorious by the martyrdom of St. Peter, first of the Apostles. Secondly, that the only question before the synod of Constantinople was one of mere discipline, in which the accused priest had appealed to Rome. Pelagius, then Bishop of Rome, was therefore judge in the last resort in this matter, in virtue of the primacy granted to his see. This primacy had been granted to his see for the sake of St. Peter. The Council of Chalcedon, in order to honour St. Peter, had also offered the title of universal to the Bishops or Rome, as we learn from St. Gregory.
But between this and a sovereignty of divine right coming to the popes by succession from St. Peter, there is a great gulf; yet Romanists have found it all in the text from St. Gregory above quoted; carefully avoiding, to quote, however, the other texts that limit its meaning, and teach us the true doctrine of this Pope. They often act thus in respect of their quotations from the councils and the Fathers of the Church, as we have already repeatedly shown.
St. Gregory continues:
"As your Holiness, whom I particularly venerate, well knows, this title of universal was offered by the holy Council of Chalcedon to the Bishop of the Apostolic see, which, by God's grace, I serve. But'none of my predecessors would use this impious word, because, in reality, if a Patriarch be called universal, this takes from all the others the title of Patriarch. Far, very far, from every Christian soul be the wish to usurp any thing that might diminish, however little, the honour of his brethren! When we deny ourselves an honour that has been offered to us, consider how humiliating it is to see it violently usurped by another."
Roman theologians have carefully avoided calling attention to this passage, where St. Gregory considers himself a Patriarch equal to the other Patriarchs; where he clearly says,
if one of the Patriarchs may claim to be universal, the others are, ipso facto, no more Patriarchs. This doctrine perfectly agrees with that of the primacy granted to the Patriarch of Rome, for St. Peter's sake, and in remembrance of the martyrdom suffered by this first of'theApostles at Rome; but does it agree with a UNIVERSAL sovereignty, coming by divine right to the Bishops of Rome, through Peter, their assumed predecessor? Assuredly not.
St. Gregory continues to unfold a teaching contrary to the modern Papal system: "Therefore," he says, "let your Holiness not give to any one in your letters the title of
universal, lest you deprive yourself of your own due, by offering to another an honour that you do not owe to him. For my part, though separated from you by great distance of land and sea, I am, nevertheless, closely bound to you in heart. I am confident that such are also the sentiments of your Holiness toward me; if you love me as I love you, no distance can
separate us. Thanks be, then, to that grain of mustard-seed, which was, indeed, in appearance, small and contemptible, but which, spreading afar its branches, sprung all from one root, has formed a shelter for all the birds of the air! Thanks be, also, to that leaven which, hidden in three measures of meal, has joined in one unity the whole of mankind. Thanks, again, for that little stone, broken without effort from the mountain, that has covered the whole surface of the earth, which has so extended itself as to make out of the human race, now united, the body of the universal Church, which has even made distinctions of the parts serve to rivet the bonds of unity.
"Hence it follows, that we are not far from you, since we are one in Him who is everywhere. Let us give Him thanks for having so destroyed all enmities that, in his humanity, there is in the world but one fold and one flock, under one shepherd, which is Christ himself. Let us always remember these warnings of the Preacher of truth: ‘Endeavouring to keep the unity o the Spirit in the bond of peace.' (Ephes. 4: 3.) ‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.' (Heb. 12: 14.) The same said to HIS DISCIPLES, ‘If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.' (Romans 12 : 18.) He knew that the good could have no peace with the wicked; therefore, he says at once, as you know, - ‘If it be possible.’”
Let us pause a moment over this part of Gregory's letter. Is it not remarkable that, in speaking of the Church as one flock under the guidance of a single pastor, which is Jesus Christ, he expressly says that Jesus Christ is the only visible pastor of the Church, or, which is the same thing, that he is the pastor in his humanity, in his flesh, according to the whole strength of the expression, "in carne suâ?”
Does not this exclude all idea of a universal pastor, taking the place of and representing Christ ? Therefore, does it not, in one word, destroy all the assumptions of the modern Papacy, and reduce the true Papacy to a primacy established by the Church?
Further, St. Gregory, in quoting the epistle to the Romans, calls these Romans “disciples” of St. Paul. St. Paul only wrote his epistle to the Christians at Rome, A.D. 58. There were then at Rome very few Christians--not established as a Church, properly so
called, and assembling at, the house of Aquila, one of their number. They had come to Rome from various countries that had been evangelized by St. Paul, and are thus called by St. Gregory his disciples. They wrote to him, beseeching him to visit and instruct them. Paul replied to them by his letter, in which he promises to evangelize Rome. He went there two years later. There he found some Jews, who only knew the Christians by name, and who, therefore, cannot have already been converted by St. Peter, their special Apostle. Paul
formed a church at Rome, and gave it for a bishop one Linus, his disciple, whom Tertullian, St. Irenæus, and Eusebius mention, as we have already seen, as the first Bishop of Rome.
Where, now, is the alleged episcopate of St. Peter at Rome, upon which the Ultramontanes base all their systems? St. Peter evidently came to Rome but a short time before be suffered martyrdom there. It was because of the martyrdom of the first of the Apostles, and not because of his episcopate at Rome, that the councils, like that of Chalcedon and that of Sardica, for example, granted certain special privileges to the Bishops of Rome. Nor does St. Gregory, in his letters to the Patriarchs, endeavour to ascribe to himself, by right of Apostolic succession from St. Peter, an authority which was not his; he even very justly traces his Church back to St. Paul, and not to St. Peter. Thus, when, in another place, he calls the authority of his predecessor the authority o .f St. Peter, he means by that only the rights which the Bishops of Rome had received from the councils for the honour of St. Peter, who had made that Church illustrious by his glorious death!
Could any one find in St. Gregory's letter To the Patriarchs the language of a superiour toward his subordinates? St. Gregory, as first bishop of the Church, as first of the Patriarchs, takes the lead, calls the attention of the other Patriarchs, his brethren, to the encroachments of one of their number. He entreats them to join him in resisting what he regards as a misfortune for the whole episcopate; nay, for the universal Church. He does not make the slightest allusion to any superiour authority in himself; he appeals only to the
divine precept and to the canons, against an usurpation, which he calls diabolical. Is this the language of a chief, of a universal monarch? Clearly not. We cannot read this beautiful letter of St. Gregory to the Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria without being convinced that such a Papacy as is now assumed to be of divine right, was unknown to him; that he
cried out against tendencies that may be looked upon as the first attempts at universal jurisdiction; that he looked upon those first attempts as an enterprise which might upset the Church and which threatened the rights of the entire priesthood. Perhaps he attached too much importance to a purely honorary title which only emanated from the imperial authority; but he saw, under this title, an anti-canonical undertaking, and the first attempts at a universal Papacy. What would he say of this Papacy itself, with all its modern pretensions? He would justly show himself its greatest enemy, and would see in it the source of all the evils with which the Church has been for centuries overwhelmed.
The Patriarch of Alexandria, not replying to him, Gregory wrote asking for his opinion.∗
Thereupon John of Constantinople died. Gregory wrote at once to his successor, Cyriacus, who had sent him a letter of communion. He congratulates him upon his faith, but adds, concerning the title of universal, which he had followed the example of his predecessor in taking:
"We shall truly be at peace,† if you renounce the pride of an impious title, according to the word of the Apostle of the Gentiles, ‘0 Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings.’ (1 Tim. 6 : 20.) It is indeed too unjust that those who have become the preachers of humility, should glory in a vain title of pride. The Preacher of truth says, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Gal. 6 : 14,) Hence he is truly glorious who glories not in temporal power, but in what he suffers.for the name of Christ. In this we heartily embrace you, in this we recognize you as priest, if, repelling the vanity of titles, you occupy an holy see with holy humility.
"For we have been offended in respect to a sinful title; we have had a grudge concerning it, we have declared loudly on the subject. Now you know, my brother, that the Truth hath said, 'If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.' (St. Matt., 5 : 23, 24.) Thus, although every
fault is wiped away by the sacrifice, the evil of giving offence to the brethren is so great, that
the Lord will not accept from him who is guilty of it the sacrifice that usually atones for sin. Hasten, therefore, to purify your heart of this offence, that the Lord may look with favour upon the offering of your gift."
Gregory having occasion to write again to Cyriacus, alludes again to the subject, so much importance did he attach to it:
“I could not express to you in this letter," says he,‡ " how my soul is bound to you; but I pray Almighty God, by the gift of his grace, to strengthen still more this union between us, and destroy all occasion of offence, in order that the holy Church, united by a confession of the true faith, of which the bonds are riveted by the reciprocal sentiments of the faithful, may suffer no damage from any discussions that the priests may have among themselves. As for me, in spite of all I say, and through all the opposition that I make to certain acts of pride,
I preserve charity in the depth of my heart, God be thanked, and while I sustain externally the claims of justice, I do not inwardly repel those of love and affection.
“On your part, reciprocate my sentiments, and respect the rights of peace and affection, that remaining in unity of spirit, there may be left no subject of division between us. We shall the more easily obtain the grace of the Lord if we come before him with united hearts."
∗ Letters of St. Gregory, Book VI., Ep. 60, Benedictine Ed.
† Ibid. Book VII. Ep. 4.
‡ Ibid. Book VI. letter v.
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