18 Non-Catholic Church Historians who Speak to the Papal Claims of Pope St. Leo the Great (400-461)


Pope St. Leo I

It has been common knowledge that Pope St. Leo the Great occupies a special place in the 5th century Christian Church. In particular, his special claims to hold the authority of the Apostle Peter towards the universal Church has been one of the most distinctive characteristics of his writings. Although this is not a matter of controversy in historical scholarship, in my goings back-and-forth with the Eastern Orthodox on the history of the Councils of Ephesus 449 and Chalcedon 451, there has been a habit of  downplaying what Leo thought of the Papal-office on the part of my interlocutors. But as the data of his claims becomes more revealed, I find that what is often said back comes sort of like, ‘Who cares what Leo said’? I’ve even heard that Leo was habitually making false self-aggrandizing  claims about the power of his position. There are also those who would say that Catholics have misinterpreted or misapprehended what St. Leo really meant. That is a more serious and rational discussion to have. But in any case, what may come as a bit of a surprise to some Orthodox are the liturgical hymns which have St. Leo as the subject. Continue reading

Ramblings on Eastern Orthodoxy, Church History, Roman Primacy, & Historical Hermeneutics

This is a series of quotations from a recent private message conversation where subjects like Orthodoxy, Church History, and Roman Primacy came up. It is somewhat disorganized, so I forewarn readers from trying to piece it all perfectly together.

Also, please keep in mind I have great respect and charity towards the Orthodox churches, and have many friends who are not only Orthodox but who are in the process of becoming. The tone of these comments are within a context that was “off the cuff” you could say. I welcome any criticisms, corrections, and thoughts worth re-considering my view. Happy reading.


“This is the problem with allowing historical events be the controlling hermeneutic for understanding the doctrine of the Church. I call it “historical event-ism”. So you have this *event* where Pope Vigilius is “struck from the diptycha”, Pope Honorius is posthumously “condemned as a monothelite heretic”, and the willing subservience of the Pope’s to the Byzantine Emperor’s during the 6th/7th centuries seen by their “receiving confirmation of elections”, and all of the sudden, the puzzle pieces, wherever they fit together, construct an image where the Papal seat can be done away with, removed from the Church, and judged by a Council.”

“But by the same “historical event-ism” hermeneutic, we could strip the Council of any power. Heck, Nicaea was revised…..how many times? There goes any public ecclesiastical authority vested in a Council. Hmmm. What about the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Dioscorus and Nestorius, who both thought that the authentic Christian tradition can be had in isolation from Councils, Rome, and even the whole West? There goes the Councils of Ephesus & Chalcedon. No need for Popes. No need for Councils. Sorta sounds like a German lawyer who joined the priesthood some 500 years ago, don’t it?”

“Ironically, the Orthodox over at the War Zone are willing to strip Councils of their Christ-immediate authority in favor of a “gradual” over time vesting of authority via reception, but when it comes to the almighty power of Constantinople 553, wherein a Pope is struck from the diptychal mystery…. OH YES!!! A Council in its shining armor!!!”


“The West has taken a more *theological* reflection to the Papal office, and discerns more of what theory was passed down, rather than letting every bit of historical mishap be the controlling figure.

No doubt, some historical events, if taken to be a pure expression of truth, would undermine every single cardinal doctrine we hold today.

Which only means that historical events don’t always accurately reflect the truth of the apostolic paradosis, and that our study of historical theology has to be sensitive and prepared to dealing with events which seem to contradict contemporary stated doctrine.

I think that we have shown that modern Catholic teaching on the authority of Councils, the Pope, and the episcopal Church can absorb the historicla mishaps

Now, the Orthodox do not have an easy road to travel on this account. Having digested the “receptionist” theory via Khamiokov’s essay (which pre-dates him as well), the Orthodox have not been able to effectively monitor what counts for ecclesiastical authority *in the now*. A perfect example is Bulgaria’s recent declaration that the Council of Crete is neither holy, Great, nor Pan-Orthodox.

But behold, the doctrine of reception can be a gift with plenty of surprises……

just like Chalcedon was rejected by almost all of Egypt and parts of Syria, just immediately post-Council, and just like the sees of C’ple, Alexandria, and Antioch rejected Chalcedon just a matter of a couple or more decades post-Council, so also the Council of Crete can receive all sorts of declaratory condemnations today whether that be from Bulgaria, Georgia, or even Constantinople……sooner or later, it may end up being the 9th Ecumenical Council, and the Orthodox Christians thence-forward will have no choice but to explain away the contemporary dissidence on the happy ole “Reception” doctrine


“Catholicism has a conditioned conciliarism, wherein the conditions are centered on the Papal office . Ipso facto and de facto, bishops who break communion with the Pope are not in the concilia of conciliarism. This is why all front attacks by the Orthodox against Catholicism all center on a failed Papacy.

The Orthodox , like the Anglicans, hold to conciliarism with conditions that are more subjective to privatized community interpretation . Who gets to be the norm for the concilia of conciliarism can lead to a variety .

So pentarchic hermeneutics only leaves the ball at the same yard.


One of the clearest examples that the “historical eventist” hermeneutic falls prey to failure is the history of iconoclasm. Here you have a heresy, born in the East w/ the Emperor having the self-proclaimed control on the matter. Eventually, after the preliminary Roman Synod, a Synod is held in 787 on the matter, and which serves as a mark of opposition to the Imperial direction since the synod of Hieria 754 (might be off on the year). However, iconoclasm doesn’t find anything close to a death blow until the 9th century. Isn’t it 842 that we celebrate the “Year of Orthodoxy”? And it was thanks to a converted Imperial power-house that overturned the iconoclasm of previous Emperors.

But even then, during the later half of the 9th century, part of the stated reason that Photius invited Papal legates to Constantinople was for a firm re-condemnation of iconoclasm, then not fully dead.

So a purely objective historian (no theologian) looks at this and sees that neither the preliminary iconoclastic Imperium had the authority to terminally settle a ban on the image worship; neither do the ecclesiastical officers who met in 787 @ Nicaea II, since iconoclasm didn’t get flushed by it; and neither does an Byzantine imperium turned away from iconoclasm (842) put a total death blow to threat against images.

When it comes to the pure historian, what serves as the arbiter for belief is *pure happenstance*.

The theologian, however, has to sift through these events and determine just what would have been the voice of the Church .

I’d hope both Orthodox and Catholics would say Nicaea II (797) if not prior to. But given the hermeneutics of the Orthodox today, and their “historicial eventist” hermenutic, I’d find it difficult for them to even say Nicaea II was the voice of the Church.”


“Clergy/Theologians appealed from the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus 449 to the Pope, for an overturning of their depositions. I say “Ecumenical”, because for all intents and purposes, that is what is was. You have the Emperor convene, you had the presence of the patriarchs, and you have a finalization that was satisfactory for the Emperor

So the fact that Leo believed his ruling could undo that of the conciliar decrees @ Ephesus 449 shows that he believed that the Sardican canons could apply to overrule a council of whatever size

You have the earlier example of Athanasius who was restored to his episcopate by Pope Julius, effectively overturning (or showing to be inauthentic from the get to) the councils of Tyre and Jerusalem”

“And I think this whole Pentarchic/Conciliarity thing comes to a screeching halt when we consider the state of affairs post-Chalcedon. It was all thee major Eastern sees which had succumed to revising or rejecting Chalcedon and the Tome of Pope Leo. And yet Rome never budged on the orthodoxy of Chalcedon. can this be considered a time when Rome was acting without conciliarity? If so, I thank God for it. It was only via the Pontificate of Hormisdas that the Eastern patriarchs, and the Emperor himself, was brought back into communion with the Catholic Church.”

“Read the War Zone. They flip flop between a few buttons. Button 1 – flowery but not insincere language. Button 2 – who cares what the Pope said? . Button 3 – The mighty powerful Council of Constantinople 553 deposed the Pope (even though its was an eastern synod under the Emperor without the Pope). Button 4 – Pope HOnorius was a heretic!. Button 5 – The Church always dealt in Council to confront matters threatening to the faith and to the Church’s unity (even though almost none of the councils effectively did this). Button 6 – Your quote mining!

If this is what you’d call effective argumentation, then I don’t know how I could proceed to discuss the issue

You have the EO who try to say Leo was claiming something compatible with modern Orthodoxy, but yet you have non-Catholic scholars who admit the contrary. Then when they realize this, they say that no one listened to Leo. But then the question goes to them – What did people listen to ? They answer “Ecumenical Council”, but then you process Nicaea and Chalcedon, both of which were not listened to, they reduce the “listening” subject to their own drawn circle of people, and call that the true discerning Church.

But this isn’t to say that the Catholic ecclesiogy is true over against the Orthodox *just because* the Orthodox have difficulty monitoring ecclesial authority *in the now*. Catholics are well open to suffering the same fate, at least for a time. A good example of this is the Great Western Schism, where you had 3 claimants to the Papal chair.

The non-Catholic can meritoriously say “Ah ha! Where you your clear visible and manifest singular principle of unity now??!?!?! You have 3 different Popes!! And you are left to private or public arguments that are all debatable to resolve which one you will follow!”

So the veracity of Catholic ecclesiology doesn’t rest on its immunity from this”


“Well, I’d agree that the orthodox tradition is a bigger reality than the Pope, if by orthodoxy we are speaking of the eternal truth of the gospel and if by “Pope” we mean the creature who occupies the universal chair of Peter. But on the other hand, the highest authority which is the Pope’s is inclusive within the “orthodox tradition”. This only means that during authentic teaching acts, the faithful are bound in certain respective ways.

The subject of historical hermeneutics is what drew me into this discussion. You’ll notice that the Eastern Orthodox have certain tendencies in their interpretation of history (and they are free to do so). A situation like Pope Liberius is a fatality to Roman Catholic dogma. The “deposition” of Pope Vigilius proves that the Council, devoid and separated from the person of the Pope [and the entire West, I might add], has more authority than the Papacy. The mutli-condemnations of Pope Honorius in, throughout, and after the Council of Constantinople 681 shows that a Pope *cannot* be infallible, and/or that even if it were the case that the Pope is right above others, it doesn’t mean that the Council cannot stand in superior scrutiny of the doctrine of the Apostolic See.

These issues above cross out the Vatican Council for the Orthodox.

So what counts as a promising model for authentic Christian ecclesiology?


But here is where I find difficulty. It is almost as if it were the case that the Orthodox find that 7 Councils is another mark to the Creedal church. The one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and 7 council’d church. Rubbish. There were *many many many* councils, all of which are closer to triple digits than the single close to 7.

Now, while the Orthodox & the Protestants [mainly Anglican/Presbyterian] historians like to detail the relative impotence of Pope’s in a number of occasions (Peter @ Antioch, Victor vs Asia, Stephen vs Africa, Liberius vs Nicaea, Leo vs the Illyricum churches @ Chalcedon, Pope Vigilius vs C’ple 553, Pope Honorius vs C’ple 681, just to name a few), they do not seem to be all that interested in giving detail to the relative impotence of these great almighty 7 councils .

Nicaea vs Semi-Arian triumph of the 340-379, that Cple 381 didn’t have Western recognition until the 6th century [150 years is quite a long time not to recognize infallible authority], Chalcedon vs the post-Monophysite engulfment of the East between 460s to 520, the difficulty of the Western churches to accept C’ple 553 & the condemnation of the Three Chapters, the thumbing of the nose against the orthodox doctrine of images, etc,etc,etc.

In comes the doctrine of Khamiokov’s reception-theory. We’ve already discussed what this can devolve into , but I can’t seem to find any corroborative evidence for this theory anyhow. Put simply, I think that the magisterium instituted by Jesus Christ was created for the purpose of coming to definitive teaching moments for the benefit of the faithful, sort of like the Council of Jerusalem 49. The letter of the council was passed around as the definitive Apostolic teaching. I think this is how it works. When Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon were completed under both Head & members, the doctrine therein is of the “authority next after the Sacred Scriptures”, as Ferrandus of Carthage, famous canonist of the 6th century, stated in a letter to Pelagius the Roman deacon.”