Papal jurisdiction & The Universal Petrine Episcopate

These are some responses to a questioner who had made the claim that the Roman church invented the idea of a universal jurisdiction , and which caused the schism between the Latins and the Greeks in 1054 AD and following.

(1) The concept of a universal jurisdiction already shows its head as accepted in the Christian East just some years after the Council of Sardica. Appeals from the East went to the Roman See throughout the 4th century. This is important because what is accepted by the bishops (from both east/west) at Sardica is that the Roman see has the power of binding and loosing what all other bishops bind/loose. It is not the *appeal* which grants Rome her authority, but rather “the memory of Peter”. Just why in the world would the context of bishops being (possibly) unlawfully condemned by their ordinaries (Athanasius by Eastern councils) cause the Sardican council to cite the memory of Peter? It is because Peter was the first to receive the keys, the primacy, and the authority of governance. There is simply no other answer. If the Pope of Rome can undo what any bishop in the world decides, he essentially has a binding/loosing authority over them. I will speak to the general response of dimming this down to a mere administrative appellate organization in points below. But I wanted to provide a few statements proving the above from Eastern Orthodox saints:

“Yet we do not hesitate to mention that which is known to the
universal Church, namely that, as the see of blessed Peter the
Apostle has the right to loose what has been bound by the judgments
of any bishops whatsoever, and since it has jurisdiction over every
church, so that no one may pass judgment on its verdict, the canons
providing that an appeal should lie to it from any part of the world,
no one is permitted to appeal against its judgment. ” (Pope Gelasius – 492 AD, Coll. Avell.,95,& 27,ed.cit.,p.378)

“The universal ordering of the Church at its birth took its origin from the office of blessed Peter, in which is found both its directing power and its supreme authority. From him, as from a source, at the time when our religion was in the stage of growth, all churches received their common order. This much is shown by the injunctions of the council of Nicaea, since it did not venture to make a decree in his regard, recognizing that nothing could be added to his dignity: in fact it knew that all had been assigned to him by the word of the Lord. So it is clear that this church is to all churches throughout the world as the head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to its fellowship” (Pope St. Boniface, Epistle 14)

“Although the tradition of the Fathers has assigned so great an authority to the Apostolic See, that no one may venture to call in question its judgment, and has maintained this always by its canons and rules, and though ecclesiastical discipline, as shown in the current of its laws, pays the reverence which it owes to the name of Peter, from whom likewise itself descends, for canonical antiquity, by the judgment of all, hath willed the power of this Apostle to be so great, from the very promise of Christ our God, that he can loose what is bound, and bind what is loosed; and an equal power is given to those who enjoy, with his consent, the inheritance of his see; for he has a care as well for all churches, especially for this, where he sat: nor does he permit any blast to shake a privilege or a sentence to which he has given the form and immovable foundation of his own name, and which, without danger to themselves, none may rashly attack: Peter then, being a head of such authority, and the zeal of all our ancestors having further confirmed this, so that the Roman church is established by all human as well as divine laws and discipline ā€“ whose place you are not ignorant that we rule and hold the power of his name ā€“ rather, most dear brethren, you know it, and as bishops are bound to know it; such then, I say, being our authority, that no one can question our sentence, we have done nothing which we have not of our own accord referred in our letters to your knowledge” (417 AD, Pope Zosimus, Epistle 12, to Aurelius and the Council of Carthage, Patrologia Latina 20.676)

“For those who believed they could disregard the admonition of the Apostolic See have deservedly suffered what is bound to befall those who forsake their duty [to be in communion with the Apostolic See]” (511-515 AD, Pope Symmachus to the Illyricum episcopate concerning the Eastern churches in the Acacian schism- Coll. Avell., 104, 16)


Pope Nicholas (who Metropolitan Kallistos Ware admitted made a clear claim to universal jurisdiction), says precisely what Zosimus & Gelasius said hundreds of years prior to in his letter Preposueramus Quidem, 865 AD, to the Emperor Michael :
“…Furthermore, if you do not listen to us [Rome], it remains that you be held by us as our Lord Jesus Christ enjoins us to hold those who refuse to hear the Church of God; especially since the privileges of the Roman Church confirmed in St. peter by the words of Christ, ordained in the Church itself, observed from of old, proclaimed by the holy universal synods and ever venerated by the whole Church, can by no means be diminished, infringed, or altered, since no effort of man has power to remove a foundation which God has laid, and what God has established stands firm and unshakeable….These privileges, then, were bestowed on this holy Church by Christ: they were not bestowed by the Synod but were merely proclaimed and held in veneration by them….it is immediately clear that the judgements of the Apostolic See, than which there is no greater authority, cannot be handled by any other tribunal, nor is it permissible for any to sit in judgment upon its decision…..”
Pope St. Gelasius is of particular importance, since he is venerated by the Orthodox. In a letter written to the bishops of the East, he makes clear the divine distinction between the Roman see and all other sees (in particular, the Eastern):

“If we lose them [right believing faith and communion], God forbid, how could an ything ever be restored again, especially if in its summit, the Apostolic See, it became tainted with heresy, something God would never allow to happen….If I, God forbid, were to become an accomplice in the evil [heresy], then I would be in need of a remedy myself, rather than being able to offer others remedy; and the see of blessed Peter would be seeking a remedy from elswhere rather than itself offering a remedy to others, something God would never allow to happen….Therefore those in the East stand firm in the Catholic faith, because they see me defending it and are encourage by me..” (Epistle 1, Gelasius to the Eastern bishops)

In a letter to Faustus

“It is no wonder that they [Eastern schismatics] presume to blaspheme the see of the blessed apostle Peter…And on top of this, they call us proud when the first See has never ceased offering them whatever there is of piety. They with their utter shamelessness trust they will be able to subjugate it….I will ask them this: the trial which they call for, where can it be held ? With them in the East, so that they may be the plaintiff, witnesses, and judges all in one? Neither human affairs nor the integrity of the divine faith must be entrusted to such a tribunal. In matters of religion, the canons say that the ultimate judgement must come only from the Apostolic See. The powers of this world? It is not for them to judge — rather they are to learn from the bishops — and above all from the vicar of blessed Peter, about divine things.” (Letter 10)


Concerning the Council of Chalcedon and canon 28:

“They [Easterners] may say, as usual, that if the Council of Chalcedon is allowed to stand, they will have to accept everything which apparently was done there. It must everything or, if some part can be rejected, then no part of it can stand. These people should know that only that part must be accepted by the whole Church which is in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, the tradition of our ancestors, in accordance with the canons and regulations of the Church, only that part which promotes the Catholic and Apostolic faith, communion, and truth, for the accomplishment of which the Apostolic See has ordered this done and has confirmed it after it had been accomplished. But other things [canon 28], those which were done or simply talked about through foolish presumption, things which the Apostolic See in no way ordered, which were clearly and speedily rejected by the legates of the Apostolic See which the Apostolic See, even with the Emperor Marcian asking for them, in no way approved, which the bishop of Constantinople at the time, Anatolius, claimed not to have sought and did not deny was in the power of the bishop of the Apostolic See; in sum, as we said, that which the Apostolic See has not accepted, because it was shown to be contradictory to the privileges of the universal church, can in no way be accepted.” (Bond of Anathema, Pope Gelasius)
This last quote from Gelasius is informative towards the claim that the Ecumenical Council is superior to the Pope. Gelasius here claims that canon 28 was left up to the decision of Pope Leo. Not as a last link in the chain of equals (in order to make something ecumenical), but rather as the founding authority to either disapprove or approve.
2) My response to the claim that every bishop is ontologically successor of Peter. This is correct, but something gets missed by the Orthodox on this score. The Church fathers understood the whole entire episcopate to be a Petrine vocation, but they understood that there was a principle of unity for this episcopal vocation. In other words, each bishop *does* occupy the chair of Peter in so far as he is linked in unity with the single episcopate, and a vital way in which one is linked up in unity with the single episcopate is to be in peace and unity with the founding chair of Peter, which is what was given to the individual human person of Peter. We get this from the North African ecclesiology of St. Optatus of Mileve :

“You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra [which means Chair, teaching/judging authority], on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas ), that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles might claim—-each for himself—-separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner. Well then, on the one Cathedra, which is the first of the Endowments, Peter was the first to sit.To Peter succeeded Linus, to Linus succeeded Clement, to Clement Anacletus, to Anacletus Evaristus, to Evaristus Sixtus, to Sixtus Telesphorus, to Telesphorus Hyginus, to Hyginus Anacetus, to Anacetus Pius, to Pius Soter, to Soter Alexander, to Alexander Victor, to Victor Zephyrinus, to Zephyrinus Calixtus, to Calixtus Urban, to Urban Pontianus, to Pontianus Anterus, to Anterus Fabian, to Fabian Cornelius, to Cornelius Lucius, to Lucius Stephen, to Stephen Sixtus, to Sixtus Dionysius, to Dionysius Felix, to Felix Marcellinus, to Marcellinus Eusebius, to Eusebius Miltiades, to Miltiades Silvester, to Silvester Marcus, to Marcus Julius, to Julius Liberius, to Liberius Damasus, to Damasus Siricius, who to-day is our colleague, with whom ‘the whole world,’ through the intercourse of letters of peace, agrees with us in one bond of communion.” (St. Optatus of Mileve, 380 AD, Against the Donatists, Book 2, chapter II)

So you see here that the Roman episcopate has a unique function in the universal office of bishop, one of maintaining governmental unity. It was not a feat common to all the Apostles, since Optatus makes clear that Peter alone, in contradistinction to the other 11, received the “Cathedra”.
The Pope’s in the 4th/ 5th century continued to understand this Petri-universality of the Episcopate while at the same time drawing the unique distinction of the actual chair of Peter in the Roman episcopate.

In a letter of Pope Siricius 385 AD, Cum in Unum, he writes:
“[This Roman synod] Assembled together at the relics of the holy Apostle Peter from whom both the apostolate and episcopate in Christ took their beginning…” (Patrologia Latina 13, 1155-62)

Pope Innocent (401-417) writes in Etsi Tibi Frater, 404 AD, in response to a man named Victricius who had requested a canonical book of Roman tradition: “this book of regulations [are to be] carefully introduced to neighboring peoples and bishops as a model, for with the aid of the holy Apostle PEter, through whom both the apostolate and episcopate in Christ took their origin the Church should be presented unto God without spot or wrinkle” (Patrologia Latina 20, 468-81)

Again, Pope Innocent, in a letter to the Council of Carthage (In requirendis), begins by congratulating the Africans on appealing to the Roman See since it was “the source of the episcopate” Patrologia Latina 20. 582-8)

Once again, Pope Innocent, in a letter to the council of Mileve, Inter Caeteras, writes : “You are aware that in all princinces when questions are asked, replies always proceed from the Apostolic source. Especially, as often as the reasons for faith are under discussion, then all out brethen and fellow-bishops, should in my opinion refer (relatio) to St. Peter, as to the author of their [bishops] name and dignity, as you have now referred” (Patrologia Latina 20. 589-93)

So you see, what if often terms “Cyprianic Ecclesiology” is really something much broader than Cyprian, and is utilized by even the Popes themselves who drew their unique distinction in the episcopate as the founding chair of Peter for the legitimization of all bishops adhering to the single universal chair of Peter. The Roman See, because it has the actual origin of Peter’s seat, is the source of legitimacy and authorization for all bishops in their jurisdiction. This is why Optatus and Augustine argued against the Donatists by saying that they were in schism simply because of their break away from the Roman bishopric, the source and root for episcopal unity. St Augustine writes of the Donatists:

“You [Donatist] know what the Catholic Church is [strikingly similar to St Optatus] , and what that is cut off from the vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the vine; a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the bishops even from the very seat of Peter, and see every succession in that line of fathers; that is, the rock, which the proud gates of hell prevail against not” (Psalmus contra partem Donati)
Continuing in point (2) – So yes, Roman Catholic ecclesiology can embrace the idea that each valid and juristic bishop is a successor of Saint Peter, but the fathers give the above conditions.

(3) Many Orthodox/Anglicans have tended to reduce Sardica to a mere appellate structure, not giving any hint towards a Petrine primacy of universal jurisdiction. And many have reduced the witness of these bishops to the West. The first problem here is that we are ignoring the immediate context. The immediate situation is the deposition of St Athanasius and Company (Nicene bishops of the Eastern sees) by their proximate superiors (council of tyre/jeru). The very original appeal would have been from Alexandria, Constantinople, and other eastern cities. Thus, the Council of Sardica, at least in intent, was including the universal scope of the churches. Secondly, to appeal to a court where-from a prior verdict can be strengthened or overturned completely implies that the court to which the appeal is sent is of a higher authority than previous courts. We are speaking of judicial authority . Third, the courts over which appeal is allowed is not restricted to local and regional councils, but also universal councils which may or may not be in contest with the Roman see. What I am saying, then, is that Sardica allows for appealing against even an Ecumenical Council (in the historic sense), and this is no doubt how both Western (see above comments by Boniface, Gelasius, Zosimus, Nicholas) and Eastern bishops understood it. This is why, for instance, we can have the appeals of Flavion of Constantinople [yes, I’m aware he appealed to Leo to convene another council], Eusebius of Dorylaeum, and Theodoret of Cyrus. These were the three appeals sent to the Roman See after the finishing of the Council of Ephesus 449, which, for all appearance and critera (especially for the East), was an Ecumenical Council. Pope Leo explicitly described these appeals as being in accordance with the Councils of Sardica, and so did the Western emperors who corresponded with Theodosius II & Marcian.
And this would also demonstrate that the subject matters of appeal are either doctrinal or disciplinary. It can be either one. So here we have historical evidence that appeals can be made to the Roman See over and against an Ecumenical Council on the subject of either doctrine or discipline.

(4) In conclusion, this claim that the Roman See innovated the idea of a universal jurisdiction in the 2nd millennium will have to be supported by showing that the above evidence is either falsely constructed or that the claims therein are equally as innovative. But if it is equally as innovative, than the innovations occurred centuries before the schism between the Greeks and the Latins. And if that is the case, than when did the schism *really* take place in matter? This wold also lead to more questions. If it is true that the “heresy” of Papalism is inherent in the teaching of the Church prior to the end of the first millennium, indeed even by the 3rd,4th, or 5th centuries, than how can we be sure that Papalism is indeed a heresy proclaimed by the wrong side ? Which side is the wrong side, in the first place? If a pure “Conciliarism” existed side by side with a “Papalism” throughout the first millennium, than how can we adjudicate which one is correct? Which one is the authentic continuation of the right Apostolic tradition coming from the very beginning? These questions become even more difficult when you have venerated Saints in the East whose teachings side exclusively with that of Papalism.

I think these questions can be easier answered if we understand more of what the Papal claims are. The claims of the Papacy are with regard to the Church’s very institution, and not merely her external organization by administrative canon or discipline. In other words, the Papal office & succession is of the very esse of the Church’s constitution, just like the episcopal office & succession is of the very esse. In fact, we can put it together like this – the entire episcopate is an organism of head & members, like a unified body. In this conception, one doesn’t conceive of the authority of bishops in severance from their head, and neither can one conceive of the head in severance from the body. Both are equally essential to the episcopal ministry. And just like episcopal failures do not flush the episcopate down the toilet (gates of hell overcoming), neither does Papal failures flush the papacy down the toilet. Human beings occupy the office, and it is bound to contain material for endless horror stories. This is why references to Papal failures do not end up convincing informed Catholics away from the Papal doctrines. It is the same reason for why episcopal failures do not end up convincing informed Orthodox/Anglicans away from the Episcopal doctrines



1 thought on “Papal jurisdiction & The Universal Petrine Episcopate

  1. Pingback: Saint Peter, the Rock, and the Keys: Symbolic Representations of the Catholic Church | Erick Ybarra

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