Pope St. Boniface I (A.D. 422) – The Universal Jurisdiction of the See of Rome in the East

Pope St. Boniface had often stated in his letters that the Roman Church holds  jurisdiction over the universal communion of churches. He had no doubts about it. However, these statements were in no sense new, since they were just echos of his predecessors going back to Pope Siricius (A.D. 384), Pope St. Damasus (A.D. 366-384), Pope Liberius (A.D. 352-366), and even Pope St. Julius (A.D. 337-352), and even further back. A very famous letter wherein St. Boniface reveals his understanding of the relationship between the Eastern churches and the Roman See is quite astonishing out of all of them, however. Here below, we get the Roman gloss on the extent of jurisdiction which was understood to have been at play in the 4th century beginning with St. Athanasius and on through to the beginning of the 5th century under the Pontificate of Pope St. Innocent I (A.D. 401-417). It is rather odd that St. John Chrysostom’s story is not mentioned since Innocent definitely played a fundamental role in getting his holy name back into the sacred ditpcyha of the Eastern divine services. I think, however, most of all, what is here being stated is over 5 centuries before the Greeks began to suspect the West for a Papalist heresy.

“The care of the universal Church, laid upon him, attends to the blessed Apostle Peter, by the Lord’s decree; which indeed, by the witness of the gospel, he knows to be founded onnuremberg_chronicles_f_133v_1 himself; nor can his honor ever be free from anxieties, since it is certain that the supreme authority (summam rerum) depends on his deliberation. Which things carry my mind even to the regions of the East, which by the force of our solicitude we in a manner behold…As the occasion needs it, we must prove by instances that the greatest Eastern churches, in important matters, which required greater discussion, have always consulted the Roman see, and, as often as need arose, asked its help. Athanasius and Peter, of holy memory, Bishops of the Church of Alexandria, asked the help of this see. When the Church of Antioch had been in trouble a long time, so that there was continual passing to and fro for this, first under Meletios, afterwards under Flavian, it is notorious that the Apostolic See was consulted. By whose authority, after many things done by our Church, every one knows that Flavian received the grace of communion, which he would have gone without if it were not because of  letters from here acknowledging it. The Emperor Theodosius, of merciful memory, considering the ordination of Nectarius and its ratification, because it was not according to our rule [since he was a laymen], send an embassy of councilors and bishops, and solicited a letter of communion to be regularly dispatched to him from the Roman see, to confirm his episcopate [Nectarius’s]. A short time since, that is, under my predecessor Innocent, of blessed memory, the pontiffs of the Eastern churches, grieving at their severance from the communion of blessed Peter, asked by their legates for reconciliation, as your charity remains”(Coustant 1039)

What Boniface here states with regard to the Roman see was not privately held by the Pope himself, but also the same view was held by a Greek historian/Lawyer in Constantinople name Salminius Hermias Sozomenus (A.D. 400-450), or commonly Sozomen for short (Σωζομενός), who recounts the history of St. Athanasius [as well as other Nicaean bishops who were deposed] and his deposition by the Eastern synods, and the subsequent Roman exoneration :

“…the Bishop of Rome, having investigated into the accusations of each [Athanasius, Paul of Cple, Marcecllus of Ancyra, & Asclepas of Gaza), found them all agreeing with the Nicene synod, admitted them to communion, as agreeing with him. And insofar as the care of the universal church belonged to Pope Julius on account of the rank of his see, he restored each to his respective Church” (Ecclesiastical History – Book III, Ch. VIII)


8 thoughts on “Pope St. Boniface I (A.D. 422) – The Universal Jurisdiction of the See of Rome in the East

    • Nicholas,

      Some Orthodox would respond and just say that St. Boniface was just wrong. He is venerated in the Orthodox Church, but they would try to minimize the importance of his point of view. As to the particular claims he makes, they would try to give an alternative explanation for them.

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  3. “And insofar as the care of the universal church belonged to Pope Julius *on account of the rank of his see*, he restored each to his respective Church”
    Is it possible that this quote demonstrates that the Eastern view of the papacy was that the pope held canonical authority over the other bishops due to being the highest ranked See, but that this rank didn’t give him some sort of ontological status as implied by Vatican I?

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