The Curious Reply of Patriarch John II of Constantinple to the Formula of Hormisas (519 AD)


Emperor Constantine the Great (4th century)

I was in discussion with an Anglo-Catholic recently who, in response to my mentioning the 2500 signatures to the Formula of Hormisdas, stated the the Patriarch of Constantinope, John II, had stated that the See of Elder and New Rome were “one See”, and thereby establishing an equality of authority and being. Below are my responses to this.

(1) If you read the Formula, there is nothing stated therein by which John could find transferable to the Constantinopolitan See. What does Hormisdas claim? That Christ promised an indefectible faith in blessed Peter and that this proved itself by the fact that the Roman See had, from the beginning, been on the right-side of doctrinal disputation. Hormisdas then says that all Christians of the world, if they want to remain united to the true faith, must be united to the Apostolic See wherein is the bedrock of the Church’s solidity.

Constantinople had on numerous occasions by 520, been involved in one heresy or another. Beginning with her Patriarch Acacius in 484, C’ple removed the names of Pope Leo and the following Popes from the list of names, and had scratched Chalcedon off the list of Ecumenical Councils.

Thus, we know that the Papal claims in the FoH (Formula of Hormisdas) could never apply to Constantinople, and it would be quite a stretch to think that John thought so.

The only reasonable alternative, as I see it, would be that John merely wanted to combat the Papal claims by saying the See of C’ple was equal in authority with Rome. Despite this also being quite a stretch, it would just mean that John was a weak and dishonest man (again, I don’t take this position). It would also mean that he willingly entered into communion with the Papalist-heretic Hormisdas, together with the whole East. So it would be as if John, representing the East, left the Eutychian heresy to associate with the Papal heresy. What else could it be?

(2) I noticed your translation of what John II wrote was only part. From what source did you receive it? I have the latin as follows:

“Ecclesias, id est superioris vestrae et novelae istius Romae, unam accipio; illam sedem Apostoli Petri, et istius augustae civitatis unam esse definio

In English:

“For I hold the most holy churches of your elder and of our new Rome to be one Church. I define that the see of the Apostle Peter and this of the Imperial city to be one See” 

The hyperbole is obvious. Seriously speaking, there is only one bishop in the church of God (local). It is not as if John here is saying that 2 bishops, John and Hormisdas, govern one single Church. It is obvious that Rome and C’ple are two different city-churches.

Monsignor Batiffol (a critical Catholic historian, mind you) comments on this:

“This means to say that the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Constantinople are in agreement, not that he ‘identified his own see with the Roman see’ – a phrase that has no meaning Compare the letter Quando Deus of the same John to the same Hormisdas which once more uses the same terms — and the reply of Hormisdas to John, consideranti mihi. Coll. Avellan. 161 and 169 (pp. 612, 624)” – A Reply to Bishop Gore in “Catholicism and Papacy: Anglican and Russian Difficulties” page 123.

So here you have an instance where Hormisdas himself says that the See of C’ple and the See of Rome are “one See”. Now, I don’t know a single historian who would tell you that Hormisdas all of the sudden believed that C’ple possessed the Petrine supremacy that both Hormisdas himself claimed, as well as all his predecessors, including Pope St. Gelasius who was quite emphatic about the inferior authority of C’ple.

Similarly, another letter in the 6th century shows that this talk of “one See and one church” does not mean equality of authority is the famous letter of Pope St. Gregory the Great to Patriarch Eulogios of Alexandria. This comes from Book 7, Epistle 40 . This letter is actually quoted by many to undermine the Papal theory since Gregory seems to say that the See of Peter is actually equally in Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Gregory writes:

“…yet with regard to the principality itself the See of the Prince of the apostles alone has grown strong in authority, which in three places is the SEE OF ONE. For he himself exalted the See in which he deigned even to rest and end the present life. He himself adorned the See to which he sent his disciple as evangelist. He himself established the See in which, though he was to leave it, he sat for seven years. Since then it is the SEE OF ONE, and ONE SEE, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside, whatever good I hear of you, this I impute to myself.”

So you see here that Pope Gregory uses the very same wording “unam esse” to speak of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. But that Gregory does not mean that they are now equal in authority is clear from many other statements that Gregory made which clearly show that he believed all the churches to be subject to the Apostolic See of Rome. If you are interested in scholarly sources on this, I will gladly give you Jaroslav Pelikan and JND Kelly, both of whom are non-Catholic historians of great respect. For now, I will give you two examples of how Gregory thought Rome was the highest See, thereby implying some sort of inequality with Alexandria and Antioch:

“”If, however it is stated in opposition to this, that he has neither metropolitan nor patriarch, it must also be said that the case must then be heard and settled by the Apostolic See, which is the head of all the churches.” (Book 13, Epistle 50)

In a letter to John of Syracuse, Gregory speaks of a Byzacene primate: “ as to his saying that he is subject to the Apostolic See, if any fault is found in bishops, I know not what bishop is not subject to it.” (Book 9, Letter 59).

In the same Book of epistles, letter 12, Gregory writes: ‘For as to what they say about the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See, as both the most pious lord the emperor and our brother the bishop of that city continually acknowledge?”.

Even the Oxford historian,  member of the Church of England, J.N.D. Kelly, said that, for St. Gregory, “St. Peter’s commission made all churches, Constantinople included, subject to Rome” (Oxford Dictionary of Pope, p. 67)

And so I think it is best to see John’s statement of Rome and C’ple being “one church” and “one see” as a way of symbolizing the new founded return to unity of faith, and nothing else. I mean, just by saying “See of Peter” and “Imperial city”, he recognizes the difference.

(3) And lastly, there is another interesting text from this controversy surrounding the re-union of East and West via Justinian & Hormisdas which speaks to the East’s acceptance of Papal claims. Anyone who is familiar with the Acacian schism and how the three great Patriarchs of the East capitulated to the rejecting of Chalcedon is aware that much of the movements were political. There was under-clergy, both Bishops and presbyters, as well as monastics, who rebelled. A famous letter written from the Byzantine clergy to the predecessor of Hormisdas, Pope St. Symmachus, in the year 512, states precisely what Catholics believe today. I think this establishes good evidence that the Papal theory was not just the agenda of some prideful Popes whose memory just so happens to be venerated by the universal Church following, but also by the the cream of the Byzantine crop. After describing the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, these clergy write:

“..but for the precious salvation, not only of the East, but of three parts almost of the inhabited world [Cple, Alex, Antioch], redeemed, not with corruptible gold or silver, but with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, according to the doctrine of the blessed Prince of the glorious Apostles, whose See Christ, the Good shepherd, has entrusted to your blessedness. Following his example, most holy father, hasten to help us, just as blessed Paul, your doctor, informed in a vision that the Macedonians were in danger, hastened to help them in deed. O father, full of tenderness for your children, since it is not in vision but in reality that in the eyes of your mind you see us perishing by the prevarication of our Father Acacius, do not delay, or rather, to speak with the prophet, do not slumber, but hasten to help us. You have not only received the power of binding, but also that of loosing, in accordance with the example of the Master, those who long have been in bonds, nor only the power of uprooting and of destroying, but also that of planting and building, as Jeremias, or rather as Jesus Christ, of whom Jeremias was the type; nor only that of delivering to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, but also that of restoring by love those long since rejected, lest (which God forbid) Satan, coming to plunge us into the greatest distress, may appear to gain the advantage over you. You are not ignorant of this malice, you whom Peter, your blessed Doctor, teaches always to shepherd, not by violence but by an authority fully accepted, the sheep of CHrist which are entrusted to you in all the inhabitable world. We earnestly beg you threfore to tear away this new hindrance which weighs on us, as Jesus Christ our savior and our leader destroyed the old one on the cross….If Acacius was excommunicated because of his friendship for the Alexandrians or rather for the Eutychians, who anathemtized Leo and the Council of Chalcedon, why are we accounted as heretics and subject to the anathma, we who cleave solely to the letter of Leo which was read at the Council, who are attacked every day and condemned as heretics by the Eutychians because we preach your orthodox doctrine? Do not disdain to succour us and do not hate us because we are in communion with our enemies. Among those who only had the care of a small number of souls, many have separated from their communion, the others in charge of a numerous flock yielded to the necessity not to abandon, as the hireling, the sheep to the wolf. It is not for love of life, but only for the salvation of souls that a great number of priests act thus… We all, both those who appear to communicate with the adversaries and those who abstain from it, await, after God, the light of your visitation and of your assistance. Hasten then to aid the East, whence the Saviour sent you to great suns to ligthen all the earth; render Him what he sent you, illumine it with the light of the true faith as He enlightened you with the light of knowledge divine….Just as the Lord said to Paul concerning Corinth ‘Speak and keep not silence, for I have a great multitude in this city’, so He says to you today, ‘Hasten an go without delay to the help of the East, for it is not a multitude of a hundred and twenty thousand men as at Ninevah, but a crowd much more numerous which awaits, after God, its healing from you” (Mansi 8.221)

St. John Chrysostom (AD 349-407) -Indictment to Protestant Teaching

John Calvin wrote, “In this area [Biblical exegesis], no one of sound judgment would deny that our Chrysostom excels all the ancient writers currently extant. This is especially true when he deals with the New Testament” {1} and “The chief merit of our Chrysostom is this: he took great pains everywhere not to deviate in the slightest from the genuine plain meaning of Scripture and not to indulge in any licence of twisting the straight-forward sense  of the words. I am only saying what will be acknowledged by those who are both in a position to make a correct assessment and who will not hesitate to state the fact” {2}. Below are a list of citations from St. John Chrysostom wherein he exposits portions of the New Testament in a way that proves Calvin’s statements ironic.

Virginity Superior to Marriage 
“That Virginity is good I do agree. But that it is even better than marriage, this I do confess. And if you wish, I add that it is much better than marriage as heaven is better than earth, as much better as the angels are better than men. And if there were any other way in which I could say it even more emphatically, I would do so” (Treatise on Virginity, 10 – Patrologia Graeca 48.533)

Scripture & Tradition
“‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ (1 Thess 2:15). From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further.” (Homilies on the 2nd Epistle to the Thess)

Justification by Faith Working Through Love
“‘He that believes in the Son has everlasting life’…. ‘Is it enough, then, to believe in the Son?’ someone will say, ‘in order to have everlasting life?’. By no means! Listen to Christ declare this Himself when He says, ‘Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord! Lord!’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven’; and the blasphemy against the Spirit is alone sufficient to cast him into hell. But why should I speak of a part of our teaching? For if a man not only live rightly, his faith will avail him nothing toward salvation” (Homily on the Gospel of John, 31.1)

The Blood and Body of Jesus Christ sacrificed and partaken
“For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshipers empurpled with that precious blood, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, straightway translated to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh! What a marvel! What love of God to man! He who sits on high with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him” (On the Priesthood 3.4)

“Let us then in everything believe God, and gainsay Him in nothing, though what is said seem to be contrary to our thoughts and senses, but let His word be of higher authority than both reasoning and sight. Thus let us do in the mysteries also, not looking at the things set before us, but keeping in mind His sayings.For His word cannot deceive, but our senses are easily beguiled. That has never failed, but this in most things goes wrong. Since then the word says, This is my body, let us both be persuaded and believe, and look at it with the eyes of the mind.For Christ has given nothing sensible, but though in things sensible yet all to be perceived by the mind. So also in baptism, the gift is bestowed by a sensible thing, that is, by water; but that which is done is perceived by the mind, the birth, I mean, and the renewal. For if you had been incorporeal, He would have delivered you the incorporeal gifts bare; but because the soul has been locked up in a body, He delivers you the things that the mind perceives, in things sensible. How many now say, I would wish to see His form, the mark, His clothes, His shoes. Lo! You see Him, Thou touchest Him, you eat Him” (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew 82.4)

“What then? Do not we offer every day? We offer indeed, but making a remembrance of His death, and this [remembrance] is one and not many. How is it one, and not many? Inasmuch as that [Sacrifice] was once for all offered, [and] carried into the Holy of Holies. This is a figure of that [sacrifice] and this remembrance of that. For we always offer the same, not one sheep now and tomorrow another, but always the same thing: so that the sacrifice is one. And yet by this reasoning, since the offering is made in many places, are there many Christs? But Christ is one everywhere, being complete here and complete there also, one Body.  As then while offered in many places, He is one body and not many bodies; so also [He is] one sacrifice. He is our High Priest, who offered the sacrifice that cleanses us. That we offer now also, which was then offered, which cannot be exhausted” (Homily on the Book of Hebrews, 17)

“How shall we receive this with so great insolence? Let us not, I pray you, let us not slay ourselves by our irreverence, but with all awfulness and purity draw near to It; and when you see It set before you, say thou to yourself, Because of this Body am I no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, converse with Christ; this Body, nailed and scourged, was more than death could stand against; this Body the very sun saw sacrificed, and turned aside his beams; for this both the veil was rent in that moment, and rocks were burst asunder, and all the earth was shaken. This is even that Body, the blood-stained, the pierced, and that out of which gushed the saving fountains, the one of blood, the other of water, for all the world….. This Body has He given to us both to hold and to eat; a thing appropriate to intense love. For those whom we kiss vehemently, we oft-times even bite with our teeth.” (Homily on 1 Corinthians, 24)

“For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven’. They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, ‘Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained’? What authority could be greater than this? The Father has committed all judgment to the Son? But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased and to release them again, he becomes an object of envy and respect to all men; but he who has received from God an authority as much greater as heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, seems to some to have received so small an honor that they are actually able to imagine that one of those who have been entrusted with these things will despise the gift. Away with such madness! For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?” (On the Priesthood 3.5)

“The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness— not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. For the latter, although they laid claim to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, and this they evinced by the great eagerness with which they pursued it; but these men, when the office has been better regulated, and has received so great a development, have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others, although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in aiming at an honor which does not pertain to one, and in despising such great advantages, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? None whatever, I should say, unless it were one subject to some demoniacal impulse. For I return once more to the point from which I started: not in the way of chastising only, but also in the way of benefiting, God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents. The two indeed differ as much as the present and the future life. For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, procuring for some a milder chastisement, and preventing others from falling altogether, not only by instruction and admonition, but also by the assistance wrought through prayers. For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins” (On the Priesthood 3.6)

“Christ is present. The One who prepared that table [on Holy Thursday] is the very One who now prepared this table. For it is not a man who makes the sacrificial gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He that was crucified for us, Christ Himself. The priest stands there carrying out the action, but the power and the grace is of God. ‘This is My Body’, he says. This statement transforms the gifts” (Homilies on the Treacherous Judas 1.6)

“Great is the dignity of Priests. ‘Whose sins you forgive,’ He [Jesus] says, ‘they are forgiven them’, …. The things that are placed in the hands of the Priest, it belongs to God alone to give...Neither Angel or Archangel is able to do anything in respect to what is given by God; rather, Father and Son and Holy Spirit manage it all; but the Priest lends his own tongue and presents his own hand. Nor would it be just, if those who draw near in faith to the symbols of our salvation were to be harmed by the wickedness of another” (Homily on the Gospel of John 86.4)

{1} (Hazlett, ‘Calvins Latin Preface’, 144; Calvini, ‘Praefatio In Chrysostomi’, volume 9, column 834.)

{2} Hazlett, ‘Calvins Latin Preface’, 144; Calvini, ‘Praefatio In Chrysostomi’, volume 9, column 835

{3} Quotes from here

The Limits of Papal Teaching? Are Tradition-holding Catholics Crypto-Protestants?


Fr. Luther in front of Bishop Thomas Cajetan – Painting by Ferdinand Willem Pauwels (1872)

I think one of the problems that many Catholics will have here is the supposition that one could use the remote rule of faith (the past teaching of the Magisterium) as a standard by which to measure a given Pope’s teaching. For, many converts into Catholicism have converted on the precise advertisement that, contrary to their prior experience as Protestants, one would not need to ever exercise private judgement against the Magisterium of holy Church. To this it should be said that Catholicism in no way allows the obliteration of the marriage between faith & reason. I understand that we have some Catholics who have vowed to obey the teaching of the Pope whether it accords with [their] reason or not, but we should be careful. Because of the nature of Revelation and the Decrees of Vatican I on faith, revelation, and reason, there cannot be a doctrine of Christ which is contra-reason, or violates reason. Transcend and exceed reason ? Sure. But not violate such that an internal incoherence could be found. A perfect example would be the law of non-contradiction. We know that Jesus Christ died, buried, and was risen in bodily form. If therefore a Pope were to come along, shimmy his imagination, and teach that it is permissible to believe that Jesus only rose spiritually in some invisible manner, then we would have a contradiction, and anyone should be able to recognize that such a teaching is wrong, and, more importantly, not an authentic reflection of the Church’s magisterium.

But even still, some Catholics, whether from the popular ministries or from ultramontanist apologetics in the 19th/20th centuries, still cannot manage to picture how it can be reconciled – that a Pope’s own orthodoxy could be measured by another, namely, the Sacred Tradition and Holy Scripture. Is this not what Dr. Luther ultimately did? Is it now what the Anglican divines did when they sought to retain the episcopal tradition together with Scripture, and judged the Tridentine Pope’s wrong? If this is allowed, would we not be including the Protestant authority paradigm, i.e. private judgement?

The answer to this is herein (and anyone feel free to correct or add to it) – These Protestants had disavowed, in principle, the immediate authority of the hierarchical Church to pronounce doctrine on faith and morals. Luther did not appeal, as he was asked to by superiors, to the Church fathers for his doctrines, at least in principle, as if they were an agency to be submitted to. I understand that in the Augsburg Confession, and in the later coming Book of Concord, there would be references to Patristic texts, but ultimately, there was no recognition that said Patrimony was to be abided by with divine faith. If, therefore, St. Augustine, along with most of the Fathers, taught clearly contra sola fide, Luther would just cast them out of hand. Calvin even more so. The chief rejection was that even Councils, as well as Popes, could teach dogmatic and infallible doctrine. So Luther/Calvin and company would be ready to disavow the teaching of Popes, Councils, Fathers, and all scholastic theologians if they were to be found disharmonious with Scripture. And this is why Sola Scrpitura was so important, as a bed rock, for the rationale basis of Luther and the coming Protestants. If Scripture say X, and the Church says not-X, we go with Scripture, and that solves the problem.

The problem with this, of course, is that Scripture itself refers to the authority of the Church. So where Scripture itself witnesses to the wedded authority of Oral Tradition and the Sacred Writ, the Protestants thought safe to disregard and hold the inconsistency. Of course, they were not satisfied, and thus, picking up from the spirit of Wycliffe and Hus, who followed the former, they re-defined ἐκκλησία and ecclesia as invisible. At least, the elect, who would be divinely protected from apostacy, were invisible to the human eye, and thus there is no objective criteria with which to judge. Not even Scripture, since against the myriad of debate that would spawn in Protestant dialectic, it was the “few” who were “chosen” that rightly interpreted it.

In any case, Catholics don’t entertain these ideas. We wholeheartedly consent, with divine faith, to the divine establishment of the Church and its potential to deliberately teach dogma infallibly, as well as the indestructibility of its visible elements (at least, until the parousia of Christ). We hold to the Ecumenical Councils, the consensus of the Church fathers, the interpretations of Scripture made by the authentic and perennial teaching of the Magisterium, and the Papal decrees which come by way of “ex Cathedra”. It is to this unchanging Magisterium that we appeal as a standard because, ultimately, Pope_Pius_IX_at_the_First_Vatican_Council*that is the standard to which the Magisterium has vowed itself unto*. At the Vatican Council (1870), it was stated very clearly that, although the Pope, when speaking “ex cathedra” he, by “the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter“, can speak infallibly on fatith and morals, this assistance is never towards a “new doctrine”. It says in Chapter 4 , para. 6, on the authority of the Roman Pontiff: “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”. Thus, right there smack dab right in the middle of the Magisterial voice of the Ecumenical Council of Vatican, we have the Church telling us with supreme authority that she cannot assist the Pope in creating new doctrine, but, more importantly, only to *safeguard* the deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles. Whatever comes out of the Pope, whether it be private statements or even acts of authentic Magisterium, though non-infallible, they are not protected, and thus may be wrong. Pope Francis himself is well aware of his own fallibility.

But one might further ask, who gets to judge what that “deposit of faith” is? Well, it is the Magisterium who gets to judge. And it is precisely to this Magisterium that we appeal to say that a Pope, whether it be Francis or another, cannot introduce novelty. And, because of the invincible wedding between faith/reason, there cannot ever be an authentic teaching of the Pope which contradicts the past. What if a Pope were to come out and say that it is a matter of morals that one should eat sandwiches with mustard instead of mayonaiise? Would we submit? Or if the Pope said it is more righteous to wear red shirts since it represents the blood of Christ? Or, more relevant, what if Pope Francis said the baptized do not need to follow even ex Cathedra teaching? Would we submit? Hans Küng, a known critic of Papal Infallibility,  has achieved the Popes consent to look into the question of infallibility. Who knows where that will go.

Even still, one Catholic might ask what if the Magisterium says a certain doctrine, actually contradictory to past Magisterial teaching, is actually harmonious? Ultimately we do not believe such can be done , at least by an extraordinary exercise.  The Pope does not get to re-define the laws of logic and reality. He can say that gravity actually pulls upward all day, and even say such is a matter of faith, and that it is harmonious all he wants,  but that changes nothing. This is why persons who appeal to the Pope to clarify or even correct himself are actually exercising faith in the Magisterium,  since we have faith that the authentic and irreformable Magisterium cannot violate the deposit of faith. If this were to happen, it would be the falsification-moment for Catholicism. And if this were to ever occur, then I would not be able to be committed to it. But I do not believe this can happen, and thankfully, it never has, and, by faith, I say it never will.

Concludimg remarks – This all might seem so redundant since the authoritative ability of the Magisterium is merely to sustain what is already known. Well, it would only be the same redundancy of the Apostles who were commissioned “to teach all things Christ had commanded” (Matt 28:18). Likewise, it would only be the same redundancy of Sacred Scripture, which forever remains unchangeable. Catholicism is not in the business of change, unless it means better fostering the single-same Gospel to one culture or another. Even then, great care is to be had in the implementation.

St. Cyprian on the Roman See: Ecclesia Principalis Unde Unitas Sacerdotalis Exorta Est


I may have 2 or more articles (here and here) on this blog already about the ecclesiology of St. Cyprian, and so the readers will know of my particular understanding of it. Those who have read also know that I am of the opinion that Cyprian had an internal conflict in his ecclesiology since, on the one hand, he posed the idea of the unity of the Church to be guaranteed by the unity of Bishops,  that the unity of Bishops hinged on the singular chair of Peter (understood as a universal reality unto which all Bishops adhere),  that, in some way, the Episcopate of Rome occupies a special position as the successor and holder of Peter’s chair, and on the other hand, that there is no such thing as a “bishop of Bishops“, or  one holds universal headship and thus governmental jurisdiction over the whole network of Bishops. In fact, the sustaining of this unity, in the mind of Cyprian, was the “glue of concord” or the “agreement between Bishops“. So long as this glue or agreement was sustained, there was the principle of unity and peace. The problem with this, of course, is this glue and agreement were not permanently secured in such a way that no division was possible, at least in some proportion which forces one to have to discriminate between groups, councils, and regions of Bishops versus others. It is to this factor that some of Cyprian’s contemporaries pushed for logical implications which transgressed his own comfort zone, as we shall see.

The 3rd century, in which Cyprian lived, had its number of episcopal divisions; after all, you had the Novatianist episcopate which Cyprian condemned, and even credited the Bishop of Rome with special contribution to its condemnation. But Cyprian surely did not live long enough to see the scale of controversy that would be in store for the coming Donatist schism which would be born in his own native country – Africa. In fact, it was against this Donatistic schism which caused the apologists of the true Church to discrminate down to a single Bishop what constituted the supreme “Cathedra Petri” (chair of Peter) by suggesting that all who remain united to the See of Rome were incorporated into the single reality of ecclesia, and none others. I here think of St. Optatus and St. Augustine, who both wrote extensively in this vein. Still, Cyprian lived far before the onslaught of the 4th century schisms caused by the Arian-speculators,  whose divisive spirit was also supported by the Imperium of the day. It was in this century that we say one Synod after another, competing with each other. The deposition of St. Athanasius by his fellow Eastern hierarchs gathered in Council was overturned by what many anti-Papal Cyprianic fans of the 3rd century call the “tyrannical Bishop”, that prelate of the Roman See. The entourage of Eusebius would have, without a doubt, agreed with such a sentiment. What irony, therefore, is proven when, by the 5th-century Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) have both Africans and Byzantinists whole heartedly receiving the Bishop of Rome as (a) successor of St. Peter, (b) sole occupant of his Chair, (c)  head of the Universal Church, and (d) final arbiter on matters of faith and discipline?

In any case, this is not so much about the development of the Papal See as it is Cyprian and his ecclesiology. So every Bishop successor of St. Peter, eh? The Papalists even today admit that Cyprian no doubt had this concept in mind. Even the good old Abbot of Downside Abbey, Patrician Fr. John Chapman, admitted that “St. Peter is commonly said by the Fathers to be the type of monoepiscopacy” and that “Peter was to the ancient the type of centralized power” (Studies in Early Papacy, p. 83). Such is old news to well-versed Papal apologists. But what may not be old news is that a certain non-Catholic has taken note of the Cyprianic problem I described above. Hailing from Russia, former Eastern Orthodox History professor at St. Sergius Institute in Paris, Fr. Nicolas Afanasssieff, describes wonderfully the contradictory egg in Cyprian which hatched in the theologies of others:

“….according to his doctrine there should have really been one single Bishop at the head of the Universal Church. He was unwilling to place the Bishop of Rome outside the concors numerositas of bishops, and yet the place given by him to the Roman Church did raise it above the ‘harmonious multitude’. The ideal ‘Peter’s throne’ occupied by the whole episcopate became confused in Cyprian’s mind with the actual throne occupied by the Bishop of Rome. According to Cyprian, every Bishop occupies Peter’s throne (the Bishop of Rome among others), but the See of Peter is Peter’s throne par excellence. The Bishop of Rome is the direct heir of Peter, whereas the others are heirs only indirectly, and sometimes only by the mediation of Rome. Hence Cyprian’s insistence that the Church of Rome is the root and matrix of the Catholic Church. The subject is treated in so many of Cyprian’s passages that there is no doubt; to him, the See of Rome was ecclesia principalis unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est. But he does not proceed to draw any conclusions from his doctrine about the See of Rome. Cyprian could not deny that the See of Rome held a preponderant position: but he was intuitively in step with trends in the whole Church which did not allow him to make the Bishop of Rome head of the episcopate. The Bishop of Rome undertook to relive him, and drew the necessary conclusions himself. Logically it was inevitable…No wonder Cyprian’s system turned out to be a historical failure! In his declining years Cyprian was to see his system crash before his own eyes. He saw that the concors numerositas (concord of bishops) was only an ideal; in reali life there is certainly numerositas, but not concord, since a concors numerostias cannot work without a Head.” (from “The Church Which Presides in Love” pp .98-99,  in “Primacy of Peter” edited by Fr. John Meyendorff)

The “Bishop of Rome” who drew the conclusion of Cyprian’s ecclesiology was no less than Pope St. Stephen I. Now, a point of clarification. I don’t believe Stephen learned this from Cyprian. We are speaking conceptually, and not chronologically. It was surely prior to Stephen that the Bishops of Rome had this conclusion.  Anyhow, took much space would be taken to describe the famous controversy between Rome and North Africa during this time, and so I will say briefly that the Pope wrote an Edict on the matter of baptism which required the African churches, and others, to receive heretical converts who had been already baptized in the Trinitarian name without re-baptizing them, and rather to receive them with the laying on of hands. His Edict did claim to carry the authority to command and excommunicate outside of the diocese of Rome and based it on the prerogative of being successor of Peter’s throne.  One of the firs times this occurs in Papal history, Pope St. Callistus I being perhaps an earlier example. What is even more interesting is that the post-3rd century Catholic Church would look back and say Cyprian was, in fact, wrong. St. Vincent Lérins, when giving an example of the Pope abiding by antiquity rather than novelty, described St. Stephen as follows: “Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith“. So, much to the contrary of what many might think, it was not tyranny that went down with St. Stephen’s memory.  I leave with a description that Anglican historian J.N.D. Kelly gives of this Pope and how it shows that Stephen certainly came to the conclusion that Cyprian did not:

These incidents throw light on the growing recognition, in the middle of the 3rd cent., of the pre-eminent position of Rome, as a court of appeal at any rate for Gaul and Spain, and as the see with which other sees deemed it appropriate to be in communion. Stephen emerges as an imperious and uncompromising prelate, fully aware of his prerogative; his rival Bishops did not hesitate to put the blame for splitting the Church on him. It is interesting that he was accused of ‘glorying in his standing as Bishop and of claiming to hold succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the church were laid’. He was in fact the first Pope, so far as is known, to find a formal basis for the Roman primacy in the Lord’s charge to the Apostle Peter cited in Matt 6:18.” (Oxford Dictionary of Popes, p. 21)