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)

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

  1. It is quite of stretch to think, as some popes of Rome have said, that the pope of Rome is “God on earth” and “Jesus Christ incarnate” and when the Pope speaks, it is “Jesus Christ Himself Who is speaking”, as if the Pope, or any other man, including you and I, could be considered infallible and equal to God. But this is what they claim for the Bishop of Rome, that he is equal to God and must be obeyed in all things, and that he is the same as Saint Peter. This is a slander against Saint Peter, who never claimed to be God or infallible or the Vicar of Christ. The only Vicar of Christ is the Holy Spirit of God in the the 7 ecumenical councils, which are the sole authority together with the canonical Scriptures over the one Orthodox Catholic Church (undivided until Rome sinned in 1054 AD). Rome needs to repent, reject all her false traditions of men and false councils which are not ecumenical, repent of Filioque and seek Christ’s forgiveness, since she remains in heresy and error, and accept the Orthodox Faith (Jude 3). In these manners, though we all have sin, the Orthodox Church, and not Rome, has kept the original Christian faith unchanged since the beginning. The continued existence of Protestantism and Catholicism are sins against the Holy Trinity in the Orthodox Church. We have accepted the true faith, and by this we reject Catholicism and Protestantism, sins against the Gospel and “another gospel” (Gal. 1), not taught in the New Testament. God save us all. We have seen the true light. We pray that you shall, too, in God’s mercy to all 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:4.

    • 1. Nowhere in catholic teachings, it is said that: “Pope that he is equal to God and must be obeyed in all things”

      2. Then, i dont know to what school of thought you went to, but it is not logical to think such as being infallible in teaching equals to being God, since the official belief of orthodox themselves is ecumenical council is infallible. Christ himself gives an authority to apostles to being sorta “god on earth” (not to be taken literally) by giving power to forgive sins, bind and loose. I recommend you to read your bible. The problem now is, whether the authority succeeds or not. If you are orthodox, then you should have known the answer, but surprisingly, as i will assert on the next point, you don’t. You said:

      3. “and that he is the same as Saint Peter”, well ecumenical councils that you upheld, fathers that you venerate, ARGUE AND BELIEVE SO. It is not orthodox vs catholic in this matter, but rather your ignorance vs truth.

      4. “In these manners, though we all have sin, the Orthodox Church, and not Rome, has kept the original Christian faith unchanged since the beginning.” Not exactly at all. One simple thing is teaching about divorce. Orthodox changed it.

      • Orthodox did not change anything. Catholics said marriage is always indissoluble and solve their problem of no divorces ever under any circumstances by making up the innovation of annulment and no divorce means an adulterous marriage is permitted by the Papacy as no sin can dissolve the marriage of a Catholic man and woman: adultery is not punished by divorce the marriage continues under all circumstances, even when the couple is no longer faithful to each other the marriage remains.

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