Is the 8th Session of Constantinople II (553) a Golden Gun Fatality to the Papacy?

The story behind the 6th century Emperor Justinian and the Three Chapters Controversy is one of the most suspensful episodes in Church History. Elsewhere, I’ve written a lengthy commentary, but here I’d like to focus in on one part of the 5th Ecumenical Council that is much overlooked by contemporary subscribers to the Catholic doctrine of the Papacy and scarcely known by opponents to that doctrine. In particular, the Eastern Orthodox have here what they might call a Golden Gun (c.f. GoldenEye 007, N64) with which to bring to the fight against Catholics over Papal Supremacy. What I’m talking about is the Council of Constantinople (553) and its detailed commentary on the fall of Pope Vigilius (537-555), not to include the thorny issue of the two contradictory Constituta of Vigilius (that’s another Golden Gun consideration). To make a very long and dense story very short, the event of this Council has to do with the problems that arose with the Council of Chalcedon (451) and its “apparent” acceptance of Nestorianism through its embrace of Theodoret of Cyrrhus and, more importantly, Ibas of Edessa, whose “letter” to Mari of Persia may be read to have waffled on the clarity of Cyrillian Christology. In order to both vindicate the Chalcedonian legacy, as well as extend an olive branch to the Eastern Episcopates that “understandably” refused assent to Chalcedon, i.e. the Miaphysites of the East, the Emperor Justinian thought it wise to assemble the writings of Three Heads, or Three Chapters, namely, of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrus, and Ibas of Edessa, and condemn them outright. The Pope, as well as the other Chalcedonian Eastern Patriarchs, were hesitant to subscribe to this “Edict” condemning the Three Chapters, but were subsequently brought under a quick process of Imperial aggression which imposed force upon the Church’s Primates to sign on to it.

With enough pressure and persuasion (i.e. depositions, exilment, and sheer threat ), the Emperor was largely successful in gaining cooperation, with a unique exception in Pope Vigilius. The Pope proved himself indecisive and hesitant to follow through. Eventually, the Pope and the Emperor agreed that an Ecumenical Council where Bishops from both East and West should assemble to decide the matter. However, this Council was soon proven to be a gathering overly controlled by the Emperor, unsurprisingly, and the Pope decided that he would not participate. For one, the Pope’s wish of a sufficient Western representation was not provided (whether by the Emperor’s unwillingness or the unwillingness of the Western Churches that grew suspicious of the Emperor). The Pope’s uncooperation was not just an affront to the Emperor, but eventually the Emperor got the Bishops assembled at the Council to gang up against Vigilius and they all reached a point where the removed Vigilius from the diptychs under the charge of heresy (for failing to agree to condemn the Three Chapters) and pronounced a statement indicting the Pope’s actions against the Council. The Greek Bishops went ahead and completed the Council without the Pope, and 6 months afterwards the Pope eventually came around to confirm its decrees. Below is the full text of the Council’s statement on Vigilius (in Italic; emphasis in bold red), and it won’t be difficult to see how what is said therein touches upon the subject of Papal Supremacy “over and against” what Apostolic and Patristic Tradition. The following will be largely a joy ride for Orthodox readers. For Catholics, put your seat belt on.

The Council, as recorded in the Acts, states:

And because it happened that the most religious Vigilius stopping in this royal city, was present at all the discussions with regard to the Three Chapters, and had often condemned them orally and in writing, nevertheless afterwards he gave his consent in writing to be present at the Council and examine together with us the Three Chapters, that a suitable definition of the right faith might be set forth by us all. Moreover the most pious Emperor, according to what had seemed good between us, exhorted both him and us to meet together, because it is comely that the priesthood should after common discussion impose a common faith. On this account we besought his reverence to fulfil his written promises; for it was not right that the scandal with regard to these Three Chapters should go any further, and the Church of God be disturbed thereby. And to this end we brought to his remembrance the great examples left us by the Apostles, and the traditions of the Fathers. For although the grace of the Holy Spirit abounded in each one of the Apostles, so that no one of them needed the counsel of another in the execution of his work, yet they were not willing to define on the question then raised touching the circumcision of the Gentiles, until being gathered together they had confirmed their own several sayings by the testimony of the divine Scriptures.

And thus they arrived unanimously at this sentence, which they wrote to the Gentiles: It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no other burden than these necessary things, that you abstain from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.

But also the Holy Fathers, who from time to time have met in the four holy councils, following the example of the ancients, have by a common discussion, disposed of by a fixed decree the heresies and questions which had sprung up, as it was certainly known, that by common discussion when the matter in dispute was presented by each side, the light of truth expels the darkness of falsehood.

Nor is there any other way in which the truth can be made manifest when there are discussions concerning the faith, since each one needs the help of his neighbour, as we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: ‘A brother helping his brother shall be exalted like a walled city; and he shall be strong as a well-founded kingdom’; and again in Ecclesiastes he says: ‘Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.’

So also the Lord himself says: ‘Verily I say unto you that if two of you shall agree upon earth as touching anything they shall seek for, they shall have it from my Father which is in heaven. For wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’

But when often he had been invited by us all, and when the most glorious judges had been sent to him by the most religious Emperor, he promised to give sentence himself on the Three Chapters (sententiam proferre): And when we heard this answer, having the Apostle’s admonition in mind, that each one must give an account of himself to God and fearing the judgment that hangs over those who scandalize one, even of the least important, and knowing how much sorer it must be to give offense to so entirely Christian an Emperor, and to the people, and to all the Churches; and further recalling what was said by God to Paul: ‘Fear not, but speak, and be not silent, for I am with you, and no one can harm you.’ Therefore, being gathered together, before all things we have briefly confessed that we hold that faith which our Lord Jesus Christ, the true God, delivered to his holy Apostles, and through them to the holy churches, and which they who after them were holy fathers and doctors, handed down to the people credited to them.

The easiest way to see how the perspective of the Greek Bishops (if we can assume they acted freely) at the Council can raise serious questions about Papal Supremacy in light of the Council of Vatican I (1870) is that here you have a validly reigning Pope who sets his will against the Council, attempts to write up his own decree on the matter, but the Bishops at the Council do not feel the need to stop and wait for the Pope to give them permission to proceed. Far from feeling prohibited by the rule “The First See is judged by none“, they remove the Pope from communion and continue forward with a decree on the Church’s faith. It is obvious they did not feel the need to abide by the commands, prohibitions, or the legal-communion of the Pope. It is more obvious that the Bishops did not exercise the “Recognize & Resist” paradigm upheld by some Catholics today who choose to abide by the Pope’s lawful authority and communion, but rejecting to assent to his erroneous teachings. Prima facie, what we have here in 6th century Constantinople is something that the doctrine of Pastor Aeternus couldn’t allow in theory or practice. It shouldn’t even be a question as to whether the Bishops thought that the Pope was protected from error in his theological decrees, as they found his official stance on the Three Chapters at variance with the Church’s faith during the time of the Council. Come to think of it, one wonders why the story of Honorius has such a fixation in the minds of those who seek to limit Papal power when the story of Vigilius is replete with more clarity than any other.

This brings me to the crux of the article. Is this section of the Acts a Golden Gun with which the Eastern Orthodox can shoot the arguments of pro-Papal apologists?

Before answering this question, I should offer an exposition of this statement of the Greek Bishops so as to help clarify my answer. The first thing to look at is how the Bishops say that it is “comely that the priesthood should after common discussion impose a common faith.” As a side point, the assumption here is that the priesthood is a universal entity, as well as being a local phenomenon. This speaks against those who might try to absolutize the catholicity of the local church as if it could be independent on its own. Moreover, it assumes authoritative doctrinal decrees are only improperly settled individually, i.e. only such decrees produced by the participation of all in a group are to be respected as achieved appropriately.

Secondly, the Bishops defend their prior statement that it is “comely” or “appropriate” (Price, Acts of Constantinople 553, vol. 2, p. 110) by referring to the example of both the Apostles and the Tradition of the Fathers. One important note made about the example of the Apostles is that the Bishops recognize that ” the grace of the Holy Spirit abounded in each one of the Apostles, so that no one of them needed the counsel of another in the execution of his work.” In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired and guided each individual Apostle so much that there was no real need for one Apostle to require the cooperation and advice of another Apostle to fulfill their commission from Jesus Christ. This is a very important element in the overall statement. Nevertheless, the Apostles ” were not willing to define on the question then raised touching the circumcision of the Gentiles, until being gathered together they had confirmed their own several sayings by the testimony of the divine Scriptures.” The Apostles were unwilling to isolate themselves, leaving the decision to one of them, even though, as the Bishops recognize, this could have been the case. In fact, the Apostles not only waited until they all gathered together, they equally invited the “elders” (πρεσβυτέρους, presbyters) and “brethren” (ἀδελφοὶ) and even “the whole Church” (ὅλῃ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ) of Jerusalem to decide upon the matter (c.f. Acts 15). Therefore, if a skeptic would have asked, “If the Apostles were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they didn’t need to assemble themselves with the presbyters, brethren, and even the whole Church of Jerusalem, why didn’t just one of them simply write a letter with the correct answer to resolve the whole problem,” the Fathers would simply say that making a decision in the format of a Council is the manner in which Christ has been pleased to regulate His Church. Is was more important to the Apostles to follow in-step with common and ordinary sense, having been blessed by God from ancient times (as even carried on in the practice of the Sanhedrin), rather than testing the efficacy of the bare minimum requirement. True, one Apostle could have sufficed, but that is not the mannerism of God, Christ, or the tradition of God’s covenant people. The Holy Spirit fills all, and it will take all to appropriately accomplish the purpose of God.

The Tradition of the Church Fathers who gathered in the prior 4 Ecumenical Councils was also brought up, for “by common discussion when the matter in dispute was presented by each side, the light of truth expels the darkness of falsehood.” Now, historians might dispute how “collegial” and “conciliar” the 2nd Ecumenical Council (Constantinople 381) was, given that there was no representation of Western Bishops through the Pope or his legates. They might also bring up how the 3rd Ecumenical Council (Ephesus 431) itself lacked the presence of the Sees of Constantinople and Antioch, and that it was an attempt on the part of St. Cyril to steamroll his own agenda. They might also bring up how at the 4th Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon 451), the Papal legates and Imperial commissioners were quite forceful in the goings-on at the Council, even threatening the Council to be displaced to Italy to be under the direct supervision of the Apostolic See. In any case, it is still generally true that the Bishops gathered together into the forum of a Council in order to effect decisions of supreme authority.

The Bishops at Constantinople 553 draw the following rule from this example: ” Nor is there any other way in which the truth can be made manifest when there are discussions concerning the faith, since each one needs the help of his neighbour, as we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: ‘A brother helping his brother shall be exalted like a walled city; and he shall be strong as a well-founded kingdom’; and again in Ecclesiastes he says: ‘Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.’ ” Now, since the Bishops had just said that the Apostles were so filled with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that they did not, absolutely speaking, need the aid of another in the excution of their work (i.e. preach the truth in a binding manner), this subsequent statement can’t be an “absolute” rule such that there is literally no other way for the truth to be made manifest. Even the Orthodox are found appealing to the idea that the truth could be held simply by one See or one Bishop, and that would be the church catholic (whole) and the truth manifestly embodied even just in one. Moreover, the Bishops cite Wisdom literature which includes language that often sounds absolute but which is still a general rule. In the former century, St. Flavian of Constantinople and St. Leo the Great thought that the Tome written by the Pope was sufficient to make the truth manifest in both East and West. Gallic Bishops responded to St. Leo’s Tome in the following words: “Moreover we, who specially belong to you , are filled with a great and unspeakable delight, because this special statement of your teaching is so highly regarded wherever the Churches meet together, that the unanimous opinion is expressed that the primacy of the Apostolic See is rightfully there assigned, from whence the oracles of the Apostolic Spirit still receive their interpretations” (Epistle 68). Thus, the Greek Bishops are simply referring to the indispensability of having a joint effort of the hierarchy in effecting authoritative decisions as resting on the tradition of antiquity rather than absolute ontological necessity.

Now, the Orthodox might immediately point to the doctrine of Pastor Aeternus which says that the Pope, by virtue of his being the successor of St. Peter who was invested with the supreme power of magisterium, can issue teaching decrees which are infallible and irreformable in themselves, where said irreformability does not rest on the composition of Pope cooperating together with the Episcopate and the Church, but simply the Pope’s power of magisterium. Quite true and relevant to bring this up. It affords an oppurtunity to make a clarification of what it means when the Council says that the ex Cathedra decrees of the Pope are irreformable “not from the consent of the Church” (non autem ex consensu ecclesiae). Fr. Francis Dvornik, a well-known Byzantinist scholar of the 20th century, offered an explanation of this which clarifies that this detail about the Pope’s ex Cathedra decrees does not necessarily mean Papal isolationism, i.e. the Pope accomplishes these things all on his own without the cooperation of the Church. Drawing from an earlier Dominican Fr. Vincent McNabb, Dvornik states in his Ecumenical Councils (p. 107-09):

But even when the Pope alone should proclaim a doctrine ex cathedra he can do so only after having examined the mind of the Church in this matter. After declaring that ‘infallibility is a divine assistance enabling the teaching Church to declare or expound the deposit of faith possessed by her‘, Fr. McNabb (p. 92) compares such a declaration of the Pope, the head of the teaching Church, with a judge sitting in the judgment seat. Before making his declaration ex cathedra on the case in process, the judge is bound to hear all the witnesses. ‘In the same way, the ex cathedra judgment of the Pope (or Council) needs the mind of the Church as its necessary preliminary material‘. These interpretations of the Vatican decree [on infallibility] comes very near to the Orthodox belief in the infallibility of the Church. Even the stipulation that a declaration ex cathedra does not need confirmation by the Church should not be irreconcilable with Orthodox belief. The comparison with the judge’s definition after hearing the witnesses again helps. ‘It would be false to say that the official ex cathedra judgment of the judge’s,’ says Fr. McNabb, ‘needs the consent of the witnesses to make it binding. The evidence of witnesses gives the necessary material for the official judgment , but does not give the necessary sanction‘. In the case of the Pope’s definition, the witnesses are Scripture and tradition guarded by the infallible Church which have to be examined to find out what is the mind of the Church. The best and most natural means to do so should be an assembly of bishops in a Council, but even the Orthodox tradition accepts, instead of a convocation of a Council, the practice of a referendum, a consultation of the bishops by writing. It was done by Byzantine emperors because they were regarded as guardians of the Orthodoxy. The place of the Emperors is now taken by the First Patriarch, the Bishop of Rome. In the two instances in modern times when such a definition was made, namely, the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, a referendum to bishops in communion with Rome was chosen in preference to a Council” (p. 108-09)

I’ve written at length on this in my article A Papal Infallibility That an Eastern Orthodox can Accept? citing more examples in history of this, but this observation of Fr. Dvornik seems quite right in my estimation. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church issued at the 2nd Vatican Council, balances the definition of Papal power given at Vatican 1. The ecclesiology was already known, however, when Pastor Aeternus was written up. One noteworthy Catholic theologian, Rev. Fr. Francis Spirago (1862-1942), states the following in his The Catechism Explained (1899):

When the Pope gives a decision on a doctrinal matter, it is Christ Who keeps him from error by the agency of the Holy Ghost; moreover the bishops are always consulted before any such decision is given… Although the Pope is infallible in his solemn decisions, general councils are not for that reason superfluous; for the confer a greater external solmenity on the Pope’s decrees, and the teaching of the Church can be more thoroughly examined in these assemblies. Hence these general councils may, under certain circumstances, be necessary as well as useful. Even the apostles held a general council at Jerusalem, though each single apostle was infallible in his office as teacher.” (239-40)

Therefore, Pastor Aeternus can’t be used to attempt to paint the Catholic doctrine of the Papacy as if it endorsed Papal isolationism, and less so Papal omniscience. Lumen Gentium, taken with what was already well known prior to the 2nd Vatican Council, shows forth clearly the fact that the Papacy needs the Episcopate and the Episcopate needs the Papacy. In other words, both Head and Members need each other, albeit in different ways. Even so, there is more the Orthodox can say here that shouldn’t be ignored. It may very well be the “inconsitent” resolution of Catholics to say that the Pope has the supreme power of magisterium though he must exercise it, by force of God’s plan, His intention with the Episcopal College, and the moral law of collegiality, together with cooperation of his brother Bishops, and even the whole Church (sensus fidelium), it remains the fact that the Pope’s power is such that it can’t be restricted absolutely by any ecclesiastical authority. And yet, the Greek Bishops at Constantinople (553) are found restricting the Pope from prohibiting themselves from being able to follow through with their Council. His power of restraint was impotent to them as they saw themselves, by the authority of the synod, as vested with the power to excommunicate, or even depose, the Pope from his office and place in the Church. Therefore, says the Orthodox, such Dvornikian clarifications about the collegial manner of absolute Papal power don’t suffice to protect the Papal apologist from the Golden Gun of this 8th session of Constantinople (553).

Admittedly, the Orthodox are right to keep their hands firm in pressing the Catholic against the wall on this. Also, it must be conceded that this is a very powerful piece of evidence against the decrees of Pastor Aeternus. However, it comes short of being a Golden Gun fatality, and here’s why in 6 points.

In the first place, it had been long known in the history of the Papal West that the Pope, if he be found deviant from the Catholic faith, should be recognized as self-deposed, only needing the confirmatory decree of Bishops assembled in a Council. In other words, there is room in the Papal-ecclesiology for a situation like that of the Bishops at Constantinople 553 to transpire, even if it would come with much pain, confusion, and perhaps some unexpected dents to Catholic epistemological paradigms of authority (dents that many Catholics are too uncomfortable to admit). An early example of this tense duality (that is, upholding Papal Infallibility/Supremacy while also holding conditions of Papal Failure/Heresy) is in the decision of Pope St. Leo II (682-83) who confirmed the decrees of the Council of Constantinople III (681) which condemned Pope Honorius, his predecessor, for heresy. St. Leo II is venerated by the Orthodox Church on July 3rd, and yet notice how, in his decree confirming the Council, he shows no hesitation in affirming the divinely instituted Papal office, St. Agatho’s dogmatic utterance on the protection of the Roman see, and has no apparent problem being in agreement with the Council of 681 to anathamatize Honorius for heresy. Although there is still reason to step back here. As Archimandrite Placide Deseille, a French Trappist monk who converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism, once asked, in so many words, “Could something like a condemnation of Pope Honorius happen today? If so, how?” (see his chapter in Metropolitan Alexander Golitzin’s book The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mount Athos).

Secondly, the Greek Bishops may have violated their own rule by the simple fact that they were not acting in cooperating with the Western Bishops representing the 2nd half of Christendom, leaving their efforts to an Eastern regional synod. How can we say that this Council, led by the abusive force of Imperial will and lacking the full representation of the ecumenical Church, lived by its own standards? Whilst it is true that Pope Vigilius confirmed the Council, as did his successors, and for this reason Catholics count it as the 5th Ecumenical Council, that does not automatically render all of its proceedings and actions sufficient in themselves (e.g. Constantinople 381).

Third, there are far too many supports for the axiom that Councils cannot be considered authoritative, or at least Ecumenically so, until the decrees are observed and ratified by the Apostolic See, and it is precisely that which these Greek Bishops (at that moment) lacked. If the Greek Bishops were so fond of following the example of the Fathers who met in the prior 4 Councils, what is to be made of the statement of the Papal legate Lucentius in Session 1 wherein he says the following in his accusation against Dioscorus: “And he dared to hold a synod without the authority of the Apostolic See, a thing which had never taken place nor can take place.” Of course, this was before Rome recognized Constantinople (381) as an Ecumenical Council. St. Jerome read St. Luke’s account of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and concluded that it was St. Peter, being of “so great authority,” who was the “author of that rule” and “prime mover in issuing the decree” that Gentiles need not be circumcised to be saved (c.f. Epistle 75). The Petrine ministry, therefore, is absolutely essential to any final and definitive judgments of the Church, both in the example offered by the Greek Bishops in the Apsotles concerning circumcision and in the example of the Church Fathers who met in the 4 Ecumenical Councils.

Fourth, the Council was clearly influenced by the Caesaro-Papistical lordship of Emperor Justinian who had threatened all the Bishops, even replacing the Patriarch of Alexandria, and sending threats to others (as far as North Africa). leaving everyone to question the genuine “conciliarity” of such a convocation. The Pope had undergone a great deal of suffering at the hands of Justinian in order to pressure him to condemn the Three Chapters, and the story has led a great many scholars to say that this was clearly an abuse of authority over the lawful Magisterium of the Church. In other words, there is a massive question as to whether the Council of Constantinople (553), at this time of its convocation, was in complete conformity of the “rule of synods” which the 7th Ecumenical Council said was the indispensible “synergy” or “cooperation” of the Patriarch of the Apostolic See of Rome. Consequently, the full implications of what the statement made in the 8th session are still to be more fully explained further by the Church herself. And yes, that means that it raises some questions that, hitherto, Catholics don’t really have solid answers for.

Fifthly, even if the anti-Papal Orthodox were to gain all they could from this 8th session of the Council, what results from that gain? They may (for the sake of argument) gain the falsification of the Papacy (obviously, I argue it isn’t), but what else is gained? Well, it would prove that a Council convened by the Emperor and held without the participation of the Apostolic See of Rome can bring itself to a successful completion. On the flip side of the same coin, it would also prove that an Emperor with only Eastern Patriarchs can suffice to constitute a valid Ecumenical Council. This creates some unwanted problems, however. For one, it would prove a constitutional theory of Ecumenical Councils which is discordant with what was held by significant voices in 1st millennium Church history. We know that the law of Councils, as made plain in Councils, Fathers, and antique historians, requires the Pope to be involved in a Council in order to constitute it as “ecumenical”, or at least the Pope of Rome to ratify its decrees (ex post facto). I don’t have the space or commitment to prove that here, but one should consult S. Herbert Scott’s The Eastern Churches and the Papacy for some historical data on this point. Presuming that this is true, an Orthodox Christian who seeks to gain from the 8th session of Constantinople 553 the idea that an Emperor with Eastern Patriarchs is constitutionally sufficient, in both form and matter, to make an Ecumenical Council would be landing in a different mindset than that of the majority of the 1st millennium Patrimony. On top of that, this constitutional theory wouldn’t be applicable to the Orthodox in contemporary times. If a Council were held today with, reflecting the comparable propoertion to Justinian’s council, half the Hierarchs under an Emperor-figure (such as the collective execution of the United Nations, as one example), would it be deemed a properly constituted Ecumenical Council, or even a Pan-Orthodox synod (one that required assent)? In the end, what occurred at the 8th session of Constantinople (553) isn’t a proper constitution for either Eastern Orthodox or Catholics altogether. Thus, it shouldn’t be adorned with the character of being a definitive exemplar.

Lastly, if, as the Orthodox might press, the inclusion of this “conciliar” mentality, stated as an “absolutely” binding norm, requires Catholics who hold that Constantinople (553) is Ecumenical to subscribe to it as interpreted in the plain sense, then I am curious to know if the letters of Pope Hadrian (787) to Empress Irene and Emperor Constantine VI which was read aloud and inserted into the Acts of Nicaea (787) is equally requisite for the Orthodox to subscribe to. In these letters, Hadrian spells out the full blown doctrine of the perpetual Papacy as a matter of divine institution. Similarly, one wonders whether the grand letter of Pope St. Agatho (681) which was read aloud and praised at the Council of Constantinople (681) which even the late Church historian Philip Schaff recognized was emphatic, in its plain sense, of Papal infallibility, is also equally binding upon the Orthodox? Other examples could be brought forward, but this point suffices to show that a Golden Gun fatality can work both ways if we are pressing these matters so inflexibly.

With these considerations, one must not take away the force of the argument from the Orthodox that this statement and action of the Greek Bishops at Constantinople (553) is a significant piece of evidence to bolster a case for their own ecclesiology over that defined in Pastor Aeternus. There is no question that these Bishops who showed their willingness to take action against a “wayward” Pope is extremely difficult to bridge with Catholic ecclesiology. However, it comes short of a Golden Gun fatality for the reasons adduced, even if it does put the ball back in the court of the Catholic Church to be more precise and clear on what utilities the Church has when and if a validly reigning Pope is found to be deviant from the faith, or even so egregiously failing to his duties to defend the faith. Understandably, some Orthodox will be quick to fire back on some of the reasons adduced above, and that is largely due to the fact that this article was not meant to give space for an exhaustive proof of each and every single point. That would have to be left for a book-size treatment of the matter.

10 thoughts on “Is the 8th Session of Constantinople II (553) a Golden Gun Fatality to the Papacy?

  1. Thank you, excellent piece of work once again. I’d love to know how you distill more recent events through your filter, such as Paul VI claims and use of authority in 1) issuance of Humane Vitae and 2) his dealings with Arch. Lefebrve. I always found it curious how his authority (or anybody’s for that matter in the modern age) is circumscribed or amplified by the both the receivers and messengers; in the case of #1 above, for example, he was against the popular tide of the secular west, to the point that the near wholesale rejection of HV by the laity and much of the hierarchy makes one wonder just how Catholics approach authority and obedience other than capricious convenience, and in the case of #2, he had the modern wind at his back and relentlessly hammered Lefebrve about submitting to his authority in a way he never dared to do with those who rejected HV.

    • The clergy were not against HV. That is a myth. The clergy voted on Contraception at V2. Heavy majority were against it. But this never made it into the decrees. Pope Paul decided to send the matter to a committee of 9 people (some clergy, some laity). Six of nine advised against decreeing against Contraception. And this is where the “majority of the Church” was against Pope Paul comes in. It’s a rather silly thing to say once one understands the context. So pope Paul rejected the committee and went with what his brother bishops voted on at V2.

      • You miss my point. When was the last time you heard a bishop or priest, let alone a synod, talk against contraception and in support of Humanae Vitae? Your historical snapshot, while interesting, is rather irrelevant, given how since the promulgation of HV very, very few clergy or lay defend it, and many have outright rejected it with no consequence. This stands in sharp contrast to the heavy hand Paul VI used in dealing with Lefebrve. My question was how does this rejection of authority and, to be charitable, fluidity of obedience on the one hand, and old school discipline on the other, fit into the papal construct of the article? Catholics feel free to reject much authority, and clerics are not inclined to take on the disobedience, unless it comes from Traddies. Is all this consistent with some model that Roman Catholics expect Orthodox to accept? And why should the Orthodox accept such a model, when it is rejected without consequence by Catholics?

      • “When was the last time you heard a bishop or priest, let alone a synod, talk against contraception and in support of Humanae Vitae?”

        Two weeks ago? I’ve heard numerous priests speak against contraception in favor of Humanae Vitae. In my NO parish the priest (and our deacon) has brought it up more than once over the years. And others I know are in a similar situation. I think it largely depends on where you live.

  2. Pingback: Réponses aux objections historiques contre la primauté et l’infaillibilité du Pape (2) | +†+Yesus Kristus azu+†+

  3. I think a key thing to remember here is that the Eastern bishops wanted to anathematise Vigilius on the basis of heresy and they took his unwillingness to agree that the Three Chapters were heretical as a sign of the pope actually being in heresy himself. Otherwise they wouldn’t have condemned or excluded him – by itself, what the quoted text directly shows is only that some Eastern bishops and patriarchs thought a council could act without the pope if he fell into heresy, not that a council doesn’t need the pope at all.

    And the fact is, it’s been long-established in the West that a heretical bishop can and should be deposed, and thus that an ecumenical council can act without the pope in this specific case. So the 5th EC provides us with no actual direct argument against Papal Supremacy.

    • No Orthodox, who wishes to be credible, can say that we did not have the Pope as first among equals during the first millennium, more or less. I would further hazard that the vast majority would also say that it was more than just a primacy of honor, that the Pope of Rome did indeed have and exercise unique authority, the first coming to mind is the court of last resort. BUT….this business of having an authority immediate, supreme and universal, even Catholics struggle with what this means, and how it’s exercised. So no Orthodox would see in a unified situation any recognition of the full monty that is Pastor Aeternus, when there is such murkiness and lack of consensus within the Latin Rite itself on this issue.

    • Well, the Western theory behind this is that of an “imperfect” council of bishops that would announce the emptiness of St. Peter’s Chair, paving the way for a new election. The Greek bishops @ Constantinople (553) didn’t feel the need to elect a new Pope to make perfect their Council. So it would appear that they did think the Council was sufficient withou Papal ratification.

  4. At the very least it must be acknowledged that the errors, heresies, and abuses of Vatican II start with Vatican I making papal infallibility a dogma, or even before that actually in the reason behind Vatican I or the justification behind holding a sectarian council in the Vatican and then pretending it is an “ecumenical council” when its really naught but a rubber stamp to what a heretical pope wanted rubber stamped, i.e. in Vatican I the dogmatization of his pretence to infallibility, and in Vatican II the outright Satanism that follows from declaring onf man other than Jesus Himself as infallible and head of the church. In shoet, the only way forward for Catholicism is for a true ecumenical council to anathemize Vatican I and Vatican II as heretical and anathemize all who participated in them as heresiarchs.

  5. You’re the first Catholic I’ve finally seen address this argument, Ybarra. Thank you. I’ve been greatly influenced by Seraphim Hamilton, and have always used this argument as one of the prime demonstrations against Catholicism. I do still think there is a “superiority (or “primacy,” if I want to be real cheeky)” of this argument over Pope Hadrian’s statement to the council, and maybe Pope Agatho’s, but I’ll have to probably read this again to absorb it more to get a feel for what you’re saying, especially since, again, this is really the first time I’ve actually seen someone respond to this argument. You touched on some pretty relevant things that Orthodox need to keep in mind when using this argument, and the part of Agatho’s and Hadrian’s letters have always been in the back of my mind when I use this argument. It’s also pertinent to bring up Gasser’s Relatio and how it does indeed say the Pope cannot logically be lacking the consent of the Church when making an infallible statement (it begs a question for me, personally, but that’s not relevant here). I started a long comment chain on one of Ubi Petrus’ videos when I pointed this out, and it ended up in Ubi Petrus and another of the R&T crew debating over what Gasser meant. You might’ve addressed this in the article, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I don’t know about Dvornik’s claim that the Pope must first hear what the Church has to say before making an infallible statement, a la Pius IX’s definition of the IC, and Pius XII’s definition of the Assumption. It seems to me that while it is prudent for him to do such, and while the consent of the Church won’t be lacking from him, it still can all occur more or less separate from the rest of the Church, if the Pope decides for some reason to make an infallible statement on his own, however foolish it might be. Again, you might’ve addressed that, but I wasn’t entirely sure. It’s just what popped out to me that I thought worthy of noting. Regardless, it’s good that we’re finally getting a more well-rounded view of things, with the balance of Primacy and Conciliarity, which I honestly don’t think Vatican II really did.

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