Rev. Dr. Richard Price speaks on Papal Authority and the Byzantine Reception in the 1st Millennium – Which Side Stands to Gain?

Recently, the prolific Michael Lofton brought on Dr. Richard Price, a well-known scholar in Church History and Patristic Theology, to discuss the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Nestorian Controversy. This is not the first time that Price has made an appearance on Reason and Theology (see here and here), and so he is familiar with the atmosphere that R&T brings to the table. This time, Price had some more commentary on the phenomenon of Papal authority and the Byzantine reception of it in the 1st millennium. Some of this commentary simply rehearses what he has already said in previous videos. I wanted to publish a brief article to ask the question of which side, today, stands to gain from his commentary?

First, what does Price say about this subject? In short, he understands that the Popes of Rome, either in their emphatic letters or in the person of their legates, were quite definitive and clear in declaring that the supreme authority of the Church is the heir of St. Peter who occupies his throne in the Roman bishopric. Papal decrees do not need the acceptance by Ecumenical Councils in order for them to have binding authority on all souls of the Lord’s body. On the other hand, Price is equally emphatic in saying that the Byzantine Patriarchs and Bishops did not receive this at all and were of an entirely different perspective. Rather than holding to the Papal principle, the Byzantines held that the supreme authority in the Church was invested in the Emperor as God’s anointed man to order Christian society to meet its end of spreading the mission of Christ to all corners of the world.

During the video presentation, Michael asks a very apt question: today the Eastern Orthodox Churches do not assemble under one Roman Emperor; how, then, is a workable unity between Catholics and Orthodox (or even just among Orthodox) to happen? Price did not give a clear answer to this question, but he added the point that the Byzantines heeded the Imperial power in convoking Ecumenical Councils and that when and if they were confronted with the claims of supreme power in the Papacy, they simply acquiesced to it as any wise and pragmatic man does in order to achieve another goal, namely, the refutation and condemnation of certain heresies of the time. They were acting as opportunists, in other words. Never did they (the East) truly share Rome’s perspective on the Papal claims, according to Price.

Now, I’m not here to share whether I think Price is wrong or right (I do happen to disagree with him, somewhat). Nonetheless, I do want to answer the following question: Given Price’s commentary on the question of the Papacy and the Orthodox, which side is to gain? I’ve seen comments from the various corners of the internet that Price’s comments are a major blow to Catholicism and a great service to Byzantine Orthodox claims. I’ve even seen Orthodox commentators reproduce a video clip and zoom in on my face at one of the Price interviews as if to show how, to my “amazement”, the Papal claims were just scorched off the intellectual surface. For the life of me, I don’t see how the least bit of sense in this.

Price’s statements on how the Byzantine East never accepted the Papal claims can sound very damaging to the Catholic position on these things. And it is true that it takes a huge swipe at the Catholic position. That is undoubtedly true. However, there are two preliminary things about this claim that should be noted, and will surely serve to blunt the sharp sword that the Orthodox blogosphere seems to think shines through the video commentary of Price. First, if the Byzantine never accepted the Papal claims, then that means there were Papal claims in existence. That might not sound very impactful. However, it is. Just who was making the Papal claims, and were they considered weighty? It was no less than the Apostolic See that was making those claims, and any historian of Christianity knows that the Apostolic See (i.e., the See of Rome) was extremely influential throughout the 1st millennium in overcoming heresies and heretics, at least for the first 1,000 years. Moreover, the Papal representation at the Ecumenical Councils represented the whole West, and so the Papal claims are attached to the Western representation of these Councils. Therefore, it was not just a small fraction of the Episcopal presence of these Councils that held the Papal claims, but at least the spiritual half of it all. Add to this that the Papal side was always on the side of seeking to recover a problem that was hatched in the East. The second point is that while the Byzantines rejected the Papal claims, what does Price say they accepted in its place? The Conciliarist idealism that we learn about today? No. The Byzantines, says Price, were of the position that the Roman Emperor was the possessor of supreme power in ecclesiastical affairs (I don’t happen to agree 100% with this, but that’s his position). Now, one only has to ask whether that belief system survived the 15th century? We all know it did not since the Ottomon Turks, unfortunately, took over New Rome (Constantinople) in 1453. And so this Byzantine view of Imperial supremacy might have been the firm position of the Greeks in the 1st millennium, but that system fell out of existence a while ago, has been out of existence for more than 500 years, and has no sign of returning. Now, what is more damning to the truth of something? It’s unlikelihood or its non-existence? The answer is obvious. And so while the Catholic position, as described by Price, lacks the entire Greek Patristic acceptance, that which the latter did accept has been extinguished from real life.

There are some extra facts that come out of Price’s commentary that should not be ignored. Price is clear that the Papal claims were both definitive and clearly announced, and put into the texts of Ecumenical Councils (c.f., Philip at Ephesus 431, Leo at Chalcedon 451, Agatho at C’ple 681, and Hadrian at Nicaea 787). Has the listener stopped to think of what the consequence of this is? That means that the Papal claims made it into the writing of the Councils, which were always understood by the Fathers to be God-breathed. And so, whether the Byzantines inwardly rejected them, and merely acquiesced, has little bearing on whether the claims themselves made it intentionally into the Acts of these Councils. And concerning the text of Councils… what is more significant, the text itself or the way that the subscribers felt about the text? In my mind, that the Papal claims were accepted without external protest means that they were allowed to be inserted into the sacred writing of the Councils, and that surely has to be significant. For which side? I’ll let the reader decide. Now, lest I be misunderstood, I don’t think Price’s comments do any championing of the Papal claims, and by extension the Catholic position at current. However, I think his commentary on both the Papal claims and the Byzantine claims have to be equally analyzed and weighed fairly before one side claims victory over the other.

24 thoughts on “Rev. Dr. Richard Price speaks on Papal Authority and the Byzantine Reception in the 1st Millennium – Which Side Stands to Gain?

  1. Were the Papal claims a dogmatic faith requirement before Vatican I? In other words, did faithful Catholics need to believe that those claims were required to be in communion with the right faith? Certainly the Popes of Rome would promote their See, and Orthodox give it great honor to this day. But to elevate those Papal claims to the level of faith in the God-Man, or that Mary is the Theotokos? That’s a much higher bar, and that Catholics to this day do not express that belief in such claims anywhere in any of the rites. I am led to believe that not a few bishops in the West had, for example, had a prohibition against Papal infallibility in their local catechisms before Vatican I. Of greater importance than what Orthodox think of the Papacy is, what do Catholics actually believe about the Papacy, how do Catholics understand its claims and authority, how are they exercised, and how would anyone else know what Catholics believe about those claims, given the evidence of all the various interpretations about the Papacy and the See of Rome at work today and utter paucity of reference to those claims in the interior liturgical life of the Latin rite?

    • Yes to the first 2 questions.

      And the status of the Papacy, in the theological order, is precisely the same as the dogma of the Episcopal Office. Now, I assume you are Orthodox? Is the Monarchical Episcopate a dogma, and would you then pretend that it is just as important as the deity of Christ?

      • Yes, I am Orthodox. Thanks for your reply. In response to your second question, yes, but I wonder if you and I understand things the same way. How I know what to believe as “right belief” is, first and foremost, what we pray together. And certainly at every liturgical event (of which we have quite a few, esp. now during Lent), we pray for our hierarchs, then for the priests, deacons, monastics, and then for the laity. Never separate, everyone always together. It’s a supplication to God “for help, preservation, peace, health and salvation, and for the work of his hands.” At the ordination of a bishop (as that for a priest), he pledges obedience and publicly affirms his adherence to the faith. We affirm the instruction of St. Paul, who “established for us diverse orders and offices – first, Apostles, then Prophets, and thirdly, Teachers – to serve and officiate the divine celebration of Your pure and undefiled mysteries upon Your Holy Altar.” And, of course, the bishop is acclaimed by the entire congregation as “Worthy”, so this is a two-way street – there is the underlying premise that if a bishop does not guard what was handed down to him, what he pledged to protect, he makes himself unworthy and subject to being removed or at least ignored. Not pretty, not always acted on, but worthiness is not guaranteed by virtue of ordination.

        If importance of dogma is correlated to the number of times we pray about it, then descriptors about The Trinity, worship due just to the Triune Godhead, ranks as #1, with how we are to consider the Theotokos as #2, in addition to supplications as #3. And, from what I’ve experienced of western rite services, I don’t detect a whole lot of difference.

      • Hi Stephen,

        If you hold to the Ecumenical Councils, then you hold to the Papal office as a real office. Many historically sensitive Orthodox realize this. They just think the Papal Office of Rome is dormant through heresy. But these do not question that there was an office of Peter distinct from all others, and which was stationed in the Roman bishopric.

        Unless you think the data of Ecumenical Councils are not as authoritative as the liturgy?

  2. Great article Erick. I do think, contrary to what the Orthodox say, this is rather a swipe against the Orthodox. If this is really what God wanted for the Church, why did He allow the empire to collapse? I think to support their arguments the Orthodox need to start digging deep into pre-Nicene ecclesiology.
    Also, God bless you for putting up with all the insults from orthobros throughout the past few years. That’s very tough to deal with. I’m very excited for your book!

  3. Erick, a very insightful question, this: “Unless you think the data of Ecumenical Councils are not as authoritative as the liturgy?” Could I rephrase your question this way? “If ever a conflict were to arise between what is professed in the liturgical life of the Church, and what is proclaimed in an Ecumenical Council, which has the greater claim on the faithful for their salvation and greater chance of being a part of the deposit of revelation?” I would most definitely answer the former, as that is more aligned with the “lex orandi, lex credendi” formulation of whoever was that great western saint to whom it is originally attributed.

    • Thank you Stephen,

      Now can you show me any Church Father who would (1) deny that the data of Ecumenical Councils are infallible, and (2) that the Liturgy wins over an Ecumenical Council?

      • Regarding 1, I can’t recall any off the top of my head, but then again, it depends on what you mean by infallible. Does every canon proclaimed in every Ecumenical Council carry the same weight? Has any canon been changed, rejected or simply ignored by succeeding generations, with no condemnation or accusation of heresy? I think you’ll find a lot more canons from Ecumenical Councils that have been changed, rejected or ignored than any data point from the liturgical life of the Church, which by its very nature is much less subject to caprice and subjectivity than any canons or proclamations of the Magisterium.
        2. It strikes me as axiomatic that the liturgical life of the Church is paramount, and again, I can’t recall any off the top of my head of any such quote from any Church Father, but no such quote may exist, as the Fathers looked to primary sources – Scripture and Tradition, conveyed primarily – if not exclusively during those centuries of persecution – via the inner liturgical life of the Church. Axiomatic because, as you know, they first prayed for quite a few decades before Nicea I was called in the fourth century, and much of what anybody put forth to justify their position did so by first saying (more or less), “this is what we received as the right faith from our predecessors, who received it from theirs, who received it from….(name of founding Apostle/bishop/whomever) who publicly proclaimed it and we make known our fidelity in our generation via public, common prayer and Scripture”.

      • Stephen,

        Well, can you give us an example of a part of an Ecumenical Council that was later deemed heretical or a falsehood? If not, then I’m not sure you are standing on any platform with your previous comment. Perhaps this is how you feel, but this has to be supported, do you see?

        Secondly, you also have to find an example of how the Patristic unanimity of what is contained in Scripture is subservient to the raw text of the liturgy. It can be argued, in any case, that the reading of Matthew 16, John 21, and Luke 23 are simultaneously liturgical and Papal texts. Otherwise, I think the claims you make are actually too heavy to carry into effect.

  4. Erick, 1. my point is that there is a hierarchy of canons from synods and councils, ie some have greater weight than others in relation to being a faith requirement (Christological, Trinitarian, Marian for example) which are unchangeable, are 100% aligned with what is prayed, and to transgress would amount to heresy. Then there are others that are more administrative focused and/or bound to their era. (say, the prohibition against dueling). These latter aren’t unimportant, just not faith requirements, and, the changeable being subject to change, could be, even as the unchangeable will never be changed.
    2. The texts you reference are, as you probably know, also within the cycle of readings of the Byzantine calendar, and probably the Coptic and other eastern ones too, I would guess. So they are in every way important to us as part of the deposit of faith. Now, where would I go to understand how you in the western rite understand those passages, and whether that understanding is different than ours? Well, one place, and perhaps among the most important, would be what is prayed throughout the Latin Rite during a great feast that draws on that Scripture – the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter for example. And the collect for this feast is “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.” No Orthodox could object to that prayer, and hence that belief as to what Scripture means in this regard.

    So, this to me brings up an interesting notion: Are there faith requirements in any rite, east or west, that have little to no alignment, correlation or connection with what is prayed? If so, how many, how weighty are they, how did that gap come to be between what is prayed and what is believed, and is the existence of any such gap a good or bad thing?

  5. Erick, I do appreciate the nudging to support one’s positions. As to which comes first, and which is dependent on the other (liturgy or Ecumenical Councils), the kontakion for the feast of Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council is instructive, to give but one example: “The preaching of the apostles and the teaching of the Fathers have confirmed the faith of the Church, which she wears as the garment of truth, woven from the theology on high, as she faithfully imparts and glorifies the great mystery of devotion.” Thus, what is to be measured is not proclamations of councils versus liturgy as if they were of equal status, but rather, how much does any utterance of any member of the Church, whether solo or in group, vary from what is jointly, publicly prayed together now, in the past, and forever. Said another way, If something is not prayed, why should it be believed? You may enjoy Met. Ware’s commentary here, esp. on that the Eucharist makes the Church, the Church.

    • Stephen,

      Nothing Metropolitan Kallistos says here denies what I am saying. On the contrary, he supports it. The roman primacy was always understood to be based upon the dual reality of Christ’s words to St Peter in Matthew, Luke, and John, as well as Peter’s lasting station remaining in Rome. That is known and proclaimed both conciliarly and liturgically. The view you hold would have justified the Monothelite and Iconoclastic heretics.

      • “The view you hold would have justified the Monothelite and Iconoclastic heretics.” That is quite a claim. How so? I would not be comfortable launching such a claim against somebody without first pointing out the rationale to defend it. Are you saying because I pray what was prayed before me, that in so doing I justify those heresies?
        Also, use of the term “roman primacy” is not terribly precise. The pontiffs of Rome may always have promoted that (and bully for them – I’d never buy a car from a Ford dealer who drove a Chevy), but you know the issue remains just how exactly that primacy was received, understood and accepted by others, over time. Still a work in progress, it would seem, given the wide variance with which even today it is received, understood and accepted in the West, as evidenced by the varying debates between Traddies and Only Novus Ordo types, among others.

      • Hi Stephen ,

        I meant that since icons and two-wills do not come up in the liturgy prior to the 7th century, that Christians running with your strict rule would have excluded them from the circle of divine truths.

  6. I think certain maxims are good on a general, pragmatic level but not exhaustively and infallibly true, and treating them as such. But they frequently are taken hyper-literally by Orthodox apologists and unwittingly shoot themselves in the foot.

    For instance:
    “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”

    All the deets of papal infallibility are not expressed in the Mass, and to my knowledge all the deets of Palamism are not expressed in the DL.

    “Everywhere, always and by all”

    Aside from the fact that certain expressions of the fathers, both before after Nicea, are ambiguous and can be read in heretical lights — See Newman’s essay — Both Catholics and Orthodox take sides on issues that don’t reflect “everywhere, always and by all” in a literal sense, only a moral one. Icons — always? Papacy — everywhere? Filioque/Monopatrism — by all?

    There are others, too — eg “what is not assumed is not redeemed”, but you see my point. They aren’t exhaustive tools, just good general blueprints. Taking them hyper literal, as maxims created by men, how do we expect them to encompass all of revealed Divine truth?

    • John, good points all. In response to your question, I would not expect any one or all maxims to encompass all of revealed Divine truth – but I do expect all of revealed Divine Truth to be within the Church, as the Bridegroom of Christ. If it is not 100% within the Church, now, always and forever, where else would it be? So the question is, how is Truth revealed to us, and how do we access it? Further, how do we understand the unchanging content of any one faith requirement from its historically and culturally conditioned expression?

      If our starting point is not based in the Eucharistic assembly (which, be definition, is inclusive of scripture and tradition), then we’d be just making it up. And the first place (as in a first principle, from which all others are derived) is common prayer of that assembly. If a data element would ever exist within the set of faith requirements that is NOT derived from what is prayed, I would think its credibility is rather suspect – which is part of the Orthodox objection to Pastor Aeternus.

      “Holy things are for the holy people”, John 17:20-23, Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 2:9-10, are all supportive of Palamas’ defense of theosis. And most Orthodox today would say that there is nothing in the Latin Church that contradicts Palamas, especially as Barlaam of Calabria was never canonized (so there are no prayers related to him).

    • and Newman on the point of a final authority to interpret was, by his own admission, somewhat sheepish. “God would not have left us without one” is not the ringing defense of ultramontanism that Manning et al wanted, esp. from one so prominent as he.

  7. Reblogged this on Erick Ybarra and commented:

    Fr Al Kimel, the well known Eastern Orthodox blogger @ Eclectic Orthodoxy, has been dear to many readers for his long-standing (close to 15 years now?) record of providing thought-provoking blog articles on theology. He has recently published a blog giving a basic summary of how the Byzantine-East received the claims to papal supremacy from the West throughout the 1st millennium (he borrows from another blog entitled Orthodoxidation) taking largely from the commentary provided by Rev. Dr. Richard Price on Reason and Theology (if you haven’t seen them, go check them out). See the link below the paragraph for Fr. Kimel’s article.
    Fr. Kimel doesn’t reveal his own interpretation of Fr. Price but simply gives a summary of what he thinks answers the original question. Other Orthodox, such as the author of the Orthodoxidation article linked in Fr. Kimel’s blog post below, have interpreted Fr. Price’s commentary as a huge blow to Catholicism and a victory for the Byzantine claims. I myself have responded to this some time ago in the article on my own blog entitled “Rev. Dr. Richard Price speaks on Papal Authority and the Byzantine Reception in the 1st Millennium – Which Side Stands to Gain?” (see the article linked at the bottom). I did not want the record to only have what appears to me a rather hasty misapprehension of Fr. Price.

  8. Thank you for hosting the new video today and linking to this article in its description. This is the first time I’ve heard anyone propose that the Orthodox/East viewed any man, let alone emperor as supreme in anything theological. If this is true, I would take that to be very bad for the Orthodox position.

    Out of two terrible options- accept any man as supreme over theology, pope wins over an emperor for sure. However, if that would be the case, then Protestantism sounds a lot less ridiculous since it would mean that both of the original churches fell to corruption of wanting to put a man in a supreme position in a church.

    Is there any way to substantiate this claim- that Orthodox thought of emperor as supreme theologian?

    I have a pope who explicitly rejects title of a universal bishop if you’re interested. It’s from Pope Gregory I, known as Saint Gregory the Great:

    Saint Gregory the Great’s thoughts on a Universal Bishop

    Looking for truth. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

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