Church “fathers” and the Roman papacy
The following compilation which pertains to the papacy is from the work of Jason Engwer (not me), from what are wrongly termed early “church fathers,” as in truth the church began and greatly grew before them, and its “fathers” are essentially only those who are found in Scripture, and which is the judge of all. The church fathers which Roman Catholicism and Orthodox churches look to were mostly bishops who wrote during the first eight centuries of the Christian church. These church leaders were overall holy and very pious men, and whose writings provide some edifying materials, but are inferior in quality and authority to Divinely inspired Scripture, and evidence indicates they were yet seeking to understand as well as defend many things. They are charged with not always being consistent with themselves or each other, and as lacking the unanimous consent which Roman Catholicism requires and claims for its doctrines (but which allows defining non-unanimous as “unanimous” according to the theory of the development of doctrine).
I myself am not versed in all counter arguments, but Engwer can be reached through his blogger page. Any copying of his work should be attributed to him, and used for the glory of God.
Br. Engwer has moved on to blogging and his old web sites (www.ntrmin.org, http://members.aol.com/jasonte) are no longer operative (2011), but for more material and for replies to some citations used in this work, one may visit blogs Br. Engwers is active on such as Triablogue, and also see such resources as those of the Beggars All blog, William Webster's site, Reformation500 site, James White's sites - both Vintage (has more on Roman Catholicism) and the current one. Some of Jason's former work can be found on the Internet Archive file here, and at this site (no formal affiliation).
For the index to more compilations from Engwer as (or if) I complete them (with perhaps some additions of mine own, distinctive at bottom) see here. My own home page is here.
For a custom Google search engine of these and other selected sites, see here. Please note however that this work or offered links cannot mean I may affirm all that is on a site, with all its conclusions, but that they are some of the best evangelical sites I have found, at least on the subject and hand, and believe in “repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21) by His grace through faith, and to His glory.
Anastasius, the bishop of Rome, refers to Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, as "shepherd", "the careful watchman", and "the shipmaster". He refers to how Pope Theophilus "watches over" the church:
"It is felt right that a shepherd should bestow great care and watchfulness upon his flock. In like manner too from his lofty tower the careful watchman keeps a lookout day and night on behalf of the city. So also in the hour of tempest when the sea is dangerous the shipmaster suffers keen anxiety lest the gale and the violence of the waves shall dash his vessel upon the rocks. It is with similar feelings that the reverend and honourable Theophilus our brother and fellow-bishop, ceases not to watch over the things that make for salvation, that God's people in the different churches may not by reading Origen run into awful blasphemies." (Jerome's Letter 95:1) TOC
The Apostolic Constitutions has no concept of a papacy. Instead, it refers to local church leaders as holding the highest offices under God's authority:
"Wherefore both the presbyters and the deacons are those of authority in the Church next to God Almighty and His beloved Son....The bishops of every country ought to know who is the chief among them, and to esteem him as their head, and not to do any great thing without his consent; but every one to manage only the affairs that belong to his own parish, and the places subject to it. But let him not do anything without the consent of all; for it is by this means there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified by Christ, in the Holy Spirit." (8:44, 8:47:35) TOC
Archelaus refers to the apostle Paul's papal primacy, explaining that Paul is the ruler, the architect, and the best master-builder of the churches:
"He gave proof of His presence with us forthwith, and did most abundantly impart Himself to Paul, whose testimony we also believe when he says, 'Unto me only is this grace given.' For this is he who formerly was a persecutor of the Church of God, but who afterwards appeared openly before all men as a faithful minister of the Paraclete; by whose instrumentality His singular clemency was made known to all men, in such wise that even to us who some time were without hope the largess of His gifts has come. For which of us could have hoped that Paul, the persecutor and enemy of the Church, would prove its defender and guardian? Yea, and not that alone, but that he would become also its ruler, the founder and architect of the churches?...From the loving desire for the Saviour we have been called Christians, as the whole world itself attests, and as the apostles also plainly declare. Yea, further, that best master-builder of His, Paul himself, has laid our foundation, that is, the foundation of the Church and has put us in trust of the law, ordaining ministers, and presbyters, and bishops in the same, and describing in the places severally assigned to that purpose, in what manner and with what character the ministers of God ought to conduct themselves, of what repute the presbyters ought to be possessed, and how they should be constituted, and what manner of persons those also ought to be who desire the office of bishop." (Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes, 34, 51) TOC
Augustine explains that his view that Peter is the rock of Matthew 16 was later replaced by the view that Christ is the rock. Notice that he refers to his former view being *replaced*, not just adding a second interpretation to it. He says that the reader can decide for himself which interpretation is more likely. He expects the reader to choose between the two, not accept both. Thus, Augustine advocated the *rejection* of the view that Peter is the rock, and he said that others could do the same:
"In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter: 'On him as on a rock the Church was built.'...But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,' that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received 'the keys of the kingdom of heaven.' For, 'Thou art Peter' and not 'Thou art the rock' was said to him. But 'the rock was Christ,' in confessing whom, as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter. But let the reader decide which of these two opinions is the more probable." (The Retractions, 1:20:1)
Augustine held the Roman church and its bishop in high regard, but he had a non-papal view of church government. Roman Catholic historian Robert Eno comments:
"Elsewhere I have argued in detail Augustine's views of authority in the Church and that, in my opinion, the council [not the Pope] was the primary instrument for settling controversies....I believe that Augustine had great respect for the Roman church whose antiquity and apostolic origins made it outshine by far other churches in the West. But as with Cyprian, the African collegial and conciliar tradition was to be preferred most of the time." (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 79) TOC
In the late fourth century, there was a dispute over who was the legitimate bishop of Antioch. Some people, including the Roman church and its bishop, supported Paulinus. Others supported Meletius. The second ecumenical council, the First Council of Constantinople, was presided over by Meletius, and the council itself was opposed by Rome for a while. The church father Basil, who supported Meletius in opposition to Rome, wrote the following about a letter the bishop of Rome wrote in support of Paulinus, the opponent of Meletius. Ask yourself whether a modern Roman Catholic would respond to a letter from the bishop of Rome this way:
"I hear, moreover, that the Paulinians are carrying about a letter of the Westerns, assigning to them the episcopate of the Church in Antioch, but speaking under a false impression of Meletius, the admirable bishop of the true Church of God. I am not astonished at this. They [the Westerns, including the Roman church and its bishop] are totally ignorant of what is going on here...I congratulate those who have received the letter from Rome. And, although it is a grand testimony in their favour, I only hope it is true and confirmed by facts. But I shall never be able to persuade myself on these grounds to ignore Meletius, or to forget the Church which is under him, or to treat as small, and of little importance to the true religion, the questions which originated the division. I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men [the letter from the bishop of Rome]. Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints." (Letter 214:2)
Roman Catholic apologists often cite church fathers appealing to the Roman church or the Roman bishop for help, and they claim that such appeals for help are evidence of a papacy. But when the church fathers write to *other* churches and *other* bishops in a similar way, Catholics see no papal implications. For example, the Roman Catholic apologist Stephen Ray quotes the following from Basil:
"It has seemed to me to be desirable to send a letter to the bishop of Rome, begging him to examine our condition, and since there are difficulties in the way of representatives being sent from the West by a general synodical decree, to advise him [the bishop of Rome] to exercise his own personal authority in the matter by choosing suitable persons to sustain the labours of a journey,-suitable, too, by gentleness and firmness of character, to correct the unruly among us here" (Upon This Rock [San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1999], p. 207)
That's all he quotes from this letter of Basil. He comments in a footnote:
"The Eastern churches were in dismal condition due to heresy and schism, caused especially by Arianism. Basil confides in Athanasius that the only way out of the situation, in his estimation, is to appeal to the bishop of Rome. He tells Athanasius that he has appealed to the bishop of Rome to 'act on his own authority in the matter'. Basil must have understood the Roman church to have superior authority and the right to exercise it in the Eastern churches. He knows that if the bishop of Rome speaks, those in contention will have to submit." (pp. 207-208)
Even if we go only by what Stephen Ray has told us, we see some problems with his reasoning. Compare his first quote of Basil to the portion of it he requotes in his footnote. In the footnote, he quotes Basil wanting the bishop of Rome to "act on his own authority in the matter", as if Basil is referring to the bishop of Rome exercising jurisdiction over the East. But if you go back and reread the *context*, Basil was referring to the Roman bishop's authority to send representatives from the West. He wasn't referring to jurisdiction over the East.
Furthermore, why should we believe Stephen Ray's claim that if the bishop of Rome spoke, everybody would obey? Did the churches of Asia Minor obey the Roman bishop Victor in the dispute over the celebration of Easter in the second century? No. Did the Western and Eastern bishops who opposed heretical baptism obey the bishop of Rome during the dispute over that issue in the third century? No. Was the bishop of Rome able to defeat the Arian heresy in the fourth century by telling everybody what to believe? No.
But, even worse than Stephen Ray's errors in analyzing what he *did* quote from Basil is what he *didn't* quote. Contrary to what he claims, Basil did *not* view an appeal to the bishop of Rome as the only solution to the problems in the East in the sense Stephen Ray suggests. You could say that it was the only solution in some sense, in the sense of practicality and the exhaustion of other possibilities, for example, but not in the sense of jurisdiction. The letter Stephen Ray quoted from was written to Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and I'm going to quote, below, what Basil said about that bishop. What would Roman Catholic apologists like Stephen Ray make of the following comments if they had been written to the bishop of Rome rather than the bishop of Alexandria:
"As time moves on, it continually confirms the opinion which I have long held of your holiness; or rather that opinion is strengthened by the daily course of events. Most men are indeed satisfied with observing, each one, what lies especially within his own province; not thus is it with you, but your anxiety for all the Churches is no less than that which you feel for the Church that has been especially entrusted to you by our common Lord; inasmuch as you leave no interval in speaking, exhorting, writing, and despatching emissaries, who from time to time give the best advice in each emergency as it arises. Now, from the sacred ranks of your clergy, you have sent forth the venerable brother Peter, whom I have welcomed with great joy. I have also approved of the good object of his journey, which he manifests in accordance with the commands of your excellency, in effecting reconciliation where he finds opposition, and bringing about union instead of division. With the object of offering some contribution to the action which is being taken in this matter, I have thought that I could not make a more fitting beginning than by having recourse to your excellency, as to the head and chief of all, and treating you as alike adviser and commander in the enterprise. I have therefore determined to send to your reverence our brother Dorotheus the deacon, of the Church under the right honourable bishop Meletius, being one who at once is an energetic supporter of the orthodox faith, and is earnestly desirous of seeing the peace of the Churches. The results, I hope, will be, that, following your suggestions (which you are able to make with the less likelihood of failure, both from your age and your experience in affairs, and because you have a greater measure than all others of the aid of the Spirit), he may thus attempt the achievement of our objects....The present state of affairs makes it specially necessary that attention should be called to him [the heretic Marcellus], so that those who seek for their opportunity, may be prevented from getting it, from the fact of sound men being united to your holiness, and all who are lame in the true faith may be openly known; that so we may know who are on our side, and may not struggle, as in a night battle, without being able to distinguish between friends and foes....you will yourself give more complete attention to all these matters, so soon as, by the blessing of God, you find every one entrusting to you the responsibility of securing the peace of the Church." (Letter 69:1-2)
Basil refers to Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, as watching over "all the Churches". He refers to Athanasius as "the head and chief of all" and "commander". He says that Athanasius has "a greater measure than all others of the aid of the Spirit". He refers to Athanasius as a source of unity, with "sound men being united to your holiness". He asks Athanasius to act, so that "all who are lame in the true faith may be openly known; that so we may know who are on our side, and may not struggle, as in a night battle, without being able to distinguish between friends and foes". He tells Athanasius that "you will yourself give more complete attention to all these matters, so soon as, by the blessing of God, you find every one entrusting to you the responsibility of securing the peace of the Church".
These comments of Basil refute Stephen Ray's suggestion that Basil considered a jurisdictional appeal to the bishop of Rome to be the *only* solution to the problems in the East. Not only does Basil say nothing about the bishop of Rome being a Pope, but he even makes comments about the bishop of Alexandria that are higher than what he says about the bishop of Rome. If Basil had made those comments about the bishop of Rome rather than the bishop of Alexandria, Stephen Ray probably would have quoted them in his book. But since Basil was referring to the bishop of Alexandria, Roman Catholic apologists see no papal implications. TOC
Council of Antioch
In previous segments in this series, I've given examples of councils, regional and ecumenical, contradicting Roman Catholicism. I'll be giving more examples over the next several days.
Roman Catholics often cite the council of Sardica in support of the doctrine of the papacy. But the council doesn't have the significance they suggest, as the Protestant historian Philip Schaff explains:
"Much more important than the opinions of individual fathers are the formal decrees of the councils. First mention here belongs to the council of Sardica in Illyria (now Sofia in Bulgaria) in 343, during the Arian controversy. This council is the most favorable of all to the Roman claims. In the interest of the deposed Athanasius and of the Nicene orthodoxy it decreed: (1) That a deposed bishop, who feels he has a good cause, may apply, out of reverence to the memory of the apostle Peter, to the Roman bishop Julius, and shall leave it with him either to ratify the deposition or to summon a new council. (2) That the vacant bishopric shall not be filled till the decision of Rome be received. (3) That the Roman bishop, in such a case of appeal, may, according to his best judgment, either institute a new trial by the bishops of a neighboring province, or send delegates to the spot with full power to decide the matter with the bishops. Thus was plainly committed to the Roman bishops an appellate and revisory jurisdiction in the case of a condemned or deposed bishop even of the East. But in the first place this authority is not here acknowledged as a right already existing in practice. It is conferred as a new power, and that merely as an honorary right, and as pertaining only to the bishop Julius in person. Otherwise, either this bishop would not be expressly named, or his successors would be named with him. Furthermore, the canons limit the appeal to the case of a bishop deposed by his comprovincials, and say nothing of other cases. Finally, the council of Sardica was not a general council, but only a local synod of the West, and could therefore establish no law for the whole church. For the Eastern bishops withdrew at the very beginning, and held an opposition council in the neighboring town of Philippopolis; and the city of Sardica, too, with the praefecture of Illyricum, at that time belonged to the Western empire and the Roman patriarchate: it was not detached from them till 379. The council was intended, indeed, to be ecumenical; but it consisted at first of only a hundred and seventy bishops, and after the recession of the seventy-six Orientals, it had only ninety-four; and even by the two hundred signatures of absent bishops, mostly Egyptian, to whom the acts were sent for their approval, the East, and even the Latin Africa, with its three hundred bishoprics, were very feebly represented. It was not sanctioned by the emperor Constantius, and has by no subsequent authority been declared ecumenical. Accordingly its decrees soon fell into oblivion, and in the further course of the Arian controversy, and even throughout the Nestorian, where the bishops of Alexandria, and not those of Rome, were evidently at the head of the orthodox sentiment, they were utterly unnoticed. The general councils of 381, 451, and 680 knew nothing of such a supreme appellate tribunal, but unanimously enacted, that all ecclesiastical matters, without exception, should first be decided in the provincial councils, with the right of appeal-not to the bishop of Rome, but to the patriarch of the proper diocese. Rome alone did not forget the Sardican decrees, but built on this single precedent a universal right. Pope Zosimus, in the case of the deposed presbyter Apiarius of Sicca (a.d. 417-418), made the significant mistake of taking the Sardican decrees for Nicene, and thus giving them greater weight than they really possessed; but he was referred by the Africans to the genuine text of the Nicene canon. The later popes, however, transcended the Sardican decrees, withdrawing from the provincial council, according to the pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, the right of deposing a bishop, which had been allowed by Sardica, and vesting it, as a causa major, exclusively in themselves." (section 62).
Prior to the council of Sardica, there was a council in Antioch:
"The 25 (mainly disciplinary) 'Canons of Antioch' preserved in many of the ancient collections, both Greek and Latin, were long thought to have been the work of this Council [an Arian council held in Antioch in 341] but are now generally held to belong to a Council held at Antioch in 330." (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, editors [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], p. 78)
This council in Antioch in 330, not to be confused with the Arian council of Antioch in 341, repeatedly contradicts the doctrine of the papacy. The canons of the council say nothing of papal authority, but instead repeatedly assign regional authority to every bishop and condemn any attempt of any bishop to interfere in other regions. Notice that the canons refer to the authority of metropolitans, synods, and the emperor, but say nothing of appealing to papal authority:
"If any one has been excommunicated by his own bishop, let him not be received by others until he has either been restored by his own bishop, or until, when a synod is held, he shall have appeared and made his defence, and, having convinced the synod, shall have received a different sentence. And let this decree apply to the laity, and to presbyters and deacons, and all who are enrolled in the clergy-list." (canon 6)
"IT behoves the bishops in every province to acknowledge the bishop who presides in the metropolis, and who has to take thought for the whole province; because all men of business come together from every quarter to the metropolis. Wherefore it is decreed that he have precedence in rank, and that the other bishops do nothing extraordinary without him, (according to the ancient canon which prevailed from [the times of] our Fathers) or such things only as pertain to their own particular parishes and the districts subject to them. For each bishop has authority over his own parish, both to manage it with the piety which is incumbent on every one, and to make provision for the whole district which is dependent on his city; to ordain prebysters and deacons; and to settle everything with judgment. But let him undertake nothing further without the bishop of the metropolis; neither the latter without the consent of the others." (canon 9)
"If any bishop, or presbyter, or any one whatever of the canon shall presume to betake himself to the Emperor without the consent and letters of the bishop of the province, and particularly of the bishop of the metropolis, such a one shall be publicly deposed and cast out, not only from communion, but also from the rank which he happens to have; inasmuch as he dares to trouble the ears of our Emperor beloved of God, contrary to the law of the Church. But, if necessary business shall require any one to go to the Emperor, let him do it with the advice and consent of the metropolitan and other bishops in the province, and let him undertake his journey with letters from them." (canon 11)
"If any presbyter or deacon deposed by his own bishop, or any bishop deposed by a synod, shall dare to trouble the ears of the Emperor, when it is his duty to submit his case to a greater synod of bishops, and to refer to more bishops the things which he thinks right, and to abide by the examination and decision made by them; if, despising these, he shall trouble the Emperor, he shall be entitled to no pardon, neither shall he have an opportunity of defence, nor any hope of future restoration." (canon 12)
"No bishop shall presume to pass from one province to another, and ordain persons to the dignity of the ministry in the Church, not even should he have others with him, unless he should go at the written invitation of the metropolitan and bishops into whose country he goes. But if he should, without invitation, proceed irregularly to the ordination of any, or to the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs which do not concern him, the things done by him are null, and he himself shall suffer the due punishment of his irregularity and his unreasonable undertaking, by being forthwith deposed by the holy Synod." (canon 13)
"IF any bishop, lying under any accusation, shall be judged by all the bishops in the province, and all shall unanimously deliver the same verdict concerning him, he shall not be again judged by others, but the unanimous sentence of the bishops of the province shall stand firm." (canon 15) TOC
"Presbyters, deacons, or clerics, who shall think good to carry appeals in their causes across the water shall not at all be admitted to communion. IT also seemed good that presbyters, deacons, and others of the inferior clergy in the causes which they had, if they were dissatisfied with the judgments of their bishops, let the neighbouring bishops with the consent of their own bishop hear them, and let the bishops who have been called in judge between them: but if they think they have cause of appeal from these, they shall not betake themselves to judgments from beyond seas, but to the primates of their own provinces, or else to an universal council, as has also been decreed concerning bishops. But whoso shall think good to carry an appeal across the water shall be received to communion by no one within the boundaries of Africa." (Council of Carthage, 28) TOC
In its 28th canon, the Council of Chalcedon said that the Roman church had a primacy *given* to it by the fathers, and the council elevated Constantinople to the same primacy, with Constantinople being second only in chronology and honor, not jurisdiction:
"Following in all things the decisions of the holy Fathers, and acknowledging the canon, which has been just read, of the One Hundred and Fifty Bishops beloved-of-God (who assembled in the imperial city of Constantinople, which is New Rome, in the time of the Emperor Theodosius of happy memory), we also do enact and decree the same things concerning the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, which is New Rome. For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges (isa presbeia) to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honoured with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her"
The bishop of Rome at the time, Leo I, opposed this canon of the council, but the canon was passed and widely accepted anyway. Roman Catholic historian Robert Eno wrote:
"The easterners seemed to attach a great deal of importance to obtaining Leo's approval of the canon, given the flattering terms in which they sought it. Even though they failed to obtain it, they regarded it as valid and canonical anyway." (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 117)
The Roman Catholic scholar William La Due:
"Pope Leo's victory in the doctrinal arena was frustrated by the setback he suffered through canon 28." (The Chair of Saint Peter [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999], p. 301)
Roman Catholic historian Klaus Schatz:
"Rome's opposition to the canon was a complete failure" (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 48)
In his own writings after the council, Leo I acknowledged that canon 28 was widely accepted in spite of his rejection of it.
"The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; but let the Bishop of Alexandria, according to the canons, alone administer the affairs of Egypt; and let the bishops of the East manage the East alone, the privileges of the Church in Antioch, which are mentioned in the canons of Nice, being preserved; and let the bishops of the Asian Diocese administer the Asian affairs only; and the Pontic bishops only Pontic matters; and the Thracian bishops only Thracian affairs. And let not bishops go beyond their dioceses for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited. And the aforesaid canon concerning dioceses being observed, it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province as was decreed at Nice. But the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers." (Council of Constantinople, canon 2) TOC
A council held in Jerusalem wrote the following to Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, thus giving us more evidence that the bishop of Alexandria is a Pope:
"We have done all that you wished...We anathematize those who hold such doctrines [as you have condemned], and also those of Apollinaris, and shall not receive anyone whom you excommunicate." (Jerome's Letter 93) TOC
Around the middle of the third century, dozens of North African bishops gathered together in a council to support a doctrine that was opposed by the bishop of Rome, among other people. In that context, Cyprian denied that there's any Pope:
"For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let us all wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there." - The Seventh Council of Carthage.
Cyprian believed in a primacy of Peter, but explains that the primacy is chronological and symbolic, not jurisdictional:
"The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, 'I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, 'Feed my sheep.' And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, 'As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;' yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity." (On the Unity of the Church, 4)
Cyprian refers to all bishops as successors of Peter, and he refers to all of them possessing the keys and having the words of Matthew 16 applied to them:
"Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: 'I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers." (Epistle 26:1)
In contrast to what Roman Catholicism teaches, Cyprian tells us that church leaders are to be appointed by laymen:
"a bishop is appointed into the place of one deceased, when he is chosen in time of peace by the suffrage of an entire people, when he is protected by the help of God in persecution, faithfully linked with all his colleagues, approved to his people by now four years' experience in his episcopate" (Letter 54:6)
"On which account a people obedient to the Lord's precepts, and fearing God, ought to separate themselves from a sinful prelate, and not to associate themselves with the sacrifices of a sacrilegious priest, especially since they themselves have the power either of choosing worthy priests, or of rejecting unworthy ones....For which reason you must diligently observe and keep the practice delivered from divine tradition and apostolic observance, which is also maintained among us, and almost throughout all the provinces; that for the proper celebration of ordinations all the neighbouring bishops of the same province should assemble with that people for which a prelate is ordained. And the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct. And this also, we see, was done by you in the ordination of our colleague Sabinus; so that, by the suffrage of the whole brotherhood, and by the sentence of the bishops who had assembled in their presence, and who had written letters to you concerning him, the episcopate was conferred upon him, and hands were imposed on him in the place of Basilides." (67:3, 67:5)
The second citation above, from Letter 67, was written in the context of Cyprian opposing the Roman bishop Stephen in a dispute over church government. He criticizes Stephen for supporting the reappointment of a bishop who had been deposed by the people of the church:
"Neither can it rescind an ordination rightly perfected, that Basilides, after the detection of his crimes, and the baring of his conscience even by his own confession, went to Rome and deceived Stephen our colleague, placed at a distance, and ignorant of what had been done, and of the truth, to canvass that he might be replaced unjustly in the episcopate from which he had been righteously deposed." (67:5)
So, not only does Cyprian think that the approval of laymen is necessary for the appointing of a church leader, and not only does he think that the approval of the bishop of Rome isn't necessary, but he even thinks that laymen can appoint a bishop *in opposition to* the bishop of Rome. Compare Cyprian's comments to the teachings of the RCC:
"'One is constituted a member of the episcopal body in virtue of the sacramental consecration and by the hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college.' The character and collegial nature of the episcopal order are evidenced among other ways by the Church's ancient practice which calls for several bishops to participate in the consecration of a new bishop. In our day, the lawful ordination of a bishop requires a special intervention of the Bishop of Rome, because he is the supreme visible bond of the communion of the particular Churches in the one Church and the guarantor of their freedom....Since the sacrament of Holy Orders is the sacrament of the apostolic ministry, it is for the bishops as the successors of the apostles to hand on the 'gift of the Spirit,' the 'apostolic line.' Validly ordained bishops, i.e., those who are in the line of apostolic succession, validly confer the three degrees of the sacrament of Holy Orders." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1559, 1576)
"Furthermore, the sacred and holy Synod teaches, that, in the ordination of bishops, priests, and of the other orders, neither the consent, nor vocation, nor authority, whether of the people, or of any civil power or magistrate whatsoever, is required in such wise as that, without this, the ordination is invalid: yea rather doth It decree, that all those who, being only called and instituted by the people, or by the civil power and magistrate, ascend to the exercise of these ministrations, and those who of their own rashness assume them to themselves, are not ministers of the church, but are to be looked upon as thieves and robbers, who have not entered by the door." (Council of Trent, session 23, chapter 4, "On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and on Ordination") TOC
Epiphanius writes the following to Jerome regarding Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria. Notice that Theophilus' letter is referred to as being sent to "all Catholics". Notice, also, that the Origenistic heresy is referred as being uprooted *everywhere* once it's uprooted in Alexandria. And notice that Epiphanius compares the leadership of Theophilus to that of Moses.
"The general epistle written to all Catholics [by Theophilus] belongs particularly to you [Jerome]; for you, having a zeal for the faith against all heresies, particularly oppose the disciples of Origen and of Apollinaris whose poisoned roots and deeply planted impiety almighty God has dragged forth into our midst, that having been unearthed at Alexandria they might wither throughout the world. For know, my beloved son, that Amalek has been destroyed root and branch and that the trophy of the cross has been set up on the hill of Rephidim. For as when the hands of Moses were held up on high Israel prevailed, so the Lord has strengthened His servant Theophilus to plant His standard against Origen on the altar of the church of Alexandria; that in him might be fulfilled the words: 'Write this for a memorial, for I will utterly put out Origen's heresy from under heaven together with that Amalek himself.' And that I may not appear to be repeating the same things over and over and thus to be making my letter tedious, I send you the actual missive written to me that you may know what Theophilus has said to me, and what a great blessing the Lord has granted to my last days in approving the principles which I have always proclaimed by the testimony of so great a prelate." (Jerome's Letter 91) TOC
Hippolytus seems to have had no concept of a papacy. He refers to the Roman bishop Victor as "a bishop", not as the universal ruler of all Christians on earth:
"But after a time, there being in that place other martyrs, Marcia, a concubine of Commodus, who was a God-loving female, and desirous of performing some good work, invited into her presence the blessed Victor, who was at that time a bishop of the Church, and inquired of him what martyrs were in Sardinia." (The Refutation of All Heresies, 9:7)
Hippolytus goes on to tell us that the Roman bishop Callistus set up a school of theology that was in opposition to "the Church". He explains that other churches ("sects") acted independently of the Roman church under Callistus. He refers to other Christians belonging to a different "congregation" and a different "school" than that of the Roman bishop Callistus. He refers to Callistus' followers wrongly considering themselves "a Catholic Church". In other words, not only does Hippolytus not see Callistus and his church as *the* catholic church, but he doesn't even see them as *a* catholic church. Apparently, Hippolytus had no concept of the Roman church and its bishop having universal jurisdiction.
"The impostor Callistus, having ventured on such opinions, established a school of theology in antagonism to the Church, adopting the foregoing system of instruction. And he first invented the device of conniving with men in regard of their indulgence in sensual pleasures, saying that all had their sins forgiven by himself. For he who is in the habit of attending the congregation of any one else, and is called a Christian, should he commit any transgression; the sin, they say, is not reckoned unto him, provided only he hurries off and attaches himself to the school of Callistus. And many persons were gratified with his regulation, as being stricken in conscience, and at the same time having been rejected by numerous sects; while also some of them, in accordance with our condemnatory sentence, had been by us forcibly ejected from the Church....And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!" (The Refutation of All Heresies, 9:7) TOC
Like the apostle Paul, the church father Ignatius wrote a lot about church government without ever mentioning a papacy. He frequently writes about the authority of the local bishop, which he apparently considered the highest church office. Thus, in the introduction of his letter to Polycarp, he writes, "to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ". When he was on his way to Rome to be martyred, Ignatius wrote to several churches. He wanted those churches to care for his church in Antioch, which would be left without a bishop as a result of his execution. When the local bishop dies, the only bishop the church has is God:
"Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love will also regard it." (Epistle to the Romans, shorter version, 9)
Ignatius refers to the primacy of the Ephesian church. Notice his use of terms like "most", "beg", "inferior", etc. Such terminology *could* be interpreted as references to a jurisdictional primacy of the Ephesian church and its bishop. If Roman Catholics are going to read papal implications into such terminology when it's applied to the Roman church, then we can also read papal implications into such terminology when it's applied to some other church:
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory...trusting through your prayers to be permitted to fight with beasts at Rome...As to my fellow-servant Burrhus, your deacon in regard to God and blessed in all things, I beg that he may continue longer, both for your honour and that of your bishop....May I always have joy of you, if indeed I be worthy of it. It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who hath glorified you...I do not issue orders to you, as if I were some great person....For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop-I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature-how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity!...I am far inferior to you, and require to be sanctified by your Church of Ephesus, so renowned throughout the world....Ye, therefore, as well as all your fellow-travellers, are God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, in whom also I exult that I have been thought worthy, by means of this Epistle, to converse and rejoice with you...may I arise through your prayers, of which I entreat I may always be a partaker, that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ....Ye are the persons through whom those pass that are cut off for the sake of God...when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith." (Epistle to the Ephesians, introduction, 1-3, 5, 8-9, 11-13) TOC
Irenaeus said that the Roman church is the greatest church, and that all other churches must agree with the Roman church. Because of a papacy? No, but because of non-papal factors, such as the Roman church's location in the capital of the empire. Irenaeus viewed the Roman church as authoritative *not* because of any papacy, but because of practical factors such as the fact that Christians from around the world traveled to Rome, thereby making the Roman church representative of worldwide Christian consensus. Thus, the Roman primacy of Irenaeus was practical rather than jurisdictional. Since Rome is no longer the capital of a major empire, and many Roman bishops since Irenaeus' time have been unfaithful to apostolic teaching, Irenaeus' argument doesn't apply today as it did in the second century. Not only does Irenaeus give non-papal reasons for the Roman church's importance, but he also suggests that the apostles, not just Peter, appointed Linus as bishop of Rome *while Peter was still alive*. After mentioning the Roman church, Irenaeus goes on to say that Christians can also turn to the churches of Smyrna and Ephesus for sound doctrine. When's the last time you heard a Catholic appeal to the authority and infallibility of Smyrna or Ephesus? They only follow the portions of Irenaeus that seem to support Roman Catholicism, while rejecting the rest.
Here's Irenaeus explaining the non-papal reasons for the Roman church's importance:
"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; we do this, I say, by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also by pointing out the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority -- that is, the faithful everywhere -- inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate....But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried on earth a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time -- a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics....There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles." (Against Heresies, 3:3:2-4) TOC
Jerome, like John Chrysostom, is often quoted out of context in order to make him appear to have believed in a papacy. You can understand how people would be misled into concluding that Jerome believed in a papacy when they read something like the following, from a letter Jerome wrote to the Roman bishop Damasus:
"Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact. The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold...As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built!...If you think fit enact a decree; and then I shall not hesitate to speak of three hypostases. Order a new creed to supersede the Nicene; and then, whether we are Arians or orthodox, one confession will do for us all....But may the faith of Rome never come to such a pass! May the devout hearts of your people never be infected with such unholy doctrines! Let us be satisfied to speak of one substance and of three subsisting persons--perfect, equal, coeternal. Let us keep to one hypostasis, if such be your pleasure, and say nothing of three." (Letter 15:1-2, 15:4)
Jerome *seems* to be referring to a papacy, doesn't he? No, it's more likely that he believed in an honorary primacy of Rome, not a jurisdictional primacy. Jerome held a high view of the Roman church for various reasons, one reason being that he was baptized in Rome. The *context* of his other writings is contrary to a papal reading of the letter from which I've quoted above. As we'll see, Jerome said elsewhere that other churches are independent of the Roman church, and he accused the Roman bishop *after* Damasus of supporting heresy. However high Jerome's view of the Roman church was at the time of Damasus in the 370s, his view would be much lower later on, under the Roman bishop Siricius. Thus, though Jerome writes to Damasus about the unpolluted faith of the Roman church, he would later write to a friend about how the waters of the Roman church had been polluted by heresy under Damasus' successor. Jerome's estimation of the Roman church seemed to vary with each bishop who held the episcopate. Whatever primacy of Rome he believed in, it was more practical than papal.
Before I document these things, I want to quote the Roman Catholic historian Robert Eno regarding Jerome's writing style:
"When dealing with Jerome, a further factor that must be kept in mind is his rhetoric. His style is typical of the age, yes, but it is more exaggerated than usual, even for the fourth-fifth centuries. Indeed, some modern authors have claimed that Jerome should be considered among the great satirists of Latin literature....He wrote two letters to Pope Damasus asking for guidance, letters framed in the most fawning terms....In the context of the time, these are rather wild words but they are illustrative of Jerome's manner of writing. It has been said that among Jerome's chief characteristics were an inability to stay out of controversy and a grovelling manner in the presence of authority." (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], pp. 84-85)
Of course, when church fathers use such language to address non-Roman bishops or to address government officials, for example, Catholic apologists don't quote it. But when such language is addressed to a bishop of Rome, they quote it as evidence that the writer believed in a papacy.
As I said earlier, Jerome wrote to Damasus early in his life, in the 370s. Let me quote what he wrote in two other letters, one of them over 30 years later after he had experienced the episcopate of another Roman bishop, Siricius.
In a letter he wrote in memory of a deceased friend named Marcella, Jerome recounted how Marcella had fought heresy in Rome. He's referring to the spreading influence of the writings of Origen, promoted by another church father, Rufinus. He comments that the Origenistic heresies had influenced many in Rome, including the bishop of Rome. He refers elsewhere to the Roman bishop Siricius giving support to Rufinus (Against Rufinus, 3:21). What follows is what Jerome wrote about the faith of the Roman church becoming polluted with heresy. Jerome says that his deceased friend Marcella, *not* the bishop of Rome, was the one who defeated the heresy:
"While Marcella was thus serving the Lord in holy tranquillity, there arose in these provinces a tornado of heresy which threw everything into confusion; indeed so great was the fury into which it lashed itself that it spared neither itself nor anything that was good. And as if it were too little to have disturbed everything here, it introduced a ship freighted with blasphemies into the port of Rome itself. The dish soon found itself a cover; and the muddy feet of heretics fouled the clear waters of the faith of Rome. No wonder that in the streets and in the market places a soothsayer can strike fools on the back or, Catching up his cudgel, shatter the teeth of such as carp at him; when such venomous and filthy teaching as this has found at Rome dupes whom it can lead astray. Next came the scandalous version of Origen's book On First Principles, and that 'fortunate' disciple who would have been indeed fortunate had he never fallen in with such a master. Next followed the confutation set forth by my supporters, which destroyed the case of the Pharisees and threw them into confusion. It was then that the holy Marcella, who had long held back lest she should be thought to act from party motives, threw herself into the breach. Conscious that the faith of Rome--once praised by an apostle--was now in danger, and that this new heresy was drawing to itself not only priests and monks but also many of the laity besides imposing on the bishop who fancied others as guileless as he was himself, she publicly withstood its teachers choosing to please God rather than men. In the gospel the Saviour commends the unjust steward because, although he defrauded his master, he acted wisely for his own interests. The heretics in this instance pursued the same course; for, seeing how great a matter a little fire had kindled, and that the flames applied by them to the foundations had by this time reached the housetops, and that the deception practised on many could no longer be hid, they asked for and obtained letters of commendation from the church, so that it might appear that till the day of their departure they had continued in full communion with it. Shortly afterwards the distinguished Anastasius succeeded to the pontificate; but he was soon taken away, for it was not fitting that the head of the world should be struck off [the city of Rome being attacked by barbarians] during the episcopate of one so great. He was removed, no doubt, that he might not seek to turn away by his prayers the sentence of God passed once for all. For the words of the Lord to Jeremiah concerning Israel applied equally to Rome: 'pray not for this people for their good. When they fast I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt-offering and oblation, I will not accept them; but I will consume them by the sword and by the famine and by the pestilence.' You will say, what has this to do with the praises of Marcella? I reply, She it was who originated the condemnation of the heretics. She it was who furnished witnesses first taught by them and then carried away by their heretical teaching. She it was who showed how large a number they had deceived and who brought up against them the impious books On First Principles, books which were passing from hand to hand after being 'improved' by the hand of the scorpion. She it was lastly who called on the heretics in letter after letter to appear in their own defence. They did not indeed venture to come, for they were so conscience-stricken that they let the case go against them by default rather than face their accusers and be convicted by them. This glorious victory originated with Marcella, she was the source and cause of this great blessing." (Letter 127:9-10)
Thus, when Jerome wrote to Damasus about the Roman church being unpolluted with heresy, he must have been referring to something temporal that could change, not some sort of Divinely protected infallibility. Even in his letter to Damasus, the one I quoted, he says that he wishes that the Roman church *may* remain free from heresy. So, it seems that, even in *that* letter, he foresaw the possibility of error in the Roman church's faith. When Alaric the Visigoth attacked Rome after the death of Damasus, Jerome saw the attack as the judgment of God on Rome for its acceptance of heresy.
In another letter, Jerome refers to churches around the world being independent of the Roman church:
"It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles. But you will say, how comes it then that at Rome a presbyter is only ordained on the recommendation of a deacon? To which I reply as follows. Why do you bring forward a custom which exists in one city only? Why do you oppose to the laws of the Church a paltry exception which has given rise to arrogance and pride?" - Jerome (Letter 146:1-2)
The First Vatican Council, under the absolute monarchy of Pope Pius IX, said that the capital outweighs the world. Jerome said that the world outweighs its capital.
Roman Catholics often quote somebody writing to the bishop of Rome or the church of Rome for help on some occasion, or they quote the bishop of Rome or the church of Rome advising, exhorting, or rebuking another bishop or another church. Supposedly, such things are evidence of a Roman papacy. What if we were to apply the same reasoning to other bishops and other churches?
For example, what about Jerome's correspondence with Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria? We might read papal implications into what Theophilus wrote to Jerome, when he said:
"I feel no doubt but that you will approve my resolution and will exult in the church's victory. For we have cut down with the prophet's sickle certain wicked fanatics...It is our desire, if possible, to guard in our days not only the Catholic faith and the rules of the church, but the people committed to our charge, and to give a quietus to all strange doctrines." (Jerome's Letter 87)
We could also read papal implications into some letters Jerome wrote to Theophilus. For example:
"You coax as a father, you teach as a master, you enjoin as a bishop. You come to me not with a rod and severity but in a spirit of kindness, gentleness, and meekness....Hear me, I beg you with patience and do not take truthfulness for flattery. Is any man reluctant to communicate with you? Does any turn his face away when you hold out your hand? Does any at the holy banquet offer you the kiss of Judas? At your approach the monks instead of trembling rejoice. They race to meet you and leaving their dens in the desert are fain to master you by their humility. What compels them to come forth? Is it not their love for you? What draws together the scattered dwellers in the desert? Is it not the esteem in which they hold you? A parent ought to love his children; and not only a parent but a bishop ought to be loved by his children....Why do they use the name of your holiness to terrorize us, when your letter--strange contrast to their harsh and menacing words--breathes only peace and meekness? For that the letter which Isidore the presbyter has brought for me from you does make for peace and harmony I know by this, that these insincere professors of a wish for peace have refused to deliver it to me." (Letter 82:1, 82:3, 82:8)
"Jerome to the most blessed pope Theophilus. The letter of your holiness has given me a twofold pleasure, partly because it has had for its bearers those reverend and estimable men, the bishop Agatho and the deacon Athanasius, and partly because it has shewn your zeal for the faith against a most wicked heresy. The voice of your holiness has rung throughout the world, and to the joy of all Christ's churches the poisonous suggestions of the devil have been silenced. The old serpent hisses no longer, but, writhing and disembowelled, lurks in dark caverns unable to bear the shining of the sun. I have already, before the writing of your letter, sent missives to the West pointing out to those of my own language some of the quibbles employed by the heretics. I hold it due to the special providence of God that you should have written to the pope Anastasius [bishop of Rome] at the same time as myself, and should thus without knowing it have been the means of confirming my testimony. Now that you have directly urged me to do so, I shall shew myself more zealous than ever to recall from their error simple souls both near and far. Nor shall I hesitate, if needful, to incur odium with some, for we ought to please God rather than men: although indeed they have been much more forward to defend their heresy than I and others have been to attack it. At the same time I beg that if you have any synodical decrees bearing upon the subject you will forward them to me, that, strengthened with the authority of so great a prelate, I may open my mouth for Christ with more freedom and confidence. The presbyter Vincent has arrived from Rome two days ago and humbly salutes you. He tells me again and again that Rome and almost the whole of Italy owe their deliverance after Christ to your letters. Shew diligence therefore, most loving and most blessed pope, and whenever opportunity offers write to the bishops of the West not to hesitate-in your own words -to cut down with a sharp sickle the sprouts of evil." (Letter 88)
Notice that Jerome refers to the whole world looking to Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, to defeat heresy. Jerome mentions the Roman church looking to the bishop of Alexandria for help. Clearly, the bishop of Alexandria was the ruler of all Christians on earth. TOC
Catholics often misrepresent the church fathers by quoting what they said about Peter in one passage without quoting similar things they said about other apostles in other passages. Or they quote what a church father said about the bishop of Rome in one passage, but they don't quote similar comments made about another bishop in another passage. John Chrysostom is an example.
Catholics often quote passages in which Chrysostom refers to Peter as the first of the apostles, the leader of the apostles, etc. But they don't quote Chrysostom referring to *other* apostles having primacy in *other* passages. For example:
"James was invested with the chief rule [in Acts 15], and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. 'And after that they had held their peace, James answered,' etc. (v. 13.) Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part." (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 33)
In another passage, Chrysostom refers to Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch, as the successor of Peter:
"At all events the master of the whole world, Peter, to whose hands He committed the keys of heaven, whom He commanded to do and to bear all, He bade tarry here [Antioch] for a long period. Thus in His sight our city was equivalent to the whole world. But since I have mentioned Peter, I have perceived a fifth crown woven from him, and this is that this man [Ignatius of Antioch] succeeded to the office after him. For just as any one taking a great stone from a foundation hastens by all means to introduce an equivalent to it, lest he should shake the whole building, and make it more unsound, so, accordingly, when Peter was about to depart from here, the grace of the Spirit introduced another teacher equivalent to Peter, so that the building already completed should not be made more unsound by the insignificance of the successor." (Homily on St. Ignatius, 4)
Is Chrysostom saying that James was a Pope, and that Ignatius was a Pope? No, and neither was he saying that Peter was a Pope when he referred to a primacy of Peter in other passages. What did Chrysostom have in mind, then?
I think his commentary on Galatians gives us the answer. In a single sentence, he both refers to Paul having equal rank with the rest of the apostles *and* refers to Peter as the leader of the disciples:
"He [Paul] calls the Gentiles the Uncircumcision and the Jews the Circumcision, and declares his own rank to be equal to that of the Apostles; and, by comparing himself with their Leader [Peter] not with the others, he shows that the dignity of each was the same." (Commentary on Galatians, 2, v. 8)
How can the apostles have equal rank while Peter is a leader at the same time? Apparently, John Chrysostom believed in a *non-jurisdictional* primacy of Peter. Similarly, the primacy of James and the primacy of Ignatius that Chrysostom referred to were probably non-jurisdictional. Chrysostom refers to *numerous* people having primacy, because he's referring to non-jurisdictional types of primacy.
Is this just my own speculation? No, Chrysostom refers to James and John having primacy with Peter:
"Peter, James, and John, were both first called, and held a primacy among the disciples" (Commentary on Galatians, 1, vv. 1-3)
And what type of primacy was this? Chrysostom explains:
"Wherefore doth He take with Him these only [Matthew 17:1]? Because these were superior to the rest. And Peter indeed showed his superiority by exceedingly loving Him; but John by being exceedingly loved of Him; and James again by his answer which he answered with his brother, saying, 'We are able to drink the cup'; nor yet by his answer only, but also by his works; both by the rest of them, and by fulfilling, what he said. For so earnest was he, and grievous to the Jews, that Herod himself supposed that he had bestowed herein a very great favor on the Jews, I mean in slaying him." (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 56:2)
In other words, Peter, James, and John had a primacy for various non-jurisdictional reasons, *not* because of some papal office. Chrysostom explains, near the beginning of his commentary on Galatians, that although Peter, James, and John had this primacy, Paul had equal authority. He wasn't in submission to any of them. In fact, Chrysostom tells us that one of Paul's reasons for writing the book of Galatians was to refute some of his opponents, who were falsely claiming that he had to obey Peter, James, and John. In other words, Chrysostom thinks that one of the reasons Paul wrote Galatians was to deny that Peter (and James and John) had papal authority. He explains:
"Since Paul then saw the whole Galatian people in a state of excitement, a flame kindled against their Church, and the edifice shaken and tottering to its fall, filled with the mixed feelings of just anger and despondency, (which he has expressed in the words, 'I could wish to be present with you now, and to change my voice,'--Gal. iv:20.) he writes the Epistle as an answer to these charges. This is his aim from the very commencement, for the underminers of his reputation had said, The others were disciples of Christ but this man of the 'Apostles.' Wherefore he begins thus, 'Paul, an Apostle not from men, neither through man.' For, these deceivers, as I was saying before, had said that this man was the last of all the Apostles and was taught by them, for Peter, James, and John, were both first called, and held a primacy among the disciples, and had also received their doctrines from Christ Himself; and that it was therefore fitting to obey them rather than this man; and that they forbad not circumcision nor the observance of the Law. By this and similar language and by depreciating Paul, and exalting the honor of the other Apostles, though not spoken for the sake of praising them, but of deceiving the Galatians, they induced them to adhere unseasonably to the Law. Hence the propriety of his commencement. As they disparaged his doctrine, saying it came from men, while that of Peter came from Christ, he immediately addresses himself to this point, declaring himself an apostle 'not from men, neither through man.' It was Ananias who baptized him, but it was not he who delivered him from the way of error and initiated him into the faith; but Christ Himself sent from on high that wondrous voice, whereby He inclosed him in his net. For Peter and his brother, and John and his brother, He called when walking by the seaside, (Matt. iv: 18.) but Paul after His ascension into heaven. (Acts. ix: 3, 4.) And just as these did not require a second call, but straightway left their nets and all that they had, and followed Him, so this man at his first vocation pressed vigorously forward, waging, as soon as he was baptized, an implacable war with the Jews. In this respect he chiefly excelled the other Apostles, as he says, 'I labored more abundantly than they all;' (I Cor. xv: 10.) at present, however, he makes no such claim, but is content to be placed on a level with them. Indeed his meat object was, not to establish any superiority for himself, but, to overthrow the foundation of their error. The not being 'from men' has reference to all alike for the Gospel's root and origin is divine, but the not being 'through man' is peculiar to the Apostles; for He called them not by men's agency, but by His own. But why does he not speak of his vocation rather than his apostolate, and say, 'Paul' called 'not by man?' Because here lay the whole question; for they said that the office of a teacher had been committed to him by men, namely by the Apostles, whom therefore it behooved him to obey. But that it was not entrusted to him by men, Luke declares in the words, 'As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul.' (Acts xiii: 2.)" (Commentary on Galatians, 1, vv. 1-3)
Similarly, when discussing Galatians 1:18, Chrysostom comments that Paul humbled himself before Peter and James, *as though* he was of lower authority, even though he actually wasn't (Commentary on Galatians, 1, v. 18). John Chrysostom didn't view Peter as a Pope.
It seems that Chrysostom believed in numerous types of primacy of numerous apostles in numerous contexts. But when addressing the issue of *jurisdiction*, he attributed equal authority to all of them. To quote what Chrysostom said about Peter and Roman bishops without also considering what he said about other apostles and other bishops may be effective in making Chrysostom *look* Roman Catholic. But it isn't an effective way to arrive at the truth.
Are the keys of Matthew 16 exclusive to Peter and the bishops of Rome? John Chrysostom didn't think so:
"the son of thunder [the apostle John], the beloved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches throughout the world, who holds the keys of heaven" (Homilies on the Gospel of John, 1:2)
Catholic apologists sometimes cite Romans 1:8 as a reference to the Roman church's authority as a result of the papacy. But John Chrysostom explained that Paul's comment in that passage was the result of practical factors, such as the status of the city of Rome within the empire, not a papacy. Chrysostom says that Paul's comment about the Roman Christians is similar to his comment about the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:8. He goes on to mention numerous reasons for holding the Roman church in high regard, and a papacy isn't one of them. To the contrary, Chrysostom says that the *best* reason for holding Rome in high regard is that church's historical relationship with Paul, not any papacy:
"'That your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.' What then, had the whole world heard of the faith of the Romans? Yes, the whole, according to him. (Or, since that time, pasa ez ekeinou). And it is not a thing unlikely. For the city was not one of no note, but as being upon a sort of eminence it was on every account conspicuous. But consider, I pray, the power of the preaching, how in a short time by means of publicans and fishermen it took hold upon the very head of all cities, and Syrians became the teachers and guides of Romans. He attests then two excellencies in them, both that they believed, and that they believed with boldness, and that so great as that the fame of them reached into all the world. 'For your faith,' he says 'is spoken of throughout the whole world.' 'Your faith,' not your verbal disputations, nor your questionings, nor your syllogisms. And yet there were there many hindrances to the teaching. For having recently acquired the empire of the world they were elated, and lived in riches and luxury, and fishermen brought the preaching there, and they Jews and of the Jews, a nation hated and had in abomination among all men; and they were bidden to worship the Crucified, Who was brought up in Judea. And with the doctrine the teachers proclaimed also an austere life to men who were practised in softness, and were agitated about things present. And they that proclaimed it were poor and common men, of no family, and born of men of no family. But none of these things hindered the course of the word. So great was the power of the Crucified as to carry the word round everywhere. 'For it is spoken of,' he says, 'in all the world.' He says not, it is manifested, but, is spoken of, as if all men had them in their mouths. And indeed when he bears witness of this in the Thessalonians, he adds another thing also. For after saying, 'from you sounded out the word of God,' he adds, 'so that we need not to speak anything.' (1 Thess. i. 8.) For the disciples had come into the place of teachers, by their boldness of speech instructing all, and drawing them to themselves. For the preaching came not anywhere to a stand, but went over the whole world more rapidly than fire. But here there is only thus much--'it is spoken of.' He well says that 'it is spoken of,' showing that there was no need to add aught to what was said, or to take away. For a messenger's business is this, to convey from one to another only what is told him. For which cause also the priest is called a 'messenger' (Mal. ii. 7), because he speaks not his own words, but those of Him that sent him. And yet Peter had preached there. But he reckons what was his, to be his own as well. In such degree, as I said before, was he beyond measure clear of all grudging!...Where the Cherubim sing the glory, where the Seraphim are flying, there shall we see Paul, with Peter, and as a chief and leader of the choir of the Saints, and shall enjoy his generous love. For if when here he loved men so, that when he had the choice of departing and being with Christ, he chose to be here, much more will he there display a warmer affection. I love Rome even for this, although indeed one has other grounds for praising it, both for its greatness, and its antiquity, and its beauty, and its populousness, and for its power, and its wealth, and for its successes in war. But I let all this pass, and esteem it blessed on this account, that both in his lifetime he [Paul] wrote to them, and loved them so, and talked with them whiles he was with us, and brought his life to a close there. Wherefore the city is more notable upon this ground, than upon all others together." (Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans, 2, v. 8; 32, v. 24)
Roman Catholic apologists, such as Jacob Michael of Catholic Apologetics International and Stephen Ray (Upon This Rock [San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1999]), cite some letters John Chrysostom sent to the bishop of Rome as evidence that he believed in a papacy. The letters were written in the context of some controversies in Constantinople, where Chrysostom was bishop and was eventually banished from his church. Chrysostom was opposed by the bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, among others. Stephen Ray writes:
"One may object that Chrysostom perceived the 'successors' [of Peter] to refer to all bishops, not just the bishop of Rome, but if this had been the case, his actions would have given evidence of it. As Dr. Hergenrother reminds us, 'Chrysostom sent epistles and deputies to Pope Innocent I., to obtain from him speedy correction of the acts done against him, and the annulling of his condemnation, as well as the chastisement of those who had violated all canonical law' (Anti-Janus, 130-31). This is another case where one's actions speak volumes." (p. 221)
W.R.W. Stephens, in an introduction to the correspondence between Chrysostom and the Roman bishop Innocent I, gives us some context and additional information that Stephen Ray doesn't mention:
"Copies of the first letter [of John Chrysostom] were addressed also to Venerius Bishop of Milan, and Chromatius Bishop of Aquileia. It is interesting therefore as indicating the relation between the Eastern and Western branches of the Church at the beginning of the fifth century. On the one hand it illustrates the growing tendency of Christendom to appeal to the authority of the Western Church, especially of the Bishop of Rome, on questions of ecclesiastical discipline. The law-making, law-protecting spirit of the West is invoked to restrain the turbulence and licentiousness of the East. no jealousy is entertained of the Patriarch of the old Rome by the Patriarch of the new. But on the other hand it is to be noted that the Bishop of Rome is in no sense addressed as a supreme arbitrator: aid and sympathy are solicited from him as from an elder brother, and two other prelates of Italy are joint recipients with him of the appeal. To Chrysostom Innocent writes, as friend to friend and bishop to brother bishop, a letter of Christian consolation and encouragement, not entering into the legal questions of the case, and not pledging himself to decisive action of any kind. In his letter to the Church of Constantinople he denounces the illegality of the late proceedings of Theophilus and his accomplices, in the strongest terms; but insists upon the necessity of convoking an oecumenical council as the only means of allaying the tempest. And it must be allowed that he did his best to accomplish this object. He wrote a letter to Honorius, the Emperor of the Western Empire, who resided at Ravenna, describing the pitiable condition of the Church at Constantinople. The Emperor issued an order for the convention of an italian synod, and the synod, swayed no doubt by Innocent, requested Honorius to write to his brother Arcadius the Eastern Emperor urging the convention of a general council to be held in Thessalonica which would be a convenient meeting-point for the prelates of East and West. Honorius complied, and the letter was despatched under the care of a deputation from the Italian Church, consisting of five bishops, two priests and a deacon. They were the bearers also of letters from Innocent, and the Bishops of Milan and Aquileia, and of a memorial from the Italian synod, recommending that Chrysostom should be reinstated in his see before he was required to take his trial before the Council. The party hostile to Chrysostom however had now such complete sway over the court at Constantinople that the deputation never succeeded in getting an audience with the Emperor, and after suffering many insults and indignities, returned to Italy without having accomplished anything."
What we have, then, is *numerous* authority figures being appealed to, with the bishop of Rome being just one of them. The first letter is sent to multiple bishops, not just the bishop of Rome. The text of the letter refers to the plural "lords":
"Having been informed then of all these things, my lords, most honourable and devout, exhibit the courage and zeal which becomes you, so as to put a stop to this great assault of lawlessness which has been made upon the Churches." (Correspondence of St. Chrysostom with the Bishop of Rome, Letter 1:4)
Should we assume that the other bishops Chrysostom wrote to were Popes as well? How about when Chrysostom and other church fathers appeal to government officials, such as emperors, to settle disputes? Should we assume that those government officials have a Divinely approved primacy in matters of faith and morals? If appeals to the bishop of Rome for help are evidence of a Roman papacy, then why wouldn't such appeals for help to other bishops and government officials be evidence of *their* papal authority?
Though the bishop of Rome tried to help Chrysostom, his efforts failed. David Farmer explains:
"although his own people, the pope, and many western bishops supported him [John Chrysostom], he was exiled, first to Cucusus in Armenia and then to Pontus where he was killed by enforced travel in bad weather" (Oxford Dictionary of Saints [New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997] p. 267)
The bishop of Rome didn't seem to think he would be able to settle the dispute himself. He tried, instead, to get the authority of an ecumenical council to support Chrysostom:
"But what are we to do against such things at the present time? A synodical decision of them is necessary, and we have long declared that a synod ought to be convened, as it is the only means of allaying the agitation of such tempests as these: and if we obtain this it is expedient that the healing of these evils should be committed to the will of the great God, and His Christ our Lord. All the disturbances then which have been caused by the envy of the devil for the probation of the faithful will be mitigated; through the firmness of our faith we ought not to despair of anything from the Lord. For we ourselves also are considering much by what means the oecumenical synod may be brought together in order that by the will of God these disturbing movements may be brought to an end." (Correspondence of St. Chrysostom with the Bishop of Rome, Letter 4)
This Roman bishop says that a council would be the only means of settling the dispute. Apparently, he didn't think the churches of the world would accept commandments from him alone. But they might listen to an ecumenical council. He was right. John Chrysostom's critics continued to oppose him, unconvinced by the Roman bishop's support of Chrysostom.
Roman Catholic apologists tell us about the alleged jurisdictional primacy of the bishop of Rome, and they hold up past appeals to Rome for help as evidence of such authority. But when that help fails to settle the dispute, and when *other* entities are also appealed to for help, we're not often told about those things by these Catholic apologists.
When the bishop of Rome appeals to an emperor for help in settling a church dispute, should we assume that the emperor has more spiritual authority, and that the other churches wouldn't submit to the bishop of Rome unless the government was with him? When the Second Council of Constantinople claims authority over the bishop of Rome and excommunicates him, should we assume that councils therefore have authority over Roman bishops? Why do Roman Catholic apologists so often ignore such things or dismiss them as insignificant while, at the same time, seeing papal authority under every rock and behind every bush whenever Rome helps somebody or is appealed to for help? TOC
Origen wrote a lot about Christian doctrine, church government, the authority of scripture, church tradition, etc. He never mentioned a papacy. Roman Catholic historian Robert Eno explains that "a plain recognition of Roman primacy or of a connection between Peter and the contemporary bishop of Rome seems remote from Origen's thoughts" (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 43). Origen was one of the earliest interpreters of Matthew 16. He contradicted the Roman Catholic interpretation:
"And if we too have said like Peter, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, 'Thou art Peter,' etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, add the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God. But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, 'The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,' hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, 'Upon this rock I will build My church'? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, 'I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,' be common to the others, how shall not all the things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them? For in this place these words seem to be addressed as to Peter only, 'Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,' etc; but in the Gospel of John the Saviour having given the Holy Spirit unto the disciples by breathing upon them said, 'Receive ye the Holy Spirit,' etc....And if any one says this to Him, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto Him but through the Father in heaven, he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was." (Commentary on Matthew, 12:10-11)
Roman Catholics often quote church fathers referring to some sort of primacy of Peter, sending letters of appeal to the bishop of Rome, etc., and they suggest that such quotes are evidence of patristic support for the doctrine of the papacy. They can't do this as much with the earlier church fathers as they do with the later church fathers, since, as the Protestant historian Terence Smith explains:
"there is an astonishing lack of reference to Peter among ecclesiastical authors of the first half of the second century. He is barely mentioned in the Apostolic Fathers, nor by Justin and the other Apologists" (cited in Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 15)
But Peter does become more prominent in the writings of the later church fathers. For example, Catholic Answers quotes Clement of Alexandria as follows:
"'[T]he blessed Peter, the chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid the tribute [Matt. 17:27], quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? 'Behold, we have left all and have followed you' [Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28]' (Who Is the Rich Man That Is Saved? 21:3-5 [A.D. 200])."
Clement of Alexandria doesn't refer to Peter having universal jurisdiction. He doesn't refer to Peter having successors who are exclusively Roman bishops. In all of his many writings on Christian doctrine and practice, Clement never refers to a papal office. But since he refers to *some* type of primacy of Peter, Catholic Answers quotes him in support of the doctrine of the papacy.
In past segments of this series, I've documented how Catholics misrepresent other church fathers in a similar way. They quote John Chrysostom, for example, referring to a primacy of Peter. But they don't quote Chrysostom explaining that the primacy is non-jurisdictional, and they don't quote him saying that other people have other types of primacy. They don't quote John Chrysostom referring to Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch, as the successor of Peter.
Another example is Origen. As I documented earlier in this series, Origen referred to Matthew 16:18-19 being applicable to *all* Christians. He said, repeatedly, that all Christians are rocks upon whom the church is built and that all Christians possess the keys of the kingdom. Thus, Peter can be said to have a chronological or symbolic primacy, but not a jurisdictional primacy. But Catholic Answers, through misleading quotation, cites Origen in support of a papacy:
"'[I]f we were to attend carefully to the Gospels, we should also find, in relation to those things which seem to be common to Peter . . . a great difference and a preeminence in the things [Jesus] said to Peter, compared with the second class [of apostles]. For it is no small difference that Peter received the keys not of one heaven but of more, and in order that whatsoever things he binds on earth may be bound not in one heaven but in them all, as compared with the many who bind on earth and loose on earth, so that these things are bound and loosed not in [all] the heavens, as in the case of Peter, but in one only; for they do not reach so high a stage with power as Peter to bind and loose in all the heavens' (Commentary on Matthew 13:31 [A.D. 248])."
"'Look at [Peter], the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church [Matt. 16:18]. And what does our Lord say to him? 'Oh you of little faith,' he says, 'why do you doubt?' [Matt. 14:31]' (Homilies on Exodus 5:4 [A.D. 248])."
Over the next several days, I want to give examples of how people other than Peter and churches other than the Roman church could be portrayed as having papal authority, *if* we were to quote the church fathers the way Catholic apologists do. I'm not arguing that these other people and these other churches did have universal jurisdiction. I'm saying that *if* Roman Catholics were consistent in their interpretation of the church fathers, they would have to see papal implications in these passages I'm going to cite.
I'll begin with Origen. He tells us about the universal jurisdiction of Pope Paul:
"I do not know how Celsus should have forgotten or not have thought of saying something about Paul, the founder, after Jesus, of the Churches that are in Christ." (Against Celsus, 1:63)
Can you imagine what Roman Catholics would make of such a comment by Origen if the name of Paul was replaced with the name of Peter? But since Origen mentions Paul instead, most Catholics probably haven't ever heard of this passage before, nor would they think it has papal implications.
"In our day, the lawful ordination of a bishop requires a special intervention of the Bishop of Rome, because he is the supreme visible bond of the communion of the particular Churches in the one Church and the guarantor of their freedom." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1559)
"There is the law of our fathers and forefathers, of which neither art thou thyself ignorant, established according to divine and ecclesiastical order; for it is all for the good pleasure of God and the zealous regard of better things. By them it has been established and settled that it is not lawful for any bishop to celebrate ordinations in other parishes than his own; a law which is exceedingly important and wisely devised." - Phileas (The Epistle of the Same Phileas of Thmuis to Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis) TOC
"In our day, the lawful ordination of a bishop requires a special intervention of the Bishop of Rome, because he is the supreme visible bond of the communion of the particular Churches in the one Church and the guarantor of their freedom." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1559)
"There is the law of our fathers and forefathers, of which neither art thou thyself ignorant, established according to divine and ecclesiastical order; for it is all for the good pleasure of God and the zealous regard of better things. By them it has been established and settled that it is not lawful for any bishop to celebrate ordinations in other parishes than his own; a law which is exceedingly important and wisely devised." - Phileas (The Epistle of the Same Phileas of Thmuis to Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis) TOC
It isn't until the third century that we find the first claim of something like papal authority from a Roman bishop. Even though earlier disputes didn't involve a claim of papal authority, they're still relevant to the doctrine of the papacy. They tell us how other bishops viewed the bishop of Rome. One such dispute was over the celebration of Easter late in the second century. The Roman bishop Victor disagreed with some churches over an issue related to the celebration of Easter, and he wanted councils to be held in an attempt to reach a consensus. He threatened to break fellowship with the churches that didn't agree with him. Roman Catholic historian Klaus Schatz writes the following about this incident and another dispute in the third century:
"Rome did not succeed in maintaining its position against the contrary opinion and praxis of a significant portion of the Church. The two most important controversies of this type were the disputes over the feast of Easter and heretical baptism. Each marks a stage in Rome's sense of authority and at the same time reveals the initial resistance of other churches to the Roman claim." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 11)
Polycrates, a bishop of Ephesus, was among those who disagreed with Victor. He wasn't convinced by Victor's arguments or by his threats. Polycrates, along with "a great multitude" of other bishops, wrote the following in response to Victor:
"I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said 'We ought to obey God rather than man.'...I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus." (cited in the church history of Eusebius, 5:24) TOC
The Roman Catholic historian Klaus Schatz gives us another example of an ecumenical council contradicting the doctrine of the papacy and reflecting disunity among the professing Christians of the day:
"The 'three chapters' affair had to do with the emperor Justinian's attempt to achieve union with the Monophysites by arranging for the condemnation after the fact of three theologians (Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa), or rather their writings. All of them had belonged to the Antiochene wing. Justinian thought he would not be able to cleanse the Council of Chalcedon from the Monophysites' charge that it had been a 'Nestorian' synod as long as these three theologians, each of them a thorn in tthe side of the Monophysites, were recognized as orthodox. Of course, he had to win over the pope to this way of thinking. Pope Vigilius (537-555), who had very little backbone in conflict situations, first gave way and condemned the three chapters in his Iudicatum of 548. Faced with a storm of protest in the West, where the pope was accused of betraying Chalcedon, he made an about-face and retracted his condemnation (Constitutum, 553). The emperor in turn called a council at Constantinople (the Second Council of Constantinople, 553) made up only of opponents of the three chapters. It not only condemned those three chapters but even excommunicated the pope. This was a unique case of an ecumenical council setting itself clearly against the pope and yet not suffering the fate of Ephesus II. Instead, over time it was accepted and even recognized as valid by the pope. The council got around the papal opposition by referring to Matthew 18:20 ('Where two or three are gathered in my name. . .'): no individual [including the Pope] could therefore forestall the decision of the universal Church. This kind of argument was invalid, of course, because the pope was not alone; the entire West was behind him, and yet it was not represented at the council. Broken in spirit, Vigilius capitulated after the end of the council and assented to its condemnation of the three chapters. The result was a schism in the West, where the pope was accused of having surrendered Chalcedon. A North African synod of bishops excommunicated the pope, and the ecclesial provinces of Milan and Aquileia broke communion with Rome. (Milan returned to communion only after fifty years; for Aquileia the breach lasted one hundred and fifty years, until 700). The bishops of Gaul also raised objections. The Spanish Church did not separate from Rome, but throughout the early Middle Ages it refused to recognize this council." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], pp. 52-53) TOC
Tertullian explains that the Roman church is one apostolic church among others, and he gives non-papal reasons for its significance:
"Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally. Achaia is very near you, in which you find Corinth. Since you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi; and there too you have the Thessalonians. Since you are able to cross to Asia, you get Ephesus. Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority of apostles themselves. How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile! See what she has learned, what taught, what fellowship has had with even our churches in Africa! One Lord God does she acknowledge, the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus born of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God the Creator; and the Resurrection of the flesh; the law and the prophets she unites in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith. This she seals with the water of baptism, arrays with the Holy Ghost, feeds with the Eucharist, cheers with martyrdom, and against such a discipline thus maintained she admits no gainsayer. This is the discipline which I no longer say foretold that heresies should come, but from which they proceeded. However, they were not of her, because they were opposed to her. Even the rough wild-olive arises from the germ of the fruitful, rich, and genuine olive; also from the seed of the mellowest and sweetest fig there springs the empty and useless wild-fig. In the same way heresies, too, come from our plant, although not of our kind; they come from the grain of truth, but, owing to their falsehood, they have only wild leaves to show." (The Prescription Against Heretics, 36)
Roman Catholic scholar Yves Congar wrote:
"But it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter's confession in Matthew 16.16-19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out an exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than juridical. This instance, selected from a number of similar ones, shows first that the Fathers cannot be isolated from the Church and its life. They are great, but the Church surpasses them in age, as also by the breadth and richness of its experience. It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity....Historical documentation is at the factual level; it must leave room for a judgement made not in the light of the documentary evidence alone, but of the Church's faith." (Tradition and Traditions [San Diego, California: Basilica Press, 1966], pp. 398-399)
The apostles, as late as the Last Supper, didn't seem to view Matthew 16 as a reference to Peter being made a Pope (Luke 22:24). The earliest interpreters of Matthew 16 among the church fathers not only didn't advocate the papal interpretation, but even contradicted it. I've already cited Origen doing so. Another example is Tertullian, who denied that the keys of Matthew 16 are unique to Peter and the bishops of Rome:
"For though you think heaven still shut, remember that the Lord left here to Peter and through him to the Church, the keys of it, which every one who has been here put to the question, and also made confession, will carry with him." (Scorpiace, 10) TOC
Theodoret believed in a primacy of the Roman church, but not a papacy:
"For that holy see [Rome] has precedence over all churches in the world, for many reasons; and above all for this, that it is free from all taint of heresy, and that no bishop of heterodox opinion has ever sat upon its throne, but it has kept the grace of the apostles undefiled." (Letter 116)
Other church fathers disagreed. Hippolytus, Hilary of Poitiers, and other fathers referred to numerous Roman bishops as heretics. But the Roman church did often have a better record than some of the leading Eastern churches in maintaining orthodoxy. It wasn't a perfect record, but it was *relatively* good. But notice that Theodoret says that the *primary* reason for the Roman church's importance is that church's historical faithfulness to apostolic teaching, *not* a Divinely appointed papacy.
Nobody should think that Theodoret is referring to some sort of infallibility of the Roman church when he refers to that church being "free from all taint of heresy". He could just be referring to a historical faithfulness, not a Divinely assured infallibility. Elsewhere, Theodoret says of himself, "I have ever kept the faith of the apostles undefiled" (Letter 89). Surely he didn't view himself as infallible.
The Protestant historian Philip Schaff explains:
"they [Eastern church fathers, including Theodoret] understand by all this simply an honorary primacy of Peter, to whom that power was but first committed, which the Lord afterward conferred on all the apostles alike; and, in the second place, they by no means favor an exclusive transfer of this prerogative to the bishop of Rome, but claim it also for the bishops of Antioch, where Peter, according to Gal. ii., sojourned a long time, and where, according to tradition, he was bishop, and appointed a successor....Theodoret also, who, like Chrysostom, proceeded from the Antiochian school, says of the 'great city of Antioch,' that it has the 'throne of Peter.' In a letter to Pope Leo he speaks, it is true, in very extravagant terms of Peter and his successors at Rome, in whom all the conditions, external and internal, of the highest eminence and control in the church are combined. But in the same epistle he remarks, that the 'thrice blessed and divine double star of Peter and Paul rose in the East and shed its rays in every direction;' in connection with which it must be remembered that he was at that time seeking protection in Leo against the Eutychian robber-council of Ephesus (449), which had unjustly deposed both himself and Flavian of Constantinople. His bitter antagonist also, the arrogant and overbearing Cyril of Alexandria, descended some years before, in his battle against Nestorius, to unworthy flattery, and called Pope Coelestine 'the archbishop of the whole [Roman] world.' The same prelates, under other circumstances, repelled with proud indignation the encroachments of Rome on their jurisdiction." (section 61).
Here's the passage Schaff referred to with regard to the throne of Peter being in Antioch:
"Dioscorus, however, refuses to abide by these decisions; he is turning the see of the blessed Mark upside down; and these things he does though he perfectly well knows that the Antiochene metropolis possesses the throne of the great Peter, who was teacher of the blessed Mark, and first and coryphaeus of the chorus of the apostles." (Letter 136)
Roman Catholics often suggest that any reference to a throne of Peter in Rome must be a reference to a papacy, but that same reasoning would lead to the absurd conclusion that Theodoret believed in an Antiochian papacy. TOC