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Understanding the Bible
By Mary Elizabeth Sperry,
Associate Director for Utilization of the New American Bible.
The Bible is all around us. People hear Scripture readings in church. We have Good Samaritan (Luke 10) laws, welcome home the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), and look for the Promised Land (Exodus 3, Hebrews 11). Some biblical passages have become popular maxims, such as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12)," "Thou shalt not steal (Exodus 20:15), and "love thy neighbor" (Matthew 22:39).
Today's Catholic is called to take an intelligent, spiritual approach to the bible.
Listed here are 10 points for fruitful Scripture reading.
1. Bible reading is for Catholics. The Church encourages Catholics to make reading the Bible part of their daily prayer lives. Reading these inspired words, people grow deeper in their relationship with God and come to understand their place in the community God has called them to in himself.
2. Prayer is the beginning and the end. Reading the Bible is not like reading a novel or a history book. It should begin with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the Word of God. Scripture reading should end with a prayer that this Word will bear fruit in our lives, helping us to become holier and more faithful people.
3. Get the whole story! When selecting a Bible, look for a Catholic edition. A Catholic edition will include the Church's complete list of sacred books along with introductions and notes for understanding the text. A Catholic edition will have an imprimatur notice on the back of the title page. An imprimatur indicates that the book is free of errors in Catholic doctrine.
4. The Bible isn't a book. It's a library. The Bible is a collection of 73 books written over the course of many centuries. The books include royal history, prophecy, poetry, challenging letters to struggling new faith communities, and believers' accounts of the preaching and passion of Jesus. Knowing the genre of the book you are reading will help you understand the literary tools the author is using and the meaning the author is trying to convey.
5. Know what the Bible is – and what it isn't. The Bible is the story of God's relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation.
6. The sum is greater than the parts. Read the Bible in context. What happens before and after – even in other books – helps us to understand the true meaning of the text.
7. The Old relates to the New. The Old Testament and the New Testament shed light on each other. While we read the Old Testament in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it has its own value as well. Together, these testaments help us to understand God's plan for human beings.
8. You do not read alone. By reading and reflecting on Sacred Scripture, Catholics join those faithful men and women who have taken God's Word to heart and put it into practice in their lives. We read the Bible within the tradition of the Church to benefit from the holiness and wisdom of all the faithful.
9. What is God saying to me? The Bible is not addressed only to long-dead people in a faraway land. It is addressed to each of us in our own unique situations. When we read, we need to understand what the text says and how the faithful have understood its meaning in the past. In light of this understanding, we then ask: What is God saying to me.
10. Reading isn't enough. If Scripture remains just words on a page, our work is not done. We need to meditate on the message and put it into action in our lives. Only then can the word be "living and effective."(Hebrews 4:12).
Answering Eastern Orthodox Objections (Part 1) – Schism, Greek episcopate on Divine Roman Primacy, Vigilius/Honorius, & Council vs PopeОд Bernard,
The Following is a response to an Orthodox interlocutor. He had read my blogpost entitled “Papal Office is internal to the Episcopate , Some Notes On The Mutual Dependency of Bishops to the Pope, Citations from the Church Fathers“, and offered some objections. His real name will go unmentioned. He will be referred to as Max. His comments are in the large bold lettering, my answers are in the small text.
WHERE IS EVIDENCE OF THIS AT THE FALSE REUNIFICATION COUNCILS OF LYONS (1274) AND FLORENCE (1439) WHICH WERE REJECTED BY THE EASTERN CHURCHES ONLY HAD THE SUPPORT OF THE BISHOP OF ROME WITHIN HIS OWN (WESTERN) PATRIARCHATE?
The author of this statement has overridden the natural constitution of the Church’s government in preference of Patriarchal governance. It is fact that Patriarchal governance was not instituted by Jesus Christ, nor the Apostles, nor the early bishops for several centuries. What did Christ establish? He established the 12 Apostles who formed both an administrative college and missionary society. What did Christ establish through the Apostles? He established the successors to the Apostles, bishops, which is formed, like the Apostles, in a governing college and commissioned society. Within this College, there is a distinction between Head and members, Pope and bishops. Later metropolia and patriarchal organization were Church-created organizations for the better managing of the churches. The latter cannot be used to size up any into one grouping. There are churches with their bishops. The church of Rome has the successor of Peter. Thus, the church of Rome as the central head of the worldwide episcopate and the bishops/churches surrounding him in one compact visible administrative unity. Thus, when Max here makes a measurement of the universal church in Patriarchal divisions, leaving the bishops and Pope who agreed with the decrees of Lyons and Florence, he is disregarding fundamental and divine institutions and even mistakes them for the Patriarchal boundaries.
One more thing – I wonder where Max gets the idea that the Patriarchate of Rome was automatically everything Western. At the council of Nicaea, canon 6 alluded to the comparable quasi-Patriarchal rights over Italia suburbicaria, which didn’t quite encompass Gaul, Spain, England, what would become Frankish lands, Africa, etc,etc. So what is it between the Council of Nicaea and the big Councils such as Ephesus 431 and Chalcedon 451 that automatically makes all these Western sees part of the Roman Patriarchate? Sure Rome was a missionary mother to these churches, but that doesn’t entail what has been assumed. The original mother was the city church of Jerusalem, and yet the world is not one big Jerusalem Patriarchate.
Many more questions could be brought up
ERICK YBARRA WRITES: “BUT, WE CAN ASK, CAN THE POPE GO AGAINST THE ENTIRE EPISCOPATE?”
—> THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED WHEN ROME WENT INTO SCHISM AND BROKE AWAY FROM THE ANCIENT PATRIARCHATES OF JERUSALEM, ANTIOCH, ALEXANDRIA, CONSTANTINOPLE AND PRETTY MUCH EVERY ECCLESIASTICAL COMMUNITY MENTIONED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT!
Again, another Patriarchal sizing of the divine ekklesia, and coming to the wrong conclusion thereby. Also, this added part “pretty much every ecclesiastical community mentioned in the New Testament!”, only has enough power to turn around and hit as a target the original shooter. During the 4th century, many Eastern churches went into an Arian disarray and corrupted the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ. Many of these churches were part of the grouping that Max provides. Does this have any significance? Enough to turn his argument into a poor inconsistency? I think so. But it only gets worse. The condemnation of St. John Chrysostom, eventually shared by the “Patriarchates” of Cple, Alex, and Antioch. Were these churches of the Ecclesiastical new testament community ? If so, what entailments follow? And, if Max’s purported import were proven true, wouldn’t it backfire? But then, it was, in fact, only the Roman See, which had alone taken initiative with Emperor Honorius/Arcadius to hold a synod to examine the case of Chrysostom, and the western sees which had retained Chrysostom’s name in the diptych of the mysteries. I wonder, just what significance Max would glean from a situation where the Eastern patriarchs broke away from one of the foremost heroes of Eastern Orthodoxy, the golden tongue himself? But then, when, once again, the three major “Patriarchal Sees” went into heretical monophysiticism, and the Roman See (together with the Western sees & some Eastern believers underground, including monks) was alone continually standing firm on Chalcedon, does he see any effectual significance of Rome standing alone again, atop of the heretical world as the “pure home of orthodox dogma” (As St. Sophronius of Jerusalem would call her) ? But God forbid the Roman See would ever break “from the ancient Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and pretty much every Ecclesiastical community mentioned in the New Testament”.
ERICK YBARRA WRITES: “CHRIST ALWAYS SUSTAINS A REMNANT, IF NOT ALL, IN THE DIVINE VOCATION OF THE EPISCOPATE THAT WILL ALWAYS BE ON THE RIGHT-BELIEVING SIDE OF THINGS. THUS, BY WAY OF ACCIDENT [FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE], AND NOT BY ABSOLUTE NECESSITY, THE POPE WILL NEVER BE ALONE IN HIS OWN PAPAL MAGISTERIUM FOR THIS REASON.”
—-> ERICK SEEMS TO FORGET THAT BOTH POPE HONORIUS AND POPE VIGILIUS WERE CONDEMNED BY ECUMENICAL COUNCILS FOR HERESY!
It seems that when Max can find a reason to undermine Papal claims, he is willing to even do so when it means doing so in the most abnormal and extra-contextual manner possible. But then, when it suits Orthodoxy, he can expect his interlocutors to understand extenuating circumstances (see his comments above on Lyons/Florence) Pope Honorius I likely didn’t even teach monotheletism. But even if he did, where was he to confirm himself in the error? He was in the grave, and his soul hopefully in heaven or purgatory if not. Be that as it may, the Council felt free to condemn Honorius as well as many other deceased persons. Doesn’t this mean that the Council has a higher authority than the Pope? I’m sure many thought this. After all, didn’t many think Councils weren’t even more authoritative than the pontifications of their favorite theologians (see the Nestorians/Coptic churches) ?? Anyhow, Catholics have always had a response to this situation. Firstly, the promise of infallibility, which Pope St. Agatho readily asserts for the Roman See in his letter to the Eastern Council, only pertains to a specific mode of teaching. And it isn’t as mechanical as some would like to envision it. It is a mode from where the Pope speaks as the supreme pastor of the church, making a solemn judgement concerning faith &/or morals with the fullness of his God-given authority. In fact, Pope Agatho explains that Pope Honorius did not appeal to Papal authority and the tradition of Rome when he wrote his letter to Sergius of Cple. One might have thought that it would be entirely anarchronistic to think of someone noting the distinction in modes of Papal teaching. But there it is in the 7th century, by no less than a Greek Pope. Pope Leo, who ratified the decrees , agrees to the condemnation of Honorius, even if it were only that he was negligent. A good case can be made, however, that the words of the condemnation are still much stronger than that. What does this prove? That a Council, working together with a valid Pope, examines and condemns a former Pope for heresy. There is room for that on my bus. In fact, many of us are praying this occurs under the present Pontificate, if in the case of formal heresy. Of course, prayers first go to the wellbeing of all, including the Pope himself.
For Vigilius – How often do you read anti-Papalists go through the whole story of Vigilius? It is rare that I hear it mentioned that the whole Three chapters controversy was an attempt on the part of the Emperor to resolve the church’s theological disputes. This, right off the bat, should signal an abnormality which the Popes themselves had previously warned against (See Gelasius’ letters to the Emperor). This tendency began with the Emperor Constantine, and could obviously serve the Church very well. But it obviously does not serve the Church very well when the secular rulers circumvent the government of the Church and imposes upon the Church its own rules and mandates. Under the power of Justinian, we see this immediately with his 3 chapters plan. He sends an edict to the eastern patriarchs, requiring them to sign. These Eastern patriarchs, knowing that such matters are to be handled only by collaboration with the prelate of the Roman See, signed conditionally. That condition was whether Pope Vigilius, the head of the universal church, would sign. Justinian knew what he was doing, and he knew he would take any measure necessary to acquire the assent of Rome. We know this because when delegates from Justinian arrived in Rome and met with an unwilling Vigilius, they already knew what plan B was. Take Vigilius into custody. *Right there*, the Byzantine Ceasar was imposing himself upon the freedom of the Church to settle her own affairs. He had already done so with the Eastern patriarchs. From here on forward, all Papal actions are rendered suspicious , since the Pope is under duress. I’d only hope that Max would afford the same understanding he expects us to have when he explains the Greeks embraced Florence. But I only hope.
When in Constantinople, Vigilius gives way to Justinian and assents. Then, when he realizes his actions afford him great controversy to many churches in the West, he retracts. But Justinian holds on to that. Then the 2nd edict of the three chapters is made by the Emperor, and the eastern patriarchs are made to sign. Vigilius excommunicates all the eastern patriarchs. The very same thing that Max would say was in the power of the Council against himself [Vigilius]. And yet, no one complains. Rather, they visit the Pope and make it clear that they submit to Chalcedon “for it was ratified by the Apostolic See”, insinuating the essential role of the Pope in the determination of doctrine for the universal church. Push comes to shove w/ the Emperor, a slight reconciliation is made, and plans for a council are agreed upon. However, Justinian didn’t comply with Vigilius, the head of the Church, in allowing the West to play a major role in the dispute. Its obvious, Justinian knew it was a waste of time since the West was not going to budge on Chalcedon, even if stupidly not realizing the Nestorianism in Theodore/Theodoret/Ibas. *Right there again* – The Emperor taking the driver position in the church bus. A big no no. But Vigilius has little to choose from, right? I mean, he is being held prisoner, let’s not forget. The Council convenes and Vigilius isn’t very cooperative, but then says he’ll give a statement on his view within a certain time. The Council doesn’t like the result, and they strike his name from the diptychs, and move on with the condemnation of the three chapters. Council is closed. Vigilius is left an outsider. Now, from here, Max believes his Eastern Orthodox position has gained him another leg in the debate with Catholicism. The problem here is that he has sacrificed the Church’s stance on what an Ecumenical Council *is* in order to obtain this idea that Constantinople 553 held jurisdiction over the Pope and the universal church. First of all, the West was absent. So, at the point in time that the Council closed, we aren’t talking about a Universal Council, though Max would attribute it as such. Now, this is even more curious given that Max, unless I’m mistaken, holds to a similar view of Khamiokov on the gradual acceptance of a council as ecumenical, where the full achievement of ecumenical, supreme, and infallible authority is contingent upon the *whole church receiving it*. If that is the case, then I can’t imagine how Max would say that Justinian and the Eastern bishops comprised an ecumenical action against Vigilius which had the authority to do so. Just a few years after this event, Pope St. Gregory I would say ‘without the authority and the consent of the Apstolic See, none of the matters transacted have any binding force’. Now unfortunately, the removal of the Pope’s name from the diptych of the Eastern liturgies had already become a common thing in the East by then, so I’m sure it wasn’t too strange an idea, but what I’m having a difficult time getting is its validity. When Acacius of Cple removed Pope Felix from the diptychs, it is not as if committed Catholics have to then overturn their belief in the supremacy of the Pope. So this is my response. I will add that Cple 553 began abnormally and would thus end abnormally. Vigilius wrote in with repentance to the patriarch of cple saying he was wrong and that the council was right. I don’t know if he ratified the council then or not. His successor Pelagius I would take the task for sure, and he had quite a battle on his hands since the Western churches were not invited to the convocation, and plus, they saw it as a threat to conscience, i.e. their revoking of Chalcedon. A mess created a bigger mess. But what I hope to communicate here, in concluding, is that it is extremely revealing that Orthodox such as Max would depend so heavily on the actions of Justinian and the eastern bishops against Vigilius, given the rare and abnormal circumstances.
THE FOLLOWING CITATIONS ARE FROM A WORK BY THE FRENCH HISTORIAN CLAIRE SOTINEL. IN IT, THE AUTHOR DISCUSSES THE PERIMETERS OF CHURCH AUTHORITY DURING THE TIME OF JUSTINIAN AND SEEKS TO DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH AND IMPERIAL AUTHORITY IN THE PERIOD LEADING UP TO AND FOLLOWING THE FIFTH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL. WHEN DISCUSSING THE RELEVANCE OF VIGILIUS’ EXCOMMUNICATION TO HER TOPIC, SHE QUOTES JUSTINIAN’S LETTER IN WHICH VIGILIUS IS CLEARLY SINGLED OUT. REMEMBER THAT AT THIS STAGE, VIGILIUS HAD RETRACTED HIS CONDEMNATION OF THE THREE CHAPTERS:
“THE MOST RELIGIOUS POPE OF OLD ROME [HAS MADE HIMSELF] A STRANGER TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN DEFENDING THE IMPIETY OF THE CHAPTERS AND, MOREOVER, IN SEPARATING HIMSELF FROM YOUR COMMUNION BY HIS OWN INITIATIVE […]. THUS, SINCE HE HAS MADE HIMSELF A STRANGER TO CHRISTIANS, WE HAVE JUDGED THAT HIS NAME WILL NOT BE RECITED IN THE HOLY DIPTYCHS LEST, BY THIS MEANS, WE FIND OURSELVES IN COMMUNION WITH THE IMPIETIES OF NESTORIUS AND THEODORE […]. ONE THING IS CERTAIN: WE SERVE UNITY WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE, AND YOU MAINTAIN IT. VIGILIUS’ TRANSFORMATION, OR ANYONE ELSE’S, CANNOT, IN FACT, HARM THE PEACE OF THE CHURCHES”.
TO WHICH THE COUNCIL RESPONDS:
“THE PLANS OF THE MOST PIOUS EMPEROR ARE IN CONFORMITY WITH HIS ACTIONS UNDERTAKEN FOR THE UNITY OF THE HOLY CHURCHES. LET US THEREFORE SERVE UNITY WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE OF THE ALL-HOLY CHURCH OF OLD ROME BY FULFILLING EVERYTHING ACCORDING TO THE TERMS OF THE IMPERIAL DECREE WHICH HAS JUST BEEN READ”
The relation of ecclesial authority to Imperial authority, I believe, had been answered correctly by Pope Gelasius. Also see above comments.
ERICK YBARRA WRITES:”DURING THE PONTIFICATE OF POPE SYMMACHUS, GREEKS APPEALED TO HIM ON BEHALF OF THE EASTERN CHRISTIANS WHO WERE SUFFERING FROM THE MONO-PHYSITE FALL OUT: “YOU WHO ARE TAUGHT DAILY BY YOUR SACRED TEACHER, PETER, TO FEED THE SHEEP OF CHRIST ENTRUSTED TO YOU THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE HABITABLE WORLD” (MANSI, 8.221)”
—-> ERICK FORGETS TO MENTION THE SYMMACHEAN FORGERIES. SEE BELOW:
THE SYMMACHEAN FORGERIES ARE A SHEAF OF FORGED DOCUMENTS PRODUCED IN THE PAPAL CURIA OF POPE SYMMACHUS (498—514) IN THE BEGINNING OF THE SIXTH CENTURY, IN THE SAME CYCLE THAT PRODUCED THE LIBER PONTIFICALIS.
IN THE CONTEXT OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN PARTISANS OF SYMMACHUS AND ANTIPOPE LAURENTIUS THE PURPOSE OF THESE LIBELLI WAS TO FURTHER PAPAL PRETENSIONS OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE BISHOPS OF ROME FROM CRITICISMS AND JUDGMENT OF ANY ECCLESIASTICAL TRIBUNAL, PUTTING THEM ABOVE LAW CLERICAL AND SECULAR BY SUPPLYING SPURIOUS DOCUMENTS SUPPOSEDLY OF AN EARLIER AGE.
“DURING THE DISPUTE BETWEEN POPE ST. SYMMACHUS AND THE ANTI-POPE LAURENTIUS,” THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA REPORTS, “THE ADHERENTS OF SYMMACHUS DREW UP FOUR APOCRYPHAL WRITINGS CALLED THE ‘SYMMACHIAN FORGERIES’. …
THE OBJECT OF THESE FORGERIES WAS TO PRODUCE ALLEGED INSTANCES FROM EARLIER TIMES TO SUPPORT THE WHOLE PROCEDURE OF THE ADHERENTS OF SYMMACHUS, AND, IN PARTICULAR, THE POSITION THAT THE ROMAN BISHOP COULD NOT BE JUDGED BY ANY COURT COMPOSED OF OTHER BISHOPS.” – CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA XIV, 378.
This is an extremely uninformed response. First, what does the letter from the Greeks appealing to the Pope have to do with the Symmachean forgeries? Absolutely nothing. I am shocked that this was his response. Allow me to give you the context here. Macedonius (495) was elected in the place of Euphemius of Constantinople, and he was confronted with a demand from the Emperor Anastasius I to issue an official repudiation of the Council of Chalcedon. He responded that without the consent of the Roman see, no repudiation was possible from him. (Caspar, op. cit., vol ii, p. 121). He was immediately deposed. One year later (512) Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch were in the hands of Monophysitism. From these states of affairs, we have a letter from some Greeks in the East who were victims of Caesaropapistic tyranny during this Acacian schism. Dr. Trevor Jalland describes this letter: “Reminding the Pope that he enjoys the power to loose as well as to bind his [Greek] petitioners please: ‘Of a truth you are possessed of the Spirit of Christ, who are daily instructed by your holy teacher Peter how to tend the flock of Christ, which has been entrusted to you over all the earth and obys you not by constraint but willingly…All of us, both those in communion with them (sc. Monophysites) and those who decline it, await next to God the light of your visitation and admission to favour. Wherefore hasten to help the East, whence the redeemer Himself sent forth two great luminaries Peter and Paul to give light to the whole world’. What answer, if any, Symmachus returned to this pathetic appeal is unknown. All that remains of his eastern correspondence is a letter to the Illyrian episcopate urging them to take warning from the fate of the eastern churches: ‘For those, who believed they could disregard the admonition of the Apostolic See, have deservedly suffered what is bound to befall those who forsake their duty’” (Church and Papacy, page 335-6).
Max cannot find you a scholar who is contesting these records. Thus, his response to this in terms of the Symmachean forgeries should inform anyone of his readers that he is not closely looking after the things that he writes. That can change, and hopefully it will.
But this may be an opportunity to bring up something of interest here since the topic of forgeries came up. The following sources *are not from the forgery collection*. Symmachus had a rival to the episcopate of Rome, a man named Laurence. When Symmachus won the election, the party of Laurence sought at first change to accuse Symmachus of wrongdoing. Sure enough, when Symmachus had established the date of Easter to March 25th, the pre-Victorian Paschal cycle, in defiance of the Alexandrine date of April 22, the part of Laurence sought to procure his summons to a court in Ravenna to be indicted. They added other charges as well. During this plan, a synod was held in Italy at the church of St. Maria in Trastevere, at which Symmachus appeared in person, though Laurnence was presiding. After two sessions accomplishing nothing, the synod sought Theodoric the Arian King in order to condemn Symmachus by civil power. But this plan didn’t fall through since Symmachus didn’t show up for trial, and neither did Theodoric seek to intervene. The Italian synod ended with an acquittal on Symmachus. Seems like an unimportant event, but it comes with some interesting details. It just so happens that two Western bishops, Ennodius of Milan & Avitus of Vienne, both venerated Saints in the Orthodox churches, both of whom were strong supporters of the authority of the Roman see. These both wrote in response to Symmachus’ enemies during the above context. In the first place, we have a statement coming from some bishops of Italy who wrote to King Theodoric concerning the attempt of the supporters of Laurence to condemn Symmachus : “…the person [Symmachus] who was attacked ought himself to have called the Council, knowing that to his See in the first place the rank or chiefship of the Apostle Peter, and then the authority of venerable councils following out the Lord’s command, had committed a power without its like in the churches; nor would a precedent be easily found to show, that in a similar matter the prelate of the aforementioned See had been subject to the judgment of his inferiors” (Mansi, viii, 248). St. Avitus of Vienne wrote a letter to the Roman senators, which reads: “We were in a state of anxiety and alarm about the cause of the Roman church, inasmuch as we felt that our order [the episcopate of Gaul] was endangered by an attack upon its head…What license for accusation against the headship of the universal church ought to be allowed?…As a Roman senator and a Christian bishop, I conjure you that the state of the Church be not less precious to you than that of the commonwealth. If you judge the matter with your profound consideration, not merely is that cause which was examined at Rome to be contemplated, but as, if in the case of other Bishops any danger be incurred, it can be repaired, so if the Pope of the city be put into question, not a single bishop, but the episcopate itself, will appear to be in danger. He who rules the Lord’s fold will render an account how he administers the care of the lambs he entrusted to him; but it belongs not to the flock to alarm its own shepherd , but to the judge [God]. Wherefore restore to us, if it be not yet restored, concord in our chief” (Mansi, viii. 293). St. Ennodius wrote , “God perchance has willed to terminate the causes of other men by means of men; but the prelate of that See He has reserved, without question, to His own judgment. It is His will that the successors of the blessed Apostle Peter should owe their innocence to Heaven alone, and should manifest a pure conscience to the inquisition of the most severe Judge [God]. Do you answer; such will be the condition of all souls in that scrutiny? I retort, that to one was said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church’, and again, that by the voice of holy pontiffs, the dignity of his See has been made venerable in the whole world, since all the faithful everywhere are submitted to it, and it is marked out as the head of the whole body” (Mansi, viii. 284). Some pretty interesting words from these two saints venerated to this day in the Orient.
Dr. Trevor Jalland corroborates on this in addition to the Symmachean forgeries :
“Yet in spite of the Pope’s pathetic situation, enthusiastic champions of the Roman see made a timely appearance in the persons of Ennodius of Milan and Avitus of Vienne. The latter may well have expressed the view of the Italian episcopate as well as that of Gaul when he wrote: ‘If the position of the chief (princeps) is shaken by accusation, we feel the position of everyone of us to be weakened’. The work of Ennodius on the other hand, as a reply to the Pope’s enemies, though characterized by clever evasions, violent abuse and a marked dependence on irrelevant quotations of Holy Scripture, bas a special interest as the product of a church which at one time seemed to overshadow even Rome itself as the primatial see of Italy. In him we find the earliest explicit assertion that a distinction is to be drawn between the Pope as an individual and the Pope as the holder of the Papacy. As an individual he will receive just judgment on the Last Day; as Pope he cannot be guilty of anything demanding judicial punishment. It is not difficult to imagine that such a view would have been highly acceptable to one such as Gregory VII, under whose inspiration the Ennodian principle was embodied in the Dictatus Papae.
Not less remarkable was the abundance of pseudonymous and apochryphal literature which may rightly be regarded as a by-product of this anomalous situation. The chief object of these writings was to make good some of the very obvious defects in the papal structure which recent events had laid bare. They included, besides other suppositious conciliar Acts such as the Gesta Liberii, the Gesta Xysti and Gesta Polychronii, the proceedings of an apocryphal ‘synod of Sineuessa’ at which the unhappy Marcellinus was supposed to have been arraigned. Encouraged to judge himself, the Pope was represented as having declared himself guilty, whereupon Militades, apparently elected and consecrated on the spot, is said to have remarked, ‘Rightly has he been condemned out of his own mouth, for no one has ever judged the Pope, since the first see can be judged by no man’. A similar principle emerges in the contemporary supplement to the Silvestrian saga depicting another imaginary Roman synod, which besides condemning the author of the Paschal cycle, rejected by Symmachus, some hundred years or so before his birth, passed a series of canons of which the last significantly read: ‘No man shall judge the first see’. It is evident from these strange essays in imaginative history that the ideas of Gelasius were already showing themselves prolific, but it would be unjust to Symmachus to attribute to him direct responsibility for the offspring” (Church and Papacy, page 333-4).
According to Dr. Klaus Schatz, the forgeries were only to get the principle “the First see is judged by none” into canon law. The drafters of the forgery already knew the valid existence of the principle under the pontificate of Pope Gelasius. Schatz writes:
“The principle that prima sedes a nemine iudicatur, ‘the principal see is judged by no one’ (which effectively means ‘can be judged by no one’) became in the course of the centuries a succinct way of saying that there can be no court above the pope that can condemn him, depose him, or set aside his decisions. In this sense the principle has developed an enormous influence, especially since the eleventh century. But it was known and effective long before that…..In this succinct phrasing [first see is judge by none] the principle can be traced back to the Symmachian forgeries, written in about 500. Their setting was the period of Ostrogoth domination. Pope Symmachus, politically a supporter of the Arian Ostrogoth king Theodoric, faced strong ecclesiastical opposition within the Roman clergy, whose orientation was to Byzantium, and he was about to be deposed by a synod. The forgers hoped that this principle could be used to prevent his deposition; they referred to supposed cases around the year 300 when the deposition of a pope was averted because of this principle. Of course it was only this bold formulation that was new, not the content. It appears very clearly in two letters of Pope Gelasius I from 493 and 495 in the context of the Acacian schism. According to the canons, every can appeal to the pope, but there is no appeal beyond him, ‘and thus he judges the whole church and himself stands before no tribunal, and no judgment can be passed on his judgment, nor can his decision be abrogated’. But it was through the Symmachian forgeries that the principle entered the legal canon; it was this formulation, and not that of Gleasius, that made history, but only slowly and by roundabout ways. It was apparently not until the ninth century that the principle became a fixed element in the legal traditions of Rome, possibly under Frankish influence.” (Papal Primacy: From its Origins to Present, page 73)
ERICK YBARRA WRITES: “SO WE HAVE, THEN, A RECOGNITION BY THE CHURCH FATHERS THIS IDEA THAT THE PETRINE PRIMACY OF THE ROMAN SEE IS NOT AN EXTERNAL REALITY, AS THOUGH IT WAS ADDED UNTO THE EPISCOPAL CONSTITUTION. RATHER, IT IS ONE WITH THE EPISCOPAL CONSTITUTION. SECONDLY, THAT THIS ESSENTIAL ELEMENT OF THE EPISCOPAL CONSTITUTION IS NOT SOMETHING WHICH CAN PERTAIN TO ANY AND ALL SEES, BUT ONLY THAT OF THE ROMAN SEE (WE CAN EXPLAIN CONCERNING MORE ABOUT GREGORY’S LETTER WHEREIN HE SPEAKS OF 3 LOCATIONS OF PETER’S SEE IF IT IS BROUGHT UP IN REBUTTAL) SINCE IT ALONE RECEIVES THE SUCCESSION TO PETER’S PRIMACY.”
—> ERICK DOES NOT BOTHER OFFERING A REBUTTAL OF POPE GREGORY’S VIEW ON 3 LOCATIONS OF PETER’S SEE. BUT LET US SEE WHAT ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM AND ST. THEODORET HAVE TO SAY:
ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM:
“IN SPEAKING OF ST. PETER, THE RECOLLECTION OF ANOTHER PETER [FLAVIAN, BISHOP OF ANTIOCH, AT THE TIME THE DISCOURSE WAS WRITTEN,] HAS COME TO ME, THE COMMON FATHER AND TEACHER, WHO HAS INHERITED HIS PROWESS, AND ALSO OBTAINED HIS CHAIR. FOR THIS IS THE ONE GREAT PRIVILEGE OF OUR CITY, ANTIOCH, THAT IT RECEIVED THE LEADER OF THE APOSTLES AS ITS TEACHER IN THE BEGINNING. FOR IT WAS RIGHT THAT SHE WHO WAS FIRST ADORNED WITH THE NAME OF CHRISTIANS, BEFORE THE WHOLE WORLD, SHOULD RECEIVE THE FIRST OF THE APOSTLES AS HER PASTOR. BUT THOUGH WE RECEIVED HIM AS TEACHER, WE DID NOT RETAIN HIM TO THE END, BUT GAVE HIM UP TO ROYAL ROME. OR RATHER WE DID RETAIN HIM TO THE END, FOR THOUGH WE DO NOT RETAIN THE BODY OF PETER, WE DO RETAIN THE FAITH OF PETER, AND RETAINING THE FAITH OF PETER WE HAVE PETER” (ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, “ON THE INSCRIPTION OF THE ACTS”, II; CITED BY E. GILES, DOCUMENTS ILLUSTRATING PAPAL AUTHORITY (LONDON: SPCK, 1952), P. 168. CF. CHAPMAN, STUDIES ON THE EARLY PAPACY, P. 96).
[NOTE: NOTE THAT ST. FLAVIAN, ARCHBISHOP OF ANTIOCH IS A PETER AND HAS OBTAINED THE CHAIR OF PETER, AND THAT AS LONG AS HE KEEPS THE FAITH OF PETER’S CONFESSION, ANTIOCH HAS A ST. PETER.]
ST. THEODORET MAKES A SIMILAR STATEMENT ABOUT THE SEE OF ANTIOCH WHEN HE STATES THAT ANTIOCH POSSESSES THE THRONE OF PETER:
“DIOSCURUS, 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 ANTIOCHEAN METROPOLIS POSSESSES THE THRONE OF THE GREAT PETER, WHO WAS THE TEACHER OF THE BLESSED MARK, AND FIRST AND CORYPHAEUS OF THE APOSTLES.” (PHILIP SCHAFF, NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS (GRAND RAPIDS: EERDMANS, 1956), VOLUME III, THEODORET, EPISTLE 86, TO FLAVIANUS, BISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE, P. 281).
That the Orthodox continue to bring out Gregory’s letter to the Patriarch of Alexandria is quite shocking. This attempt to equate the Roman see with that of the Alexandrian or Antiochene See is clearly refuted by the following statements of Pope Gregory:
“As regards the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See? Why, both our most religious Lord the Emperor and our brother the Bishop of Constantinople continually acknowledge it” (Epistles 9:26).
“the Apostolic See, which is the head of all other churches” (13:1)
In a letter to Bishop John of Syracuse, Gregory says : “as to his saying that he is subject to the Apostolic See, if any fault is found in bishops, I know not what bishop is not subject to it. But when no fault requires it to be otherwise, all according to the principle of humility are equal”.
Anglican Patristic scholar, J.N.D. Kelly wrote that Gregory I
“was indefatigable…in upholding the Roman primacy, and successfully maintained Rome’s appellate jurisdiction in the east….Gregory argued that St. Peter’s commission [e.g. in Matthew 16:18f] made all churches, Constantinople included, subject to Rome” (The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, page 67).
Jaroslav Pelikan writes concerning the tri-partite See of Peter Max mentioned:
“To be sure, Peter had also been in Alexandria and in Antioch, and Gregory sometimes put forth the idea that these two patriarchs shared with him the primacy given to Peter: Rome was the see where Peter had died, Alexandria the see to which he had sent Mark, and Antioch the see which he himself had occupied for seven years. There was one see of Peter in three places. But this touch of whimsy about the apostle did not have any far-reaching implications for Gregory’s concrete doctrine of primacy in the church. Everybody knew that the see of Peter was Rome. When the legates at Chalcedon in 451 responded to the reading of Leo’s Tome with the exclamation, ‘Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo!’ they were simply giving voice to this general assumption. For the early church, primacy had belonged in a special way to Jerusalem, the mother city of all believers. But it had moved from the capital city of the old Israel to the capital city of the world, which became the capital city of the new Israel….The churches of the Greek East, too, owed a special allegiance to Rome. As far as the Church of Constantinople was concerned, ‘who would doubt that it has been made subject to the apostolic see’, that is, of course, to Rome? By hailing the authority of Leo, the fathers at Chalcedon gave witness to the orthodoxy of Rome. One see after another had capitulated in this or that controversy with heresy. Constantinople had given rise to several heretics during the fourth and fifth centuries, notably Nestorius and Macedonius, and the other sees had also been known to stray from the true faith occasionally. But Rome had a special position. The bishop of Rome had the right by his own authority to annul the acts of a synod. In fact, when there was talk of a council to settle controversies, Gregory asserted the principle that ‘without the authority and the consent of the Apstolic See, none of the matters transacted have any binding force’. (The Christian Tradition, Vol 1, pages 353-4)
ERICK YBARRA WRITES: “PAPAL FAILURES DO NOT DIMINISH THE ONTOLOGICAL ROLE OF THE PAPACY, NOR DOES IT PROVE IT IS OF MAN-MADE ORIGIN OR THAT IT IS AN EXTERNAL MACHINERY CREATED FOR THE SAKE OF GOOD ORDER, BUT IT CONTINUES TO BE OF THE ESSENTIAL CONSTITUTION.”
—> AGAIN, ERICK SEEMS TO FORGET THAT BOTH POPE HONORIUS AND POPE VIGILIUS WERE CONDEMNED BY ECUMENICAL COUNCILS FOR HERESY!
IF AN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL CAN JUDGE A POPE AS HERETICAL (AS THE SIXTH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL DID WITH REGARDS TO POPE HONORIUS), IT SEEMS CLEAR TO ME THAT THE ECUMENICAL COUNCIL IS THE HIGHEST AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH.
ANCIENT POPES WERE REQUIRED TO YIELD TO THE HIGHER AUTHORITY OF AN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL AND ALL DECISIONS EFFECTING THE ENTIRE CHURCH IN MATTERS OF DOCTRINE AND ADMINISTRATION WERE MADE THROUGH CONSENSUS AT ECUMENICAL COUNCILS, THEY WERE NEVER MADE BY PAPAL DECREE ALONE.
See comments I made about Vigilius and Honorius. As for Max’s insistence that an Ecumenical Council has more binding authority than the Pope. For starters, an authentic Ecumenical Council requires the Pope’s participation, and thus for Catholics, one cannot divorce Pope and Council in the way Max does. It is as St. Gregeory the Great said, without the authority of the Holy See, no Council can have this sort of authority. Secondly, there are plenty of historical evidences which demonstrate that the court of the Roman See exceeded the authority of a Council supposedly claiming to hold jurisdiction over the universal church. I can give you the following examples. When they were condemned by the Council of Ephesus 449, Eusebius of Dorylaeum, St. Flavianos of Constantionple, and Theodoret of Cyrus all appealed to Pope Leo for the overturning of the decrees at Ephesus, which was finalized under the “authority” of Pope of Alexandria, Dioscorus, and Emperor Theodosius II. From all appearances, this was a Council. And for students such as Max, who love to shout the universal power of Justinian at the 5th Council, there isn’t any reason why he should think Ephesus 449 is not ecumenical, at least in preparation and matter. Moreover, Pope Leo unilaterally annulled the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon. Even after the bishops at the Council ratified it together with the Patriarch of Constantinople and Emperor Marcian, the Patriarch of Constantinople finally, after two years, admitted to Pope Leo that all the canons were suspended for his approval or disapproval, and he dropped the whole case – at least, he said he would. Following this, you have the fall out in the East to monophysiticism. It was the Roman See which had continued to herald the decrees of Chalcedon. And the only way the East was brought back into the unity of the Church was through a formula drawn up by Pope Hormisdas and officially signed by a great many in the East under the prodding of Justinian I. There is a rumor going around, made popular by a 19thcentury Anglican anti-Catholic writer, Fr. Puller, that the East had made all sorts of modifications and demands of their own before coming into union with the Holy See. Such is nonsense. If space allowed, we could go on to the historical context of the Pelagian controversy in North Africa, the Iconoclastic controversy, and the dispute caused by Photius.
No student of Church history underestimates the important place of the Council of Chalcedon 451, held in modern day Kadıköy (district of Istanbul). This Council established the 2-in-1 [2 natures in 1 Person] doctrine of Christ as opposed to the followers of Eutyches and Dioscorus who wanted to say Christ had 1 single nature [Mono-physite].
Following the Council, there was relative peace between Rome and Constantinople due to Patriarch Anatolius’ obedience to Pope St. Leo I’s annulment of the 28th canon, but soon enough things were destined to change because the Monophysites had been, with relatively strong arguments, pressing for a new Council to overturn Chalcedon. In an attempt to conciliate the Monophysites and the Chalcedonians, Emperor Zeno issued his “henoticon”, a document of Christology sought to pave the way for union. The henoticon would be accepted by Acacius, Patriarch of Constantinople, Peter Mongus, Patriarch of Alexandria, and Peter the Fuller, Patriarch of Alexandria. This brought about what is known as the Acacian Schism, and lasted from 484 to 519, a total of 35 years.
When Pope St. Gelasius entered Papal office in 492, this schism had been operating for already 8 years. Not only was the “reform” on Chalcedon in Zeno’s henoticon an issue of dispute between Rome and the East, but also the assumption that Constantinople should occupy 2nd place in Christendom, which is what Canons 3/28 of Constantinople 381 and Chalcedon had attempted to pass as an ecumenical canon. Acacius must have not taken seriously the words of his predecessor Anatolius who wrote the following to Pope Leo I on this – “the whole force of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness.” (Patrologia Latina 54.1082B). Concerning the same canons, Pope St. Leo claimed that “by the blessed Apostle Peter’s authority we absolutely dis-annul in comprehensive terms” (Ep. 105).
No doubt, therefore, Chalcedon is completed by the recognition of Petrine supremacy over the field of an Ecumenical Council. Acacius, however, was of a different mind on this. Though St. Gelasius, as well as his successors Anastasius II and St. Symmachus, attempted to bring the East back into the fold of Christ, it was not until Pope St. Hormisdas that re-union was established through his Formula of Reunion which required a recognition of much of what St. Gelasius had already been writing on. Below, I will be posting material found in the letters of Pope St. Gelasius, drawing from three sources: (1) his letter to the Bishops of Dardania (495), (2) his instructions to a Papal legate Magister Faustus, and (3) his letter to the Emperor Anastasius.
In his epistle to the Bishops of Dardania, St. Gelasius responds to Acacius’ grab at the 28th canon of Chalcedon. Notice how he reviews the history of the exchange between Anatolius and Leo which took place in 453, about 40 years earlier.
This confirms the existence of this letter from Anatolius wherein he conceded to Leo’s discriminate authority over all the canons, which Leo had understood to be derived from St. Peter (see the 2 reference above):
“If the bishops of Constantinople flatter themselves because their city is the residence of the Emperor, and think therefore that their persons are more important, let them listen to Marcian, the Princeps [Emperor] of that city.
When, having interceded for the promotion of the priest of that city, he was not able to obtain anything that was contrary to the canons, he extended to Pope Leo of holy memory the highest praise, because he [the Pope] had not allowed the rules of the canons to be violated in any manner. Let them listen to Anatolius, the Pontiff of that same city, or better, to the clergy of Constantinople, confessing that they were trying to obtain the same thing, and affirming that all was within the power of the Apostolic bishop [Leo].
And let them listen to the same blessed Pope Leo, head of the Apostolic See, through whose authority the Synod of Chalcedon was confirmed…to rescind by a competent refutation that which had again been attempted in a new way at the assembly, and which would be well outside the canons of Nicaea. Noentheless, they can hear Probus, bishop of the city of Canusa of holy memory, legate of the Apostolic See under Simplicius of blessed memory, teaching the same thing in the presence of the Emperor Leo [Marcian’s successor], who asked then that it should not be attempted in any way, and refused resolutely to give his consent to it in any way, and therefore, let them not look at the status of any city, but let them rather properly observe the way of ecclesiastical order confirmed by the tradition of the Father” (Patrologia Latina 59.66D)
Just prior to this in the same letter, he speaks of the Apostolic See as the executor and ratifier of Councils, not by some ecclesiastical privilege that was conferred upon the Roman see, but by divine right in blessed Peter.
“Let no true Christian ignore the fact that the constitution of any synod which has been approved by the consent of the whole church can be executed by no other See than the First, which confirms any synod by its authority and watched over it through continuous supervision, especially because of its principate, which Blessed Peter the Apostle obtained through the word of the Lord and which it has always retained and continues to retain…” (Patrologia Latina 59.66B,C)
And on the freedom of the absolving power of loosing [i.e. the Keys], St. Gelasius writes in the same letter:
“The entire Church over the entire world knows that the Chair of Blessed Peter has the right to loose what has been bound by the sentences of any bishop whatsoever, as the See of Peter is entitled to jurisdiction over any Church, while no one is entitled to pass judgement on its decision, for the canons have permitted that appeals should be directed to it from all the world, but no one is permitted to appeal its decision….
The Apostolic See has often had the freedom (facultas), without a Synod preceding it, to loose those whom a Synod had unjustly condemned, and also, if necessary, to condemn others without the convocation of a Synod….an Eastern synod [Tyre] had rejected Athanasius of blessed memory: but the Apostolic See took him up, denying confirmation of the condemnation by the Greeks, and acquitted him: in the same way a synod of Catholic bishops had condemned too John Chrysostom of Constantinople; him also the Apostolic See released merely by refusing to confirm the sentence.
In the same way the Apostolic See released Flavian of blessed memory, who was similarly condemned by an assembly of bishops, merely through not agreeing to its condemnation. Furthermore the Apostolic See condemned by its authority Dioscorus, the Bishop of the 2nd See, who had been admitted there; it dissolved the godless synod by refuting its concurrence, and for the sake of truth ordered, on its own authority, that the Synod of Chalcedon should be held” (Patrologia Latina 59.66C, 67 B,C)
In his epistle of instructions to Magister Faustus, St. Gelasius gives his commentary on the Canons of Sardica (343), and how he would have applied it to the plan of the henoticon in the East:
“These are the canons which decreed that appeals from the whole Church should be directed to this See. They have, however, by no means sanctioned an appeal elsewhere from its judgement; in this way they have ordained that it should sit in judgement over the whole Church, but that it should itself be judged by no one, and never that its judgement should be nulled, but rather ordered that its decrees should be followed” (Patrologia Latina 59.28B)
In his epistle to the Emperor Anastasius, St. Gelasius covers the concept of the “Two Powers”, and in it he reveals his thoughts on the origin of the primacy of Rome:
“If it is fitting that, in general, the faithful should subordinate their hearts to all priests who are correctly administering things divine, how much more should one endeavor to be in accord with the holder of the See, whom not only the divine will wished to be superior to all priests, but whom also the common piety of the Church following the divine will has continually celebrated as such. As your piety can clearly realize, never can anyone elevate himself through any human counsel whatever to that privilege or confession of Peter whom the voice of Christ had placed above all, and whom the venerable Church has always confessed and reverently regarded as its primate. What has been established by divine decree can be attacked by human presumption; it cannot however, be defeated by any power” (Patrologia 59.42 C & D, and 43A )
Catholic Patristic scholar, Robert Eno, interprets St. Gelasius as holding to the concept of Papal supremacy. He has the following to summarize the writings of St. Gelasius:
“Of all the ancient Popes, Gelasius comes closest to making explicit what later theology might term Papal indefecetibility. If Rome were to be allowed by God to fall into error, then who would be left to keep the rest of the Church from falling into the abyss, asked Gelasius ? Finally, he expressed the Roman point of view that it is alone was an in practice had to be, the sole final arbiter of the Church’s doctrinal decisions. Such definitions must be in accord with Scripture, tradition, with canon law, etc. but who is to decide whether this is the case or not? A council ? Gelasius maintained that Rome could accept or reject councils as it saw fit. He recalled the papal rejection of canon 28 of Chalcedon against the wishes of both council and emperor.
Thus we leave antiquity with the final Roman assertion that she is the ultimate decision maker, in doctrine as well as in discipline.” (Teaching Authority in the Early Church, Vol. 14, p. 163)
Eastern Orthodox scholar A. Edward Siecienski has the following to say of St. Gelasius:
“Feliex’s successor in Rome, Gelasius (492-96), had no such doubts about his authority in the matter. Like his predecessors, Gelasius linked his ministry to that of Peter, who was tasked with being ‘primacy caretaker’ (gubernatio principis) of Christ’s flock. When a Roman synod met in 495 to judge the excommunicate Misenus of Cuma, Gelasius received him back using the power of the keys ‘which our Savior delegated to blessed Peter the apostle before the rest’. …..For Gelasius, the chief task of the Roman See , ‘whom the voice of Christ set before all, whom the venerable Church has always acknowledged and in her devotedness holds as primate’ was safeguarding ‘the upright root [that] is the glorious confession of the Apostle’, protecting it ‘from any gash of crookedness, by any infection at all’……By entering into communion with those who denied the truth of Pope Leo’s Tome, the ‘double-dealing’ Acacius had ‘prostituted the catholic faith’ and deserved the sentence of excommunication pronounced against him’……Gelasius’ attack against Acacius and his allies proceeded along two fronts. First, supported by ‘Christ’s utterances and the tradition of the elders and authority of the canons’, Gelasius asserted Rome’s right/duty to intervene in the matter, a fact that had been recognized at Sardica by ‘the very canons that intended the referral of appeals from the entire Church to this see for examination…And by this means the canons have instructed that this See is to sit in judgement on the entire Church, to pass to nobody’s judgment, nor ever to be judged by its judgment, and they have determined that its verdict should never be undone, and ordered instead that its decisions are to be followed‘.”
(The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate, Chapter “The Church of Rome in the Patristic Era”, Pp. 181-183)
And if we were to ask Siecienski how the Eastern bishops who maintained loyalty to Chalcedon thought ofSt. Gelasius, he writes:
“Gelasius’s stand against Monophysitism earned him the respect of the Chalcedonian bishops in the East, who praised the Pope and his heirs in glowing terms. Seeking the help of Pope Symmachus (498-5140), [Gelasius’ second successor], they wrote to him how ‘Christ, the best Shepherd, had entrusted the chair of the blessed Prince of the Apostles to you… to tend the sheep of Christ entrusted to you over the whole inhabitable world’….
While his enemies criticized Gelasius as ‘haughty’ and ‘arrogant’, surprisingly we know of few attacks on the papacy itself, or the claims that Gelasius was putting forth on its behalf.” (ibid. , p. 183)
Anglican Patristic historian J.N.D. Kelly writes concerning this Pope:
“Gelasius siezed every opputunity of inculcating his conviction of the supremacy of the Roman see, and was the first pope known to have been saluted as ‘Vicar of Christ’ (at the Roman synod of 13 May 495, which restored Misenus). It was the pope’s prerogative, he claimed, to ratify councils and protect their decisions…Next to Leo I, Gelasius was the outstanding pope of the 5th cent., and he surpassed Leo in theological grasp. His writings leave the impression of an arrogant, narrow-minded, and harsh pontiff; but the extraordinary reverence in which he was held by contemporaries is reflected in a description left by the monk Dionysios Exiguus, who lived in Rome 500-550 and consorted with his disciples.” (Oxford Dictionary of Popes, pp. 48-49)
As to his being in error, one could bring up what Kelly said about the positive statements made by the Scythian monk St. Dionysius Exiguus, who is also canonized for the Eastern Orthodox. Dionysios wrote to his presbyter friend Julian concerning the holiness of St. Gelasius’s life. Rev Alban Butler’s “The Lives of the Saints” (1866, Vol. XI) says that St. Gelasius is:
“extolled for the purity of his manners, his extraordinary humility, temperance, austerity of life, and liberality to the poor, for whose sake he kept himself always poor, as Dionysius Exiguus, who died before the year 556, tells us” (November 21, St. Gelasius, Pope and Confessor – Latin source of Dionysios’s letter , Patrologia Latina 67.203).
French Byzantinist, Francis Dvornik, also writes of St. Dionysios’s description of St. Gelasius:
“Dionysios Exiguus, the author of the famous Collection of Papal Decrees, transmitted to posterity the sentiments of admiration and gratitude felt for their master by Gelasius’ disciples. In the introduction of his collection, dedicated to Cardinal Julian, his benedactor and Gelasius’ disciple, Dionysios inserted a long euglogy on Gelasius, exalting his humility, his labors for the Church, his charity and chastity, and calling him ‘a shepherd and an imitator of the supreme good Shepherd — a chosen head of the Apostolic See who obeyed an taught the precepts of God‘” (The Idea of Apostolicity in Byzantium and the Legend of Apostle Andrew, p. 121)
In recent scholarship, however, a Dr. George Demacopoulos, Professor of Theology at Fordham University, has taken a fresh look at the Gelasian corpus, and has contributed a different perspective. Being Eastern Orthodox himself, it will be a great deal to make clear there is no bias in his historical and theological inferences and arguments. This, no doubt, he seeks to show in his referencing the original sources in context, Roman Catholic historians, and the rather undisputed facts accepted by the breadth of scholarship. However, holes there are, and though here is not an extensive critical review, this article will allow some space to pick out what proves to be the major weaknesses of Demacopoulos’s (whom I will refer as Dr. D) arguments.
For starters, given the aim of this present article, Dr. D only shows that I have hit near the bulls-eye when it comes to the question of what St. Gelasius himself believed. Dr. D admits that St. Gelasius claimed to hold a Christ-ordained universal authority over the whole Church, and that the See of Rome cannot be judged by anyone, and whose judgement are irreformable by anyone else in the Church (The Invention of Peter , p. 98). However, he understands the origin of these claims to be coming from St. Gelasius’s frustration with the dissidence of the Eastern patriarchs, particularly of the See of Constantinople, and so are more fabricated imagination than reliable truth.
Right off the bat, one is puzzled at how Dr. D could so theorize. The claim to Apostolic & Petrine prerogative in the Roman See by divine right had been claimed by Pope St. Stephen I (254), which was before the Constantinian elevation of the Christian society; and Pope St. Julius I (340-343), Pope St. Damasus (366-384), Pope St. Siricius (384), and Pope St. Innocent I (401-417), all of whom reigned in the See of Peter when there was no particular reason for the West to fabricate reasons to bolster its superior authority over the East by way of the loss of secular prestige. What difference is there in the claims of Pope St. Leo the Great (450) and Pope St. Gelasius? And what difference was there from the claims of St. Leo with those of his predecessors?
In fact, the Petrine prerogatives were explained by Damasus and Leo, and both of these Popes receive special attention from Emperors in the favor of the authority of the Holy See (Gratian & Valentinian III, respectively). So it would take much to argue that the Petrine claims originate with the absence of Imperial support. This indicates that the fishing project wherein Dr. D speculates as to the “why” of St. Gelasius’s “grandiose” Papal claims as rooted in an imagination by which to disingenuously subjugate the Monophysite-East is immediately held suspect. Rather, since the Papal claims were consistent in a variety of contexts, and even those not including Pope’s of Rome, such as St. Optatus vs. the Donatist Parmenian, it is more preferable to find the root of it in something else. Now, that does not mean that when the Pope’s were seeing schisms and dissension from its doctrinal influence we will not see a ratcheting up of those claims. That it seems to me is only natural even to an authentic appeal to a widely held and accepted Papal authority.
Secondly, Dr. D attempts to show that the veracity of the Papal claims are to be doubted because of Pope St. Gelasius’ trouble to enforce obedience in his own Roman diocese. He describes how certain catholic citizens of the Roman city, being led by a un-named Christian magistrate (which Collectio Avellana designates as Andromachus), had promoted the pagan custom of the Luperaclia celebration against the directive of the Pope against it. The Lupercalia was a Roman celebration, pre-Christian, held each year on February 15th, and it involved sacrificing a goat and celebrants acting like priests to “bless” Rome by warding of evils such as pestilences and catastrophes. The Pope in Tractate 6 had threatened excommunication to Andromachus and all who participated in this pagan festival.
For St. Gelasius, this was an act of spiritual adultery, and it shows that many of the pre-Constantinian celebrations of Pagan Rome had still continued on , most likely by the more nominal church members. In any case, Dr. D interprets this non-compliance as a proof that the Papal claims were not a reality even in Rome itself, much less anywhere else, and even says that the threat of excommunication by the Pope may have amounted to “little more than a bluster” (ibid. p. 77). The first observation to be given here is that Dr. D is examining an event which exists between what even 5th century Christians all knew to be the ordinary authority of a local diocese, the Bishop, and the members under him. Even modern Eastern Orthodox would accept that a Bishop has the right to impose disciplinary restrictions upon the people of his diocese when he foresees something of spiritual danger to his flock [i.e. in our case the Lupercalia].
So it makes one wonder why Dr. D does not only see this as a threat against Episcopal authority even more so than Papal since that is the most immediate relationship. But since Dr. D presumably accepts the veracity of Episcopal authority (unless I am mistaken), then this sort of non-compliance does not amount to proving the non-existence of that authority. Or does he see that non-compliance with a particular Bishop as evidence that the institution of Bishop was not universally embraced? Second, what evidence do we have of a total non-compliance on the part of the Roman Christians who were following this member of the aristocracy? If the local Bishop orders excommunication, that would carry weight to most God-fearing members of the Church, and Dr. D does not provide any evidence of how this all ended in this particular dimension. And last, it should be duly noted that the persons involved in this act of quasi-rebellion are not the sort [i.e. partaking in a questionable pagan festival] that we would expect to be on deck to obey religious authority, much less representative of persons to be chosen as considerable witnesses against the Papacy.
Next, Dr. D mentions another instance of the Bishop of Rome in possible division with his clergy in Letter 30 of the Gelasian corpus. This Letter includes a description of the proceedings which took place at a Synod in Rome which had re-examined a certain Bishop of Cumae named Misenus, who, as Papal ambassador to Constantinople under Pope Felix III in 484, received holy communion from the Constantinople’s Patriarch Acacius, who was out of union with the Holy See. Felix had swiftly excommunicated Misenus. However, at this new Synod in Rome (495), presided over by St. Gelasius, Misenus openly confessed his wrong-doing and was granted absolution by the Pope himself.
Now, on pages 80-93, Dr. D speculates from this that since a Synod was held for his restoration, there must have been Roman clergy who were unsympathetic with the Rome’s excommunication of the anti-Chalcedonian East, and, on the flip side, since, of the original 76 invited to partake of the proceedings, 18 priests had boycotted the exoneration of Misenus, the Pope did not persuade everyone of his absolution of Misenus. From this, Dr. D implies that Papal power was not even taken for granted even in the Roman diocese, much less in answer to the question of where else.
Though, being truthful to the description of the proceedings in Letter 30, Dr. D recognizes that the Roman Synod had made several statements which made explicit their belief in the supreme power of Peter resident in the person of Gelasius, even referring to him as “Vicar of Christ” and “Vicar of Peter”. But, he infers from this that this was all a cooked up meal in order to cover up for the embarrassment that Gelasius had to endure from the non-compliance of the 18 priests who protested the exoneration (ibid., p. 83). But, once again, this is the local ordinary Bishop of the Roman diocese, holding a Synod in the presence of many, wherein Micenus openly conforms to orthodoxy contra Acacius, and is absolved. What is taking place here that would not call for the obedience of the clergy just on the principle of Episcopal rights?
If Dr. D thinks this is a legitimate witness of the weakness of the Papal institution, would he say the same about St. Thomas à Becket, who was not only resisted by a protesting party, but eventually was assasinated! And why not take the statements made about the authority of the Bishop of Rome clearly laid out in Letter 30 as a genuine perspective of the priests present? 18 out of 76 priests still leave a 58 majority. The sense on gets from this is that Dr. D sees the illegitimacy of authority when it is contested, and especially when we do not have existing documentary evidence of any repentance from the dissidents.
Well, imagine if we carried that into the logic of 4th-century Arian fragmentation. Would that mean that Nicaea 325 did not have divine authority? Certainly, there were many who did belief that, and this is the view which prevailed into the catholic and universal church for centuries going forward. But who would be the ones that held this Nicaean faith in the midst of such division? It was the faithful. Instead of finding witness testimony in some nominal aristocratic magistrate who persists in celebrating a pagan festival and a small minority of priests who did not want to see a repentant Micenus restored to the good graces of Christ’s church, why not look to those who we know were faithful at the time, whose view endures the test of more time?
On pages 84-87, Dr. D discusses how many of the Papal decretals that were sent to various places in the West, such as “suburbican Italy, Sicily, and the southwestern coast of the Balkans” (ibid., p. 84) and how these decretals continually on the Petrine privilege of Rome. In what appears as a desperate search for ways to demonstrate the lack of veracity to the Papal claims, Dr. D speculates that this method of harping on Peter and the divine primacy of Rome thereby shows that it was not accepted in certain places in the East. He refers to this as “rhetorical strategies” (ibid., p. 85). But where is the direct evidence of this? I cannot seem to find any of it in his treatment of these Papal letters.
In fact, we have precedent in Pope St. Leo I for a continual insistence on the Petrine prerogative of Rome in letters to places where it is more than welcomed. I think, for example, his Tome which was written to St. Flavian of Constantinople as well as the letters to the East back and forth. Even going back further to the first Papal decretal which has survived, Pope Siricius’ epistle to the Bishops of Tarragona, which was actually a response to appeals. This decretal has a few references to the Petrine privilege of Rome, and no evidence of trying to make up for outward rebellions is evident by the fact.
Some of the orders that St. Gelasius gives to churches of the regions mentioned includes the requirement of notifying Rome of the planting of new churches, such as Letter 25 (to a Bishop Zeja). But this is akin to the metropolitical rights envisions already in canon 6 of Nicaea for the quasi-Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch. So what is Dr. D really seeing here? A challenge to Papal power, or Rome’s metropolitical power? It would seem that the objective scenario’s involve the latter more than the former.
But if that is truly the case, then one wonders how an Eastern Orthodox would deem as authentic witnesses against illegitimate authority cases where Metroplitical rights are trashed. But again, this is all conjecture. No evidence is provided which proves these Papal decretals are being written to otherwise rebellious and disobedient clergy.
And lastly, Dr. D tries to summarize the Pope St. Gelasius’s interaction with the East as a humiliating inability to capture the obedience of all. He writes: “What is clear is that Eastern bishops will not yield to the papal condemnation of Acacius. While the fact is both obvious and well-known, it must be acknowledged that the Roman See simply did not possess the international respect in doctrinal matters that Gelasius so forcefully claims throughout the letter” (ibid., p. 93).
Again, this merits the same interesting puzzelment already state above. Why is the Monophysite East being considered as a reason why the Papal claims are close to untrue, or made up on the spot by St. Gelasius as a disengenuous technique or strategy? Dr. D even admits that St. Gelasius does not defend the existence of the Papal prerogative (ibid., p. 96) , but merely asserts it. Well, that sounds a lot like someone who is demanding obedience, and not trying to persuade the East, necessarily, of its existence by apologetics. If you are trying to persuade others who are expected otherwise not to believe in what you are seeking to persuade them of, assertion after assertion is a poor tactic. And so it is very unlikely that Dr. D’s gloss here reflects Gelasius true motive. And if one were to really follow the faithful minority, who were faithful to Chalcedon in the East, you would find the likes of those monks above who Siecienski quoted as well embracing the Papal claim in Rome, regardless of what their Monophysite counterparts said of the powerlessness of Rome.
What implications does this have for Anglican & Orthodox relations with Catholics on primacy? I think it bears great significance, especially since this is an Eastern Orthodox Pope who is to this day venerated in the East, and the commentary of his holiness of life by St. Dionysios. As for the Anglicans, they have already admitted the very same Papal claims as being taught by another Orthodox Pope of Elder Rome, St. Leo I, but that this was not accepted in the Christian East, much less accepted by the polity of Reformed England. I am sure one could argue in this direction. Though, as we saw, Gelasius’s tussle with the Eastern patriarchs is contrasted with the willing submission to the Papal claims by the Greek monks.
So who are we choosing to be Representative of the voice of authentic Eastern Christianity, the anti-Chalcedonian Patriarchs or the Chalcedonian clergy underneath? However, it should be noted that in this thread it was mentioned how the Patriarchs of Constantinople Anatolius and John II, had to admit the authority of the Holy See over the canons of Ecumenical Councils as well as the authority to admit to communion the three main Eastern Sees which returned from the Schism of Acacius. But then, what of Pope Honorius, who was condemned by Constantinople 681 as a Monothelite heretic? I would say that for all that lies behind the difficult history of Honorius, his statements which are “Monothelite”-esque are far more innocent than the persistent claim to Papal supremacy in St. Gelasius.
In other words, if Honorius is worthy of the name heretic for his letters to Sergius, then St. Gelasius would be no less deserving of the same for his Papalism. So I would then ask, are the Orthodox willing to hold a new Council where, like Constantinople 681, they condemn all the former proponents, such as Gelasius, for espousing the very belief in Papal supremacy which Orthodox converts from Catholicism are required to renounce? At the same time, Catholics owe an explanation on Honorius, which we have often given despite its relative weaknesses or strengths under harsh scrutiny. The question that consistently comes up is whether St. Gelasius’s gloss on Papal authority, even if an echo of his predecessors, was held by the ecumenical church. This question immediately leaves the Catholic taken back, since anyone who is familiar with the history of first millennium Christianity is well aware that there were more than a few occasions that the Pope’s were resisted and even condemned by some.
Though, we have to step aside and calculate how much value this would have in light of a consideration of the historical context. Hardly any action of the catholic and universal church was always accepted by everyone. In pre-Nicean Christianity, there were the Judaizers who did not bend the knee to the Apostolic council of Jerusalem (49), the outbreak of the Gnostic communities, the many divergent positions on the person of Christ, Nicaea (325), as already briefed, was rejected by many Eastern communities, and this continued onward up unto the Iconoclastic period (8/9th century). On this scale, we need not be boggled down with the question of whether the Papal theory was an ecumenical one because we have the paralyzing question of whether *anything* was accepted as ecumenical. That is, if we are taking poll from the consensus of every person and community who claimed to the title of Christian or church.
This author concludes that these facts altar the investigation, and requires one to observe for what stands as a moral consensus, endures the test of time, and accomplishes victory over the opposition of heretical onslaught. Without having the space here to go into each and every point, there exists, in the opinion of many, ample evidence that the teaching ministry of the Roman see as it pertained to the occurrence of arbitration, doctrine, discipline, Councils, and/or episcopal trials, there lies a telling tale which might serve as the best clue. I pray that this all is seriously meditated on as we continue studying history and the various points of interest in the East/West dialogue.