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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.
As many readers know, the Monothelite controversy occupied the Church’s attention in the 7th century, and it was concluded by a firm condemnation of the belief that in Christ there is only one single will or that his acts were from one theanadric operation. This evil which inflicted the Church was partly attributable to Pope Honorius I, who’s letters to Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, seemed to have supported the idea that Christ had two natures but one will. Shortly after the reception of these letters, the Eastern Emperor, Heraclius, upon the composition of the Patriarch, released an edict called the Ecthesis ( εκθεσις , literally “statement of faith”), wherein Christ is taught to have one will. This was also accepted by the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch , and Jerusalem. It is reported that the successor of Honorius, Severinus, had time before his death to reject it. The successor of Severinus, John IV, clearly condemned it flat out.
Now, on the Roman side, no one read Honorius as an advocate for this one-will doctrine. His successors, up until at least St. Leo II, denied that such was the meaning of his letter. However, the Council of Constantinople III held in 681 was to unashamedly convict Honorius of heresy (though he was already long dead), and put the conciliar anathema upon him and his memory. To our surprise, at least one Eastern saint of repute, St. Maximus the Confessor, agreed with the immediate successors of Honorius and claimed Honorius’s intention was orthodox. Anyhow, the purpose here isn’t to investigate whether Honorius was a heretic or not, but rather whether Maximus believed in the divine origin of Papal supremacy or infallibility.
In the scholarship of Maximus, some have called into question the authenticity of the more Papalist writings of Maximus, many of which exist today only in the Latin. However, the most recent Orthodox scholarship has not ventured to maintain such skepticism. For example, Orthodox scholars such as Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet, Dr. A. Edward Sciecienski, Fr. Andrew Louth , and Andrew J. Ekonomou have all attempted to interpret the texts in Maximus which favor of Roman primacy in their “proper” context. Not surprisingly, they all arrive at conclusions which do not include Maximus as a witness to the dogma of the contemporary Vatican on supremacy, nor infallibility. In the course of this article, I will be interacting with Larchet and Sciecienski, since it is their assessments which deserve the most attention. Nevertheless how interesting it is to see that, in contrast to former times, Orthodox scholars are recognizing that, for Maximus, Rome is certainly the universal primate who even, by their own admission, had even a certain kind of universal jurisdiction when properly qualified and conditioned. That, in and of itself, is a far step away from the equal-pentarchism or equal-episcopalism with which the East may have given off. That is not to say that there is a consensus on the meaning of primacy in the Orthodox Church, since we know that the greatest minds on the subject have to this very day strongly asserted otherwise. But it is to say that there has been more serious attention given to the historical sources which may have been passed over as spurious by earlier Orthodox historians.
On the view of Roman primacy, Siecienski gravitates to the fact that when Maximus was put under trial in Constantinople and told that the Roman see had plans to unite with the Monophysite Patriarchs, the Saint replied by saying: “The Holy Ghost anathematizes even angels, should they command us to give up the faith“, clearly insinuating that if Rome were to engage in those plans, the Pope would be excommunicated from the body of Christ. This, we are told, is clear evidence that whatever strong Papal theory that Maximus held to, it was one that was confined by the very same conditions put upon all churches for their communion with the true Church, and thus he doesn’t serve to be a witness to the Catholic dogma in the slightest. In fact, when seen in this light, the Roman See can’t be said to possess anything intrinsically different, when it comes to preserving the Apostolic deposit of faith, than any other church, since Rome’s membership in the Church is just as contingent upon holding to the orthodox faith as any other church’s membership depends on it. If this is true, it would remove the force of Maximus from the list of historical witnesses to the divine Papal supremacy and infallibility. Perhaps a strong administrative primacy conditioned upon a true and orthodox faith, but, for the Orthodox, no special protection against error is therein claimed by Maximus.
Before I get into the relevant commentary of what St. Maximus has to say about Rome, I will provide a quick refresher on the sequence of events: (1) After Sergius of Constantinople receives the letters of Pope Honorius, he composes the Ecthesis, teaching Christ had one will, and Emperor Heraclius has it published it throughout Byzantium ; (2) Upon Honorius’s death, envoys from Rome travel to Constantinople to obtain the Emperor’s confirmation of Severinus to Papal office, but the clergy of Constantinople would provide no assistance in confirming Severinus unless he accepted the Ecthesis; (3) Severinus held office for about 2 months, and was succeeded by John IV, who convened a Synod condemning the Ecthesis; (4) Pope John IV wrote a letter to Emperor Heraclius and the Church of Constantinople, now presided over by Pyrrhus, that the Ecthesis, and therefore monotheletism, has been condemned; (5) Pyrrhus, who maintained support of the Ecthesis, was exiled to Africa where he eventually debated the issue of one vs twowills in Christ with St. Maximus the Confessor, and publicly recanted of holding to the one will position (only, as we shall see, to later revert to his heretical position once again); (6) The man installed as Patriarch of Constantinople, without a lawful deposition of Pyrrhus, was named Paul, who was excommunicated by Pope Theodore for holding to the Ecthesis; (7) In response to this, Paul and Constans, the successor to Heraclius, trashed the Ecthesis, but installed the Typus in its place, which forbade any discussion on whether Christ had one or two wills, or one or two operations; (8) Pope Theodore convened a Council in the Lateran Basilica in 649 condemning the Ecthesis and the Typus together; (9) Theodore dies, and Pope St. Martin takes his place, and he and St. Maximus hold up Dyotheletism (two wills and operations in Christ) against the East; (10) Both Sts Martin and Maximus are forced into Imperial captivity, and suffer martyrdom for their belief that, in Christ Jesus, there is two wills and operations, both which appertain to the respective natures of God and humanity. This article will mainly cover the events surrounding the captivity of Maximus and his trial.
When the envoys from Rome traveled to Constantinople in order to receive confirmation of the election of Severinus to Papal office, but were told that no such thing would happen unless the newly elected Pope signed off on the Ecthesis, St. Maximus records the following description of this event as it was reported to him:
“Having discovered the tenor of the document [Ecthesis], since by refusing [to sign] they [the legates] would have caused the first and mother of Churches and the city [ecclesiarum principem et matrem et urbem] to remain so long a time in widowhood [i.e. without a confirmed Bishop], they replied quietly: ‘We cannot act with authority in this matter, for we have received a commission to execute, not an order to make a profession of faith. But we assure you that we will relate all that you have put forward, and we will show the document itself to him who is to be consecrated, and if he should judge it to be correct, we will ask him to append his signature to it. But do not therefore place any obstacle in our way now and do violence to us by delaying us and keeping us here. For none has a right to use violence, especially when faith is in question. For herein even the weakest waxes mighty, and the meek becomes a warrior, and by comforting his soul with the divine word, is hardened against the greatest attacks. How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now, as the elder of all the Churches which are under the sun, presides over all? Having surely received this canonically, as well from councils and apostles, as from the princes of the latter [Peter & Paul], and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues of synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate, even as in all these things all are equally subject to her according to sacerdotal law‘. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers of the truly firm and immovable rock that is of the most great and Apostolic church at Rome, had so applied to the clergy of the royal city [Constantinople] it was seen that they had conciliated them and had acted prudently, that the others might be humble and modest, while they themselves made known the orthodoxy and purity of their own faith from the beginning. But those of Constantinople, admiring their piety, thought that such a deed ought rightly to be recompensed; and ceasing from offering them the document, they promised to produce by their own care the issue of the Emperor’s order with regard to the episcopal election. When this was accomplished, the apocrisiarii [representative of Rome in Constantinople] dear to God thankfully returned home’.” (Ex Epistola Sancti Maximi Scripta ad Abbatem Thalassium, PL 129.585-6, taken from Chapman 5)
Here, Maximus quotes what he was told was the statement made by the Papal legates in his letter to Thalassium. Notice that the legates say that the Church of the Romans:
(1) Presides over all churches under the sun (global church)
(2) Received (1) from canons, councils, and the princes of the Apostles (Peter & Paul)
(3) On account of her authority, is subject to no synodal documents
(4) and holds all in subjection to her according to sacerdotal law
Maximus does not diminish any of this, and appears to go along with it by referencing Rome as the “firm and immovable rock“. The basic message of his is that the clergy of Constantinople should have never given the posture that it did towards the Church of Rome, since that Church is the head of all churches, is not subject to any authoritative measures from any other church or council in the world, and holds all in subjection to her own authority. Now, this text is only preserved in Latin, and so would be one of those texts whose authenticity has been doubted.
When Pyrrhus had returned to his former error, after having publicly recanted the Monotheletism after debating Maximus in Africa, the latter wrote to a certain Eastern official named Peter on the terms of which the twice heretical Pyrrhus could return to the Church and find pardon:
“If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus, anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God…It is not right that one who has been condemned and cast out by the Apostolic See of the city of Rome for his wrong opinions should be named with any kind of honour, until he be received by her, having returned to her, and to our Lord, by a pious confession and orthodox faith, by which he can receive holiness and the title of holy…Let him [sc. Pyrrhus] hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. [For] he is only wasting words who thinks he must convince or lure such people as myself, instead of satisfying or entreating the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of Rome, that is, the Apostolic trone, which is from the incanrate Son Himself and which, in accordance with the holy canons and the definitions of faith, received from all the holy councils universal and suprem dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God which are in the whole world. For with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he must satisfy others, and fails to implore the most blessed Roman Pope, he is acting like a man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by law, but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit him from the accusation. Wherefore, my blessed Lord, extend yet further the precept which it is known that you have made well and according to God’s will, by which Pyrrhus is not allowed to speak or misspeak with regard to dogma. But discover clearly his intention by further inquiry , whether he will altogether agree to the truth. And if he is careful to do this, exhort him to make a becoming statement to the Roman Pope, so that by his command the matter concerning Pyrrhus may be canonically and suitably ordered for the glory of God and the praise of your sublimity…” (Opuscula 12, Patrologia Graeca 91.141-146, taken from Chapman 8 and The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor, page 553)
It is without any doubt that Maximus understood the Roman See to have been possessed of universal supremacy by divine right. In particular, the comparison of making satisfaction and proving innocence before a Judge appointed by divine law and who has power to acquit with Pyrrhus’s obligation to satisfy the Roman See would put to rest any further objection to this. But notice the grounds upon which Maximus saw the Roman primacy to have rested on. The “Incarnate God Himself” ordained the supremacy of the Roman Church. Even if, as Siecienski interpreted, Maximus did not believe in the permanent and invincible infallibility of the Roman See forever, he certainly believed that the Roman See held supreme jurisdiction over the whole universal Church *if she was orthodox*, that, not by man’s design, but by God’s.
And if there was any further doubt, one could also read Maximus’s letter from Rome to the East which says:
“For the very ends of the earth and those in every part of the world who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and its confession and faith as though it were a sun of unfailing light, expecting from it the illuminating splendour of the Fathers and sacred dogmas…For ever since the Incarnate Word of God came down to us, all the churches of Christians everywhere have held that greatest Church there to be their sole base and foundation, since on the one hand, it is in no way overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the very promise of the Saviour , but holds the keys of the orthodox confession and faith in him and opens the only true and real religion to those who approach with godliness, and on the other hand, it shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks unrighteousness against the most High“. (Opuscula 11, PG 91.137-140; trans. Cooper 2005:181; taken from Oxford Handbook, 552)
St. Sophronius of Jerusalem
Patriarch St. Sophronius of Jerusalem had commissioned St. Stephen of Dor, bishop in the Jerusalem Patriarch, to appeal to the Roman See in order to procure the condemnation of the Monothelites. Stephen, who traveled to Rome, describes this aloud at the Council of Lateran 649, of which Maximus took part. This Council was held as Ecumenical by Maximus, and so this open statement at the Council carries some significance: “And for this cause, sometimes we asked for water to our head and to our eyes a fountain of tears, sometimes the wings of a dove, according to holy David, that we might fly away and announce these things to the Chair which rules and presides over all, I mean to yours, the Head and Highest, for the healing of the whole wound. For this it has been accustomed to do from of old and from the beginning with power by its canonical and apostolical authority, because the truly great Peter , head of the Apostles, was clearly thought worthy not only to be entrusted with the keys of heaven, alone apart from the rest, to open it worthily to believers, or to close it justly to those who disbelieve the gospel of grace, but because he was also first commissioned to feed the sheep of the whole Catholic Church; for ‘Peter’, said He, ‘Do you love me? Feed my sheep’, and again , because he had in a manner peculiar and special, a faith in the Lord stronger than all and unchangeable, to be converted and to confirm his fellows and spiritual brethren when tossed about, as having been adorned by God himself, incarnate for us, with power and sacerdotal authority…I was urged by the requests of almost all the pious bishops of the East in agreement with the departed Sophronius…Without delay I made this journey for this purpose alone; and since then thrice have I run to you Apostolic Feet, urging and beseeching the prayer of Sophronius and of all, that is, that you will assist the imperiled faith of Christians”
(Acts of Lateran Synod 649, pg. 143-44)
Fr. Andrew Louth, in his The Ecclesiology of Saint Maximus the Confessor , attempts to undermine the witness of Maximus to contemporary Catholic teaching by saying that Maximus is referring to the “church” of Rome, and not the Papal office. I thought this rather odd since even the Council of Vatican 1870 speaks of the prerogatives of the Roman “See” (it comes up no less than 8 times). There is an internal relationship between the bishopric and the church of which it is committed, and thus the authoritative prerogatives of the church would be subsumed by the bishopric. Louth goes on to say that Maximus was saying this all out of gratitude, thus implying that there was fanciful though unrealistic hyperbole being utilized. However, I could not help but recall that when Maximus could have spared his life in the face of Theodosius and the Imperial consuls by simply being willing to communicate with the Eastern Patriarchs on the condition that they had revoked the Typus (which had been the source of doctrinal contention), he refused to comply unless both they and the Eastern Patriarchs had formally submitted to Rome and the decrees of the Lateran synod of 649. If all he had was a flowery commitment to the Papal institution, then why further risk his life ? I think the answer is put forth very clearly in Maximus’ own words which, in sum, is that communion (not just agreement) with the Roman See *is* communion with the holy Catholic Church. Under that premise, one could understand him risking his life at this very crucial point of his trial. This reminds me of what Dom John Chapman writes in his The Condemnation of Pope Honorius : “When St. Jerome spoke tremendous words about the Pope [Damasus], we are asked to believe that he was exaggerating, or even that he was sarcastic. When the Council of Chalcedon wrote in like strain to St. Leo, we are [asked] to put down its words as empty Oriental flattery. Whatever may be thought of such comments, they cannot be applied to the words in which we have heard St. Maximus again and again set forth the privileges of Rome. Men do not shed their blood to blunt a sarcasm or to justify a [flowerly] compliment” (page 70-71). And finally, Louth mentions how Maximus denied an obedient following with a heretical Pope, which I will address more below.
I wish to conclude this article by devoting the last section to responding to Siecienski’s scholarship on the Maximian view of Roman Primacy. In his section in the Oxford Handbook on Maximus the Confessor, Siecienski takes clear note of the above statements of Maximus on the authority of the Pope. However, he has some reservations before interpreting this as a support for the contemporary doctrine of Papal supremacy. He writes:
“Following the promulgation of Pastor Aeternus (Vatican Council I, 1870), Catholic authors increasingly used Maximus’ writings to support the claim that the pope’s universal jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility were recognized in the East during the first millennium….Perhaps the most detailed study of Maximus’ views on the papacy come from Jean-Claude Larchet, who examined all the texts in question (Larchet 1998). Larchet tried to contextualize Maximus’ ‘enthusiasim for the papacy in light of the monothelite debates, when Rome was his sole ally against the heretical hierarchs of the East. For Larchet and others, Maximus’ exalted language about the See of Rome manifest ‘the glow of gratitude he must have felt following the Lateran Synod, for the support he had found in Rome’ and besides, it was ‘written about the Church of Rome, not the papacy as such’ (Louth 2004:117). This does not mean that Maximus was being disingenuous, but instead simply recognizes that these texts were written at a time when Rome alone held the line against heresy, and thus had earned the kind of praise Maximus heaped upon her“. (Oxford Handbook, 553-54).
When considering the question of whether Maximus understood communion with the Roman See to be absolutely necessary in order to be in the Church, Siecienski takes note from the trial of Maximus where he was told that the Roman See would be entering communion with the 4 Monothelite Patriarchs of the East:
“Maximus replied: ‘The God of all pronounced that the catholic church was the correct and saving confession of the faith in him when he called Peter blessed because of the terms in which he had made proper confession of him’ (Ep. Max., Allen-Neil 2002:121)”
and Siecienski deduces:
“….if communion with the See of Rome was normative, this state of affairs was entirely contingent on Rome’s continued orthodoxy, which remained a necessary precondition for all the praise and powers he had received….In fact, during his trial Maximus accepted at least the theoretical possibility that he might be forced to break communion with Rome should it too fall victim to the monothelite madness” (Oxford, pg. 554-54)
However, in the record of the trial, Maximus also says the following when he was told Rome was to enter into communion with the Monothelite patriarchs:
“Those [Papal legates] who have come won’t prejudice the See of Rome in any way, even if they do communicate because they haven’t brought a letter to the Patriarch. And I’ll never be convinced that the Romans will be united with the Byzantines, unless they [the Byzantines] confess that our Lord and God by nature wills and works our salvation according to each [of the natures] from which He is, and in which He is, as well as which He is” (ibid, pg. 63)
So we see here, even during the midst of this trial, that Maximus was not going to be convinced that Rome would commit heresy. When pressed even further that Rome has certain plans to enter communion with the Monothelites, Maximus concedes:
“‘The Holy Spirit, through the apostle, condemns even angels who innovate in some way contrary to what is preached” (ibid pg. 555)
Siecienski concludes: “..Maximus, it seems, had not made the logical leap from ‘Rome has not erred’ to ‘Rome could not err’, although the Popes themselves had already begun to think along these lines.” (ibid)
I think Siecienski is wrong that Maximus did not confess the supremacy and infallibility of Rome. Here’s why. If you read the citations from above, Maximus refers to Rome as the sun of unfailing light and the sole base and foundation which cannot be overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the promise of the Savior. Quite literally, Rome teaches the Apostolic faith and cannot fail to do so by virtue of the promise of God. So my argument would be this: Maximus understood the teaching ministry of the Church of Rome to be protected from heresy by the power and promise of God. Therefore, he believed in Papal infallibility. I understand there is a way to interpret him as if he were just merely being hyperbolic or overly enthusiastic, seeing as how Rome was the only orthodox church in the oikumene at the time. That is possible, and I will address this, and it will be clear why I don’t prefer that explanation.
Moreover, Siecienski thinks this interpretation does not run the risk of making Maximus disingenuous, but I disagree. How can you run claims of supremacy and doctrinal infallibility on the basis of Christ’s own divine intention (in letters not even to Rome) as an enthusiastic artwork just to bolster one’s argument? If Maximus’s argument depends on the cogency of his arguments from the church fathers, then it would be redundant to appeal to the divine status of Rome. If anything, by falsely insinuating Rome is infallible, Maximus runs the risk of undermining himself. Were the Popes themselves hyperbolic when they claimed the infallibility of the Roman See (Formula of Hormisdas, Letter of Agatho to Constantinople III)? It is far more likely that Maximus’ claims about Rome are just as genuine as those made by others, regardless if he was wrong or right on the matter. I see no compelling reason to read him any other way.
But what about his statements during his trial? Did not Maximus just come out and say that Rome could fall into heresy? Well, I would argue there is more in between the lines here. Just like some interpreters would take the clear attributions of supremacy and infallibility in Maximus and then fudge them (i.e. make them mere enthusiastic hype) in light of the latter’s willingness to possibly endure separation from Rome if it meant being faithful to the truth, a Catholic is doing nothing different when he interprets the clear admissions of Maximus when under trial and fudges them based on the clear statements of supremacy and infallibility in his other writings. In other words, Maximus could have answered his accusers under trial in such a way that he is willing to concede, as a matter of possibility for the sake of argument, that Rome could fall by the wayside, for which case he would remain faithful to the truth even if it meant he alone was the only orthodox Christian left on the planet, but not actually believe this would ever materialize. On that level, both interpretations are fair and square. But there is more.
As we saw, the record of his trial includes a push-back from Maximus that he would not be convinced of Rome’s concession to heresy. When he was pressed on what he would do if Rome really did commune with the Monothelites, it is quite possible Maximus thought, in his head, “alright, let me concede to what would happen if the impossible actually did happen, hypothetically”. That might sound like a far-fetched interpretation which only reveals my own bias. However, we have objective reasons to interpret it this way. After his trial, where he gave the answers he did, Maximus wrote to Anastasius, his disciple, informing him that he had been told that Rome would be entering into communion with the Monothelite patriarchs, and requested that he and others are to pray for holy mother Church, and to send his letter of concern out for others to read. At the end of this letter is an additional text which was added by a compiler as a set of instructions given to him by either Maximus or Anastasius (some scholars say it was Anastasius himself who added it):
“…in order that, when you have found out about the trial from these, you might all bring a common prayer to the Lord on behalf of our common mother, that is the Catholic Church, and on behalf of us your unworthy servants , for strengthening everyone and us also, persevering with you in it, according to the orthodox faith rightly preached in it by the holy fathers. For there is great fear in the whole world because this [church] endures persecution by everyone at the same time, unless He [God] offers aid by his customary grace, He who always come to aid, leaving the seed of piety at least in older Rome, confirming the promise He made to the prince of Apostles, which does not deceive us” (Maximus the Confessor and His Companions, Page 123)
Even if this additional Latin schola (for it does not exist in the Greek) was added by Anastasius or a contemporary compiler, the person is doubtless connected to the same spirit of Maximus, and the compilers’ statement on the divine promise to Peter and Rome would surely serve as corroborative evidence that Maximus’s contemporaries held to precisely the same view about the Roman See. The compiler who added this states the whole catholic church is threatened by this monstrous evil of monotheletism, and it will take no less than God Himself to come and fulfill His own promise to Saint Peter which includes, at least, the preservation of “seed of piety” in the Roman See. And then to put it on par with the preservation of the Catholic Church herself? Even if the compiler is Theodore Spoudaeus, and not Anastasius the disciple of Maximus himself, it would still be a contemporary witness. I am convinced it is Anastasius who added this to the end of Maximus’s letter, since a similar message exist in the latter’s letter to the monks of Cagliari (see below).
In a letter of the same Anastasius to the Monks of Cagliari, we read of the following:
“Therefore, because the affairs of almost the whole church of God, which has been established as catholic and apostolic, are in great danger on account of these things, we pray on behalf of her and we beseech you, most holy people, that you do not despise her being in danger, but that you help her while she is labouring in the tempests, knowing that love which is in the Holy Spirit grows in the time of tribulation. And if it is possible, [we ask] that you go across more swiftly, as if for some other reason, to the pious men of older Rome, who are solid as a rock, who clearly always protect us as you do, and are most fervent fighters for the truth , to beseech them with supplicatory words and tears n behalf of all Christians , in order that they may gain reward from the Lord, preserving for all, as for themselves, the orthodox faith without newly-invented innovation, and taking up nothing more or less beyond those things, nor approving anything beyond that which has been defined by the holy fathers and synods“. (ibid, 124)
Finally, even if Maximus had come to a point of doubt where he thought about giving up his belief in the supremacy and infallibility of the See of Peter, that does not necessarily mean he did not believe that the whole entire time. He could have very well believed it when he wrote it, but then changed his mind later on. There are Catholics today who go from being ardent Papalists to becoming Orthodox or Protestant, and then give up on their belief in Papal infallibility. Nevertheless, for the reasons I’ve given, I think the best interpretation is that Maximus conceded the fallibility of Rome for the sake of argument, together with some fear that this might actually be true, in which case he wrote his sincere letter to Anastasius.
Now, lest I prove to be the only one who sees this in Maximus, I give you a quote from a Lutheran Scholar on Maximus, Dr. Lars Thuberg, and he explains our Saints view of Roman primacy:
“In a somewhat fragmentary letter to Peter the Illustrious (from 643 or 644), which is preserved only in a Latin version, we find some explicit expressions of a very advanced theology about the position of the bishop of Rome. Maximus simply identified the see of Rome with the Catholic Church and he spoke of ‘the very holy Church of Rome, the apostolic see, which God the Word [Jesus] Himself and likewise all the holy Synods, according to the holy canons and the sacred definitions, have received, and which owns the power in all things and for all, over all the saints who are there for the whole inhabited earth, and likewise the power to unite and to dissolve….’ (Patr. Gr. 91, 144 C). Finally, in a letter written later in Rome, he made himself even more clear in the following maner: ‘...she [the Church of Rome] has the keys of the faith and of the orthodox confession; whoever approaches her humbly, to him is opened the real and unique piety, but she closes her moouth to any heretic who speaks against [divine] justice’ (Patr Gr 91, 140). This invites us to evaluate what Maximus had to say about the primacy of the pope. As Fr Garrigues has clearly shown (in an article in Istina, 1976), Maximus was convinced that Rome would never give way to the pressures of Constantinople. Once more forced to consider the possibility that in the case of Monotheletism the Romans might accept a union with the Byzantines, he answered through the paradoxical words of St. Paul, and said: ‘The Holy Spirit condemns… even the angels that would proclaim anything which is contrary to the Gospel’. (Patr Gr 90, 121). This implies that he did not want to discuss an improbable hypothesis, but would rather declare that he was prepared to die for the truth. This statement is a good starting point for a clarification of his own attitude. His personal experience of the doctrinal position of Rome confirmed his conviction that the promises of our Lord to Peter were applicable to the Church that preserved his relics. Thus, for him the communion of the Churches expressed itself as ‘a Roman communion’, a communion with the bishop of Rome. One must remember that for Maximus there existed only one alternative, represented by Imperial policy with its linke between Church and State, and that alternative could not enjoy the same promises. Even sacramental signs were missing in the latter case.”(The Vision of St Maximus the Confessor: Man and the Cosmos- Lars Thunberg, Page 25-26)
“The Eastern Churches and the Papacy” by S. Herbert Scott
“The Condemnation of Pope Honorius” by Dom John Chapman
“The Building of Christendom” by Dr. Warren Carrol
“Catholicism and Papacy : Some Anglican and Russian Difficulties” by Mgr. Peter Batiffol
“The Ecclesiology of Saint Maximus the Confessor” Fr Andrew Louth (International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church Vol. 4, no 2, July 2004, 109-120)
“Church and Papacy” Trevor Jalland
“The Oxford Handbook o Maximus the Confessor, Edited by Pauline Allen & Bronwen Neil
“The Papacy and the Orthodox” A. Edward Siecienski
“The Acts of the Lateran Synod 649” Richard Price
“Maximus the Confessor and His Companions: Documents from Exile” – Pauline allen & Bronwen Neil