Skip to comments.The Pope Who Condemned Primacy
Posted on 07/04/2005 5:53:36 AM PDT by MarMema
Everybody knows that one of the major divergences between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics is based on the position of the Bishop of Rome in the Universal Church. According to the Romans the Pope is the head of the Universal Church. According to Orthodox doctrine, instead, the Pope of Rome is a bishop equal in dignity to the other bishops. At this point it is interesting to read a qualified opinion: that of St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome (+ 604 A.D.), whose feast is celebrated on 12 March.
St. John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople (feast: 2 September) was a contemporary of St. Gregory. St. John was very pious and ascetic. He prayed at length during the night, and, in order to avoid being overcome by sleep, he used to pin nails into the wax of a candle: the clatter of the nails on a metal dish put under the candle awoke him if he had fallen asleep. Throughout his life St. John was not one to seek human glory. Nevertheless, in the year 587 Emperor Maurice gave him officially the title of "Ecumenical Patriarch."
Today this title sounds a little lofty, but this was not the case in the sixth century. Ecumenical comes from the Greek word oikoumene, that literally means "the inhabited world." Due in part to lack of geographical knowledge and in part to the typical pride of conquerors, the Romans identified the "inhabited world" with the Roman Empire, and therefore, at that time, "ecumenical" was nothing more than a synonym of "Imperial". Constantinople was the "ecumenical" town. The chief librarian of Constantinople, for example, was called "Ecumenical librarian". But this implied only that he was the librarian of the imperial town, and not that he had authority over all the librarians in the empire. "Ecumenical Patriarch," therefore, in Greek, was understood only as "the Patriarch of the Imperial town": just a synonym of Patriarch of Constantinople. As a matter of fact, this title is attested in sporadic use long before.
All the trouble started when the title was communicated to the Pope of Rome: it was translated into Latin as Patricharcha Universalis, i.e., "Universal Patriarch." Pope Gregory reacted because he thought that John was arrogating the supremacy in the Church. Of course, this was not Patriarch John's aim. Some Roman Catholic writers claim that Gregory was vindicating the supremacy to himself. But it was not so. The letters of St. Gregory the Great are available to anybody who wishes to read them. The readers can judge by themselves. Let us start from this letter that he addressed to Patriarch John:
"Consider, I pray thee, that in this rash presumption the peace of the whole Church is disturbed, and that [the title of Ecumenical Patriarch] is in contradiction to the grace that is poured out on all in common; in which grace doubtless thou thyself wilt have power to grow so far as thou determinist with thyself to do so. And thou wilt become by so much the greater as thou restrainest thyself from the usurpation of a proud and foolish title: and thou wilt make advance in proportion as thou are not bent on arrogation by derogation of thy brethren...
"Certainly Peter, the first of the apostles, himself a member of the holy and universal Church, Paul, Andrew, John - what were they but heads of particular communities? And yet all were members under one Head... "...the prelates of this Apostolic See, which by the providence of God I serve, had the honor offered them of being called universal by the venerable Council of Chalcedon. But yet not one of them has ever wished to be called by such a title, or seized upon this ill-advised name, lest if, in virtue of the rank of the pontificate he took to himself the glory of singularity, he might seem to have denied it to all his brethren..." (Book V, Epistle XVIII)
We do not know St. John the Faster's reply. Probably he did not reply at all because he died about one year after St. Gregory's letter (mail was very slow in that period, and one year was not an unreasonable time for a letter to travel from Rome to Constantinople). But St. Gregory continued to express his opinion on Universal Episcopacy. He wrote to Eulogios, Bishop of Alexandria and to Anastasius, Bishop of Antioch in such terms: "This name of Universality was offered by the Holy Synod of Chalcedon to the pontiff of the apostolic see which by the Providence of God I serve. But no one of my predecessors has ever consented to use this so profane a title since, forsooth, if one Patriarch is called Universal, the name of Patriarch in the case of the rest is derogated. But far be this from the mind of a Christian that any on should wish to seize for himself that whereby he might seem in the least degree to lessen the honor of his brethren..." (Book V: Epistle XLIII)
To Emperor Maurice:
"Now I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others. (Book VII: Epistle XXXIII)
And again to Eulogios, Bishop of Alexandria:
"Your Blessedness... You address me saying, 'As you have commanded.' This word 'command', I beg you to remove from my hearing, since I know who I am, and who you are. For in position you are my brethren, in character, my fathers... "...in the preface of the epistle which you have addressed to myself, who forbade it, you have thought fit to make use of a proud appellation, calling me Universal Pope. But I beg you most sweet Holiness to do this no more, since what is given to another beyond what reason demands, is subtracted from yourself... For if your Holiness calls me Universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what you call me universally." (Book VIII: Epistle XXX)
This story teaches us another lesson. Many times, when we are confronted by the spectacle of events that do not fit the glorious image of the Holy Orthodox Church, we are ready to ask why God allows that such an evil thing happen in His Church. Undoubtedly many people at the time of these events grieved because of the misunderstanding that embittered the relationships between two pious bishops, between two great saints of the Church. And surely, at that time, somebody asked why God allows that such an evil thing happen in His Church. The answer is clear today. The Holy Spirit allowed this misunderstanding so that the opposition of a very eminent Pope to papal authority be well documented. Without these letters we would not have the striking evidence that even in Rome the right to claim a primacy was not recognized.
All quotations are from A Selected Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (1894), P. Schaff and H. Wace eds. Vol. 12. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. The emphases are the author's.
This is mistaken. St. Gregory opposed the title of "Universal" because he understood it to mean that no one else was a bishop, i.e., that John the Faster, as "Universal Patriarch", was the only bishop in the whole world!
Some Roman Catholic writers claim that Gregory was vindicating the supremacy to himself. But it was not so. The letters of St. Gregory the Great are available to anybody who wishes to read them. The readers can judge by themselves.
Was it really not so?
For to all who know the Gospel it is apparent that by the Lords voice the care of the whole Church was committed to the holy Apostle and Prince of all the Apostles, Peter. For to him it is said, Peter, lovest thou Me? Feed My sheep (John xxi. 17). To him it is said, Behold Satan hath desired to sift you as wheat; and I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not. And thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren (Luke xxii. 31). To him it is said, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatsoever thou shalt bind an earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven (Matth. xvi. 18).
Lo, he received the keys of the heavenly kingdom, and power to bind and loose is given him, the care and principality of the whole Church is committed to him, and yet he is not called the universal apostle; while the most holy man, my fellow-priest John, attempts to be called universal bishop. I am compelled to cry out and say, O tempora, O mores! ...
Certainly, in honour of Peter, Prince of the apostles, it was offered by the venerable synod of Chalcedon to the Roman pontiff. But none of them has ever consented to use this name of singularity, lest, by something being given peculiarly to one, priests in general should be deprived of the honour due to them. How is it then that we do not seek the glory of this title even when offered, and another presumes to seize it for himself though not offered? (Register V, Epistle XX)
And he elsewhere claims the supremacy:
For as to what they say about the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See, as both the most pious lord the emperor and our brother the bishop of that city continually acknowledge? Yet, if this or any other Church has anything that is good, I am prepared in what is good to imitate even my inferiors, while prohibiting them from things unlawful. For he is foolish who thinks himself first in such a way as to scorn to learn whatever good things he may see. (Register IX, Epistle XII)
even in Rome the right to claim a primacy was not recognized
Historically, this is untenable. Primacy of Rome based on divine right was claimed by the Popes since the fourth century, and accepted also outside of Rome, by such great Western Fathers as St. Augustine himself. See Dom John Chapman's excellent articles here, which have been excerpted from Studies on the Early Papacy:
When we click on the link to your website, we are brought to a page that features a picture entitled "a Papal Nuncio enjoys a laugh with Joseph Goebbels."
Thanks for sharing your anti-Roman Catholicism with us.
This anti-Catholicism puts all of your recent postings in true perspective, and I'm grateful that you're so open about it.
You know, I remember seeing a photo, from 1965 I think, in which Pope Paul VI got up from the papal throne in Saint Peter's Basilica and hurried down to meet the delegation sent from the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras (perhaps at the time that the mutual excommunications of 1054 were rescinded, an act I'm sure you would consider to be invalid).
To the horror of some of his aides, Pope Paul knelt down and kissed their feet as a prelude to offering them the kiss of peace.
I guess that, for people like yourself, the Pope should have kissed something else.
That the author blithely accepted this explanation and you did not notice it's improbability makes one wonder what else in the article might be inaccurate or unsupportable interpretation of texts. Some of the responses begin to point out examples. Together, all of this screams: PROPAGANDA!
It also helps to know a little of the personal history of the author, Fr. Cognetti.
Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. of Rome's "Russicum" puts it very well, if a little bluntly:
"There are over 300,000 Catholics in European Russia, 65,000 of them in Moscow alone. To say that a church doesnt have a right to erect a diocese there is absurd, especially when the Orthodox plant metropolitans wherever they want. Lets take the example of Austria. Vienna has been a Catholic see since the first millennium, yet the Russian Orthodox have a metropolitan, not just in Vienna but of Vienna thats his title. Yet there probably arent 5,000 Russian Orthodox in the whole of Austria. Fair is fair. Is Moscow their canonical territory? Yes, but guess whose canonical territory Vienna is. They come up with the argument, we believe in the principle of one bishop, one city. Want to guess how many Orthodox bishops there are in New York? I mean, for Gods sake. The problem is, nobody talks to them like that because nobody knows what I know. Catholics hear this stuff and say, Oh, gee, arent we awful. Give me a break."
"What (Cardinal) Kasper can hope for is a renewal of the dialogue. What he needs to do is to reassure Moscow once again is that the Catholic church regards the Russian Orthodox church as a sister church, that we are there to take care of Catholics, not to fish in their pond. Weve said this a million times. (Metropolitan) Kirill has been making some good noises lately. Hes said the dialogue has never been interrupted, which is true, and that while the official position of both churches is that we shouldnt be fishing in one anothers waters, but there are clergy on both sides who dont respect those norms. There are Orthodox clergy who proselytize among Catholics, we know that for a fact. The Russian Orthodox opened up a parish in Palermo! All the Russians in Palermo you could fit into a telephone booth. Whos the priest? Hes a converted Catholic. When it was opened up, in the journal of the Moscow patriarchate, it stated quite clearly that this is a step toward recovering the Byzantine heritage of Sicily. Furthermore, theres a Greek monastery in Calabria thats also proselytizing among the Catholics. There are loose cannons all over the place."
Very well put.
Other folks may try to quibble with the meaning of those words but it is clear that Saint Gregory the Great rejected the concept of any single bishop being above all others.
And you're comfortable with a converted Roman priest representing the Moscow Patriarchate in Sicily?
Must have been one of the contacts "Blackbird" made during his studies in Rome, before he became His All-Holiness!
How would you distinguish this, then?
For, after letters had been addressed to your Blessedness by my predecessor and myself in the cause of the archdeacon Honoratus, then, the sentence of both of us being set at nought, the said Honoratus was deprived of the rank belonging to him. Which thing if any one of the four patriarchs had done, such great contumacy could by no means have been allowed to pass without the most grievous offence. Nevertheless, now that your Fraternity has returned to your proper position, I do not bear in mind the wrong done either to myself or to my predecessor. (Register II, Epistle LII)
"Patriarcha Universalis" -- they never did learn how to translate Greek correctly, did they? Amazing. And look at the fallout their sloppy Greek has created!
Oh, excuse me, I thought it was Alexy II who was always complaining about people proselytizing.
Did I get that wrong?
Or is it more likely that there's a bit of hypocrisy going on here?
Nothing like tasting your own medicine, isn't it?
Do you mean the Ukrainian Catholics who survived Stalin and whose churches were stolen and handed over to Moscow?
You would call genocide "medicine"?
I site the works of Croatian clergy during WWII, but I won't. Let's just leave it at that.
I site = I could cite
Yeah . . . better leave lots of things alone when it comes to all that stuff, huh? On both sides?
"Pure" Christianity, indeed!