Skip to comments.Shrinking the Papal Monarchy
Posted on 09/11/2013 2:13:58 PM PDT by NYer
Since he assumed the Great Mantle in March, much has been written about the simplicity and humility of Pope Francis. Francis has abandoned many of the external trappings that accompanied the papacy in recent times – red shoes, Mercedes Benz, gold pectoral cross, ermine mozzetta, residence in the apostolic palace – in favor of more ordinary options. And now he’s announced a coming encyclical on voluntary poverty in the Church.
Some have judged the pope’s actions to represent a new type of thinking and operating inside the world’s oldest monarchy, a shift from the regality of princes to the simplicity of the people. Others have expressed their discomfort with the new pontiff’s seemingly quick departure from practices centuries old. Not surprisingly, both reactions reflect broader visions of Catholicism and the Church.
But contrary to news reports, Francis is not the first of recent popes to start down this path. What exactly is new in what he is doing – and what message is he trying to convey – in deliberately choosing the simple over the ornate? Answers to these questions lie not in contemporary ecclesial politics, but in the Gospel and in recent papal history, which is mostly in continuity with the present.
The papacy is indeed a monarchy that directs Catholics to their spiritual end: union with God forever. From the late Roman Empire through the nineteenth century, it was also very much a temporal monarchy ruling over a large territory, the Papal States, in central Italy. The temporal authority was seen as necessary to guarantee the papacy’s independence and – more important – his spiritual authority. Hence popes adopted the trappings of European monarchs, though some of these externals also took on religious import because of the dual nature of the papal office.
In 1870 the Papal States were lost to the newly unified Kingdom of Italy. In hindsight, this has been a great gain for the Church: no longer was the pope a temporal ruler in a particular locale, but a spiritual and moral force who spoke to all peoples of the earth. Yet external trappings of the papacy, including the kissing of the pope’s slipper and the wearing of the triple tiara, remained well into the twentieth century.
Two factors combined to cause reconsideration – and ultimately, the pruning – of the associated regal forms. First, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the “universal call to holiness” and a refocus on the Gospel, which was to be preached in a manner that fit the times. Second, in almost every nation during the 1960s, attitudes were shifting quickly and dramatically toward democratic egalitarianism and cultural informality. The ceremonial practices that honored the papacy not only ceased to be understood, but were viewed as inappropriate for such a Christian office.
Habit of simplicity: then Cardinal Bergoglio rides the Buenos Aires subway
Acknowledging both of these factors, Paul VI gradually began to orient the papacy in a different direction. He donated papal jewels, shrunk the papal court, abolished both the slipper kiss and the papal Noble Guard. Most notably, he abandoned the triple tiara, which was a symbol of the pope’s prestige as a ruler. Further, Paul fervently advocated the preaching of the Gospel with missionary zeal.
John Paul II continued this trend with small signs, including eschewing the red papal shoes and the royal “we.” Benedict XVI did don the red shoes and use the royal “we” on occasion, and he also wore stately raiment when giving speeches (the use of finery for liturgy pertains to the worship of God and not the papal office itself, which excludes it from consideration here). But he also abolished the custom of kissing the pope’s hand (although Peter Seewald acknowledged that this rule was ignored), and he removed the tiara from the papal coat of arms, replacing it with a bishop’s miter to underscore the spiritual, rather than temporal, mission of the pope.
This leads us to Francis, who has clearly brought his own personal style of simplicity to the exercise of the papal office. Cultural trends have also influenced Francis’ actions, but with a twist: rather than be influenced by the culture, Francis is asserting the primacy of the Gospel over culture, including the culture within the Vatican, which often raises worldliness and careerism over life in the spirit.
In his ministry, Francis seems willing to push aside any papal formality that he perceives as a potential impediment to evangelization. Recently, he telephoned an Italian teenager and asked that the young man address him with the informal “tu” because that is how the apostles spoke to Jesus. Francis is fully aware of the dignity of his office, but he is also reminding us that he is our spiritual brother and fellow pilgrim on the way to God.
Papal ceremonials in themselves are objectively neutral. They have come and gone with the centuries, some benefiting the pope’s office, others hindering, and still others doing well or poorly in different ages. The value of all papal regalia, just like the papacy itself, must be appraised in light of their service to Christ and his Gospel.
Francis’ first months have been full of surprises, including his pruning of papal accoutrements. Some like it, others don’t. We are free to judge these decisions, but we must do so not based on our personal preferences, but on how well they help communicate the saving message of the Gospel.
In 1870 the Papal States were lost to the newly unified Kingdom of Italy. In hindsight, this has been a great gain for the Church: no longer was the pope a temporal ruler in a particular locale, but a spiritual and moral force who spoke to all peoples of the earth. Yet external trappings of the papacy, including the kissing of the popes slipper and the wearing of the triple tiara, remained well into the twentieth century.
Two factors combined to cause reconsideration and ultimately, the pruning of the associated regal forms. First, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the universal call to holiness and a refocus on the Gospel, which was to be preached in a manner that fit the times. Second, in almost every nation during the 1960s, attitudes were shifting quickly and dramatically toward democratic egalitarianism and cultural informality. The ceremonial practices that honored the papacy not only ceased to be understood, but were viewed as inappropriate for such a Christian office.
Ping for later
My questions: what's changeable and what's not? What's development of doctrine and what's historic-cultural accretion? What would make a man like Russian Metropolitan Hilarion say "Yes, that's the ministry of Peter among us" and what would make him say "No, that's something else"?
I don't care about the shoes, for Pete's sake. I care about Pete!
There is nothing new about Francis. The Church needs and is given one such from time to time.
“What I’m interested in here is -— if I could put it in the form of a chart — a side-by-side comparison of, say, the 9th or 10th century papacy with the 21st century papacy in terms of its jurisdictional reach, its relations with local Western bishops, its relations with the non-Latin Catholic Churches (the Churches of the East) and its relationship to the bishops’ collegial authority in an Ecumenical Council.”
This might help from a previous post of mine, though the only Pope mentioned is Pope Gregory the 1st, not anyone from the 9th or later centuries:
In the case of the Papacy, one wont find any theology on the Primacy of Rome in the early church. In fact, the testimony of the Fathers on where Peter even was and when is quite divided amongst them, and contradictory to the scripture account.
We read in the Chronicle of Eusebius, at the year 43, that Peter, after founding the Church of Antioch, was sent to Rome, where he preached the Gospel for twenty-five years, and was Bishop of that city. But this part of the Chronicle does not exist in the Greek, nor in the Armenian, and it is supposed to have been one of the additions made by Jerome. Eusebius does not say the same in any other part of his writings, though he mentions St. Peters going to Rome in the reign of Claudius: but Jerome tells us that he came in the second year of this emperor, and held the See twenty-five years. On the other hand, Origen, who is quoted by Eusebius himself, says that Peter went to Rome towards the end of his life: and Lactantius places it in the reign of Nero, and adds that he suffered martyrdom not long after.
Now it does not appear that either Peter or Paul founded the church in Rome at all, since all the Biblical evidence points to believers already being in Rome, without any mention of their founding pastor. If it were an Apostle who had founded the church in Rome, it is illogical that Paul would not have at least mentioned him or wrote to him if he were the head of all the churches. This is what the Roman Catholic Joseph Fitzmyer concedes here:
Paul never hints in Romans that he knows that Peter has worked in Rome or founded the Christian church there before his planned visit (cf. 15:20-23). If he refers indirectly to Peter as among the superfine apostles who worked in Corinth (2 Cor 11:4-5), he says nothing like that about Rome in this letter. Hence the beginnings of the Roman Christian community remain shrouded in mystery. Compare 1 Thess 3:2-5; 1 Cor 3:5-9; and Col 1:7 and 4:12-13 for more or less clear references to founding apostles of other locales. Hence there is no reason to think that Peter spent any major portion of time in Rome before Paul wrote his letter, or that he was the founder of the Roman church or the missionary who first brought Christianity to Rome. For it seems highly unlikely that Luke, if he knew that Peter had gone to Rome and evangelized that city, would have omitted all mention of it in Acts. [Source: Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 30].
If what Jerome wrote of Eusebius is correct, then Peter would have been in Rome when Paul had written the epistle to the Romans, which is reckoned to have been written around 58AD. When Paul does write to them, he writes only to the members of the church, some by name, but none about its reigning pastor who was supposedly the head of the church.
Not even the supposed successor of Peter, Clement (or the epistle that has his name) is any reference made either to the primacy of Peter (he is instead listed with the other Apostles as fellow workers) or to his own primacy as Pope over the church!
Ingatius, in his letter to Polycarp, writes to his fellow Bishop greeting him thus: to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnæans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ignatius, Epistle to Polycarp).
Now this cannot be so if the Pope is the perpetual head of the church, whom all local Bishops must submit to. In Ignatius letter to the Romans, he does not even write to or mention its Bishop, even though he had written to the Bishop of every church he had before written to.
In Irenaeus, deeper into the second century, builds the church of Rome on Peter and Paul, whom he writes ordained Bishops of their own, and not founded upon the authority of only one of them.
Even into the 6th or 7th centuries, when the idea of the Primacy of Peter was more developed, was it even defined in the same way that Rome does today.
According to the Catechism, the Roman Bishop is:
882 ... the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.402 For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.403
883 The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peters successor, as its head. As such, this college has supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.404
It was this same idea of General Father or a Universal Bishop that Gregory condemned in the then Bishop of Constantinople who had taken the title Universal Bishop:
Consider, I pray you, that in this rash presumption the peace of the whole Church is disturbed, and that it is in contradiction to the grace that is poured out on all in common; in which grace doubtless you yourself wilt have power to grow so far as you determine with yourself to do so. And you will become by so much the greater as you restrain yourself from the usurpation of a proud and foolish title: and you will make advance in proportion as you are not bent on arrogation by derogation of your brethren. Wherefore, dearest brother, with all your heart love humility, through which the concord of all the brethren and the unity of the holy universal Church may be preserved. Certainly the apostle Paul, when he heard some say, I am of Paul, I of Apollos, but I of Christ 1 Corinthians 1:13, regarded with the utmost horror such dilaceration of the Lords body, whereby they were joining themselves, as it were, to other heads, and exclaimed, saying, Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul (ib.)? If then he shunned the subjecting of the members of Christ partially to certain heads, as if beside Christ, though this were to the apostles themselves, what will you say to Christ, who is the Head of the universal Church, in the scrutiny of the last judgment, having attempted to put all his members under yourself by the appellation of Universal? Who, I ask, is proposed for imitation in this wrongful title but he who, despising the legions of angels constituted socially with himself, attempted to start up to an eminence of singularity, that he might seem to be under none and to be alone above all? Who even said, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven: I will sit upon the mount of the testament, in the sides of the North: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High Isaiah 14:13.
It wasnt until one of Gregorys successors, Boniface III, that the Roman Bishop petitioned the emperor for the title of Universal that they enjoy today.
Some Catholics can read this letter and say that Gregory only condemned the title, but not the power they claim he still possessed. However, there are other instances where Gregory could have embraced his power as universal Bishop of the entire church. While at this time the idea of the Primacy of Peter was in vogue, yet this same primacy was not translated to a supremacy over the entire church. And, in fact, there wasnt just one person who held the throne of Peter; according to Gregory, it was held by one Apostolic see ruled by divine authority by THREE separate Bishops, which is that of Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. Here is the letter in full, but first I am going to quote the RCC abuse of it:
The link to the whole letter first
Now here are the Roman quotations of this letter, wherein they assert that Gregory is a champion of the Primacy of Rome. Take special note of the clever use of ellipses:
Pope Gregory I
Your most sweet holiness, [Bishop Eulogius of Alexandria], has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in the persons of his successors. And indeed I acknowledge myself to be unworthy . . . I gladly accepted all that has been said, in that he has spoken to me about Peters chair, who occupies Peters chair. And, though special honor to myself in no wise delights me . . . who can be ignorant that holy Church has been made firm in the solidity of the prince of the apostles, who derived his name from the firmness of his mind, so as to be called Peter from petra. And to him it is said by the voice of the Truth, To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven [Matt. 16:19]. And again it is said to him, And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren [Luke 22:32]. And once more, Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep [John 21:17] (Letters 40 [A.D. 597]).
Who does not know that the holy Church is founded on the solidity of the Chief Apostle, whose name expressed his firmness, being called Peter from Petra (Rock)?...Though there were many Apostles, only the See of the Prince of the Apostles...received supreme authority in virtue of its very principate. (Letter to the Patriarch Eulogius of Alexandria, Ep. 7)
I provide their versions of the quotations only to highlight for you the parts they omit. And, really, there is no reason for them to omit them. The lines they remove are small sentences, and then they continue quoting right after they finish. Its quite an embarrassing display!
In this letter, Gregory is specifically attributing to the Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch the Chair of Peter and its authority that they bestowed upon him. In the first quotation, the Romans omit the sentence which says: And, though special honour to myself in no wise delights me, [they omit here] yet I greatly rejoiced because you, most holy ones, have given to yourselves what you have bestowed upon me. [They rebegin here] After telling them about the special honor that is respectively given to both parties, Gregory immediately goes into a discussion on what that special honor is... which is the authority of Peter they all enjoy:
Wherefore though there are many apostles, yet with regard to the principality itself the See of the Prince of the apostles alone has grown strong in authority, which in three places is the See of one. For he himself exalted the See in which he deigned even to rest and end the present life. He himself adorned the See to which he sent his disciple as evangelist. He himself established the See in which, though he was to leave it, he sat for seven years. Since then it is the See of one, and one See, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside, whatever good I hear of you, this I impute to myself. If you believe anything good of me, impute this to your merits, since we are one in Him Who says, That they all may be one, as You, Father, art in me, and I in you that they also may be one in us John 17:21.
Notice how different this reads when one does not omit what the Romans omit! Gregory declares that the See of Peter is one see... but in THREE places, over which THREE Bishops preside, which is Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, the latter of which he was now writing to.
So while the Romans insist that the Primacy of Peter refers to the Bishop of Rome, Gregory applies the Primacy of Peter to ALL the major Bishops of the See. They are, in effect, ALL the Church of Peter, having received the succession from him and possess his chair and authority.
And Gregory, of course, isnt alone in this. Theodoret references the same belief when he places the throne of Peter under the Bishop of Antioch:
Dioscorus, however, refuses to abide by these decisions; he is turning the See of the blessed Mark upside down; and these things he does though he perfectly well knows that the Antiochene (of Antioch) metropolis possesses the throne of the great Peter, who was teacher of the blessed Mark, and first and coryphæus (head of the choir) of the chorus of the apostles. Theodoret - Letter LXXXVI - To Flavianus, Bishop of Constantinople.
In fact, what I have presented here are the principle arguments of the Eastern Orthodox, the other guys who claim to be the One true Holy and Apostolic church of God on Earth.
I really now liking this Pope LOL!
TOTAL nonsense....the Vatican owns all that stuff...the gold this, the ermine that, the Mercedes...what’s the difference whether or not he uses them. The U.S. owns a real nice airplaane and the president is allowed to use it when ever he wants.....is that opulance...I thunk not, it’s just stuff and somebody already owns it.
This might be a good book for Metropolitan Hilarion to read: http://www.amazon.com/Russian-Church-Papacy-Vladimir-Soloviev/dp/1888992298
In fairness, it does get bigger each time I post it, or changes just a little. :)
Pope Gregory the Great and the “Universal Bishop” Controversy
Was the Pope denying his own Papal Authority?
Debunking a popular Protestant myth
There are comments made by Pope Gregory the Great (or Pope Gregory I, who reigned from 590-604) in letters to John the Faster (Bishop or Patriarch of Constantinople at the time) that are seized upon often by Evangelical Protestant apologists in an attempt to argue against the Papacy of the Catholic Church. The objection or charge made is that Pope Gregory was denying his own papal authority as visible head of the Church in rejecting the term “universal bishop.” This is a reply to that common charge from three sources: Radio Replies by Fathers Rumble/Carty (from the 1930s), This Rock magazine (Dec 1992), and an older book on Gregory the Great by F. Homes Dudden (originally 1905). These sources show this particular charge has been around a while, and it is indeed a Protestant myth with no validity. It can even be found in the classic Protestant work of John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, chapter 7:4).
To show examples of prominent Evangelicals today who still make the objection, I’ll quote from Norm Geisler/Ralph MacKenzie in Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (Baker Books, 1995), quoting another prominent Evangelical Harold O.J. Brown :
“In every age there have been those who considered the claims of a single bishop to supreme authority to be a sure identification of the corruption of the church, and perhaps even the work of the Antichrist. Pope Gregory I (A.D. 590-604) indignantly reproached Patriarch John the Faster of Constantinople for calling himself the universal bishop; Gregory did so to defend the rights of all the bishops, himself included, and not because he wanted the title for himself.” (Geisler/MacKenzie, page 206 citing Brown, Protest of a Troubled Protestant)
The main question that should be asked in considering what I’ll call the “universal bishop” controversy is: What did Gregory the Great precisely mean by the terms “universal” and “universal bishop” in his letters to the Patriarch of Constantinople? Evangelical apologists do not stop to ask that question, nor have they done much research into Pope Gregory’s actual writings which are full of his claims to papal authority and universal jurisdiction. If he really was denying his own papal authority (as asserted above by Geisler/MacKenzie and Brown), why would such an eminent Protestant (Anglican) scholar as J.N.D. Kelly write 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).
Indeed, most Protestant (and Orthodox) scholars concede that Pope Gregory was one of the first real Popes, and believed himself to have universal jurisdiction and authority over the Catholic Church.
Was Gregory then directly contradicting himself in rejecting the title “universal bishop” ? A careful examination of his writings and his use of the term “universal bishop” answers the question: No, Pope Gregory knew that he was Pope and said so explicitly and constantly in his writings. The source by Dudden below will examine the term “universal bishop” and provide further explanation.
Here are a few more examples of the objection as stated by Protestants:
From an anti-Catholic Baptist of FidoNet, Mick James (from OpenBible 6/12/95)
MJ> I want to add one more quote that deals with the office of the pope. This one you would expect to forever silence anyone from claiming that the church always had a universal head but nonetheless I am sure it won’t but here goes. Gregory I in words to the Patriarch of Constantinople:
“None of my predecessors has consented to bear this profane title, for when a Patriarch adopts for himself the title of ‘universal’ the title of Patriarch suffers discredit. No Christian, then, has the desire to adopt a title that would cause discredit to his brethren.”
In a letter to the Emperor he says :”I confidently affirm that whoever calls himself Universal Bishop is the precursor of Antichrist”. This unequivocally proves that there was no universal head over all the church before this.
From a Presbyterian (Reformed), Richard Bacon (FidoNet OpenBible 12/5/94) in a debate on the Papacy:
RB> With respect to Leo the Great: first, you have strayed well into the fifth century — a far cry from either Scripture or even the first few centuries of the church. I rather suspect that most Protestant historians would count the modern papacy as having its roots in Leo the Great. Yet, even so, consider the words of Gregory the Great written about 150 years *after* Leo: Gregory the Great, writing to John, the bishop of Constantinople, claimed....
“Was it not the case, as your Fraternity knows, that the prelates of this Apostolic See, which by the providence of God I serve, had the honour 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 pontificate, he took to himself the glory of singularity, he might seem to have denied it to all his brethren.” _Epistles_: Lib. V, Ep. XVIII
Gregory was writing in the late sixth and early seventh centuries. He was a successor to Leo, yet defended both himself *and Leo* against the charge that they should be known as “Universal Papa.”
Phil, these are the sorts of things that compel me and other Protestants to insist that your Roman doctrine of the papacy is both late and spurious. Even Gregory claimed that none of his predecessors would accept the title — including, we suppose, even Leo the Great.
James R. White in his defense of sola scriptura Answers to Catholic Claims (Crowne Publications, 1990) says:
“Gregory likens anyone who would claim to be ‘universal bishop’ to Lucifer himself who attempted to raise his throne above the throne of God Himself (Isaiah 14). Would the modern claims of the papacy qualify for Gregory’s ridicule? This author believes that they would.” (page 122)
Robert Godfrey in the “What Still Divides Us?” debate and in his chapter in the book Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible edited by Don Kistler (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995) says:
“The Reformers also discovered that tradition contradicted tradition. For example, the tradition of the Roman church teaches that the pope is the head of the church, a bishop over all bishops. But Gregory the Great, pope and saint at the end of the ancient church period, said that such a teaching came from the spirit of Antichrist (’I confidently affirm that whosoever calls himself -sacerdos universalis- [universal priest or bishop], or desires to be so called by others is in his pride a forerunner of Antichrist’).” (page 14)
It is repeated by Norm Geisler/Ralph MacKenzie in Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (Baker Books, 1995), page 206 as I have quoted above, and mentioned by Loraine Boettner in his Roman Catholicism (1962), page 125.
And it is repeated by former Catholic turned Evangelical William Webster in a book by prominent Evangelicals:
“The attitudes and practices of the Fathers and councils reveal that the church never viewed the bishops of Rome as being endowed with supreme authority to rule the church universal. And there never has been a supreme human ruler in the church. This whole concept was repudiated by Pope Gregory the Great (A.D. 590-604) when he rebuked the bishop of Constantinople for attempting to arrogate to himself the title of ‘universal bishop’. He insisted that such a position and title are unlawful in the church of Jesus Christ.... [followed by the same quote above on ‘precursor of Antichrist’].” (Roman Catholicism [Moody Press, 1994] edited by John Armstrong, page 280)
The following is the answer to this common (and reckless) charge. These posts originally appeared in the FidoNet OpenBible conference in the Summer of 1995.
Radio Replies by Fathers Rumble and Carty
1-349. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, refused the title of universal Bishop himself, and blamed John the Faster of Constantinople of this presumption in claiming such a title!
REPLY: Gregory was Pope, and knew that he was Pope. Far from refusing the title, he showed that he was universal Bishop by excommunicating John the Faster, over whom he could not have had such jurisdiction had he not the privilege of being universal Bishop. In his 21st Epistle Gregory writes, “As to what they say of the Church of Christ, who doubts that it is subject to the Apostolic See [i.e. Rome] ?”
3-364. Was Pope Gregory I in error when he protested against the title of “Universal Bishop,” saying that it was sacrilegious for any man to so call himself?
REPLY: In so protesting Gregory exercised his universal jurisdiction as Bishop of Bishops, not hesitating to condemn John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople.
3-365. Was he unaware of his own universal jurisdiction?
REPLY: He could not have been, since he exercised it. In many of his letters, also, he insists that the bishop of Rome holds the place of Peter, that he is the head of the “Faith,” and “of all the Churches.” And he declares that all the bishops are subject to the Apostolic See.
To understand the sense in which Pope Gregory condemned the expression “universal Bishop,” you must understand the sense in which John the Faster intended it. It has always been Catholic teaching that the bishops are not mere agents of the Pope, but true successors of the Apostles. The supreme authority of Peter is perpetuated in the Popes; but the power and authority of the other Apostles is perpetuated in the other bishops in the true sense of the word.
The Pope is not the “only” Bishop; and, although his power is supreme, his is not the “only” power. But John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople, wanted to be bishop even of the dioceses of subordinate bishops, reducing them to mere agents, and making himself the universal or only real bishop. Pope Gregory condemned this intention, and wrote to John the Faster telling him that he had no right to claim to be universal bishop or “sole” bishop in his Patriarchate.
From THIS ROCK (December 1992) — the magazine of Catholic apologetics
CATHOLIC ANSWERS, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177
QUESTION: Is it true that Pope Gregory I denied that the pope is the “universal bishop” and taught that the Bishop of Rome has no authority over any other bishop?
ANSWER: No. Gregory the Great (540 - 604), saint, pope, and doctor of the Church, never taught any such thing. He would have denied that the title “universal bishop” could be applied to anyone, himself included, if by that term one meant there was only one bishop for the whole world and that all other “bishops” were bishops in name only, with no real authority of their own. Such a distorted version of the biblical model of bishops is incompatible with Catholic teaching.
But that isn’t to say that the title didn’t — and doesn’t — have a proper sense of which Gregory approved. If meant in the sense that the Bishop of Rome is the leader of all the bishops, the title is correct. If it means he is the only bishop and all the other “bishops” are not really successors to the apostles, it’s false.
What Gregory condemned was the expropriation of the title Universal Bishop by Bishop John the Faster, the patriarch of Constantinople, who proclaimed himself Universal Bishop at the Synod of Constantinople in 588. Gregory condemned the patriarch’s act because universal jurisdiction applies solely to the pope.
Some anti-Catholics cite the following quotations to give the false impression that Gregory was rejecting his own universal authority:
“I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of the Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others” (Epistles 7:33).
“If then he shunned the subjecting of the members of Christ partially to certain heads, as if besides Christ, though this were to the apostles themselves, what wilt thou say to Christ, who is the head of the universal Church, in the scrutiny of the last judgment, having attempted to put all his members under thyself by the appellation of universal? Who, I ask, is proposed for imitation in this wrongful title but he who, despising the legions of angels constituted socially with himself, attempted to start up to an eminence of singularity, that he might seem to be under none and to be alone above all?” (Epistles 5:18)
Predictably, anti-Catholics neglect to inform their audiences that the context of these statements makes it clear that Gregory was not making these statements in regard to himself or to any other pope. He believed the bishop of Rome has primacy of jurisdiction over all other bishops.
Like his predecessors and successors, Gregory promulgated numerous laws, binding on all other bishops, on issues such as clerical celibacy (1:42,50; 4:5,26,34; 7:1; 9:110,218; 10:19; 11:56), the deprivation of priests and bishops guilty of criminal offenses (1:18,32; 3:49; 4:26; 5:5,17,18), and the proper disposition of church revenues (1:10,64; 2:20-22; 3:22; 4:11)
Gregory’s writings show that he regarded and conducted himself as the universal bishop of the Church. He calls the diocese of Rome “the Apostolic See, which is the head of all other churches” (13:1).
He said, “I, albeit unworthy, have been set up in command of the Church” (5:44). He taught that the pope, as successor to Peter, was granted by God a primacy over all other bishops (2:44; 3:30; 5:37; 7:37).
He claimed that it was necessary for councils and synods to have the pope’s approval to be binding and that only the pope had the authority to annul their decrees (9:56; 5:39,41,44).
He enforced his authority to settle disputes between bishops, even between patriarchs, and rebuked lax and erring bishops (2:50; 3:52,63; 9:26,27).
When Gregory denounced John the Faster’s attempt to lay claim to the title Universal Bishop, his words were in accord with his actions and with his teachings. He was unequivocal in his teaching that all other bishops are subject to the pope:
“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).
Pedro Vega, an Orthodox Christian, did attempt a reply to the above. My response (7/23/95) from FidoNet OpenBible is found below.
PP> Was Pope Gregory I in error when he protested against the title of “Universal Bishop,” saying that it was sacrilegious for any man to so call himself?
PP> REPLY: In so protesting Gregory exercised his universal jurisdiction as Bishop of Bishops, not hesitating to condemn John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople.
PV> If you could only quote the whole letter to us, instead of cutting and pasting and imposing modern notions of the papacy upon Christian antiquity, you could be honest with yourself, and then with the rest of us. But this is also typical of Roman apologists, this cut and paste approach.
The whole “Universal Bishop” controversy is discussed in much detail in the two volume work Gregory the Great: His Place in History and Thought by F. Homes Dudden, B.D. fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford originally published in 1905 by Longman’s Green and Co and reissued in 1967 by Russell and Russell/New York. The following is from volume 2 of that work, pages 209-227 —
The epistle [Epp v:44], which is far too long to give in detail, may be summarized as follows — [Pope Gregory the Great to John the Faster]
“You pretended to be anxious to avoid the patriarchate, but now you have got it you act as though you had canvassed for it. Having confessed yourself unworthy to be called a bishop, you now seek to be called the only bishop. You disregarded the admonitions of Pope Pelagius, you neglected my own. Though your office is to teach humility to others, you have not yet learnt yourself the elements of this lesson.
“My brother, love humility, and do not try to raise yourself by abasing your brethren. Abandon this rash name, this word of pride and folly, which is disturbing the peace of the whole Church. How will you face Christ at the judgment, when by this sinful title you have tried to subject His members to yourself? ‘Universal Bishop,’ indeed! Why, you imitate Lucifer, who said: ‘I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will be like the Most High’ [Isa 14].”
“By this unspeakable title the Church is rent asunder and the hearts of all the faithful are offended. It is written ‘Charity seeketh not her own’; but your Fraternity seeks far more than your own. Again, it is written: ‘In honour preferring one another’; but you strive to take away the honour of all when you unlawfully seek to usurp it for yourself alone. Already more than once I have reproved your sin through my representative, and now I write myself. If you despise this reproof, I must have recourse to the Church, as the precept of the Gospel commands (Matt 18:15-17).”
[Pope Gregory also appealed to the Emperor Maurice — Epp v:37]
“It is clear to every one who knows the Gospel that the CARE of the WHOLE CHURCH has been committed to the blessed PETER, CHIEF of the Apostles. For him it is said: [quotes from John 21:15-17; Luke 22:31-32; and Matt 16:18-19]. Behold, he receives the keys of the kingdom of heaven; to him is given the power of binding and loosing; to him the CARE and PRIMACY of the WHOLE CHURCH is committed; and yet he is never called the Universal Apostle. But that most holy man, my fellow-bishop John, wishes to be called the Universal Bishop. I am compelled to exclaim, O tempora! O mores!”
“Most Religious Lord, am I defending my own cause, am I vindicating a wrong done to myself alone? NO; it is the cause of Almighty God, the cause of the UNIVERSAL CHURCH. We know of a truth that many bishops of the Church of Constantinople have fallen into the whirlpool of heresy, and have become not only heretics, but heresiarchs.” [Gregory quotes as instances Nestorius and Macedonius]
“If, then, any bishop of that Church assumes the title Universal, the Universal Church must be overthrown with the fall of the Universal Bishop. God forbid! Far from all Christian hearts be that blasphemous name, by which one bishop madly arrogates all honour to himself, taking it away from the rest of his brethren!”
Now what is the precise meaning of “universal bishop?”
PP> To understand the sense in which Pope Gregory condemned the expression “universal Bishop,” you must understand the sense in which John the Faster intended it.
PV> Actually, it was Emperor Maurice the one who granted the title. In fact, the title was intended as quite inoffensive: the Ecumenical Patriarch was called that because his see was at the “ecumenical city,” the capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople. Incidentally, the chief city librarian was also called “Ecumenical,” yet he did not possess any “universal jurisdiction” over the rest of the librarians in the Empire, nor the Ecumenical Archivist had any power over all other archivist throughout the Empire.
(more from Gregory the Great by F. Homes Dudden, volume 2, page 218-219)
It is evident from all the above letters that Gregory believed that very serious issues were involved in the concession or refusal of the title claimed by John, and it may be well, before going further, to inquire what was the precise meaning which he attached to the word “Universal” or “Ecumenical.” Now, in the first place, the phrase “Ecumenical Bishop” might, as the later Greeks pointed out to Anastasius the Librarian, signify nothing more than a bishop who “rules a certain portion of the world inhabited by Christians. For the Greek word -oikoumene- may mean in Latin not merely the world, from the universality of which the word comes to mean ‘universal,’ but also a habitation or habitable place” [Anastasius Praef in Septimam Synodum (Labbe, vii pp. 30,31)].
In this sense the title is merely an honorary appellation to which any patriarch, metropolitan, or bishop might rightfully lay claim.
In the second place, it might signify a bishop who “held the primacy of the whole world” (-universi orbis praesulatum-), as chief of all bishops. If such is taken to be the meaning, then the assumption of the title by John amounted to claiming for the See of Constantinople the primacy hitherto enjoyed by Rome. Such a claim could not, of course, be tolerated by the Pope. But to Gregory the title meant even more than this.
For, in the third place, it might be argued that the word “Universalis” was equivalent in meaning to the word “UNICUS,” and the designation “universal Bishop” might thus be interpreted as sole or only true bishop in the world. It must not be thought that John himself ever really professed to be in this way the sole bishop, the source of the episcopate. Nothing was further from his intentions. But Gregory believed that his claim was capable of this interpretation, and this accounts for much of the violence of his language respecting it.
Had the Patriarch of Constantinople been indeed acknowledged as the sole bishop, then it would have been true to say that the rest were not really bishops —
[Epp ix:156 — “Nam si UNUS, ut putat, UNIVERSALIS est, restat ut vos episcopi non sitis.”];
that the members of Christ were being subjected to an alien head; that the fall of the Church would coincide with the fall of the only bishop; that the title was blasphemous, and signalized the coming of Antichrist.
Such was Gregory’s interpretation of the title — no doubt in itself ambiguous — claimed by the Patriarch.
PP> The Pope is not the “only” Bishop; and, although his power is supreme, his is not the “only” power. But John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople, wanted to be bishop even of the dioceses of subordinate bishops, reducing them to mere agents, and making himself the universal or only real bishop. Pope Gregory condemned this intention, and wrote to John the Faster telling him that he had no right to claim to be universal bishop or “sole” bishop in his Patriarchate.
PV> Behold, Roman revisionism at its best.
No, that is how Gregory the Great interpreted the title. But the article I quoted written by Catholic Answers perhaps was wrong to say that is precisely how John the Faster meant it. Nevertheless, Pope Gregory did claim universal jurisdiction and both the Emperor and the Bishop of Constantinople “continually acknowledge it” (Epp ix:26).
PV> The Lord used the occasion to promulgate through the mouth of humble Gregory the fact that no Bishop had universal jurisdiction over the Church.
Here is where you are wrong, Pedro. Gregory CERTAINLY claimed universal jurisdiction and that is not denied by him in the “universal bishop” controversy with John the Faster. See the excerpts from his letters I originally gave to Mick James.
More from the above work Gregory the Great (volume 2, page 224-225) —
The controversy thus oddly terminated leads us to inquire — What exactly was Gregory’s view respecting his own position? What, in his opinion, was the relation of the Papacy towards the Churches? Now, Gregory has been accused of insincerity, in that while disclaiming the title Universalis, he yet claimed all the title implied. This charge, however, is misleading and is not true. As has been already pointed out, Gregory interpreted “universalis” in the sense of “unus”; and he certainly never pretended to be the sole bishop in Christendom.
On the other hand (though abhorring the title which might mean “sole bishop”), he NEVER FOR AN INSTANT denied, or made any pretence of denying, that the Pope was the PRIMATE and CHIEF of Christian bishops. There can be NO DOUBT that Gregory claimed a PRIMACY, not of honour MERELY, but of AUTHORITY, in the Church Universal. To him the Apostolic See was “THE HEAD OF ALL THE CHURCHES,”
[Epp xiii:50 — “Sede apostolica, quae omnium ecclesiarum caput est.”
cf. xiii:40 — “Illud autem ammonemus, ut apostolicae sedis reverentia nullius praesumptione turbetur. Tunc enim membrorum status integer manet, si caput fidei nulla pulset iniuria.”]
and its bishop was called to undertake “the government” of the Church.
[v:44 — “Indignus ego ad ecclesiae regimen adductus sum.”]
The reason alleged for this preeminence was that the Roman Bishop was the successor and vicar of St. Peter, CHIEF of the Apostles [ii:46] to whom had been committed the “cura et principatus” of the whole Church, and on the stability of whom, as on a ROCK, the Church had been firmly established [Epp v:37; vii:37].
“Wherefore, although there were many Apostles, yet in respect of the principate the See of the PRINCE of the Apostles ALONE has grown strong in authority” [vii:37].
As the successor, then, of the CHIEF of the Apostles [Peter], the Pope claimed a DIVINE RIGHT OF PRIMACY [iii:30 — “Apostolica sedes Deo auctore cunctis praelata constat ecclesiis”].
The decrees of councils would have NO FORCE “WITHOUT the authority and consent of the Apostolic See” [ix:156; cf. v:39,41,44].
Appeals might be made to the Pope against the decisions even of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and such decisions might be reversed by sentence of the Papal court [see pg 203ff in this volume].
All bishops, moreover, even the patriarchs, were subject to correction and punishment by the Pope, if guilty of heresy or uncanonical proceedings. “If any of the four patriarchs had done such a thing,” he wrote again to a bishop who had disobeyed his orders [ii:50], “such contumacy could not have been passed over without the gravest scandal.”
“As regards the Church of Constantinople,” he said once more [ix:26], “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.”
Gregory the Great: His Place in History and Thought by F. Homes Dudden, B.D. (volume 2, page 224-225)
PHIL PORVAZNIK (July 1995)
See also Studies on the Early Papacy by Dom John Chapman
And The Primitive Church and the See of Peter by Luke Rivington
Bigger but not more accurate - in all fairness of course.
A pretty useless and long winded post on your part. My reply only touched on the “universal Bishop” for a moment, and referenced an entirely different letter, wherein Gregory gives the Papacy to Antioch and Alexandria. The Catholics can claim that Gregory only condemned the title, but not the power. But, they cannot hold on to that claim when considered with everything else Gregory has said. They know it themselves, considering how they selectively quote Gregory on the matter.
“A pretty useless and long winded post on your part.”
Oh, as compared to your long post which you have cut and pasted now three or four times in the last few months?
Kettle, Pot. Pot, Kettle.
You have the post history. Can you find one where one of you guys actually engaged the content with any meaningful reply? It’s a useful read, even if you guys complain.
“Can you find one where one of you guys actually engaged the content with any meaningful reply?”
Can you find any reason why any Catholic would think your post was “meaningful”? Remember, the Catholics here have seen it all. Anti-Catholics here have thrown everything at them including outright lies.
By the way, I posted an article - a long one - in reply to what you posted. So far all you did about it was complain: “A pretty useless and long winded post on your part.”
I guess “meaningful” is in the eye of the beholder. It would not appeal to those who sip their tea, nibble at their scones, and decry the “riff-raff” who stand outside the window preaching reconciliation to God while there is still time.
I think you’re projecting.
“I guess meaningful is in the eye of the beholder.”
To a certain extent I suppose that is true.
“It would not appeal to those who sip their tea, nibble at their scones, and decry the riff-raff”
So, Catholics who don’t agree that anti-Catholics post things that are meaningful are elitists? Really? What is more likely is that Catholics have no logical reason to find what anti-Catholics post - which are usually the same old, tired, useless, empty misrepresentations, distortions and lies - to be helpful, intelligent, insightful or worthwhile.
“who stand outside the window preaching reconciliation to God while there is still time.”
We ARE reconciled with God. You’re saying we aren’t. Again, do you know how quickly something - especially when presented in an erroneous form - becomes tiresome to those who have already embraced the real deal? The very fact that anti-Catholics continue to insist on presenting their false gospel to those of us who have embraced the real one, continue to attack the Church Christ founded, continue to demand to be noticed and respected for doing something “meaningful” shows it’s the anti-Catholics themselves who are the elitists. And that won’t change.
(That's BTW, something we could all keep in mind. I'm thinking of teens in the Communion line wearing flip-flops and shorts. Don't know whether to GGrrr or Sigh.)
So the ermine-trimmed capes and robes and so forth are the uniform of office, just like a Marine wearing his Dress Blues.
Second, almost all these things are gifts. I rememeber reading about the shoemaker, Adriano Stefanelli (you could google that!) talking about the satisfaction it gave him to design and craft shoes to be worn by the pope as he presides over the worship of God.
Anything with lace, braid, embroidery or brocade on it iss usually made by nuns .It used to be that people thought it fitting to give their very best, their master-work, to God.
That has Biblical precedent. There are pages and pages in Leviticus having to do with the elaborate design of priestly clothing as well as the vessels used in the Temple.
And in the NT there's the episode where the penitent woman takes an entire alabaster jar of aromatic nard and uses it to wash Jesus' feet. There were objectors about the expense, of course. You'll remember who.
Excellent suggestion!! I’m betting he’s read Soloviev, though. Hilarion is quite a scholar.
Excellent analogy! Many thanks for the post and ping.
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The very first word that comes to mind every time one of these misguided detractors (but potential future Catholics) starts whining about a Pope wearing high-quality donated ceremonial vestments (in order to do his best to give Glory and Honor and Praise to God), is that same one word you so ably point out there in your post: JUDAS!
Jesus then strongly rebuked Judas for saying that.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor? John 12:4-5
In support of our honest hope that these current Catholic bashers will genuinely come to "see the light", and eventually become part of the Catholic family themselves, perhaps the following Bible text will be helpful, as we patiently wait for their eyes to be opened:
"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." Matthew 4:16
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