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More Writings from the Fathers of the Petrine School

Appendix B

Cyprian, d. A.D. 258451

Cyprian personally dominated the African church during the short period that he was a Christian, from 249 until 258.452 His full name was Thascius Caecilianus Cyprianus.453 Cyprian probably converted to Christianity c. 246 and within two years, he was elected bishop of Carthage.454 During the imperial reign of Decius (249-251)455, persecution broke out against the church. Church historian Justo Gonzalez describes the time in this manner:

[To Decius] when all adored the gods things went better, and the glory and power of Rome were on the increase. By neglecting the gods, Rome had provoked their displeasure, and had been itself neglected by them. Therefore, if Rome’s ancient glory was to be restored, it was necessary to restore ancient religion… . Although Decius’ edict has been lost, it is clear that what he ordered was not that Christians as such ought to be persecuted, but rather that the worship of the gods are now mandatory throughout the Empire. Following the imperial decree, everyone had to offer sacrifice to the gods and to burn incense before a statue of Decius. Those who complied would be given a certificate attesting to that fact. Those who did not have such a certificate would then be considered outlaws who had disobeyed an imperial command… . Some ran to obey the imperial command. Others stood firm for a while, but when brought before the imperial authorities offered the required sacrifice to the gods. Still others obtained fraudulent certificates without actually worshipping the gods. And there was a significant number who resolved to stand firm and refused to obey the edict.456

During the persecutions under Decius, Cyprian thought that it was his duty to flee to a secure place with other church leaders; that way, he could continue to guide the church through extensive correspondence.457 However, many interpreted this decision to be an act of cowardice, and the clergy of Rome wrote to him to inquire about his decision to flee; Cyprian said that he decided to leave for the good of his congregation, not out of fear for his life.458 Many others fled during this time, and some even renounced their faith. When the persecutions were over, many leaders wanted to know how to handle those who had “lapsed” during the time of crisis. Cyprian called a synod and it decided that those who had purchased certificates without sacrificing would immediately be readmitted into the church; those who had sacrificed would only be admitted on their deathbeds; those who had sacrificed and showed no repentance would never be readmitted.459 The question of the “lapsed” would also give rise to the “rebaptism” issue, which would put Cyprian at odds with Pope Stephen I.460

Cyprian’s attitude regarding Peter and the church can be judged from his constant references to the subjects in his letters.461 He writes the following in one his epistles:

Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honor of a bishop and the order of His church, speaks in the gospel and says to Peter: “I say unto thee that Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the church flow onwards; so that the church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the church is controlled by these same rulers.462

Thus, it is clear that for Cyprian, Peter is the “rock” of Matt 16:18. In another letter, he writes: “There is but one baptism, and one Holy Spirit, and one church founded by our Lord upon Peter to be the source and ground of oneness.”463 However, it is important to note that one of the driving themes of Cyprian’s writings was that of unity. In all of his discussions, his unquestioned premise is the assumption that the Catholic church not only ought to be, but is, in fact, one.464 The bishops stand in the place of the apostles, not only in the sense that they are successors, but that like them they have been chosen and established in their offices by special decree.465 So the bishops form a college, an Episcopal college, that is one and indivisible, and bishops act as shareholders of joint property.466 Yes, Peter is the “rock” in question, but for Cyprian he is just one among many bishops. He holds a certain place of primacy because the church was founded upon him, but he is essentially the “first among equals”. An excerpt from his treatise On the Unity of the Church makes this clear. The text reads:

I say to thee that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not overcome it. I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And what thou shalt bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven’ (M. 16:18, 19). It is on one man that he builds the church and although he assigns a like power to all his apostles after the resurrection, saying: ‘As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. Receive ye the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shall be forgiven him; if you retain any man’s sins, they shall be retained (J. 20:21), yet in order that the oneness might be unmistakable, he established by his own authority a source for that oneness having its origin in one man alone. No doubt the other apostles were all that Peter was, endowed with equal dignity and power, but the start comes from him alone, in order to show that the church of Christ is unique. Indeed, this oneness of the church is figured in the canticle of Canticles when the Holy Spirit, speaking in Our Lord’s name says: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one: to her mother she is the only one, the darkling of her womb (Cant. 6:8). If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of the church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he resists and withstands the church, has he still confidence that he is in the church, when the blessed apostle Paul gives us this very teaching and points to the mystery of ones saying: ‘One body and one spirit, one hope in your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God’ (Eph. 4:4)?467

For Cyprian, then, the authority of the apostles was equal. Here, he is supporting the collegiate conception of the episcopate, only adding that Peter was the starting point and symbol of unity.468 In other words, Cyprian would have used Matt 16 to defend the authority of any bishop, not just the bishop of Rome.469 According to Catholic theologian Michael Winter, Cyprian’s ecclesiology of unity is secured by two means: the authority of bishops (general) and the role of Peter.470 With Matt 16, Cyprian defends the oneness of government even at a local level; since the local church is a microcosm of the universal church, the safeguarding of unity in one will guard the other.471 Therefore, based on this text, Cyprian’s platform cannot be used to indicate the primacy of the Roman see over another; all bishops are equal, as all apostles are equal.

However, there is a major problem with the aforementioned excerpt from “On the Unity of the Church” – another version of the letter exists, and it does seem to affirm the primacy of the bishop of Rome. For the sake of convenience, both letters will be reproduced side-by-side below.472

First Edition

Second Edition

And He says to him again after the resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.’ It is on him that He builds the church, and to him that He entrusts the sheep to feed. And although He assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet He founded a single chair, thus establishing by His own authority the source and hallmark of the [Church’s] oneness. No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, and it is [thus] made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, even if they are all shepherds, we are shown but one flock which is to be fed by all the Apostles in common accord. If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds to the faith? If he deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?

It is on one man that He builds the Church, and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles after His resurrection, saying: ‘As the Father hath sent me, I do send you … Received ye the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shall be forgiven him; if you retain any man’s, they shall be retained, yet in order that the oneness might be unmistakable, he established by His own authority a source for that oneness having its origin in one man alone. No doubt the other Apostles were all that Peter was, endowed with equal dignity and power, but the start comes from him alone, in order to show that the Church of Christ is unique. Indeed this oneness of the Church is figured in the Canticles when the Holy Spirit, speaking in Our Lord’s name, says: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one: to her mother she is the only one, the darling of her womb. If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of the Church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he resists and withstands the church, has he still Confidence that he is in the Church, when the blessed Apostle Paul gives us this very teaching and points to the mystery of Oneness saying: ‘One body and one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God’? Now to this oneness we must hold to firmly and insist on – especially we who are bishops and exercise authority in the Church – so as to demonstrate that the Episcopal power is one and undivided too. Let none mislead the brethren with a lie, let none corrupt the true content of the faith by a faithless perversion of the truth.

Clearly, there is a major shift between the two versions. The first version does appear to assert Roman primacy. This primacy text goes on to state that Peter was the chief of the apostles, and there is only “one chair” of Peter. This would seem to indicate at Cyprian might, at the very least, be sympathetic to a papal claim to the chair of Peter. If Peter has primacy over the other apostles, and the pope has assumed the apostle’s chair and his authority, then the pope is in a position to wield considerable power over the Church. Many scholars assumed that the primacy text (later to be referred to as the P. T.) was a later interpolation that was made in the interest of the papacy, and the widely diffused non-primacy text (known as the Textus Receptus or T. R.) was actually first.473 Dom John Chapman showed that the interpolations were actually a part of a complete alternate version of the letter; on the heels of Chapman, D. Van den Eynde pointed out that the Scripture passages in the text were never used by Cyprian until the baptismal controversy, and he suggested that the T. R. was a revision that Cyprian made to his original text, the P. T.474 In his “Introduction” to De Unitate in the Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina, G. F. Dierks states the following about the letters: “The only alternative is that the T. R. is a revision of P. T., in which case P. T. was the original, dating from 251, and so was probably revised by Cyprian himself in the heat of his controversy with Stephen of Rome. This would explain not only the appeal for unity so closely connected with ‘unum baptisma’ [one baptism] in T. R., but also the elimination of the apparently papalist phrases which occur in P. T. As we know, it was Episcopal authority that Cyprian derived from the ‘Tu es Petrus’ text.”475 Historian Maurice Bvonot agrees with Diercks’ assessment. He states:

The truth seems to be that though aimed chiefly at Novatian, the intruded Bishop of Rome, the treatise was not meant as a defence [sic] of he Papacy as we understand it, but as a defence [sic] of the rightful bishop there. In speaking of the ‘primacy of Peter’ or of ‘the Chair of Peter,’ Cyprian was not thinking specifically of Rome, but literally of Peter and of the unity which Christ intended for His Church when he founded it on Peter, and which Novatain was destrying. That unity, in his theory, was constituted simply by the union of the bishops among themselves. Actually, Cyprian recognized the Bishop of Rome’s special position in the Church in many practical ways. But he never formulated this to himself as implying a real authority over the whole Church. Hence, through his practice repeatedly went further than his theory, it is not surprising that, at a moment of crisis, he should have refused to accept the ruling on heretical baptism notified to him by Stephen of Rome… . If he altered he text of chapter 4 (as he seems to have done precisely at this juncture) this will have been not because he had changed his mind about the Papacy, but because Rome was reading more into it than he had intended. At Rome, where there were no doubts about the Bishop’s authority over the whole Church, Cyprian’s original text could not fail to be read as a recognition of that fact. If in the course of the baptismal controversy this was, as it were, thrown in his teeth, he will have exclaimed, quite truthfully: ‘But I never meant that!’ – and so he ‘toned it down’ in his revised version.476

Thus it appears that Cyprian’s understanding of church government leaned in favor of an episcopate. Peter was the “rock” of Matt 16:18, but for Cyprian, all bishops stood on equal footing. Cyprian’s primary concern was that of church unity, not the primacy of the Roman see. His refusal to recognize the superior authority of St. Peter had the effect of provoking a firm clarification by the next pope to be examined, namely, Stephen I.477

Pope Stephen I, May 12, 254 – August 2, 257478

According to papal historian Richard McBrien, Stephen I is best known for his disputes with Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, over the question of whether those who had been baptized by heretics had to be rebaptized upon entrance/return to the church; Cyprian maintained that the people had to be rebaptized, but Stephen said that they did not.479 The pope had written to the churches in Asia Minor warning that he would not remain in Christian communion with them if they insisted on rebaptizing.480 Cyprian’s Epistle 74 to Pompeius outlines the pope’s instructions on the matter of reconciling heretics.481 Cyprian sent envoys to notify that pope that two North African synods agreed with his position, but Stephen refused to accept the envoys.482 On September 1, 256 a third council affirmed the position of Cyprian; Cyprian then wrote a letter to his friend Firmilian of Caesarea about the decision.483 Cyprian’s letter is no longer extant, but Firmilian’s reply is, and he, much like Tertullian, outlines some of his own charges against Pope Stephen. He writes:

But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics, and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, ‘Whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ And again, in the Gospel, when Christ breathed on the apostles alone, saying, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye shall remit they are remitted unto them, and whose soever sins ye retain they are retained.’ Therefore, the power the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeed them by vicarious ordination. But the enemies of the one Catholic Church in which we are, and the adversaries of us who have succeeded the apostles, asserting for themselves, in opposition to us, unlawful priesthoods, and setting up profane altars, what else are they than Korah, Dathan and Abirsm, profane with a like wickedness, and about to suffer the same punishment which they did, as well as those who agree with them, just as their partners and abettors perished with a like death to theirs? And in this respect I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen, that he who boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundation of the Church were laid, should introduce many other rocks [heretics and schismatics] and establish new buildings of many churches; maintaining that there is baptism in them by his authority. For they who are baptized, doubtless, fill up the number of the Church. But he who approves their baptism, maintains, for those baptized, that the Church is also with them. Nor does he understand that the truth of the Christian Rock is overshadowed and in some measure abolished, by him when he thus betrays and deserts unity … Stephen, who announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter is stirred with no zeal against heretics when he concedes to them not a moderate, but the very greatest power of grace: so far as to say and assert that, by the sacrament of baptism, the filth of the old man is washed away by them …484

Again, this information is received through second-hand sources. Firmilian’s anger at the bishop of Rome is quite clear, so is his interpretation of the bishop’s actions. First, Firmilian openly states that Peter is the “rock” of Matt 16:18; it was to “Peter alone” that Christ gave the authority to bind and loose (see above).485 Second, Firmilian is implying that Stephen is using Matt 16:18 to defend his position and authority. According to Firmilian, Stephen is “boasting of the place of his episcopate” and “claiming to be the successor of Peter”. If this is true, then Stephen no doubt thought that as Peter’s successor in Rome, the church had an obligation to submit to his teaching. Nowhere in the letter, though, does Firmilian give credence to the idea that Matt 16:18 automatically confers Peter’s authority to a bishop of Rome. However, it is clear that Firmilian, like Tertullian, affirmed the notion of apostolic succession. Thus, all true successors of the apostles will have right doctrine and openly proclaim it to the church. In fact, his use of the word “us” (see above) seems to indicate that he views himself, as bishop of Caesarea, as a legitimate successor to the apostles. In Firmilian’s mind, though, Stephen I is proving that he is not the true successor of Peter with his position on rebaptism. Here is a third, important point: Firmilian is indicating that although a bishop of Rome may claim to be Peter’s successor, that may not necessarily be the case. Even if Stephen can pull out a list and demonstrate that he is the rightful successor of Peter, this would mean nothing to Firmilian. Stephen’s teaching has shown him to be unorthodox. Firmilian states that Stephen I is establishing “profane altars” and “introducing new rocks” and “establishing new buildings of many churches.” Firmilian goes so far as to write that Stephen’s actions not only undermine but to some extent “abolish” the truth of the Christian Rock upon which the Church rests. For Firmilian, no one who openly sympathizes with heretics can be a true successor to the apostles, and Stephen should not be using Matt 16:18 to give himself (and his teachings) undue authority.

Basil the Great, A.D. 330-379486

Everywhere, in the East as well as the West, Rome enjoyed a position of privilege, and during the fourth and fifth centuries, its only possible rival was the new, rapidly expanding See of Constantinople.487 In fact, in Canon Three of the Council of Constantinople’s declarations states that “the bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honor after the bishop of Rome because Constantinople is the New Rome.”488 While the Eastern Church showed deference to Rome and placed great significance on its pronouncements, the Eastern churches never placed Rome as the constitutional head of the church, much less the unassailable center of faith and morals.489 Given this fact, one might expect to find non-Petrine interpretations of Matt 16:18 throughout the writings of the Eastern church fathers. Interestingly, three of the most important Eastern fathers, the Cappodocians, actually do affirm a Petrine interpretation of the verse. Their writings shall be examined next.

Basil was born in A.D. 330 at Caesarea, the capital of Cappadocia, into a wealthy and pious family, whose ancestors had distinguished themselves as martyrs.490 He had four brothers and five sisters, all of whom were very influential in the Church; two of his brothers, Gregory and Peter, were bishops (at Nyssa and Sebaste, respectively) and his sister, Macrina the Younger, is, like himself, among the saints of the Eastern church.491 He received his literary education at first from his father, who was a rhetorician; later, he was educated at a school in Constantinople (347), where he enjoyed the instruction and personal esteem of the celebrated Libanius.492 It was in Athens where Basil met Gregory, who would eventually become bishop of Nazianzus, as well as Julian, who would later be known as “the Apostate.”493 When the bishop of Caesarea died, the election of his successor became a focal point for the struggle between the Arians and the orthodox, and Basil was elected.494 Basil proved to be a strenuous champion of orthodoxy in the East and a promoter of unity between the East and the West.495 Although he was an Eastern father, Basil did hold to a Petrine interpretation of Matt 16:18. In his Commentary on Isaiah, he writes the following:

And the house of God, located on the peaks of the mountains, is the Church according to the opinion of the Apostle. For he says that one must know 'how to behave in the household of God.' Now the foundations of this Church are on the holy mountains, since it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. One of these mountains was indeed Peter, upon which rock the Lord promised to build his Church. Truly indeed and by highest right are sublime and elevated souls, souls which raise themselves above earthly things, called 'mountains.' The soul of the blessed Peter was called a lofty rock because he had a strong mooring in the faith and bore constantly and bravely the blows inflicted by temptations. All, therefore, who have acquired an understanding of the godhead-on account of the breadth of mind and of those actions which proceed from it-are the peaks of mountains, and upon them the house of God is built.496

Here, Basil states that the “rock” in question is the apostle Peter. He is called the “rock” because of his strong faith, but it is clear that the apostle, not the confession, serves as the “rock” of Matt 16:18. However, nothing in the aforementioned statement indicates that Basil ever understood the verse to confer apostolic authority upon a successor of Peter. This is affirmed again in another work, Adversus Eunomius. In that treatise, Basil states: “For we at once, on hearing that name [Peter], think of the son that came from Bethsaida, Andrew’s brother … him on who on account of the pre-eminence of his faith received upon himself the building of the Church.497 Again, Basil states that due to his faith, Peter was named the “rock” of the Church. He does not appear to read Matt 16:18 in a way that allows for the “rock” to be anyone other than the apostle Peter.

Gregory of Nazianzen, A.D. 329-389498

Gregory Nazianzen was born about a year before the emperor Julian, either at Nazianzum, a market-town in the south-western part of Cappadocia, where his father was bishop, or in the neighboring village of Arianzus.499 Gregory’s father had been a heretic, but his wife, Nona, brought him to orthodoxy.500 As in the case of Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory’s family was very devout; in addition to Gregory himself, both of his parents, his brother Caesarius, his sister Gorgonia, and his cousin Amphilochius all received the title of “saint.”501 After spending about ten years in Athens Gregory left for Constantinople about A.D. 356, and he was probably baptized during this time.502 After his baptism, he resolved to live the strict life of an ascetic.503 Along with Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, he took up the cause of defending Trinitarian orthodoxy against Arianism. Late in the year of 380, Emperor Theodosius entered Constantinople; it was an overcast, gray day, broken only by sunlight that hit Gregory.504 Many of those present believed it to be a sign from heaven and began to shout, “Gregory, bishop, Gregory, bishop!”505 Theodosius gave his approval, but Gregory did not particularly want to become a bishop; he later assented, though, and was named patriarch of Constantinople.506 The following year, he had the honor of presiding over the third ecumenical council of Constantinople.507

Like Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus also affirmed a Petrine interpretation of Matt 16:18. In his Theological Discourses, Gregory states the following: “You observe that of Christ’s disciples, all of them outstanding and worthy of election, one is called the rock and entrusted with the foundation of the Church.”508 Again, Peter is called the “rock” on account of his faith. The apostle and his faith are closely linked, but it is Peter who is identified as the “rock”. This is affirmed again in another work, Carmina Theologica. There Gregory states: “Neither does a man know, though he be the parent of an evil like unto Judas, whether his offspring shall be called the godlike Paul, or be like unto Peter – Peter who became the unbroken rock, and who had the keys delivered to him.”509 Like his other Cappodocian brothers, Gregory of Nazianzus clearly identifies the “rock” of Matt 16 with the apostle Peter. Peter receives this gift on account of his faith. Thus, Gregory does not appear to link this verse with the establishment of a permanent see with Petrine authority.

Pope Julius I, c. A.D. 337-352510

Julius I is known not only for his forceful defense of Nicea’s findings on the divinity of Jesus, but he is also remembered as a pope who vigorously supported Eastern bishops, particularly Athanasius of Alexandria.511 When Julius became pope, Athanasius was exiled at Trves after his deposition by the Council of Tyre, having been banished by Constantine in A.D. 336.512 When Constantine died in A.D. 337, many orthodox bishops were allowed to resume their posts513; however, Arian bishops appealed to Julius and asked him to recognize the authority of Athanasius’ replacement.514 Julius, though, rejected their request.515 After Athanasius was exiled again in 339516, Julius convened a council in the church of the presbyter Vito at Rome.517 The council took place in A.D. 341, and it was attended by 50 bishops.518 The council resulted in the complete acquittal of Athanasius and the confirmation of the Roman church’s communion with him.519 After the council, Julius wrote a letter to the Eastern bishops, and he reproached them for their condemnation of other bishops of apostolic sees and for their dismissal of the historic prerogatives of the Bishop of Rome with regard to the Alexandrian See in particular.520 His letter is reserved in the writings of Athanasius. Julius states:

Why was nothing said to us [Pope Julius and the Roman Church] concerning the Church of the Alexandrians in particular? Are you ignorant that the custom has been for word to be written first to us [Rome], then for a just decision to be passed from this place? If then any such suspicion rested upon the Bishop there, notice thereof ought to have been sent to the Church of this place [Rome]; whereas, after neglecting to inform us, and proceeding on their own authority as they pleased, now they desire to obtain our concurrence in their decisions, though we never condemned him [Athanasius]… . For what we have received from the blessed Apostle Peter, that I signify to you; and I should not have written this, as deeming that these things were manifest unto all men, had not these proceedings disturbed us.521

Here, Julius confirms two things. First, he affirms the unique authority of the Bishop of Rome. Of the Church’s four patriarchs, the bishop of Rome ranks first, followed by the bishop of Alexandria.522 Thus the Eastern bishops had no right to depose the leader of the Alexandrian See, especially without the approval of the Roman bishop. Second, Julius affirms that his authority has been received by the Apostle Peter. Thus, the Eastern bishops have not refused to submit to an ordinary bishop’s authority – they have refused to recognize the authority of Peter’s successor. Julius, then, certainly viewed himself as a bishop in the line of Peter and one who exercised Petrine authority over the Church.

Pope Siricius I, December 384-November 26, 399523

Like Damasus I, Siricius ardently defended the authority of the Bishop of Rome.524 Siricius was the first pope to issue decretals, legally binding church directives that are in the style of imperial edicts.525 The oldest surviving decretal is dated February 11, 385, and was addressed to Himerius, the bishop of Tarragona.526 The decretal is in response to fifteen questions on the matter of church discipline.527 The decretal commands Himerius to communicate its contents to all the bishops of Spain and its neighboring provinces, with a view to universal observance. Siricius writes:

In view of our office, we are not free to dissemble or keep silent, for our zeal for the Christian religion ought to be greater than anyone’s. We bare the burdens of all who are heavy laden, or rather the blessed apostle Peter bears them in us, who in all things, as we trust, protects and defends those who are heirs of his government. At the beginning of your page, you have observed that many who were baptized by the wicked Arians are hastening to the catholic faith, and that they wish to be rebaptized by one of our brethren: this is illegal … Up to now, there have been enough mistakes of this kind. In the future, all priests must keep the above rule who do not wish to be torn away form the solid apostolic rock upon which Christ built the universal Church. We have explained, as I think, dearest brother, all the matters of which you complained, and to every case which you have referred, by our son Bassian the presbyter, to the Roman Church, as to the head of your body, we have I believe returned adequate replies.528

Here, Siricius not only states that Peter bears the burdens of those in the church, but he also affirms that Peter bears those burdens through the office of the papacy. According to Siricius, the popes are the heirs of Peter’s office – they have been entrusted with the “government” of the universal Church. Moreover, if a priest wishes to remain “upon the rock of the apostolic Church,” then he must be sure that his actions are in line with the teachings that come out of Rome. It therefore appears that Siricius understands himself to be the shepherd of God’s people in much the same way as Peter, and he uses Peter’s authority to make universal claims that would affect all of Christendom (such as the rebaptizing of Arians, as seen above). Thus, the power and authority of the bishop of Rome is clearly advanced in the pontificate of Siricius I.

Pope Innocent I, c. A.D. 401-417 529

Innocent was one of the early Church’s staunchest defenders of the prerogatives of the Roman See, and he was the first son to ever succeed his father to the papacy (his father being Anastasius I).530 As the Western empire suffered assaults from attacking Germanic tribes, Innocent asserted papal claims with greater frequency and emphasis.531 He laid down laws for Western churches regarding the Eucharistic prayer (insisting on the Western custom as the norm), the sacraments of Penance (also known as Reconciliation), Extreme Unction (now the Anointing of the Sick), and Confirmation (only to be administered by bishops), and the canon of Scripture (he excluded several books).532 Innocent was also a key factor in the battle between orthodox, African churches and Pelagianism. When the councils of Carthage and Mitevis reaffirmed their condemnation of Pelagius, the African bishops, out of deference to the pope, asked Innocent to add his own condemnation to theirs.533 In a reply, Innocent lauds their regard for the Roman See. He writes: “[We approve your action in following the principle of the Fathers] that nothing which was done even in the most remote and distant provinces should be taken as finally settled unless it came to the notice of this See, that any just pronouncement might be confirmed by all the authority of this See, and that the other churches might from thence gather what they should teach … ”534According to Innocent, no judgment is final until it comes from the See of Rome; this was affirmed by the traditions of the fathers. Although he does not state this explicitly, Innocent (like the other popes before him) undoubtedly linked Rome’s preeminent position with its affiliation with Paul and Peter. Thus, other churches should look to Rome to ascertain which doctrines should be taught and which teachings should be anathematized (like Pelagianism). It therefore appears that Innocent did not hesitate to use his authority to assert doctrinal claims over all Christendom, and under him the idea of a universal papal supremacy, though still shadowy, was already advancing on the previous claims of Siricius.535

Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431

By the time of the council of Ephesus, the authority of the Roman see was clearly on the rise. While many church fathers affirmed a Petrine interpretation of Matt 16:18, few specifically referenced the verse as the basis for a permanent Roman see with the authority of the apostle Peter. Even those who affirmed apostolic succession (such as the pre-Montanist Tertullian and Firmilian) did not state that the bishop of Rome automatically obtained the authority and privileges of Peter when he assumed the office. At Ephesus, though, the papal legate Philip opened he council with the following words:

There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins; who down even today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Celestine, according to his order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy Synod, which the most humane and Christian Emperors have commanded to assemble, bearing in mind and continually watching over the Catholic faith. For they both have kept and are now keeping intact the apostolic doctrine handed down to them from their most pious and human grandfathers and fathers of holy memory down to the present time.536

First, Philip states that Peter is the foundation of the Catholic Church (from Matt 16:19); then, he affirms that Peter received the keys of the kingdom from Christ (Matt 16:19). Second, and more importantly, the legate not only indicates that the pope is the legitimate successor to Peter, but he also maintains that Peter “even today and forever lives and judges in his successors.” If Philip’s remarks summarized the pontiff’s position, then by A.D. 431, then it is safe to assume that the pope (Celestine, who served from 422-432) believed that Peter spiritually lived and exercised judgment through his successors. According to the pope, then, the Roman see is a permanent, apostolic office, and when a decree comes from Rome, it is basically coming from Peter himself. This is certainly an important mark in the continual development of the papal office.

Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451

The council of Chalcedon marks an important turning point in the history of the Christian Church. At the behest of Leo I, the emperor Marcian called for the Fourth Ecumenical Council.537 This time, the fathers met to combat the heresy of Eutychianism, which maintained that Jesus only had one nature (a fusion of the divine and human) after the Incarnation. The council not only condemned Eutyches, but it also upheld the findings of the first three ecumenical councils as well. During the second session of the Council, the famous Tome of Leo was read. In the Tome, Leo affirms the divinity of Jesus (against Arianism), declares that Jesus had a rational spirit (against Apollinarianism), and upholds the fact that Jesus has two distinct natures that concur in one person (against Eutychianism and Nestorianism). In fact, the Chalcedonian Creed echoes much of the affirmations that are contained in the Tome. When the fathers heard Leo’s letter, this was their response: “After the reading of the foregoing epistle, the most reverent bishops cried out: ‘This is the faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Peter has spoken through Leo. So taught the Apostles. Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught Cyril… . Leo and Cyril taught the same thing, anathema to him who does not so believe. This is the true faith. Those of us who are orthodox believe.”538 Of course, the most telling cry is this: “Peter has spoken through Leo.” On one hand, this would seem to affirm Pope Leo’s claim that Peter is spiritually present and working through the Bishop of Rome.539 After all, in this case, it is the bishops who are making the Peter-Leo comparison, not the pope himself. On the other hand, it should be noted that it appears to be Leo’s orthodox teaching about Jesus that is praised here, not necessarily the pope himself. Again, the bishops cried out: “This is the faith of the fathers; this is the faith of the Apostles.” Later, the bishops cry out that Leo and Cyril of Alexandria taught the same thing: both taught “the true faith.” Leo, then, certainly does not seem to have a monopoly on orthodox teaching within in the Church. This is confirmed again in session three of the Council. As the fathers are preparing to anathematize the heretic, Dioscorus, they reply: “Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, hath stripped him of the episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic worthiness. Therefore let this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned Dioscorus to the canonical penalties.”540 Two things should be noted here: 1) The fathers declare that Peter is the “rock and foundation of the Church”; 2) the fathers declare that Peter, the foundation of the orthodox faith, is not only working though Leo but also through the holy synod itself. In other words, the council seems to be stating that wherever there is orthodox teaching, there is the voice of Peter. So Peter’s voice of can come through the pope, but it can also come through the findings of the councils, or even through the teaching of other bishops, such as Cyril of Alexandria. The fact that the pope Leo did not have the sole, apostolic voice over Christendom is confirmed in Canon 28 of Chalcedon’s findings. It states:

Following in all things the decisions of the holy Fathers, and acknowledging the canon, which has been just read, of the One Hundred and Fifty Bishops beloved-of-God (who assembled in the imperial city of Constantinople, which is New Rome, in the time of the Emperor Theodosius of happy memory), we also do enact and decree the same things concerning the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, which is New Rome. For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honoured with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her.541

Here, Constantinople is reaffirmed as the “New Rome” and is given “equal privileges” to the old Rome. It seems, then, that the fathers recognized the unique position of the Bishop of Rome, but his authority was to be used in conjunction with that of the other bishops, particularly the bishop of Constantinople. It comes as no surprise, then, that Leo later denounced this canon.542

For the fathers at Chalcedon, then, Leo did not have the sole voice of apostolic authority. While the fathers confirmed that Peter is the “rock” and proclaimed that Peter “spoke through Leo,” it appears that the apostle also spoke through anyone who had orthodox teachings about Jesus. Despite the fact that Rome was given a place of primacy, the fathers at Chalcedon maintained that the bishop of Constantinople should have equal privileges as the bishop of Rome. It does not appear, therefore, that the bishops at Chalcedon granted sole, Petrine authority to the Bishop of Rome.


451 F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingston, eds., Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 363.

452 Michael W. Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1960), 43

453 Cross and Livingston, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 363.

454 Ibid.

455 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco Publishers, 1984), 5.

456 Ibid., 86.

457 Ibid., 89.

458 Ibid.

459 Ibid.

460 See pp. 110-113.

461 Winter, St. Peter and the Popes, 43.

462 Epistle 33.1. ANF 5:305. CIL 3B: 164.

463 Cyprian, “Letter 70.3.1,” in The Letters of Cyprian of Carthage: Letters 67-82, trans. by G. W. Clarke, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation (ACW), ed. Johannes Quasten and Joseph Plumpe, vol. 47 (New York: Newman Press, 1989), 47. See also CIL 3C: 511.

464 J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 4th ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco Publishers, 1978), 204.

465 Ibid.

466 Ibid.

467 On the Unity of the Church 4. ACW 25: 46-47. See also CIL 3: 251-52.

468 Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 205.

469 Winter, St. Peter and the Popes, 47.

470 Ibid.

471 Ibid.

472 ACW 25:46-47.

473 See the “Introduction” to De Unitate in CIL 3B: 244.

474 Ibid.

475 Ibid.

476 ACW 25: 6-7.

477 Winter, St. Peter and the Popes, 50.

478 Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco Publishers, 1997), 49.

479 Ibid., 49

480 Ibid., 50.

481 Ibid.

482 Ibid

483 Ibid.

484 ANF 5:394; CIL 3:596.

485 A footnote in the ANF reads: “The two texts here quoted [Matthew 16:19 and John 20: 22-23] lie at the base of Cyprian’s own theory: 1) to Peter alone this gift to signify its singleness, 2) then the same to all the apostles alone to signify their common and undivided partnership of the use of this gift. Note the two alones and the one therefore” (Ibid., ff. 9).

486 Gonzalez, The Early Church, 185.

487 Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 406.

488 NPNF 2, 14:178.

489 Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 407.

490 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3rd ed., vol. 3, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity A.D. 311-600 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), 894.

491 Ibid.

492 Ibid.

493 Gonzalez, The Early Church, 178.

494 Ibid., 184.

495 Henry Wace and William Piercy, eds., A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principle Sects and Heresies, 2nd ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 116.

496 Commentary on Easi 2.66. English translation taken from Joseph Berington and John Kirk, eds., Faith of Catholics: Confirmed by Scripture and Attested by the Fathers of the First Five Centuries of the Church, vol. 2 (New York: Fr. Pustet, 1885), 22. See also PG Vol. 30, Col. 233.

497 Adversus Eumonius 4. For English translation, see Berington and Kirk, Faith of Catholics, 2:22; SC 299:708.

498 Cross and Livingston, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 587.

499 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:909.

500 Gonzalez, The Early Church, 186.

501 Ibid.

502 Wace and Piercy, Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, 408.

503 Ibid.

504 Gonzalez, The Early Church, 187.

505 Ibid.

506 Ibid.

507 Ibid.

508 Discourse 32.18. FOC 107:204; SC 318:122.

509 Carmina Theologica, 2. For English translation, see Berington and Kirk, Faith of Catholics, 2:21; PG vol. 37, col. 559.

510 Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), 79.

511 McBrien, Lives of the Popes, 59.

512 Wace and Piercy, Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, 602.

513 McBrien, Lives of the Popes, 59.

514 Ibid.

515 Ibid.

516 Ibid.

517 Wace and Piercey, Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, 602.

518 Ibid.

519 Ibid.

520 McBrien, Lives of the Popes, 59.

521 Defense Against the Arians 2.35. NPNF 2, 4:118-119. PG vol. 25, col. 307.

522 See above pp. 42-43.

523 McBrien, Lives of the Popes, 64.

524 Wace and Piercy, Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, 909.

525 McBrien, Lives of the Popes, 64.

526 Ibid.

527 Ibid.

528 Siricius, “To Himerius,” in Documents Illustrating Papal Authority, A.D. 96-454, ed. Edward Giles (London: S. P. C. K Publishers, 1952), 142-143. See also PL vol. 13, Col. 1132.

529 Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 81.

530 McBrien, Lives of the Popes, 66.

531 Ibid.

532 Ibid.

533 Ibid.

534 Ep. 29. For English translation, see Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 81. See also PL vol. 20, col. 582.

535 Wace and Piercy, Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, 516

536 “Session Three of the Council of Ephesus.” NPNF 2, 10:223.

537 Gonzalez, The Early Church, 256.

538 “Session Two of the Council of Chalcedon.” NPNF 2, 14:259.

539 See above, pp. 46-47.

540 “Session Three of the Council of Chalcedon.” NPNF 2, 14:259-260

541 NPNF 2, 14:287.

542 See Epistle 105 to Pulcheria. NPNF 2, 12:77; PL 54:1000

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