The Chair of St. PeterFeb 22nd, 2011 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
Today in the liturgical calendar we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle. According to an ancient tradition, February 22 was the day Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, and gave to him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 16:19) The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the chair of St. Peter notes that the Calendar of Philocalus, drawn up in the year 354 and going back to the year 311, speaks of February 22 as the “natale Petri de cathedra,” the birthday [i.e. feast] of the chair of Peter. What does the chair of St. Peter have to do with the unity and hierarchy of the Church? And why would it be a sacred feast? The Tradition contained in the writings of the early Church Fathers and teachers provides a sense of the significance of the chair of St. Peter, and an understanding of the cause for joy in today’s feast. It is also relevant to Keith Mathison’s claims in the first part of his recent reply.
The list of quotations below is by no means an exhaustive list of references to the seat of Peter, let alone to the ecclesial authority of St. Peter and his successors. But these quotations include some of the more important and revealing early references to the seat of Peter.
Muratorian Fragment (AD 180-200)
The Pastor [i.e. “The Shepherd of Hermas”], moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Pius sat in the chair of the Church of Rome. And therefore it also ought to be read; but it cannot be made public in the Church to the people, nor placed among the prophets, as their number is complete, nor among the apostles to the end of time. (Muratorian Fragment)
Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225), wrote the following in this Prescription Against Heretics, around AD 200:
Come now, if you would indulge a better curiosity in the business of your salvation, run through the apostolic Churches in which the very thrones [cathedrae] of the Apostles remain still in place; in which their own authentic writings are read, giving sound to the voice and recalling the faces of each. Achaia is near you, so you have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi. If you can cross into Asia, you have Ephesus. But if you are near to Italy, you have Rome, whence also our authority derives. How happy is that Church, on which Apostles poured out their whole doctrine along with their blood, where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John’s [the Baptist], where the Apostle John, after being immersed in boiling oil and suffering no hurt, was exiled to an island.” (The Prescription Against Heretics, 36)
Sometime between AD 212 and 219, already a Montantist but revealing nonetheless, Tertullian wrote the following:
But further, if Christ reproves the scribes and Pharisees, sitting in the official chair of Moses, but not doing what they taught, what kind of (supposition) is it that He Himself withal should set upon His own official chair men who were mindful rather to enjoin — (but) not likewise to practise — sanctity of the flesh, which (sanctity) He had in all ways recommended to their teaching and practising? (On Monogamy, 8)
Tertullian, though already separated from the Catholic Church, argues that Christ would not have set upon His own official chair men who would be like the Pharisees who sat on the seat of Moses, saying one thing yet doing another. Tertullian’s argument aside, what is telling is his reference to Christ’s official chair, as a seat of teaching authority in the Church.
Around AD 225, St. Hippolytus wrote:
Callistus attempted to confirm this heresy—a man cunning in wickedness, and subtle where deceit was concerned, (and) who was impelled by restless ambition to mount the episcopal throne. … But after a time, there being in that place other martyrs, Marcia, a concubine of Commodus, who was a God-loving female, and desirous of performing some good work, invited into her presence the blessed Victor, who was at that time a bishop of the Church, and inquired of him what martyrs were in Sardinia. And he delivered to her the names of all, but did not give the name of Callistus, knowing the acts he had ventured upon. … Now (the governor) was persuaded, and liberated Callistus also. And when the latter arrived at Rome, Victor was very much grieved at what had taken place; but since he was a compassionate man, he took no action in the matter. Guarding, however, against the reproach (uttered) by many—for the attempts made by this Callistus were not distant occurrences—and because Carpophorus also still continued adverse, Victor sends Callistus to take up his abode in Antium, having settled on him a certain monthly allowance for food. And after Victor’s death, Zephyrinus, having had Callistus as a fellow-worker in the management of his clergy, paid him respect to his own damage; and transferring this person from Antium, appointed him over the cemetery. … Thus, after the death of Zephyrinus, supposing that he had obtained (the position) after which he so eagerly pursued, he excommunicated Sabellius, as not entertaining orthodox opinions. (Refutation of all Heresies, IX.6,7. (our emphasis). )
The third-century poem, “Adversus Marcionem“, says:
Hâc cathedrâ, Petrus quâ sederat ipse, locatum
Maxima Roma Linum primum considere iussit.
(On this chair, where Peter himself had sat,
great Rome first placed Linus and bade him sit.) (P.L., II, 1099)
In AD 251, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage wrote:
“There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on the Rock [Peter] by the voice of the Lord [et cathedra una super Petrum Domini uoce fundata]. It is not possible to set up another altar or another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever gathers elsewhere, scatters.” (Epistle 39 (43))
About that same year St. Cyprian wrote:
“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ He says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven.’ And again He says to him after His resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.’ On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (Treatise on the Unity of the Catholic Church, 1st edition)1
Concerning the Novatian schism, led by the antipope Novatian, St. Cyprian writes (AD 251-3)
You wrote, moreover, for me to transmit a copy of those same letters to [Pope] Cornelius our colleague, so that he might lay aside all anxiety, and know at once that you held communion with him, that is, with the Catholic Church. … Moreover, Cornelius was made bishop by the judgment of God and of His Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the suffrage of the people who were then present, and by the assembly of ancient priests and good men, when no one had been made so before him, when the place of Fabian, that is, when the place of Peter and the degree of the sacerdotal throne was vacant; which being occupied by the will of God, and established by the consent of all of us, whosoever now wishes to become a bishop, must needs be made from without; and he cannot have the ordination of the Church who does not hold the unity of the Church. Whoever he may be, although greatly boasting about himself, and claiming very much for himself, he is profane, he is an alien, he is without. And as after the first there cannot be a second, whosoever is made after one who ought to be alone, is not second to him, but is in fact none at all.
Then afterwards, when he had undertaken the episcopate, not obtained by solicitation nor by extortion, but by the will of God who makes priests; what a virtue there was in the very undertaking of his episcopate, what strength of mind, what firmness of faith — a thing that we ought with simple heart both thoroughly to look into and to praise — that he intrepidly sat at Rome in the sacerdotal chair at that time when a tyrant, odious to God’s priests, was threatening things that can, and cannot be spoken, inasmuch as he would much more patiently and tolerantly hear that a rival prince was raised up against himself than that a priest of God was established at Rome. (Letter 51)
St. Cyprian is very explicit that Christ made St. Peter the ground (or foundation or basis) of the unity of the Church. In giving to St. Peter a primacy, Christ gave to the Church a gift, a means by which to preserve her unity. Otherwise at the first schism there would be no objective way to determine where the Church is, for each faction would seemingly have equal claim to be the continuation of the Church. Christ did not set up the Church so that all of her members must have graduate degrees in theology in order to determine where is the Church, as if even then there would be unity.
St. Cyprian continues, in AD 252, still writing about the Novatian schism:
For neither have heresies arisen, nor have schisms originated, from any other source than from this, that God’s priest is not obeyed; nor do they consider that there is one person for the time priest in the Church, and for the time judge in the stead of Christ; whom, if, according to divine teaching, the whole fraternity should obey, no one would stir up anything against the college of priests; no one, after the divine judgment, after the suffrage of the people, after the consent of the co-bishops, would make himself a judge, not now of the bishop, but of God. No one would rend the Church by a division of the unity of Christ. No one, pleasing himself, and swelling with arrogance, would found a new heresy, separate and without, unless any one be of such sacrilegious daring and abandoned mind, as to think that a priest is made without God’s judgment, when the Lord says in His Gospel, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them does not fall to the ground without the will of your Father.” (Matt. 10:29) […]
Nevertheless, Peter, upon whom by the same Lord the Church had been built, speaking one for all, and answering with the voice of the Church, says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we believe, and are sure that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God: ” (Matt. 15:13) signifying, doubtless, and showing that those who departed from Christ perished by their own fault, yet that the Church which believes on Christ, and holds that which it has once learned, never departs from Him at all, and that those are the Church who remain in the house of God; but that, on the other hand, they are not the plantation planted by God the Father, whom we see not to be established with the stability of wheat, but blown about like chaff by the breath of the enemy scattering them, of whom John also in his epistle says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, no doubt they would have continued with us.” (1 Jn. 2:19) […]
With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal Church, in which sacerdotal unity has its source; nor did they take thought that these are Romans, whose faith was praised by the preaching Apostle, and among whom it is not possible for perfidy to have entrance.” (Epistle 54, 14)
Notice that for St. Cyprian, the unity of the bishops and priests has its source not only as a past event but as a present grounding or principle in the chair of Peter.
Again, between 251-53, St. Cyprian writes:
But what sort of a thing is this, that, because Novatian dares to do this thing, we are to think that we must not do it! What then? Because Novatian also usurps the honour of the priestly throne, ought we therefore to renounce our throne? Or because Novatian endeavours wrongfully to set up an altar and to offer sacrifices, does it behoove us to cease from our altar and sacrifices, lest we should appear to be celebrating the same or like things with him? Utterly vain and foolish is it, that because Novatian arrogates to himself outside the Church the image of the truth, we should forsake the truth of the Church. … For first of all the Lord gave that power to Peter, upon whom He built the Church, and whence He appointed and showed the source of unity — the power, namely, that whatsoever he loosed on earth should be loosed in heaven. And after the resurrection, also, He speaks to the apostles, saying, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and says, unto them, Receive the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained.” Whence we perceive that only they who are set over the Church and established in the Gospel law, and in the ordinance of the Lord, are allowed to baptize and to give remission of sins; but that without, nothing can either be bound or loosed, where there is none who can either bind or loose anything.(Epistle 72)
And during this same time (251-253) he writes:
For if she [the Church] is with Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop Fabian by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honour of the priesthood, the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, [then] Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way. … But if the flock is one, how can he be numbered among the flock who is not in the number of the flock? Or how can he be esteemed a pastor, who — while the true shepherd remains and presides over the Church of God by successive ordination — succeeding to no one, and beginning from himself, becomes a stranger and a profane person, an enemy of the Lord’s peace and of the divine unity, not dwelling in the house of God, that is, in the Church of God, in which none dwell except they are of one heart and one mind, since the Holy Spirit speaks in the Psalms, and says, “It is God who makes men to dwell of one mind in a house.” … But that they [i.e. the Novatians] are said to have the same God the Father as we, to know the same Christ the Son, the same Holy Spirit, can be of no avail to such as these. For even Korah, Dathan, and Abiram knew the same God as did the priest Aaron and Moses. And yet those men had not made a schism, nor had gone out abroad, and in opposition to God’s priests rebelled shamelessly and with hostility; but this these men [i.e. the Novatians] are now doing who divide the Church, and, as rebels against the peace and unity of Christ, attempt to establish a throne for themselves, and to assume the primacy, and to claim the right of baptizing and of offering [i.e. the Eucharistic sacrifice]. (Epistle 75)
A few years later, in AD 256, when St. Stephen was pope, some of the African bishops were claiming that those persons who had been baptized while in a heresy, needed still to be baptized upon wishing to be received into the Catholic Church, because, according to these bishops, those first baptisms were invalid. St. Cyprian himself held this position and argued for it against Pope St. Stephen, who determined that such persons ought not to be re-baptized, because even though they were baptized while in a heresy, and the baptism was therefore illicit, nevertheless such baptisms were valid.2
Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, wrote to St. Cyprian in AD 256 regarding Pope Stephen, saying the following:
[H]e who so boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, should introduce many other rocks 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, of 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. The apostle acknowledges that the Jews, although blinded by ignorance, and bound by the grossest wickedness, have yet a zeal for God. 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, that they pardon the former mortal sins, that they make sons of God by heavenly regeneration, and renew to eternal life by the sanctification of the divine laver. … For while you think that all may be excommunicated by you, you have excommunicated yourself alone from all; and not even the precepts of an apostle have been able to mould you to the rule of truth and peace. (Epistle 74)3
Of course Firmilian is claiming that Pope St. Stephen is wrong about re-baptizing heretics. But not only does Pope St. Stephen turn out to have been right, but Firmilian’s letter reveals the way in which Pope St. Stephen conceived of the role and authority of the office signified by the chair of St. Peter.
Poem Against the Marcionites (prior to AD 325):
In this chair in which he himself had sat, Peter, in mighty Rome, commanded Linus, the first elected, to sit down . . .
The Council of Serdica (343-344) in what is today Sophia, Bulgaria concluded the summary of the acts of the synod by writing to the bishop of Rome with these words:
St. Athanasius, the famous defender of Nicene orthodoxy, wrote the following around AD 358:
Thus from the first they [i.e. the Arians] spared not even Liberius, Bishop of Rome, but extended their fury even to those parts; they respected not his bishopric, because it was an Apostolical throne; they felt no reverence for Rome, because she is the Metropolis of Romania ; they remembered not that formerly in their letters they had spoken of her Bishops as Apostolical men. But confounding all things together, they at once forgot everything, and cared only to show their zeal in behalf of impiety. When they perceived that he was an orthodox man and hated the Arian heresy, and earnestly endeavoured to persuade all persons to renounce and withdraw from it, these impious men reasoned thus with themselves: ‘If we can persuade Liberius, we shall soon prevail over all.’ (History of the Arians, Part V)
St. Optatus of Milevisu, bishop of Milevis in Africa, in a work begun in AD 367 writes:
For it was not Caecilian who went forth from Majorinus, your father’s father, but it was Majorinus who deserted Caecilian; nor was it Caecilian who separated himself from the Chair of Peter, or from the Chair of Cyprian l but Majorinus, on whose Chair you sit, a Chair which had no existence before Majorinus himself. … Victor would not have been able, had he been asked where he sat, to show that anyone had been there before him, nor could he have pointed out that he possessed any Cathedra save the Cathedra of pestilence, for pestilence sends down its victims, destroyed by diseases, to the regions of Hell which are known to have their gates gates against which we read that Peter received the saving Keys, Peter, that is to say, the first of our line, to whom it was said by Christ:
To thee will I give the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and these keys the gates of Hell shall not overcome.
How is it, then, that you strive to usurp for yourselves the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, you who, with your arguments, and audacious sacrilege, war against the Chair of Peter? … For it has been proved that we are in the Holy Catholic Church, who have too the Creed of the Trinity; and it has been shown that, through the Chair of Peter which is ours through it the other Endowments also belong to us. … Will you be able to prove that the Chair of Peter is a lie and the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, which were granted him by Christ, with which we are in communion? (The work of St. Optatus)
Between AD 384 and 387 St. Optatus wrote the following:
“But you cannot deny that you know that the episcopal seat was established first in the city of Rome by Peter and that in it sat Peter, the head of all the apostles, wherefore he is called Cephas, the one chair in which unity is maintained by all. Neither do other Apostles proceed individually on their own; and anyone who would set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner. It was Peter, then, who first occupied that chair, the foremost of his endowed gifts. He was succeeded by Linus, Linus was succeeded by Clement, Clement by Anencletus, Anencletus by Evaristus, Evaristus by Eleutherus, Eleutherus by Xystus, Xystus by Telesphorus, Telesphorus by Hyginus, Hyginus by Anicetus, Anicetus by Pius, Pius by Soter, Soter by Alexander, Alexander by Victor, Victor by Zephyrinus, Zephyrinus by Callistus, Callistus by Urban, Urban by Pontianus, Pontianus by Anterus, Anterus by Fabian, Fabian by Cornelius, Cornelius by Lucius, Lucius by Stephen, Stephen by Xystus, Xystus by Dionysius, Dionysius by Felix, Felix by Marcellinus, Marcellinus by Eusebius, Eusebius by Melchiades, Melchiades by Sylvester, Sylvester by Mark, Mark by Julius, Julius by Liberius, Liberius by Damasus, Damasus by Siricius, our present incumbent. I but ask you to recall the origins of your chair, you who wish to claim for yourselves the title of holy Church.” (De Schismate Donatistarum)
St. Optatus shows that schism is defined in relation to the chair of St. Peter, because Christ made Peter the head of the Apostles.5
Pope St. Damasus, in the year AD 382, wrote the following:
The holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: Your are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven. … The most blessed Apostle Paul, who contended and was crowned with a glorious death along with Peter in the City of Rome in the time of Caesar Nero — not at a different time, as the heretics prattle, but at one and the same time and on one and the same day: and they equally consecrated the above-mentioned holy Roman Church to Christ the Lord; and by their own presence and by their venerable triumph they set it at the forefront over the others of all the cities of the whole world. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it.” (The Decree of Damasus)
The term “See” comes from the Latin sedes, meaning ‘chair.’ This reference to the “first see” is in this way a reference to the primary chair. And this is also the origin of the term ‘Apostolic See,’ which refers to the Chair of the Apostle and the particular Church at Rome.6
St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and the one who baptized St. Augustine, wrote the following in AD 388:
You said to Peter when he excused himself from having his feet washed by You: “If I wash not your feet, you will have no part with Me.” (John 13:8) What fellowship, then, can they [i.e. the Novatians] have with You, who receive not the keys of the kingdom of heaven, saying that they ought not to remit sins? And this confession is indeed rightly made by them, for they have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: “I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.” (Concerning Repentance, Book 1, 7:33)
St. John Chrysostom, a priest at Antioch for twelve years before becoming bishop of Constantinople in 398, wrote about the difference in authority between the episcopal chair of St. James in Jerusalem and the chair of St. Peter in Rome:
And why, having passed by the others, does He [Jesus] speak with Peter on these matters? He [Peter] was the chosen one of the Apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the leader of the band; on this account also Paul went up upon a time to enquire of him rather than the others. And at the same time to show him that he must now be of good cheer, since the denial was done away, Jesus puts into his hands the chief authority among the brethren…. And if any should say, ‘How then did James receive the chair at Jerusalem?’ I would make this reply, that He appointed Peter teacher, not of the chair [of Jerusalem], but of the world…. For he [Peter] who then did not dare to question Jesus, but committed the office to another, was even entrusted with the chief authority over the brethren, and not only does not commit to another what relates to himself, but himself now puts a question to his Master concerning another. (Homily 88 on the Gospel of John)
St. Jerome, in AD 376 wrote:
“Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord…. I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter…. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails…. He that gathers not with you scatters…. If you think fit enact a decree; and then I shall not hesitate to speak of three hypostases. Order a new creed to supersede the Nicene; and then, whether we are Arians or orthodox, one confession will do for us all…. I beg you also to signify with whom I am to communicate at Antioch. Not, I hope, with the Campenses; for they — with their allies the heretics of Tarsus — only desire communion with you to preach with greater authority their traditional doctrine of three hypostases.(Letter 15 to Pope St. Damasus)
In that same year he wrote the following in a letter to Pope St. Damasus:
The untiring foe follows me closely, and the assaults that I suffer in the desert are severer than ever. For the Arian frenzy raves, and the powers of the world support it. The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. The influence of the monks is of long standing, and it is directed against me. I meantime keep crying: “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.” Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus all profess to cleave to you, and I could believe the assertion if it were made by one of them only. As it is, either two of them or else all three are guilty of falsehood. Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord’s cross and passion, those necessary glories of our faith, as you hold an apostolic office, to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria, and I will pray for you that you may sit in judgment enthroned with the twelve; Matthew 19:28 that when you grow old, like Peter, you may be girded not by yourself but by another, John 21:18 and that, like Paul, you may be made a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. (Letter 16 to Pope Damasus)
Between 392 and 393 St. Jerome wrote:
Simon Peter the son of John, from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, brother of Andrew the apostle, and himself chief of the apostles, after having been bishop of the church of Antioch and having preached to the Dispersion — the believers in circumcision, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia — pushed on to Rome in the second year of Claudius to overthrow Simon Magus, and held the sacerdotal chair there for twenty-five years until the last, that is the fourteenth, year of Nero. At his hands he received the crown of martyrdom being nailed to the cross with his head towards the ground and his feet raised on high, asserting that he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. He wrote two epistles which are called Catholic, the second of which, on account of its difference from the first in style, is considered by many not to be by him. Then too the Gospel according to Mark, who was his disciple and interpreter, is ascribed to him. … Buried at Rome in the Vatican near the triumphal way he is venerated by the whole world. […]
Novatianus, presbyter of Rome, attempted to usurp the sacerdotal chair occupied by [Pope] Cornelius, and established the dogma of the Novatians, or as they are called in Greek, the Cathari, by refusing to receive penitent apostates. (De Viris Illustribus, 1, 70)7
Later, in AD 414, he wrote in a letter to Demetrias:
I think, therefore, that I ought to warn you, in all kindness and affection, to hold fast the faith of the saintly [Pope] Innocent, the spiritual son of [Pope] Anastasius and his successor in the apostolic see; and not to receive any foreign doctrine, however wise and discerning you may take yourself to be. (Letter 130)
St. Jerome affirmed the role of the chair of Peter in preserving and grounding the unity of the Church. The church in Syria was at that time divided into three factions, and St. Jerome turned to the visible head of the Church (the bishop occupying St. Peter’s chair) to determine which of the factions was part of the true Church, and which were schisms from the true Church. He clearly understand that Christ had foreseen that the Church needed a visible head in order not to provide an occasion for schism. For St. Jerome, the unity of the Church was not based on a continuous miracle operating against nature. Even nature teaches us that where there is no visible head, there will be no end of quarreling and divisions, to the point of disintegration. That is why Christ established a visible head, to provide a principium unitatis (principle of unity) for the Church. To be in communion with that rock upon which the Church is built, is to be in full union with the Church. To spurn that rock is to be in schism.
Pope St. Innocent I, writing to St. Jerome in AD 417, says the following:
The spectacle of these terrible evils has so thoroughly roused us that we have hastened to put forth the authority of the apostolic see to repress the plague in all its manifestations; but as your letters name no individuals and bring no specific charges, there is no one at present against whom we can proceed. But we do all that we can; we sympathize deeply with you. And if you will lay a clear and unambiguous accusation against any persons in particular we will appoint suitable judges to try their cases; or if you, our highly esteemed son, think that it is needful for us to take yet graver and more urgent action, we shall not be slow to do so. Meantime we have written to our brother bishop John [bishop of Jerusalem] advising him to act more considerately, so that nothing may occur in the church committed to him which it is his duty to foresee and to prevent, and that nothing may happen which may subsequently prove a source of trouble to him. (Letter 136)
In the same year, he wrote to the bishops of Africa:
In seeking the things of God . . . preserving the examples of ancient tradition . . . you have strengthened … the vigor of your religion with true reason, for you have acknowledged that judgment is to be referred to us, and have shown that you know what is owed to the Apostolic See, since all of us placed in this position desire to follow the Apostle, from whom the episcopate itself and all the authority of this name have emerged. Following him we know how to condemn evils just as well as how to approve praiseworthy things. Take this as an example, guarding with your sacerdotal office the practices of the fathers you resolve that they must not be trampled upon, because they made their decisions not by human, but by divine judgment, so that they thought that nothing whatever, although it concerned separated and remote provinces, should be concluded, unless it first came to the attention of this See, so that what was a just proclamation might be confirmed by the total authority of this See, and from this source (just as all waters proceed from their natal fountain and through diverse regions of the whole world remain pure liquids of an uncorrupted source), the other churches might assume what [they ought] to teach, whom they ought to wash, those whom the water worthy of clean bodies would shun as though defiled with filth incapable of being cleansed.” (Letter to the Council of Carthage, as quoted in Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy, pp. 146-147. )
Pope St. Boniface, the bishop of Rome from 418 through 422, wrote the following to Rufus, bishop of Thessaly on March 11, 422:
To the Synod [of Corinth] … we have directed such writings that all the brethren may know . . . that there must be no withdrawal from our judgment. For it has never been allowed that that be discussed again which has once been decided by the Apostolic See.” (Epistle 13, cited in Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority, pp. 229-230.)8
In AD 394 St. Augustine writes:
Why! A faggot that is cut from the vine retains its shape. But what use is that shape if it is not living from the root? Come, brother, if you wish to be engrafted in the vine. It is grievous when we see you thus lying cut off. Number the bishops from the See of Peter. And, in that order of fathers, see whom succeeded whom. This is the Rock which the proud gates of hades do not conquer. All who rejoice in peace, only judge truly.” (Psalmus Contra Partem Donati)
St. Augustine points to the chair of St. Peter as one of the things that keeps him in the Catholic Church. He writes in AD 396:
“There are many other things which most justly keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church …no one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion…. For my part I should not believe the gospel except the authority of the Catholic Church moved me. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you — If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel.” (Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 4-5)
That same year (AD 396) he writes:
These miserable wretches, refusing to acknowledge the Rock as Peter and to believe that the Church has received the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, have lost these very keys from their own hands.” (On Christian Combat, 31,33)
In the following year (i.e. AD 397), St. Augustine wrote:
[B]ecause [the bishop of Carthage] saw himself united by letters of communion both to the Roman Church, in which the primacy (principality/supremacy) of an apostolic chair [apostolicae cathedrae principatus] has always flourished, and to all other lands from which Africa itself received the gospel, and was prepared to defend himself before these Churches if his adversaries attempted to cause an alienation of them from him. (Letter 43)
In the year 400, St Augustine wrote:
For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” (Matt. 16:18) The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: — Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Iginus, Anicetus, Pius, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor, Zephirinus, Calixtus, Urbanus, Pontianus, Antherus, Fabianus, Cornelius, Lucius, Stephanus, Xystus, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychianus, Gaius, Marcellinus, Marcellus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found. But, reversing the natural course of things, the Donatists sent to Rome from Africa an ordained bishop, who, putting himself at the head of a few Africans in the great metropolis, gave some notoriety to the name of “mountain men,” or Cutzupits, by which they were known.
Now, even although some traditor had in the course of these centuries, through inadvertence, obtained a place in that order of bishops, reaching from Peter himself to Anastasius, who now occupies that see — this fact would do no harm to the Church and to Christians having no share in the guilt of another; for the Lord, providing against such a case, says, concerning officers in the Church who are wicked: “All whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Matt. 23:3) Thus the stability of the hope of the faithful is secured, inasmuch as being fixed, not in man, but in the Lord, it never can be swept away by the raging of impious schism; whereas they themselves are swept away who read in the Holy Scriptures the names of churches to which the apostles wrote, and in which they have no bishop. For what could more clearly prove their perversity and their folly, than their saying to their clergy, when they read these letters, “Peace be with you,” at the very time that they are themselves disjoined from the peace of those churches to which the letters were originally written? (Letter 53)
In his Answer to Petilian the Donatist (400-401), we find the following exchange between Petilian and St. Augustine:
Petilianus said: “If you wretched men claim for yourselves a seat, as we said before, you assuredly have that one of which the prophet and psalmist David speaks as being the seat of the scornful. For to you it is rightly left, seeing that the holy cannot sit therein.”
Augustine answered: Here again you do not see that this is no kind of argument, but empty abuse. For this is what I said a little while ago, You utter the words of the law, but take no heed against whom you utter them; just as the devil uttered the words of the law, but failed to perceive to whom he uttered them. He wished to thrust down our Head, who was presently to ascend on high; but you wish to reduce to a small fraction the body of that same Head which is dispersed throughout the entire world. Certainly you yourself said a little time before that we know the law, and speak in legal terms, but blush in our deeds. Thus much indeed you say without a proof of anything; but even though you were to prove it of some men, you would not be entitled to assert it of these others. However, if all men throughout all the world were of the character which you most vainly charge them with, what has the chair done to you of the Roman Church, in which Peter sat, and which Anastasius fills today; or the chair of the Church of Jerusalem, in which James once sat, and in which John sits today, with which we are united in catholic unity, and from which you have severed yourselves by your mad fury? Why do you call the apostolic chair a seat of the scornful? If it is on account of the men whom you believe to use the words of the law without performing it, do you find that our Lord Jesus Christ was moved by the Pharisees, of whom He says, “They say, and do not,” to do any despite to the seat in which they sat? Did He not commend the seat of Moses, and maintain the honor of the seat, while He convicted those that sat in it? For He says, “They sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Matt. 23:2-3) If you were to think of these things, you would not, on account of men whom you calumniate, do despite to the apostolic seat, in which you have no share. But what else is conduct like yours but ignorance of what to say, combined with want of power to abstain from evil-speaking? […]
But if you [i.e. Donatatists] are really men like this, how much better and how much more in accordance with truth do we act in not baptizing after you [i.e. in your manner], as neither was it right that those whom I have mentioned should be circumcised after the worst of Pharisees! Furthermore, when such men sit in the seat of Moses, for which the Lord preserved its due honor, why do you blaspheme the apostolic chair on account of men whom, justly or unjustly, you compare with these? (Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Book II, c. 51)
In that same time period (c. 401), St. Augustine writes:
We know, indeed, the great merit of the bishop and martyr Cyprian; but is it in any way greater than that of the apostle and martyr Peter, of whom the said Cyprian speaks as follows in his epistle to Quintus? “For neither did Peter, whom the Lord chose first, and on whom He built His Church, (Matthew 16:18) when Paul afterwards disputed with him about circumcision, claim or assume anything insolently and arrogantly to himself, so as to say that he held the primacy, and should rather be obeyed of those who were late and newly come. Nor did he despise Paul because he had before been a persecutor of the Church, but he admitted the counsel of truth, and readily assented to the legitimate grounds which Paul maintained; giving us thereby a pattern of concord and patience, that we should not pertinaciously love our own opinions, but should rather account as our own any true and rightful suggestions of our brethren and colleagues for the common health and good.” Here is a passage in which Cyprian records what we also learn in holy Scripture, that the Apostle Peter, in whom the primacy of the apostles shines with such exceeding grace, was corrected by the later Apostle Paul, when he adopted a custom in the matter of circumcision at variance with the demands of truth. (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, II.1.2)
At some point between AD 392 and AD 417 he writes:
Peter, who had confessed Him the Son of God, and in that confession had been called the Rock upon which the Church should be built, …. (In Ps. lxix. n. 4.)
St. Augustine writes the following to Pope Sixtus in AD 418:
Wherefore, my venerable lord, and holy brother worthy of being received in the love of Christ, although you render a most excellent service when you thus write on this subject to brethren before whom the adversaries are wont to boast themselves of your being their friend, nevertheless, there remains upon you the yet greater duty of seeing not only that those be punished with wholesome severity who dare to prate more openly their declaration of that error, most dangerously hostile to the Christian name, but also that with pastoral vigilance, on behalf of the weaker and simpler sheep of the Lord, most strenuous precautions be used against those who more covertly, indeed, and timidly, but perseveringly, and in whispers, as it were, teach this error, “creeping into houses,” as the apostle says, and doing with practised impiety all those other things which are mentioned immediately afterwards in that passage. (2 Tim.3:6) Nor ought those to be overlooked who under the restraint of fear hide their sentiments under the most profound silence, yet have not ceased to cherish the same perverse opinions as before. For some of their party might be known to you before that pestilence was denounced by the most explicit condemnation of the apostolic see, whom you perceive to have now become suddenly silent; nor can it be ascertained whether they have been really cured of it. (Letter 191)
Between 419-20, St. Augustine wrote the following:
The new-fangled Pelagian heretics have been most justly condemned by the authority of catholic councils and of the Apostolic See. (On the Soul and its Origin, Bk II, 17)
Between 420 and 421, St. Augustine wrote:
For who does not see in what degree Cœlestius was bound by the interrogations of your holy predecessor and by the answers of Cœlestius, whereby he professed that he consented to the letters of Pope Innocent, and fastened by a most wholesome chain, so as not to dare any further to maintain that the original sin of infants is not put away in baptism? Because these are the words of the venerable Bishop Innocent concerning this matter to the Carthaginian Council: “For once,” he said, “he bore free will; but, using his advantage inconsiderately, and falling into the depths of apostasy, he was overwhelmed, and found no way whereby he could rise from thence; and, deceived for ever by his liberty, he would have lain under the oppression of this ruin, if the advent of Christ had not subsequently for his grace delivered him, and, by the purification of a new regeneration, purged all past sin by the washing of His baptism.” What could be more clear or more manifest than that judgment of the Apostolical See? (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk II)
At some point prior to AD 422, St. Augustine writes the following:
For the whole body of the saints, therefore, inseparably belonging to the body of Christ, and for their safe pilotage through the present tempestuous life, did Peter, the first of the apostles, receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven for the binding and loosing of sins.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 124)
In a letter to Pope Caelestine, St. Augustine writes the following in AD 423:
First of all I congratulate you that our Lord God has, as we have heard, established you in the illustrious chair which you occupy without any division among His people. (Letter 209)
In AD 426, St. Augustine wrote:
Now Pelagius was either afraid or ashamed to avow this to be his own opinion before you; although his disciple experienced neither a qualm nor a blush in openly professing it to be his, without any obscure subterfuges, in presence of the Apostolic See. … The venerable Pope Zosimus, keeping in view this deprecatory preamble, dealt with the man, puffed up as he was with the blasts of false doctrine, so as that he should condemn all the objectionable points which had been alleged against him by the deacon Paulinus, and that he should yield his assent to the rescript of the Apostolic See which had been issued by his predecessor of sacred memory. The accused man, however, refused to condemn the objections raised by the deacon, yet he did not dare to hold out against the letter of the blessed Pope Innocent; indeed, he went so far as to “promise that he would condemn all the points which the Apostolic See condemned.” … This being the case, you of course feel that episcopal councils, and the Apostolic See, and the whole Roman Church, and the Roman Empire itself, which by God’s gracious favour has become Christian, has been most righteously moved against the authors of this wicked error, until they repent and escape from the snares of the devil…. But I would have you carefully observe the way in which Pelagius endeavoured by deception to overreach even the judgment of the bishop of the Apostolic See on this very question of the baptism of infants. He sent a letter to Rome to Pope Innocent of blessed memory; and when it found him not in the flesh, it was handed to the holy Pope Zosimus, and by him directed to us. (On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin, Bk II, 19)
To fellow bishop Auxilius, St. Augustine writes in an undated letter:
I desire with the Lord’s help to use the necessary measures in our Council, and, if it be necessary, to write to the Apostolic See; that, by a unanimous authoritative decision of all, we may have the course which ought to be followed in these cases determined and established. (Letter 250)
In an undated sermon, St. Augustine writes:
For already have two councils on this question [i.e. Pelagianism] been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The cause is finished. [causa finita est]; would that the error may sometime be brought to an end as well! [Utinam aliquando finiatur error] (Sermon 81 on the New Testament)
On August 11, 431, Pope Celestine wrote to St. Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, delegating him with authority to preside over the Council of Ephesus, saying:
… If he, Nestorius, persist, an open sentence must be passed on him, for a wound, when it affects the whole body, must be cut away at once. … And so, appropriating to yourself the authority of our See, and using our position, you will execute our sentence with exact severity, that either he shall within ten days, counted from the day of your notice, condemn in writing this wicked assertion of his, and shall give assurance that he will hold, concerning the birth of Christ our God, the faith which the Romans, and the church of your holiness, and the universal religion holds; or if he will not do this (your holiness having at once provided for that church) he will know that he is in every way removed from our body. (Pope Celestine, Epistle 11, cited in Giles, pp. 240-41)
At the Council of Ephesus (431) in which Nestorius was condemned, the papal legates said the following:
Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince (ἔξαρχος) and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation (θεμέλιος) of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Cœlestine, according to due 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 humane grandfathers and fathers of holy memory down to the present time, etc.
Arcadius the most reverend bishop and legate of the Apostolic See said: Nestorius has brought us great sorrow….And since of his own accord he has made himself an alien and an exile from us, we following the sanctions handed down from the beginning by the holy Apostles, and by the Catholic Church (for they taught what they had received from our Lord Jesus Christ), also following the types (τύποις) of Cœlestine, most holy pope of the Apostolic See, who has condescended to send us as his executors of this business, and also following the decrees of the holy Synod [we give this as our conclusion]: Let Nestorius know that he is deprived of all episcopal dignity, and is an alien from the whole Church and from the communion of all its priests.
Projectus, bishop and legate of the Roman Church said: Most clearly from the reading, etc….Moreover I also, by my authority as legate of the holy Apostolic See, define, being with my brethren an executor (ἐκβιβαστὴς) of the aforesaid sentence, that the beforenamed Nestorius is an enemy of the truth, a corrupter of the faith, and as guilty of the things of which he was accused, has been removed from the grade of Episcopal honour, and moreover from the communion of all orthodox priests. (Council of Ephesus, AD 431)
St. Vincent of Lerins, three years later in AD 434, wrote the following:
For it has always been the case in the Church, that the more a man is under the influence of religion, so much the more prompt is he to oppose innovations. Examples there are without number: but to be brief, we will take one, and that, in preference to others, from the Apostolic See, so that it may be clearer than day to every one with how great energy, with how great zeal, with how great earnestness, the blessed successors of the blessed apostles have constantly defended the integrity of the religion which they have once received.
Once on a time then, Agripinnus, bishop of Carthage, of venerable memory, held the doctrine — and he was the first who held it — that Baptism ought to be repeated, contrary to the divine canon, contrary to the rule of the universal Church, contrary to the customs and institutions of our ancestors. This innovation drew after it such an amount of evil, that it not only gave an example of sacrilege to heretics of all sorts, but proved an occasion of error to certain Catholics even.
When then all men protested against the novelty, and the priesthood everywhere, each as his zeal prompted him, opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith. In fine, in an epistle sent at the time to Africa, he laid down this rule: “Let there be no innovation — nothing but what has been handed down.” For that holy and prudent man well knew that true piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us. (Commonitorium, 6)
The Church history Sozomen (c. 370 – d. after 439), of Palestine, wrote the following concerning the activities of St. Athanasius in relation to Pope Juilus (pope from AD 337-52):
Athanasius, on leaving Alexandria, had fled to Rome. Paul, bishop of Constantinople, Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra, and Asclepas, bishop of Gaza, repaired thither at the same time. Asclepas, who was opposed to the Arians and had therefore been deposed, after having been accused by some of the heterodox of having thrown down an altar; Quintianus had been appointed in his stead over the Church of Gaza. Lucius also, bishop of Adrianople, who had been deposed from the church under his care on another charge, was dwelling at this period in Rome. The Roman bishop, on learning the accusation against each individual, and on finding that they held the same sentiments about the Nicæan dogmas, admitted them to communion as of like orthodoxy; and as the care [oversight – kedemonia] for all was fitting to the dignity of his see, he restored them all to their own churches. He wrote to the bishops of the East, and rebuked them for having judged these bishops unjustly, and for harassing the Churches by abandoning the Nicæan doctrines. He summoned a few among them to appear before him on an appointed day, in order to account to him for the sentence they had passed, and threatened to bear with them no longer, unless they would cease to make innovations. This was the tenor of his letters. Athanasius and Paul were reinstated in their respective sees, and forwarded the letter of Julius to the bishops of the East. … The bishops of Egypt, having sent a declaration in writing that these allegations were false, and Julius having been apprised that Athanasius was far from being in safety in Egypt, sent for him to his own city. He replied at the same time to the letter of the bishops who were convened at Antioch, for just then he happened to have received their epistle, and accused them of having clandestinely introduced innovations contrary to the dogmas of the Nicene council, and of having violated the laws of the Church, by neglecting to invite him to join their Synod; for he alleged that there is a sacerdotal canon which declares that whatever is enacted contrary to the judgment of the bishop of Rome is null.” (Ecclesiastical History, Bk III)
Elsewhere the next book he wrote:
This event was, no doubt, ordained by God, that the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops; for such an arrangement is a sign of discord, and is foreign to ecclesiastical law. (Ecclesiastical History, Bk IV,15)
Pope St. Leo the Great, who was pope from 440 through 461, wrote the following in the year AD 443:
Leo, bishop of the city of Rome, to all the bishops appointed in Campania, Picenum, Etruria, and all the provinces, greeting in the Lord. … All such persons [men who have married a widow, or a divorced woman], therefore, who have been admitted [to the priesthood] we order to be put out of their offices in the church and from the title of priest by the authority of the Apostolic See: for they will have no claim to that for which they were not eligible, on account of the obstacle in question: and we specially claim for ourselves the duty of settling this, that if any of these irregularities have been committed, they may be corrected and may not be allowed to occur again, and that no excuse may arise from ignorance: although it has never been allowed a priest to be ignorant of what has been laid down by the rules of the canons. (Letter 4)
Pope St. Leo the Great, around the year AD 446, wrote the following:
The connection of the whole body makes all alike healthy, all alike beautiful: and this connection requires the unanimity indeed of the whole body, but it especially demands harmony among the priests. And though they have a common dignity, yet they have not uniform rank; inasmuch as even among the blessed Apostles, notwithstanding the similarity of their honourable estate, there was a certain distinction of power, and while the election of them all was equal, yet it was given to one to take the lead of the rest. From which model has arisen a distinction between bishops also, and by an important ordinance it has been provided that every one should not claim everything for himself: but that there should be in each province one whose opinion should have the priority among the brethren: and again that certain whose appointment is in the greater cities should undertake a fuller responsibility, through whom the care of the universal Church should converge towards Peter’s one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its head. Let not him then who knows he has been set over certain others take it ill that some one has been set over him, but let him himself render the obedience which he demands of them. (Letter 14 of Pope Leo I to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessalonica).
Pope St. Leo, to the bishop of Aquileia:
Let them [i.e. the Pelagians] by their public confession condemn the authors of this presumptuous error and renounce all that the universal Church has repudiated in their doctrine: and let them announce by full and open statements, signed by their own hand, that they embrace and entirely approve of all the synodal decrees which the authority of the Apostolic See has ratified to the rooting out of this heresy. (Letter 1)
Pope St. Leo, writing in July of 445:
To the beloved brothers, the whole body of bishops of the province of Vienne, Leo, bishop of Rome. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of mankind, instituted the observance of the Divine religion which He wished by the grace of God to shed its brightness upon all nations and all peoples …. But the Lord desired that the sacrament of this gift should pertain to all the Apostles in such a way that it might be found principally in the most blessed Peter, the highest of all the Apostles. And He wanted His gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter himself, as if from the head, in such a way that anyone who had dared to separate himself from the solidarity of Peter would realize that he was himself no longer a sharer in the divine mystery…. The Apostolic See — out of reverence for it, I mean, — has on countless occasions been reported to in consultation by bishops even of your province. And through the appeal of various cases to this see, decisions already made have been either revoked or confirmed, as dictated by long-standing custom. (Letter 10)
Pope St. Leo wrote to the Council of Chalcedon in 451:
I had indeed prayed, dearly beloved, on behalf of my dear colleagues that all the Lord’s priests would persist in united devotion to the Catholic Faith, and that no one would be misled by favour or fear of secular powers into departure from the way of Truth; but because many things often occur to produce penitence and God’s mercy transcends the faults of delinquents, and vengeance is postponed in order that reformation may have place, we must make much of our most merciful prince’s piously intentioned Council, in which he has desired your holy brotherhood to assemble for the purpose of destroying the snares of the devil and restoring the peace of the Church, so far respecting the rights and dignity of the most blessed Apostle Peter as to invite us too by letter to vouchsafe our presence at your venerable Synod. That indeed is not permitted either by the needs of the times or by any precedent. Yet in these brethren, that is Paschasinus and Lucentius, bishops, Boniface and Basil, presbyters, who have been deputed by the Apostolic See, let your brotherhood reckon that I am presiding at the Synod; for my presence is not withdrawn from you, who am now represented by my vicars, and have this long time been really with you in the proclaiming of the Catholic Faith: so that you who cannot help knowing what we believe in accordance with ancient tradition, cannot doubt what we desire. (Letter 93)
Theodoret, (c. 393 – 457) a native of Antioch, and bishop of Cyrus: wrote the following letter to Pope Leo about AD 449:
To Leo, bishop of Rome. If Paul, the herald of the Truth, the trumpet of the Holy Ghost, had recourse to the great Peter, in order to obtain a decision from him for those at Antioch who were disputing about living by the Law, much more do we small and humble folk run to the Apostolic See to get healing from you for the sores of the churches. For it is fitting that you should in all things have the pre-eminence, seeing that your See possesses many peculiar privileges. For other cities get a name for size or beauty or population, and some that are devoid of these advantages are compensated by certain spiritual gifts: but your city has the fullest abundance of good things from the Giver of all good. For she is of all cities the greatest and most famous, the mistress of the world and teeming with population. And besides this she has created an empire which is still predominant and has imposed her own name upon her subjects. But her chief decoration is her Faith, to which the Divine Apostle is a sure witness when he exclaims “your faith is proclaimed in all the world;” (Rom 1:8) and if immediately after receiving the seeds of the saving Gospel she bore such a weight of wondrous fruit, what words are sufficient to express the piety which is now found in her? She has, too, the tombs of our common fathers and teachers of the Truth, Peter and Paul , to illumine the souls of the faithful. And this blessed and divine pair arose indeed in the East, and shed its rays in all directions, but voluntarily underwent the sunset of life in the West, from whence now it illumines the whole world. These have rendered your See so glorious: this is the chief of all your goods. And their See is still blest by the light of their God’s presence, seeing that therein He has placed your Holiness to shed abroad the rays of the one true Faith. (Letter 52)
Theodoret, in a letter to the presbyter Renatus, writes:
This most holy See [Rome] has preserved the supremacy over all Churches on the earth, for one especial reason among many others; to wit, that it has remained intact from the defilement of heresy. No one has ever sat on that Chair, who has taught heretical doctrine; rather that See has ever preserved unstained the Apostolic grace. (Letter 116)
Bishops Ceretius, Salonius and Veranus, in a letter to Pope St. Leo, concerning his “Tome,” which he wrote in 449:
Moreover we, who specially belong to you, are filled with a great and unspeakable delight, because this special statement of your teaching is so highly regarded wherever the Churches meet together, that the unanimous opinion is expressed that the primacy of the Apostolic See is rightfully there assigned, from whence the oracles of the Apostolic Spirit still receive their interpretations. (Letter 68)
St. Peter Chrysologus (c. 400 – 450), a Greek and bishop of Ravenna, in a letter to Eutyches [an archimandrite of a monastery outside the walls of Constantinople, where he ruled over three hundred monks] about AD 449, wrote the following:
We exhort you in every respect, humble brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the Most Blessed Pope of the City of Rome; for Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the truth of faith to those who seek it. For we, by reason of our pursuit of peace and faith, cannot try cases on the faith without the consent of the Bishop of the City of Rome” (Letter to Eutyches).
The bishops of the Council of Chalcedon wrote the following to Pope St. Leo in AD 451:
We have ratified also the canon of the 150 holy Fathers who met at Constantinople in the time of the great Theodosius of holy memory [i.e. AD 381], which ordains that after your most holy and Apostolic See, the See of Constantinople shall take precedence, being placed second: for we are persuaded that with your usual care for others you have often extended that Apostolic prestige which belongs to you, to the church in Constantinople also, by virtue of your great disinterestedness in sharing all your own good things with your spiritual kinsfolk. Accordingly vouchsafe most holy and blessed father to accept as your own wish, and as conducing to good government the things which we have resolved on for the removal of all confusion and the confirmation of church order. For your holiness’ delegates, the most pious bishops Paschasinus and Lucentius, and with them the right Godly presbyter Boniface, attempted vehemently to resist these decisions, from a strong desire that this good work also should start from your foresight, in order that the establishment of good order as well as of the Faith should be put to your account. (Letter 98)9
Pope St. Hormisdas, who was bishop of Rome from AD 514 through 523, wrote the following:
Our first safety is to guard the rule of the right faith and to deviate in no wise from the ordinances of the Fathers; because we cannot pass over the statement of our Lord Jesus Christ who said: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” . . . [Matt 16:18] These [words] which were spoken, are proved by the effects of the deeds, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved without stain. Desiring not to be separated from this hope and faith and following the ordinances of the Fathers, we anathematize all heresies, especially the heretic Nestorius, who at one time was bishop of the city of Constantinople …. Similarly anathematizing both Eutyches and Dioscorus of Alexandria …. We condemn, too, and anathematize Acacius, formerly bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Apostolic See …. No less do we condemn Peter of Antioch with his followers …. Moreover, we accept and approve all the letters of the blessed Leo the Pope, which he wrote regarding the Christian religion, just as we said before, following the Apostolic See in all things, and extolling all its ordinances. And therefore, I hope that I may merit to be in the one communion with you, which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which there is the whole and the true and the perfect solidity of the Christian religion, promising that in the future the names of those separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, those not agreeing with the Apostolic See, shall not be read during the sacred mysteries. (Cited from Denzinger 171-2)
Pelagius I, the bishop of Rome from 556 to 561, wrote the following:
… the Church was founded by Christ our Lord upon the chief of the Apostles, so that the gates of hell might not be able to prevail against it…. If you had read this, where did you believe the Church to be outside of him [the Pope] in whom alone are clearly all the apostolic sees? To whom in like measure as to him, who had received the keys, has the power of binding and of loosing been granted? (Denzinger, 230.)
Pope St. Gregory the Great, who was pope from 540 to 604, wrote the following to John, the bishop of Syracuse:
For as to what they say about the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See, as both the most pious lord the emperor and our brother the bishop of that city continually acknowledge? Yet, if this or any other Church has anything that is good, I am prepared in what is good to imitate even my inferiors, while prohibiting them from things unlawful. For he is foolish who thinks himself first in such a way as to scorn to learn whatever good things he may see. (Registrum Epistolarum Bk IX, Letter 12)
In another letter to Bishop John, Pope St. Gregory writes:
And it is exceedingly doubtful whether he says such things to us sincerely, or in fact because he is being attacked by his fellow bishops: for, as to his saying that he is subject to the Apostolic See, if any fault is found in bishops, I know not what bishop is not subject to it. But when no fault requires it to be otherwise, all according to the principle of humility are equal. (Registrum Epistolarum Bk IX, Letter 59)
In a letter to Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria, Pope St. Gregory writes:
Gregory to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria.
Your most sweet Holiness 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, not only in the dignity of such as preside, but even in the number of such as stand. But I gladly accepted all that has been said, in that he has spoken to me about Peter’s chair who occupies Peter’s chair. And, though special honour to myself in no wise delights me, yet I greatly rejoiced because you, most holy ones, have given to yourselves what you have bestowed upon me. For 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 Petrus 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 (xxii. 32). And once more, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me? Feed my sheep (John 21:17). 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 [i.e. Alexandria] to which he sent his disciple as evangelist. He himself established the See [i.e. Antioch] 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. (Letter to Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria)
Metropolitan Sergius from Constantia in a letter to Pope Theodor, read in the second session of the Lateran Synod in AD 649:
O holy Head, Christ our God hath destined thy Apostolic See to be an immovable foundation, and a pillar of the faith. For thou art, as the divine Word truly saith, Peter, and on thee as a foundation-stone have the pillars of the Church been fixed.
The testimony of the tradition we find in the Fathers and other early writers indicates a deepening awareness of the significance and authority of St. Peter’s chair, especially in grounding and preserving the fidelity and unity of the Church. But some conception of the authority of this chair seems to have been present even from the second century. And the clearest and most developed conception of this authority seems to have been in the particular Church of Rome, and especially in her bishops. At the same time, there is no comparable set of patristic quotations in which it is claimed that the chair of St. Peter did not hold such authority. So the inquirer is then faced with a dilemma that in a certain respect parallels that each of us faces regarding Christ’s own claims concerning Himself.10 Either the Church at Rome almost immediately fell into serious error regarding her own eccesial authority and role in relation to the universal Church, and though various bishops at times disagreed with her decisions (e.g. St. Cyprian), no one ‘corrected’ her claim concerning her own authority until the time of Photius in the ninth century, or during all those centuries (and to the present) she was truly what she always claimed to be. The former option leaves us with the paradox that the Apostolic seat widely believed to be the touchstone of orthodoxy in every respect for hundreds of years, was terribly wrong about its own identity, and therefore unsuited to be anyone’s touchstone of orthodoxy. In this way, we are left either with some form of ecclesial deism, or the unavoidable conclusion that the Catholic Church, consisting of all those particular Churches throughout the world in full communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter in the Apostolic See, is the Church Christ founded, and over which, by His promise, the gates of hell shall not prevail.
St. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Christ, in response, made these same words apply to St. Peter, by making St. Peter the principium unitatis of the Church. If we were to turn away from St. Peter, to whom should we go? What other visible ecclesial authority has been given St. Peter’s authority and charism? Likewise, if we wish to see all Christians united in full visible unity, we must do so by entering into communion with the one who by Christ’s authorization is the rightful occupant of the chair of St. Peter.
St. Peter and all holy Apostles, pray for us, that we may be one in truth, in sacraments, and in loving obedience to our rightful shepherds. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- There is another version of this text, which appears to have been written a few years later, when St. Cyprian was disputing with Pope St. Stephen regarding the re-baptism of heretics. That version can be read here. Dom John Chapman, in the second chapter of his book titled Studies on the Early Papacy, provides good reasons to believe that both versions were written by St. Cyprian. See here. [↩]
- This same question arose again in the following century with respect to the Donatist schism. [↩]
- In his 69th Epistle, St.Cyprian writes, “But if he cannot give the Holy Spirit, because he that is appointed without [i.e. outside the Church] is not endowed with the Holy Spirit, he cannot baptize those who come; since both baptism is one and the Holy Spirit is one, and the Church founded by Christ the Lord upon Peter, by a source and principle of unity, is one also. Hence it results, that since with them all things are futile and false, nothing of that which they have done ought to be approved by us.” [↩]
- And you [Pope Julius], most dearly loved brother, though absent from us in body, were present in mind concordant, and will . . . For this will be seen to be best, and by far the most befitting thing, if to the head, that is to the see of the Apostle Peter, the priests of the Lord report from every one of the provinces” (Fragment 2 ex opere Historico [ex Epistle Sardic. Concil. Ad Julium [before 367 AD] [↩]
- That definition of schism is very similar to what we see today in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; see CCC 2089. [↩]
- Cf. Holy See. [↩]
- About that same time, in AD 393, St. Jerome wrote:
The Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.” (Against Jovianus, Bk I)
- On that same day, Pope St. Boniface wrote the following letter to the bishops of Thessaly:
The universal ordering of the Church at its birth took its origin from the office of blessed Peter, in which is found both directing power and its supreme authority. From him as from a source, at the time when our religion was in the stage of growth, all churches received their common order. This much is shown by the injunctions of the council of Nicea, since it did not venture to make a decree in his regard, recognizing that nothing could be added to his dignity: in fact it knew that all had been assigned to him by the word of the Lord. So it is clear that this church is to all churches throughout the world as the head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to its fellowship.” (Epistle 14, to the bishops of Thessaly, cited in Giles, p. 230.)
- Pope St. Leo wrote later, “But the bishops’ assents, which are opposed to the regulations of the holy canons composed at Nicæa in conjunction with your faithful Grace, we do not recognize, and by the blessed Apostle Peter’s authority we absolutely dis-annul in comprehensive terms.” (Letter 105) [↩]
- See C.S. Lewis’ trilemma regarding Christ in his book Mere Christianity. [↩]