Two Chairs of Peter: Reform, Orthodoxy and the Papacy


Update: At the request of Ancient Faith Radio, this post has been recorded for your listening edification.

In the anticipation preceding yesterday’s election of the new Roman pontiff, especially what with the American media’s constant chatter about reform for the Roman Catholic Church, I could not help but be reminded of a somewhat less-anticipated primatial election that is still fresh in the hearts of the faithful of my own church, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. In December, the Holy Synod of Antioch somewhat surprisingly elected Metropolitan John Yazigi of Europe, a Syrian-Lebanese scholar and pastor who for only a few years served as the Antiochian Orthodox Metropolitan of Europe.

Patriarch John X of Antioch is very much regarded as someone with a fresh and flexible approach to church life, though nevertheless uncompromising in the ways that an Orthodox hierarch should be. In this at least, it may be said that the election of the new bishop of Rome, the Argentinian Jesuit Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, marks a similar accession for his own church.

My purpose here, though, is not to engage in a thoroughgoing comparison of these two men in terms of their personal biographies and qualities (though that might be quite interesting) but rather to offer a few brief reflections in terms of the kinds of reform each of these two men might be capable of offering by virtue of their office as it is understood in the dogma of the respective churches.

And it’s also worth noting here that I am not merely comparing two primates but rather two primates who, according to Christian tradition, sit upon the Chair of Peter. Even though there is no evidence (Update: I really should have written “scant and not universally established evidence”) that Peter was ever bishop in Rome, it is the tradition of both the Orthodox and Latin churches that Peter did indeed exercise episcopal authority in Antioch, long before he ever came to Rome. There is even a feast day on the Roman calendar whose ancient name was The Chair of Peter in Antioch but is now the reduced Chair of Peter, celebrated on February 22 and referenced by Pope Benedict XVI in an audience he gave on that day in 2006. It is also worth noting that even many early Roman popes regarded the Church has having not one or two but three Petrine sees, not just Rome and Antioch but also Alexandria, by virtue of its establishment by St. Mark, the disciple of St. Peter. This kind of language is found in this passage from Pope St. Gregory the Great (r. 590-604), who did not look at Antioch and Alexandria as former sees of Peter but current ones:

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… 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… He himself stablished the See in which, though he was to leave it, he sat for seven years. Since then it is the See of one, and one See, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside, whatever good I hear of you, this I impute to myself.

(“To Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria,” Book VII, Epistle XL, emphasis added)

That said, this post is also not about criticizing the Roman Catholic understanding of papal authority. Suffice it to say for our purposes here that even though Christian tradition associates three major sees with St. Peter, the Orthodox have traditionally followed St. Cyprian of Carthage (third century) in insisting that all true bishops sit upon the chair of Peter and that none has an exclusive right to his authority. And that brings us to my point here, which is limited but I think worthy of at least a moment’s notice.

Even though the media nearly invariably show a marked ignorance when it comes to religious matters, even things that are not terribly abstruse such as the mundane tasks of basic governance, they do seem to have a basic (if rudimentary) sense of what is actually possible for the Pope of Rome. They know that, even if he be a humble and unassuming man as it seems now subsists in the new pontiff, he is still in fact the monarch not only of the Vatican City State but of the whole Roman Catholic Church. With the twin dogmatic powers of papal supremacy and papal infallibility, he at least theoretically has the possibility for radical changes in both the doctrine and practice of the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, I should say that I think it highly unlikely that the new Pope Francis will undertake anything truly radical, certainly not the kind of thing that the media and probably many American Catholics would like, mostly things pertaining to the one sacred history of American secularism, the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But it is at least theoretically possible, which is what makes such expectations available for contemplation.

Of course, some of this sensibility does come from a misunderstanding especially of papal infallibility. Roman Catholic teaching is not that the pope can make up new dogmas that were never before true or negate things long-believed by their church. (Mind you, the Orthodox would say that in certain cases he has done exactly that.) He would be prevented by God from doing so. That is where the infallibility comes from, the action of God. That said, stating that that kind of doctrinal authority even exists is the basis on which people get their hopes up for changes to doctrine.

The contrast I wish to draw here is with the Orthodox understanding of primacy, even the primacy of an exalted patriarch who is the successor of Peter. There is no power of infallibility in the office of any Orthodox bishop, even patriarchs, not even the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the most senior of all bishops in Orthodoxy. As such, even when he is solemnly making declarations concerning faith and morality by virtue of his office, the Orthodox do not believe that God will necessarily prevent him from erring. We have, after all, seen patriarchs who are heretics, including a pope of Rome.

Thus, on the one hand, we have the dogma of the Latins who say that their pope cannot err in such matters under certain conditions, and on the other we have the observation (not a dogma) from the Orthodox that their patriarchs are not necessarily preserved from such errors.

Likewise, concerning papal supremacy, the claim by Rome—and again, this is dogma, not just longstanding custom or tradition, meaning it is required for salvation to be believed—is for universal, ordinary, immediate episcopal jurisdiction by Rome’s bishop in every church throughout the world. That theoretically means that the pope could make big, big changes for 1.2 billion people. He may well be stymied by the inertia that comes of ancient religious institutions, but at least theoretically, tomorrow he could not only fire all Roman Catholic bishops and priests and replace them, but he could rewrite the mass, change the calendar of saints, decree married men to be eligible for priestly ordination and make them all worship in Argentinian Spanish. (A bit of trivia: Argentina is the only major Spanish-speaking country in the world that largely ignores the prescriptions of the Real Academia Española, having its own institution for such things.)

Now, would it be incredibly hard to make all those changes? Of course. Would he even dream of it? Probably not. But because he could, then people at least expect it may be possible and even want some of those things to happen. And it’s quite clear that it is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that he has that authority.

By contrast, no Orthodox bishop claims authority like that. Any Orthodox patriarch could be deposed by his synod. I do not see how it would be possible to depose a pope these days (though the last resignation by a pope was forced by a council). Because of the rather different nature of the authority of Orthodox bishops, sweeping changes of nearly any kind are almost impossible. Doctrinal statements and even administrative rulings are expected to be done in concert with the rest of the patriarch’s synod, and every Orthodox synod is expected to be in union with the rest of the Orthodox Church on such things.

This does not make for an absolute uniformity in all things, but rather for a consistent (and virtually immoveable) tradition to which all bishops are ultimately expected to be faithful. They are in no sense the architects of that tradition, and because Orthodox Christians do not also possess the Roman Catholic belief in development of doctrine, there really is no sense in which new things can pop up which in former centuries would have been rejected by the faithful—a prime example being papal infallibility itself, which was formerly rejected by Roman Catholics, even just shortly before its declaration as dogma at the First Vatican Council in 1868-1870.

The upshot of all this is that Roman Catholics can expect quite a bit more from their popes than Orthodox Christians can from their patriarchs, even patriarchs whose glory it is to sit in one of the ancient Petrine sees.

Although I reject a number of the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, I nevertheless wish God’s blessings on the new Pope Francis and all his flock, and my prayer for him (and I mean this seriously without any sense of triumphalism) is that he will be a servant of Christian tradition and continue to ask, as his predecessor did, how his own Chair of Peter may be understood in terms of the first millennium of Christianity.


  1. quote: “He may well be stymied by the inertia that comes of ancient religious institutions, but at least theoretically, tomorrow he could not only fire all Roman Catholic bishops and priests and replace them, but he could rewrite the mass, change the calendar of saints, decree married men to be eligible for priestly ordination and make them all worship in Argentinian Spanish.”

    I don’t believe these things constitute “ex cathedra” teaching, and would not, therefore, fit the definition for infallibility as outlined by Vatican Council I.

    According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “infallibility is not attributed to every doctrinal act of the pope, but only to his ex cathedra teaching; and the conditions required for ex cathedra teaching are mentioned in the Vatican decree:

    The pontiff must teach in his public and official capacity as pastor and doctor of all Christians, not merely in his private capacity as a theologian, preacher or allocutionist, nor in his capacity as a temporal prince or as a mere ordinary of the Diocese of Rome. It must be clear that he speaks as spiritual head of the Church universal.

    Then it is only when, in this capacity, he teaches some doctrine of faith or morals that he is infallible (see below, IV).

    Further it must be sufficiently evident that he intends to teach with all the fullness and finality of his supreme Apostolic authority, in other words that he wishes to determine some point of doctrine in an absolutely final and irrevocable way, or to define it in the technical sense (see DEFINITION). These are well-recognized formulas by means of which the defining intention may be manifested.

    Finally for an ex cathedra decision it must be clear that the pope intends to bind the whole Church. To demand internal assent from all the faithful to his teaching under pain of incurring spiritual shipwreck (naufragium fidei) according to the expression used by Pius IX in defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Theoretically, this intention might be made sufficiently clear in a papal decision which is addressed only to a particular Church; but in present day conditions, when it is so easy to communicate with the most distant parts of the earth and to secure a literally universal promulgation of papal acts, the presumption is that unless the pope formally addresses the whole Church in the recognized official way, he does not intend his doctrinal teaching to be held by all the faithful as ex cathedra and infallible.” (

    So, firing all the priests and bishops, rewriting the Mass, changing the calendar of the saints, and demanding the Mass be said in Argentinian Spanish, are not, in and of themselves, doctrinal teachings under the Roman definition of “doctrine” (catechesis). Nor do they have anything to do with faith and/or morals. Now, a married clergy is a different story and somewhat in a gray area. The new Pope could declare, on the basis of marriage being between one man and one woman as a covenant created by God as an eternal principle (or however he chooses to define it…and in Latin, no less), that this is a moral teaching and binding on the whole of the Church as well as Christians everywhere, thus saith the Lord, in an ex cathedra infallible Papal Bull and simultaneously decide for a married priesthood as a teaching example. As in the case of the Papal Bulls outlining the teaching on the Immaculate Conception, the arguments in favor were not infallible; only the couple of sentences declaring the actual doctrine are; although, technically, these Bulls were written sixteen years before the Vatican Council declared for papal infallibility in 1870, so, technically, one asks, “is this really the Pope teaching infallibly???”.

    But in any case, “certain very clear indicators must be present that the Pope is teaching ex cathedra in a binding manner to all the Church, and the believer has a right to be certain that the teaching in question is definitive (since only definitive teaching is infallible).” It’s not as easy or as cut-and-dried as everyone seems to think. In fact, Pius’s declaration on the Immaculate Conception was putting his stamp of approval on a teaching attached to a feast that had already been around since Norman Crusaders, learning of the Feast of the Conception of the Most Pure Theotokos by St Anne, brought the idea back from Syria in the 7thC and the French, in particular, mistranslated the teaching and had been celebrating the Theotokos’ Immaculate Conception since the 15thC.

    But I digress…

    In the 143 years since Vatican Council I, the Pope has only ONCE taught ex cathedra on a matter of faith and morals. That was in 1950 when Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.

    Just sayin’.

    1. The beginning of the paragraph you quoted from is the context for the portion you quoted. That is, that paragraph is about papal supremacy, not papal infallibility:

      Likewise, concerning papal supremacy, the claim by Rome—and again, this is dogma, not just longstanding custom or tradition, meaning it is required for salvation to be believed—is for universal, ordinary, immediate episcopal jurisdiction by Rome’s bishop in every church throughout the world. That theoretically means that the pope could make big, big changes for 1.2 billion people.

      Papal supremacy and papal infallibility are not the same thing.

  2. Also, one of them is bearded, the other isn’t. 🙂

    In all seriousness, thanks for the article. The contrast is quite helpful to an inquirer into apostolic Christianity.

  3. God bless him and all our Roman Catholic brothers. All that power and centralization bring some serious disadvantages, as evil loves to play spiritual jiu-jitsu.

      1. There is significant evidence for the long-term presence of Peter in Rome. This is traditionally stated as three sojourns between the years 40-65AD (give or take). In the Bible alone you have a reference to Peter in Corinth (fairly close to Rome) in the 40s and a very likely reference to Peter in the book of Romans. Outside the Scriptures, you have multiple independent textual traditions with differences only in some dates and names, all of which are fairly easily explainable. Edmundson’s book on Rome is freely available and represents fairly recent scholarship on this topic from an Anglican perspective:

      2. Fr. Andrew, when you say that Saint Peter “did indeed exercise episcopal authority in Antioch,” are you saying that he actually served as a “bishop,” or just that he exercised some or all of the authority that would be given to the episcopate? I ask that with Father Thomas Hopko’s arguments in mind, that an apostle is by definition not a bishop. Nevertheless, this all leaves me at a loss when I see some icons of Saint Barnabas…


        So is the teaching at all clear on whether Saint Peter was ever explicitly a bishop? Or that any apostle (let’s say, any of the Twelve) was explicitly a bishop?

        1. I think there is a bit of ambiguity at the time (which is why I chose more ambiguous wording). I can’t say I entirely buy the argument that apostles and bishops are wholly different things, though.

          As for Barnabas, well, despite the “apostle” title, he is not one of the Twelve, so even for the purposes of that argument, his status is a non-issue.

  4. Fr. Damick,
    You said:
    “Even though there is no evidence that Peter was ever bishop in Rome…”

    St. Jerome said:
    “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 ones who are scattered, the believers from the 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.”
    (On Illustrious Men, from The Fathers of the Church series, volume 100, page 5)

    Nuff said.

      1. What do you consider to be evidence? Also, according to your definition of ‘evidence’, do you think there is any evidence that Peter was a bishop of Antioch or Mark as bishop of Alexandria? If not, then why make explicit mention about the lack of evidence for Rome and not the other cities?

        1. Because those other cities aren’t claiming universal supremacy for their sees. As with all things, the burden of proof is on the one asserting the positive. If one is going to say that Peter was the first Pope of Rome and also that only the Roman popes are his successors, then it is rather important to establish that he actually was indeed the Pope of Rome. I do think it’s important that St. Jerome thought so, but there certainly does not seem to be any sort of preponderance of patristic opinion on that score.

          As for Peter’s seat in Antioch, well, that is not really a matter of contention. As Pope Benedict XVI mentioned, that was even on the Roman calendar.

          The point is not to establish independent facts but to ask whether these various traditions have any real continuity with the early Church and whether the claims made based on them are therefore legitimate.

      2. In law school, I was taught that testimony is evidence. St. Jerome’s testimony, however, would not be that of a direct witness, it would be ‘hearsay’. Hearsay testimony is problematic in many, but not all situations. Fr. Andrew’s questioning the weight of St. Jerome’s testimony is arguably appropriate.
        Of course we are not considering what is admissible in a court of law, this question is in the court of public opinion where polite and considered rules are thrown to the wind.

  5. Fr. Damick
    I’m afraid the entire content of your comment is irrelevant to the question of what evidence (according to your definition) exists that Peter was ever a bishop of Antioch and that Mark was similarly a bishop of Alexandria. In other words, it is a non sequitur, or red herring. So for the sake of consistency could you please identify the evidence (according to your definition) which establishes that Peter was a bishop of Antioch and Mark was a bishop of Alexandria?

    1. Well, FWIW, if that’s all you’re really interested in, then your own comments are essentially irrelevant to this post! 🙂 My point is really about the firmness of these traditions and what they’re being used for. If you’re not interested in that point, well, I’m honestly not sure why you’ve bothered to come visiting.

  6. Fr.,
    I commented because I was very surprised at your historical claims. I don’t think we can get around to discussing larger issues if we cannot even establish the more basic ones. That’s why I think it’s vitally important to treat the evidence with a respectful consistence. With all due respect, I don’t think you’ve done that.

    1. Thanks for the respect, but we’ll have to disagree. The point is whether a tradition is well-established in the early Church, whether that’s contested and also what it’s being used for. Clearly you would prefer to talk about something else. That’s fine, of course, but doesn’t really contribute to the question raised by the post.

      For me, the even more basic issue is the context of the discussion. Taking it an entirely different direction is your prerogative, of course, but I don’t see much point in entering another person’s site and insisting that he has to talk about what you’d prefer to discuss instead.

      By the way, I think it’s worth noting here that “There isn’t any evidence” is not a historical claim. It’s the doubting of a historical claim. The claim is being made by Rome. The rest of us don’t have to prove the negative.

  7. Fr.,
    The problem is that your using an ad hoc methodology, and so before we can even get around to discussing larger points we have to deal with consistency. Otherwise, that lack of logical consistency will not allow for any fruitful progress. That’s why I’ve repeatedly asked you if you could explain what evidence (according to your definition) there is of Peter being a bishop of Antioch and Mark being a bishop of Alexandria. Answers to the other questions about, well, whatever, are not required in order for your to give this evidence (according to your definition).

    1. I said what the basis for my comments was — universally held tradition. Now, if your purpose is to get scientific backing for every element of Christian tradition, I’m afraid I cannot help you there. But if your belief is that because I doubt St. Jerome’s opinion on the matter of Peter’s episcopacy in Rome that I must not believe in any sort of consistent notion of evidence, well, I’m not really sure what might satisfy you.

      If you want to know all the data regarding the Petrine character of the Antiochian and Alexandrian sees, well, you can Google just as well as I.

      Thanks for your comments.

  8. Fr.,
    Given that Rome has always been crystal clear about her Petrine roots, can you point to any patristic evidence which doubts it in the manner which you do?

    1. Has it? When did Rome start saying that Peter was the first bishop of Rome? And when did Rome start using that as a basis not just for papal primacy (something the Orthodox agree with, assuming the pope of Rome is within the communion of the Church) but for papal supremacy? “Always” is a pretty big word. My own reading of such things in the early Church is that the tradition of St. Peter regarding Rome was always mostly founded upon his martyrdom there, not his episcopacy. Even the more thorough RC apologists wouldn’t say that Rome has “always” made such claims but that they exist in a “seed” form but only came to flower over time (via development of doctrine).

      As for “patristic evidence that doubts” Peter’s episcopacy in Rome, well, again, you’re asking for proof of a negative. Why would the Fathers go about writing that Peter was never bishop in Rome when there wasn’t much of anyone saying that he was? One may just as well ask where the evidence is that they didn’t believe the Mormons.

      That said, some pretty eminent patristics scholars agree with the assessment that there’s no real evidence that Peter was the bishop of Rome. Here’s some quotes and references (ripped from the Wikipedia article on St. Peter; I know, I know — it’s just WP; but one can look up the actual references easily enough):

      Brown, Raymond E. and Meier, John P. (1983). Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Christianity. Paulist Press. p. 98. ISBN 0-8091-0339-7. “As for Peter, we have no knowledge at all of when he came to Rome and what he did there before he was martyred. Certainly he was not the original missionary who brought Christianity to Rome (and therefore not the founder of the church of Rome in that sense). There is no serious proof that he was the bishop (or local ecclesiastical officer) of the Roman church—a claim not made till the third century. Most likely he did not spend any major time at Rome before 58 when Paul wrote to the Romans, and so it may have been only in the 60s and relatively shortly before his martyrdom that Peter came to the capital.”

      Cullmann, Oscar (1962). Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, 2nd ed.. Westminster Press. p. 234. “In the New Testament [Jerusalem] is the only church of which we hear that Peter stood at its head. Of other episcopates of Peter we know nothing certain. Concerning Antioch, indeed… there is a tradition, first appearing in the course of the second century, according to which Peter was its bishop. The assertion that he was Bishop of Rome we first find at a much later time. From the second half of the second century we do possess texts that mention the apostolic foundation of Rome, and at this time, which is indeed rather late, this foundation is traced back to Peter and Paul, an assertion that cannot be supported historically. Even here, however, nothing is said as yet of an episcopal office of Peter.”

      Chadwick, Henry (1993). The Early Church, rev. ed.. Penguin Books. p. 18. “No doubt Peter’s presence in Rome in the sixties must indicate a concern for Gentile Christianity, but we have no information whatever about his activity or the length of his stay there. That he was in Rome for twenty-five years is third-century legend.”

      J.N.D. Kelly, Oxford Dictionary of the Popes (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 6. “Ignatius assumed that Peter and Paul wielded special authority over the Roman church, while Irenaeus claimed that they jointly founded it and inaugurated its succession of bishops. Nothing, however, is known of their constitutional roles, least of all Peter’s as presumed leader of the community.”

      People like Chadwick and Kelly are not exactly historical lightweights.

      But if you’re looking for patristic statements to the effect that Rome’s bishop is not, in fact, supreme or that indicate by way of inference that there is no such belief, there’s a lot to choose from. Here’s a sample (also conveniently compiled on WP and fairly well referenced out).

      1. I agree with Kelly, but not Chadwick. The twenty-five year “legend” has multiple, independent, textual sources. Lots of stuff emerged in the third century that was latent before. That it appears in the third century is no mark against its authenticity so long as it is amply attested.

        In fact, what is remarkable about the third century Petrine “disclosure” is the universal acceptance of it. For instance, it would be extremely convenient for St Cyprian to question the historicity. But he doesn’t. He rather explains how the Petrine influence in Rome is not unique to Rome. Even the heretics do not attack this point. Nor can this failure to challenge the veracity of this story be attributed to a lack of historical or textual criticism in either the 3rd or 4th centuries.

        I see no reason to dismiss the twenty-five year “legend” apart from a polemical desire to minimize the authority of Rome. Nevertheless, it is quite clear from the evidence that Peter, like Paul, was itinerant. So while we can quite easily say that Peter departed for Rome after the martyrdom of St Stephen, we can’t as easily say how long he stayed in residence nor can we describe his function among the people of the city. He clearly ordained (including, most likely, the eventual Pope St Clement). But this should be of no surprise considering both Paul and other apostles ordained as well. It is obvious that he also taught and ordered their sacramental life. Again, none of this was unique to Peter.

        The only substantially disputable claim that I can see is that he spent significant time in residence in Rome. 2-5 years would not be extraordinary (Paul spent this much time in several cities). The claim, however, is that he spent 10 or more years there and essentially made Rome “home base.” The biggest support of this claim is the presence of Mark in Rome. As does the presiding of James as the synod of Jerusalem, though this later evidence is admittedly weak. So too, if 2 Peter is authentically Petrine, a fact I sincerely doubt. So while the details of this last claim are ignore, there is at least some weak support for it.

      2. Fr.
        Those quotes just put you right back in the position of explaining how and why you accept evidence (according to your definition) of Peter being the bishop of Antioch and Mark the bishop of Alexandria. The issue here isn’t yet anything about Roman primacy but trying to establish a consistent methodology; for if you reject the concept of Peter being the bishop of Rome because of it’s “late” extant attestation, then why do you not do the same with the other sees given that the lateness of their attestation is similar to that of Peter being the bishop of Rome.

        I know that you keep trying to jump ahead to other issues, but frankly, that exercise will be useless unless and until we establish a consistent methodology. Unfortunately you have not yet done that.

        1. These quotes are simply in response to your question. But now you seem to have expected an answer to something else. Did someone mention “moving the goalposts”? In any event, I answered your other question—well-established, universally-held tradition. You ask for my definition and my reasons yet somehow don’t want my definition or my reasons.

          Anyway, from your tone you also seem to have gotten the impression that you are the host of this site. If you’re not really interested in discussing the issues at hand (not sure what “jump ahead” really means here, actually), that’s of course fine. But there are other places to do that.

  9. It’s kind of odd how this last stream of comments was doomed by what seems a disagreement over the meaning of the word evidence. It’s also interesting to see some legal terms of art, like burden of proof and preponderance being used (here it was “preponderance of patristic opinion,” of course, but, as soon as I read that, I thought, “preponderance of the evidence,” a legal burden of proof). In any event, forgive my indulgence in this kind of unfortunate derailment that happened to the discussion, but I’d like to point out that evidence does not necessarily prove the matter asserted. A comment by a Church Father, for instance, surely qualifies as evidence of whatever he asserts. The question is how well one regards the evidence. I don’t think your use of the word in your essay was correct, Father.

    Again, though, my apologies, for I seem to have just done one of the more common and annoying things one finds in Internet comment threads: I have popped in after a few exchanges have taken place and commented on a very specific matter, no doubt to show how smart I am to a bunch of strangers. If I have committed such an offense, I am sorry.

    1. Don’t feel bad Lasseter. I was coming to say the exact same thing. Evidence != “proof” which is much more subjective. I do feel that Fr. Andrew would’ve been better served by saying there was “scant” or “dubious” evidence, because St. Jerome’s statement certainly counts as evidence.

  10. Sadly, this is more of a “target Fr. Andrew Damick (and smear him all over the internet)” kind of thing.

    There are two streams here: One who accepts the revisionist understanding of Peterine Supremacy held by Roman Catholics and the other who accepts the ecclesiology of the Holy Church concerning her Tradition of the Church of Rome.

    It comes down to that and it rests on that. Anythings else is just a wrangling around the Truth.

    1. I certainly didn’t “target” Father Andrew. In fact, his podcasts were instrumental in deepening my interest in Orthodoxy, and am inclined to agree with the Orthodox understading of Roman primacy. However, in this specific instance, he did himself a disservice by making too strong a claim (“no evidence”) and then appearing to move the goalposts when that claim was challenged.

  11. It seems to me that it would cause offense/scandal (if even more minor) to the faithful when words which are not discerningly written or spoken are directed towards any priest. For me, I know that publicly “criticizing” or “correcting” (however it is seen) priests over relatively unimportant things is a bad way. Perhaps others can do this without causing offense. That’s not my call.

    Being “targeted” is good for us all in the sense of learning the hard way, I suppose (though I have never liked learning things the hard way!).

  12. All who concede to the points outlined in the Ravenna document must acknowledge Roman primacy in *some* form.

    As far as jurisdiction, Sardica canon 5 can be construed to imply universal jurisdiction for appeals for doctrinal dispute.

    Is that jurisdiction ordinary and immediate?

    It depends what those terms mean.

    ” It is ordinary, in the sense that it is proper to the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the office belonging to him and not by delegation from the bishops; it is immediate, because he can exercise it directly without the bishops’ permission or mediation.”

    Is that definition acceptable?

    Filioque is no big deal. The East and West can come together under the Cappodocian formula “through the Son” and restore the Creed in the West to the ecumenical version.

    Original sin is no big deal. We have called it sin only in an analogical sense, so actual guilt CANNOT be inherited.

    Once original sin is agreed on, the Immaculate Conception falls into place as a just a reformulation of the Theotokos as “most holy” or “all holy” without spot, blotch, or wrinkle.

    Divorce, primacy, and contraception–that’s the hard part.

    1. I’m not Orthodox (so take this for what it’s worth) but I don’t think your formulation would be acceptable to the Orthodox.

      From what I understand, the Orthodox position is “the episcopate is one”, i.e., there is no difference in the office of bishop, whether it’s held by the Bishop of Rome or the Bishop of Podunk. Your formula would be rejected because it would mean that there are two types of bishop: the bishop of Rome and everybody else.

  13. I appreciate the perspective here. The outside view is always useful to hear.

    There are a few realities here that are being neglected. The pope does, indeed, have the power and authority to depose bishops. But those bishops also have rights under canon law. To do just about everything you mention that a Pope could do, he would first have to rewrite canon law to dispense with the impediments placed on the Pope. Now, the Pope does have the authority to rewrite canon law, but he would have to actually do it first.

    And this is an essential point that I think is missed here. The Pope’s authority is constrained by both Tradition and tradition. He can define dogma, but he cannot change dogma. He can abrogate tradition and go in a new direction, but he would have to tear down so much to do so that he could actually be stopped by either ecclesial inertia or or the body of bishops acting to depose him.

    The Pope’s universal jurisdiction is just that, jurisdiction. Just like a bishop is not free to wantonly change things in his diocese – not even the things that he has the authority to change – the bishop of Rome is not really free to wantonly change things throughout his own jurisdiction.

    There’s a saying: in theory, theory and reality are the same, but in reality they are not. What the Pope can theoretically do is constrained by a whole lot of reality.

  14. Question for Costrowski. So are you saying that you don’t accept the quote from Pope St. Gregory the Great that seems to affirm the primacy of the three sees?

    1. Hi Alan,
      I absolutely do accept the quote from Pope St. Gregory the Great about the primacy of the three Petrine sees. In fact, I think it’s a travesty that on account of political ambition Constantinople forced itself ahead of Alexandria and Antioch and thus violated the ancient custom of the Church. The problem, I think, is not that Gregory believed in the primacy of the three Petrine sees, but what exactly he meant by that primacy. So let’s look at the wider context of that quote.

      “In your letter, your most delightful Holiness said many things about the chair of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, stating that he himself sits on it, right up to now, in the persons of his successors. And indeed, I myself recognize that I am unworthy, not only in the honor of those presiding, but also in the number of those just standing. But I gladly accepted everything that was said in it, because that man spoke to me about the chair of Saint Peter, who is sitting on Peter’s chair. And although special honor does not please me in any way, yet I was extremely happy, because you, most holy one, have given to yourself what you bestowed on me. For who would not know that the Holy Church was made firm by the solidity of the prince of the apostles, who brought firmness of mind into his name, to be called Peter from a rock? As the voice of Truth said to him: ‘I shall give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.’ And again, it was said to him: ‘And once you have turned back, strengthen your brethren,’ and again ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep.’ Wherefore, although there are many apostles, yet, with regard to the principality itself, only the see of the prince of the apostles has grown strong in authority, which is in three places and belongs to one. FOR HE HIMSELF ELEVATED THE SEE, IN WHICH HE EVEN DEIGNED TO REST AND FINISH HIS PRESENT LIFE.”
      (Letter to Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria, 7.37, The Letters of Gregory the Great: Books 5-9, John R.C. Martyn)

      Please forgive the all capital letters. I don’t mean to do the internet version of shouting; I just want to highlight a portion of the text.

      This portion cited here appears just a two or three lines above the part which Orthodox apologists usually cite. Here Gregory explains that even though there is a sense in which Rome, Alexandria and Antioch are one see, there is another sense in which Rome has primacy over them. That becomes clear in Gregory’s other letters where he asserts that Rome has the care of all the Churches who are in turn subject to her. Moreover, Gregory was just repeating the same idea which Pope Innocent previously stated. According to Thomas W. Allies:

      “But we can trace this idea of St. Gregory the Great back through many generations. Pope Innocent (Ep. XXIV), nearly two hundred years earlier than St. Gregory, and only ninety years after the Nicene Council, recognized the patriarchal right of the bishop of Antioch over his provinces by referring to this Canon of the Nicene Council [canon 6], which, he says, “singly expresses the mind of all bishops throughout the world”; and he adds, “We note that this privilege was given to Antioch not so much on account of the city’s magnificence as because it is known to be the first seat of the first Apostle where the Christian religion received its name, where a great meeting of Apostles was held, and which would not yield to the see of the city of Rome, except that the latter rejoices in having received and retained to the end that honor which the former obtained only in transition.”
      (The Throne of the Fisherman, Thomas W. Allies, p 54-55)

      I hope this helps.

      1. Primacy and supremacy are not the same thing, of course, and even if Gregory were promoting papal primacy here, he certainly does not have any time for a “universal bishop” such as Rome’s papacy now claims for itself.

        That said, with all the lengths Gregory goes to in his letter to Evlogius to insist that Peter’s see is “one” yet in three places, how does it make sense to interpret your highlighted portion as referring exclusively to Rome? There’s no plural for “see” there, yet your interpretation of that sentence of Gregory’s implies a necessary plural, i.e., that there really are three sees and only one of them has this elevated quality. Further, Gregory’s letter goes on to refer to the elevated quality of all three cities’ one Petrine see because of the Apostle Peter. The idea that that clause is singling out Rome above Antioch and Alexandria makes no sense in the context of everything else in the letter.

        1. Fr. Damick,
          Since Peter only ended his life in one place it stands to reason that Gregory was talking about that one place. Moreover, it fits in perfectly with what his predecessors proclaimed as well as with his other statements that Rome has the care for all the Churches as well as primacy. If Gregory had ever said that Alexandria or Antioch enjoyed those prerogatives you argument might have some validity. But he did not and nor did anyone else ever say such a thing. Therefore the interpretation that I gave is in perfect harmony with the rest of Gregory’s letters as well as with the views of his predecessors as well as the commonly held uncontroversial view that Rome held the primacy of the Churches. On the other hand, your view would have us believe that it was common knowledge that Antioch and Alexandria held a co-equal primacy with Rome. But no one held that view. In fact, your own hierarchs today don’t even hold that view.

          1. Nor do I hold that view. It’s important to read carefully.

            It is one thing to say that the Church of Rome (if Orthodox) properly holds a place of primacy within the Church, but it is another entirely to say that the pope himself as a bishop holds that primacy and still another to equate that primacy with supremacy and yet even another to say that this is due to an exclusive succession from Peter. Gregory is at pains elsewhere to decry the notion of such an ultramontane primacy, else he would not have written his famous “precursor to the anti-christ” language regarding anyone who calls himself “universal bishop,” nor would he have gone to such lengths in writing to Eulogios to counter Eulogios’s fulsome praise heaped upon him with insistence on the multiplicity of Peter’s legacy.

            “Having care for all the churches” did not mean for Gregory I what it meant for Gregory VII.

          2. Fr. Damick,
            My reply was meant to specifically address what I took to be your view of the equality of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. I did not intend for it to do any more than that. If you don’t hold the view which I addressed (and you now denied) then what exactly is your interpretation of Gregory’s view of the relationship between those three sees and what was your purpose for pointing to Pope Gregory?

            I’m not going to address all the other stuff here so as to keep some focus.

          3. My view is exactly what I wrote elsewhere—St. Gregory, when taking the occasion specifically to address the question of Petrine primacy, neither makes it exclusive to Rome nor makes use of it to put forward a doctrine of papal supremacy.

      2. “he certainly does not have any time for a “universal bishop” such as Rome’s papacy now claims for itself.”

        I don’t know if you were attempting to invoke the meme, but I couldn’t help but think of St. Gregory saying “Universal bishop?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

        I have heard Roman Catholic commentators say that he meant not universal bishop . . .other than himself!

  15. About supposed authority of the Pope to change the Liturgy, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1125, says this: “No sacramental rite may be modified or manipulated at the will of the minister or the community. Even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily, but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.”

    Now, of course, we could argue that the Missae Novus Ordo reforms promulgated by Pope Paul VI in fall of 1969 (and NOT, as is popularly sometimes said, by the 2nd Vatican Council, which ended 4 years earlier) did not in fact show proper regard for “the obedience of faith” or “religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.” Here most Orthodox would probably agree with the Latin traditionalist critics of the Novus Ordo. And it is notable that Joseph Ratzinger also apparently agrees — judging from his preface to Msgr Klaus Gamber’s book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, and his public remark calling the Novus Ordo of Pope Paul “a grave mistake.”

    I would also submit that these disastrous reforms could never have been imposed without a grossly inflated view of the papacy and a terrible over-centralization in Church governance. But as regards the *actual official teaching* of the “ordinary magisterium” regarding the claim of papal authority over the Liturgy, we need to be fair and take account of this paragraph in the catechism.

    — As regards Peter and Rome: we need to distinguish between 2 different claims, which I see being wrongly conflated here: (1) the claim that Peter traveled to Rome and died there; (2) the claim that Peter was the first bishop of Rome.

    As regards (1), I have to respectfully disagree with Fr Andrew. As was said above, historical testimony is indeed, as in the court of law, “evidence,” and should be at least considered as such. And in this case, the testimony of the *universal* tradition of the Fathers in both East and West (reflected also in the Orthodox liturgical books) is that Peter went to Rome and that he died there. I.e. we are talking about universal *Orthodox tradition* here, not just a local Roman tradition.

    Further, the earliest *explicit* written testimony of this tradition about Peter dates to circa 170, in the letter of Dionysius of Corinth to Pope Soter, with further explicit testimony from Irenaeus probably later in the same decade and then from Tertullian not too long after. The first lists of bishops of Rome dating from around the same time (circa 170 or so) also claim Paul and Peter as *founders* of the church of Rome (but NOT as bishops). Possible implicit testimony can be found also in earlier sources, such as 1 Peter and 1 Clement and maybe Ignatius, but these are highly debatable and cannot stand independently. In addition, the fact that no alternative or rival tradition to the story of Peter dying in Rome has come down to us from any patristic source must be weighed as quite significant.

    Hans Lietzmann in his really exhaustive work on this question and Oscar Cullmann in his book on Peter — both Protestant scholars critical of papal claims — make a strong case that really *the only evidence we have* points to the relatively, though not absolutely, assured conclusion that Peter went to Rome and died a martyr there. Even Harnack argued the same, and said that this tradition was only questioned in modern times because of “Protestant prejudice.” My sense is that the view of Lietzmann, Cullmann and Harnack is still the majority view among church historians of all stripes. By dismissing this early tradition as *evidence*, a tradition which soon became universal and reflected in major Fathers of both West and East, one is really putting oneself on the side of the radical historical skeptics and the postmodern hermeneutic of suspicion, and/or the most extreme of Protestant polemicists.

    But as regards (2) — the claim the Peter was first bishop of Rome — this is really another matter, and a separate issue. This claim is later — 3rd century at the earliest, I think — and is not so universally attested. Probably it’s first instance is in Hippolytus, and Augustine seems to think similarly, but the idea that Peter was bishop in Rome never became universally accepted, not even in the West and not even among all the popes. And no modern scholar takes the idea seriously (in fact, most contemporary scholarship doubts there being any evidence of mono-episcopate in Rome prior to maybe 150 or even slightly later). Oscar Cullmann in his book on Peter emphasizes the unique and unrepeatable character of the apostolic office. Here (with qualifications) I think the Orthodox as well as many RC theologians would have to agree.

    1. Just as a point of clarity: I do not believe I ever wrote (and certainly do not believe) that Peter did not go to Rome or die there. My quibble is with whether he was the first bishop of Rome. I am willing to concede that “no evidence” is probably too strong, but there’s certainly not a universal tradition on this matter, not even just for Rome itself.

  16. OK, yes, I just realized I may have misread what you were saying there was “no evidence” of, but it was a bit unclear. I agree with what you’ve written here. . . . It might also be said that the office of apostle is certainly not something *less* than that of a bishop . . .

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