In considering who has the stronger claim to traditional ecclesiology, as it was universally conceived by the early Church, it appears to me that Orthodoxy has the stronger claim. Yet, Rome claims that Cyprian’s lofty language about Rome, the actions of Pope Stephen, and the Council of Serdicia are examples of Rome’s preeminence. Do these points hold up to scrutiny?
- RC Argument #1: Cyprian has a high view of Papal authority.
I think the RCs are looking at Cyprian out of context. Pope Stephen asserted his authority as sitting on the chair of Peter to compel the Christian world to accept his peculiar doctrine of not re-baptizing Marcionite heretics (along with the more orthodox doctrine of not re-baptzing Trinitarian schismatics.) Considering how Cyrpian reacted, and had the full agreement of Firmilian and eastern churches, as well as the church in Egypt (Pope Dinoysus wrote on the subject against Stephen), is it possible that we would be misunderstanding Cyprian’s high words on Rome by taking them too literally? Wouldn’t his actual actions better describe his attitudes towards primacy than a few laudatory words?
- RC Argument #2: Pope Victor I wanted to impose the Roman Easter commemoration on the Church of Ephesus, and Ephesus refused–proving that Rome must have had the power to compel other churches to adhere to their doctrinal judgments because why else would they assert such a thing if this were not so? If Rome’s authority was rejected and opposed at this time, that does not mean the opposition was correct in opposing Roman supremacy.
Well, can’t we also say that just because an authority is asserted, that does not make it true either? Rejecting and asserting are not the means we know something is true. We look at the universal understanding of the Church–did they hold to supremacy? If they did not, then Rome is the innovator, not the Church.
- RC Argument #3: The Bishop of Rome overturned an eastern council that deposed Athanasius before Serdicia. This shows Roman Supremacy.
This is a good argument, but we also have Augustine positing that a general council can overturn a council in the west presided over and decided by the Pope during the Donatist controversy. So, I think that we do not see universal agreement on this issue…and Athanasius was not taken back anyway, which shows that the Bishop of Rome’s authority was not accepted on this matter–but rather opposed.