In the first few centuries of Christianity we have recorded instances of the Bishop of Rome exerting influence beyond his See and the comments of other Christians about the Bishop of Rome. The question is, how do we interpret those events? In the following, I try to fairly give every possible interpretation from both the Orthodox and Catholic side to assist in putting the events in context.
For a compilation on the early Papacy, see The Early Church Fathers on the Papacy: An Orthodox Quote Mine.
|YEAR||RELEVANT EVENT OR QUOTATION||POSSIBLE INFERENCES|
|70s-80s||THE CORINTHIAN SCHISM
Clement of Rome writes, “If anyone disobeys the things which have been said by him [Jesus] through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in no small danger” (1 Clem 59).
|-Clement was writing on a subject already clearly written about by Paul in 1 and 2 Corinthians. He was simply reminding the Corinthians of the general principle that Christ laid down: if they do not repent, with humility, of their schism damnation is probable.
-Clement had jurisdiction over Corinth.
-Clement had no jurisdiction, but as a confidante of Paul’s and representative of a notable church his letter carried weight.
“You [Rome] have never envied any one; you have taught others” (Ignatius to Rom, 3).
|-Rome was a respectable church and these are laudatory words, given in light of the fact that historically men like Paul, Peter, and Clement taught there.
-Rome had a teaching authority over other churches.
|170s-190s||COMBATING GNOSTIC VIEWS OF AUTHORITY
“Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (Irenaeus, AH 3.3.2).
|–Because Rome’s succession of Bishops have preserved, historically, the teachings of both Peter and Paul, making it incumbent upon Christians everywhere to maintain the same traditions/interpretations.
-The “superior origin” is a reference to Peter and Paul’s teaching at the church, not a reference to a supernatural teaching office bestowed by specifically by Peter to a specific Roman Bishop.
-The “superior origin” is a reference to an infallible teaching and administrative office bestowed by Peter to all his successors, hence agreeing with Rome is absolutely imperative.
-Pope Victor I threatened to excommunicate the Bishop of Ephesus because he celebrated the Passover. He was scolded by Irenaeus and avoided breaking the peace.
-Pope Victor I excommunicated Theodotus the Tanner/Shoemaker for Christological heresy
|-The Bishop of Rome asserted the power to excommunicate believers anywhere in the Christian world, and this was rejected.
-The Bishop of Rome asserted the power to excommunicate believers anywhere in the Christian world, and this power was recognized as legitimate but it was the wrong situation to exercise it.
-The Bishop of Rome only had power to break communion in his local church, evidenced by both the excommunication of a local Greek named Theodotus and an earlier episode where Anicetus relented and gave communion to Polycarp despite disputing over the same issue (“Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect,” Irenaeus Fragment V).
Caius, a priest from Rome, wrote: “[T]he apostles themselves, both received and taught those things which these men [followers of Theodotus the Tanner] now maintain; and that the truth of Gospel preaching was preserved until the times of Victor, who was the thirteenth bishop in Rome from Peter, and that from his successor Zephyrinus the truth was falsified. And perhaps what they allege might be credible, did not the Holy Scriptures, in the first place, contradict them [in their doctrines]” (Fragments).
|-It is a credible notion that a Bishop of Rome, with valid succession, can lapse into heresy in the mind of Caius.
-We are taking Caius words too literally–he is merely making a rhetorical point similar to how in modern conversation one may say, “even conceding you this, you would still be wrong because of that.”
Cyprian wrote the following when confronting the Novationist controversy after quoting John 20:21 and Matt 16:18: [Christ said this so that] “He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity…And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided (Unity of the Catholic Church, 4-5).”
|-The authority given to Peter has been, in all ways (“both honor and power”), equally given equally to all the Apostles and succeeding Bishops.
-The honor and power of Bishops is only effectual if they maintain unity and avoid schism. The Novationist question was over whether unity should be maintained with the Bishop of Rome. Cyprian’s answer was categorically “Yes”, as only Bishops in unity exercised the office of the keys.
-Peter is preeminent because unity has its source in him. Bishops are equal in their capacity as Bishops, but unequal in their authority over other Bishops.
Bishop Stephen of Rome permits the lapsed to re-enter the church via Chrism. This was uncontroversial, as most of the Church did this. Those who did not, according to Cyprian, were in their right to do so: “[E]very bishop disposes and directs his own acts, and will have to give an account of his purposes to the Lord” (Letter 51.21).
The matter of dispute was both over the baptism of schismatic heretics (the Novationists, who broke with Apostolic Succession by declaring the orders were ruined by lapsed clergy and so installed Novation as Pope and split existing congregations by re-baptizing Catholics into their own church) and the baptism of Christological heretics such as Marcionites. Pope Stephen also allowed lapsed clergy to serve without penance; see Dionysus of Alexandria, Letter III; Cyprian, Letter 73.2, 7, Cyprian, Letter 71.1-2; Cyprian [Firmilian], Letter 74.5).
Stephen allegedly almost caused a schism over this issue: “For what is more lowly or meek than to have disagreed with so many bishops throughout the whole world, breaking peace with each one of them in various kinds of discord at one time with the eastern churches, as we are sure you know; at another time with you who are in the south, from whom he received bishops as messengers sufficiently patiently and meekly not to receive them even to the speech of an ordinary conference” (Letter 74.25).
Cyprian’s council in Carthage appears to reference the same behavior accounted to Stephen that was referenced in Firmilian’s letter: “For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another” (On the Baptism of Heretics). He also accused Bishop Stephen of “human error” (Letter 73.10).
Firmilian wrote that “they who are at Rome…vainly pretend the authority of the apostles” (Cyprian, Letter 74.6)
|-Stephen was in obvious error and his stance of not baptizing Christological heretics was rejected by the Council of Nicea (Canon 19), Council of Constantinople (Canon 7) and modern Roman Catholic practice (Mormons are not chrismated). The Christian world of Stephen’s time did not recognize his infallibility.
-No Bishop was viewed as having supremacy over another Bishop, which explains Cyprian’s reluctance to reject Bishops who rebaptized Novatians, a practice he personally opposed (Letter 73.12).
-Consensus can overrule a Bishop of Rome.
-The whole Christian world was wrong and misrepresented Stephen as using his capacity as Bishop in accepting Marcionites without baptism.
Craig, I think I understand papal infallibility in the way most Roman Catholics want it understood, but it still leaves me feeling doubtful and uneasy. I heard someone explain it this way:
1) Jesus didn’t say every church founded by Peter would be infallible, just that ‘the one’ he was supposed to found would be started by him.
2) Antioch being his first chair didn’t matter because of the principle ‘the first shall be last, and the last shall be first’, referring to Peter making Rome the last church he founded.
3) Papal infallibility involves any ecumenical council that the Bishop of Rome gave consent to, whether or not he was the reason for the council being convened or the only one involved.
4) Most people didn’t know or explicitly realize the extent of orthodox teaching coming from the Bishop of Rome’s involvement in these matters. The idea was to allow this to happen consistently over a period of time, to show it’s credibility before the holy spirit had Rome announce it at their Vatican I council, affirming a phenomenon that was always taking place throughout history under these conditions but just making people aware of it. This is like how Jesus explains why the prophets were persecuted by their own people before he came and was to die, explaining patterns in history.
5) If the churches which had apostolic succession broke away from Rome, Rome and the others would still function as churches, but only the ones teaching true doctrine would still count as valid, and able to receive authority from the head. Hence, if it was necessary that all apostolic churches remain in communion then neither Rome or the Eastern churches could ever have a valid council after that.
However, I do believe the idea that they may have breached orthodox doctrine also has weight, because the most controversial and questionable, perhaps even ahistorical doctrines came post-schism. I agreed with one Orthodox apologist, claiming that the doctrine of development argument is valid if it means some things explained in more detail in later writings that were only implied in others but were technically always believed for salvation by faithful Christians (such as the trinity). I can point out that doctrines of the immaculate conception do not contradict a millenium-old declaration about purgatory, but whether either of those was considered necessary for salvation in Christianity prior to the schism (or even taught the same way for the few who believed it) is what is debatable, and thus development of doctrine becomes evolution of doctrine. You can mention the Old Testament revealing things about God to suggest the idea of the Christian world learning more things over time, but it would require the idea that the church is entrusted with the authority to invent new things.
I also need to point out that this same person also mentioned that Rome attributing God-like attributes to Mary is part of the inevitable revelation of her deity. Again, this is like how the trinity of foreshadowed in the Old Testament, but eventually made clearer in the New Testament (i.e.; Jesus was always there in the scenes, but now we know why). They used Sirach 24 to justify this as proof that Mary is part of the Godhead. Hebrews opens with a loose reference to a passage in Wisdom that equates Jesus with the wisdom mentioned in the deutoerocanon. And since only members of the trinity can be mentioned in the light, it must logically follow that Mary, who is spoken of in Sirach 24, is a member of the Godhead, too. This is because the woman is spoken of as having been present with God in the beginning when he created the world, says her fruits are sweet (Jesus is the fruit of her womb), and that she would be like a sea. The word Maria is the same in Latin as the word for sea, and since this parallel is related to the Latin culture, it must mean that Mary has a special relationship with the Roman church. The fact that visions like Ida Peerdeman’s “Lady of All Nations” paint Mary as being co-equal with Christ in his sufferings, and Alphonsus Liguori teaching Marian supremacy in his book “The Glories of Mary”, it may be said that the Roman church will eventually explain how she is a member of the Godhead and always was there as part of it even when it wasn’t obvious, according to their version of the development of doctrine. The one who told me this said he would be excited to get to worship her, once Rome declares this.
Craig, do you understand what this apologist is trying to say?
Sadly I don’t have the time to dig into these other guys things. If you join the charitable apostolic Christian discord I’m sure there are a lot of people who can help you out with that. The link is in the YouTube description bar here: https://youtu.be/vbPuU4dtsSs