The Papacy was an Integral Part of the Undivided Early Church of East and West and of its Establishment of Fundamental Christian Orthodoxy
The Catholic Church’s doctrine of the papacy says that the pope in Rome is the successor of Peter the Chief Apostle, who despite his typical human imperfections by God’s Grace was made the “rock” upon whom Jesus built His Church and the holder of “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). Peter died in Rome, and thus the pope in Rome (as inheritor of Peter’s keys from Jesus) is the Head Pastor of the entire Universal (Catholic) Christian Church founded by Christ through His Apostles. The world’s Christian population today is split down the middle on the basis of this doctrine, since the “acid test” for whether one is a Catholic Christian or not is whether or not one acknowledges the pope as the Church’s Head Pastor (in addition to accepting the common essential fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity which were established by the early Ecumenical Councils of overseers/bishops/eparchs including the patriarchs and popes – without such traditional Christian orthodoxy one cannot be truly Catholic).
Over half of the world’s 2 billion professed Christians today are Catholic Christians who recognize the pope as Head Pastor of their Church and weekly profess the ancient Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed which expressly include most of the (above) common essential fundamentals of orthodox Christian faith (and imply the rest). The majority of these are Western, mostly Roman Rite Catholic Christians, and there are also tens of millions of Eastern Catholic Christians (like myself) still belonging to one of the many unified ancient or semi-ancient Eastern Rites or Sister Churches of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Church of West and East (the ancient Rites of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, and the younger “daughter churches” which these planted). The remainder of the world’s Christians are not Catholic Christians who recognize the pope as their Head Pastor, and these are comprised on the one hand of Eastern Orthodox Christians and (Western) Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christians (who share with Catholic Christians the traditional essentials of orthodox Christian faith), and on the other hand Christians of the tiny “Lesser” Eastern Churches and the large “doctrinally liberal” streams of the (Western) “mainline” Protestant denominations (who no longer share all of the orthodox fundamentals of Christianity with Catholic Christians, or at least are not certain about them).
Current Eastern Orthodox Christians recognize the pope in some ways (often at least as the traditional “first among equals” of the early Christian patriarchs), but they dispute the Catholic Church’s full understanding of the papacy. Protestant Christians use the Eastern Orthodox dispute over it to help justify their total rejection of the papacy, since this current dispute makes it look like the papacy as Catholics understand it was not part of the Christian faith of the Undivided Early Church of East and West. But current Eastern Rite Catholic Christians (including myself) who share the Eastern Orthodox spiritual and ritual traditions and who share the Catholic understanding of the papacy would say that we are “Eastern Orthodox Christians” in the original sense of that term, which meant “not heretic” and did not mean “not Catholic.” The one Christian Church of East and West was still undivided and fully universal (Catholic!), with all its branches still recognizing the pope as Head Pastor (see Volume III Chapter 5), when the Eastern Churches in the Catholic Communion of East and West started calling themselves “Eastern orthodox Churches” to distinguish themselves from the sizable 5th Century breakaway Eastern heretical churches of Nestorian and Monophysite heretical Christians who rejected the fundamental Christian orthodoxy defined at the Holy-Spirit-led Early Ecumenical Councils of unified Eastern and Western Christian overseers (including the pope as chief overseer).
We Eastern Catholic Christians can say, with great historical justification (listed in Volume III Chapter 5), that recognizing the pope as Head Pastor of the Christian Church (the office first held by the Apostle Peter) is a firmly Biblically rooted (see Volume III Chapter 4) part of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Tradition since the Apostolic era and an integral part of the first seven Ecumenical Councils which today’s non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Christians say they accept. And thus the papacy is also an integral part of the clear articulation and permanent establishment within the Christian Church of the basic, fundamental Christian orthodoxy which Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christians still accept, which was accomplished at those early Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Early Church.
Sharing the Catholic Understanding of the Papacy as Part of the Mutual Loving Dialogue Between Currently Divided Christian Churches Together Seeking the Unity Jesus Prayed for
In the spirit of mutual loving brotherly dialogue between those Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical Christians (together the great majority of the world’s professed Christians) who are already united in the vast common fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy, in this volume I wish to share some of my understanding of what I believe to be the strong claim of the Catholic Church for its doctrine of the papacy which has been so divisive between us. I do this for two reasons, the second of which I will get to later. First of all I share the papacy for the same purpose of promoting true mutual understanding of our differences even while they remain for which I wrote Volume II on Mary (the other great difference which sadly divides Catholic and Protestant Christians, though not Catholic and Orthodox Christians). I believe that God’s purposes for saving the world through the ministry of Christ’s Body on Earth the Church will be much better served even if we continue to disagree with each other, as long as we truly understand each other’s differing opinions on secondary doctrines and just how we each see them as consistent with the great primary, fundamental Christian doctrines and common Divine Revelation we are already agreed upon. When we no longer jump to conclusions that each other’s different lesser doctrines must be wrong and must somehow compromise the Christian fundamentals, when we no longer repeat the confusions and misconceptions Satan the Accuser has sown between us to keep us accusing each other of heresies wherever we are different, we will be able to truly see how other Christians could hold this different opinion than ours and still be true brothers and sisters in Christ empowered as instruments of God’s salvation in the world by the same indwelling Holy Spirit of Love and the same essential Christian truths which empower us. Once this mutual understanding is achieved, even if we remain unconvinced that another Christian Church’s different secondary doctrines are entirely correct, these differences, shown to be at least consistent with the common fundamentals, should no longer be a barrier in our minds to recognizing and loving other Christians, so that even while we remain formally divided we may much more easily work together in Christian love for the salvation of the world, so that we may much better display the unity in love of Christians “one for another” which Jesus’ prayer for our unity indicates is necessary “so that the world may believe.”
Catholic Christians Understand the Papacy as the Holy-Spirit-Given Office of Unity and Orthodoxy in the Christian Church, and That the Protestant and Eastern (Orthodox or “Lesser”) Churches Have Serious Problems with Either Their Unity or with Their Basic Orthodoxy (Which the Catholic Church Does Not Have) Specifically Because They Did Not Maintain Belief in the Papacy
Catholic Christians would say the papacy is the very office of unity in the Christian Church, which in actual fact currently allows over half of the world’s 2 billion Christians to belong to the one Catholic Church despite many (enriching!) differences among them (in over 20 distinct formal Catholic Sister Churches), while the remainder of the world’s Christians are divided into over 35,000 distinct Christian churches (mostly Protestant, with dozens of distinct non-Catholic Eastern churches, Orthodox and otherwise). Though our Universal/Catholic unity is not without some flaws in practice (some corrected in principle by the Second Vatican Council), some of which I will candidly discuss in Volume III Chapter 6 and elsewhere (flaws to be expected from fallen human beings still awaiting Christ’s return), in the spirit of Ecumenical dialogue between divided Christians, we believe this Catholic achievement of a very profound level of Christian unity totally unparalleled among the non-Catholic Christian churches justifies that other Christians seriously look into the Catholic claims about the papacy as the ancient office of Christian unity. Catholic Christians also note the following facts concerning the official maintenance of basic Christian orthodoxy among the different Catholic and non-Catholic Christian churches in history, and attribute these facts in large part to the papacy:
1) Any Catholic Christian, of whichever of the 26 unified Eastern and Western Catholic Rites, who is not a secularized “nominal” (in-name-only) Christian but who actually holds and practices the official Catholic Christian faith and is thereby considered a “good” Catholic, is a fundamentally orthodox Christian who conserves the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christian faith and morality which have been consistently proclaimed by the Catholic Church throughout its long history back to the Undivided Early Church which called itself the Catholic Church (Catholic fundamentals kept by the orthodox non-Catholic churches who left the Catholic Communion at some point in its history).
2) Vast numbers of non-Catholic Christians who are not secularized “nominal” Christians but who are regular church-goers and practicing members in good standing of their non-Catholic Christian churches, are unorthodox or even heretics by the standards of the Undivided Early Church.
Most of these practicing but unorthodox non-Catholic Christians are from the huge “liberal” streams of the oldest and largest (Western) Protestant mainline denominations, which are uncertain of or which have actively rejected elements of traditional Christian faith and morality. For example, the head of one large mainline Protestant denomination (which I was raised in until it “went liberal”) once said publicly he was not sure if Jesus is God or not, and this was not grounds for his immediate dismissal from his high post since apparently millions of Protestants in this denomination are also not sure. Although some congregations remain traditionally orthodox, in general this large denomination has also now abandoned elements of traditional Christian morality, teaching that both heterosexual and homosexual immorality and abortion are not sinful.
Though comparatively small in number, the entirety of the “Lesser Eastern Churches” whose history goes back to the 5th Century are formally heretical, having formally embraced the Nestorian or Monophysite heresies. They formally rejected either the 431 AD 3rd Ecumenical Council’s definition of orthodox Christian faith (against the Nestorian heresy) that Jesus is “one person with two natures, Divine and human,” or they formally rejected the later 451 AD 4th Ecumenical Council’s more specific definition of orthodox Christian faith (against the Monophysite heresy) that Jesus is “fully God and fully man.”
Catholic Christians note that the 2nd Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381 AD, which against heretical challenges first officially clarified and defined the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Trinity (the Divinity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit together with the Father) and which formally affirmed the true humanity of Jesus against the Apollinarian heretics, is recognized as an Ecumenical (worldwide) Council and not just a local Eastern council even though no Western Christian overseers/bishops were present only because Pope Saint Damasus in his 382 AD Decree of Damasus ratified the Council and declared its teaching as authoritative for the whole worldwide (Ecumenical) Christian Church. Catholics note that the 431 AD 3rd Ecumenical Council mentioned above was presided over by Saint Cyril, the Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria who was deputized to lead it by Pope Celestine (whose four Roman legates at the Council clearly proclaimed the doctrine of papal primacy in the presence of all the assembled Eastern and Western Christian overseers/bishops/eparchs without dispute). And Catholics note that the 4th Ecumenical Council of 451 AD, which articulated and proclaimed the “crown” of the Christian Church’s Christology, was directed by Pope Saint Leo the Great. Pope Saint Leo had thoroughly and explicitly developed the Church’s understanding of the papacy from its initially more implicit and instinctively recognized form (humbly recognizing it as “a responsibility to be shuddered at” – it is history, not himself, which calls him “the Great”). And it was Pope Saint Leo who also thoroughly developed and declared the fundamental Christian doctrine we know as “Jesus is fully God and fully man” in his famous Tome of Leo. It was Pope Saint Leo the Great who used his now explicitly understood papal office to declare invalid the 449 AD Council of Ephesus which had declared the Monophysite heresy as the true form of Christianity, and it was Pope Saint Leo who insisted that the 451 AD 4th Ecumenical Council which was called to replace the 449 AD “robber council” adopt his definition of basic Christian orthodoxy even though some of the Eastern bishops were willing to compromise with the Monophysite heretics through a less clear definition of Jesus’ nature than Leo’s which we encapsulate in the very concise phrase “fully God and fully man.” The mostly Eastern Christian overseers/bishops/eparchs at the 4th Ecumenical Council, on hearing Pope Leo’s Tome read out, thunderously applauded it and cried out “this is the faith of the Church! Peter has spoken through Leo!” This indicates that the united Eastern and Western Christian leaders not only recognized that Pope Leo had accurately articulated the Christian Church’s previously more implicit faith in the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus which the Monophysite heretics within the Church had challenged, but they also recognized Pope Leo’s authority passed on in the Church from Peter to lead them – a papal authority which they knew Leo had also clearly articulated in his many letters and other writings. After the Christian Church’s fundamental beliefs in the primary Christian doctrine of the Trinity and the central Christian doctrine of the Incarnation had been thus clearly articulated and firmly established by the Ecumenical Councils and Peter’s successors the popes, Saint Nicephorus, the Patriarch of Constantinople who was the secretary of the 7th Ecumenical Council of 787 AD (Nicea Council II) wrote afterwards that the 7th Ecumenical Council would not even have been a valid Ecumenical Council if the papal legates representing the pope, who presided over the Council, had not been there. When, after all these centuries of Eastern and Western acceptance, the papacy was actually seriously challenged in the East by Photius in 867 AD, the 869 AD 8th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, presided over by the Eastern Patriarch of Constantinople and in which all the Eastern Patriarchs participated, dogmatically defined the papacy as an article of Christian faith for the Undivided Catholic (Universal) Christian Church of East and West. And this Council did not even have to come up with a new way for Christians to understand the papacy – a 517 AD Christian creed was used, one which had previously been signed by many Eastern Patriarchs and Byzantine Emperors, now given dogmatic force for the entire Church by an Ecumenical (worldwide) Council in settlement of the Photian dispute. This 517 AD Eastern and Western Christian understanding of the papal primacy already even implied the doctrine of papal infallibility, which would not be clarified and dogmatically defined as an article of Catholic faith until the 1870 20th Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council I).
For these and many other reasons, Catholic Christians (Eastern and Western!) understand the papacy to be an integral part of both the unity and the orthodoxy of the Christian Church as a whole, since the beginning of Christ’s Church and the establishment of basic Christian orthodoxy (see Volume III Chapter 5 below for more historical evidence of this in the Christian East and West). Catholics understand that the papacy is also a doctrine very firmly grounded in the Bible, as will be demonstrated more thoroughly in Volume III’s Chapter 4 below. The Bible clearly testifies that Peter was the chief Apostle who acted as such and was recognized as such by others, and that despite Peter’s human failings Jesus repeatedly singled Peter out for special responsibilities in Jesus’ Church (notably Matthew 16:18-9 – Peter declared the “rock” on which Jesus will build His Church, and Peter given “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” with their authority to “bind and loose” on Earth and in Heaven; Luke 22:31-32 – Peter given responsibility to strengthen his brother Apostles; John 21:15-19 – Peter singled out for the pastoral responsibility to feed and take care of Jesus the Good Shepherd’s sheep; see also Mark 16:7 where the Angel singles Peter out from among the other disciples and John 20:3-8, where the disciple who arrives at the empty tomb first waits for Peter and lets Peter go in first). The typical Protestant attempts to deny the Catholic Church’s papal interpretation of these and other passages only fuels the Protestant “doctrinal liberalism” which doubts or denies essential Christian orthodoxy, since if the papal office is an invalid “invention” of Catholics (and if “the Bible Alone” has authority instead), that means that the Early Ecumenical Councils in which the popes played such integral roles had no valid authority to settle the early Christian controversies over exactly how “the Bible Alone” must be interpreted. So Liberal Protestant Christians feel fully justified, as Protestants, in interpreting the Bible differently than the traditional, orthodox and Catholic interpretations all Christians know as “the fundamentals” or the “articles of Christian faith,” which were articulated and proclaimed and ratified by the Early Church’s councils and popes.
Catholic Christians note, as above, that those Christian churches which do not recognize the pope as Peter’s successor in these Biblical roles Christ gave to Peter typically suffer from a lack of Christian unity and/or from a lack of Christian orthodoxy which the Catholic Church under Peter’s Successor does not suffer from. Whatever problems the Catholic Church has (which come from Satan’s relentless attacks on Christ’s Church, masterfully manipulating the human weakness of individual Catholic Christians as he does all Christians), the Catholic Church still does not have anything remotely close to the problems with unity or orthodoxy which the Protestant and Eastern (Orthodox and “Lesser”) Churches do. In Volume II: Who is Mary in the Church?, I have demonstrated how completely unfounded are all the major concerns Protestant Christians have that the Catholic Marian doctrines promoted or dogmatized by popes somehow compromise the primary Christian essential or fundamental doctrines. But by their own standards of Christian orthodoxy, orthodox Protestant Christians cannot and do not deny that huge numbers of their fellow Protestant Christians in the older Protestant “mainline” denominations have lost traditional, orthodox Christian faith and morality, or at least lost their certainty about it. No sane Protestant could ever possibly deny the obvious and particularly Protestant disunity of over 35,000 distinct registered Protestant Christian church denominations worldwide.
Catholic Christians understand that Matthew 16:18 means that “the gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church built on Peter, that Universal (Catholic) Christian Church Jesus built upon the personally imperfect and unworthy Chief Apostle Peter who God’s special Grace made into the “rock” upon which Jesus built His Church. In the Catholic reading of Christian history, “the gates of hell” have in fact prevailed against the orthodoxy of many of the (now liberal and unorthodox) Protestant churches and non-Catholic (“Lesser”) Eastern churches which denied the office of the “rock” of Peter. In the Catholic reading of history, “the gates of hell” have in fact prevailed against the unity of those Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Churches which currently remain orthodox. Moreover, Catholics understand that the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the conservative or Evangelical Protestant Churches which are fundamentally orthodox can only remain so by assuming that the Early Ecumenical Councils were absolutely correct in how they interpreted the Bible and in how they articulated and defined basic Christian orthodoxy – but a close look at the history of these Councils and their eras shows it is impossible to honestly deny the papacy’s widely accepted leading role in these early Ecumenical Councils. The attempts of Protestant Church historians to deny this, like the Protestant denial of Peter’s role as Chief Apostle in the Bible itself, has ultimately only fueled the doctrinal liberalism within Protestantism which gradually loses confidence in the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy which were articulated and proclaimed by the Early Undivided Catholic Christian Church with its popes.
Thus, Catholic Christians regard the current orthodoxy of Eastern Orthodox and Conservative or Evangelical Protestant churches (which makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ) as completely dependent upon the papacy and upon the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Bible even though they do not consciously realize it. We believe Protestant Christians and Orthodox Christians can only stay orthodox if they unconsciously act as if the popes of the Undivided Early Church had truly papal authority from Christ to authoritatively guide, direct, or ratify the early Councils they way they actually did in history, papal authority essentially as the Catholic Church understands it. This is why I personally consider that the unshakeable orthodoxy of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the more vulnerable but currently still committed orthodoxy of the Conservative and Evangelical Protestant churches makes the non-Catholic Christians of these churches essentially “Catholic at heart” already.
Certainly in my own journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism I came to personally understand that my being absolutely certain of the traditional essential fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity meant that I was acting like a Catholic already and not at all like a Protestant, since Protestantism could not logically justify that level of certainty about the Biblical interpretations I accepted as my “fundamentals” on the basis of the Protestant “pillar principle” that “the Bible Alone” is authoritative. I came to understand I could only logically justify this absolute level of certainty that the traditional (but extra-Biblical!) expressions of basic Christian orthodoxy were truly divinely revealed and worthy of acceptance in faith if I believed in not the Bible Alone but in the Bible as interpreted by the Living Body of Christ the Church which wrote the New Testament in the 1st Century and collected and canonized it in the late 4th to early 5th Centuries,1 and officially interpreted it (and the Old Testament) in the Ecumenical Councils. I found I could logically only be certain about the traditional Christian orthodoxy clearly and concisely articulated by the Universal (Catholic) Church’s magisterium (official teaching office) at the Early Church Councils if I believed in the Church as the Living Body of Christ Himself and thus as “the pillar and foundation of the truth” as the Bible itself proclaimed (1 Timothy 3:15), if I believed in a Living Church wherein Christ the Head made His truth known clearly through the Living Sacred Tradition and Living Magisterium of His Body the Church. And my historical research (even from many Protestant sources, wading through their anti-Catholic interpretations of history and sticking with the agreed facts of history) indicated that this Christian Church magisterium implicitly since apostolic times and explicitly by the time the Church’s basic orthodox Christology was established had a definite and widely accepted pinnacle in the pope, the Successor of Peter, as chief overseer or bishop of all the ordained Christian overseers who met in the Ecumenical Councils and were together guided into “all the truth” as per Jesus’ promise (John 16:13).
These are my personal conclusions which I share in the interest of honest and loving Ecumenical dialogue between currently divided Christians. I believe it will take much loving mutual dialogue on the basis of our vast common Christian faith, and the sincere apology of all Christians for our past sins against each other and against the unity of Christ’s Church which it had in the era of the Undivided Early Catholic Christian Church, for this essential, and essentially Catholic (at heart), unity of all fundamentally orthodox Christians to become apparent to all. In history Catholic Christians are as guilty as non-Catholic Christians for the initial loss of and the later maintenance of the loss of the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s unity in diversity – we have all allowed Satan to motivate us to wound the unity of the Body of Christ, and we will only find our way back to Jesus’ expressed will for our unity through humble and loving sharing with each other regarding our differences, on the basis of our great common faith. The prerequisite for this is that we first of all recognize each other truly as brothers and sisters in Christ, already united in the tremendous and life-changing, saving Christian faith listed in The Common Creed.
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To Chapter 3: The Catholic Church in its 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) Has Officially Become a Leader in Ecumenism and Formally Recognizes Non-Catholic Christians “With Respect and Affection as Brothers” Even Though They Are Outside the Catholic Church’s Ancient and Vast Christian Communion
1Orthodox (not heretical) Christians used different New Testaments until the traditional 27-book New Testament Canon all orthodox (but not all liberal Protestant) Christians recognize today was established by the Catholic Magisterium in 367-405 AD. Saint Athanasius, the Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, first suggested the 27-book New Testament we know in 367 AD, arranged in different order. The local (not Ecumenical) Councils of Christian overseer/bishops at Hippo in 393 AD and at Carthage in 397 AD agreed with Patriarch Athanasius’ list, and arranged it in the order we know today, but said that this list needed to be confirmed by “the Church across the sea” in Rome. Pope Innocent I in Rome confirmed and ratified this New Testament Canon in 405 AD, and orthodox Christians have known this as the New Testament ever since then. The papacy was directly involved in the permanent establishment of the New Testament Canon as well as in the permanent establishment of fundamental Christian orthodoxy. See the end of Volume II Appendix II for more details on the historical establishment of the Bible’s Canon.