The Papacy’s Solid Foundation in Undivided Early Church History Since Apostolic Times:
The Papacy’s Long and Wide Acceptance in the East Before the 2nd Millennium Schism of the Largest Portions of the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches from the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Catholic Sister Churches Collectively known as the Catholic Church
[This chapter was originally an appendix excerpted from my essay Rites and the Proper Plurality of Christian Worship within the Holy Catholic Church: An Overview, which I have expanded considerably]
Apostolic Era – Pope Saint Clement I and Saint Ignatius of Antioch:
Papal Authority Instinctively Used and Recognized by the Christians Who Knew the Apostles
Pope Saint Clement of Rome, who may well have been the Clement Paul mentions as his “fellow worker” in Philippians 4:3, was apparently written to by the Corinthians (in the East) to settle their dispute over local Church leadership, even though Saint John the Apostle (and Evangelist) was alive and much closer, governing the Church in Ephesus at the time. If the Corinthians had not actually requested his written judgement in resolution of their dispute, this would mean he heard about their dispute and, unbidden, intervened by letter to settle it authoritatively all the way from Rome. Either way Clement in fact settled the dispute authoritatively from very far away, exercising authority far beyond what was appropriate for a mere overseer/bishop of Rome but quite appropriate for a universal overseer/bishop or pope as Successor of Peter who died in Rome. Though a very humble and loving pastor, Clement clearly expects his authority to be recognized and obeyed even so far from Rome, which it was, and his Letter to the Corinthians was so prized by the Early Church that it was included in many early New Testaments, before the Canon of the New Testament as we know it today was settled in 367- 405 AD (ratified for all Christians, ending all dispute over the New Testament Canon, by Pope Innocent I in 405 AD). 1
Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who one ancient source says was the little child Jesus held in the Gospels (Mark 9:36-37, Matthew 18:2-5), was a very early Christian overseer/ bishop/eparch of Antioch in Syria, East of Jerusalem, which was the first of the four major centers of the Roman Empire to be Christianized and later become the center of a Patriarchate recognized by the Early Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Early Church for its long contribution to the Christian Church. As an old man Ignatius was arrested by the pagan Romans for leading the Christian Church in Antioch and he was sent on the long journey from the East to Rome, where he would be thrown to the lions for his heroic faith in Jesus, around 107-110 AD. On his journey he wrote several letters to the earliest Christian churches and to his younger friend Saint Polycarp, overseer/bishop of Smyrna, who would along with Ignatius but decades later (when he was 70 years old) also become one of the most beloved of the early Christian martyrs for Jesus (both Ignatius and Polycarp had received Christian training from Saint John the Apostle himself). On his journey to his death for Jesus he wrote to many churches but the Church in Rome specifically Ignatius describes as having “the presidency of love,” the Roman Church is the Church which specifically “presides over love” among the Christian churches. These two great early Christian martyrs and heroes, Saint Ignatius of Antioch and his friend Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, trained by the Apostles, were also the first to give the name the Catholic Church to the entire Christian Church which Jesus’ Apostles themselves had left in their care and the care of their generation of overseer/ bishop/eparchs who were all under “the presidency of love” given to the Roman Church.
Saint Irenaeus and Other 2nd Century Theologians:
The 1st Century Instinctive Christian Recognition of the Papacy Continues and Is Articulated Clearly by Century’s End
Saint Irenaeus, the Early Church’s first systematic theologian (who was also the indirect disciple of the Apostle John through his mentor the beloved early martyr Saint Polycarp who had learned the faith from John), was born and raised in the East, though he became the second overseer/bishop of Lyons in the West. In the late 100s AD Irenaeus negotiated peace between Pope Eleutherus and later Pope Victor and Christian groups in Asia Minor (far away in the East) they were each condemning, without denying either pope’s authority to judge from so far away. In fact, in his greatest work, Against Heresies, the work in which he almost single-handedly put an end to the Gnostic heresy even the Apostle John had had to deal with, Irenaeus declares that all local Churches must agree with the Church in Rome due to its “pre-eminent authority” (Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe)2. Saint Irenaeus’ contemporary Tertullian, the first Christian theologian to use the word Trinity to describe God, also first writes about the doctrine of the “Petrine” (of Peter) office (in De Praescript Haeret and Scorpiace) to explain this authority implicitly given to the Roman Bishop from the beginning, as does Saint Cyprian in the following century (in his work On the Unity of the Catholic Church)3. After embracing the Montanist heresy later on, Tertullian explicitly denies the succession of the Petrine office of Peter’s successors, showing that the orthodox Christian churches he now opposed believed in it (Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, 216-17).
Non-Catholic Christians usually try to make much of the fact that the papacy is not explicitly mentioned or defined in the earliest Christian literature, before the latter portion of the 2nd Century. But the lack of explicit papal reference in Irenaeus and earlier writings is most likely accounted for simply by the fact that the Church’s teaching on the papacy had not been well defined yet – as basic Christianity had not been well defined in many important theological matters yet. Keep in mind that Irenaeus himself had just been the very first Christian to explicitly attest in writing to even the canonicity of the four Gospels as inspired Scripture, and the New Testament he uses which has these 4 Gospels still is not exactly the same as the one we know, because the Christian Church had not fixed the Canon of the New Testament yet! The Early Church’s faith at this point is largely implicit, and the Church is in a period of gradual explication of its implicit faith which will take several centuries. By the time the Christian fundamentals are more explicit and detailed and more widely consciously recognized, so will the papacy be more explicit and detailed and more widely consciously recognized. Until then both were accepted by Christians instinctively. Thus the earliest Christians like Irenaeus and others are acting largely “by instinct” with respect to the papacy and with respect to the Trinitarian nature of God and Incarnation of God in Jesus, none of which had been defined by the Church very precisely yet. It will in fact be Irenaeus’s contemporary Tertullian who will first coin the term Trinity to describe God’s nature, and Tertullian will also be the first theologian to explicitly teach in writing the Petrine office of the Bishop of Rome as the Apostolic successor to Peter as the head of Christ’s Apostles and heir to Jesus’ special commissions to Peter alone among them. Later Pope Saint Leo the Great will formally define the fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus is “fully God and fully man” and he will further develop the Church’s understanding of the papacy to pretty much what it is today. The same theologians who developed basic Christian orthodoxy seem to often be also involved in developing the doctrine of the papacy. And the papacy will repeatedly in history be associated with the defense of basic Christian orthodoxy!
Christians reading the Gospels since they were written about a century before Irenaeus had noticed that Jesus says certain things regarding the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and had noticed that Jesus takes Peter aside and otherwise says things to Peter he says to no other Apostle. And in that century before the doctrines pertaining to these Scriptures (the Trinity and the papacy) are explicitly written of by Tertullian, Christians instinctively act as if these things are true, because of their Apostolic training and because of what the Scriptures say, as they are led by the Holy Spirit, even though they do not yet have a precise intellectual understanding of them and so none comes out in their writings as to just why they instinctively believe and do as they do. Thus in writing Irenaeus testifies to the necessity that every Church must agree with the Church in Rome but without testifying to the Petrine office of its bishop, which he may not intellectually understand as the definite source of Rome’s preeminence, yet he instinctively acts with deference and respect towards the Bishop of Rome even when he exercises authority well out of his local jurisdiction – somehow that strikes Irenaeus’s spirit as appropriate and he does not challenge this use of authority, and so he negotiates with Popes Eleutherus and Victor on behalf of other Christians without disputing these very early popes’ far-ranging use of authority.
Some non-Catholic Christians have tried to suggest alternate reasons than the Petrine office of the papacy for the obvious pre-eminence of the Church in Rome long before the 2nd Century appearance of the formal doctrine of the papacy, but given this clear preeminence of Rome in the earliest documents of the Church like those of Clement, Ignatius, and Irenaeus, it cannot be considered insignificant that the Overseer/Bishop of Rome has the highest authority there, even if he is not singled out in writing. More to the point, even if it was a given that Irenaeus did not intellectually understand the papacy and when he said that all local Churches must agree with the Church in Rome due to its “pre-eminent authority” he had in mind “the catholicity of Apostolic Tradition in Rome” or some such alternative, this would still not overturn the fact that Jesus’ special commissions to Peter, and the Apostolic Succession, are deeply rooted in Scripture (see Volume III Chapter 4), and the fact that the holder of the office of Peter’s successor in Rome exercised (papal) authority over the whole church, well beyond his own local territory, from the beginning, and was respected and obeyed in doing so, without any objection from the Apostles still alive nor John’s successors of whom Irenaeus is one. The Corinthians wrote to Clement, Bishop of Rome, to settle their dispute, while the Apostle John was still alive and closer to them than Clement. Clement’s letter to them commands them to end their dispute and he clearly expects to be obeyed, even though they are out of his jurisdiction if he was only a local bishop like all the others. His letter and his person are so respected by the early Christians that the letter is counted as part of the New Testament by many for centuries until the Canon is finally fixed in 367-405 AD. Irenaeus himself, so close to the Apostle John, approaches Pope Eleutherus and Pope Victor with respect for their papal authority well outside their own local territory. He respectfully convinces these popes to alter their policies on the Montanists and the Quartodecimians in Asia Minor (very far from Rome!), as a subordinate – he does not challenge the Bishop of Rome’s authority to make such policies from so far away! (Curtis, Lang, Petersen, 22, Shreck, 94). Irenaeus’s passing comment about the preeminence of Rome which does not explicitly mention the papacy and possibly refers to one other source of Rome’s preeminence can hardly be used as evidence against the existence of the papacy in the earliest Church, when Irenaeus’s own actions of respectful subordination to the Bishop of Rome well outside of his immediate jurisdiction strongly indicate the implicitly and instinctively recognized existence of the papacy.
The Council of Sardica – 343 AD:
The Church Emerging from Roman Persecution Formalizes the Pope’s Final Jurisdiction in Cases of Local Church Leadership Disputes (Which Popes like Clement Had Exercised since the Apostolic Era)
Like at the 1st Ecumenical Council (Nicea I) in 325 AD, the bishops in this important local council were largely from the Heroic Age of the Church, and had lived through Emperor Diocletian’s great persecution – so the faith they profess is that preserved from earliest times and tested by fire. Canons 3, 4, and 5 of the Council explicitly give the Bishop of Rome final jurisdiction concerning the deposition of the overseers/bishops who succeeded the Apostles in Church leadership, explicitly in honor of Saint Peter – the Chief Apostle who Jesus gave the responsibility of strengthening his brother Apostles (Luke 22:31-32). If a Christian overseer/bishop is deposed, removed from office, he has the right to appeal his case before the Bishop of Rome, and Canon 4 decrees nobody is to be ordained in the (appealing) deposed bishop’s place until the Bishop of Rome has judged (Schaff).4 These canons and others were confirmed by the 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicea II), in the East, in 787 AD. The Council of Sardica took place after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to Constantinople, and so disproves the claims of some later Bishop/Eparchs of Constantinople that the primacy shown Rome previously was due only to its place as center of the Empire, and thus properly transferred to Constantinople. The Council specifically refers to Peter who died there as the reason for this special privilege of the Pope in Rome, and the (less developed) doctrine of the Petrine office of the papacy was well known by this time.
The 4th Century Consensus about the Petrine Office of the Pope as the Head of the Christian Church among the Eastern and Western Saints and Doctors of the Early Christian Church
The book Jesus, Peter and the Keys (Butler, Dahlgren, Hess) has collected a wealth of quotations from the Early Church Fathers demonstrating a great East-West consensus regarding the Petrine office of the Pope in Rome. For a few examples: Pope Saint Damasus in the Decree of Damasus of 382 AD, just after the 2nd Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 AD (which defined the equal Divinity of the Holy Spirit along with the Father and the Son, and defined that Jesus was truly human as well as truly God), declares that the Roman Church has primacy not because of conciliar (council) decisions but because of the Petrine office of Peter’s successors. (Indeed, it was Pope Saint Damasus’ 382 AD Decree of Damasus which confirmed the 381 Council of Constantinople as being of Ecumenical or “worldwide” authority for Christians at all, since there were no Western bishops at the council and it would have been just an Eastern Council, not an Ecumenical Council, without the Western Pope’s ratification.) Many other Western Church Fathers including the great Saint Augustine develop and attest to the doctrine of the Petrine office (to Saint Augustine is attributed the famous saying, Roma locuta est, causa finita est – “Rome has spoken. The matter is finished.”). Saint Jerome, the Western Church Father who was ordained a priest in Antioch (in the East!) and lived much of his life in the Holy Land (in the East) notes in 393 AD that among other things this papal office was founded by Christ “so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism” (Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, 246). At the same time and before in the East the Cappodocian Fathers (Saints Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazienzen) circa 370 AD, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem circa 363 AD, and others, especially Saint John Chrysostom circa 387 AD (future Archbishop of Constantinople!), were also saying and preaching much about Peter’s special office as Chief Apostle, even calling him “Pillar of the Church,” “fisherman of the universe,” “ruler of the whole world,” and “ that One set over the entire universe” (Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, 245, 294) – certainly implying the universal jurisdiction of Peter’s Apostolic successors, which had long been exercised by popes and long been accepted by Christians. The Eastern bishops and theologians were saying essentially the same thing as the Western bishops and theologians, and were not disputing the more developed papal formulations of the West.
The 3rd Ecumenical Council, at Ephesus, Against the Nestorian Heresy – 431 AD:
Peter and His Successors the Popes Are Declared the Foundation of the Church (cf. Matthew 16:18) in the Acts of the Council, Not in its Dogmatic Canons Because Noone Disputed this Fact
This consensus of opinion in East and West regarding the Petrine office of the pope and his universal jurisdiction was given concrete practical expression at the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus. The Council was held in the East and it was presided over by Saint Cyril, Eastern Patriarch of Alexandria, who was given permission to do so by Pope Celestine in Rome. The Pope had “deputized” Cyril to preside over the Council. One of the papal legates representing Celestine introduced the papal delegation with the following very explicit declaration of the doctrine of the authoritative Petrine Office of the pope:
Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince (ἔξαρκος) and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation (θεμέλιος) of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Coelestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy synod (Schaff)5 (emphasis added)
This declaration was not disputed at all, but wholly accepted by the Eastern Fathers and the Council proceeded with the business at hand, which was the judgement of the Nestorian heresy – promulgated by Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople. This Ecumenical Council would officially clarify and dogmatically define, against the Nestorian heretics, the fundamental Christian truth that Jesus is one Person with two natures, divine and human.
(Ecumenical Note: the Nestorian heresy came to be associated with the “Lesser Eastern Churches,” still around today, which refused to accept the Council’s authority, but see the article: The “Lesser Eastern Churches” are Historically Associated with Major Heresies But are Not (Or No Longer) Necessarily Heretical, and Courageously Live for Christ in Muslim Lands, Leaving Hope for Reunion Among the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches)
The 4th Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon, Against the Monophysite Heresy – 451 AD:
Pope Saint Leo the Great Who Directed the Council is Universally Recognized as Peter’s Successor
This Council, as the previous Ecumenical Council at Ephesus, was held in the East but presided over by those the pope in Rome chose (four legates), demonstrating his recognized jurisdiction in the East. In fact, there had been a second Council in Ephesus in 449 AD which was supposed to have been Ecumenical, and it was supposed to already have settled the Monophysite controversy, but this 449 AD Council did not read out Pope Leo’s Tome like it was supposed to and it declared the Monophysite heresy as the true form of Christianity. Pope Saint Leo the Great refused to ratify this council held in the East as Pope Saint Damasus had ratified the 2nd Ecumenical Council held in the East, calling it instead a “robber council,” and the Council at Chalcedon was called to replace it.
Pope Saint Leo the Great in his many sermons and letters had further developed the long-accepted doctrine of the Petrine Office of the pope in Rome and promoted it strenuously. He did not do this for his personal power – he humbly accepted the papal office which the people had thrust upon him and considered it “a responsibility to be shuddered at.” History calls Pope Leo “the Great” not only for his massive contributions to the Christian Church which include articulating and explaining the fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus is “fully God and fully man,” but for his great political contributions in difficult times. Being pope from 440-461 AD, shortly before the final fall of the Western Roman Empire to barbarians in 476 AD, Pope Leo distinguished himself in the civil sphere for looking after and protecting the people of Rome, most dramatically by in 452 AD going alone to the camp of Attila the Hun, the most feared barbarian leader of all time, and convincing Attila to not invade Rome (apparently, Attila’s generals later reported that Attila had seen an army of “men of light” behind Pope Leo – indicating that Leo was not so alone as he looked, but had a massive angelic entourage!).
At the 4th Ecumenical Council the year earlier, in Chalcedon, Pope Leo’s now-famous Tome of Leo or Decree of Leo was finally read before the assembled Christian leaders (which it had not been at the 449 AD “robber council”). In it Leo developed the solid Biblical theology behind the fundamental Christian doctrine which now is commonly encapsulated in the non-Biblical phrase “Jesus is fully God and fully man.” Leo’s definition, adopted by the 4th Ecumenical Council, more precisely explains and declares that Jesus Christ is one person in two natures, Divine and human, that exist in Jesus Christ without confusion or change (versus the Monophysite heresy), without division or separation (versus the Nestorian heresy), such that Jesus is consubstantial (of the same substance) with the Father with respect to His Divinity, and consubstantial with us with respect to his humanity. In other words, Jesus Christ was not just one person who was both Divine and human, as the 3rd Ecumenical Council had dogmatically proclaimed against the Nestorian heretics within the Church, but Jesus Christ was and remained fully Divine and fully human. The 630 assembled Christian overseers/bishops/eparchs (the largest assembly of the early Ecumenical Councils), who were mostly Eastern as the Council was held in the East, after Leo’s Tome was read, immediately recognized that Leo had solved the controversy by clearly articulating and explaining the previously more implicit orthodox faith of the Christian Church, clarifying just why Monophysite Christianity was heretical, because it violated the fundamental Christian truth which Leo had at last clearly articulated and explained. Thus, with thunderous applause, the assembled (mostly Eastern) Christian leaders proclaimed, “This is the faith of the Church!” and they immediately afterwards heartily acclaimed Leo as the Petrine Successor, “Peter has spoken through Leo.”
Such a phrase came quickly to their lips because Christians had long understood that Peter “down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors,” as had been explicitly proclaimed and recorded in the Acts of the earlier 431 AD 3rd Ecumenical Council against the Nestorian heretics. Jesus had said that Peter was the “rock” or foundation of the Church Jesus built upon that rock, and Peter’s office of being the “rock” of the Church continued in his successors. So, just as Peter himself, by God’s special grace given to him, had first proclaimed the truth about the disputed matter at the Acts 15 Council of Jerusalem, and that very first Church Council there went on to proclaim to the whole Church on behalf of all the assembled Apostles what Peter the Chief Apostle had first spoken, so Peter’s successor Leo first proclaimed the truth about the disputed matter of the Council of Chalcedon and the Council of assembled Apostolic Successors (the bishops or eparchs) went on to proclaim to the whole Church what Peter’s Successor Leo had first declared. This pattern would be repeated again at the 6th Ecumenical Council of 680 AD – Peter’s Successor Pope Saint Agatho would first declare the truth of the matter concerning the Monothelite heresy, and then the whole Council would proclaim what Peter’s Successor Pope Agatho had first declared, ending the dispute within the Church by condemning the Monothelite heresy and clarifying the orthodox Christian truth which the Monothelite heresy had violated.
It was Pope Saint Leo (understanding he had Peter’s power from Matthew 16:19 to “bind and loose”) who declared the 449 AD Council invalid, and insisted that the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon which replaced it adopt his above formulation of Christian orthodoxy as binding on the whole Church, which it did, even though the Eastern overseer/ bishop/eparchs (where the Monophysite heresy arose) were willing to compromise with the heretics by adopting a less precise and clear doctrinal definition which gave “room” for the Monophysite interpretation.
It is clear from all the above that the papacy was not an issue of controversy between East and West, and hence there was never a Council called to settle the issue of the Petrine office of the papacy, nor to define it specifically once and for all – it was just implicitly or explicitly accepted by both East and West. There was never any challenge to the papacy from the East in all that time, despite how popes exercised authority in ways affecting the East, and despite how incredibly widespread and blatant and well-developed the papal doctrine was in the West – whereas many heresies and errors with much less popularity were challenged and brought before Councils.
The Eastern Catholic Churches Began Calling Themselves Eastern Orthodox Churches Around this Time to Clarify That They Held the Orthodox Christian Faith of the Catholic Church and Were Not Eastern Heretics (Nestorians and Monophysites)
It should be noted that the term “Eastern Orthodox” came to be used of the Eastern Rite Catholic Christian Churches around this period, in order to distinguish the orthodox, Catholic Eastern Churches from the heretical Eastern Churches. There were sizeable Eastern Churches harbouring Nestorian heretics who rejected the Council of Ephesus which had defined the true Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, and even more sizeable Eastern Churches of Monophysites who rejected the Council of Chalcedon which had more specifically defined that Jesus was “fully God and fully man” (the descedants of these Churches are today sometimes called the “Lesser” Eastern Churches or the “Pre-Chalcedonian” Churches). So the Eastern Churches in Catholic Communion, which had participated in and recognized the Ecumenical Councils of the Universal (Catholic) Church, started to call themselves the Eastern Orthodox Churches to clarify that they were not heretics but belonged to the Catholic Church which had defined and declared the orthodox Christian faith. So the term “Eastern Orthodox” in its original meaning did not imply any separation from the Catholic (Universal) Church nor from the Roman Catholic Sister Church, nor from the Petrine Successor in Rome as the Universal Bishop, the Pope (whose office was clearly recognized by the East and West at the very Ecumenical Councils which defined the orthodox faith). Thus some Eastern Catholics today will still refer to themselves as “Eastern Orthodox,” in the term’s original meaning, some Eastern Catholic parishes still use the word “Orthodox” on the sign outside the church building, and Roman Catholics should not simply think that “Eastern Orthodox” means schismatic, out of Catholic Communion.
(Ecumenical Note: See the article The “Lesser Eastern Churches” are Historically Associated with Major Heresies But are Not (Or No Longer) Necessarily Heretical, and Courageously Live for Christ in Muslim Lands, Leaving Hope for Reunion Among the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches)
The Libellus Professionis Fidei of Pope Saint Hormisdas, 517 AD:
The Christian East and West Use a Formal Profession of Faith Which Recognizes the Papacy
This was an early creed or profession of Christian faith which, consistent with all the above evidence of the wide implicit or explicit acceptance of the papacy since Apostolic times, formally equates communion with the Catholic Church as communion with Rome and the Pope (and already suggests the papal infallibility which was not formally clarified until the 20th Ecumenical Council of 1870, Vatican Council I). It was composed on the occasion of the Acacian schism centered about Constantinople and it was used in one form or another many times since as an official declaration of the Christian faith of the East as well as the West.
Like the Arian heresy which continued to live on, especially outside of the Roman Empire, long after the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicea had condemned it and clarified the orthodox position that Jesus was God, “one in being with the Father,” the Monophysite heresy also continued to live on after it was condemned by the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, in the form of sizeable Eastern schismatic and heretical churches (still around today though very small). Naturally enough, the Eastern, Byzantine Roman Emperor, Zeno, wanted his subjects to be united in Christian faith and not arguing over it, since unity has great advantages for political stability. In 482 AD (shortly after the 476 AD fall of the Western Roman Empire), Emperor Zeno got the local, Byzantine Patriarch in Constantinople, Acacius, to write a less precise compromise formula both sides could agree on, called the Henoticon (“Act of Union”), to replace the Chalcedonian definition that Jesus is fully God and fully man. The Henoticon avoided the clear expressions of orthodox Christian faith which the Monophysites disputed, and the Monophysites were generally pleased with the formula, since it meant they could continue to interpret it in their preferred (heretical) way. In an example of Caesaro-papism, wherein Byzantine Emperors acted like the Head of the Church instead of the pope (easy to do now that Rome was overrun by barbarian tribes), Emperor Zeno decreed that the Henoticon was to be used by Christians instead of the orthodox Chalcedonian formula of the 4th Ecumenical Council, so as to end the arguments between orthodox Christians and Monophysite heretics in the East. Pope Felix II in Rome, on hearing about the Henoticon, immediately rejected the formula, and excommunicated Patriarch Acacius who had written it. Patriarch Acacius responded by excommunicating the pope (which again, seemed easy to do given the chaotic state of the now-barbarian West). In the confusion surrounding the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the barbarians, this mutual excommunication resulted in a brief schism between the Byzantine East and the Roman West. The schism was healed 35 years later through East and West signing the Profession of Faith of Pope Saint Hormisdas, which reaffirmed the orthodox position of the continuing full Divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ against the Monophysite heresy, and which explicitly affirmed the Petrine office of the papacy (in response to Acacius’ unprecedented excommunication of a pope).
Pope Saint Hormisdas’ Creed was signed by the famous Byzantine Emperor Justinian I “the Just” (against the trend of Caesaro-papism), as well as by all the Eastern bishops and many Patriarchs of Constantinople on a number of occasions. This creed was later signed by all participants in the 8th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 869 AD following the 867 AD Photian Schism (Denzinger, 73-74, Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, 343-44), the Council at which the Papal Primacy of the Successor of Peter, in settlement of the Photian dispute, became an irreformable dogma of the Undivided Catholic Church of East and West.
The 6th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople III), Against the Monothelite Heretics – 680 AD:
The Council Calls Pope Saint Agatho “The Head of the Church”
In one of many examples of how Caesaro-papism, wherein the Eastern, Byzantine Emperor (or Caesar) acted as if he was Head of the Church instead of the pope, was bad for the whole Church, Byzantine Emperor Constans II in Constantinople had the elderly but courageous Pope Saint Martin I arrested and dragged from Rome to Constantinople where he was sent to die in exile (which he did in 655 AD) because the Pope refused to accept the Monothelite heresy which the Byzantine Emperor promoted. With so many high-ranking people in the East accepting the Monothelite heresy, there was a major crisis within the Church and so the 6th Ecumenical Council, the third such Council held in Constantinople, was called to settle the controversy.
In this Ecumenical Council held in the East and attended by 170 Eastern Bishops, the Synod of Bishops at the Council wrote a letter to Pope Saint Agatho, calling him the ‘Head of the Church” and his chair, ‘ The First See of the Ecumenical Church.’ (Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, 275). Pope Saint Agatho then directed the Council to condemn the Monothelite heresy, ending the controversy. Many noteworthy Eastern bishops and Saints in this period professed explicit belief in the headship of the Roman Pope over the whole Church, such as Patriarch Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem circa 638 AD, Saint Maximus the Confessor circa 658 AD, and Patriarch John VI of Constantinople circa 715 AD.
The 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) – 787 AD:
Council Secretary Patriarch Saint Nicephorus of Constantinople Confirmed that the Council was only Ecumenical at all because of the Pope’s Approval
In another example of Caesaro-papism causing trouble for the Church, Byzantine Emperor Leo III had provoked the iconoclast controversy, over the use of icons and religious images in Christian worship. The iconoclasts’ oversensitivity to icons came from the Byzantine East’s contact with the encroaching Muslim East. Islam strictly forbids any religious images or icons, which is why Muslims only use patterns for religious decoration. Biblical Judaism had never forbidden icons in religious worship, but only the direct worship of an image or object as if it was itself deity, which made it an idol not an icon (the 10 Commandments forbid the making of images and worshiping them, not the making of images themselves, even for religious use, which God actually commanded elsewhere). Biblical Judaism had in fact used many images or icons in its religious worship which God Himself in the Bible had commanded them to make and use in the worship that was pleasing to Him, including bulls, palm trees, pomegranates, and thousands of cherubim adorning the Temple, even two 15-foot-high gold ones. The Golden Calf was an idol worshiped as if it was itself Divine, while the two 15 foot-high Golden Cherubim in the Holy of Holies were icons which reminded the Jewish priests of the heavenly reality that God is constantly worshiped by unseen angels. Jews knew the difference between a forbidden idol worshiped in itself and a legitimate icon which helped raise their minds to unseen heavenly realities (I have heard Rabbis in Synagogues today articulate this difference), and the Christian Church as the New Covenant Successor of Biblical Judaism had traditionally always at least implicitly understood this difference, which is why even the catacombs of the primitive heroic Church which suffered purifying persecution are adorned with Christian icons. The early Christians had no fear that such religious images were idolatrous. But, ultimately inspired by contact with iconoclastic Muslims, Christian iconoclasts popped up and caused a great controversy within the Church which had to be settled in a 7th Ecumenical Council, which confirmed the appropriateness of the proper traditional and constant Christian use of art and icons which is clearly distinct, even to Jews, from idolatry (for more details on the use of icons see Volume II Appendix I).
As mentioned earlier, this Ecumenical Council, once again held in the East and presided over by papal legates from Rome who represented the pope, confirmed the canons of the local Council of Sardica back in 343 AD which acknowledged the right of the Bishop of Rome to have final jurisdiction in all cases of depositions of bishops, in honor of Saint Peter. What was written by important Eastern leaders both before and after the 7th Ecumenical Council proves that this confirmation was done in the same consistent Eastern spirit of recognition of and submission to the Petrine Roman Primacy demonstrated above.
Before the Council the Byzantine Emperor Constantine and Empress Irene had actually written to Pope Hadrian calling him “the veritable chief priest [primus sacerdos] who presides in the place and in the see of the holy and superlaudable Apostle Peter.” They asked him to come all the way from Rome and preside over the 7th Ecumenical Council personally, but (quoted here [with gloss in square brackets]):
“If, however, your blessedness cannot attend upon us … at least, pray select for us men of understanding, having with them letters from your holiness, that they may be present here in the person of your sacred and paternal blessedness [that is, legates given authority from the pope to preside over the Council in his place, as in most of the previous Ecumenical Councils]. So, when they meet with the other priests who are here, the ancient tradition of our holy fathers may be synodically confirmed [through the dogmatic canons of the Ecumenical Council of bishops ratified by the pope’s authorized representatives], and every evil plant of tares may be rooted out, and the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be fulfilled, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” [that is, that error will not prevail against the Church built on the rock of Peter (see Matthew 16:18 here quoted), whose authorized legates they are asking Peter’s Successor the Pope to send if he cannot come personally, in order that the traditional faith which has been challenged may be confirmed by the pope’s authority]. And after this, may there be no further schism and separation in the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church [between the iconoclasts and the orthodox Christians, since the controversy between them will then be settled], of which Christ our true God is the Head [Peter whose Successor they are addressing is only His specially graced representative].”
Pope Hadrian did not come personally, but sent his legates authorized by him to preside over the Council, as here requested. After the Council, Saint Nicephorus (758-828 AD), Patriarch of Constantinople and Secretary of the 7th Ecumenical Council, wrote,
“Without whom [the Roman papal legates presiding in the seventh Council] a doctrine brought forward in the Church could not, even though confirmed by canonical decrees and by ecclesiastical usage, ever obtain full approval or currency. For it is they [the Roman Popes] who have had assigned to them the rule in sacred things, and who have received into their hands the dignity of headship among the Apostles.” (Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, 356)
So the Patriarch of Constantinople who had an instrumental role in the 7th Ecumenical Council which today’s non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Christians say they accept, understood that a Church Council could not even be called Ecumenical nor considered binding upon the whole Universal Church unless the pope in Rome had ratified it!
It can be seen from all the above that the Petrine office of the Bishop of Rome as Head Pastor of the Church with pre-eminent authority over the whole Church was not a novel idea in the East at the time large portions of the Eastern Churches were separated from the Western Church and the pope. The papacy in fact had a long tradition of acceptance in the East going back to Apostolic times and extending throughout the period of the first seven Ecumenical Councils which today’s non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Churches say they accept. The papacy had long been implicitly or explicitly accepted in the East, and never challenged in the conciliar process as “not part of the true faith” despite so many avid advocates for so many centuries – in an era where novel heresies were constantly brought before councils. In fact the Petrine office of the papacy had been recognized and confirmed in the great Early Ecumenical Councils which made many references to the pre-eminent Petrine office in their Acts and letters though not in their dogmatic canons simply because it was not the disputed issue the Councils were called to resolve. It was not disputed at all. So it is natural that in fact many portions of the later separated Eastern Churches reunified with the pope in Rome after the Great East-West Schism, becoming (along with some Eastern Churches which never left) the Eastern Catholic Churches – the Petrine office of the pope in Rome had always been part of their Eastern Christian faith.
The Papacy Formally Recognized as a Dogmatic Part of the Christian Faith of the Undivided Early Church of East and West at the 8th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople IV) – in 869 AD, the Year the Eastern Saint Cyril, Apostle to the Slavic Peoples of the East, Died in Rome While Getting Papal Approval for His Missionary Work in the East
Photius caused the first very brief but significant East-West schism in 867 AD, mainly citing trivialities of mere East-West differences in practical expression of common faith which had been held peacefully for centuries as his “reasons” for the schism. All the later Councils wherein Eastern and Western Christian overseers/bishops/eparchs and patriarchs and theologians actually met in peace to talk about these very minor differences first raised by Photius as reasons for schism easily concluded that the Eastern and Western practices were complementary not contradictory and that in their different theological language East and West were simply “aiming at the same meaning in different words,” as the later 17th Ecumenical Council of East and West declared. It was easy to see, when both sides explained exactly what they meant, that the very minor difference of theological wording about whether the Holy Spirit proceeded “from the Father and the Son” (the Western theological expression which was added to the Nicene Creed) or “from the Father through the Son” (the Eastern theological expression which was understood as its meaning but not actually added to the Nicene Creed – see Trinity of Love) were essentially equivalent.
It is difficult to piece together reliably exactly what happened around the Photian schism, because Church historians on all the now divided sides have often attributed bad character or bad motivations to those figures around the Photian schism who represent “the other side,” and there is confusion over several details. So I will stick to the essential and mostly agreed historical facts and not make character judgements.
Ignatius was the Patriarch of Constantinople. He refused to give Holy Communion to Caesar Bardas because of his immorality (an alleged affair with his widowed daughter-in-law), and Bardas’ nephew, Byzantine Emperor Michael III, forcibly deposed Ignatius in 857 AD and installed the scholarly layman Photius in Ignatius’ place as Bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople. This was yet another example of Caesaro-papism, of Byzantine Emperors acting as if they were the Head of the Church, and it was an action in direct violation of the 7th Ecumenical Council. Under the terms of the Canons of the 343 AD Council of Sardica which had been recently reaffirmed at and adopted by the 787 AD 7th Ecumenical Council held near Constantinople (at Nicaea), Photius was clearly an anti-bishop (not legitimately ordained) who should never have been installed as bishop before the Pope in Rome judged on the deposition of Photius’ predecessor Ignatius who had appealed his deposition. Ignatius had been forcibly removed from his position as Bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople (or, possibly, pressured to resign). By the Canon laws of the Ecumenical Councils he had a right to appeal his deposition to the Bishop of Rome, and by those same laws noone was supposed to be installed in Ignatius’ place until the Bishop of Rome had judged whether or not the deposition would stand.
In 863 AD Pope Saint Nicholas I (“the Great”) declared the appointment of Photius to the position was invalid, as it clearly was according to the Canons of the 7th Ecumenical Council, and he judged that Ignatius had been illegitimately deposed and so Ignatius was still the legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople. It was the Pope’s clear right, according to the 7th Ecumenical Council (using the Canons of the 343 AD Council of Sardica), to make such a judgement in this matter.
Unfortunately, in yet more Caesaro-papism in which the Emperor refused to follow the 7th Ecumenical Council’s regulations, the Emperor allowed Photius to continue acting as bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople even though he now was obviously an anti-bishop, an anti-patriarch, not legitimately holding his office, since he not only should not have been installed as bishop before the pope had judged on Ignatius’ deposition in the first place, but in fact the pope, as was his right confirmed by Ecumenical Council, had now officially judged Photius’ appointment to be invalid and that Ignatius, who had done nothing wrong, was the legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople.
The situation then came up that new Christians in Bulgaria who had been evangelized by Byzantine Christians asked to have some teachers from Rome. This led to some confusion and arguments over which Christian rituals and practices they should follow, Byzantine or Roman. Because the Church up till now had instinctively lived a unity in diversity between the different Eastern and Western Rites but had never formally defined the equal dignity of the different culturally-based Sister Churches (though the Church had implied this by recognizing the different cultural territories renewed in Christ as Patriarchates in the Ecumenical Councils), some culturally based tensions arose about which rites were better and whether some were wrong. The Christian East had still been comfortable with the long-recognized papal primacy even though after the 5th Century Fall of the Western Roman Empire the Church’s Head Pastor lived in “barbarian” territory for centuries, and, having already signed the 6th Century Creed of Pope Saint Hormisdas which defined the papacy as a necessary part of Christian Faith, the East had even looked to the “barbarian” popes to direct the 6th and 7th Ecumenical Councils of the 7th and 8th Centuries, both of which had been called to settle heresies promoted by the Eastern, Byzantine Emperor! But limited East/West contact between the barbarian West and the sophisticated East had gradually taken its toll on the Undivided Early Church’s instinctive sense of Christian unity in diversity.
The sophisticated Eastern, Byzantine Greek culture since pre-Christian times had been very prejudiced against primitive barbarians, and since the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the barbarian tribes, there had been Eastern discomfort about the now culturally barbarian West (note that the very first example of Eastern failure to acknowledge the papal primacy, the Acacian schism, happened after the final fall of the Western Roman Empire to the barbarians). Because contact between the East and West was severely reduced after the fall of the Western Empire, lack of friendly contact and long-ingrained cultural prejudice naturally enough led to a general Eastern discomfort with the West and its different Christian customs even though many of these differences had previously for many centuries not been any cause for division. As the Eastern, Byzantine half of the Roman Empire had never fallen, and was still culturally sophisticated, many in the East were greatly offended when the barbarian, Frankish King Charlemagne, whose subjects had been Christianized but were still culturally barbarian, had himself crowned “Holy Roman Emperor” by the pope in 800 AD. Charlemagne, though he did much to promote genuine and orthodox Christianity in the barbarian West he ruled, was a “Caesaro-papist” himself, and he interfered in Church affairs by starting lay investiture, where the civil power chose who would be ordained to high Church offices (an unfortunate practice which would be the bane of the Western Church for centuries). Charlemagne had also insisted that the filioque clause, the words “and the Son,” be added to the Nicene Creed’s article of faith that the Holy Spirit proceeds “From the Father,” because this phrase articulated the West’s more precise theological understanding of that article of faith. Even though the Eastern theologians understood that article of faith in an essentially equivalent but even more precise way, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (though they did not actually add these words to the Creed), Eastern Christians were offended that this barbarian King who called himself the Roman Emperor would dare to add any words to the Nicene Creed (although technically, the original Nicene Creed did not even establish the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and the section about Him had itself been added to the original Nicene Creed of 325 AD at the 2nd Ecumenical Council in 381 AD – and all the later Ecumenical Councils had added shades of meaning to how the Creed must be interpreted, though without adding actual words to the Creed).
Photius, riding on the gradually building Eastern Christian discomfort with Western Christian differences which had come to a head in Bulgaria in the East where the question had been raised of whether the new Christians there should follow Eastern or Western rites, organized and presided over a local Eastern council in 867 AD, which condemned mere trivial differences between East and West which had previously been part of the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity as errors worthy of separation over – and his council went so far as to excommunicate Pope Nicholas I in Rome who was the Patriarch of the Roman Church which practiced such “errors”!
Without maligning the personal Christian character and holiness of Photius, as some Roman Catholic Church historians have done (it is in fact more recent Roman Catholic historians who have rehabilitated Photius’ reputation on this point – most scholars on all sides today agree he was a godly Christian, regarded by the Eastern Orthodox as “Saint Photius”), still it must be charged against Photius that given his reputation as a brilliant scholar, who must have been intimately familiar with the most recent Ecumenical Council, the 7th, of the previous century, he must have known that Pope Nicholas in Rome had lawfully deposed him in 863 AD and that he thus was holding his Church office illegitimately. Thus it is hard to interpret Photius’ attempted excommunication of Pope Nicholas over Roman Rite trivial differences in practice in 867 AD as anything but an attempt to secure his office in the long-term by attempting to sever Eastern ties with the papal office in the West which had lawfully deposed him. It was as a clear anti-bishop who knew the Pope in Rome had (lawfully!) deposed him, that Photius and his council in 867 AD declared Pope Nicholas excommunicated, suddenly citing mere trivial differences between East and West which had previously been part of the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity as errors worthy of separation over. According to the 7th Ecumenical Council, Photius was not the legitmate Patriarch of Constantinople and so Photius had no legitimate authority to do anything, never mind to call a local council or to excommunicate anybody! But the general Eastern discomfort with Western practices which were now unfamiliar after centuries of little contact between East and West had allowed Photius to find enough Eastern bishops/eparchs who were willing to join his council and condemn Western practices, wounding the unity of Christ’s Church. The ancient Catholic (Universal) nature of the East was still not lost, however. The anti-patriarch Photius’ council was not enough to overturn the long Eastern acceptance of the papacy from the beginning, and Catholic Communion under the pope was quickly reestablished in 869 AD at the 8th Ecumenical Council. A new Byzantine Emperor had finally removed Photius from his illegitimately-held office according to the pope’s 863 AD lawful deposition of him, and allowed Ignatius, the legitimate Patriarch, to once again lead his Patriarchate.
Although there has been some confusion in the details as to whether or not there was later a brief “second Photian schism” surrounding a council Photius held in 879 AD which rehabilitated his reputation, reversing the 869 AD council’s personal condemnation of him, most scholars today would say there was no second schism. For certain Photius after Ignatius’ death became the legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople, recognized as such by several popes in succession, and for certain the Byzantine East after Photius’s time recognized the papal primacy and remained in Catholic union with the Christian West. Photius died in communion with Rome! It is evidence of Photius’s genuine godly character as well as his acclaimed learning that after the death of Patriarch Ignatius in 877 AD, Photius succeeded him as the now-legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople, with the approval of Pope John VIII. Pope Saint Hadrian III later sent a friendly letter to Photius. When Photius was dismissed from his post by the new Byzantine Emperor Leo VI in 886 AD, Pope Stephen VI looked out for Patriarch Photius’ interests as Pope Saint Nicholas I had looked out for Patriarch Ignatius’s interests: Pope Stephen wrote several letters to ascertain the nature of the situation, and he refused to acknowledge Photius’s replacement Stephen (Emperor Leo’s brother) as legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople until he was convinced that Photius had willingly resigned as Patriarch. Whether or not Photius had been compelled to formally resign, he did not appeal his deposition to Pope Stephen VI, who was actually taking steps to make sure that Photius had not been illegitimately deposed. In all of this Pope Stephen VI was, on Photius’s behalf, simply exercising his papal jurisdiction, clearly defined since the Council of Sardica in 343 AD and confirmed by the 7th Ecumenical Council, to rule on all depositions of bishops (including patriarchs), as Pope Saint Nicholas I had done 23 years before on Ignatius’s behalf against Photius.
In any case, the brief 867 AD East-West “Photian Schism,” involving a legitimately deposed anti-Patriarch excommunicating the pope (the second time someone had tried to excommunicate a pope), necessitated that the papal primacy finally be formally defined as Catholic dogma in an Ecumenical Council, which had never been necessary before since during the previous seven Ecumenical Councils the Eastern overseers/bishops/eparchs and Patriarchs had always recognized the papal primacy, there had never been a dispute over the pope’s universal authority which would make a dogmatic canon necessary (even the brief Acacian Schism had been resolved, the East formally acknowledging the papal primacy, without the need of an Ecumenical Council to resolve it dogmatically). Now that it was necessary however, there was not even any need for the 869 AD 8th Ecumenical Council to make a new defintion of the papacy – the formula from the 517 AD profession of Christian faith written by Pope Saint Hormisdas was used, now given clearly universal and dogmatic force over East and West at an Ecumenical Council, and these dogmatic canons were signed by all the Eastern bishops present including the four Eastern Patriarchs.
The Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Saints Cyril and Methodius
As a demonstration of the fact that the 869 AD 8th Ecumenical Council simply dogmatically confirmed what had long been the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith, the very same year, 869 AD, the famous Eastern Saint Cyril died in Rome, where he and his brother Methodius had sought and received the pope’s approval for their groundbreaking missionary work in the Slavic East.
Saint Cyril’s unfortunate death in Rome while getting the pope’s approval for his work in the East, the same year the papacy was dogmatically defined at the 8th Ecumenical Council, is a testament to the living reality of the continuing fully Catholic (Universal) nature of the Eastern Orthodox Churches which recognized the pope in Rome as their Head Pastor, despite the culturally-based tensions which fueled the brief Photian schism around the same time. Saint Cyril and his brother Saint Methodius were Byzantine Greeks who became priests, they were “Eastern Orthodox Christians” in the original sense of that term, meaning they were both Eastern (Greek) and fully Catholic, Universal Christians who recognized the pope in Rome as Peter’s Successor and their Head Pastor. While working for their Byzantine Patriarch and their Byzantine Emperor in the Crimea, “they discovered the bones of Pope St. Clement I, which they solemnly presented to Pope Hadrian II” (Schreck). This was an important and meaningful discovery for Catholic Christians like them, to discover the lost remains of Pope Saint Clement I, the third pope from Saint Peter himself who was known to the Apostles themselves, who had written a letter to the Corinthians in the East which was a prized heirloom of the earliest Church (so prized it had even been in many early New Testaments before the Canon of the New Testament as we know it was set in 367-405 AD by the patriarchs and bishops and ratified by the pope).
Prince Ratislav of Moravia had made a request of the Byzantine Emperor Michael III (who had installed Photius) that he arrange to have Christian missionaries sent to Moravia to explain Christianity to them in their own language. In response to this request, Saints Cyril and Methodius were sent as missionaries and they arrived in 863 AD (the year Photius was deposed by Pope Saint Nicholas I in accordance with the 7th Ecumenical Council). Their missionary work was so successful that they are known as the “Apostles to the Slavic People,” and Saint Cyril translated the Byzantine Greek worship liturgy into the Slavic language we now call “Old Slavonic,” and he devised an alphabet for them so it would have a written form. This “Cyrillic Alphabet” is still used by the Slavic peoples including Russians and Ukrainians, who all worshiped Christ according to this Old Slavonic liturgy prepared by Saint Cyril for centuries before later starting to use the later-developed modern Slavic languages of Russian, Ukrainian, and so on. Saints Cyril and Methodius afterwards returned to Rome with a Slavic Prince in order to get formal approval from Pope Hadrian II (Pope Nicholas’ successor) for their groundbreaking missionary work, and the Pope gave them his approval. Saint Cyril died during this trip to Rome, in 869 AD, the year the papacy formally became an irreformable dogma of the Undivided Early Catholic Christian Church of East and West (remember that important Christian truths typically are dogmatized by an Ecumenical Council only after they have been seriously disputed within the Church, and the papacy up to the 9th Century had never been so disputed). Saint Cyril was a Byzantine Greek who had worked for both his Byzantine Emperor Michael III who installed Photius and had worked under Photius himself who was (albeit unlawfully) occupying the seat of the Byzantine Patriarch, but Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius obviously never sided with Photius when he condemned Western practices and excommunicated the pope – instead they sought the pope’s approval rather than Photius’. After his death, Saint Cyril’s brother Saint Methodius was made the Archbishop of Pannonia (Moravia), and he was protected by the pope from jealous opposition by Roman, Latin bishops (sadly, the drifting apart of East and West since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire had resulted not only in Eastern cultural prejudice against the West, but also the other way round). It is important to note that Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius always acknowledged the pope in Rome and considered it important to get not their Byzantine Emperor’s approval nor their Byzantine Patriarch’s approval, but the pope in Rome’s approval, for their groundbreaking missionary work in the Slavic East. This means that the Eastern Orthodox heritage of the majority of today’s Eastern Orthodox Christians, who are Slavic, is a thoroughly Eastern Catholic heritage, brought to them through Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Saints under the pope who brought the Christian faith to the Slavs and gave them an alphabet to record it. In the words of Church historian Alan Schreck, “these two brothers, Cyril and Methodius, exemplify the unity of the Catholic cultures of East and West, as well as missionary zeal” (emphasis added).
The Irrelevance of the 9th Century “False Decretals” to Nine Centuries of Previous Consistent Eastern and Western Recognition of the Papacy
Before leaving the 9th Century in which the Undivided First Millennium Christian Church first formally and dogmatically clarified and proclaimed the Petrine Office of the Papacy and its Head Pastorship over the whole Church, in response to the first serious challenge to the papacy in nine centuries of Christianity, it is worth discussing the “Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals” or “false decretals” which were written earlier in the 9th Century. Protestant Christians typically vastly over-exaggerate the importance of these forged documents to the Catholic Church’s doctrine of the papacy which Protestantism rejected. Simply because of the historical fact that before there were any Protestant Christians there were large numbers of non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Christians who denied the primacy of the pope as Head Pastor of the entire Christian Church, Eastern Orthodox Christians who now look back on Photius who excommunicated a pope as one of their own (sharing his anti-Roman cultural prejudice), and since Pope Saint Nicholas I cited some of these forged documents in his written disputes with Photius, Protestant Christian scholars quickly and conveniently jump to the incorrect conclusion that the Catholic Church’s doctrine of the Papacy depends entirely on lies, deceit, and forgery. They do not charge Pope Nicholas himself with this deception, for he did not write them and he did not know they were forged, but because the papacy was only formally defined as irrevocable Catholic dogma after the 9th Century Photian Schism, and since these documents forged earlier in the 9th Century were cited by the pope in the course of the Photian Schism, it conveniently seems to them that the modern Catholic understanding of the papacy effectively began in the 9th Century after the Photian Schism and was based primarily in forged documents, in deception – and thus they can justify their Protestant rejection of the papacy.
Of course, nothing could be more ridiculous than this conclusion, after one considers the tremendous evidence presented above of the widely recognized papal primacy from every single Christian century including the 1st Century of the Apostles themselves. Protestant Christians typically do not at all understand that the Catholic Church for the most part only formally defines and dogmatizes a doctrine after it has been seriously disputed in the Church, and then only if it can be demonstrated to have been at least implicitly understood by Christians since the early centuries of Christianity. I have read popular Protestant literature ridiculously claiming the 1854 and 1950 Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary were “invented” by popes at those times, totally ignorant of the very ancient Christian history of these Marian doctrines which were only clarified and dogmatized at those later times – but the scholarly Protestant literature I have read makes the same kind of ridiculous assertions about the papacy being “invented” in the 9th Century when it was first dogmatically clarified and defined.
In a show of scholarly inconsistency, I have seen Protestant historical works claim the papal primacy was invented by Pope Nicholas in the 9th Century (based on the 9th Century False Decretals) yet also refer negatively to Pope Victor’s 2nd Century papal “pretensions” or Pope Damasus’ in the 4th Century or Pope Leo’s in the 5th Century (usually ignoring Clement’s in the first Century – they do not want to admit the papacy existed in any form while the Apostles were still alive). They cannot have it both ways. Either the Catholic “error” of papal primacy was around since Nicholas in the 9th Century or since Leo in the 5th Century or since Damasus in the 4th Century or since Victor in the 2nd Century (or since Clement in the 1st Century!) – but the farther back you criticize the papacy, the earlier you have to admit it existed! Being committed to Protestantism, they are forced to paint any use of papal authority negatively, and so they have been blinded to the fact that all of the many First Millennium instances of use of papal authority are part of the Living Sacred Tradition of the Living Body of Christ the Church, part of just how the Early Church instinctively lived its life and passed on its faith – and frequently such early use of papal primal authority was very involved in the permanent establishment of the common essential fundamentals of Christian faith.
The papacy was in fact dogmatically defined in the 9th Century on the basis of nine previous centuries of essentially uninterrupted implicit or explicit Eastern and Western Christian use of and acceptance of the papal primacy without dispute, and the dogmatic definition itself simply borrowed word-for-word an early 6th Century formula describing the papacy (which agreed with earlier 2nd Century definitions of the papacy written by the same theologian who coined the term Trinity for God, definitions consistent with the 1st Century implicit recognition of the papacy while the Apostles were still alive). All the forged “false decretals” ever did was to incorrectly make it look like the Church’s consistent instinctive belief in the papacy was explicitly understood by Christians earlier than it actually was.
The Development of Doctrine
Protestants typically have no sense at all of the development over time of Christian doctrine and dogma, including all the basic fundamentals of Christianity which they accept, since historically Protestantism simply inherited the essential Christian doctrines fully formulated from their “Mother Church” – the Roman Catholic Church they left – without having ever participated in the extremely Catholic and papal process of the Living Body of Christ the Catholic (Universal) Church of East and West hammering out or developing its faith ever more precisely in the First Millennium controversies with heretics within the Church. Since in the 16th Century Protestantism received the essential Christian faith fully articulated and clarified already, orthodox Protestants find it easy to dismiss very early implicit evidence of the papacy on the basis that it was not an explicit part of the earliest Church’s clearly defined faith – not realizing that unorthodox or liberal Protestants find it easy to dismiss the essential basics of Christian faith on the very same basis, that these fundamental Christian doctrines themselves were not an explicit part of the earliest Church’s clearly defined faith either. As I have said before, the papacy and basic Christian orthodoxy are fully intertwined, and to reject the papacy naturally leads to rejecting basic orthodoxy, which is exactly what has happened in the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches – a fate no currently orthodox Protestant church can guarantee it will avoid in the long term (the now-liberal Protestant denominations used to be orthodox too, after all). The non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Churches are indeed unshakeably orthodox without being Catholic, but only because they regard the first seven Ecumenical Councils which settled all of the early Christian controversies over the nature of the Trinity and the Incarnation as unquestionably authoritative – without having examined closely the details of the history of those Seven Ecumenical Councils or even the full text of the Council documents themselves, which show how extremely important the papacy was to those Councils and their dogmatic definitions of basic Christian orthodoxy. In their unswerving dedication to the first seven Ecumenical Councils, Eastern Orthodox Chrsitians are acting “as if” the pope in Rome had real papal authority as Catholic Christians understand it, they are acting “Catholic at heart.”
Having a sense of the development of doctrine is key to understanding the “false decretals” and the “Donation of Constantine” which were forged in the 9th Century; to understanding why they were made in the first place (by someone who did not understand the development of doctrine and tried to make the papacy appear explicit from the beginning), and why they are in fact totally irrelevant to the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy (because of the reality of the development of doctrine which does not require something to be explicit from the beginning to be there from the beginning). The Christian Church, as the Living Body of Christ, has lived its human life animated by the Divine Holy Spirit instinctively or implicitly since the beginning, only gradually and over many centuries coming to make more and more elements of its implicit faith more and more explicit, so as to be understood intellectually. This was the whole motivating force behind the progression of Ecumenical Councils which only gradually made the fundamentals of Christianity more explicitly known and more clearly articulated. This process is still continuing, Christians are continuing to gain a more and more sophisticated intellectual understanding of their ancient faith the longer they meditate upon the infinite mysteries of God revealed in Jesus Christ the Living Word and the Bible the written Word 2000 years ago. But Christians did not even intellectually understand the gradual development of doctrine they were instinctively living until quite recently, notably through John Henry Newman in the 19th Century, the premier Anglican scholar of his age, who eventually became a Catholic (and later a cardinal) because he discovered that the long-term maintenance of basic Christian orthodoxy depended upon acceptance of the authority of the Catholic Magisterium throughout history to clarify and ratify the gradual development of Christian doctrine from more implicit to more explicit.
Newman saw that Protestantism which had rejected this authority was in his age getting increasingly unorthodox, slowly losing its grip on basic Christian orthodoxy and essential elements of traditional Christianity, as the natural and logical progression of the Protestant “Pillar” principle of “the Bible Alone is authoritative,” which excludes the Catholic Magisterium’s authority throughout history. This doctrinally liberalizing trend continued to worsen as Protestant Christianity continued to mature in its Protestantism in the century following Newman. However, within Protestant Christianity there were still many Protestant Christians who remained unconsciously “Catholic at heart” – that is, they remained unswervingly committed to the common fundamental tenets of traditional Christianity which are not from “the Bible Alone” but which are the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Bible hammered out by the Catholic Magisterium at the Early Ecumenical Councils of overseer/bishops, patriarchs and popes. The ever-increasing liberalization and unorthodoxy of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations (those most mature in their Protestantism) resulted in those 20th Century “Catholic at heart” Protestants distinguishing themselves from the increasingly doctrinally liberal and unorthodox Protestant “mainline” denominations in the Protestant Fundamentalist and Evangelical Movements (also the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements which add a supernatural emphasis). These movements within Protestant Christianity, though unconscious of the fact, are essentially “Catholic at heart” and refuse to strictly follow Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine to its natural and logical conclusions as the largest streams of the “mainline” Protestant denominations have. Unfortunately, because they are unconscious of their essential “Catholicism at heart,” they still pay “lip service” to “Bible Alone” doctrine, which makes them still vulnerable in the long term to that Protestant doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy which is the mature form of Protestantism; which is “Bible Alone” doctrine taken to its full logical conclusions, that the decisions of the Catholic Magisterium in the Early Ecumenical Councils which established basic, fundamental Christian orthodoxy cannot be considered to have authoritatively settled the early Christian disputes over “the Bible Alone’s” interpretation. Therefore the conservative, Evangelical, fundamentally orthodox Protestant churches cannot be considered as unshakeably orthodox in the long term as the Eastern Orthodox Churches are because the Orthodox do consciously and unswervingly accept the orthodox Biblical interpretation of the first seven Ecumenical Councils to the 8th Century.
In any case, because the instinctive, living process of the development of doctrine within the Living Body of Christ the Church would not be consciously reflected upon and particularly identified until the 19th Century by the Anglican Protestant (and later Catholic) scholar Newman, the early 9th Century forger of the false decretals had no clear sense himself of how doctrine gradually develops from initially implicit to gradually more and more explicit. Apparently he saw the papacy, an important part of his Christian faith which guarantees Christian orthodoxy, coming to be challenged, but, not finding explicit reference to it in the very earliest Church documents, he felt (unnecessarily) motivated to defend the papacy by creating documents which seemed to show the papacy was an explicitly understood part of Christian faith earlier than it actually was. When the growing Eastern challenge to the papacy came to a head in the late 9th Century with Photius, Pope Nicholas found it convenient to cite the recently discovered decretals which noone yet knew were forged (alongside the genuine evidence listed above) in defense of his papal authority which Photius did not accept.
The forger’s probably well-intended (but still immoral) action was totally unnecessary to defend the papacy. The doctrine of the papacy before it was clearly intellectually articulated and formally defined, as the doctrine that Jesus is “fully God and fully man” before it was clearly intellectually articulated and formally defined, was instinctively lived and recognized by the Christian Church, both being important elements of the orthodox Christian faith of the Early Church. When Jesus’ full humanity and divinity at last came to be seriously challenged within the Church (by the Monophysite heretics), Jesus being “fully God and fully man” was clarified and dogmatized in the 5th Century by Pope Saint Leo who articulated the doctrine and who directed the 4th Ecumenical Council to dogmatize it. But the Petrine, papal primacy which Leo exercised in the 5th Century, which was instinctively recognized throughout the Church in the 5th Century (East and West declaring “Peter has spoken through Leo”), was not seriously challenged within the Church until the 9th Century. Therefore the papacy was not dogmatized until the 9th Century. But both the full humanity and full Divinity of Jesus, and the papal primacy were dogmatized as articles of Christian faith in the Unidivided First Christian Millennium on the basis of it being demonstrable that both doctrines had been at least implicitly understood and undisputed by Christians up to the time of the dispute which necessitated each ancient doctrine be clarified and dogmatized as a formal article of Christian faith.
In another display of how irrelevant the false decretals are to the doctrine of papal primacy which stands firmly without them, it should be remembered that Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) was the great critical scholar who first recognized and demonstrated that the false decretals and the “Donation of Constantine” were 9th Century forgeries. His faith in the papacy was not undermined by his scholarly discovery of this fact! Nicholas of Cusa remained a cardinal, one of the select few who elect and advise the popes, because the papacy does not in any way need the false decretals to support it, it is firmly supported as an ancient and essential part of orthodox Christianity without them.
The Second Millennium of Christian Divisions:
The Continuing (Though Strained and Inconsistent) Catholic (Universal) Christian Unity of East and West under the Pope Between 1054 and 1472
It can be seen from all the above that there was a very consistent Eastern and Western recognition of the papal primacy throughout the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Christian Church, one which was easily and readily confirmed in formal Church documents signed by all sides whenever a brief dispute about it arose – and was even formally dogmatized by an Ecumenical Council of East and West (held in Constantinople in the East) as an essential part of Christian faith! However, the late First Millennium did see the beginnings of the gradual drifting apart of East and West, the loss of early Christian unity in diversity and the beginnings of cultural prejudice between East and West which questioned whether or not their Christian faith was really the same since they expressed it differently, according to their different Eastern and Western cultures. The 8th Ecumenical Council held in the East which dogmatized the papacy located at Rome in the West failed to recognize the root cause of the Eastern Photian dispute in such cultural prejudice (even though most of the things Photius cited as reasons for schism were matters of cultural custom). The 8th Ecumenical Council dogmatically clarified and confirmed the ancient doctrine of papal primacy which had been practiced and recognized in the Church at least implicitly since Apostolic times, against Photius who denied it, but unfortunately the Council did not formally clarify and define the “fully equal dignity” and mutually enriching nature of the different Eastern and Western cultural expressions of Christianity which had also been instinctively lived in the Early Church and tacitly recognized in the formal recognition of the different culturally-based Sister Churches as Patriarchates of the one Undivided Catholic (Universal) Christian Church at the very first Ecumenical Councils. Had this clarification been made, it would have balanced out the Council’s dogmatic definition of the papacy by dogmatically clarifying the roles and jurisdiction of the patriarchs whose authority had also been recognized since the first Ecumenical Councils. It would have been extremely helpful if at that time the patriarchs’ roles and jurisdiction in relation to the papacy had been clearly defined. For the patriarchs are the guardians and pastors of the different particular cultural expressions of the Universal (Catholic) faith (guarded and pastored by the universal pope) which mutually enriched each other and which together were superior to any one form of Christian expression alone. Without this being clearly defined at the same time the papacy was, the roots of the Photian schism in cultural prejudice were left to continue to fester. The 8th Ecumenical Council did not clarify enough to avoid later problems.6
The 11th Century Byzantine Patriarch Michael Celularius of Constantinople (originally Byzantium) was the next to take up the cause of division over mere trivial differences of cultural custom long held in peace and unity which Photius had first cited in the 9th Century as reasons to divide the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” of the 1st Ecumenical Council and its Nicene Creed. And he did it in ways that are so obviously impious and culturally prejudiced that many Eastern Orthodox Christians do not look upon him as a hero even though they do not recognize the pope as he did not (certainly Celularius is not “Saint Michael Celularius” to the Orthodox as Photius, who died in Communion with Rome, is “Saint Photius”). In the (censored) words of one Eastern Orthodox friend of mine, “Celularius was an @*$*&le.” The Patriarch did not even mention the “filioque clause” the West had added to the Nicene Creed as a reason for schism as Photius did, which at least superficially seemed like it might be a significant difference in faith although it was not (see below). Patriarch Michael only cited mere trivialities of custom as Photius had also done, such as clerical grooming habits (Byzantine beards versus Roman shaving) and exact type of communion bread (Byzantine leavened versus Roman unleavened) as his reasons to separate from the Undivided Catholic (Universal) Church of East and West.
Michael Celularius stands out as particularly guilty of crimes against the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity. He accused the Roman Rite of the Undivided Church of being wrong for not using the same kind of bread for Holy Communion that Byzantine Rite Christians did (even though this difference between the united Sister Churches had been held peaceably for much of the First Millennium), and impiously had the consecrated Eucharistic / Holy Communion bread from Roman Rite churches within Constantinople thrown out into the street and trampled. This kind of blatant anti-Roman bigotry naturally provoked a response, and in 1054 the pope and Roman Patriarch (Leo IX) sent a delegate (Cardinal Humbert de Silva Candida) to Constantinople to discuss the issue. Patriarch Michael Celularius refused to see the papal delegate, making any reconciliation impossible. After waiting for over three months to see Celularius towards possible resolution of the matter, the delegate gave up, and laid a bull of excommunication from the pope on the altar of Michael’s Church, the Hagia Sophia (he had come prepared for this eventuality – although it can be said he had no authority to issue this excommunication, since Pope Leo IX back in Rome had died while Humbert was away). Byzantine Patriarch Michael Celularius of Constantinople responded by excommunicating the pope, but cited only trivialities of mere Roman Rite customs as his reasons for doing so. Much moreso than with Photius, it is difficult to see Celularius’ actions, wherein he provoked a conflict with the Christian West and refused to participate in its resolution, as anything other than a deliberate attempt to split the Church so as to have noone over him in authority. Certainly he had no regard for the unity of the entire Church of Christ and he showed no interest in “correcting” Roman “errors” in custom, only in breaking communication with the West using such “errors” as his excuse. There had come to be enough Eastern unfamiliarity with and discomfort with Roman differences anyway for him to get away with it. It is clear that Patriarch Michael Celularius enjoyed power and influence, and he was even involved in deposing Byzantine Emperors. Celuarius himself would be deposed by Byzantine Emperor Isaac Comnenus four years later, in 1058. Of course, Celularius had no recourse to the Pope in Rome as per the 7th Ecumenical Council, to appeal his forceful deposition by the Emperor, as Byzantine Patriarch Saint Ignatius of Constantinople had done in the 9th Century when Emperor Michael III had forcefully deposed him and replaced him with Photius – since Celularius had already excommunicated the pope and refused to acknowledge the pope’s jurisdiction in the East!
[Note: Since writing the above it has come to my attention that some Eastern Orthodox understand that Michael Celularius, in accusing the Roman Church of of error for using unleavened bread for Holy Communion with Jesus in the Eucharist, was responding to prior charges from Western, Roman Rite missionaries whose mission field eventually overlapped with Eastern, Byzantine Rite missionaries, that the East was wrong to use leavened bread — and that Celularius refused to see the Roman delegation which had come to settle the matter because at an initial brief meeting the delegate was rude. If correct, this perhaps somewhat mitigates the charges against Michael Celularius of deliberately splitting the Church, and there cannot be any doubt that God’s Enemy the Devil was very much at work in all the oversensitivity and confusion and accusations (note the Hebrew word Satan literally means accuser) on both sides surrounding both the brief Photian Schism and the enduring Great Schism (confusion at the time and confusion in the minds of both Catholics and Orthodox later). But it seems to me the lion’s share of blame for the Great Schism of 1054 still belongs to Celularius, who did indeed deserve the (censored) epithets of my Orthodox friend for his arrogance. Even the Orthodox author from whom I learned this alternate perspective admitted that Celularius’ handling of the situation (without actually describing Celularius’ sacrilege in his book) was “harsh,” but this is an understatement in the extreme. Even if Roman missionaries had first ignorantly claimed there was something wrong with the Eastern tradition of using leavened bread, when the two different traditions had been used side by side in peaceful brotherhood for many centuries, surely it behooved the Byzantine Patriarch, the highest ranking hierarch in the East, to know better, and not return low-rank ignorance for high-rank ignorance. Surely basic Christian charity and basic Christian fear of God obligated the Byzantine Patriarch, even if he was personally just as ignorant as the missionaries, to not commit an act of sacrilege by having Roman Rite consecrated Eucharistic bread, the very Body of Christ Jesus Himself given sacramentally for to us for our Holy Communion with Jesus, thrown out into the street and trampled. If he wanted to protest a prior inappropriate and ignorant accusation of eucharistic error from the Roman Rite missionaries, surely ignorant and vile sacrilege from the Highest Byzantine Rite authority was not the appropriate way to do it. And having committed such an atrocity against both the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and against the Unity of His Church, surely refusing to see the delegates from the Roman Rite’s highest authority who had come to resolve the conflict begun at this high level by Patriarch Celularius (even if he was responding to a prior low-rank Roman accusation), for over 3 months with no end in sight, was entirely inappropriate, no matter how rude or arrogant himself (like Celularius), the chief delegate Cardinal Humbert was (his rudeness may even be reasonably explained by the gravity of Celularius’ Eucharistic sacrilege which Humbert had been sent to discuss). Responding to Humbert’s exasperated excommunication, having been given no opportunity by Celularius to even talk about the matter to find resolution, with an excommunication of the (by this time dead) Pope who Humbert represented, was surely completely unproductive and showed no interest at all in actually guarding Christian unity, nor even pastoral Christian concern for “correcting” any Roman errors, even if he genuinely perceived the Roman Rite to be somehow be in error by their long use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, which had been used in peaceful communion with Byzantium which had a different tradition, for many centuries.]
Communication between East and West had long been uncommon and difficult, since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire to the barbarians, and subsequent Muslim conquest of much of the territory between Rome and Byzantium/Constantinople, and this refusal to communicate with the West and this excommunication of the Pope and Roman Patriarch by the Byzantine Patriarch just made matters worse. This severely restricted communication between Rome and Constantinople (Byzantium) translated to the other Eastern Patriarchates as well, because the Byzantine Patriarch had come to influence not only his own Byzantine Greek territory but also the remains of the other three ancient Eastern Patriarchates, since the First Millennium Muslim conquest of their territories (the older Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria had been decimated by the Muslims after losing huge portions to the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies, and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem had always been small). Although there were some “Daughter Rites” of the ancient Eastern Patriarchates which were never out of communion with the Roman Sister Church and the universal pope in Rome, such as the Antiochene Maronite Catholic Church and the Byzantine Italo-Albanians (and some say the [Antiochene] Malabars, very remote from Rome who were out of contact more than out of communion), most of the Eastern Patriarchates and their daughter Churches suffered a severe lack of communication with the West and the pope after 1054 – though this should not be taken as an entire lack of Christian and Catholic Communion. There was a wounded Catholic (Universal) Communion of East and West under the pope’s universal jurisdiction, to be sure, but it was never a complete break in Catholic Communion under the pope before 1472. The consistent First Millennium Eastern and Western unity in diversity under the pope described above could not be wholly and completely lost in rapid manner.
There Were No Eastern Orthodox Churches Completely Separate from the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches Pastorally Guided by the Pope Before 1472
There is a common misconception that the year 1054 AD marks the first Great Schism of Christianity, between the Eastern and Western Churches. But the event of this date described above (the personal mutual excommunication of the pope [Patriarch of Rome] by his representative Cardinal Humbert (after the pope was in fact dead) and the Patriarch of Constantinople, not of the entire ancient Christian Sister Churches under their authority) only marks an extreme example of the strained East-West relations which had resulted from both sides gradually losing sight of their First Millenium unity in diversity and starting to judge each other’s faith as different because they expressed it differently (even though these same differences in faith expression had been held in peaceful Christian brotherhood for so many centuries). While 1054 indeed marks a significant event in the long process of the Great Schism (which might be said to have been heralded by the brief Photian Schism 867-869 AD, took a more serious turn in 1054 but certainly was not completed until 1472) , it can also be said that The One Christian Church of this period was still One Church seeking healing of its wounded unity, the source of which (in cultural prejudice) it was failing to identify in order to heal completely. Long after 1054 the Russian Orthodox Church still sought the pope’s approval for canonizing saints, and there were many such indications of unity despite the culturally-based tensions and indications of disunity. Most importantly the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, overseers/ bishops/ eparchs and theologians had participated directly in most of the first 17 Ecumenical Councils of the Universal (Catholic) Church, to the 1439 17th Ecumenical Council of Florence – not just the first 7 Ecumenical Councils those Eastern Orthodox Churches no longer in Catholic Communion currently accept as binding (the only reason they have to repudiate all the Councils after the 7th particularly, when there was Eastern participation in most of the first 17,7 is because the 8th dogmatically defined the papacy they are no longer in communion with). In fact, the Schism, such as it was after 1054 when the highest hierarchs of East and West excommunicated each other (but not the entire Churches under each’s jurisdiction), was largely something that only affected the higher clergy of both Churches. The bulk of average Christians East and West were not particularly aware of the tensions at the higher levels of the Church, before the very sad hijacking of the 4th Crusade from its planned purpose in 1204, wherein the Eastern Christian capital of Constantinople (successfully protected from Muslim conquest by Western Crusaders in the 1st Crusade) was actually, horribly, sacked by the Western Crusaders. Even though this was a renegade action, not indicative of general Western policy towards the East (and Pope Innocent III excommunicated those responsible for hijacking the 4th Crusade from its purpose (as described in more detail below), nothing did more to entrench the long-held sophisticated Eastern cultural prejudice against the culturally barbarian West than this barbarous act of Western prejudice against the East. This event brought the East and West’s gradual loss of contact and loss of full respect for each other into the full consciousness of the average Eastern Christian. After then there was a much more common understanding that the Christian East and West were in fact in Schism with each other. Yet, this very definite realization of Schism in fact spurred on definite attempts at reunion, since both sides, upon realizing the full reality of their disunity, also realized that Jesus Christ had called his followers to unity and it behooved them to return to unity where it had been lost.
The East-West Confusion and Dispute over the Filioque (“And the Son”) Clause Was Officially and Intelligently Settled by the 14th Ecumenical Council of 1274 by Affirming the Western Phrase Understood According to the Eastern Meaning
Thus the 14th Ecumenical Council at Lyons in 1274 at last clearly settled the confusion over the “and the Son” clause (or filioque clause) the West had added to the Nicene Creed, which was different than the Eastern “through the Son” formula for understanding the Creed without actually adding words to it. This Council condemned the rashness and error of the Eastern (Greek) Christians who would deny the validity of the Western Christian phrase that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” due to erroneous understanding of it, and it condemned the rashness and error of the Western (Latin) Christians who would affirm the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” but erroneously understand it in a way contrary to the more precise Eastern understanding that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father through the Son.” The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, as from one principle or beginning (the Father, single origin of all things), and not as from two (the Father and the Son as separate origins). In truly Ecumenical manner, whereby the different Sister Churches each contribute of the Universal Church’s overall understanding, the Council endorsed the Western formula for use in the West but understood according to the Eastern meaning! Unfortunately, the majority of the Eastern delegations to the Council were shipwrecked on the way to the Council and its clarification of East-West confusion was not widely disseminated in the East. (for much more on the advanced Trinitarian Definitions of East and West at both the 14th and the 17th Ecumenical Councils, this see the “2nd Excerpt” section of Trinity of Love: The Beating Heart Which Drives the Whole Story of the Bible and the Church).
The 17th Ecumenical Council of 1439 Expressed Exuberant Joy at the Achievement of Full Formal East-West Reunification on the Basis of Both Sides Clearly Determining That in All Their Differences They Were Merely “Aiming at the Same Meaning in Different Words”
In the 17th Ecumenical Council of 1439 the Eastern and Western Council Fathers, both of whom were well represented numerically this time, the Pope and the Eastern Patriarchs and large numbers of bishops and theologians of both sides in attendance, took particular care to hash out precisely all the differences which had in the past caused confusion or tension between East and West, and they determined that, once all the different theological terms they used were clearly defined, East and West shared identical Christian faith (including the papacy), merely “aiming at the same meaning in different words” on theological issues like the “filioque clause” or purgatory. The papal claims with roots in the East back to the 1st Century (as described above) were acknowledged by the East, and the different practices of East and West were declared as equally valid practical expressions of that identical Christian faith. The Eastern and Western Council Fathers expressed their exuberant joy at being finally reunited, finally acting like Catholics again, like one, holy, universal (catholic) and apostolic Christian Church, in the words of the Nicene Creed of the very first Ecumenical Council.
The Catholic (Universal) Communion of Christian East and West under the Pastoral Guidance of the Pope Finally Destroyed Completely by the Muslim Conquerors of the East in 1472
So the Eastern Orthodox Churches as a Church body completely independent of the Catholic (Universal) Church, the Roman Catholic Sister Church, and the universal bishop the pope (the protos, first or chief of the bishops as Peter was protos, first or chief of the Apostles in the Gospels) did not exist until after the Muslims (who conquered Constantinople/Byzantium in 1453) forced the separation in 1472. In Constantinople in 1453 the Roman Rite minority and Byzantine Rite majority, all reaffirmed as Catholics in the Union of 1439 (in accordance with the First Millennium Eastern and Western Catholic and Orthodox Sacred Tradition since the 1st Century described above), worshiped Jesus Christ together as the Muslims were besieging the walls of Constantinople (the Byzantine Emperor was present with his majority Byzantine and minority Roman subjects at a final Divine Liturgy before he went out with the army and died on the walls). But the Muslims did not want the Christians in their conquered territories having anything to do with the Pope in Rome who had encouraged Crusaders to go into Muslim-controlled territories like the Holy Land. The First Crusade had even specifically prevented Constantinople from falling to Muslim conquest centuries earlier. So it was Eastern, Orthodox, Catholics in communion with the pope (who had powerfully reaffirmed their Catholicity in 1439) who fell to the Muslims only 14 years later in 1453, and so the true, final date of the Great Schism which produced two completely independent Christian Churches out of the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the ancient Nicene Creed is not 1054 but 1472. All of the Byzantine Patriarchs and Byzantine Emperors since the 1439 Reunion Council had held to the reaffirmed Union with Rome and the pope, until the Muslim conqueror of Byzantium/Constantinople in 1472 deliberately installed an anti-Roman as the new Byzantine Patriarch, for his own, Muslim and anti-Christian purposes. This Patriarch formally abandoned the Union of the Catholic Churches of East and West, and all the Byzantine Patriarchs for the centuries of Muslim rule afterwards were installed by the Muslim ruler.
The Real Reason for the Ultimate Failure of the Reunion Councils and the Continued East-West Schism Today Is in the Cultural Ignorance or Prejudice of the Average Christian on Both Sides Who Gradually Lost Sight of the First Millennium Christian Unity in Diversity and Started to Judge Other Christians’ Differences as Inferior or Wrong Instead of Mutually Enriching
I find it totally astounding that the common Eastern Orthodox response today to the historical facts of the 14th and 17th Ecumenical Councils of 1274 and 1439 at which the Eastern patriarchs, bishops/eparchs and theologians very specifically reaffirmed the consistent ancient Eastern Orthodox communion with the Catholic Church and with the pope who pastorally guides it is to say things like “the Byzantine Emperor ordered the patriarchs and eparchs to settle with Rome whatever the cost in order to get Roman help against the Muslims” and “the Eastern Orthodox faithful never accepted these reunions with Rome.” They justify their current separation from the Western Church and the pope despite these formal East-West reunifications in medieval times on the basis of such assertions. This to me is totally astounding because this is tantamount to saying that their justification for not today being in the East-West Catholic Communion which was formally reestablished at these Councils is that Eastern Orthodox bishops/eparchs and patriarchs are characterless, dishonest men who are easily bullied, care nothing for Christian truth and refuse to stand on principle; and that Eastern Orthodox lay faithful are in any case disobedient rebels who refuse to follow the pastoral guidance of their legitimately ordained overseers.
My Eastern Catholic understanding of the history of the continued East-West separation after these formal reunions is far more complimentary to Eastern Orthodox Christians than this. It recognizes that both the Christian East and West, who were practically separated from much contact with each other for many centuries due to first the barbarian conquests of the Western Roman Empire and then due to the Muslim conquests of the land and sea routes which previously connected them, had gradually lost sight of their wonderful First Millennium unity in diversity which unfortunately had never been formally clarified and defined in any Ecumenical Council, and so relations between them had gradually become more awkward and uncomfortable because of their differences which once were and should have remained mutually enriching and no cause for schism. The ancient Catholic Communion of East and West which both recognized the pope in Rome as the Universal Overseer/Bishop and protos (first or chief) at the level of Universal Church Communion (as described throughout history above) remained essentially intact but increasingly wounded as cultural prejudice against each other for differences in expressions of common faith gradually grew, but even though the underlying root problem in cultural prejudice was never explicitly identified and dealt with, the still-Undivided Catholic Church of East and West continued to seek healing of its wounded unity, knowing that this was Christ’s Will, and at the 14th and 17th Ecumenical Councils had some major breakthroughs in correction of previous indications of disunity amongst the indications of continued unity. Unfortunately, even after the joyfully exuberant formal reestablishment and confirmation of East-West Universal (Catholic) Christian unity under Peter’s Successor in 1439, after the most thorough and loving hashing out of East-West differences yet, a foreign and anti-Christian power, the Muslim conquerors of the East who took Constantinople in 1453, from outside of the Church forced the first ever formal and complete separation of most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches from the ancient Universal (Catholic) Communion of East and West which recognizes the pope as its Head Pastor. So the current fact of Eastern Orthodox total separation from the Catholic Church is not something they ever chose but it was forced upon them, and this is the major historical reason the East-West reunions formally declared in 1274 and 1439 at truly Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils are no longer adhered to by the majority of Eastern Christians but only by a sizable minority (10%) of Eastern Christians who are still Catholic, like myself (some of the individual Eastern Catholic Churches are in fact more numerous than their Eastern Orthodox counterparts). So there is no need to discredit the 1274 and 1439 reunion Councils by insulting the honesty and integrity and Christian character of all the Eastern Orthodox leaders and lay faithful involved in them – one only need recognize the reunions were established honestly and in accordance with First Millennium Eastern recognition of the Catholic Communion and the papacy, but dashed later by an outside source!
Of course, later generations of Eastern Orthodox Christians who grew up in total separation from the Catholic Communion, the Roman Sister Church, and the pope, naturally found it necessary to try to justify their currently-lived fact of separation which was against their own First Millennium Eastern Orthodox Tradition (described in this chapter above). It was easy to find superficial justifications rooted in that same old cultural prejudice of differences being inferior or wrong which had never been formally identified and rooted out even at the medieval reunion Councils. It was easy to fixate upon past (and ongoing) cases of Roman Christians, motivated by their own cultural prejudice, actively disrespecting them, especially at the 4th Crusade which, though it was never supposed to even go to Constantinople, got highjacked by the Venetians who supplied the fleet for their own profiteering purposes, and sacked Constantinople instead of going to Egypt in a larger effort to free the Holy Land from Muslim domination like it was supposed to (this first plan is what the pope had been involved with!). Pope Innocent III was appalled when he learned of this misdirection of the 4th Crusade which sacked the very same Christian city the 1st Crusade had been called to protect from Muslim conquest, and he excommunicated some of its leaders. This was a condemned action of some Roman Catholic Christians, not an official act of the Roman Catholic Church – but this event of great but long past Roman prejudice is still cited by Eastern Orthodox Christians as a reason for separation from the Roman Church.
Pope Innocent III, although he deplored what had happened and excommunicated the ringleaders, did still recognize the Roman, Latin hierarchy the 4th Crusade established in Constantinople, in the hopes that a Western hierarchy in the East would help smooth the East-West tensions. This was a grave mistake (popes are not infallible in all their judgements and decisions, after all, but only while dogmatically defining a solemn matter of faith or morals for the entire Church, which they very rarely do). There was massive popular Eastern resentment of the immoral and unChristian sacking of Constantinople and of the Western hierarchy temporarily established there afterwards. Even though important Eastern Orthodox historians acknowledge that long after 1054 the East (especially the Slavic churches founded by the very Catholic Saints Cyril and Methodius, which were farther away from Michael Celuarius’ jurisdiction of Constantinople) were generally open to continued communion with the Roman Church and the papacy, and continued to seek formal Christian reunion with Roman Christians and the pope despite past tensions, they still cite the 4th Crusade as the solidification of the separation of the Christian East and West, and most certainly it is the ultimate example of the ignorant prejudice of Roman Rite Catholic Christians against what had once undisputedly been the Catholic East. Yet despite this horrible event propagated upon the Eastern Christian capital by only some Roman Catholics, their leaders excommunicated, the Patriarch of Constaninople and other Eastern leaders, following Eastern Christian Sacred Tradition, STILL sought reunion with the Catholic Church, and acheived it in 1439, and held to the union right until the Muslim conquerors of Constantinople for their own anti-Christian purposes starting choosing the Patriarchs of Constantinople, choosing ones they knew hated Rome. Even if there is evidence that many Eastern Orthodox of lower, common ranks, chiefly due to the hatred and prejudice against Rome entrenched in them since the deplorable and un-Christian 1204 Roman sacking of Constantinople, did not support the Catholic union their leaders entered into and held to until they were forced to abandon it by their Muslim conquerors, it would be a grave mistake and exaggeration to say that the union was simply “not supported” by the common people. Of course many of the common people followed their ordained leaders! Many of their descendants joined the Eastern Catholic Churches when they had opporunity precisely because they knew union with the Western Church and the Pope was part of their Eastern Christian Sacred Tradition. Many of those who were resistant to the union because of lingering anti-Roman prejudice would likely have come around eventually under the pastoral instruction of their ordained leaders who had entered into the union willingly and only after much, long deliberation, in conformity with the First Millenium unifed Christian Tradition — if not for the anti-Christian, Muslim interference, where the Muslim Sultan of conquered Constantinople started investing only anti-Romans as Patriarchs of Constantinople, who instead poured out their own anti-Roman prejudice on their flock, to finally and at last solidify the Great Schism.
The 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic (Universal) Church (Vatican Council II, 1962-5), in Which the Eastern Catholic Eparchs/ Bishops Were Appropriately Influential Though a Minority, Officially Corrects the Root of East-West Christian Ignorance, Prejudice, and Division, by Formally and Irrevocably Recognizing the “Fully Equal Dignity” of Each of the Different Eastern and Western Cultural Expressions of the Common Universal (Catholic) Christian Faith Which Are Organized into Different Eastern and Western “Sister Churches” (Each Pastored by a Patriarch) Which Each Recognize Peter’s Successor in Rome as the Head Pastor of the Entire Universal (Catholic) Communion of Such Sister Churches, as Did the Undivided Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Sister Churches of the First Millennium
Of course, it is anti-Eastern ignorance and/or prejudice among Roman Catholics like the 4th Crusade (not near so extremely acted out) that still fuels the East-West schism by giving the Eastern Orthodox a legitimate or at least understandable reason to fear the prejudice and disrespect of Roman Catholics, who today outnumber them more than 3 to 1. I would say that this understandable fear is the only legitimate reason today’s Eastern Orthodox ever had to stay out of the Catholic Communion and not return to it even after Muslim control eased and they had opportunity, as did my own Byzantine Ukrainian Daughter Church which came back to the Catholic Communion in 1595, 123 years after the forced separation of 1472. My own particular Eastern Catholic Sister Church at various times has unjustly suffered a certain amount of inappropriate and literally anti-Catholic (anti-Universal) “Romanization” at the ignorant pressuring of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters within the Catholic Communion, so it is certainly understandable that in the past the Eastern Orthodox who are currently out of the Catholic Communion fear the same.
However, I would say that since in Vatican II, the 21st Ecumenical Council, the Catholic Church officially recognizes the fully equal dignity of the different culturally-based Sister Churches, the Catholic Church has at last officially corrected the underlying root of the past East-West schisms in cultural prejudice, so the one legitimate or understandable reason for the Eastern Orthodox to stay out of Catholic Communion has been officially removed. I do understand that the Eastern Orthodox will need to see this new official understanding of the Catholic Church take root in the hearts and minds of the “average Roman Catholic” before they will be comfortable enough to actually reunify with the Roman Catholic Church and the pope in one big truly Universal (Catholic) Church (which would no longer have a vast majority of Roman Catholic Christians after such reunification). But I remind today’s Eastern Orthodox that the only reason they call themselves “the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils” in the first place is because after the fact of their forced separation from the Catholic Church in 1472, Eastern Orthodox Christians in order to justify their current separated reality had to repudiate their own involvement in the 8th Ecumenical Council which dogmatized the papacy they were now out of communion with, and repudiate their own involvement in all the later Ecumenical Councils they were involved with including the two reunion Councils (before the Muslim-forced total separation) which formally and joyfully reestablished the Eastern Orthodox Churches as part of the Catholic Communion of Eastern and Western Sister Churches under the pope’s Head Pastorship. It is the natural condition of the Eastern Orthodox Churches to be Catholic and to recognize the pope as Head Pastor, the protos (first or chief) of all the Patriarchs and bishops, and I have demonstrated above that even the Church of the first seven Ecumenical Councils which they claim to be was thoroughly utterly Catholic and so recognized the pope as its Head Pastor. Most of the facts I have brought up above are not even in dispute but are in fact the basis of the 2007 Ravenna document of the official Catholic/Orthodox dialogue in fact jointly recognizing that the Pope in Rome was in fact the Protos at the Universal level of the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium, even though the official joint dialogue has not yet finished deliberating on just exactly what the Pope’s prerogatives as Protos should be today, on the basis of the evidence of the First Millennium (since there are some developments of the papal prerogatives in the Second Millennium which are still in dispute). See The First Great Schism of Christianity and its Precedent in Division and in Healing.
It is important here to remember again that there was no Eastern dispute of the papacy at all until after the 476 AD Fall of the Western Roman Empire to the barbarians, which put the papacy in barbarian lands, apparently provoking some Eastern theologians and patriarchs to question the doctrine (which had been quite well developed at the time in the West without any objections from the East) because of the sophisticated Greek culture’s powerful cultural prejudice against barbarians. It is only after the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD to barbarian tribes that the Eastern Greek nationalism really comes out, that Easterns suddenly have natural reason to be uncomfortable with the Petrine Head of the Church being in the barbarian region, and some start to look for another Head of the Church. Thus shortly after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire there is the Acacian schism (which was also heretical, compromising with the Monophysites), and by the end of the 6th Century one Patriarch of Constantinople is claiming to be “Universal Patriarch” in opposition to Pope Saint Gregory the Great on the basis of Constantinople being “New Rome” (without any reference to Peter and the Keys Jesus gave him to govern the Church, which had been cited in the Acts of earlier Ecumenical Councils as the basis of the pope’s authority!). Both of these are put down however, and all involved sign the 517 AD Confession of Faith which recognizes the pope’s primacy over the whole Church. The Ecumenical Councils continue to be presided over by papal legates from the “barbarian” West. At the Seventh Ecumenical Council the East is still comfortable enough with the Roman Petrine primacy to confirm the 343 AD Council of Sardica canons which recognize it (and the Patriarch of Constantinople who served as secretary of the 7th Ecumenical Council explicitly recognizes the papal headship of the whole Church, as does the Byzantine Emperor, see above). Perhaps the Eastern Council Fathers were very cognizant of the protective role the papacy played when Byzantine Emperors had recently tried to dictate Church doctrine and discipline in the Council of Trullo and the Iconoclast heresy, and had supported the Monothelite heresy. In any case, in the mid-300s AD the Western capital of the Roman Empire was moved to Milan for reasons of defensibility – so when Damasus and Leo were Pope, before the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome had already been stripped of its political importance as the capital of the Empire – further illustrating how ridiculous it was (and is) for Patriarchs of Constantinople to claim that papal primacy was due to the prominence of the capital and so properly transferred to Constantinople as the new capital. Popes Damasus and Leo had been very clear and explicit about their role as Universal Overseer/Bishop over the entire Church, on the basis of the keys Jesus gave to Peter, without any reference to their living in the capital of the Roman Empire, which they did not anyway since all governmental functions had been moved to Milan. And the Eastern overseers/bishops and patriarchs at the time had accepted their primacy on this basis without any difficulty. The Acts of the 3rd Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 AD specifically mentions the keys as part of the reason for the governing power of Peter’s successor – and the Old Testament references to the keys which Jesus clearly alludes to when giving them to Peter, means that the keys mark Peter as having special authority as “prime minister” of the Messianic Kingdom of Jesus, the son of David, with authority over all other ministers on behalf of the King (see Volume III Chapter 4).
I Posit For Ecumenical Discussion that The Catholic Church Is the Only Christian Church Communion Which Can Look All the Facts of the Documents and History of the Undivided Early Church Squarely in the Face and Say, “I Recognize this Early Church as the Church I Belong to Today” – Eastern Orthodox and Especially Protestant/ Evangelical Christians must Ignore or Cultivate Ignorance of Much of Early Church History in Order to Convince Themselves Their Church Today Is like the Undivided Early Church
I note that the Eastern Orthodox Churches are indeed very like the particularly Byzantine Eastern Churches within the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic Communion, but they lack their recognition of the papacy in Rome and they lack the obvious Universal/Catholic nature of the Undivided Early Church, which was composed of Eastern and Western particular churches (and non-Byzantine Eastern Churches) which were open to each other’s differences rather than prejudiced against them. Despite the current over-Romanization of the Catholic Church (which has already been corrected in principle though not yet in full implementation), the Catholic Church can indeed recognize all the Eastern and Western Church documents of the Undivided Early Church’s history as its own, and genuinely see itself in the Ancient Catholic Communion of East and West – I myself am an Eastern member of that ongoing Catholic Communion and not a Roman Catholic Christian. Note here in contrast that there is nothing more obvious about the Eastern Orthodox Churches than that they are utterly Byzantine and not Catholic/Universal at all. As bad as the past “over-Romanization” of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Communion with the ancient Roman Patriarchate (now being corrected) is, it is not near so bad as the thorough “Byzantinization” of all the Eastern Orthodox Churches in Communion with the ancient Byzantine Patriarchate now separated from Rome. The basic structure and form of the many different (and mutually enriching) Christian Rites in union with Rome is still very evident in the worship of most, however bad the past tendency towards Romanization may have been (and since Vatican II officially recognized the “fully equal dignity” of all of the Rites within the ancient Catholic Communion, efforts are being made to remove traces of past over-Romanization from the Eastern Catholic Churches). In contrast, the originally non-Byzantine Churches in Eastern Orthodox Communion with the Patriarchate of Byzantium/Constantinople, including what is left of the more ancient Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria, have been most thoroughly Byzantinized, and, at the past insistence of Byzantium/Constantinople, use the Byzantine Liturgy instead of their ancient Christian Rites which enriched the Undivided Early Church of the early Councils, their traditional ways within the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity have been lost in the Eastern Orthodox Church Communion but are present and active in the Catholic Church Communion.
Also, as I know from personal Protestant experience, the Protestant/ Evangelical churches have to actually cultivate ignorance about the Early Church in order to convince themselves their churches today bear strong resemblance to the Undivided Early Church (beyond the common Christian fundamentals they borrowed from the Catholic Church when they left it). As long as they know very little about the actual historical Early Church, they are free to imagine it was a lot like their own church community today. Studying the Early Church is to study the Catholic Church, so most do not study it in detail and those who do (including myself when I was Protestant) usually only do so with “blinders on,” subconsciously skipping over as many Catholic details as possible (they do this with the New Testament as well, which is also very Catholic!). Genuinely wanting to learn about the nature of the faith and practice of the early Christians was instrumental in my own becoming Catholic. Similarly, in the words of my professor (and former Presbyterian pastor) Scott Hahn,
“In the writings of the early [Christian Church] fathers … I ran smack up against a church I could only recognize as Catholic. It was liturgical, hierarchical, sacramental. It was Catholic, and yet it held all that I loved about the Reformation tradition too: a deep devotion to Jesus, a spontaneous life of prayer, a zeal to transform the culture, and, of course, a burning love for Scripture.”
So this is not to say that conservative, Evangelical Protestants have not also preserved good things from the Undivided Early Church – orthodox Protestants can indeed further enrich the ancient Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian ‘Sister Churches’ collectively known as the Catholic Church. But they can only do so because they are already ‘Catholic at Heart.’ What makes them formally Protestant and not Catholic are the same things that make their fellow Protestants who are “doctrinally liberal” unorthodox.
The Healing of the Great East/West Schism Will Involve Eastern Orthodox Christians Simply Recognizing the Undisputable Historical Fact (Demonstrated Above) That the Eastern Half of the Undivided Early Church Recognized the Pope in Rome as Head Pastor of the Entire Christian Church, and it Will Involve Roman Catholic Christians Simply Recognizing the Undisputable Historical Fact That the Undivided Early Church Was Not the Roman Catholic Church but Included the Roman Catholic Church Within the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of Different Valid Particular Eastern and Western Orthodox Churches Headed by Patriarchs
Thankfully, because of Vatican II’s recent teaching from 1962-65 (which actually came about in the Ecumenical context of a formal “Dialogue of Love” with the Eastern Orthodox Communion starting in 1958), teaching which has made some progress trickling down into the minds of hearts of Roman Catholic Christians, and because of the Joint Declarations of Catholic Popes and Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchs since the last day of Vatican II, dedicating their Churches to seek to reestablish their First Millennium unity, the below ignorant and sinful attitudes against Christian unity are not as prevalent as they once were. However, there is still a great deal of ignorance and prejudice between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians which needs to be addressed.
For true rapprochement, both typical Eastern Orthodox Christians and typical Roman Catholic Christians have to repent of any continuing sinful attitudes against the unity of the one Catholic and Orthodox Church founded by Jesus. The typical Eastern Orthodox Christian must be asked “why do you not properly respect the Successor of Peter, who holds the office of the unity of the Church, as recognized in the first Seven Ecumenical Councils you say that you hold?”, and the typical Roman Catholic Christian must be asked the question, “why do you not respect the universality of the Church, the truly universal (Catholic!) union of Christian Sister Churches (much more than just the Roman Catholic Sister Church) which was the Catholic Church from the very beginning?” Both sides need to repent specifically of sinful attitudes against Christian unity, against the unity of the truly Universal or Catholic Church of East and West united.
More specifically, Roman Catholic Christians should be asked, “why do you not understand and respect the universality (catholicity) of the Church as a Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches as in the Undivided Early Catholic Church, Sister Churches which pooled their resources at the Early Ecumenical Councils and which have equal status and dignity as Catholic Christian Sister Churches together making up the one Catholic Communion of Sister Churches collectively known since the Undivided First Millennium as simply the Catholic Church.” Half the Saints and Doctors of the Early Catholic Church which the Roman Catholic Sister Church recognizes and celebrates are not Roman Catholics. So “why do you not recognize and respect the universality (catholicity) of the Church as a plurality of universal faith expressed in different particular cultural ways, Eastern and Western? Why do you not respect the non-Roman forms of Christianity when the pope could have just as easily been the Bishop of Antioch and the Patriarch of the Antiochene Rite – that papal office of unity does not “belong” to the Roman Sister Church by nature or necessity but only by the accident of the death of Peter in Rome and not somewhere else, such that Peter’s universal office as chief overseer/bishop is succeeded in Rome and not somewhere else.”
If you ask those questions, there are understandable answers to those questions, though both sides are still responsible to correct these ignorant attitudes which sinfully wound the unity of Christ’s Church.
The answer to the Roman question is: “well, after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Muslim conquests of the East, we lost contact with the Christian East and starting thinking of the Catholic Church as the Roman Church because that’s all we knew.” The answer to the Eastern question is “well, because the Roman Catholics didn’t know us anymore and didn’t respect us anymore, we don’t respect the pope because we are afraid that we are going to be Romanized if we rejoin the Catholic Communion under him, and we have a lots of past evidence to support that fear in how the Roman Catholics have treated Eastern Catholics in the past.”
So, the answers to these questions regarding just why both sides, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic, have sinned against the unity of the Church and become separated, are related to each other. And of course, we can ultimately blame Satan and his violent use of Islam against the Early Church, which severely reduced the non-Roman portions of the Catholic Church to the point that Roman Catholics forgot the Catholic Church was supposed to be more than just them, such that they no longer knew how to appropriately deal with the small portions of the Eastern Catholic Churches which remained in or which returned to the Catholic Communion later. We can thank God for Vatican II, which has officially dealt with and corrected the ignorance on the Roman Catholic side, though its teaching still needs to seep deep into the minds and hearts of the “average Roman Catholic Christian” before Eastern Orthodox Christians will be able to trust enough that they will be appropriately respected and never again “Romanized” if they come back into the Catholic Communion ongoing from the Undivided Early Church. We can also thank God for the patient and thorough official Catholic/Orthodox Theological dialogue since 1982 which, taking its time to do it right and thus far unfinished, still so far at the highest levels of both Churches has beautifully and wonderfully further clarified and developed Vatican II’s ecclesiology of Communion based on the lived reality of the Undivided Early Church. Unfortunately, this beautiful jointly articulated ecclesiology has not yet “trickled down” deeply into the minds and hearts of the average Roman Catholic Christian* and average Eastern Orthodox Christian, but when it does, the unity of Christians Jesus prayed for will become a very real possibility. See The First Great Schism of Christianity and its Precedent in Division and in Healing.
* The average Eastern Catholic has a decent sense of it because they already live in the ancient East-West Communion partially though as yet imperfectly restored.
© 2005, 2009, 2012 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To Chapter 6: The Full Implementation of Vatican Council II, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, Will Make Roman Catholic Christians Generally Much More Truly Catholic (Universal) and less Roman in Their Understanding of Their Church, Which Will Aid the Restoration of the First Millennium Christian Unity in Diversity in One Undivided Catholic (Universal) Church
1Clement’s letter, as the other letters and books of the “Apostolic Fathers” which were included in Early New Testaments used by orthodox Christians before the New Testament’s Canon was fixed, remained a prized heirloom of the Earliest Church and a testimony to the Apostolic tradition, it simply did not meet all the criteria finally used to determine whether a prized early Christian writing was actually Divinely Revealed Scripture or not.
2Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book III, 3:2
3Saint Cyprian, one of the heroes of the great Roman persecution of Christians under Emperor Decius in the mid-3rd Century, was a thorough believer in the Petrine office of the papacy, and he touted the papacy specifically as the guarantor of the Christian Church’s unity in the first edition of his famous work On the Unity of the Catholic Church. Himself the Bishop of Carthage, he worked closely with his friend Pope Saint Cornelius (with whom he shares a feast day on the Roman Calendar) against the schism of the anti-pope (not legitimately ordained as pope) Novatian who was fundamentally orthodox but who taught the Church could not forgive serious sins nor receive serious sinners back into the Church even after they repented (they wanted a Church of the “pure” only and lacked Christian compassion and forgiveness). Cyprian later disagreed with Pope Cornelius’ successor, Pope Stephen, over the validity of Christian baptism by schismatic Christians. The Early Church would always champion Pope Stephen’s position that a properly done Christian baptism even by Christians who were (hopefully temporarily) out of full communion with the Universal Church was still valid, and Saint Augustine, the greatest Western theologian of the Early Church (and Bishop of Hippo) who had to deal with the issue because of the large church of Donatist schismatics in his own territory who refused to accept the validity of sacraments administered by repentant clerics who had previously handed over Bibles to save their lives in the great Diocletian persecution, would later defend this position by noting that in the Gospels Jesus and his disciples including Judas performed baptisms (John 3:22-30, 4:1-2). Augustine, aware of the mystery of the Christian Church as the Body of Christ himself, said that “those who were baptized by John (the Baptist) were baptized by John; those who were baptized by Judas were baptized by Jesus Christ.” The Christian baptisms performed by Judas the thief and betrayer of the Lord himself could not be said to be invalid baptisms, the people who accepted Jesus and were baptized by His chosen Apostle Judas, a member of the Body of Christ the Church, could not be said to not really be baptized Christians. Indeed, Judas’ ordained Apostolic office was holy even though the man holding it was not (therefore the Apostolic office Judas vacated in his death needed to be filled in Acts 1:12-26). Therefore the sins and failures and the lack of full Universal Christian communion of those performing Christian baptisms did not invalidate the true Christianity of those being baptized by them into the Body of Christ the Church. I myself, baptized properly but by Protestant Christians outside of full communion with the Catholic Church though sharing the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy with Catholics, was not rebaptized when I became Catholic, since the Catholic Church, since the times of the Early persecuted Church, has consistently accepted baptism properly administered by schismatic Christians as valid Christian baptism.
Because the Petrine office of the papacy Cyprian had firmly believed in was not yet formally clarified and defined by the Church, Saint Cyprian was able to take his later personal disagreement with Pope Stephen so far as to write a revised version of On the Unity of the Catholic Church which reduced the pope’s importance to Christian unity (while still acknowledging it). When Emperor Valerian renewed the persecution of Christians, both Pope Saint Stephen and Bishop Saint Cyprian, who reconciled in prison, were martyred for their heroic faith in Jesus.
4from The Canons of the Synods of Sardica, Carthage, Constantinople, and Carthage
5The Third Ecumenical Council: the Council of Ephesus, Extracts from the Acts, Session III.
6Something similar would happen at the 20th Ecumenical Council (Vatican I) of 1870, which was interrupted by warfare. The Council had dogmatically clarified the doctrine of papal infallibility, but had not yet finished its intended task of balancing this out by also clarifying the roles and jurisdiction of overseer/bishops who are also Successors of the Apostles though not of Peter the Chief Apostle. Thus the papal office was exalted overly far above the office of local bishop in the minds of many Catholics. Though Vatican I’s unfinished task concerning bishops was completed more recently by Vatican Council II in 1962-5, the teaching of this more recent Council will take all the longer to filter into the consciousness of Catholics, so some Catholics even today do not properly respect their local bishops whose immediate jurisdiction they are under, while claiming to follow the pope who is far away (and thus is all too easy to “submit” to, since he is not there!). Vatican II clarified that the College of Bishops with the Pope as Chief Bishop at their Head is the highest authority of the Church, as in the Ecumenical Councils, though the pope has the ability to occasionally speak for all as Peter the Chief Apostle sometimes spoke for all the Apostles, and the bishops do not have authority apart from their Chief but only with him.
7Note that those few medieval Ecumenical Councils which did not have Eastern representation are still legitimately called “Ecumenical” or “worldwide” Councils for the same reason the 2nd Ecumenical Council, which had no Western representation, is still called an Ecumenical Council – the successor of Peter the pope ratified all these Councils as being of Ecumenical or worldwide authority.