The Papacy: "Is the Pope a Catholic?!"
This is a traditional way of saying “Yes, obviously!” or “Yes, without a doubt!” in answer to a question. However, some Anglicans have felt that the joke was unintentionally ironic because the Pope wasn’t a “true” Catholic. According to this line of thinking, Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox and Old Catholics were truly Catholic, and then there were the “Protestants and Papists”.
But this will simply not do for most Anglicans, even those who see the Eastern Orthodox as more faithful to the Faith of the Early Church than Roman Catholics in many or most areas. Generally, we who are Anglican Catholics accept that Roman Catholics are Catholics. And that the lack of communion between us is more to do with their decisions than ours.
But, given that the status and role of the Pope has been one of the main “sticking points” between Rome and the rest of us, it is appropriate we address this issue. So, yes, the Pope is a Catholic. Is he the Catholic, though, so to speak? Is he an “absolute monarch” over the Church? Certainly, this is how his claims have often looked to other Christians. Yet, Roman Catholics deny he is an absolute monarch, despite the fact that their Canon Law seems to place him above the law by saying he can be judged by no-one of a canonical offence.
Let’s look at the evidence and see if we can find a way forward.
The Biblical evidence for a Petrine primacy amongst the Apostles is fairly clear, and has been accepted by Anglicans reasonably consistently since the Reformation. The relevant passages, with brief explanations of their significance, are listed in Appendix I. Nevertheless, there is another side to the Scriptural evidence about Peter which is also worth studying.
In particular, Paul’s references to and interactions with him are significant. What is perhaps even more important than the famous Pauline rebuke of Peter in assessing whether Paul saw Peter as occupying a kind of monarchical position in the Church are his words in 1 Corinthians 1.12-13, 3.21-23 and Galatians 2.6. It is difficult to imagine him referring to the one who “must be obeyed” as one “reputed” to be a “pillar” or making a point of listing such a supreme authority and himself together as men, who, being mere men, are not to be gloried in or boasted about. (Nevertheless, Paul does credit Peter with the role of “Apostle to the circumcised”, so he certainly acknowledged he was a pillar. And it is Peter, before any of the other Apostles, that he makes a point of meeting and spending time with.) Also worth noting is that when St Paul describes the ministry-structure of the Church in his first letter to the Corinthians (12.27-28) and his letter to the Ephesians (4.11-13), the highest echelon is that of the apostolate.
Interestingly, historic Papal sins and excesses have been related to failures either exemplified or warned against by Peter, especially in the areas of trust in human power (Jn 18.10,11), domineering use of power (cf. 1 Pe. 5.3), unjust exclusion of others from fellowship (Gal. 2.11-14) and worldliness (Mt. 16.23).
It cannot be denied that in the Patristic evidence there is support for Petrine primacy, support for special Roman succession to Peter, and support for the Roman Church’s status as a final court of appeal and doctrinal standard giver. (It also cannot be denied that the more explicit the evidence is, the more likely it is to proceed from a Bishop of Rome or come from the later patristic era.) See Appendix II for examples.
However, there are also many passages in the Fathers that: do not mention a Roman primacy de juro divino (by divine right) at all when discussing the constitution of the Church, its doctrinal authorities, or the passages of Scripture said to indicate this primacy – that is, precisely when mention of the primacy would be expected; do not connect Petrine ministry exclusively with Rome; teach the essential equality of Apostles and Bishops; reject titles such as “bishop of bishops” and universal bishop” for the Pope; and dispute Roman decisions or teaching. And there are patristic statements and Conciliar acts which place the Bishop of Rome and his words under the judgement of the Church. Non-spiritual and dishonest factors, such as the False Decretals used to justify concentrating all ecclesiastical and temporal power in the Pope’s hands, were also influential in increasing the Roman See’s prominence. See Appendix III for details of the relevant patristic teaching.
The Anglican position on the status and function of the Pope has varied widely, but there is early acceptance by some authorities of a Petrine ministry connected to Rome, but not seen to be at that time truly fulfilled by the then Popes. We see this, for example, in the statement by King James I saying of the Bishop of Rome, “Let him … be Primus Episcopus inter omnes Episcopos, and Princeps Episcoporum, so that be no otherwise but as Peter was Princeps Apostolorum”.
It is, then, fair to say that there is in the Roman See a real primatial authority, a real ministry of truth and unity. But it is not permitted to be an absolute, independent and self-sufficient, unexaminable, or domineering authority in theory or practice.
Therefore, on the positive side, I make the following suggested summary.
On the other hand, the following qualifications are justified.
Appendix I: A list of Scriptures supporting a Petrine Primacy
· Peter is named to correspond to the Rock upon which Jesus builds His Church (Matt 16:18). While the Fathers interpreted this verse variously, even if we take the Rock on which the Church is built to refer primarily to the fact of Jesus’ divinity and messiahship or Peter’s confession of the same, it would be unreasonable to exclude the connotation that Peter, especially through his right confession, acts as a rock. Not only does the verse in question permit this inference, but the following verse reinforces it, in which Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:19).
· Peter is individually given the power to bind and loose (Matt 16:19).
· Peter’s name occurs first in all lists of Apostles (Matt 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). Matthew even calls him the “first” (Matt 10:2).
· Peter alone among the Apostles receives a new name, Rock, solemnly conferred (John 1:42; Matt 16:18).
· Peter alone among the Apostles is specifically called by Jesus to shepherd His sheep, with no “jurisdictional” limits intimated (John 21:15-17).
· Peter alone among the Apostles is exhorted by Jesus to “strengthen [his] brethren” (Luke 22:32).
· The phrase “Peter and the apostles” used in Acts 2:37 is suggestive of his pre-eminent position. A similar distinction is made by an angel in Mark 16:7. Indeed, Paul distinguishes the Lord’s post-Resurrection appearances to Peter from those to other apostles (1 Cor 15:4-8). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus make the same distinction (Luke 24:34), in this instance mentioning only Peter (Simon), even though they themselves had just seen the risen Jesus within the previous hour (Luke 24:33). Peter is often spoken of as distinct among Apostles (Mark 1:36; Luke 9:28, 32; Acts 5:29; 1 Cor 9:5).
· Peter takes the lead in calling for a replacement of Judas (Acts 1:15-22).
· Peter is the first person to speak after Pentecost, so he was the first Christian to “preach the gospel” in the Church era. Peter’s proclamation at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) contains a fully authoritative interpretation of Scripture, a doctrinal decision, and a disciplinary decree concerning members of the House of Israel (2:36) – an example of binding and loosing.
· Peter works the first miracle of the Church Age, healing a lame man (Acts 3:6-12).
· Peter utters the first anathema (on Ananias and Sapphira), which is emphatically affirmed by God (Acts 5:2-11).
· Peter is the first after Christ to raise the dead (Acts 9:40).
· Cornelius is told by an angel to seek out Peter for instruction in Christianity (Acts 10:1-6).
· Peter is the first to receive the Gentiles, after a revelation from God (Acts 10:9-48).
· Peter instructs the other Apostles on the catholicity (universality) of the Church (Acts 11:5-17).
· Peter plays a key role in the first council of Christianity and lays down principles afterward accepted by it (Acts 15:7-11).
· Peter is often spokesman for the other Apostles, especially at climactic moments (Mark 8:29; Matt 18:21; Luke 9:5, 12:41; John 6:67 ff.).
· Peter’s name is always the first listed of the “inner circle” of the disciples (Peter, James, and John – Matt 17:1, 26:37, 40; Mark 5:37, 14:37).
· Peter is often the central figure relating to Jesus in dramatic Gospel scenes, such as walking on water (Matt 14:28-32; Luke 5:1 ff.; Mark 10:28; Matt 17:24 ff.).
· Peter’s name is mentioned more often than all the other disciples put together: 191 times (162 as Peter or Simon Peter, twenty-three as Simon, and six as Cephas). John is next in frequency, with only 48 appearances, and Peter is fully present fifty percent of the time we find John in the Bible.
· Paul went to Jerusalem specifically to see Peter for fifteen days in the beginning of his ministry (Gal 1:18) and was commissioned by Peter, James and John (Gal 2:9) to preach to the Gentiles.
· Peter corrects those who misuse Paul’s writings (2 Pet 3:15-16).
· Peter wrote his first epistle from Rome (“Babylon” (1 Pet 5:13) is regarded by many commentators as a code name for Rome), probably as its leader.
While none of these passages, taken individually, state that Peter was the highest human authority in the Apostolic visible Church, taken together they strongly imply a real primatial authority. This authority was exercised in the areas of both doctrine and discipline.
Appendix II: A short catena of Patristic quotations and actions supporting Roman Primacy in succession to Peter
· St. Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, c. 96 A.D.: “We have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the matters in dispute among you . . . If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.”
· St Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, early 2nd Century: This bishop refers to the Roman Church as “presiding in love”.
· St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses 3:3:2, late 2nd Century: “[I]t is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [i.e., the Roman], on account of its preeminent authority – that is, the faithful everywhere”.
· St Cyprian of Carthage, Epistula 55:14, 252 A.D.: In a letter addressed to the Bishop of Rome says “They [those in favour of re-baptizing Christians who have apostasised] dare to sail even to the chair of Peter and carry letters from schismatics and seculars to the principal Church, the source of sacerdotal unity.”
· St. Optatus of Milevis, The Schism of the Donatists, 2:2, c. 367 A.D.: “In the city of Rome the Episcopal chair was given first to Peter, the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [Rock]—of all the Apostles, the one chair is which unity is maintained by all. Neither do the Apostles proceed individually on their own, and anyone who would presume to set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner.... Recall then the origins of your chair, those of you who wish to claim for yourselves the title of holy Church.”
· St Jerome, Letters 15:2, 396 A.D.: “I, who follow none as my chief but Christ, am associated in communion with thy blessedness, that is, with the See of Peter. On that rock the Church is built, I know.” Note also his statement that “The Church depends equally on all [the Apostles] . . . but one among the twelve is chosen to be their head in order to remove any occasion for division.” (Against Jovinian, 1:26.)
· St. Peter Chrysologus, Letters 25:2, 449 A.D.: “We exhort you in every respect, honorable brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the most blessed pope in the city of Rome, for blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the true faith to those who seek it. For we ... cannot try cases on the faith without the consent of the bishop of Rome.”
· St. Maximus the Confessor, Opuscula theologica et polemica, Migne, Patr. Graec. vol. 90, 7th Century: “The extremities of the earth, and everyone in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the Most Holy Roman Church and her confession and faith, as to a sun of unfailing light awaiting from her the brilliant radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers, according to that which the inspired and holy Councils have stainlessly and piously decreed. For, from the descent of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held the greatest Church alone to be their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell will never prevail against her, that she has the keys of the orthodox confession and right faith in Him, that she opens the true and exclusive religion to such men as approach with piety, and she shuts up and locks every heretical mouth which speaks against the Most High.”
· John VI, Patriarch of Constantinople, Epist. ad Constantin. Pap. ad. Combefis, c. 715 A.D.: “The Pope of Rome, the head of the Christian priesthood, whom in Peter, the Lord commanded to confirm his brethren.”
· St. Theodore the Studite of Constantinople, Bk. I. Ep. 23, late 8th or early 9th Century: In writing to Pope Leo III he says, “Since to great Peter Christ our Lord gave the office of Chief Shepherd after entrusting him with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, to Peter or his successor must of necessity every novelty in the Catholic Church be referred. [Therefore], save us, oh most divine Head of Heads, Chief Shepherd of the Church of Heaven.”
· “This primacy had been … clearly proclaimed at Chalcedon by the legates when they quoted the Roman version of Canon Six of Nicaea. The old Latin translation prefaced the wording of the Canon as follows: Romana ecclesia semper habuit primatum. Although the Roman version differed from the original, also read at the same last session of the Council by the Greeks, the Fathers did not protest against such a glaring declaration of the primacy of the Roman Church, and did not even question the authenticity of the Roman version of the Canon and its preface. (14) … in the reign of Pope Hormisdas (514-23) … the Eastern Bishops signed the so-called Libellus Hormisdae which contained a clear definition of the Roman primacy in matters of faith. It is an important document recalling the promise of the Lord given to Peter (Matt. 16:18 f.) and declaring that “in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept immaculate” and that in it “persists the total and true strength of the Christian religion.” (22) Some of the Eastern prelates may have signed the Libellus with mixed feelings, for never before had they read such a clear definition of Roman primacy, but even the Patriarch John signed it. They objected only to certain declarations of Gelasius which threatened the autonomous status of their Church.” Cited from F. Dvornik in The American Ecclesiastical Review of May, 1961.
This catena is by no means exhaustive. Except for the last section, it merely attempts to show relevant examples in temporal progression from the second to the eighth centuries. In order to avoid the risk of appearing to beg the question, only quotations from non-Papal sources are included after the first quotation.
· St Clement of Alexandria denies all primacy, at least as desired by human pride, when he says that for the disciples, due to their “disputing for primacy, Christ made a law of equality, saying, 'Ye must become as little children.'” (Stromat. Fifth Book, fifth section).
· In dispute with St Stephen of Rome, St Cyprian makes the following pointed protest: “Let each one give his opinion without judging any one and without separating from the Communion those who are not of his opinion; for none of us sets himself up for a bishop of bishops, nor compels his brethren to obey him by means of tyrannical terror, every bishop having full liberty and complete power; as he cannot be judged by another, neither can he judge another. Let us all wait the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to appoint us to the government of his Church and to judge our conduct.” (Concil. carth.) St Cyprian also says, even while explaining Petrine Primacy, in his Treatise upon Church Unity that “The other apostles certainly were just what Peter was, having the same honour and power as he.”
· St Hilary of Poitiers, speaking of Pope Liberius’ weakness in confession of the divinity of Christ: “I say to thee anathema, O Liberius, to thee and to thine accomplices. I repeat, anathema. And again I say it to thee a third time; to thee, Liberius, then prevaricator.”
· St Ambrose explains Petrine Primacy with notable reserve: “As soon as Peter heard these words, 'Whom say ye that I am?' remembering his place, he exercised this primacy, a primacy of confession, not of honour; a primacy of faith, not of rank” (On the Incarnation).
· Augustine says regarding Donatist schismatics who disputed a Roman Bishop’s sentence against them: “They chose, therefore, as it is reported, to bring their dispute with Caecilianus before the foreign churches, in order to secure one of two things, either of which they were prepared to accept: if, on the one hand, by any amount of craft, they succeeded in making good the false accusation, they would abundantly satisfy their lust of revenge; if, however, they failed, they might remain as stubborn as before, but would now have, as it were, some excuse for it, in alleging that they had suffered at the hands of an unjust tribunal, — the common outcry of all worthless litigants, though they have been defeated by the clearest light of truth, — as if it might not have been said, and most justly said, to them: “Well, let us suppose that those bishops who decided the case at Rome were not good judges; there still remained a plenary Council of the universal Church, in which these judges themselves might be put on their defense; so that, if they were convicted of mistake, their decisions might be reversed.” (Letter 43.19, Emphasis added.)
· In a letter written by St Augustine and the African bishops to Pope Celestine, after he had given a decision favourable to the heretic Pelagius and contrary to previous conciliar and papal decrees, it was stated “Who will believe that our God could inspire justice in the inquiries of one man only [i.e., Pope Celestine] and refuse it to innumerable bishops gathered in council?”
· St John Chrysostom, often waxed eloquent about the dignities of St Peter, calling him, for example, “first of the Apostles” and declaring that the “entire universe was confided to him” (in Against the Jews, Eighth Discourse). However, he also uses the latter phrase or its equivalent to describe St John (Upon St. John, Eighty-eighth Homily) and St Paul (Panegyric upon St. Paul, Second Homily). He describes the upper echelon of the Church in this way: “Of all spiritual magistratures, the greatest is the apostolate. How do we know this? Because the apostle precedes all others. As the consul is the first of civil magistrates, so is the apostle the first of spiritual magistrates. St. Paul himself, when he enumerates these dignities, places at their head the prerogatives of the apostolate. What does he say? 'And God has set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers.' Do you observe the summit of these dignities? Do you mark that the apostle is at the apex of the hierarchy—no one before, none above him. For he says: 'First, apostles.' And not only is the apostolate the first of all dignities, but also the root and foundation thereof” (Homily upon the Utility of Reading Holy Scripture).
· St Jerome, who in his early career had exalted Roman prerogatives in frustration at the confused and divided state of the Eastern bishops, later said this: “We must not believe that the city of Rome is a different church from that of the whole world. Gaul, Britain, Africa, Persia, the East, India, all the barbarous nations, adore Jesus Christ, and observe one and the same rule of truth. If one is looking for authority, the world is greater than one city. Wherever there is a bishop, be he at Rome or at Eugubium, at Constantinople or at Rhegium, at Alexandria or at Tanis, he has the same authority, the same merit, because he has the same priesthood” (Epistle 146).
· It is appropriate to finish with the words of a Pope, and one who undoubtedly believed he possessed a real primacy. In a letter to Eulogius of Alexandria, St Gregory the Great says: “Your Holiness has been at pains to tell us that in addressing certain persons you no longer give them certain titles that have no better origin than pride, using this phrase regarding me, ‘as you have commanded.’ I pray you let me never again hear this word command; for I know who I am and who you are. By your position you are my brethren; by your virtues you are my fathers. I have, therefore, not commanded; I have only been careful to point out things which seemed to me useful. Still I do not find that your Holiness has perfectly remembered what I particularly wished to impress on your memory; for I said that you should no more give that title to me than to others; and lo! in the superscription of your letter, you give to me, who have proscribed them, the vainglorious titles of universal and of Pope. May your sweet Holiness do so no more in future, I beseech you; for you take from yourself what you give in excess to another. I do not ask to increase in dignities, but in virtues. I do not esteem that an honour which causes my brethren to lose their own dignity. My honour is that of the whole Church. My honour is the unshaken firmness of my brethren. I consider myself truly honoured when no one is denied the Honour due to him. If your Holiness calls me universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what I should then be altogether. God forbid! Far from us be the words that puff up vanity and wound charity.” (Emphasis added.) St Gregory and others also refer to three sees as Petrine, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria.
· The following quote from Dr Henry Percival in the General Introduction to Volume 14 of the SELECT LIBRARY OF THE NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (Ed., Philip Schaff), while not unmarred by bias, is a useful summary of those facts qualifying, by Conciliar word or deed, the early Church’s acceptance of Papal Primacy.
“We now come to a consideration of how, by its acts, each of the Seven Synods intimated its relation to the Roman See:
1. The First Council of Nice passed a canon in which placed some at least of the Roman rights are evidently looked upon as being exactly on the same plane as those of other metropolitans, declaring that they rest upon “custom.”
It was the Emperor who originated this council and called it together, if we may believe his own words and those of the council; and while indeed it is possible that when the Emperor did not preside in person, Hosius of Cordova may have done so (even uniting the two Roman Presbyters who were the legates of the Roman See with him), yet there is no evidence that anything of the kind ever took place, and a pope, Felix III. (A.D. 483-492), in his Fifth Epistle (ad Imp. Zen.) declares that Eustathius, bishop of Antioch, presided at this council.
The matter, however, is of little moment as no one would deny the right of the See of Rome to preside in a council of the whole Church.
2. The Second Ecumenical Council was called together by the Emperor without the knowledge of the Roman Pontiff. Nor was he invited to be present. Its first president [St Meletius] was not in communion at the time of its session with the Roman Church. And, without any recourse to the first of all the patriarchs, it passed a canon changing the order of the patriarchates, and setting the new see of Constantinople in a higher place than the other ancient patriarchates, in fact immediately after Rome. Of course Protestants will consider this a matter of very minor importance, looking upon all patriarchal divisions and rank and priority (the Papacy included) as of a disciplinary character and as being jure ecclesiastico, and in no way affecting doctrine, but any fair reading of the third canon of this synod would seem plainly to assert that as the first rank of Rome rested upon the fact of its being the capital city, so the new capital city should have the second rank. If this interpretation is correct it affects very materially the Roman claim of jure divino primacy.
3. Before the third of the Ecumenical Synods was called to meet, Pope Celestine had already convicted Nestorius of heresy and deposed and excommunicated him. When subsequently the synod was assembled, and before the papal legates had arrived, the Council met, treated Nestorius as in good standing, entirely ignoring the sentence already given by Rome, and by having examined the case (after summoning him three times to appear that he might be heard in his own defense), proceeded to sentence Nestorius, and immediately published the sentence. On the 10th of July (more than a fortnight later), the papal legates having arrived, a second session was held, at which they were told what had been done, all of which they were good enough to approve of.
4. The Council of Chalcedon refused to consider the Eutychian matter as settled by Rome’s decision or to accept Leo’s Tome without examination as to whether it was orthodox. Moreover it passed a canon at a session which the Papal legates refused to attend, ratifying the order of the Patriarchates fixed at I. Constantinople, and declaring that “the Fathers had very properly given privileges to Old Rome as the imperial city, and that now they gave the same privileges” to Constantinople as the seat of the imperial government at that time.
5. The fifth of the Ecumenical Synods refused to receive any written doctrinal communication from the then pope (Vigilius), took his name from the diptychs, and refused him communion.
6. The Third Council of Constantinople, the sixth of the Ecumenical Synods, excommunicated Pope Honorius, who had been dead for years, for holding and teaching the Monothelite heresy.
7. It is certain that the Pope had nothing to do with the calling of the Seventh Synod, and quite possible that it was presided over by Tarasius and not by the Papal legates.”
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 While this is an argument from silence, the silence referred to is profound and inconsistent with the belief that the Roman Primacy was a fundamental, explicit and clearly manifest teaching of the early Church.
 Cited in Anglicanism, edited by P. E. More & F. L. Cross, 1951, S.P.C.K., page 7.
 This role is not, therefore, a mere accident of history nor an extraordinary, temporary or intermittent one.
 This statement corresponds to “supreme jurisdiction”.
 The Pope must have freedom to act in ways appropriate to the duty laid upon him, thus his primatial authority is not mediated, that is, filtered through other bishops according to their whims. Nevertheless, his exercise of authority is subject to canonical and moral limitations, just as that of other bishops. And he is obliged to respect the authority given to all other bishops ordinary and not usurp it as if he were every diocese’s bishop ordinary.
 This statement implies a universal pastorate
 This statement corresponds to “infallibility”.
 This qualification was asserted very early in the piece by the German RC bishops in their 1875 declaration to their government. Their statement received papal approval.
 In other words, reasoning based on the content of the disputed definition itself (and not just its circumstantial context) is permitted, even if it is not sufficient on its own. It is posited by orthodox Roman Catholic theologians such as Avery Cardinal Dulles that the consensus ecclesiae is relevant to the ratio cogniscendi, though not the ratio essendi of papal infallibility. If a definition apparently failed to correspond to the faith of the Church, the Church would have good reason to look very closely to see whether all the conditions supposed to be satisfied by an exercise of the Extraordinary Magisterium were so.
 Many Roman Catholic theologians have accepted this, including Cajetan, Suarez and Bellarmine. There are also actual historic precedents, as mentioned above and discussed in Appendix III.
 Source, with modifications: http://www.deoomnisgloria.com/mt/archives/000110.html, “Dave Armstrong and 50 Proofs for the Papacy”