In another Catholic Answers tract, The Authority
of the Pope: Part I, we looked at the views of the popes and the other
Church Fathers up to the year A.D. 341 and showed that they recognized
the unique authority of the pope, the bishop of Rome, in his role as the
successor of Peter. In this tract, we will see that the later popes and
Church Fathers retained a similar understanding of the Petrine office.
Council of Sardica
"[I]f any bishop loses the judgment in some case
[decided by his fellow bishops] and still believes that he has not a bad
but a good case, in order that the case may be judged anew . . . let us
honor the memory of the apostle Peter by having those who have given the
judgment write to Julius, Bishop of Rome, so that if it seem proper he
may himself send arbiters and the judgment may be made again by the bishops
of a neighboring province" (canon 3 [A.D. 342]).
"[I]f some bishop be deposed by the judgment of
the bishops sitting in the neighborhood, and if he declare that he will
seek further redress, another should not be appointed to his see until
the bishop of Rome can be acquainted with the case and render a judgment"
Optatus of Milevus
"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 in 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" (The Schism of the Donatists 2:2 [A.D. 367]).
Council of Constantinople I
"The bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honor after the bishop
of Rome, because his city is New Rome" (canon 3 [A.D. 381])
Pope Damasus I
"Likewise it is decreed . . . that it ought to
be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront
not by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the
primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are
Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell
will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom
of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in
heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in
heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the
apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish
nor anything like it" (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]).
Synod of Ambrose
"We recognize in the letter of your holiness [Pope
Siricius] the vigilance of the good shepherd. You faithfully watch over
the gate entrusted to you, and with pious care you guard Christ’s sheepfold
[John 10:7ff], you that are worthy to have the Lord’s sheep hear and follow
you" (Synodal Letter to Pope Siricius [A.D. 389]).
"I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion
with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair
of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built.
Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not
in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails" (Letters 15:2
"The church here is split into three parts, each
eager to seize me for its own. . . . Meanwhile I keep crying, ‘He that
is joined to the chair of Peter is accepted by me!’ . . . Therefore, I
implore your blessedness [Pope Damasus I] . . . tell me by letter with
whom it is that I should communicate in Syria" (ibid., 16:2).
"There are many other things which rightly keep
me in the bosom of the Catholic Church. The consent of the people and nations
keeps me, her authority keeps me, inaugurated by miracles, nourished in
hope, enlarged by love, and established by age. The succession of priests
keep me, from the very seat of the apostle Peter (to whom the Lord after
his resurrection gave charge to feed his sheep) down to the present episcopate
[of Pope Siricius]" (Against the Letter of Mani Called "The Foundation"
5 [A.D. 397]).
"[On this matter of the Pelagians] two councils
have already been sent to the Apostolic See [the bishop of Rome], and from
there rescripts too have come. The matter is at an end; would that the
error too might be at an end!" (Sermons 131:10 [A.D. 411]).
Pope Innocent I
"If cases of greater importance are to be heard
[at a council], they are, as the synod decrees and as happy custom requires,
after episcopal judgment, to be referred to the Apostolic See" (Letters
2:3:6 [A.D. 408]).
"In seeking the things of God . . . following the
examples of ancient tradition . . . you have strengthened . . . the vigor
of your religion with true reason, for you have acknowledged that judgment
is to be referred to us, and have shown that you know what is owed to the
Apostolic See, if all of us placed in this position are to desire to follow
the apostle himself [Peter] from whom the episcopate itself and the total
authority of this name have emerged. Following him, we know how to condemn
evils just as well as we know how to approve what is laudable. Or rather,
guarding with your priestly office what the Fathers instituted, you did
not regard what they had decided, not by human but by divine judgments,
as something to be trampled on. They did not regard anything as finished,
even though it was the concern of distant and remote provinces, until it
had come to the notice of this See [Rome], so that what was a just pronouncement
might be confirmed by the authority of this See, and thence other churches—just
as all waters proceed from their own natal source and, through the various
regions of the whole world, remain pure liquids of an incorrupted head.
. . ." (ibid., 29:1).
Pope Celestine I
"We enjoin upon you [my legates to the Council
of Ephesus] the necessary task of guarding the authority of the Apostolic
See. And if the instructions handed to you have to mention this and if
you have to be present in the assembly, if it comes to controversy, it
is not yours to join the fight but to judge of the opinions [on my behalf]"
(Letters 17 [A.D. 431]).
Council of Ephesus
"Philip, presbyter and legate of [Pope Celestine
I] said: ‘We offer our thanks to the holy and venerable synod, that when
the writings of our holy and blessed pope had been read to you, the holy
members, by our holy voices, you joined yourselves to the holy head also
by your holy acclamations. For your blessedness is not ignorant that the
head of the whole faith, the head of the apostles, is blessed Peter the
apostle. And since now [we], after having been tempest-tossed and much
vexed, [have] arrived, we ask that you order that there be laid before
us what things were done in this holy synod before our arrival; in order
that according to the opinion of our blessed pope and of this present holy
assembly, we likewise may ratify their determination’" (Acts of the
Council, session 2 [A.D. 431]).
Pope Leo I
"Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . established the worship
belonging to the divine religion. . . . But the Lord desired that the sacrament
of this gift should pertain to all the apostles in such a way that it might
be found principally in the most blessed Peter, the highest of all the
apostles. And he wanted his gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter
himself, as if from the head, in such a way that anyone who had dared to
separate himself from the solidarity of Peter would realize that he was
himself no longer a sharer in the divine mystery. . . . [You, my brothers],
must realize with us, of course, that the Apostolic See—out of reverence
for it, I mean—has on countless occasions been reported to in consultation
by bishops even of your own province [Vienne]. And through the appeal of
various cases to this see, decisions already made have been either revoked
or confirmed, as dictated by long-standing custom" (Letters 10:2–3
"As for the resolution of the bishops which is
contrary to the Nicene decree, in union with your faithful piety, I declare
it to be invalid and annul it by the authority of the holy apostle Peter"
"If in your view, [Anastasius of Thessalonica],
in regard to a matter to be handled and decided jointly with your brothers,
their decision was other than what you wanted, then let the entire matter,
with a record of the proceedings, be referred to us. . . . Although bishops
have a common dignity, they are not all of the same rank. Even among the
most blessed apostles, though they were alike in honor, there was a certain
distinction of power. All were equal in being chosen [to be apostles],
but it was given to one to be preeminent over the others. . . . [So today
through the bishops] the care of the universal Church would converge in
the one see of Peter, and nothing should ever be at odds with this head"
"We exhort you in every respect, honorable brother,
to heed obediently what has been written by the most blessed pope of the
city of Rome, for blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see,
provides the truth of faith to those who seek it. For we, by reason of
our pursuit of peace and faith, cannot try cases on the faith without the
consent of the bishop of Rome" (Letters 25:2 [A.D. 449]).
Council of Chalcedon
"Bishop Paschasinus, guardian of the Apostolic
See, stood in the midst [of the Council Fathers] and said, ‘We received
directions at the hands of the most blessed and apostolic bishop of the
Roman city [Pope Leo I], who is the head of all the churches, which directions
say that Dioscorus is not to be allowed to sit in the [present] assembly,
but that if he should attempt to take his seat, he is to be cast out. This
instruction we must carry out" (Acts of the Council, session 1 [A.D.
"After the reading of the foregoing epistle [The
Tome of Leo], the most reverend bishops cried out: ‘This is the faith of the
fathers! This is the faith of the apostles! So we all believe! Thus the orthodox
believe! Anathema to him who does not thus believe! Peter has spoken thus
through Leo!’" (ibid., session 2).
Pope Gregory I
"Your most sweet holiness, [Bishop Eulogius of
Alexandria], has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint
Peter, prince of the apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in
the persons of his successors. And indeed I acknowledge myself to be unworthy
. . . I gladly accepted all that has been said, in that he has spoken to
me about Peter’s chair, who occupies Peter’s chair. And, though special
honor to myself in no wise delights me . . . who can be ignorant that holy
Church has been made firm in the solidity of the prince of the apostles,
who derived his name from the firmness of his mind, so as to be called
Peter from petra. And to him it is said by the voice of the Truth,
‘To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ [Matt. 16:19]. And
again it is said to him, ‘And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren’
[Luke 22:32]. And once more, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed
my sheep’ [John 21:17]" (Letters 40 [A.D. 597]).
I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004