“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Said our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the Apostle Peter. It was from this very moment that Christ established not only his church, but the authoritative voice of his church. In modern times, there is this misconception of papal authority being an intrusive theology and practice to the Christian faith, this is no modern phenomenon. Starting from the creation of the church we’ve seen the authority of Saint Peter.
Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles as seen in all four gospels. It is Peter’s faith that guided his brothers (Luke 22:32) and Peter was given Christ’s flock to rule (John 21:16). He elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26), and inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11), and excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23). It was to Peter that received revelation that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48), and announced the first dogmatic decision (Acts 15:7-11).
Now we move into the post apostolic era of the church. It is standard fare in the theology of Protestants and Eastern Orthodox to assert that the doctrine of the primacy of the See of Rome was an invention of the Middle Ages. The false claim of this assertion is the belief that, in the patristic era, the bishops patriarchal sees all interacted as equals with no concept of a papal primacy until the early medieval era, or during the 7-9th centuries. Many are even Unaware of the Rock Solid Proof of papal authority not only in scriptures but also in church history, papal infallibility and supremacy being acted out on in early church, and the acknowledgement of the divine authority the office holds.
In the post apostolic era we see the Pope forcing Dionysius of Alexandria to explain his Trinitarian teachings, forced the patriarch of Antioch to not support Novationism, as Pope Clement did to force Corinth to reinstate its priests and bishops. It was the pope who overruled the Second Council of Ephesus and the Arian council of Rimini, even when a majority of bishops supported these heresies and much more.
Alluding to councils let’s say all bishops were equal, and orthodoxy was dependent on a “synodical democracy” that would mean the councils of: Antioch in 341, where about 100 Eastern bishops approved of straight Arianism, Sirmium in 351, where another 100 or so Eastern bishops espoused semi-Arianism, the Robber Council of Ephesus in 449-450 which declared Monophysitism to be orthodox doctrine, the numerous “councils” in Constantinople which included the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, which declared Monophysitism to be orthodox) and the councils of Constantinople of 638 and 639 which approved of the Ecthesis, embracing Monothelitism. All these Councils would have been defined historically as “Ecumenical,” if it were not for Rome’s refusal to cooperate with them.
Which also leads what makes a council ecumenical, this also plays into the part of Papal infallibility. After each councils, the sessions would be recorded and the canons and decrees listed then, the bishops would sign it and then the Emperor proceeding. Subsequently, if the council maintained Orthodoxy then he’d accept it and elevated it to ecumenical status. In the words of St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople (758-828) :
“Without whom (the Romans 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 Popes of Rome) 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.” (Nicephorus,
Niceph. Cpl. pro. s. imag. c 25 [Mai N. Bibl. pp. ii. 30]).
Interesting isn’t it? Countless church fathers and councils understood the authority of the pope having not only jurisdictional authority when abuses were being committed but also in deciding orthodoxy using his papal infallibility.
In the council of Chalcedon, the bishops gathered begged the Pope to accept their decrees as the head, and that they needed to be in agreement with him:
Knowing that every success of the children rebounds to the parents, we therefore beg you to honor our decision by your assent, and as we have yielded agreement to the Head in noble things, so may the Head also fulfill what is fitting for the children. — Chalcedon to Pope Leo, Ep 98
Then came the concern of canon 28 and even with the ratification of the 28th canon it was never accepted by the Pope. Pope Leo refused to aceept this canon and putting a “line of veto,” ordered it off from the Council documents. In this, Bishop Anatolius of Constantinople writes to Pope Leo, apologizing and explaining how the canon came to be, saying …
As for those things which the universal Council of Chalcedon recently ordained in favor of the church of Constantinople, let Your Holiness be sure that there was no fault in me, who from my youth have always loved peace and quiet, keeping myself in humility. It was the most reverend clergy of the church of Constantinople who were eager about it, and they were equally supported by the most reverend priests of those parts, who agreed about it.
Even so, the whole force of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness. Therefore, let Your Holiness know for certain that I did nothing to further the matter, knowing always that I held myself bound to avoid the lusts of pride and covetousness. — Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople to Pope Leo, Ep 132 (on the subject of canon 28 of Chalcedon).
So, the matter was settled and, for the next 6 centuries all Eastern churches speak of only 27 canons of Chalcedon the 28th Canon being rendered null and void by Rome’s “line item veto.” This is supported by all the Greek historians, such as Theodore the Lector, John Skolastikas, Dionysius, etc.
St. Theodore the Studite of Constantinople (759-826) says, writing to Pope
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.” (Theodore, Bk. I. Ep. 23)
“Let him (Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople) assemble a synod of
those with whom he has been at variance, if it is impossible that
representatives of the other patriarchs should be present, a thing which
might certainly be if the Emperor should wish the Western Patriarch (the
Roman Pope) to be present, to whom is given authority over an
ecumenical synod; but let him make peace and union by sending his
synodical letters to the prelate of the First See.” (Theodore the Studite,
Patr. Graec. 99, 1420)
Also, during Photius’ own time, his Byzantine contempory St. Methodius, the brother of
St. Cyril and Apostle to the Slavs (865), clearly testifies to the belief that the authority
of an Ecumenical Council depends on the authority of Rome:
“Because of his primacy, the Pontiff of Rome is not required to attend an
Ecumenical Council; but without his participation, manifested by
sending some subordinates, every Ecumenical Council is as nonexistent,
for it is he who presides over the Council.” (Methodius, in N.
Brianchaninov, The Russian Church (1931), 46; cited by Butler, Church
and Infallibility, 210) (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p.
It is clearly Rome’s teaching authority the very thing “Saint” Photius denied so as to foster Byzantine primacy through an untraditional bid to make the Patriarch of Constantinople “Ecumenical Patriarch” But, getting back to my point, the Orthodox have bought into a non-Ecclesial, very imperial notion of what determines orthodoxy via magisterium. Their idea that “all bishops are equal” is really rooted in the Imperial idea of polling bishops so as to see what is taught everywhere.
However, while this is sometimes a useful tool it is no replacement for a magisterium. The very non-representational Greek Democracy in other words, it doesn’t work. If it did, we would not have had all those illicit “ecumenical councils” I referred to above. And in this, we see a simple rule for defining orthodoxy:
With Rome = Legitimate Ecumenical Council
Without Rome = Illicit, Heretical Council.