The following Letter was written during the Summer of 1954, after returning from military service in Korea and upon reading an article in the Greek newspaper ETHNIKOS KERIX by the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
There was no response.
I was quite interested in an article of Your Eminence published in the English section of ETHNIKOS KERIX concerning the cause of the centuries-old schism between the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. The main cause of the schism you declare to be the insistence by Catholics on their dogma of Papal Primacy, a dogma unknown, you say, to the Church of the first 10 centuries and the first Seven Ecumenical Councils.
Doubtless Your Eminence is correct in stating this Catholic dogma to be the main doctrinal obstacle to the Reunion of the Churches, though you are not correct in declaring this dogma to be the principal historical cause of the schism itself. Ecclesiastical communion between East and West persisted even beyond 1054 A.D. into the 12th century when there was still no formal doctrinal opposition to the Catholic doctrine of Papal Supremacy over the Churches of East and West. The patriarch Photios (c. 820-891) who is presented as the fervent opponent of Papal authority over the entire Church died in communion with Rome, as modern Catholic historians have demonstrated. He never repudiated the teaching of the Popes of his time concerning their position in the Church as the heirs to the Primacy of Peter whom Our Lord had installed as the head and center of unity for all the apostolic Churches making up the Catholic Communion.
Unfortunately, Photios did invent a real heresy concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit which was to trouble relations between Rome and the Byzantine Church to this very day. He misconstrued the ancient doctrine of the Greek Fathers on that issue but nowhere did he repudiate the teaching of the Popes who reigned during his period and in whose letters are found the full Catholic doctrine of the Primacy as defined in the Vatican Council of 1870. One has only to examine the letters of Popes Nicholas I, Hadrian II, and John VIII where they set forth in the most unequivocal fashion the prerogatives of their See. The continued ecclesiastical communion between various Eastern Churches and Rome into the 12th century despite the 1054 rupture with Constantinople testifies to the basic acquiescence of the Roman Church’s reiterated claim to a Primacy of universal jurisdiction by divine right. This remaining in communion and faith with the entire West by some Eastern sees during a period lasting even beyond repudiation of the Reunion Council of Lyons (1274) proves indisputably that the doctrine of Papal supremacy was not, as Your Eminence states, an innovation or the cause or even the pretext for the initial rupture of communion with Rome that took place in 1054. Rather it was the use of Azymes (unleavened bread) in the Eucharist and the introduction of the word ‘Filioque’ in the Creed which were the prime reasons alleged for instituting and maintaining the growing schism with the See of Peter.
An objective reading of history shows, Your Eminence, that it is not the Catholic Church which has fostered the Papal Primacy of universal authority and jurisdiction as a new and previously unheard of dogma. Rather, it is the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine tradition which came to repudiate a doctrine that they had heretofore accepted and admitted and acknowledged. The result was to innovate disastrously concerning the Faith of the Undivided Church of the first thousand years.
Your Eminence proceeded to accuse Catholics of "distorting the facts" concerning what the Catholic Church regards as a "sacred dogma". But Pope St. Leo the Great surely did not "distort the facts" when in the middle of the 5th century he set forth the prerogatives of his See as the Bishop of Rome, "head of all the Churches of God". No one could better testify to the faith of the Undivided Church and its teaching concerning the hierarchical nature of the Church than this Pope acclaimed by both East and West as one of its greatest Doctors and whom the Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon (451) heralded for defending THE doctrine of the Incarnation : "Peter has spoken by Leo".
What did this great Saint teach concerning his inheriting Peter’s Primacy in the Church?
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, instituted the worship of the divine religion, which He wished by God’s grace to flash upon all nations... The mystery of his gift, the Lord willed to belong to the office of all the Apostles, in such a way that He has placed the principal charge on blessed Peter, Chief of all the Apostles, and from him, as from the head, wishes His gifts to flow to all the Body: so that anyone who dares to secede from the firmness of Peter may understand he has no share in the divine mystery. For He wished him who had been received into partnership in His undivided unity to be named what He himself was, when He said: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build My Church’; that the building of the eternal Temple by the wondrous gift of God’s grace might stand on Peter’s solidity, strengthening His Church so surely that neither could human rashness assault it nor could the Gates of Hell prevail against it." (Ep. 10)
"2... While nothing has passed to others without his participation, yet Peter received many privileges of his own... And yet, out of the whole world, one, Peter, is chosen, who presides both at the call of the Gentiles, and over all the Apostles and collected fathers of the Church; so that though there be, among God’s people, many priests and many shepherds, yet Peter especially rules all whom Christ also rules originally. Beloved, it is a great and wonderful sharing of his own power which the divine honour bestowed on this man, and if He wished that other rulers should be in common with him, yet did He never give except through him what He denied not to others. And then the Lord asks all the Apostles what men think of Him; and they answer in common so long as they set forth the doubtfulness of human ignorance... ‘And upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it’. On this strength, He says, I will build an eternal Temple, and the loftiness of My Church, reaching to heaven, shall rise upon the firmness of this faith.
3... ‘I will give to thee the Keys... loosed in heaven’. The right of his power did indeed pass on to the other Apostles, and the order of this decree passed on to all the chiefs of the Church; but not in vain was that which was imparted to all entrusted to one. Therefore this is commended to Peter separately, because all the rulers of the Church are invested with the figure of Peter. The privilege of Peter remains, wherever judgment is passed from his equity. Nor is there too much severity or indulgence, where nothing is bound, nothing loosed, except what Peter either looses or binds. Again as His Passion pressed on, which was to shake the firmness of the disciples, the Lord says, ‘Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you all that He may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren, that ye enter not into temptation.’ The danger from the temptation of fear was common to all the Apostles, and they equally needed the help of divine protection, since the devil desired to harass and shatter all; and yet special care is taken of Peter by the Lord, and He asks specially for the faith of Peter, as if the state of the others would be more certain if the mind of the Chief were not overcome. So then in Peter the strength of all is fortified, and the help of divine grace is so ordered that the stability which through Christ is given to Peter, through Peter is conveyed to the Apostles.
During the proceedings of the Council of Chalcedon can be read the testimony of Paschasinus, legate of what would be increasingly termed preeminently "the Apostolic See", who declared: "We have in our hands the commands of the most blessed and apostolic man, Pope of the city of Rome, who is the head of all the Churches..." In the condemnation of the heretic Dioscorus of Alexandria, bishop of the second see in the Church, Paschasinus was joined by the other two legates, Lucentius and Boniface, in declaring "Leo, most holy and blessed Archbishop of great and elder Rome, by us, and by this holy Council, together with the most blessed Apostle Peter, who is the Rock and Ground of the Catholic Church, and the Foundation of the right faith, has stripped him (Dioscorus) as well of the rank of Bishop, as also has severed him from all sacerdotal ministry." This Fourth Ecumenical Council which set forth the teaching of the Undivided Church appropriately asked Pope St. Leo in a synodal Letter to confirm its decrees, acclaiming him as "the chief, as head to the members" and "to whom was committed the care of the Vineyard by the Redeemer" and as "being set as the mouthpiece unto all of Blessed Peter, and bestowing the blessedness of his faith upon all". The same Letter went on to state: "Therefore we beg of you to honor our decision with your approval, and as in all things honorable, we have submitted to the head, so may the head fulfill what is appropriate for the children."
More testimonies from this Council could be quoted, Your Eminence, from this Council concerning a Roman Pontiff’s headship over the Universal Church, but the above surely suffice. As for the famous 28th "Canon", Your Eminence is mistaken in declaring it to be a canon of the Council, for Pope St. Leo, keenly alive to the prerogatives of his see and eager to protect the rights of the other patriarchs rejected it outright: "The assent of the bishops [to the proposed 28th canon] we do not recognize and by the authority of the blessed Apostle Peter we absolutely annull" (Ep. CV). That canon was thus never received by the Universal Church or given ecumenical status. Moreover, the canon was rejected by Pope St. Leo not for any questioning of Rome’s Primacy of universal authority in the Church but rather for upsetting the traditional order of major sees in the East (which would soon be termed patriarchates). The ecclesiastical aggression of the imperial see of Constantinople was already obvious. When this canon was resuscitated by Byzantine emperors to justify Constantinople’s replacing Alexandria and Antioch in preeminence in the East, and suffering misinterpretation in the 9th century, it would be commented upon appropriately by no less than St. Methodius, Apostle of the Slavs, or perhaps one of his immediate disciples:
"It is necessary to know that this decision [the 28th canon] was not accepted by the Blessed Pope Leo. He did not approve the holy Council of Chalcedon on this point, but he wrote to the Council that he could not accept such a novelty, machinated by the doubtful Anatolius, then bishop of Constantinople. Also, some bishops present at the Council refused to subscribe to the canon. And it is not true as this canon affirms that the holy Fathers have accorded the primacy and honor to old Rome because it was the capital of the Empire. But it is from on high that it began, it is of grace divine that this Primacy has derived its origin. It is because of the degree of his faith that Peter, the most exalted of the Apostles, heard these words from the very mouth of Our Lord: ‘Peter, lovest thou Me? Feed My sheep’. This is why he possesses among the hierarchs preeminent rank and the first See. For, if as this canon affirms, it is because it is was the capital that Ancient Rome possesses the Primacy, it is evidently Constantinople, now capital of the Empire, which has inherited this honor. But everyone knows that although Emperors have dwelt at Milan and Ravenna and that their palaces are found there to our own day, these cities have not received on that account the Primacy. For the dignity and the preeminence of the priestly hierarchy have not been established by the favor of the civil power but by divine choice and by apostolic authority... How would it be possible because of an earthly emperor to displace divine gifts and apostolic privileges and to introduce innovations into the prescriptions of the immaculate faith? Immoveable indeed, unto the end, are the privileges of Old Rome. So in so far as being set over all the Churches, the Pontiff of Rome has no need to betake himself to all the holy Ecumenical Councils, but without his participation manifested by the sending of some of his subordinates, every Ecumenical Council is non-existent, and it is he who renders legal everything that has been decided in the Council... " (testimony discovered by the Russian Orthodox scholar A. Pavlov and first published in the Russian review Vizantiiskii Vremennik, t. iv. 1897; pp. 147-154)
The sentiments of Pope St. Leo the Great and the writer of the above commentary engaged in the spread of the Catholic faith among the Slavs hardly reflect those of Your Eminence. Whom is a seeker of truth regarding the nature and scope of the Roman Primacy to believe? Is it possible to conceive of the one visible Church on earth which was established by Christ as lacking a visible head essential to its earthly structure?
In the 7th century, one of the greatest Doctors of the Byzantine Greek Church, St. Maximos the Confessor wrote the following to a correspondent concerned at the spread of the Monothelite heresy, and noted the place of the Roman Church and its Bishop in the Church:
"Let him hasten before all to satisfy the Roman See. That done, all will with one accord, everywhere hold him pious and orthodox. Indeed, he is talking in vain when he... does not satisfy and beg forgiveness of the Blessed Pope [Eugenius] of the most holy Roman Church, that is, of the Apostolic See. This See, from the very Incarnate Word of God, and also from all holy Councils according to the sacred canons and definitions, has received universal and supreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over the holy Churches of God all over the world. For when this binds and looses, so also does the Word in Heaven, who rules the heavenly virtues."
If St. Maximos the Confessor was the voice of the "Undivided Church" in the 7th century, so was the Greek patriarch of Constantinople Ignatius (the opponent of Photius) the voice of the Undivided Church in the 9th century when he appealed in a letter to Pope Nicholas I which would be read and approved in the 869-70 Council of Constantinople:
"Of the wounds and sores of human members art has produced many physicians: of whom one has treated this disease, and another that, using in their experience amputation or cure. But of these, which are in the members of Our Saviour Christ and God, Head of us all, and of His Spouse the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Supreme Chief and most powerful Word, Orderer, and Healer, and Master, the God of all, has produced one singular, pre-eminent, and most Catholic Physician, your fraternal Holiness and paternal Goodness. Wherefore, he said to Peter, the great and supreme Apostle: ‘Thou art Peter’, etc. And again, ‘I will give to thee the Keys’, etc. For such blessed words He did not, surely, according to a sort of lot, circumscribe and define to the Prince of the Apostles alone, but transmitted by him to all who, after him, according to him, were to be made supreme pastors, and most divine and sacred Pontiffs of olden Rome. And therefore, from of old and the ancient times, when heresies and contradictions have arisen, many of those who preceded there your Holiness and supreme Paternity, have many times been made the pluckers-up and destroyers of evil tares, and of sick members, plague-struck and incurable: being, that is, successors of the Prince of the Apostles, and imitating his zeal in the faith, according to Christ: and now in our times your Holiness has worthily exercised the power given to you by Christ." (Mansi, 16: 47)
The above sentiments of Byzantine doctors do not reflect the ecclesiology of Greek Orthodoxy today. Then, too, there are also the testimonies of the Popes themselves from the 4th c. Pope Damasus to the 9th c. Pope John VIII who rehabilitated Photios in his see. They are full of avowals of their universal supremacy, witnessing forcefully to the doctrine held by the Undivided Church. What is striking is not only Your Eminence’s failure to honor the witness of so many Popes, Fathers, Councils, and Saints to the See of Peter’s primacy of universal jurisdiction in the Church but also your ignoring the overwhelming Biblical proof for the Apostolic Primacy of Peter and his successors in the Church, a Primacy regarded as essential to the Church’s very hierarchical constitution.
The witness of the ancient doctors, Fathers, Popes and Councils reinforce and echo the biblical exegesis of the famous Petrine texts in Holy Scripture which establish the divine Primacy of the Popes as of divine right and this in the very words of Christ Himself. This biblical teaching cannot easily be set aside.
It was on three different occasions that Our Lord, the Invisible Head of the Church, established Peter as head among all the Apostles and visible head of the Church Militant on earth.
Your Eminence is aware that the Vatican Council in 1870 defined that by these words Christ "conferred upon Peter alone the jurisdiction of Chief Pastor and Ruler over all the flock." The three-fold question of Our Lord clearly reminded Peter of his former presumption (Matt. 26: 33) and his three-fold denial (Matt. 26: 75). Christ tells the other Apostles that Peter’s love was greater than theirs. Who does not see that it was for this reason Christ conferred upon him a higher office? Peter does not boast of his love this time but rather appeals to Our Lord’s omniscience as evidence of its reality. There is also more symbolism that makes Christ’s action plain. Christ had declared Himself the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10: 11-16), one frequently foretold by the prophets (cf. Ezechial 34: 23; 37: 24-26; Zach: 11: 7; Jer. 3: 14; 22: 4; Isa. 41: 11). As the divine Ruler of the whole flock, He proceeded to make Peter the ruler in His place, now that He was about to leave this earth and return to His heavenly Father. Christ’s supreme power of teaching, judging and legislating for the entire flock is delegated to Peter who is to teach, rule, and judge the flock forever with His divine authority.
The Primacy of Peter revealed in the Scriptures and graphically disclosed in the history of the Church before 1054 was not a personal privilege like the power of working miracles but rather an essential part of the hierarchical structure of the Church since it was on Peter the Rock that the entire Church was built and to be sustained among the schisms and heresies that Christ foresaw would beset His visible Kingdom on earth. As long as the Church was to last - till the end of the world - Peter must reign in an unbroken succession of bishops of Rome. It was there that he died and established his episcopal and apostolic Chair, the Cathedra Petri. The House of God would always need its visible Rock-foundation; the House of God, the New Israel, would always need its divinely-appointed Chief Steward; the faithful, bishops, priests, and laity would always need the Confirmer of the brethren; and a Chief Shepherd to guide and rule them.
It is not a valid objection, Your Eminence, that Peter and his successors could not have been given supreme authority in the Church on the grounds that St. Peter was corrected by St. Paul. Abstracting from the ancient opinion held in the Eastern Church that the Prince of the Apostles was not the Cephas rebuked by St. Paul (Gal. 2: 11-15), it is not impossible that an inferior can rebuke a superior with just cause. Moreover, all the Apostles were personally infallible, and the dispute between the two Apostles was not one in which the Infallibility in faith and morals of the Chief of the Apostles could be compromised by what was a disciplinary rebuke. A great Catholic scholar has written:
"Of all the objections raised against the Primacy of Peter, this particular one is the least intelligible to the student familiar with primitive Christianity. A sharp rebuke, such as that uttered by St. Paul against Cephas at Antioch might appear incomprehensible if addressed to an Oriental despot; but a servant of Christ, even though he were the first and highest, must know how to accept a well-deserved rebuke in good grace, for among Christians the most highly placed should be the humblest".
In addition, Your Eminence, never did Divine Tradition ever suggest that the historic pre-eminence of the Roman Church and the necessity of visible communion with it came from the fact that Rome was the capital of the Empire. Rather does Tradition disclose that in the first thousand years of the Church’s history the Popes held and exercised their supreme office for the sole reason that they were St. Peter’s successors in a Primacy that they held "de jure divino" because established by Christ.
I have perhaps tried your patience, Your Eminence. I have certainly prolonged beyond my original intentions this letter to you. Much more could be added to correct assertions that the order of precedence given to the Apostolic sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch was determined solely by the political importance of these cities. A Roman Council of 70 bishops under Pope Damasus in the year 382 A.D. expressly repudiated such a notion, declaring that the greater jurisdictions of those sees were a participation in and a derivation from the fullness of ecclesiastical jurisdiction lodged in the Roman See of Peter by Our Lord. It is an utterly Erastian principle of Ecclesiastical jurisdiction that Your Eminence defends and which has worked havoc with the various ethnic/national Churches that comprise Eastern Orthodoxy by enslaving them to the temporal powers of this earth. The very spiritual independence and apostolic vigor of Churches separated from Catholic communion have been fatally compromised as can be seen in the lack of both Unity and Catholicity in your confederation of Churches lacking a visible head and center of unity.
It is the erroneous assertions in your article which has prompted this Letter to Your Eminence. A Catholic, for love of the truth, cannot but protest against erroneous assertions intended to maintain a tragic schism that demands the healing power of Christ to be ended. Catholics have never ceased to call upon their separated brethren to renew the bonds of visible communion with the Church built on the Rock of Peter and to once again enjoy the blessed fruits of Catholic Unity. In this we are encouraged by the never-ending prayers and appeals of the Successors of St. Peter who have always sought to lavish their particular esteem and veneration upon Eastern rites and institutions "which surround the Catholic Church, as it were, with regal variety". (See the encyclical of Pius XII upon the Council of Chalcedon, "Sempiternus Rex").
That great Doctor of Hippo, St. Augustine, the glory of the Church, wrote long ago to the separated brethren of his time the following, and with these words, I end this long Letter to Your Eminence for your forbearance in the reading of these pages, and begging the Theotokos for God’s most choice and gracious blessings leading to the Reunion of the Churches:
"You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not."
Ut omnes unum sint, and asking Your Eminence’s blessing, I am,
James Likoudis is well known as a Catholic writer and has authored three books dealing with Eastern Orthodox theology and ecclesiology. For other articles of interest visit: James Likoudis' Homepage