Another Sixth Century Heretic's Witness
to the Roman Primacy


In a previous article in The Wanderer (12/10/09) it was noted how in their fanatical zeal to promote their heretical errors distorting the Christology of the Catholic Church, Arian, Nestorian, and Monophysite heretics were led to logically deny the Roman See of Peter's universal authority in doctrinal matters. At the most, they sought to reduce the Roman Primacy to a mere "primacy of honor" (foreshadowing the position taken by later Byzantine Greek and Slav dissidents in the 12th c. and up to this day).

This rejection of the Primacy of St. Peter and the Pope of Rome as of divine right and instituted by the Lord of the Church Himself is the essence of their schism. The refusal of ecclesial obedience to the Church's Chief Pastor who holds the Keys of the Kingdom lies at the heart of all the major schisms and heresies occurring in the history of the Church.

It is very important to observe that the leading proponents of the major historical schisms afflicting the Unity of the Church all claimed to be "traditionalists". Arians, Nestorians, and Monophysites all appealed to "tradition". They attempted to justify their heresies in the name of their own understanding of orthodoxy and the accompanying pretension to understand Scripture and Tradition better than those adhering to the full communion of the See of Peter — that same See which Pope Leo the Great had declared repeatedly to be at the head of the Universal Church and indefectible in the profession of the dogmas of faith.

Monophysite detractors declared Pope Leo the Great a heretic and accused the Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome of having fallen into the Nestorian heresy. They who were condemned by the Council of Chalcedon claimed to be the faithful heirs of tradition and "orthodoxy".

To this day, there are Armenian, Syrian, Egyptian (Coptic) and Ethiopian Christians who remain adherents of what has been termed "Monophysitism" (the doctrine which seriously misconstrued the hypostatic union, i.e., the union between the divinity and humanity in the one (divine) Person of Jesus Christ which occurred when the 'Word became flesh'- Jn. 1:14).

Misinterpreting the formula of St. Cyril of Alexandria ("One Incarnate Nature of God the Logos"), and confusing "nature" and "person", the leading theologians of Monophysitism (particularly active in the spread of Monophysitism from the 4th to the 8th centuries) openly rejected the "heretical" doctrine of Pope Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) which declared that there are in Christ "two natures in one Person".

For a time, the strength of Monophysitism was reflected in Monophysites holding the 4 patriarchal sees in the East. Adherents of a nominal and verbal or strict Monophysitism (their theological differences have yet to be resolved) continue to comprise today the "Oriental Orthodox Churches" which remain separated from both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

In the previous Wanderer article noted above, the resistance to the Roman Primacy of one of the leading Monophysite theologians, Jean Philoponos (6th c,) was given. Another remarkable Monophysite writer was Philoxene of Babbog (d. 523), the Bishop of Hierapolis in Syria, who urged the monks of Senoun to "reject as manifesting the same impiety (as Nestorius) the so-called Council reunited at Chalcedon and the impious Tome produced by Leo which was was confirmed by the Council which in turn was sustained by him." Denouncing Pope Leo and the archbishop of Constantinople Flavian as Nestorians, Philoxene went on to declare:

"Know then, I pray you, true sons, that for our part, we do not accept the instructions [that] come from Rome and that we do not approve those who have been sent from there. Strong with the primacy of honor that it is customary to render to them, they have openly spread impiety and received the Council of Chalcedon in order to sustain and confirm the same heresy which Nestorius had installed.
Instead of referring directly to Nestorius, his masters Diodore and Theodore and their disciple Theodoret, those who are involved in reintroducing the heresy of Nestorius lean for support on Leo and the Council. They rely on Leo because of the primacy of honor traditionally attributed to his See, and on the Council of Chalcedon by reason of its great number of bishops."
(Letter to the Monks of Senoun, dated 522-523)

In another Letter, "To Maron", he wrote in response to the anathema and excommunications levied against him and his fellow Monophysites by the Council of Chalcedon:

"The power of binding and loosing on earth and even in heaven was first given to Peter because he correctly believed in Christ. And it is certain that he who makes the same confession as Peter also possesses that power.
If then the Symbol [of faith] composed at Chalcedon agrees with Peter in the confession of the same unique Christ, it follows that those who have defined that Symbol possess the power of Peter. As a consequence, one must also admit as valid the rejection and excommunication of those pronounced at Chalcedon to be heretics.
But if those who defined at Chalcedon have not been orthodox in regards to the Faith, necessarily their anathemas are without force."

What is interesting to observe from the above testimony is:

  1. The appeal to Tradition by Monophysite heretics;
  2. Their examination and rejection of the 4th Ecumenical Council as not orthodox;
  3. The reduction of the Roman Primacy exercised by the Church's Chief Bishop to a mere ineffective "primacy of honor";
  4. The rejection of the Petrine Primacy as understood and exercised by Pope Leo the Great and his successors on the Chair of Peter on the ground that no Primacy of universal authority and jurisdiction can exist in the absence of orthodoxy.

The conclusion to be drawn from the above brief analysis is that whereas the Petrine Primacy with a real magisterial authority was instituted by Christ to assure dogmatic orthodoxy in the Church, the tactic of ancient Monophysite and other heretics was to make "orthodoxy" (as subjectively determined) the criterion of doctrinal truth. Moreover, the true Church is not where Peter is, as St. Ambrose had stated in his famous dictum ("Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia") but where orthodoxy is! This position, however, only leads to the denial of the Church as a visible and infallible hierarchical Authority, and to the doctrinal disarray found among all the separated Eastern Churches.

Interestingly, it is this same vague and subjectivist refrain "Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is your doxy" that constitutes the theological defense of both the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches against the Catholic Church with its Petrine Primacy serving as the unshakeable Rock of the Episcopate. This consequent denial of an infallible hierarchical Magisterium in the Church is encapsuled in the words of Alexei Khomiakov, the well-known 19th century Russian Orthodox theologian of "sobornost" (conciliarity of all Church members):

"No, the Church is not authority, just as God is not authority, for Authority is not something 'external to us'. Not authority, I say, but truth.

In this view, not even an Ecumenical Council of the Church's bishops can be regarded as an infallible authority since its orthodoxy has first to be determined by all the faithful.

Once again, it is to be observed how the fatal denial of the infallible Petrine Primacy of the Pope deprives the Church of its external authoritative instrument indispensable for identifying and defining the truths found in the "deposit of faith" handed down to and from the Apostles. The resistance to the Papacy by anti-ecumenical Eastern Orthodox may be said to manifest a semi-Monophysite ecclesiology that compromises the very principle of authority in the Church, and results in the rejection of the Church's visible Unity.

The instances of historical resistance to the Popes' actual exercise of the Roman Primacy by Arian, Nestorian, and Monophysite heretics in the ancient Church is a powerful witness to the truth that the Papacy, always intent on safeguarding the visible Unity of the Church, employed ecclesiastical privileges and powers traceable to no human authority but were given by Christ uniquely to Peter and his successors, as set forth in the decrees of the First and Second Vatican Councils.

A key lesson of history with regards to the very beginnings of Christianity and scandalous ecclesiastical divisions occurring among the baptized was stated simply and forcefully by Blessed John Henry Newman in his famous "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk":

"We must take things as they are; to believe in a Church is to believe in the Pope"

The above article was published in the February 10, 2011, issue of the national Catholic weekly "The Wanderer" (201 Ohio St., St. Paul MN 55107).

James Likoudis is the author of "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church", the most comprehensive work in English dealing with Eastern Orthodox objections to Catholic doctrines. It is available from the author, P.O.Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865, for $27.95 (covers S&H). For other articles of interest visit:    James Likoudis' Homepage