St. Thomas Aquinas, Papal Supremacy,
and the Witness of the Eastern Churches
in the First Millennium




In my book "Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism" will be found the only English translation of the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas' famous Tract "Contra Errores Graecorum" (Against the Errors of the Greeks). Therein, St. Thomas demonstrates the continuity of Catholic doctrine concerning the Papacy and the Procession of the Holy Spirit, — two dogmas that were being contested in his time by Byzantine Greeks and Slavs. In conformity to Catholic tradition, he proceeds to support the following propositions:

  1. That the Roman Pontiff is the first and greatest among all bishops;
  2. That the same Pontiff has universal jurisdiction over the entire Church of Christ;
  3. That the same Pontiff possesses in the Church a fullness of power;
  4. That he enjoys the same power conferred on Peter by Christ;
  5. That to him belongs the right of deciding what pertains to faith;
  6. That he is the superior of the other patriarchs;
  7. That to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation.
(See Chapters 32-38 of his "Tract")

It is very clear that what St. Thomas Aquinas taught as Catholic truth concerning the Pope and the Church in the 13th century is the same Catholic doctrine taught today (see the "Dogmatic Constitutions" of Vatican I [1870] and Vatican II [1962-65]).

In the last century Dr. Ignaz von Dollinger (the Hans Küng of his day) viciously attacked St.Thomas for using "forgeries" to uphold his "papal system." It is possible that spurious texts were quoted by St. Thomas which originally appeared in a book sent to Pope Urban IV by a Greek unionist bishop, Nicholas of Cotrone. However, as historian and theologian Cardinal Hergengröether wrote in refuting Dollinger's distortions, all questionable quotations are easily replaced by genuine ones from [the] Eastern Fathers and Councils. It can be added here that it is possible that the questionable texts may still be found in medieval catenae and florilegia which still exist. At any rate, the fact remains that St. Thomas' dogmatic teaching on the Papacy, as Cardinal Hergengröether pointed out,

"relies...upon many other things, and especially on the passages of Scripture respecting Peter's Primacy, as well as upon internal theological grounds, upon inferences from dogmatic premises, as for example, from the necessary unity of faith..."
("Anti-Janus", p.176)

Let us now review some authentic texts of the Fathers, Doctors, and Councils of the First Millennium that St. Thomas could well have substituted for the questionable texts that Nicholas of Cotrone included in the work that St. Thomas was evaluating for his "Contra Errores Graecorum."

Note that the column on the left presents the passages which have not been found or have been brought into question. The column on the right presents texts from the Fathers and Councils concerning which there is no question of authenticity. Readers can examine for themselves the falsehood (too often repeated by the ignorant) that:

"The Church of the First Millennium has no concept of Roman Primacy or supremacy or Papal Infallibility !"

The same falsehood is repeated in Hans Küng's latest heretical work "Christianity: Essence, History and Future" wherein he writes concerning the time of Charlemagne's empire (800-814 A.D.):

"As in the East, so, too, in the West, there was not a trace of a papal primacy of jurisdiction !"

Missing or Spurious Texts Authentic Texts
Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria says in his Thesaurus:
"As Christ coming forth from Israel as leader and scepter of the Church of the Gentiles was granted by the Father the fullest power over every principality and power and whatever is that all might bend the knee to Him, so He entrusted most fully the fullest power to Peter and his successors."
The Roman legate Philip to the Fathers of the Third Ecumenical Council (431 A.D.) which was presided over by Cyril of Alexandria, who described himself throughout the proceedings as "also holding the place of the most holy Archbishop of the Roman Church."
"It is doubtful to no one, nay, it is known to all ages, that the holy and blessed Peter, the prince and head of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church received from Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, the keys of the kingdom, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins-who up to this time and always lives in his successors and gives judgment. His successor and representative, therefore our holy and most blessed Pope, Bishop Celestine, has sent us to this synod to supply his place."
And again:
"To no one else but Peter and to him alone Christ gave what is his fully."
And further on: "The feet of Christ are His humanity, that is, the man Himself, to whom the whole Trinity gave the fullest power, whom one of the Three assumed in the unity of His Person and lifted up on high to the Father above every principality and power, so that all the angels of God might adore Him (Heb 1:6); which whole and entire He has left in sacrament and power to Peter and to His Church."
"Therefore, passing by all the others He came to Peter who was the Chief of them, saying 'But I have prayed for thee, that Thy faith fail not.'" (St. Cyril on Luke 22)
"Then He names another honor: 'Upon this Rock I will build My Church.' Observe how He manifests Himself Lord of heaven and earth, for He promises to found the Church, assigning immovableness to it, as He is the Lord of virtues, and over this He sets Peter as Shepherd. Then He says, 'And to thee I give the Keys of the Kingdom of heaven.' Neither an angel nor any intellectual power is able to utter this word." (P.G. 72:424)
And Chrysostom says to the Bulgarian delegation, speaking the Person of Christ:
"Three times I ask you whether you love Me, because you denied Me three times out of fear and trepidation. Now restored, however, lest the brethren believe you have lost the grace and authority of the Keys, I now confirm in you that which is fully Mine, because you love Me in their presence."
St. John Chrysostom (Hom. 5, de Poen., 2)
"After that grave fault (for there is no sin equal to denial) after so great a sin, He brought him back to his former honor and entrusted him with the headship [epistasia] of the Universal Church, and what is more than all He showed us that he had greater love for his Master than any of the Apostles, for said He, 'Peter, lovest thou Me more than these?' "
For the canon of the Council of Chalcedon says:
"If any bishop is sentenced as guilty of infamy, he is free to appeal the sentence to the blessed bishop of Old Rome, when we have as Peter the rock of refuge, and to him alone, is granted the authority to hear the appeal of a bishop accused of infamy in virtue of the keys given him by God."
And further on:
"And whatever has been decreed by him is to be held as from the vicar of the Apostolic throne."
Long before the Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D., the Council of Sardica, 343 A.D., which was attended by both Western and Eastern Bishops, vindicated the orthodoxy of the great St. Athanasius, and acknowledged the right of the Roman Pontiff to exercise his Primacy to check the abuses of Eastern regional synods:
Canon III: "If a bishop shall have been condemned (i.e., deposed) and considers he has right on his side, so that a fresh sentence ought to be pronounced, let us honor, if it pleases you, the memory of the Apostle Peter; let those who have examined the case, or those who dwell in the neighboring province, write to the Bishop of Rome, and he will furnish arbitrators."
Canon IV: "The Bishop Gaudentius said 'If a Bishop deposed by the judgment of his region demand himself a new trial, let no successor be given to him before the Bishop of Rome, having decided the affair, has pronounced judgment."
Canon V: "Bishop Hosius said: 'It has pleased us to add: If a bishop accused and deposed by the bishops of his district, in order to appeal about it takes refuge with the blessed Bishop of the Roman Church to submit the matter to his decision, let the latter, if it seem right to him, proceed to a new examination of the case, let him be worthy to write to the nearest bishops of his province to examine everything with care and exactitude and to decide according to the truth."
N.B. In a synodal Letter to Pope Julius, the Bishops gathered in the Council of Sardica noted:
"for this will seem to be most good and proper, if to the head, that is, to the See of Peter the Apostle, the Bishops of the Lord shall refer from all provinces."
And Cyril of Alexandria in his Thesaurus says that the Apostles:
"in the Gospels and Epistles have affirmed in all their teaching that Peter and his Church are in the place of the Lord, granting her participation in every chapter and assembly, in every election and proclamation of doctrine."
John, Patriarch of Jerusalem (575 - 593 A.D.) to the Archbishop of the Georgian monks who had a colony in his city:
"As for us, that is to say, the Holy Church, we have the word of the Lord, who said to Peter, Chief of the Apostles, when giving him the primacy of the Faith for the strengthening of the churches. 'Thou are Peter, etc.' To this same Peter He has given the keys of heaven and earth; it is in following his faith that to this day his disciples and the doctors of the Catholic Church bind and loose; they bind the wicked and loose from their chains those who do penance. Such is, above all, the privilege of those who on the first most holy and venerable See are the successors of Peter, sound in the Faith, and according to the Word of the Lord, infallible."
And further on:
"To him, that is, to Peter, all by divine ordinance bow their head, and rulers of the world obey him as the Lord Jesus Himself."
St. Maximos the Confessor (580 - 662 A.D.):
"The Apostolic See (Rome)...from the very Incarnate Word of God and from all the holy synods of all the churches throughout the world in their sacred canons and definitions has received and possesses, in and for everything, dominion, authority and power to bind and loose. With it, the Word, set at the head of heavenly powers, binds and looses in heaven."
It is also demonstrated that to the aforesaid Pontiff belongs the right of deciding what pertains to Faith. For Cyril in his Thesaurus says:
"Let us remain as members in our head on the apostolic throne of the Roman Pontiffs, from whom it is our duty to seek what we must believe and what we must hold."
St. Theodore of Studium (795 - 826 A.D.) to Pope Leo III and writing from prison against the Iconoclasts:
"Since it is to the great Peter that Christ our God gave the Keys of the Kingdom and entrusted the dignity of the Chief of the flock, it is to Peter, that is to say, his successor, that one ought to submit every innovation which is made in the Catholic Church by those who turn aside from the truth. That is what we humble and lowly monks have learned from the ancient Fathers...I borrow now the cry of the Coryphaeus (Chief) of the Apostles, calling Christ to his succour when the waves of the sea were risen up, and say to your Blessedness who art the Representative of Christ, 'O First shepherd of the Church which is under heaven', save us now, we perish. Imitate the Christ your Master, stretch out your hand to your Church as He stretched out His hand to Peter. Peter began to sink in the waves, whilst our Church is still once more submerged in the depths of heresy. Emulate, we beg you, the great Pope whose name you bear [Pope Leo the Great], and just as he on the appearance of the Eutychian heresy, stood erect spiritually as a lion with his dogmatic letters, so in your turn (I dare to say it because of your name) roar divinely, or rather send forth your thunders against the present heresy. For if they, usurping an authority which does not belong to them, have dared to convene a heretical Council [Council of Hieria with 338 Bishops in 753 A.D.], while those who following ancient custom, have not even the right of convoking an orthodox one without your knowledge, it seems absolutely necessary, we dare say it to you, that your Divine Primacy should call together a lawful Council, so that the Catholic dogma may drive away hresy and neither your Primacy may be anathematized with all the orthodox by these new voices without authority, nor that wills evilly disposed may find in this adulterous Council an excuse for being involved in sin. It is order to obey your Divine Authority as Chief Pastor that we have set forth these things as it befitted our nothingness, we the least members of the Church."
In other writings he refers to Rome:
"It is the chief Church since Peter who held the first place (and was its bishop)-to whom was said, 'Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.'...We are established securely on that See, of which Christ said, 'Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."
Pope Pascal is termed:
"the rock of the faith, on which is built the Catholic Church, for you are Peter, who adorn and govern the See of Peter."
...It is also clear that he is superior of the other patriarchs from this statement of Cyril:
"It is his', namely of the Roman Pontiffs of the Apostolic throne, 'exclusive right to reprove, correct, enact, resolve, depose and bind in the name of Him who established it."
Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople to Pope Hadrian II, 867 A.D., upon being restored to his See by Basil I in the conflict with Photios:
"Art has provided many physicians for the wounds in the limbs of men...but of wounds in the members of Christ our God and Savior, the Head of us all, and of His Spouse, the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Supreme Chief and most powerful Word, Orderer, Healer and Master, the God of all, has produced one only and pre-eminent and most universal physician, that is, your fraternal and fatherly goodness. Wherefore He said to Peter, the great and chief Apostle: 'Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. 'And again, 'I will give thee the Keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be loosed in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.' For such blessed words He did not circumscribe and define to the Prince of the Apostles alone by a kind of chance, but through him He transmitted them to all who, after him as successors were to be made Chief Pastors, and divine and sacred pontiffs of Elder Rome.
This is why, since the most ancient times, each occasion that heresy and prevarication have come to light, your predecessors on this throne, that is to say, the successors of the Prince of the Apostles, and imitators of his zeal for the Christian Faith, have torn up the tares and destroyed the members which were corrupt or incurably affected."
...It is also shown that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation. For Cyril says in his Thesaurus:
"Therefore, brethren, if we imitate Christ so as to hear His voice remaining in the Church of Peter and so as not be puffed up by the wind of pride, lest perhaps of our quarreling the only serpent drive us from paradise as once he did Eve."
As early as the 5th century, we find this remarkable testimony to the Primacy of the Pope contained in the 73 pseudo-Nicene canons preserved in Arabic and Syriac among the Syrian, Cooptic, Ethiopian and Melkite churches:
"It is the will of this ecumenical synod that for all things which have not been justly conducted by a metropolitan or other bishops, the patriarch has the power to decide by his own authority. For he is found above his fellows, and all the bishops are the sons of his heritage. The honor of metropolitans is like that of an elder brother who finds himself among his brothers. The honor of a patriarch is that of a father who has authority over his children. And as the patriarch has the power to do all that he wishes for good in the domain of his authority, so he of Rome will have the power over all the patriarchs like Blessed Peter over the entire community. For he has likewise the place of Peter in the Church of Rome. The transgressor [of this canon] is anathematized by the ecumenical synod."


About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage



"Without the Pope, the Church would no longer be Catholic...
Without the supreme, efficacious and decisive pastoral office of Peter,
the Unity of the Church would utterly collapse."

- Pope Paul VI, " Ecclesiam Suam ", August 6, 1964 -