We must, therefore, interpret the hoi pateres, Patres, of the canon to mean the Apostles and their successors; the Apostles as the original donors, their successors as bearing witness to what was handed down. This is no forced interpretation, for the expression is often used in this sense, and has a right to be considered on its own merits, apart from the important fact that an interpretation of the words of the canon which does not include the Apostles is impossible on independent grounds. St. Leo himself very frequently uses the word in the sense we have indicated. “The rule observed carefully by our Fathers,” he writes to Dioscorus, meaning, as he explains, the rule made by Peter and handed down by his successors. “The authority of custom which we know comes down from the Apostles’ teaching,” he says in the same letter. “The traditions of the Fathers,” paternal traditions, he calls them in his letter to the bishops of the Council of Chalcedon; “what has become fixed in our custom as derived from the form of paternal tradition;” “the rules of the Fathers” (regulae, or, constituta Patrum); all these expressions mean one thing to the Pope, namely, that which was deposited in the Church by the Apostles and has been handed down by those who took their place. But this is a quite common usage.
“The institutions of the Church as they are handed down from the Blessed Apostles,” says Innocent I. “The Apostle Peter has handed down in his successors that which he himself received,” says Sixtus III. “You maintain the institutions of the Fathers,” says Innocent to the Numidian bishops, “and will not suffer to be trodden down what they decreed not of their own will as men, but by that of God.” “Not such are the statutes of Paul, not so have the Fathers handed down to us … For what we have received from the holy Apostle Peter I also declare to you,” says Julius I in his celebrated letter to the Eusebian bishops. And the words “constituta, decreta, definitiones, traditiones Patrum,” hoi horoi ton pateron, usually mean in antiquity a living tradition deposited in the Church by the Apostles and handed down with jealous care by their successors. If used with reference to particular Fathers, the limitation is invariably indicated, e.g. “constituta quae per singulas Synodos a Sanctis Patribus constituta sunt” in Canon I of this very Council, which refers to all previous conciliar decrees; “regulae sanctorum Patrum quae apud Nicaeam convenerunt” says St. Leo. “Traditio Patrum” (hoi horoi ton pateron) is a parallel expression in antiquity to “Fides Patrum” (he pistis ton pateron), and, like the latter, means “derived from, taught, or deposited by the Apostles and handed down.” When, therefore, the term “The Fathers” was used in a precise sense, a limiting phrase was added; otherwise it was used in the wide sense we have indicated.
That the words in the canon may be thus interpreted has often been pointed out. We contend that they must be; or else that they refer to St. Peter and St. Paul only. In short, we contend that a sense acceptable to the Pope must have been intended by Anatolius and his friends. To sum up: the usual interpretation of the words of the canon, adopted by opponents of the Papacy, is that “the Fathers” in question are the Nicene Fathers. This may be summarily dismissed. First, these venerable bishops are frequently mentioned by the council itself, and always with the limiting clause, e.g. “The 318 Fathers,” “The Fathers who assembled at Nicaea.” Secondly, the Papal legates attacked the canon, the day after it was signed by the remnant of the Council, on the express ground that it overthrew the Nicene Canon, and no one denied their assertion. Thirdly, the Pope refused his assent to the canon on the same ground. Fourthly, the statement that the Nicene Fathers gave Rome the primacy is historically false. Fifthly, the Pope would have denounced such a statement in no ambiguous terms. Instead of securing his assent the canon would have been looked upon as a deliberate insult to the Holy See.
The words are also sometimes interpreted to mean “The Fathers” in our sense of the term – the great post-apostolic teachers, and that the primacy of Rome was a matter simply of ecclesiastical consent, due to her being the Imperial capital. The objections to this interpretation are fatal. First, as we have seen, the phrase (as excluding the Apostles) is unusual without a limiting clause. He pistis ton pateron, does not exclude the Apostles, but means “having its origin in the Apostles and handed down.” But it is unnecessary to labour this point. Secondly, as we have also pointed out, the council expressly refers to the Pope as representative of St. Peter and guardian of the Church by Divine right. It cannot have intended to contradict its own belief. Thirdly, the Petrine origin of the Holy See and its consequent primacy was an open and notorious fact. Fourthly, the teaching of Leo (whose ratification was essential) on this subject was notorious. Fifthly, unless one is moved by an over-mastering prejudice, it is quite impossible to conceive that Leo the Great would have passed over, without protest or comment, an assertion that the prerogatives of his See were derived from a mere general consent, which might conceivably be revoked.
But if we admit that the famous sentence, on which so much stress has been laid by the opponents of the Papacy, was a concise and excellent summary of the Pope’s own eloquent words on the same subject, all these difficulties, which are otherwise insuperable, at once disappear. The argument of Anatolius and his supporters is then seen to be one which the Pope might very possibly be induced to admit, especially as it had the warm concurrence of the two Catholic rulers, Marcian and Pulcheria. “Peter and Paul gave Rome the primacy, as all confess, because it was the Imperial city. A ‘new Rome’ has been begotten, possessing all the claims of ‘the elder Rome’; it sorely needs a special jurisdiction for the peace of the East, and is a natural centre as her parent has been. The successor of Peter and Paul may well follow their example by conceding similar privileges to the daughter. The 150 Fathers of A.D. 381 merely followed apostolic and immemorial tradition when they assigned the second place to Constantinople ‘because it was the new Rome,’ and, therefore, in a sense, one with the elder Rome.” It is worth noticing that a later patriarch of Constantinople signed the Formula of Pope Hormisdas, at the Fourth Council of Constantinople in A.D. 869, on the ground that his See was one with the See of old Rome. This formula committed the council in question to the doctrine of Papal supremacy as derived from Peter in the most explicit terms.
The object of Constantinople was to be acknowledged, as it were, a part of the See of Rome, of which it was a reproduction, possessing similar privileges, and second only to her. “For,” says Anatolius to the Pope, “your Apostolic throne is the parent of that of Constantinople,” which is, therefore, its “alter ego” for the East. Such was the thought. This idea, from the point of view of the Imperial Court, was a brilliant one, and the words of the canon which enshrined it were chosen with a skill worthy of the acute diplomatists of the Eastern capital. They need not present any difficulty to the Pope, resembling, as they did, his own statements, and conveying apparently his own thought. They avoided, very happily, an express mention of the Apostles, since that would injure the parallel they wished to draw in favour of Constantinople; but they would be understood by the Pope and the West to include them, more especially in the light of the many statements of the council as to the Papal descent from Peter. Very possibly there were extreme partisans who in their own minds saw that a meaning less satisfactory to the Holy See might be drawn from the canon, once it was accepted and put in force. The part of the Church from which it emanated had within a hundred and twenty years denied successively the Eternal Generation of Christ, the Divine Personality of the Son of Man, and the reality of His human nature. It would hardly be remarkable if there were men who were prepared to deny the privilege of Peter, whenever the time should be ripe, for “the disciple is not above his master.” But the time was not yet come.
To be continued …