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Archive for September, 2007

The famous xxviii. Canon of Chalcedon has been for many centuries a favourite authority among all those who, whether in the East or in England, are anxious to find support in primitive times for their rejection of the Petrine prerogatives of the Holy See. To a serious student of history, however, it seems an act of no small temerity in an opponent of the Papal claims to appeal to any episode in the history of this Council, for at no period of the Church’s existence is the universal recognition of the Pope’s supremacy more clear. The correspondence of St. Leo with St. Flavian, with the heretic Eutyches, with the Eastern and Western Emperors, and the Empress Pulcheria; the famous letter of St. Peter Chrysologus to Eutyches, the letters of St. Leo to the Council, the attitude of his legates there, the enthusiastic reception by the Council of his epistle to Flavian, the terms of the sentence of deposition on the Alexandrian Patriarch Dioscorus, the Acta of the Council, and its conciliar letters to Pope Leo and the Emperor Marcian, with the correspondence that followed – all these form a testimony to the universal belief in the jus divinum of the Papal supremacy so overwhelming in its force, that it is a matter of amazement that any candid mind should entertain a doubt as to the sentiments of the Church in that age.

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Part I | Part II

Anyone who has dealt with the ancient sources would probably agree with our description of the communio and the position of Rome as its focal point. But the real question is still to be asked, and it is here that opinions differ sharply. Is this central position of the Roman bishops in the Church in fact an earlier form of the papal primacy as later understood in canon law and dogma? Is it not at most a germ from which in the course of time the later primacy could grow? Or is it not like a tree onto which so many alien branches have been grafted that it comes to bear fruits not anticipated in the original seed? St. Ambrose affirms that “the rights of the treasured communio” flowed forth from the Roman church to all the other churches. Let us grant that this was a common opinion. We know that the bishop of Rome, Damasus, had at that time a lively correspondence with the other churches. Jerome related that while he was in Rome Damasus commissioned him to answer questions posed by both eastern and western synods. But can one really say that Damasus was ruling the whole Church in the manner of later popes?

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Part One

The fact that the Roman church held in some sense a privileged position in the early centuries is rarely contested today. In any case, it was the first see (prima sedes). Thus, the real question is what this undeniable primacy meant and how it is related to the later forms of papal primacy. So far we have sought to understand this primacy as the focal point of the communio. Before we tackle the question of the connection between this and the later papal primacy, we should examine briefly other elements in the early Church that could have led to the early emergence of Rome’s preeminence.

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Tim Enloe has posted more on “Romanitas” and the Papacy, specifically on the concept of the paterfamilias:

The word “pope” comes from the Latin papa, which of course, means “father.” To understand the cultural world of Romanitas, which deeply undergirds papal theory and assumptions about reality, we must understand about father is the concept of paterfamilias. This term can also mean “father,” but to unpack its implications it is better to say that it means “head of the house.”

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The network of the communio, as we have seen it in Christian antiquity, appears at first to allow for no church to be subordinate or superior to any other church. In fact, in certain circumstances, each bishop could presume to express the will of the universal Church. Each bishop could excommunicate any other bishop and thereby separate him from universal communion. Within the communio all are equal. No one has rights or powers which the others do not possess in the same degree. At first sight, therefore, the system of communio seems to exclude any special prerogative for the see of Rome.

At the end of the second century we can observe the initial formation of metropolitan groupings among the bishops of the same civil province. The first traces of this are the synods that Victor of Rome called just before A.D. 200 in an attempt to settle the controversy over the celebration of Easter. On this occasion the future metropolitan sees made their appearance in some regions. By the fourth century, organized ecclesiastical provinces, as they were later called, were fully developed.

Historical studies treating this development, up to the institution of the patriarchates, invariably lead to the negative conclusion that the primacy of the Roman church was not a product of this process of organization. It was not the case that the hierarchy of the Church grew up like a pyramid, with the bishop of Rome at the apex over bishops, metropolitans, primates, and patriarchs. On the contrary, the overdevelopment of the metropolitan system actually obscured , for a while and to some extent, the prerogatives of the Roman see. Nonetheless, at least from the fifth or sixth century onward, these Roman prerogatives are an undeniable fact. Since they did not arise out of the metropolitan organizations, we must look elsewhere for their origin.

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Romanitas

Reformed Protestant Tim Enloe of Pontiffixations (“Ponderings on the Papacy by a Sympathetic Separated Brother”) has begun what looks like a promising series on the concept of Romanitas and the Papacy. Some interesting tidbits from his first post:

. . . [I]t is very easy to claim that “exegesis” of Scripture demonstrates that papal claims are “unbiblical.” It is very easy to claim that “documents” demonstrate that papal claims are “unhistorical.” These things are on their face deeply offensive to Catholics, and they often provoke apologetic responses from Catholics that are equally problematic. On the contrary, operating outside the world of apologetics, Medieval scholar Walter Ullmann argues that in order to understand the papacy we must understand it “from within itself and from its own premisses.” That is, we “cannot enter into any discussion as to whether the principles set forth and applied by the medieval papacy were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, were in agreement with the Bible or violated biblical themes, were justified or unjustified. [Principles of Government and Politics in the Middle Ages (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1961), pg. 29]. Though this seems counterintuitive to our typical approach to the papacy, I believe it is an approach that will shed much light and yield much fruit …

In line with Ullmann’s argument, then, the first deeper reality I wish to highlight in my ongoing examination of the cultural moorings of the papacy is the broad concept summed up by the Latin term Romanitas, or, “Roman-ness.” The word sums up a deep and wide cultural heritage of the Ancient Roman world. It was a heritage the principles of which were first developed by the Ancient Greeks and later taken up by their Roman conquerors, who in so many ways simply emulated Greek achievements rather than coming up with their own. Romanitas, like its predecessor concept “Hellenic” (Greek), could be summed up with many words, not least of which is “imperialistic.” This word is, in our culturally pluralistic age, an ugly sounding word roughly akin to “prejudice” or “bigotry.” To the Ancient people who used it, however, it was neither prejudice nor bigotry, but a simple reflection of reality …

In this introductory post to understanding papal claims in their most natural historical and cultural milieu (instead of the artificial ones that our developed Protestant polemics often impose upon the papacy) I argue that the Ancient Roman concept of Romanitas was something very much like what Americanitas is to us, and that it had very similar effects on Ancient Romans. As with all cultural heritages, Romanitas was like the air that Ancient Roman people breathed. It was always there, always relied upon, always known to be essential, but rarely ever noticed in a self-reflective, critical manner. It just was “the way things are,” or, failing that, “the way things ought to be.” …

But what sorts of things did Romanitas entail, and what were the interfaces of these entailments with the rise and development of papal claims? In subsequent posts I will outline some answers in detail. For now I will whet the readers’ appetite with a few fancy Latin terms that, despite jokes about Latin being a “dead language,” describe realities that are quite alive and well today in the claims of the papacy: imperium (ability to command), jurisdictio (jurisdiction), populus (the people), patricius (noble), principatus (primacy), potestas (power), paterfamilias (head of the house), auctoritas (authority), and others. As Protestants, as brethren separated from our Roman family members, we must try to come to grips with these terms and the complex realities that they describe. And if there is anything that it we must understand about these terms and the complex realities that they describe, it is that while they may not be “self-evident truths” the way that Catholics in the grip of Romanitas often think they do, neither do they surrender to our typical simplistic form of biblical prooftexting and historical deconstruction.

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