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Archive for the ‘Patristics’ Category

In August, Pope Benedict XVI released a letter commemorating the 1,600th anniversary of the death of Saint John Chrysostom. Until an official English translation becomes available, Father John Zuhlsdorf offers his own translation (Microsoft Word format), as well as some interesting comments on the letter (see especially his comments on the connection between the Roman Church’s liturgical “Reform of the Reform” and relations with the Orthodox Churches).

Here’s an interesting excerpt, germane to the themes discussed at this blog:

In view of the ecumenical progress made between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches since the Second Vatican Council and especially in recent years, we wish to recall the outstanding efforts that St John Chrysostom made in his day in promoting reconciliation and full communion between Eastern and Western Churches. Singular among these achievements was his contribution in ending the schism which separated the See of Antioch from the See of Rome and other western churches. At the time of his consecration as Archbishop of Constantinople, John sent a delegation to Pope Siricius at Rome. He also won in advance of this mission the crucial collaboration of the Archbishop of Alexandria in Egypt for his plan to end the schism. Pope Siricius responded favorably to John’s diplomatic initiative, and the schism was peacefully resolved so that full communion between the churches was restored.

Later, toward the end of his life, following his return to Constantinople after his first exile, John wrote to Pope Innocent at Rome as well as to bishops Venerius of Milan and Chromatius of Aquileia. He appealed for their assistance in his effort to restore order in the Church at Constantinople which continued to suffer ecclesial divisions spawned by the injustice committed against him. John asked Pope Innocent and the other western bishops for a compassionate response, one which “confers a favor not upon ourselves alone but also upon the Church at large.” In fact it is clear in John’s thinking that when one part of the Church suffers injury, the whole Church suffers the same injury. Pope Innocent defended John in letters to Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria. The Pope maintained full communion with him, thus ignoring a deposition which he regarded as unlawful. He wrote to John in order to console him, and he wrote to the Constantinopolitan clergy and faithful who were loyal to John to express his full support of their lawful bishop. “John, your bishop, has unjustly suffered,” the Pope wrote to John’s followers. Moreover, Pope Innocent convened a synod of Italian and eastern bishops in order to seek justice for the beleaguered bishop. With the western emperor’s support, the Pope sent a delegation of western and eastern bishops to the eastern emperor at Constantinople to defend John and to demand that an ecumenical synod of bishops be convened to seek justice on his behalf. When, shortly before John’s death in exile, these measures failed, John wrote to Pope Innocent to thank him for “the great consolation” he received from having his support. In this letter John insisted that although he was separated from the Pope by the great distance of his exile, he was nevertheless in “daily communion” with him. Aware of the Pope’s efforts on his behalf, John wrote to him, “You have surpassed even affectionate parents in your good will and zeal concerning us.” John urged the Pope to continue with this zeal to seek justice on behalf of himself and the Church at Constantinople, because “the contest now before you has to be fought on behalf of nearly the whole world, on behalf of Churches humbled to the ground, of people dispersed, of clergy assaulted, of bishops sent into exile, of ancestral laws violated.” John also wrote to other western bishops to thank them for their support, among them Chromatius of Aquileia, Venerius of Milan and Gaudentius of Brescia.

Both at Antioch and at Constantinople John spoke passionately about the unity of the Church throughout the world. He observed that “the faithful in Rome consider those in India as members of their own body.” He insisted that there is no place for division in the Church. “The Church,” John exclaimed, “exists not in order that we who come together might be divided, but that they who are divided might be joined.” He found divine authority for this ecclesial unity in the Sacred Scriptures. Preaching on Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, John reminded his hearers that “Paul refers to the Church as ‘the Church of God’ showing that it ought to be united. For if it is ‘of God,’ it is united; and it is one, not only in Corinth, but also throughout the world. For the Church’s name is not a name of separation, but of unity and concord.”

For John, the Church’s unity is founded in Christ, the Divine Word, who through his Incarnation unites Himself to the Church as the head of his own body. “For where the head is, there is the body also,” John proclaimed, so that “there is no separation between the head and the body.” John understood that in the Incarnation, the Divine Word not only became man, he united Himself to us in his own body. “For neither was it enough for Him to be made man, to be beaten and slaughtered, but He also commingles Himself with us, and not by faith only, but also in very deed makes us His body.” Commenting on the Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “He has put everything under Christ’s dominion, and made him the head to which the whole Church is joined, so that the Church is his body, the completion of him who everywhere and in all things is complete,” John teaches that “the head is, as it were, filled up by the body, because the body is composed and made up of all its several parts. It is by all then that His body is filled up. Then is the head filled up, then is the body rendered perfect, when we are all knit together and united.” John thus concludes that Christ unites all the members of His Church to Himself and to each other. Our faith in Christ requires that we work for an effective, sacramental unity between the members of the Church; such faith seeks to put an end to divisions in the Church.

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But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

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Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

The interpretation we have sketched is, as it were, a key which unlocks the mind of the council and of Leo. The proof that it is the true key is that it can be turned, and than an intelligible meaning is thereby opened. The rival interpretations are as keys that will not turn: they meet with obstacles which they cannot pass – they do not fit the lock. But the former possesses over them these not inconsiderable advantages, that it contradicts no utterance of the council and they do; this is not irreconcilable with the immemorial tradition of the Church, and they are; it accounts for the absence of any objection on St. Leo’s part to these particular words; it gives a good reason why he should entertain no objection to the words in themselves; it is inconsistent with no established fact of history; and no other interpretation will harmonise with the language used towards the Pope in the letters in which his assent is entreated.

It is a most certain fact of history that Peter and Paul did give Rome the primacy – “the place in which the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul continually sit in judgment,” says the Council of Arles eleven years before Nicaea – and also that they gave it to Rome “because it was the Imperial City,” and that St. Leo himself devoted an entire sermon on the great Festival of these Apostles to the reassertion of this immemorial and unquestioned tradition, and that no one had ever said otherwise. These things being so, we are unable to see how any reasonable critic can draw any other conclusion than ours, unless he is driven to do so by the unkind necessities of his position. The attitude of the Pope towards the canon as a whole, not only in what he does not say, but also in what he does, appears to confirm the validity of our argument. He does not deny the assertion regarding the reasons which actuated “the Fathers,” but in respect to Alexandria and Antioch he denies the application. Whatever were the reasons which caused St. Peter to grant special distinction to these two sees – and the reasons, no doubt, were they secular greatness and geographical position – still, the distinction having been thus granted, their subsequent ecclesiastical greatness was due to their connection with St. Peter, and not to the reasons which actuated him.

It only remains to be said that the Pope finally annulled the canon by virtue of the authority of St. Peter, which the canon is supposed by opponents implicity, if not explicitly, to deny to him. His words in his letter to Pulcheria are as follows: “Those things agreed on by the bishops contrary to the rules of the holy canons drawn up at Nicaea, in union with the piety of your faith, we do annul, and by the authority of the Blessed Apostle Peter do, by a general definition, make utterly void” – “Consensiones vero episcoporum sanctorum Canonum apud Nicaeam conditorum repungnantes, unita nobiscum vestrae fidei pietate, in irritum mittimus, et, per auctoritatem Beati Petri Apostoli, generali prorsus definitione cassimus.” The Emperor Marcian accepts the refusal and praises the Pope because he stands out as the one who, “by guarding the ecclesiastical canons, has suffered no innovation upon ancient custom and the order agreed upon of old.” And finally Anatolius himself writes to submit to the Pope’s decision, “in order that, by obeying you, I might fulfil those things which have seemed good to your mind. For be it far from me to oppose whatsoever was commanded me in those letters.” And the letter concludes with the words previously quoted: “Gestorum vis omnis et confirmatio auctoritati vestrae beatitudinis reservata est.” The final word, therefore, of the Patriarch of Constantinople himself upon the question is a humble acknowledgement that not even a General Council could give him the precedency he desired for his See without the assent and confirmation of the Sovereign Pontiff.

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Part I | Part II | Part III

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.

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Part I | Part II

The most significant and important point of all is that the Pope St. Leo himself saw no attack on the Privilegia Petri in the canon. The principle on which the bishops based the canon did come under his notice; for amongst the many reasons he gave for rejecting it was this, that the See of Constantinople ought not to deprive Alexandria and Antioch of their place as second and third sees, because it was not an Apostolic foundation and they were. The See of Alexandria, he tells Anatolius, cannot be stripped of the dignity which it had received on account of Mark, the disciple of Peter, notwithstanding the apostacy of Dioscorus; nor could Antioch, where Peter preached and where the Christian name first arose, lose its rank as third. And yet in none of his letters, in which he recites the many objections to the “innovation,” does he take any exception to the words which assert that his own See of Rome owed its rank to the secular greatness of the city: “Etenim sedi senioris Romae” (or, “throno antiquae Romae”) “propter Imperium civitatis illius” (or, “quod privilegia tribuerunt” (reddiderunt) – so run the Latin versions of these oft-quoted words. “Leo himself,” says the late Canon Bright, who failed to perceive the immense significance of the admission, “was content to denounce it, not on account of St. Peter’s prerogatives, but in the name of the Council of Nicaea.” And the late Canon Carter, a leading Anglican authority, also says: “Rome did not oppose the decree as derogatory to herself.” These admissions appear to concede our point, which is that the decree neither denied nor was intended to deny the Petrine privilege of the Holy See, and that therefore it did not and could not mean that the Pope’s position was based merely on ecclesiastical consent.

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Part I

The Council committed itself in precise and definite terms to the belief that the Pope was the inheritor of the privileges of St. Peter, and head of the Church by Divine right. Passing by the well-known and significant cry of the assembled Fathers on hearing the Pope’s letter to Flavian, “Peter hath spoken by Leo (dia Leontos),” let us turn to the sentence of deposition pronounced by the Papal legate on Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and subscribed by every bishop at the council: “Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, Archbishop of the great and elder Rome, by us (his legates) and this present most holy Council (di himon kai tes parouses hagiotates sunodou), in union with the thrice-blessed and all-honoured apostle Peter, who is the Rock and support (petra kai krepis) of the Catholic Church and the foundation (ho themelios) of the orthodox faith, has deprived (egumnosen, Leon being the subject) him of his episcopate, etc.” …

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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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