Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Catholic Church that the Pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as the visible foundation and source of unity, and as pastor of the entire Catholic Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered: that, in brief, "the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls."
The doctrine had the most significance in the relationship between the church and the temporal state, in matters such as ecclesiastic privileges, the actions of monarchs and even successions.
Institution of papal supremacy
The Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy is based on the assertion by the Bishops of Rome that it was instituted by Christ and that papal succession is traced back to Peter the Apostle in the 1st century. The authority for the position is derived from the Confession of Peter documented in Matthew 16:17–19 when, in response to Peter's acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, which many relate to Jesus' divinity, Jesus responded:
Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood hast not revealed this to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death [gates of hell] shall not prevail against it. I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The same historical early church tradition states that Peter was Bishop of Antioch before his travels to Rome. Therefore, it could be argued that the Bishop of Antioch could claim the same Apostolic succession from Christ to Peter and to later Bishops of Antioch as is asserted by the Bishop of Rome. However, Bishop of Antioch St. Ignatius of Antioch, around the year 100, described the Church of Rome as "presiding", and "occupying the first place".
Scholars such as Francis A. Sullivan say that there was no single "bishop" of Rome until well after the year 150 AD, and that there was no papacy for the first three centuries. Sullivan "expressed agreement with the consensus of scholars that available evidence indicates that the church of Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century." The research of Jesuit historian Klaus Schatz led him to say that, "If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no." But he believes it likely that 'there very quickly emerged a presider or 'first among equals.'"
In the first three centuries of Christianity the church in Rome intervened in other communities to help resolve conflicts. Pope Clement I did so in Corinth in the end of the first century. In the third century, Pope Cornelius convened and presided over a synod of 60 African and Eastern bishops, and his rival, the antipope Novatian, claimed to have "assumed the primacy".
In the complex development of papal supremacy, two broad phases may be noted.
First phase of papal supremacy
From the beginning of his papacy in 401, Pope Innocent I was seen as the general arbitrator of ecclesiastical disputes in both the East and the West. During his papacy, the Roman apostolic See was seen as the ultimate resort for the settlement of all ecclesiastical disputes. His communications with Victricius of Rouen, Exuperius of Toulouse, Alexander of Antioch and others, as well as his actions on the appeal made to him by John Chrysostom against Theophilus of Alexandria, show that opportunities of this kind were numerous and varied.
Pope Leo I was a significant contributor to the centralisation of spiritual authority within the Church and in reaffirming papal authority. The bishop of Rome had gradually become viewed as the chief patriarch in the Western church. On several occasions, Leo was asked to arbitrate disputes in Gaul. One involved Hilary of Arles, who refused to recognize Leo's judicial status. Leo appealed to past practice, "And so we would have you recollect, brethren, as we do, that the Apostolic See, such is the reverence in which it is held, has times out of number been referred to and consulted by the priests of your province as well as others, and in the various matters of appeal, as the old usage demanded, it has reversed or confirmed decisions: and in this way "the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace Ephesians 4:3 ” has been kept...", Feeling that the primatial rights of the bishop of Rome were threatened, Leo appealed to the civil power for support and obtained, from Valentinian III, a decree of 6 June 445, which recognized the primacy of the bishop of Rome based on the merits of Peter, the dignity of the city, and the legislation of the First Council of Nicaea; and provided for the forcible extradition by provincial governors of any bishop who refused to answer a summons to Rome.
Saint Gelasius I, who served from 492 to 496, in a controversy with Anastasius, the Byzantine emperor, likewise fought to maintain the doctrine of papal supremacy. This dispute was an incipient point of conflict between the Holy See and the Empire.
From the late 6th to the late 8th centuries there was a turning of the papacy to the West and its escape from subordination to the authority of the Byzantine emperors of Constantinople. This phase has sometimes incorrectly been credited to Pope Gregory I (who reigned from 590 to 604 A.D.), who, like his predecessors, represented to the people of the Roman world a church that was still identified with the empire. Unlike some of those predecessors, Gregory was compelled to face the collapse of imperial authority in northern Italy. As the leading civil official of the empire in Rome, it fell to him to take over the civil administration of the cities and to negotiate for the protection of Rome itself with the Lombard invaders threatening it. Another part of this phase occurred in the 8th century, after the rise of the new religion of Islam had weakened the Byzantine Empire and the Lombards had renewed their pressure in Italy. The popes finally sought support from the Frankish rulers of the West and received from the Frankish king Pepin The Short the first part of the Italian territories later known as the Papal States. With Pope Leo III's coronation of Charlemagne, first of the Carolingian emperors, the papacy also gained his protection.
In the Letters of the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicea, the Roman Church is referred to as the "head of all churches" twice; at the same time it affirms Christ to be the head of the Church, and the Apostle Peter is referred to as the "chief [of the] Apostles" – but when listed with Paul they are together referred to as the "chief apostles."
Second phase of papal supremacy
From the middle of the 11th century and extending to the middle of the 13th century was the second great phase in the process of papal supremacy's rise to prominence. It was first distinguished in 1075 by Gregory VII's bold attack on the traditional practices whereby the emperor had controlled appointments to the higher church offices. The attack spawned the protracted civil and ecclesiastical strife in Germany and Italy known as the Investiture Controversy. Secondly, it was distinguished in 1095 by Urban II's launching of the Crusades, which, in an attempt to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim domination, marshaled under papal leadership the aggressive energies of the European nobility. Both these efforts, although ultimately unsuccessful, greatly enhanced papal prestige in the 12th and 13th centuries. Such powerful popes as Alexander III (r. 1159 – 81), Innocent III (r. 1198 – 1216), Gregory IX (r. 1227 – 41), and Innocent IV (r. 1243 – 54) wielded a primacy over the church that attempted to vindicate a jurisdictional supremacy over emperors and kings in temporal and spiritual affairs. As Matthew Edward Harris writes, "The overall impression gained is that the papacy was described in increasingly exalted terms as the thirteenth century progressed, although this development was neither disjunctive nor uniform, and was often in response to conflict, such as against Frederick II and Philip the Fair".
Early in this phase, defense of Papal supremacy was voiced by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1093–1109). Anselm insisted on his right and obligation to go to Rome to receive the pallium, symbolic of his metropolitan authority. King William Rufus refused to permit this as he had not as yet recognized Urban II as opposed to Clement III, who had been installed by Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor. A council was held at Rockingham on 25 February 1095, where Anselm boldly asserted the authority of Urban in a speech giving testimony to the doctrine of papal supremacy. The Lords Spiritual, led by the Bishop of Durham, fell in line with the king, arguing that Anselm's support of the French-backed pope Urban II against the imperial pope Clement III made him a traitor to the realm. The Lords Temporal demurred and supported Anselm, in the absence of any proof of felony. Two years later, Anselm again sought to go to Rome. Given a choice between remaining and foreswearing any right of appeal to Rome, or leaving and the King confiscating the See of Canterbury, Anselm left in October 1097.
An example of Gallicanism was the dispute between King Louis XIV of France and the Holy See about the application of the 1516 Concordat of Bologna after Louis XIV's extension of the droit de régale throughout the Kingdom of France in 1673. The dispute led to the 1682 Declaration of the Clergy of France promulgated by the 1681 Assembly of the French clergy. The Articles asserted that the civil power has absolute independence; that the pope is inferior to the General Council and the decrees of the Council of Constance were still binding; that the exercise of pontifical authority should be regulated by the ecclesiastical canons, and that dogmatic decisions of the pope are not irrevocable until they have been confirmed by the judgment of the whole Church. The apostolic constitution Inter multiplices pastoralis officii promulgated by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690, and published in 1691, quashed the entire proceedings of the 1681 Assembly and declared that the Declaration of the clergy of France was null and void, and invalid. In 1693, Louis XIV rescinded the four articles and "wrote a letter of retraction" to Pope Innocent XII. Those members of the 1681 Assembly, who were presented as candidates for vacant episcopal sees and were refused papal confirmation of their appointment, received confirmation, in 1693, only after they disavowed everything that the 1681 Assembly decreed regarding ecclesiastical power and pontifical authority.
First Vatican Council
The doctrine of papal primacy was further developed in 1870 at the First Vatican Council, where ultramontanism achieved victory over conciliarism with the pronouncement of papal infallibility (the ability of the pope to define dogmas free from error ex cathedra) and of papal supremacy, i.e., supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary jurisdiction of the pope.
according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to blessed Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord. [...] Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See, does by the institution of Christ himself obtain the Primacy of Peter over the whole Church. [...] [T]he Roman Church possesses a superiority of ordinary power over all other churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world, so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme pastor through the preservation of unity both of communion and of profession of the same faith with the Roman Pontiff. [...] And since by the divine right of Apostolic primacy the Roman Pontiff is placed over the universal Church, we further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes, the decision of which belongs to the Church, recourse may be had to his tribunal, and that none may re-open the judgment of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgment. Wherefore they err from the right course who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.— Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, ch. I, III
Second Vatican Council
At the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) the debate on papal primacy and authority re-emerged, and in the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, the Catholic Church's teaching on the authority of the pope, bishops and councils was further elaborated. Vatican II sought to clarify the ecclesiology stated in Vatican I. The result is the body of teaching about the papacy and episcopacy contained in Lumen gentium.
Vatican II reaffirmed everything Vatican I taught about papal primacy, supremacy and infallibility, but it added important points about bishops. Bishops, it says, are not "vicars of the Roman Pontiff". Rather, in governing their local churches they are "vicars and legates of Christ". Together, they form a body, a "college", whose head is the pope. This episcopal college is responsible for the well-being of the Universal Church. Here in a nutshell are the basic elements of the Council's much-discussed communio ecclesiology, which affirms the importance of local churches and the doctrine of collegiality.
In a key passage about collegiality, Vatican II teaches: "The order of bishops is the successor to the college of the apostles in their role as teachers and pastors, and in it the apostolic college is perpetuated. Together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, they have supreme and full authority over the Universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff". Much of the present discussion of papal primacy is concerned with exploring the implications of this passage.
Vatican II also emphasized the sensus fidelium as the vehicle for the living tradition, with the promise to Peter assuring that the gates of Hades will not prevail against "it", the Church, which is the people who are the living tradition. Therefore, infallibility is "a doctrine and order rooted in and reflecting the sensus fidelium." Rahner insists that a Pope's statements depend essentially on his knowledge of what the living tradition maintains. There is no question of revelation but of preservation from error in the exercise of this oversight. This living tradition was gathered from communication with all the Bishops in the two instances where the Pope defined dogmas apart from a Council, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
Examples of papal supremacy
- Urban II's launching in 1095 of the Crusades, which, in an attempt to recover the Holy Land and territories of the Byzantine Empire which had been conquered by Muslim Seljuk Turks, marshalled European nobility under papal leadership.
- The Papacy determined whom they wished to be the king of various lands by the crowning by Pope Leo III of Charlemagne, first of the Carolingian emperors, rather than a man proclaiming himself king.
Opposition arguments from early church history
- The Dictatus papae, which some attributed to Pope Gregory VII (11th century), states that "the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal". The popes have not on the basis of this right employed the title "universal bishop". Pope Gregory I (6th century) condemned use by the patriarch of Constantinople of this title, and even said that whoever claims it "is, in his elation, the precursor of Antichrist". Gregory I was not in any way denying the universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome. John Norman Davidson Kelly wrote that Gregory I, "was indefatigable ... in upholding the Roman primacy, and successfully maintained Rome's appellate jurisdiction in the east. ... Gregory argued that St. Peter's commission [e.g. in Matthew 16:18f] made all churches, Constantinople included, subject to Rome". While every bishop is a subject of the sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum,[a] in 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained, that "In the case of the Bishop of Rome - Vicar of Christ in the way proper to Peter as Head of the College of Bishops - the sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum acquires particular force because it is combined with the full and supreme power in the Church: a truly episcopal power, not only supreme, full and universal, but also immediate, over all pastors and other faithful." Gregory I himself, though he asserted the reality of the primacy of the bishop of his apostolic see, the bishop who carried on the work entrusted to Peter, rejected use of the title "universal bishop", which he called "profane".
Opposition arguments from Church Councils
- Not one Ecumenical council was called by a pope; all were called by Byzantine emperors. The Church Fathers' writings and the Ecumenical councils never speak of any papal election. "Documents of the early church were never dated by a pope, and certainly the early Fathers never had to submit their private interpretations to the imprimatur of the Vatican."
- The Council of Carthage (419): Saint Augustine and Saint Aurelius in this council condemned Pope Zosimus for interfering with the African Church's jurisdiction by falsifying the text of Canon 5 of the First Council of Nicaea. They further warned Pope Zosimus, and later Pope Celestine I, not to "introduce the empty pride of the world into the Church of Christ" and to "keep their Roman noses out of African affairs". The Council ruled that no bishop may call himself "Prince of Bishops" or "Supreme Bishop" or any other title which suggests Supremacy (Canon 39). It also ruled that if any of the African clergy dared to appeal to Rome, "the same was ipso facto cast out of the clergy". (Canon 34)
- The Council of Chalcedon (451): the council ruled that the bishops of Rome and Constantinople were on equal footing, enjoying the "same" ecclesiastical honors (Canon 28). Pope Leo I fully approved the canons of this council, that this "Holy, Great and Universal Council" simply addressed the bishop of Rome as "Archbishop Leo".
- The Second Council of Constantinople (553): "Pope Vigilius wrote a treatise for home consumption, but the Fifth Ecumenical Council immediately forced this Roman bishop to retract his heretical views, and his successor, Pope Pelagius, officially approved this Eastern decision".
- The Third Council of Constantinople (680–681): the Council condemned Pope Honorius posthumously "To Honorius, the heretic, anathema" and informed the then living bishop of Rome that his predecessor "had been officially anathematized by the Catholic Church: as a heretic, as a sinner", and "as one fallen away from the faith".
- Before the East–West Schism all bishops of Rome taught that the Ecumenical Councils were above any individual bishop, so there is "no basis on which to speak of a papacy or even of the rise of the papacy in these days or those that follow".
While the Bishop of Rome struggled for supremacy with the Bishop of Constantinople we find that the Eastern Emperors still maintained tremendous power. Nearly a century after Gregory we find Pope Agatho (678–681) teaching "that Emperor Augustus, as Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, was far better qualified to interpret the Scriptures than the Bishop of Rome: 'Your Highness is incomparably more able to penetrate the meaning of the Sacred Scriptures than Our Lowliness.'” At this point in time the popes bowed, or even crawled on their knees before the Eastern Emperors, and it was the Emperors who held the title of "Supreme Pontiff".
Opposition arguments from the Eastern Orthodox doctrine
Catholic Cardinal and theologian Yves Congar stated:
The East never accepted the regular jurisdiction of Rome, nor did it submit to the judgment of Western bishops. Its appeals to Rome for help were not connected with a recognition of the principle of Roman jurisdiction but were based on the view that Rome had the same truth, the same good. The East jealously protected its autonomous way of life. Rome intervened to safeguard the observation of legal rules, to maintain the orthodoxy of faith and to ensure communion between the two parts of the church, the Roman see representing and personifying the West...In according Rome a 'primacy of honour', the East avoided basing this primacy on the succession and the still living presence of the apostle Peter. A modus vivendi was achieved which lasted, albeit with crises, down to the middle of the eleventh century.
Eastern Orthodox understanding of Catholicity
The test of catholicity is adherence to the authority of Scripture and then by the Holy Tradition of the church. It is not defined by adherence to any particular See. It is the position of the Orthodox Church that it has never accepted the pope as de jure leader of the entire church. All bishops are equal 'as Peter' therefore every church under every bishop (consecrated in apostolic succession) is fully complete (the original meaning of the word catholic- καθολικισμός, katholikismos, "according to the whole").[discuss]
Contrary to popular opinion, the word catholic does not mean "universal"; it means "whole, complete, lacking nothing." ...Thus, to confess the Church to be catholic is to say that She possesses the fullness of the Christian faith. To say, however, that Orthodox and Rome constitute two lungs of the same Church is to deny that either Church separately is catholic in any meaningful sense of the term. This is not only contrary to the teaching of Orthodoxy, it is flatly contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which considered itself truly catholic[discuss]
The church is in the image of the Trinity and reflects the reality of the incarnation.
"The body of Christ must always be equal with itself...The local church which manifests the body of Christ cannot be subsumed into any larger organisation or collectivity which makes it more catholic and more in unity, for the simple reason that the principle of total catholicity and total unity is already intrinsic to it."
Disagreement with papal directives by Westerners
Disagreements with directives of the popes by groups and high-ranking individuals of Catholic tradition are by no means limited to past centuries. In 2005 the Catholic Jesuit Professor John J. Paris disregarded a papal directive on euthanasia as lacking authority.[relevant? ] In 2012, John Wijngaards and a group of Catholic theologians presented their Catholic Scholars' Declaration on Authority in the Church in which they advocate that the "role of the papacy needs to be clearly re-defined".[discuss]
- Conclave capitulation
- Donation of Constantine
- Eastern Orthodox opposition to papal supremacy
- Papal infallibility
- Papal primacy
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