So where is the universal primacy?

We have seen quotes describing the Pope as "the head of the Church". We have seen descriptions of St Peter, the coryphaeus of the Apostolic choir. We have seen excellent Orthodox statements about the Pope of Rome being the first Bishop of the Church, honoring the memory of St Peter.

We have gone through a score of Fathers, and over 20,000 words. We have gone from St Ignatius all the way to a 19th century Russian book of canons. Where is the mythical universal primacy? Does my opponent simply admit the Orthodox position that the Pope of Rome was the First Bishop of the Church, so long as he remained Orthodox? Does he admit that the Ecumenical Councils do not admit of the Pope’s universal jurisdiction over them? He should, based on his contribution to the debate, but he does not: but no matter. Let the books be opened. Mr. Daffer appeals to the audience. Orthodox Christians appeal to God, who has spoken through two millennia of undivided Orthodox Christianity, and a thousand of those without Orthodox Popes of Rome.

On the anniversary of his election to the Roman Papacy, St Leo the Great told his flock in a sermon that shows the Orthodox teaching on St Peter par excellence:

And so if anything is rightly done and rightly decreed by us, if anything is won from the mercy of GOD by our daily supplications, it is of his work and merits whose power lives and whose authority prevails in his See. For this, dearly-beloved, was gained by that confession, which, inspired in the Apostle's heart by GOD the Father, transcended all the uncertainty of human opinions, and was endued with the firmness of a rock, which no assaults could shake. For throughout the Church Peter daily says, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living GOD," and every tongue which confesses the LORD, accepts the instruction his voice conveys. This Faith conquers the devil, and breaks the bonds of his prisoners. It uproots us from this earth and plants us in heaven, and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it. For with such solidity is it endued by GOD that the depravity of heretics cannot mar it nor the unbelief of the heathen overcome it. [St Leo The Great: Sermon II, On the Anniversary of the Election to the Episcopate]

In his rejection of the confession of Eutyches, St Leo again makes reference to the confession of St Peter.

…when He asked what they themselves believed, the chief of the apostles, embracing the fulness of the Faith in one short sentence, said, "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God:" that is, Thou who truly art Son of man art also truly Son of the living God: Thou, I say, true in Godhead, true in flesh and one altogether, the properties of the two natures being kept intact. And if Eutyches had believed this intelligently and thoroughly, he would never have retreated from the path of this Faith. For Peter received this answer from the Lord for his confession. "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church: and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." But he who both rejects the blessed Peter's confession, and gainsays Christ's Gospel, is far removed from union with this building…. [Ep.XXXIII, to the Synod of Ephesus]

St Leo is indisputably one of the most forceful and powerful Roman Bishops in the history of the Church. In a sense, this entire debate has been about St Leo, at least on the Orthodox end.

Holy Popes exercised their leadership as the Primates of the Undivided Church for the preservation of the Faith of St Peter, the Faith of the Apostles. They were mindful of the chair in which they sat, and all of their judgments were guided by the desire to preserve Orthodox Christian teaching.

Some, and eventually those who would foment schism between East and West, abused their service to the Church for the sake of power. Their brethren in the faith—the Church’s united Episcopate, consistently and soundly rebuked these latter.

St Leo, far from my opponent’s presentation of him—due to St Leo’s rejection of Chalcedon Canon 28—as demanding for the rights of the Roman Church, was more concerned with the preservation of the Nicene customs than his own personal power. For St Leo was mindful of Nicea canon 6, which gave all three Petrine sees—Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch—similar authority, much like Pope St Gregory years later.

In a rebuke to Anatolius of Constantinople, he writes:

These holy and venerable fathers who in the city of Nicaea… laid down a code of canons for the Church to last till the end of the world, survive not only with us but with the whole of mankind in their constitutions; and, if anywhere men venture upon what is contrary to their decrees, it is ipso facto null and void; so that what is universally laid down for our perpetual advantage can never be modified by any change, nor can the things which were destined for the common good be perverted to private interests…. nor metropolitan bishops be defrauded of privileges based on antiquity. The See of Alexandria may not lose any of that dignity which it merited through S. Mark, the evangelist and disciple of the blessed Peter, nor may the splendour of so great a church be obscured by another's clouds…. The church of Antioch too, in which first at the preaching of the blessed Apostle Peter the Christian name arose, must continue in the position assigned it by the Fathers, and being set in the third place must never be lowered therefrom. [Ep. CVI, to Anatolius, Bp of Constantinople]

Is this a demand for the See of Rome’s authority over the Council of Chalcedon? Or is it a demand for the Council of Nicea’s authority over the Council of Chalcedon?

My opponent claims the answer is clear. I agree—because even the Orthodox Popes of Rome do not believe that the entire Church is subordinate to them. The Council of Nicea is clear. Saint Leo is clear. Saint Gregory the Great is clear.

These Holy Fathers defend no "primacy of jurisdiction" outside their bounds. They defend the Orthodox teaching on the honor accorded to a Bishop, the president of the Eucharistic Assembly, the local icon of Christ. And whether Popes or Patriarchs trample upon the rights of Bishops, the Orthodox Episcopate will stand firm, for their rights were given to them from antiquity by Christ God, through His Holy Apostles.

Desperate to justify the innovations of heretical Rome, Papal defenders note the confusion present in the Orthodox Church today, forgetting that in any time of heresy, Orthodoxy appears confused, broken. What they, and my opponent, continue to forget is that for the better part of a thousand years, Orthodoxy remained united in faith and communion. How?

In a disgusting victory of logic over heresy, the primacy of the Pope of Rome (first ranking bishop), simply shifted to the next ranking Bishop when the Pope of Rome fell to heresy and schismatic pretension. The struggle against the gates of hell continues, sadly, without Orthodoxy’s original First-Hierarch. This is tragic—but not sufficient to destroy the Church, whose end will be determined by God!

My opponent has done a great deal of research, however unsuccessfully, to prove from the Fathers that Orthodoxy was subject to the Pope of Rome. He has delved into centuries of Church Fathers to prove his point.

As an Orthodox Christian who strives to learn all he can from the luminaries of the Church, I invite my opponent to take his studies a step further, and study the Fathers not on fallen Rome’s terms, but on the Fathers’ own terms. I pray he knows the joy of the easy yoke of obedience to antiquity, adhering to the traditions handed down to us:

WHAT then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty. [St Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, p.7]

I pray my opponent find the peace of union with Tradition, undivided allegiance to antiquity in the Church of Christ, the true Catholic Church, the Orthodox Catholic Church.

Dear readers! It is with sincere joy and the peace of heart that comes from being in the truth that I say that the debate is over, and despite my fallen and sinful words, Truth reigns supreme!

The End


Glory to God for All Things