This will be more than a debate on the Papal primacy.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines Primacy as such:
Primacy (Latin primatus, primus, first). The supreme episcopal jurisdiction of the pope as pastor and governor of the Universal Church. (See POPE.)
The purpose of this debate is to determine precisely what Papal primacy is in light of development since the separation of East and West, and whether or not it is compatible with the teaching of the Fathers of the first millennium. I certainly will not take it to the unrealistic height defined in the encyclopedia above. Were I to do so, this debate would end rather swiftly. What is really at issue is something a little more difficult-- no one person, Orthodox or Roman Catholic, denies that the Pope enjoyed some sort of primacy in the undivided Church. However, Orthodox Christians define the Papal primacy as a primacy of honor, a primacy of first-among-equals. I believe that the facts of history will clearly demonstrate that the Church never held to an idea other than this form of primacy, and not a sort of jurisdictional primacy outside of the rest of the episcopate. To demonstrate this we will use the canons, or rules, of the Church from Her earliest centuries, codified between the 4th (though there are earlier canons, the process of universal inclusion in the Church’s doctrine does not begin before the 4th century) and the 8th century. While the Orthodox Church does include later codifications in her actual practice and doctrine, we will deal with the Western and Eastern Orthodox Churches undivided.
The Canons of the Church Betray Her Structure
Before we can arrive at a clear conclusion, we have to ask a few general questions. The first is this: what sort of powers were intrinsic to the Bishop, or Pope of Rome? One obvious answer would be to simply restate without clarifications that all Bishops are equal, a fully Orthodox statement. But to simply state such a position without clarification is misleading. All Orthodox Catholic Bishops are indeed equal in the sense that they all retain the same charisma, or spiritual gifts, the power to ordain priests, acting as the local icons of Christ, being the center of Eucharistic unity. Yet they are certainly not all equal in rank. This sort of hierarchal structure allows the Church, in larger localities, to maintain good order by establishing a sort of vertical form that allows the Episcopal Synod, or council, to deal with important questions effectively. Bishops are located at different strata based on their locality. This can be demonstrated adequately in the fourth and sixth canons from the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (325 AD)
CANON IV. IT is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent bishops] also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place. But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan.
CANON VI. LET the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.
Metropolitan Sees and Patriarchal Sees
From these canons alone we see that there is a clear trend towards an episcopal hierarchy-within-a-hierarchy: the Metropolitan Bishop is the Bishop of the entire locality, or Metropolis, while other Bishops are in charge of separate cities within that Metropolis. Of course, the Metropolitan is considered the eldest in the hierarchy, so nothing can occur without his blessing, since he acts as a sort of point of unity within the Episcopal Synod. This is rather common in Orthodoxy; the Metropolitan ratifies the will of the Bishops. However, in Synod he usually has a slightly higher number of votes than a single Bishop. (For example, the Archbishop of Athens has 3 votes on Synod). These conditions are contingent on the Orthodoxy of the Hierarch involved. Likewise, in extremely wide localities, sometimes spanning countries with few hierarchs in close proximity, Patriarchal sees developed; the main Patriarchates that will be dealt with here will be the classical "Pentarchy": Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople (the order of which is hotly contested throughout these first ten centuries of the Church.)
The Patriarch of the West: Rome
With few powerful exceptions, the Bishop of Rome (which clearly had Patriarchal rights from antiquity as well as Antioch and Alexandria-- note the Nicene Canon above) had the undisputed right of establishment of order in the West. The most commonly referred canon demonstrating this is from the local Council, or Synod, of the Western province of Sardica (343/44 AD).
CANON V. (Greek.) BISHOP HOSIUS said: Decreed, that if any bishop is accused, and the bishops of the same region assemble and depose him from his office, and he appealing, so to speak, takes refuge with the most blessed bishop of the Roman church, and he be willing to give him a hearing, and think it right to renew the examination of his case, let him be pleased to write to those fellow-bishops who are nearest the province that they may examine the particulars with care and accuracy and give their votes on the matter in accordance with the word of truth. And if any one require that his case be heard yet again, and at his request it seem good to move the bishop of Rome to send presbyters a latere, let it be in the power of that bishop, according as he judges it to be good and decides it to be right--that some be sent to be judges with the bishops and invested with his authority by whom they were sent. And be this also ordained. But if he think that the bishops are sufficient for the examination and decision of the matter let him do what shall seem good in his most prudent judgment.
The bishops answered: What has been said is approved.
With only a few minor differences, the Latin translates in a similar fashion, with no essential differences in meaning. Rome would be a final court of appeal in the West if all other venues had been exhausted. (In some cases, this did not occur-- such as in the Council of Carthage held under St Cyprian, which nullified the decisions of Pope St Stephen, and would then be recognized as having Ecumenical authority, or the sanction of the Catholic Church in the 7th and 8th centuries). This is conceded as part of the canonical authority of the Church. But these things are, ultimately, for the sake of administrative order. Except in cases where heresy savages the Church, Bishops ultimately remain, for the most part, in their place. Any Bishop, alone in a period of heresy, becomes the standard-bearer of Orthodoxy, as attested to by the canons, since Bishops of a locality who fall to heresy become pseudo bishops.
The clearest reference to this is canon from the First-Second Council rehabilitating St Photios of Constantinople in 870, recognized by the Orthodox as ecumenical, and by the Roman Catholic Church until after the Western schism (its meetings and letters were approved by Pope John VIII):
Canon XV. The rules laid down with reference to Presbyters and Bishops and Metropolitans are still more applicable to Patriarchs. So that in case any Presbyter or Bishop or Metropolitan dares to secede or apostatize from the communion of his own Patriarch, and fails to mention the latter's name in accordance with custom duly fixed and ordained, in the divine Mystagogy, but, before a conciliar verdict has been pronounced and has passed judgement against him, creates a schism, the holy Synod has decreed that this person shall be held an alien to every priestly function if only he be convicted of having committed this transgression of the law. Accordingly, these rules have been sealed and ordained as respecting persons who under the pretext of charges against their own presidents stand aloof, and create a schism, and disrupt the union of the Church. But as for those persons, on the other hand, who, on account of some heresy condemned by holy Synods, or Fathers, withdrawing themselves from communion with their president, who, that is to say, is preaching the heresy publicly, and teaching it bareheaded in church, such persons not only are not subject to any canonical penalty on account of their having walled themselves off from any and all communion with the one called a Bishop before any conciliar or synodical verdict has been rendered, but, on the contrary, they shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christians. For they have defied, not Bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers; and they have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but, on the contrary, have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions.
This debate will likely deal with the question of extraordinary jurisdiction in times of heresy as opposed to a normative extraordinary jurisdiction. I believe the Orthodox position is clear from the canons above.
The Question of Matthew 16:18
The strongest argument in favor of Papal primacy outside of normative jurisdiction (that is, jurisdiction extending within the boundaries of the locality) is not supported by the canons of the Universal Church at all. It is supported by a particular reading of St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 16. Much noise is made concerning the ‘barque of Peter’ in the Roman Church and so any analysis of Papal primacy mustdeal with this text. The text reads (Douay-Rheims): " And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Without getting into a detailed analysis of the text itself, there is clearly a new assignment given to St Peter: he is given a new name. In all of the Apostolic lists, he is listed first. However, there is little to indicate that he has a power over and above the other apostles: the next verse, "And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven" indicates that a real change had occurred in Peter.
But-- the change is confirmed to be given to all the apostles by Our Lord Jesus Christ exactly two chapters later:"Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven." (Mt 18:18). The only difference is the mention of the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" in Mt 16:19, and while much has been written concerning the nature of the "keys" in question, there is little to no Patristic support for a clear super-apostolic quality given to St Peter. It goes without saying that a ‘universal’ jurisdiction given to the Bishop of Rome, if no parallel quality can be demonstrated in St Peter to begin with, equally lacks Patristic support. Of course, as will be demonstrated later, there is no certainty in the Fathers and Church canons that the only see in the undivided Church that could claim lineage from St Peter was that of Rome to begin with. This is not even to touch upon the varying interpretations of Mt 16:18 given by the Fathers: perhaps this can be touched upon later in the debate.
Another problematic usage is a bizarre interpretation of the repentance of St Peter in Jn 21. Unless called upon it, I maintain that the use of such a passage to defend Papal primacy has no real support in the Fathers of the Church, and will leave it at that. (see St John Chrysostom, Homilies on St John, Homily XXX, Schaff and Wace.)
The Roman Patriarchate and Heresy
The question before us remains: what is to be made of the passages of the Fathers which speak in glowing terms towards the Patriarchate of Rome? Indeed, is there no value in Sts Maximus the Confessor, Irenaeus of Lyons, or Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome? It is not the purpose of this discussion to attempt to reinterpret Patristic passages speaking in favor of a particular Pope, or even the institution of the Papacy itself. There is one thing to be demonstrated or refuted here: that these Holy Fathers-- and others-- spoke highly of the Papacy in the sense that the Papacy had an objective power outside the boundaries of his normal jurisdiction (i.e. the West) or that the exercise of jurisdiction outside of his boundaries was not due to the fall of a segment of the episcopate where good order would deem it so, but due to a power that was already intrinsic to the papal office.
Here it is absolutely necessary to examine the circumstances under which all of these glowing statements were made. It is central to the argument--that the Papacy had no right of jurisdiction other than an honorary one-- that the vast majority of the quotes, proofs and arguments adduced are ripped from their perfect fabric and turned into a patch-quilt of isolated and meaningless phrases to create an illusion. This illusion would be developed over time after the fall of the Roman Church from Orthodoxy. But regardless of the barrage of powerful words, they are no more if they are robbed of their original meaning.
This sort of thinking rears its ugly head through century after century of Patristic misquotes. One such example is the use of the aforementioned canon 5 of the council of Sardica, then a local council and given the authorative weight of affirmation as an Orthodox council-- as a demonstration of universal jurisdiction. In its proper context-- that Sardica was a local council, and that the Pope only has the right to intervene when all other local avenues have been exhausted-- the canon is a masterful demonstration of a final and God-blessed court of appeals when the innocent continue to fight for their honor. Removed from this context, placed in a milieu of searching for proofs and demonstration of the Roman Pope’s primacy, canon 5 looks like a clear demonstration of Roman primacy. It is not.
St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, held that the Roman Church was the principal Church to refer to, due to its size and honor given to it by the deaths of Sts Peter and Paul there. This would be changed into a teaching on Roman primacy through a careful mistranslation of a Latin version of a Greek original of a passage in Against Heresies, Book III: ...as it would be very tedious to enumerate in such a work the succession of all the Churches, we will trace that of the very great and very ancient Church and known of all, which was founded and established at Rome by the two very glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul; which possesses a tradition that comes from the Apostles as much as the Faith declared to men, and which has transmitted it to us through the succession of her Bishops; by that, we confound all those who in any manner whatsoever, either through blindness or bad intention, do not gather where they should; for every Church, that is to say, the faithful who are from all places, are obliged to go toward that Church, because of the most powerful principality. In this Church, the tradition of the Apostles has been preserved by those who are of all countries.
The relevant Latin is here: Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam. This is translated one way by Roman apologists, and another by just about everyone else. So we have two rival translations of the full text, one supporting the Roman Primacy, the other condemning it. Which is correct? The answer is based in the Latin verb convenire, which is translated by Papal apologists as ‘agree with’ and translated by Orthodox scholars as ‘go to’ or ‘meet at’. Abbe’ Guettee’, in his work The Papacy, clearly demonstrates St Irenaeus’ use of terminology from context, where other uses of the Latin verb, translated from Greek, clearly mean ‘come to’ or ‘go to’ (chapter II). Another point to place this in historical perspective is to remember that St Irenaeus and others admonished Pope St Victor for his attempted excommunication of the Quartodecimans (Eusebius, Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book V. chap. xxv)-- something unthinkable if this was a clear right of the Papacy at all! Pope St Victor was certainly justified; indeed the council of Nicea, mentioned above, would take St Victor’s position on the uniformity of the Church calendar.
And with each Father, in each century, we will find misquotes, and the Orthodox truth will shine through simple and honest historical clarification in response. I pray that the truth will ring clear as a bell. It is clear, and can be clear to anyone familiar with the Fathers not on the terms of Papal apologists, but on the Fathers’ terms--humble submission to Christ our God.
This debate will be about more than the Papal Primacy. It will be about the destruction of myths. Glory to God.