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§ 56. Synodical Legislation on the Patriarchal Power and Jurisdiction.


To follow now the ecclesiastical legislation respecting this patriarchal oligarchy in chronological order:

The germs of it already lay in the ante-Nicene period, when the bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, partly in virtue of the age and apostolic origin of their churches, partly, on account of the political prominence of those three cities as the three capitals of the Roman empire, steadily asserted a position of preëminence. The apostolic origin of the churches of Rome and Antioch is evident from the New Testament: Alexandria traced its Christianity, at least indirectly through the evangelist Mark, to Peter, and was politically more important than Antioch; while Rome from the first had precedence of both in church and in state. This preëminence of the oldest and most powerful metropolitans acquired formal legislative validity and firm establishment through the ecumenical councils of the fourth and fifth centuries.

The first ecumenical council of Nice, in 325, as yet knew nothing of five patriarchs, but only the three metropolitans above named, confirming them in their traditional rights.505505   Accordingly Pope Nicolas, in 866, in a letter to the Bulgarian prince Bogoris, would acknowledge only the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch as patriarchs in the proper sense, because they presided over apostolic churches; whereas Constantinople was not of apostolic founding, and was not even mentioned by the most venerable of all councils, the Nicene; Jerusalem was named indeed by these councils, but only under the name of Aelia. In the much-canvassed sixth canon, probably on occasion of the Meletian schism in Egypt, and the attacks connected with it on the rights of the bishop of Alexandria, that council declared as follows:

“The ancient custom, which has obtained in Egypt, Libya, and the Pentapolis, shall continue in force, viz.: that the bishop of Alexandria have rule over all these [provinces], since this also is customary with the bishop of Rome [that is, not in Egypt, but with reference to his own diocese]. Likewise also at Antioch and in the other eparchies, the churches shall retain their prerogatives. Now, it is perfectly clear, that, if any one has been made bishop without the consent of the metropolitan, the great council does not allow him to be bishop.”506506   In the oldest Latin Cod. canonum (in Mansi, vi. 1186) this canon is preceded by the important words: Ecclesia Romana semper habuit primatum. These are, however, manifestly spurious, being originally no part of the canon itself, but a superscription, which gave an expression to the Roman inference from the Nicene canon. Comp. Gieseler, i. 2, § 93, note 1; and Hefele, Hist. of Councils, i. 384 sqq.

The Nicene fathers passed this canon not as introducing anything new, but merely as confirming an existing relation on the basis of church tradition; and that, with special reference to Alexandria, on account of the troubles existing there. Rome was named only for illustration; and Antioch and all the other eparchies or provinces were secured their admitted rights.507507   So Greenwood also views the matter, Cathedra Petri, 1859, vol. i. p. 181: “It was manifestly not the object of this canon to confer any new jurisdiction upon the church of Alexandria, but simply to confirm its customary prerogative. By way of illustration, it places that prerogative, whatever it was, upon the same level with that of the two other eparchal churches of Rome and Antioch. Moreover, the words of the canon disclose no other ground of claim but custom; and the customs of each eparchia are restricted to the territorial limits of the diocese or eparchia itself. And though, within those limits, the several customary rights and prerogatives may have differed, yet beyond them no jurisdiction of any kind could, by virtue of this canon, have any existence at all.” The bishoprics of Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch were placed substantially on equal footing, yet in such tone, that Antioch, as the third capital of the Roman empire, already stands as a stepping stone to the ordinary metropolitans. By the “other eparchies” of the canon are to be understood either all provinces, and therefore all metropolitan districts, or more probably, as in the second canon of the first council of Constantinople, only the three eparchates of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Ephesus, and Asia Minor, and Heraclea in Thrace, which, after Constantine’s division of the East, possessed similar prerogatives, but were subsequently overshadowed and absorbed by Constantinople. In any case, however, this addition proves that at that time the rights and dignity of the patriarchs were not yet strictly distinguished from those of the other metropolitans. The bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch here appear in relation to the other bishops simply as primi inter pares, or as metropolitans of the first rank, in whom the highest political eminence was joined with the highest ecclesiastical. Next to them, in the second rank, come the bishops of Ephesus in the Asiatic diocese of the empire, of Neo-Caesarea in the Pontic, and of Heraclea in the Thracian; while Constantinople, which was not founded till five years later, is wholly unnoticed in the Nicene council, and Jerusalem is mentioned only under the name of Aelia.

Between the first and second ecumenical councils arose the new patriarchate of Constantinople, or New Rome, built by Constantine in 330, and elevated to the rank of the imperial residence. The bishop of this city was not only the successor of the bishop of the ancient Byzantium, hitherto under the jurisdiction of the metropolitan of Heraclea, but, through the favor of the imperial court and the bishops who were always numerously assembled there, it placed itself in a few decennia among the first metropolitans of the East, and in the fifth century became the most powerful rival of the bishop of old Rome.

This new patriarchate was first officially recognized at the first ecumenical council, held at Constantinople in 381, and was conceded “the precedence in honor, next to the bishop of Rome,” the second place among all bishops; and that, on the purely political consideration, that New Rome was the residence of the emperor.508508   Conc. Constant. i. can 3: Τὸν μέντοι Κώσταντινουπόλεως ἐπίσκοπον ἔχειν τὰ πρεσβεῖα τῆς τιμῆς, μετὰ τὸν τῆσ Ῥώμης ἐπίσκοπον, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὴν νέαν Ῥώμην. This canon is quoted also by Socrates, v. 8, and Sozomen, vii. 9, and confirmed by the council of Chalcedon (see below); so that it must be from pure dogmatical bias, that Baronius (Annal. ad ann. 381, n. 35, 36) questions its genuineness At the same time the imperial city and the diocese of Thrace (whose ecclesiastical metropolis hitherto had been Heraclea) were assigned as its district.509509   The latter is not, indeed, expressly said in the above canon, which seems to speak only of an honorary precedence. But the canon was so understood by the bishops of Constantinople, and by the historians Socrates (v. 8) and Theodoret (Epist. 86, ad Flavianum), and so interpreted by the Chalcedonian council (can. 28). The relation of the bishop of Constantinople to the metropolitan of Heraclea, however, remained for a long time uncertain, and at the council ad Quercum, 403, in the affair of Chrysostom, Paul of Heraclea took the presidency, though the patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria was present. Comp. Le Quien, tom. i. p. 18; and Wiltsch, i. p. 139.

Many Greeks took this as a formal assertion of the equality of the bishop of Constantinople with the bishop of Rome, understanding “next” or “after” (metav) as referring only to time, not to rank. But it is more natural to regard this as conceding a primacy of honor, which the Roman see could claim on different grounds. The popes, as the subsequent protest of Leo shows, were not satisfied with this, because they were unwilling to be placed in the same category with the Constantinopolitan fledgling, and at the same time assumed a supremacy of jurisdiction over the whole church. On the other hand, this decree was unwelcome also to the patriarch of Alexandria, because this see had hitherto held the second rank, and was now required to take the third. Hence the canon was not subscribed by Timotheus of Alexandria, and was regarded in Egypt as void. Afterward, however, the emperors prevailed with the Alexandrian patriarchs to yield this point.

After the council of 381, the bishop of Constantinople indulged in manifold encroachments on the rights of the metropolitans of Ephesus and Caesarea in Cappadocia, and even on the rights of the other patriarchs. In this extension of his authority he was favored by the fact that, in spite of the prohibition of the council of Sardica, the bishops of all the districts of the East continually resided in Constantinople, in order to present all kinds of interests to the emperor. These concerns of distant bishops were generally referred by the emperor to the bishop of Constantinople and his council, the σύνοδος ἐνδημοῦσα, as it was called, that is, a council of the bishops resident (ἐνδημούντων) in Constantinople, under his presidency. In this way his trespasses even upon the bounds of other patriarchs obtained the right of custom by consent of parties, if not the sanction of church legislation. Nectarius, who was not elected till after that council, claimed the presidency at a council in 394, over the two patriarchs who were present, Theophilus of Alexandria and Flavian of Antioch; decided the matter almost alone; and thus was the first to exercise the primacy over the entire East. Under his successor, Chrysostom, the compass of the see extended itself still farther, and, according to Theodoret,510510   H. E. lib. v. cap. 28. stretched over the capital, over all Thrace with its six provinces, over all Asia (Asia proconsularis) with eleven provinces, and over Pontus, which likewise embraced eleven provinces; thus covering twenty-eight provinces in all. In the year 400, Chrysostom went “by request to Ephesus,” to ordain there Heraclides of Ephesus, and at the same time to institute six bishops in the places of others deposed for simony.511511   According to Sozomen it was thirteen, according to Theophilus of Alexandria at the council ad Quercum seventeen bishops, whom he instituted; and this act was charged against him as an unheard-of crime. See Wiltsch, i. 141. His second successor, Atticus, about the year 421, procured from the younger Theodosius a law, that no bishop should be ordained in the neighboring dioceses without the consent of the bishop of Constantinople.512512   Socrates, H. E. l. vii. 28, where such a law is incidentally mentioned. The inhabitants of Cyzicus in the Hellespont, however, transgressed the law, on the presumption that it was merely a personal privilege of Atticus. This power still needed the solemn sanction of a general council, before it could have a firm legal foundation. It received this sanction at Chalcedon.

The fourth ecumenical council, held at Chalcedon in 451 confirmed and extended the power of the bishop of Constantinople, by ordaining in the celebrated twenty-eighth canon:

“Following throughout the decrees of the holy fathers, and being “acquainted with the recently read canon of the hundred and fifty bishops [i.e. the third canon of the second ecumenical council of 381], we also have determined and decreed the same in reference to the prerogatives of the most holy church of Constantinople or New Rome. For with reason did the fathers confer prerogatives (τὰ πρεσβεῖα) on the throne [the episcopal chair] of ancient Rome, on account of her character as the imperial city (διὰ τὸ βασιλεύειν); and, moved by the same consideration, the hundred and fifty bishops recognized the same prerogatives (τὰ ἴσα ςπρεσβεῖα) also in the most holy throne of New Rome; with good reason judging, that the city, which is honored with the imperial dignity and the senate [i.e. where the emperor and senate reside], and enjoys the same [municipal] privileges as the ancient imperial Rome, should also be equally elevated in ecclesiastical respects, and be the second after he(δευτέραν μετ ̓ ἐκείνην.].ς

“And [we decree] that of the dioceses of Pontus, Asia [Asia proconsularis], and Thrace, only the metropolitans, but in such districts of those dioceses as are occupied by barbarians, also the [ordinary] bishops, be ordained by the most holy throne of the most holy church at Constantinople; while of course every metropolitan in those dioceses ordains the new bishops of a province in concurrence with the existing bishops of that province, as is directed in the divine (θείοις) canons. But the metropolitans of those dioceses, as already said, shall be ordained by the archbishop (ἀρχιεπισκόπου) of Constantinople, after they shall have been unanimously elected in the usual way, and he [the archbishop of Constantinople] shall have been informed of it.”

We have divided this celebrated Chalcedonian canon into two parts, though in the Greek text the parts are (by Καὶ ωὝστε) closely connected. The first part assigns to the bishop of Constantinople the second rank among the patriarchs, and is simply a repetition and confirmation of the third canon of the council of Constantinople; the second part goes farther, and sanctions the supremacy, already actually exercised by Chrysostom and his successors, of the patriarch of Constantinople, not only over the diocese of Thrace, but also over the dioceses of Asia Minor and Pontus, and gives him the exclusive right to ordain both the metropolitans of these three dioceses, and all the bishops of the barbarians513513   Among the barbarian tribes, over whom the bishops of Constantinople exercised an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, were the Huns on the Bosphorus, whose king, Gorda, received baptism in the time of Justinian; the Herulians, who received the Christian faith in 527; the Abasgians and Alanians on the Euxine sea, who about the same time received priests from Constantinople. Comp. Wiltsch, i. 144 and 145. within those bounds. This gave him a larger district than any other patriarch of the East. Subsequently an edict of the emperor Justinian, in 530, added to him the special prerogative of receiving appeals from the other patriarchs, and thus of governing the whole Orient.

The council of Chalcedon in this decree only followed consistently the oriental principle of politico-ecclesiastical division. Its intention was to make the new political capital also the ecclesiastical capital of the East, to advance its bishop over the bishops of Alexandria and Antioch, and to make him as nearly as possible equal to the bishop of Rome. Thus was imposed a wholesome check on the ambition of the Alexandrian patriarch, who in various ways, as the affair of Theophilus and Dioscurus shows, had abused his power to the prejudice of the church.

But thus, at the same time, was roused the jealousy of the bishop of Rome, to whom a rival in Constantinople, with equal prerogatives, was far more dangerous than a rival in Alexandria or Antioch. Especially offensive must it have been to him, that the council of Chalcedon said not a word of the primacy of Peter, and based the power of the Roman bishop, like that of the Constantinopolitan, on political grounds; which was indeed not erroneous, yet only half of the truth, and in that respect unfair.

Just here, therefore, is the point, where the Eastern church entered into a conflict with the Western, which continues to this day. The papal delegates protested against the twenty-eighth canon of the Chalcedonian council, on the spot, in the sixteenth and last session of the council; but in vain, though their protest was admitted to record. They appealed to the sixth canon of the Nicene council, according to the enlarged Latin version, which, in the later addition, “Ecclesia Romana semper habuit primatum,” seems to assign the Roman bishop a position above all the patriarchs, and drops Constantinople from notice; whereupon the canon was read to them in its original form from the Greek Acts, without that addition, together with the first three canons of the second ecumenical council with their express acknowledgment of the patriarch of Constantinople in the second rank.514514   This correction of the Roman legates is so little to the taste of the Roman Catholic historians, especially the ultramontane, that the Ballerini, in their edition of the works of Leo the Great, tom. iii. p. xxxvii. sqq., and even Hefele, Conciliengesch. i. p. 385, and ii. p. 522, have without proof declared the relevant passage in the Greek Acts of the council of Chalcedon a later interpolation. Hefele, who can but concede the departure of the Latin version from the original text of the sixth canon of Nice, thinks, however, that the Greek text was not read in Chalcedon, because even this bore against the elevation of Constantinople, and therefore in favor of the Roman legates. But the Roman legates, as also Leo in his protest against the 28th decree of Chalcedon, laid chief stress upon the Roman addition, Ecclesia Romana semper habuit primatum, and considered the equalization of any other patriarch with the bishop of Rome incompatible with it. Since the legates, as is conceded, appealed to the Nicene canon, the Greeks had first to meet this appeal, before they passed to the canons of the council of Constantinople. Only the two together formed a sufficient answer to the Roman protest. After the debate on this point, the imperial commissioners thus summed up the result: “From the whole discussion, and from what has been brought forward on either side, we acknowledge that the primacy over all (πρὸ πάντων τὰ πρωτεῖα) and the most eminent rank (καὶ τὴν ἐξείρετον τιμήν) are to continue with the archbishop of old Rome; but that also the archbishop of New Rome should enjoy the same precedence of honor (τὰ πρεσβεῖα τῆς τιμῆς), and have the right to ordain the metropolitans in the dioceses of Asia, Pontus, and Thrace,” &c. Now they called upon the council to declare whether this was its opinion; whereupon the bishops gave their full, emphatic consent, and begged to be dismissed. The commissioners then closed the transactions with the words: “What we a little while ago proposed, the whole council hath ratified;” that is, the prerogative granted to the church of Constantinople is confirmed by the council in spite of the protest of the legates of Rome.515515   Mansi, vii. p. 446-454; Harduin, ii, 639-643; Hefele, ii. 524, 525.

After the council, the Roman bishop, Leo, himself protested in three letters of the 22d May, 452; the first of which was addressed to the emperor Marcian, the second to the empress Pulcheria, the third to Anatolius, patriarch of Constantinople.516516   Leo, Epist. 104, 105, and 106 (al, Ep. 78-80). Comp. Hefele, l.c. ii. 530 sqq. He expressed his satisfaction with the doctrinal results of the council, but declared the elevation of the bishop of Constantinople to the patriarchal dignity to be a work of pride and ambition—the humble, modest pope!—to be an attack upon the rights of other Eastern metropolitans—the invader of the same rights in Gaul!—especially upon the rights of the Roman see guaranteed by the council of Nice—on the authority of a Roman interpolation—and to be destructive of the peace of the church—which the popes have always sacredly kept! He would hear nothing of political considerations as the source of the authority of his chair, but pointed rather to Divine institution and the primacy of Peter. Leo speaks here with great reverence of the first ecumenical council, under the false impression that that council in its sixth canon acknowledged the primacy of Rome; but with singular indifference of the second ecumenical council, on account of its third canon, which was confirmed at Chalcedon. He charges Anatolius with using for his own ambition a council, which had been called simply for the extermination of heresy and the establishment of the faith. But the canons of the Nicene council, inspired by the Holy Ghost, could be superseded by no synod, however great; and all that came in conflict with them was void. He exhorted Anatolius to give up his ambition, and reminded him of the words: Tene quod habes, ne alius accipiat coronam tuam.517517   Rev. iii. 11.

But this protest could not change the decree of the council nor the position of the Greek church in the matter, although, under the influence of the emperor, Anatolius wrote an humble letter to Leo. The bishops of Constantinople asserted their rank, and were sustained by the Byzantine emperors. The twenty-eighth canon of the Chalcedonian council was expressly confirmed by Justinian I., in the 131st Novelle (c. 1), and solemnly renewed by the Trullan council (can. 36), but was omitted in the Latin collections of canons by Prisca, Dionysius, Exiguus, and Isidore. The loud contradiction of Rome gradually died away; yet she has never formally acknowledged this canon, except during the Latin empire and the Latin patriarchate at Constantinople, when the fourth Lateran council, under Innocent III., in 1215, conceded that the patriarch of Constantinople should hold the next rank after the patriarch of Rome, before those of Alexandria and Antioch.518518   Harduin, tom. vii. 23; Schröckh, xvii. 43; and Hefele, ii. 544.

Finally, the bishop of Jerusalem, after long contests with the metropolitan of Caesarea and the patriarch of Antioch, succeeded in advancing himself to the patriarchal dignity; but his distinction remained chiefly a matter of honor, far below the other patriarchates in extent of real power. Had not the ancient Jerusalem, in the year 70, been left with only a part of the city wall and three gates to mark it, it would doubtless, being the seat of the oldest Christian congregation, have held, as in the time of James, a central position in the hierarchy. Yet as it was, a reflection of the original dignity of the mother city fell upon the new settlement of Aelia Capitolina, which, after Adrian, rose upon the venerable ruins. The pilgrimage of the empress Helena, and the magnificent church edifices of her son on the holy places, gave Jerusalem a new importance as the centre of devout pilgrimage from all quarters of Christendom. Its bishop was subordinate, indeed, to the metropolitan of Caesarea, but presided with him (probably secundo loco) at the Palestinian councils.519519   Comp. Eusebius, himself the metropolitan of Caesarea, H. E. v. 23. He gives the succession of the bishops of Jerusalem, as well as of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, while he omits those of Caesarea. The council of Nice gave him an honorary precedence among the bishops, though without affecting his dependence on the metropolitan of Caesarea. At least this seems to be the meaning of the short and some. what obscure seventh canon: “Since it is custom and old tradition, that the bishop of Aelia (Jerusalem) should be honored, he shall also enjoy the succession of honor,520520   Ἀκολουθία τῆς τιμῆς; which is variously interpreted. Comp. Hefele, i. 389 sq. while the metropolis (Caesarea) preserves the dignity allotted to her.” The legal relation of the two remained for a long time uncertain, till the fourth ecumenical council, at its seventh session, confirmed the bishop of Jerusalem in his patriarchal rank, and assigned to him the three provinces of Palestine as a diocese, without opposition.



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