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§ 55. The Patriarchs.


Mich. Le Quien (French Dominican, † 1788): Oriens Christianus, in quatuor patriarchatus digestus, quo exhibentur ecclesiae, patriarchae caeterique preasules totius Orientis. Opus posthumum, Par. 1740, 3 vols. fol. (a thorough description of the oriental dioceses from the beginning to 1732). P. Jos. Cautelius (Jesuit): Metropolitanarum urbium historia civilis et ecclesiastic in qua Romanae Sedis dignitas et imperatorum et regum in eam merits explicantur, Par. 1685 (important for ecclesiastical statistics of the West, and the extension of the Roman patriarchate). Bingham (Anglican): Antiquities, l. ii. c. 17. Joh. El. Theod. Wiltsch (Evangel.): Handbuch der Kirchl. Geographie u. Statistik, Berl. 1846, vol. i. p. 56 sqq. Friedr. Maassen (R.C.): Der Primat des Bischofs von Rom. u. die alten Patriarchalkirchen, Bonn, 1853. Thomas Greenwood: Cathedra Petri, a Political History of the Latin Patriarchate, Lond. 1859 sqq. (vol. i. p. 158–489). Comp. my review of this work in the Am. Theol. Rev., New York, 1864, p. 9 sqq.


Still above the metropolitans stood the five Patriarchs,496496   Πατριάρχης; patriarcha; sometimes also, after the political terminology, ἔξαρχος. The name patriarch, originally applied to the progenitors of Israel (Heb. vii. 4, to Abraham; Acts vii. 8 sq., to the twelve sons of Jacob; ii. 29, to David, as founder of the Davidic Messianic house), was at first in the Eastern church an honorary title for bishops in general (so in Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa), but after the council of Constantinople (381), and still more after that of Chalcedon (451), it came to be used in an official sense and restricted to the five most eminent metropolitans. In the West, several metropolitans, especially the bishop of Aquileia, bore this title honoris causa. The bishop of Rome declined that particular term, as placing him on a level with other patriarchs, and preferred the name papa. “Patriarch” bespeaks an oligarchical church government; “pope,” a monarchical. the oligarchical summit, so to speak, the five towers in the edifice of the Catholic hierarchy of the Graeco-Roman empire.

These patriarchs, in the official sense of the word as already fixed at the time of the fourth ecumenical council, were the bishops of the four great capitals of the empire, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople; to whom was added, by way of honorary distinction, the bishop of Jerusalem, as president of the oldest Christian congregation, though the proper continuity of that office had been broken by the destruction of the holy city. They had oversight of one or more dioceses; at least of two or more provinces or eparchies.497497   According to the political division of the empire after Constantine. Comp. § 54 They ordained the metropolitans; rendered the final decision in church controversies; conducted the ecumenical councils; published the decrees of the councils and the church laws of the emperors; and united in themselves the supreme legislative and executive power of the hierarchy. They bore the same relation to the metropolitans of single provinces, as the ecumenical councils to the provincial. They did not, however, form a college; each acted for himself. Yet in important matters they consulted with one another, and had the right also to keep resident legates (apocrisiarii) at the imperial court at Constantinople.

In prerogative they were equal, but in the extent of their dioceses and in influence they differed, and had a system of rank among themselves. Before the founding of Constantinople, and down to the Nicene council, Rome maintained the first rank, Alexandria the second, and Antioch the third, in both ecclesiastical and political importance. After the end of the fourth century this order was modified by the insertion of Constantinople as the second capital, between Rome and Alexandria, and the addition of Jerusalem as the fifth and smallest patriarchate.

The patriarch of Jerusalem presided only over the three meagre provinces of Palestine;498498   Comp. Wiltsch, i. p. 206 sqq. The statement of Ziegler, which Wiltsch quotes and seems to approve, that the fifth ecumenical council, of 553, added to the patriarchal circuit of Jerusalem the metropolitans of Berytus in Phenicia, and Ruba in Syria, appears to be an error. Ruba nowhere appears in the acts of the council, and Berytus belonged to Phoenicia prima, consequently to the patriarchate of Antioch. Le Quien knows nothing of such an enlargement of the patriarchate of Hierosolyma. the patriarch of Antioch, over the greater part of the political diocese of the Orient, which comprised fifteen provinces, Syria, Phenicia, Cilicia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, &c.;499499   Wiltsch, i. 189 sqq. the patriarch of Alexandria, over the whole diocese of Egypt with its nine rich provinces, Aegyptus prima and secunda, the lower and upper Thebaid, lower and upper Libya, &c.;500500   Ibid. i. 177 sqq. the patriarch of Constantinople, over three dioceses, Pontus, Asia Minor, and Thrace, with eight and twenty provinces, and at the same time over the bishoprics among the barbarians;501501   Ibid. p. 143 sqq. the patriarch of Rome gradually extended his influence over the entire West, two prefectures, the Italian and the Gallic, with all their dioceses and provinces.502502   Comp. § 57, below.

The patriarchal system had reference primarily only to the imperial church, but indirectly affected also the barbarians, who received Christianity from the empire. Yet even within the empire, several metropolitans, especially the bishop of Cyprus in the Eastern church, and the bishops of Milan, Aquileia, and Ravenna in the Western, during this period maintained their autocracy with reference to the patriarchs to whose dioceses they geographically belonged. In the fifth century, the patriarchs of Antioch attempted to subject the island of Cyprus, where Paul first had preached the gospel, to their jurisdiction; but the ecumenical council of Ephesus, in 431, confirmed to the church of Cyprus its ancient right to ordain its own bishops.503503   Comp. Wiltsch, i. p. 232 sq., and ii. 469. The North African bishops also, with all respect for the Roman see, long maintained Cyprian’s spirit of independence, and in a council at Hippo Regius, in 393, protested against such titles as princeps sacerdotum, summus sacerdos, assumed by the patriarchs, and were willing only to allow the title of primae sedis episcopus.504504   Cod. can. eccl. Afr. can. 39, cited by Neander, iii. p. 335 (Germ. ed.).

When, in consequence of the Christological controversies, the Nestorians and Monophysites split off from the orthodox church, they established independent schismatic patriarchates, which continue to this day, showing that the patriarchal constitution answers most nearly to the oriental type of Christianity. The orthodox Greek church, as well as the schismatic sects of the East, has substantially remained true to the patriarchal system down to the present time; while the Latin church endeavored to establish the principle of monarchical centralization so early as Leo the Great, and in the course of the middle age produced the absolute papacy.



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