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§ 60. The Papacy.


Literature, as in § 55, and vol. i. § 110.


At last the Roman bishop, on the ground of his divine institution, and as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, advanced his claim to be primate of the entire church, and visible representative of Christ, who is the invisible supreme head of the Christian world. This is the strict and exclusive sense of the title, Pope.550550   The name papa—according to some an abbreviation of pater patrum, but more probably, like the kindred abbas, πάππας, or πάπας, pa-pa, simply an imitation of the first prattling of children, thus equivalent to father—was, in the West, for a long time the honorary title of every bishop, as a spiritual father; but, after the fifth century, it became the special distinction of the patriarchs, and still later was assigned exclusively to the Roman bishop, and to him in an eminent sense, as father of the whole church. Comp. Du Cange, Glossar. s. verb. Papa and Pater Patrum; and Hoffmann, Lexic. univers. iv. p. 561. In the same exclusive sense the Italian and Spanish papa, the French pape, the English pope, and the German Papstor Pabst, are used. In the Greek and Russian churches, on the contrary, all priests are called Popes (from πάπας, papa). The titles apostolicus, vicarius Christi, summus pontifex, sedes apostolica, were for a considerable time given to various bishops and their sees, but subsequently claimed exclusively by the bishops of Rome.

Properly speaking, this claim has never been fully realized, and remains to this day an apple of discord in the history of the church. Greek Christendom has never acknowledged it, and Latin, only under manifold protests, which at last conquered in the Reformation, and deprived the papacy forever of the best part of its domain. The fundamental fallacy of the Roman system is, that it identifies papacy and church, and therefore, to be consistent, must unchurch not only Protestantism, but also the entire Oriental church from its origin down. By the “una sancta catholica apostolica ecclesia” of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed is to be understood the whole body of Catholic Christians, of which the ecclesia Romana, like the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, is only one of the most prominent branches. The idea of the papacy, and its claims to the universal dominion of the church, were distinctly put forward, it is true, so early as the period before us, but could not make themselves good beyond the limits of the West. Consequently the papacy, as a historical fact, or so far as it has been acknowledged, is properly nothing more than the Latin patriarchate run to absolute monarchy.

By its advocates the papacy is based not merely upon church usage, like the metropolitan and patriarchal power, but upon divine right; upon the peculiar position which Christ assigned to Peter in the well-known words: “Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my church.”551551   Matt. xvi. 18: Σὺ εἷ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ [mark the change of the gender from the masculine to the feminine, from the person to the thing or the truth confessed—a change which disappears in the English and German versions] οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς. Comp. the commentators, especially Meyer, Lange, Alford, Wordsworth, ad loc., and my Hist. of the Apost. Church, § 90 and 94 (N. Y. ed. p. 350 sqq., and 374 sqq.). This passage was at all times taken as an immovable exegetical rock for the papacy. The popes themselves appealed to it, times without number, as the great proof of the divine institution of a visible and infallible central authority in the church. According to this view, the primacy is before the apostolate, the head before the body, instead of the reverse.

But, in the first place, this preëminence of Peter did not in the least affect the independence of the other apostles. Paul especially, according to the clear testimony of his epistles and the book of Acts, stood entirely upon his own authority, and even on one occasion, at Antioch, took strong ground against Peter. Then again, the personal position of Peter by no means yields the primacy to the Roman bishop, without the twofold evidence, first that Peter was actually in Rome, and then that he transferred his prerogatives to the bishop of that city. The former fact rests upon a universal tradition of the early church, which at that time no one doubted, but is in part weakened and neutralized by the absence of any clear Scripture evidence, and by the much more certain fact, given in the New Testament itself, that Paul labored in Rome, and that in no position of inferiority or subordination to any higher authority than that of Christ himself. The second assumption, of the transfer of the primacy to the Roman bishops, is susceptible of neither historical nor exegetical demonstration, and is merely an inference from the principle that the successor in office inherits all the official prerogatives of his predecessor. But even granting both these intermediate links in the chain of the papal theory, the double question yet remains open: first, whether the Roman bishop be the only successor of Peter, or share this honor with the bishops of Jerusalem and Antioch, in which places also Peter confessedly resided; and secondly, whether the primacy involve at the same time a supremacy of jurisdiction over the whole church, or be only an honorary primacy among patriarchs of equal authority and rank. The former was the Roman view; the latter was the Greek.

An African bishop, Cyprian († 258), was the first to give to that passage of the 16th of Matthew, innocently as it were, and with no suspicion of the future use and abuse of his view, a papistic interpretation, and to bring out clearly the idea of a perpetual cathedra Petri. The same Cyprian, however, whether consistently or not, was at the same time equally animated with the consciousness of episcopal equality and independence, afterward actually came out in bold opposition to Pope Stephen in a doctrinal controversy on the validity of heretical baptism, and persisted in this protest to his death.552552   Comp. vol. i. § 110.



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