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§ 50. Germs of the Papacy.

Comp. the Lit. in vol. I. §25 (p. 245).

Blondel: Traité historique de la primauté en l’église. Genéve, 1641.

Salmasius: De Primatu Papae. Lugd. Bat. 1645.

Is. Barrow: The Pope’s Supremacy. Lond. 1680 (new ed. Oxf. 1836. N. York, 1845).

Rothensee (R.C.): Der Primal Des Papstes in allen Christlichen Jahrhunderten, 3 vols. Mainz, 1836–38 (I. 1–98).

Kenrick (R.C., archbishop of Baltimore, d. 1853): The Primacy of the Apostolic See vindicated. N. York, 4th ed. 1855.

R. I. Wilberforce (formerly archdeacon in the Anglican church; died in the Roman church, 1857): An Inquiry into the Principles of Church Authority; or Reasons for Recalling my subscriptions to the Royal Supremacy. Lond. 1854 (ch. vi.-x.).

J. E. Riddle: The History of the Papacy to the Period of the Reformation. Lond. 1856. 2 vols. (Chapter 1, p. 2–113; chiefly taken from Schröckh and Planck).

Thomas Greenwood: Cathedra Petri. A Political History of the great Latin Patriarchate. Lond. 1856–1872. 6 vols. Vol. I. ch. I.-VI. (A work of independent and reliable learning.)

Joh. Friedrich (Old Cath.): Zur ältesten Geschichte des Primates in der Kirche. Bonn, 1879.

E Renan: Conferences d’Angleterre. Rome et le christianisme. Paris 1880. The Hibbert Lectures delivered in Lond. 1880. English translation by Charles Beard, London (Williams & Norgate) 1880, another by Erskine Clement (Boston, 1880). Consists mostly of extracts from his books on the Origin of Christianity, skillfully put together.

H. Formby (R.C.): Ancient Rome and its connection with the Christian Religion. London 1880.

Jos. Langen (Old Cath.): Geschichte der römischen Kirche bis zum Pontificate Leo’s I. Bonn, 1881.

R. F. Littledale (Anglo-Cath.): The Petrine Claims, A Critical Inquiry London 1880. Controversial.

Among the great bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, the Roman bishop combined all the conditions for a primacy, which, from a purely honorary distinction, gradually became the basis of a supremacy of jurisdiction. The same propension to monarchical unity, which created out of the episcopate a centre, first for each congregation, then for each diocese, pressed on towards a visible centre for the whole church. Primacy and episcopacy grew together. In the present period we already find the faint beginnings of the papacy, in both its good and its evil features; and with them, too, the first examples of earnest protest against the abuse of its power. In the Nicene age the bishop of Jerusalem was made an honorary patriarch in view of the antiquity of that church, though his diocese was limited; and from the middle of the fourth century the new patriarch of Constantinople or New Rome, arose to the primacy among the eastern patriarchs, and became a formidable rival of the bishop of old Rome.

The Roman church claims not only human but divine right for the papacy, and traces its institution directly to Christ, when he assigned to Peter an eminent position in the work of founding his church, against which even the gates of hades shall never prevail. This claim implies several assumptions, viz. (1) that Peter by our Lord’s appointment had not simply a primacy of personal excellency, or of honor and dignity (which must be conceded to him), but also a supremacy of jurisdiction over the other apostles (which is contradicted by the fact that Peter himself never claimed it, and that Paul maintained a position of perfect independence, and even openly rebuked him at Antioch, Gal. 2:11); (2) that the privileges of this primacy and supremacy are not personal only (as the peculiar gifts of Paul or John undoubtedly were), but official, hereditary and transferable; (3) that they were actually transferred by Peter, not upon the bishop of Jerusalem, or Antioch (where Peter certainly was), but upon the bishop of Rome; (4) that Peter was not only at Rome (which is very probable after 63, though not as certain as Paul’s presence and martyrdom in Rome), but acted there as bishop till his martyrdom, and appointed a successor (of which there is not the slightest historical evidence); and (5) that the bishops of Rome, as successors of Peter, have always enjoyed and exercised an universal jurisdiction over the Christian church (which is not the case as a matter of fact, and still less as a matter of conceded right).

Leaving a full discussion of most of these points to polemical theology, we are here concerned with the papacy as a growth of history, and have to examine the causes which have gradually raised it to its towering eminence among the governing institutions of the world.

The historical influences which favored the ascendency of the Roman see were:

(1) The high antiquity of the Roman church, which had been honored even by Paul with the most important doctrinal epistle of the New Testament. It was properly the only apostolic mother-church in the West, and was thus looked upon from the first by the churches of Italy, Gaul, and Spain, with peculiar reverence.

(2) The labors, martyrdom, and burial at Rome of Peter and Paul, the two leading apostles. The whole Roman congregation passed through the fearful ordeal of martyrdom during the Neronian persecution, but must soon afterwards have been reorganized, with a halo of glory arising from the graves of the victims.

(3) The political pre-eminence of that metropolis of the world, which was destined to rule the European races with the sceptre of the cross, as she had formerly ruled them with the sword.

(4) The executive wisdom and the catholic orthodox instinct of the Roman church, which made themselves felt in this period in the three controversies on the time of Easter, the penitential discipline, and the validity of heretical baptism.

To these may be added, as secondary causes, her firmness under persecutions, and her benevolent care for suffering brethren even in distant places, as celebrated by Dionysius of Corinth (180), and by Eusebius.

From the time of St. Paul’s Epistle (58), when he bestowed high praise on the earlier Roman converts, to the episcopate of Victor at the close of the second century, and the unfavorable account by Hippolytus of Pope Zephyrinus and Pope Callistus, we have no express and direct information about the internal state of the Roman church. But incidentally it is more frequently mentioned than any other. Owing to its metropolitan position, it naturally grew in importance and influence with the spread of the Christian religion in the empire. Rome was the battle-field of orthodoxy and heresy, and a resort of all sects and parties. It attracted from every direction what was true and false in philosophy and religion. Ignatius rejoiced in the prospect of suffering for Christ in the centre of the world; Polycarp repaired hither to settle with Anicetus the paschal controversy; Justin Martyr presented there his defense of Christianity to the emperors, and laid down for it his life; Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian conceded to that church a position of singular pre-eminence. Rome was equally sought as a commanding position by heretics and theosophic jugglers, as Simon Magus, Valentine, Marcion, Cerdo, and a host of others. No wonder, then, that the bishops of Rome at an early date were looked upon as metropolitan pastors, and spoke and acted accordingly with an air of authority which reached far beyond their immediate diocese.

Clement of Rome.

The first example of the exercise of a sort of papal authority is found towards the close of the first century in the letter of the Roman bishop Clement (d. 102) to the bereaved and distracted church of Corinth. This epistle, full of beautiful exhortations to harmony, love, and humility, was sent, as the very address shows,218218    Ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ, ἡ παροικοῦσα Ῥώμην τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, τῇ παροικούσῃ Κόρινθον. "The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which mourns at Corinth!"Πάροικος is a temporary, κάτοικος a permanent, resident. The Christians appear here as strangers and pilgrims in this world, who have their home in heaven; comp. 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11; Heb. 11:1317 not in the bishop’s own name, which is not mentioned at all, but in that of the Roman congregation, which speaks always in the first person plural. It was a service of love, proffered by one church to another in time of need. Similar letters of instruction, warning and comfort were written to other congregations by Ignatius, Polycarp, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus. Nevertheless it can hardly be denied that the document reveals the sense of a certain superiority over all ordinary congregations. The Roman church here, without being asked (as far as appears), gives advice, with superior administrative wisdom, to an important church in the East, dispatches messengers to her, and exhorts her to order and unity in a tone of calm dignity and authority, as the organ of God and the Holy Spirit.219219    This is very evident towards the close from the newly discovered portions, chs. 59, 62 and 63 edition of Bryennios, Const. 1875). The chapters should new light on the origin of the papal domination. Comp. the judicious remarks of Lightfoot in his Appendix to S. Clement of Rome (Lond. 1877), p. 252 sqq.18 This is all the more surprising if St. John, as is probable, was then still living in Ephesus, which was nearer to Corinth than Rome. The hierarchical spirit arose from the domineering spirit of the Roman church, rather than the Roman bishop or the presbyters who were simply the organs of the people.220220    It is quite evident from the Epistle itself that at that time the Roman congregation was still governed by a college of presbyters (collegialisch, nicht monarchisch, as Langen, l.c. p. 81, expresses it).19 But a century later the bishop of Rome was substituted for the church of Rome, when Victor in his own name excommunicated the churches of Asia Minor for a trifling difference of ritual. From this hierarchical assumption there was only one step towards the papal absolutism of a Leo and Hildebrand, and this found its ultimate doctrinal climax in the Vatican dogma of papal infallibility.


Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Romans (even in the Syriac recension), applies to that congregation a number of high-sounding titles, and describes her as "presiding in the place of the region of the Romans," and as "taking the lead in charity."221221    Προκαθημένη τῆς ἀγάπης , praesidens in caritate. Inscription. Zahn in his ed., p. 75, says: "In caritatis operibus semper primum locum sibi vindicavit ecclesia Romana." Some Roman Catholic writers (as Möhler, Patrol. I. 144) explain the phrase very artificially and hierarchically: "head of the love-union of Christendom (Vorsteherin des Liebesbundes)."Agape never means church, but either love, or love-feast. See Langen, l.c. p. 94.20 This is meant as a commendation of her practical benevolence for which she was famous. Dionysius of Corinth in his letter to Soter of Rome testifies to it as saying: "This practice has prevailed with you from the very beginning, to do good to all the brethren in every way, and to send contributions to many churches in every city."222222    Euseb., Hist. Eccl. IV. 23, 10: ἐξ ἀρχῆς ὑμῖν ἔθος ἐστὶ τοῦτο, πάντας μὲν ἀδελφοὺς ποικίλως εὐεργετεῖν, ἐκκλησίαις τε πολλαῖς ταῖς ματὰ πᾶσαν πόλιν ἐφόδια πέμπειν21 The Roman church was no doubt more wealthy than any other, and the liberal use of her means must have greatly increased her influence. Beyond this, Ignatius cannot be quoted as a witness for papal claims. He says not a word of the primacy, nor does he even mention Clement or any other bishop of Rome. The church alone is addressed throughout. He still had a lively sense of the difference between a bishop and an apostle. "I do not command you," he writes to the Romans, "as if I were Peter or Paul; they were apostles."


Irenaeus calls Rome the greatest, the oldest(?) church, acknowledged by all, founded by the two most illustrious apostles, Peter and Paul, the church, with which, on account of her more important precedence, all Christendom must agree, or (according to another interpretation) to which (as the metropolis of the world) all other churches must resort.223223    The famous Passage, Adv. Haer. iii. §2, is only extant in Latin, and of disputed interpretation: "Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potentiorem (according to Massuet’s conjecture: potiorem) principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesia, hoc est, eos qui sunt undique fideles, in qua semper ab his, qui sunt undique, conservata est ab apostolis traditio." In the original Greek it probably read: Πρός ταύτην γὰρ τὴν ἐκκλησίαν διὰ τὴν ἱκανωτέραν πρωτεῖαν συμβαίνειν (or, in the local sense, συνέρχεσθαι) δεῖ (according to others: ἀνάγκη, natural necessity) πᾶσαν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, etc. The stress lies on principalitas, which stands probably for πρωτεία (so Thiersch and Gieseler). Comp. Iren. IV. 38, 3, where πρωτεύει is rendered principatitatem habet. Stieren and Ziegler (Irenaeus, 1871, p. 152), however, translate propter potentiorem principalitatem: ὁιὰ τὴν ἱκανωτέραν ἀρχαιότητα, " on account of the higher antiquity."Comp. on the whole passage an essay by Thiersch in the " Studien und Kritiken" 1842, 512 sqq.; Gieseler I. 1. p. 214 (§ 51); Schneemann: Sancti Irenaei de ecclesia Romanae principatu testimonium commentatum et defensum, Freiburg i. B. 1870, and Langen, l.c. p. 170 sqq. Langen (who is an Old Catholic of the Döllinger school) explains: " Die potior principalitas bezeichnet den Vorrang, welchen die Kirche der Hauptptstadt als solche vor alten übrigen Kirchen besass ... die Hauptstadt war das Centrum des damaligen Weltverkehrs, und in Folge dessen der Sammelplats von Christen aller Art."He defends the local sense of convenire by parallel passages from Herveus of Bordeaux and Hugo Eterianus (p. 172 sq.). But the moral sense (to agree)seems more natural.22 The "more important precedence" places her above the other apostolic churches, to which likewise a precedence is allowed.

This is surely to be understood, however, as a precedence only of honor, not of jurisdiction. For when Pope Victor, about the year 190, in hierarchical arrogance and intolerance, broke fellowship with the churches of Asia Minor, for no other reason but because they adhered to their tradition concerning the celebration of Easter, the same Irenaeus, though agreeing with him on the disputed point itself, rebuked him very emphatically as a troubler of the peace of the church, and declared himself against a forced uniformity in such unessential matters. Nor did the Asiatic churches allow themselves to be intimidated by the dictation of Victor. They answered the Roman tradition with that of their own sedes apostolicae. The difference continued until the council at Nicaea at last settled the controversy in favor of the Roman practice, but even long afterwards the old British churches differed from the Roman practice in the Easter observance to the time of Gregory I.


The celebrated Hippolytus, in the beginning of the third century, was a decided antagonist of the Roman bishops, Zephyrinus and Callistus, both for doctrinal and disciplinary reasons. Nevertheless we learn from his work called Philosophumena, that at that time the Roman bishop already claimed an absolute power within his own jurisdiction; and that Callistus, to the great grief of part of the presbytery, laid down the principle, that a bishop can never be deposed or compelled to resign by the presbytery, even though he have committed a mortal sin.


Tertullian points the heretics to the apostolic mother churches, as the chief repositories of pure doctrine; and among these gives especial prominence to that of Rome, where Peter was crucified, Paul beheaded, and John immersed unhurt in boiling oil(?) and then banished to the island. Yet the same father became afterwards an opponent of Rome. He attacked its loose penitential discipline, and called the Roman bishop (probably Zephyrinus), in irony and mockery, "pontifex maximus" and "episcopus episcoporum."


Cyprian is clearest, both in his advocacy of the fundamental idea of the papacy, and in his protest against the mode of its application in a given case. Starting from the superiority of Peter, upon whom the Lord built his church, and to whom he intrusted the feeding of his sheep, in order to represent thereby the unity in the college of the apostles, Cyprian transferred the same superiority to the Bishop of Rome, as the successor of Peter, and accordingly called the Roman church the chair of Peter, and the fountain of priestly unity,224224    Petri cathedram atque ecclesiam principalem, unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est. Epist. lv. c. 19 (ed. Bal.) Ad Cornelium episc. Rom. In Goldhorn’s ed., Ep. lix. 19.23 the root, also, and mother of the catholic church.225225    Ecclesiae catholicae radicem et matricem. Ep. xl. 2 ed. Bal. (xlviii. ed. Goldh.). Other passages in Cyrian favorable to the Roman see are either interpolations or corruptions in the interest of the papacy.24 But on the other side, he asserts with equal energy the equality and relative independence of the bishops, as successors of the apostles, who had all an equally direct appointment from Christ. In his correspondence he uniformly addresses the Roman bishop as "brother" and "colleague," conscious of his own equal dignity and authority. And in the controversy about heretical baptism, he opposes Pope Stephen with almost Protestant independence, accusing him of error and abuse of his power, and calling a tradition without truth an old error. Of this protest he never retracted a word.


Still more sharp and unsparing was the Cappadocian bishop, Firmilian, a disciple of Origen, on the bishop of Rome, while likewise implying a certain acknowledgment of his primacy. Firmilian charges him with folly, and with acting unworthily of his position; because, as the successor of Peter, he ought rather to further the unity of the church than to destroy it, and ought to abide on the rock foundation instead of laying a new one by recognizing heretical baptism. Perhaps the bitterness of Firmilian was due partly to his friendship and veneration for Origen, who had been condemned by a council at Rome.

Nevertheless, on this question of baptism, also, as on those of Easter, and of penance, the Roman church came out victorious in the end.

Comparative Insignificance of the first Popes.

From these testimonies it is clear, that the growing influence of the Roman see was rooted in public opinion and in the need of unity in the ancient church. It is not to be explained at all by the talents and the ambition of the incumbents. On the contrary, the personality of the thirty popes of the first three centuries falls quite remarkably into the background; though they are all canonized saints and, according to a later but extremely doubtful tradition, were also, with two exceptions, martyrs.226226    Irenaeus recognizes among the Roman bishops from Clement to Eleutherus (177), all of whom he mentions by name, only one martyr, to wit, Telesphorus, of whom he says: ὅς καὶ ἐνδόξως ἐμαρτύρησε, P, Adv. Haer. III., c. 3, §3. So Eusebius, H. E. V. 6. From this we must judge of the value of the Roman Catholic tradition on this point. It is so remote from the time in question as to be utterly unworthy of credit.25 Among them, and it may be said down to Leo the Great, about the middle of the fifth century, there was hardly one, perhaps Clement, who could compare, as a church leader, with an Ignatius, a Cyprian, and an Ambrose; or, as a theologian, with an Irenaeus, a Tertullian, an Athanasius, and an Augustin.227227    Cardinal Newman says (Apologia, p. 407): "The see of Rome possessed no great mind in the whole period of persecution. Afterwards for a long time it had not a single doctor to show. The great luminary of the western world is St. Augustin; he, no infallible teacher, has formed the intellect of Europe." Dean Stanley remarks (Christian Institutions, p. 241): "There have been occupants of the sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Canterbury who have produced more effect on the mind of Christendom by their utterances than any of the popes."26 Jerome, among his hundred and thirty-six church celebrities, of the first four centuries, brings in only four Roman bishops, Clement, Victor, Cornelius, and Damasus, and even these wrote only a few epistles. Hippolytus, in his Philosophumena, written about 225, even presents two contemporaneous popes, St. Zephyrinus (202–218) and Callistus (St. Calixtus I., 218–223), from his own observation, though not without partisan feeling, in a most unfavorable light; charging the first with ignorance and avarice,228228    He calls him in the ninth book of the Philosophumenon, an ἀνήρ ἰδιώτης καὶ αἰσχροκέρδης .27 the second with scandalous conduct (he is said to have been once a swindler and a fugitive slave rescued from suicide), and both of them with the Patripassian heresy. Such charges could not have been mere fabrications with so honorable an author as Hippolytus, even though he was a schismatic rival bishop to Callistus; they must have had at least some basis of fact.

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