Fathers on the Papacy

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Puritanboard Clerk
Pastor King's helpful quotes made me remember a compilation i read. The guy is a Russian Orthodox version of Gary North: caustic, scathing, and utterly hilarious. I don't recommend everything he says (for obvious reasons), but he is good at dealing with Roman apologetics and has some good exposes on American politics. His book The Third Rome: Tsarism, Orthodoxy and Holy Russia was very helpful in my Russian history studies.

The Orthodox Medievalist

Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honor of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: 'I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers.

The throne of Peter is one...in which God has established and shown the source of all unity. There is one God alone, one Christ, one Church, one Throne of Peter, whom the word of the Lord had made his foundation-stone. This Throne of Peter is held by the whole episcopate, so that every bishop is Peter's successor.

Cyprian of Carthage. Epistle XXVI

and again:

Just as the one Church of Christ is divided into many members throughout the world, so the one episcopate is expanded into a multiplicity of many bishops united in concord.

And again from the same saint:

Receive ye the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of anyone, they will be forgiven him; if you retain the sins of anyone, they will be retained, yet that He might display unity, He established by His authority the origin of the same unity as beginning from one. Surely the rest of the Apostles also were that which Peter was, endowed with an equal partnership of office and of power...

From St. Cyril of Alexandria:

When the blessed Peter had been counted worthy of a grace thus glorious and wonderful, being in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, he made a correct and faultless confession of faith in Him, saying, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And what was the reward of which he was thought worthy? It was to hear Christ say, Blessed art thou, Simeon, son of Jonah; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father in heaven. And he further received surpassing honors; for he was entrusted by Him with the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the confession of his faith was made the firm foundation for the Church. For thou, He says, art a stone; and upon this stone I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not overpower it. (Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, Homily 53, trans. R. Payne Smith (Studion Publishers, Inc., 1983), p. 232.

And again,

But why do we say that they are foundations of the earth? For Christ is the foundation and unshakable base of all things Christ who restrains and holds together all things, that they may be very firm. Upon him also we all are built, a spiritual household, put together by the Holy Spirit into a holy temple in which he himself dwells; for by our faith he lives in our hearts. But the next foundations, those nearer to us, can be understood to be the apostles and evangelists, those eyewitnesses and ministers of the word who have arisen for the strengthening of the faith. For when we recognize that their own traditions must be followed, we serve a faith which is true and does not deviate from Christ. For when he wisely and blamelessly confessed his faith to Jesus saying, You are Christ, Son of the living God, Jesus said to divine Peter: You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. Now by the word rock, Jesus indicated, I think, the immoveable faith of the disciple. Likewise, the psalmist says: Its foundations are the holy mountains. Very truly should the holy apostles and evangelists be compared to holy mountains for their understanding was laid down like a foundation for posterity, so that those who had been caught in their nets would not fall into a false faith. (Commentary on Isaiah, IV, 2, M.P.G., Vol. 70, Col. 940).

From St. John Chrysostom (writing about St. Paul):

...His soul too was distracted, and his thoughts divided. For even if nothing from without had assailed him; yet the war within was enough, those waves on waves, that sleet of cares, that war of thoughts. St. John adds that, though it is difficult enough for one to look after a single house, St. Paul had the care not of a single house, but of cities and peoples and nations and of the whole world (Homily 12, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XII (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 395).

And again,

Upon this rock. He did not say upon Peter for it is not upon the man, but upon his own faith that the church is built. And what is this faith? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.(In Pentecosten, Migne 52.806.75-807.1)

And again,

One of the prerogatives of our city (Antioch) is to have had for her teacher Peter, the leader of the Apostles. It was just that the city which first of all the world was adorned with the name of Christian, should have for her Bishop the first of the Apostles. But having received him as teacher, we did not keep him always; we yielded him to the imperial city of Rome; or rather, we have always kept him; for if we have not the body of Peter, we have kept the faith of Peter as our Peter, since holding Peter's faith is as though we held Peter himself.(2d Homily upon the Title of the Acts of the Apostles.)

And again,

The Rock on which Christ will build His Church means the faith of confession. (53rd Homily on St. Matthew)

And again,

Behold, after Peter it is Paul who speaks, and no man objects; James looks on and remains quiet, for the primacy had been committed to him. John and the other Apostles do not speak, but remain silent without the least vexation, because their soul was free from all vainglory. . . . After they (Barnabas and Paul) ceased speaking, James answered and said, 'Simeon hath declared how God, at the first, did visit the Gentiles. . . . Peter's language had been more vehement; that of James is more moderate. It is thus those should always act who possess great power. He leaves severity for others, and reserves moderation for himself. (Upon the Acts of the Apostles, 33d hom.)

Concerning the “feed my lambs” passage, the same saint writes,

This,was not said to the Apostles and bishops only, but also to each one of us, however humble, to whom has been committed the care of the flock. (Upon St. Matthew, 77th homily.)

He says of St Paul: Angels often receive the mission of guarding the nations, but none of them ever governed the people confided to him as Paul governed the whole universe. . . . The Hebrew people were confided to Michael the Archangel, and to Paul were committed the earth, the sea, the inhabitants of all the universe, even the desert. (Panegyric upon St. Paul; Second Homily.)

In the kingdom of heaven, he says, it is clear that no one will be before Paul. [Upon St. Mathew. Sixty-fifth Homily.]

Origen says in his Commentary on Matthew:

And if we too have said like Peter, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, 'Thou art Peter, 'etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the Church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.

But if you suppose that upon the one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, 'The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,' hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, 'Upon this rock I will build My Church?' Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, 'I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,' be common to others, how shall not all things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them?

'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' If any one says this to Him...he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches to every one who becomes such as that Peter was. For all bear the surname 'rock' who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual drought. But these bear the surname of rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters And to all such the saying of the Savior might be spoken, 'Thou art Peter' etc., down to the words, 'prevail against it. 'But what is the it? Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the Church, or is it the Church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it as if the rock and the Church were one and the same? This I think to be true; for neither against the rock on which Christ builds His Church, nor against the Church will the gates of Hades prevail. Now, if the gates of Hades prevail against any one, such an one cannot be a rock upon which the Christ builds the Church, nor the Church built by Jesus upon the rock.

Here are two citations from the Council of Carthage under St. Cyprian:

For no one [of us] has set himself up [to be] bishop of bishops or attempted with tyrannical dread to force his colleagues to obedience to him, since every bishop has, for the license of liberty and power, his own will, and as he cannot be judged by another, so neither can he judge another. But we await the judgment of our universal Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ, who one and alone hath the power, both of advancing us in the governance of his Church, and of judging of our actions [in that position].

And again,

If any Clergyman have a matter against another clergyman, he shall not forsake his bishop and run to secular courts; but let him first lay open the matter before his own Bishop, or let the matter be submitted to any person whom each of the parties may, with the Bishop's consent, select. And if any one shall contravene these decrees, let him be subjected to canonical penalties. And if a clergyman have a complaint against his own or any other bishop, let it be decided by the synod of the province. And if a bishop or clergyman should have a difference with the metropolitan of the province, let him have recourse to the Exarch of the Diocese, or to the throne of the Imperial City of Constantinople, and there let it be tried.

The 34th Apostolic canon says this:

Bishops of all churches are required to be the first, as the head, and nothing is to be decided without their consent: each one to do only that which concerns his area and region which is his responsibility. But the head does not decide without the consent of the rest. This preserves solidarity. Blessed be God the Lord, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

Pope Gregory the Great has this to say about his own office:

Consider, I pray thee, that in this rash presumption the peace of the whole Church is disturbed, and that [the title of Ecumenical Patriarch] is in contradiction to the grace that is poured out on all in common; in which grace doubtless thou thyself wilt have power to grow so far as thou determinist with thyself to do so. And thou wilt become by so much the greater as thou restrainest thyself from the usurpation of a proud and fooish title: and thou wilt make advance in proportion as thou are not bent on arrogation by derogation of thy brethren...

Certainly Peter, the first of the apostles, himself a member of the holy and universal Church, Paul, Andrew, John-what were they but heads of particular communities? And yet all were members under one Head...the prelates of this Apostolic See, which by the providence of God I serve, had the honor offered them of being called universal by the venerable Council of Chalcedon. But yet not one of them has ever wished to be called by such a title, or seized upon this ill-advised name, lest if, in virtue of the rank of the pontificate he took to himself the glory of singularity, he might seem to have denied it to all his brethren... (Book V, Epistle XVIII)

And again,

This name of Universality was offered by the Holy Synod of Chalcedon to the pontiff of the apostolic see which by the Providence of God I serve. But no one of my predecessors has ever consented to use this so profane a title since, forsooth, if one Patriarch is called Universal, the name of Patriarch in the case of the rest is derogated. But far be this from the mind of a Christian that any on should wish to seize for himself that whereby he might seem in the least degree to lessen the honor of his brethren... (Book V: Epistle XLIII)

And again to Eulogios, Bishop of Alexandria:

Your Blessedness...You address me saying, 'As you have commanded.' This word 'command', I beg you to remove from my hearing, since I know who I am, and who you are. For in position you are my brethren, in character, my fathers... ...in the preface of the epistle which you have addressed to myself, who forbade it, you have thought fit to make use of a proud appellation, calling me Universal Pope. But I beg you most sweet Holiness to do this no more, since what is given to another beyond what reason demands, is subtracted from yourself... For if your Holiness calls me Universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what you call me universally. (Book VIII: Epistle XXX)

Again, Pope Gregory has this exchange in his Dialogues:

Peter: How can you prove to me that there be those who do no miracles, and yet are not inferior to those who do them? GREGORY: Dost thou not know that the Apostle Paul is the brother of Peter, first of the Apostles in the princedom? Peter: I know this perfectly. . .

St. Gregory of Nyssa says this:

We chiefly commemorate today those who have shone with a great and dazzling splendor of piety. I mean Peter, James and John, who arc the Princes of the Apostolic Order... The apostles of the Lord were stars that brightened all under heaven. Their princes and chiefs Peter, James and John whose martyrdom we celebrate, suffered in many ways... Peter received the favor of a glory suitable to his dignity... James was beheaded, aspiring to the possession of Christ, who is truly his head, for the head of man is the Christ, Who at the same time is the only Head of the Church... The apostles are the foundations of the Church, the columns and pillars of truth... from them flow abundant torrents of divine doctrine. (Panegyric to St. Stephen)

St. Basil says,

The Church, the House of the Lord, is built upon the foundations of the faith of the apostles and prophets. (St. Basil of Casarea, Second Chapter of Isaiah)

In St. Augustine’s Retractions, he writes,

In one place I said... that the Church had been built on Peter as the Rock... but in fact it was not said to Peter, Thou art the Rock, but rather Thou art Peter. The Rock was Jesus Christ, Peter having confessed Him as all the Church confesses Him, He was then called Peter, the Rock ...Between these two sentiments let the reader choose the most probable.(13th Sermon; Contra Julianum 1:13)

Again he says similarly in the same work,

Peter had not a primacy over the apostles, but among the apostles, and Christ said to them I will build upon Myself, I will not be built upon thee.

St. Jerome says,

Christ is the Rock Who granted to His apostles that they should be called rocks. God has founded His Church on this Rock, and it is from this Rock that Peter has been named. (6th book on Matthew)

and again,

The word Rock has only a denominative value-it signifies nothing but the steadfast and firm faith of the apostles. (Upon St. John, Book JJ, Chap. XII)

And again,

We must not believe that the city of Rome is a different church from that of the whole world. Gaul, Britain, Africa, Persia, the East, India, all the barbarous nations, adore Jesus Christ, and observe one and the same rule of truth. If one is looking for authority, the world is greater than one city. Wherever there is a Bishop, be he at Rome or at Eugubium, at Constantinople or at Rhegium, at Alexandria or at Tanis, he has the same authority, the same merit, because he has the same priesthood. The power that riches give, and the low estate to which poverty reduces, render a Bishop neither greater nor less.(St. Hieron. Epist. 146 ad Ev.)

St. Hilary writes,

The Rock is the blessed and only rock of the faith confessed by the mouth of Peter. It is on this Rock of the confession of faith that the Church is built. (2nd book on the Trinity).

Here is Canon II from the Second Ecumenical Synod. It is difficult to get a more anti-papal canon than this:

The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; but let the Bishop of Alexandria, according to the canons, alone administer the affairs of Egypt; and let the bishops of the East manage the East alone, the privileges of the Church in Antioch, which are mentioned in the canons of Nicea, being preserved; and let the bishops of the Asian Diocese administer the Asian affairs only; and the Pontic bishops only Pontic matters; and the Thracian bishops only Thracian affairs. And let not bishops go beyond their dioceses for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited. And the aforesaid canon concerning dioceses being observed, it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province as was decreed at Nice. But the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers.

St. Ambrose writes:

As soon as Peter heard these words, 'Whom say ye that I am?' remembering his place, he exercised this primacy, a primacy of confession, not of honor; a primacy of faith, not of rank.

St. John of Damascus writes,

This is that firm and immovable faith upon which, as upon the rock whose surname you bear, the Church is founded. Against this the gates of hell, the mouths of heretics, the machines of demons for they will attack will not prevail. They will take up arms but they will not conquer.(Homily on the Transfiguration, M.P.G., Vol. 96, Col. 554-555)

Often used by papists, St. Irenaeus writes something quite different here:

...Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. (Rev. 22:17). For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? (Against All Heresies, Book 3, Chapter IV)

Warning: these aren't analyzed and I didn't have time for historical background.


Puritan Board Freshman
Very helpful, thanks! One of the few verses catholics ever remember is "thou art Peter." The testimony of the early fathers - with their contradictions - can be a weighty argument.
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