A new one on me - the "Pope Boniface III started the Catholic Church" claim

I am still surprised in all the years I’ve been interested in apologetics, I never heard this one before. It was in my Facebook feed, posted by a friend who goes to Church of Christ. For those of you who haven’t heard this particular piece of “Pope Fiction” either, this link is back to a former CAF thread on the subject, so no need to reinvent the wheel: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=9429

The interesting thing is that it was shown in a list of other Protestant churches and when they were started and by whom. Which I thought was rather ironic. :rolleyes: I’ve seen similar meme charts made by Catholics listing the truth that ours was started by Jesus Christ c. 33 A.D.

So, how many have heard of this Boniface III claim?

That’s a new one. I mostly hear the Constantine myth. Boniface III for sure had some impressive and important contributions to the Church, but foundational? That’s a bit much.

Pope WHO??? Who the heck was Boniface-3???

OK, pop over to Wikipedia. Oh, maybe that’s why I know nothing about him. He reigned for less than nine months (in AD 607).

And THAT GUY started the Catholic Church??? In 607??? That would make Boniface-3 the first Pope. This guy really thinks there were no Popes until 607??? What about Boniface-1 and Boniface-2??? How can you be the first Pope but have an ordinal number of three?

I presume this guy is approaching this from the typical Constantine story line. The “real” Church was Bible-believing protestant-style Christians, and then some guy comes along and co-opts it. But Boniface-3? By the time Boniface was elected the Church had already concluded five Ecumenical Councils and laid 65 Popes to rest.

That’s just plain wacky.

I was just informed that the First Christians were the Baptists, missionary to be specific, and the Church came from the reformation.:whacky: Are the Missionary Baptists the ones who hold poisonous snakes or smoke peyote?

I have heard this claim before. I’ve heard it presented something like this:

  1. An essential component of the Catholic Church is the pope.
  2. The pope has authority over all other bishops.
  3. Gregory the Great rejected the title “universal bishop.”
  4. Therefore, he did not have authority over all other bishops.
  5. Therefore, he was not a pope.
  6. Therefore, an essential component of the Catholic Church was missing as late at 604 A.D.
  7. Two bishops later, Boniface 3 arrived, and DID claim to be “universal bishop.”
  8. Therefore he was the first bishop of Rome to claim authority over all other bishops.
  9. Therefore, he was the first pope.
  10. Therefore, the Catholic Church started with Boniface 3 in 607 A.D.

It’s poor reasoning, but that is the theory.

Even if he did, this is a title, not a theology. He could have rejected the title for any number of reasons. For example, the Pope is not “my” Bishop, because I do not reside in the Archdiocese of Rome. “My” Bishop is Archbishop Alexander Sample of the Diocese of Portland. So how can the Pope be “universal Bishop” if he is not “my” Bishop? Gregory could have been emphasizing the role of the local Bishops.

So I would like to see this in context. Has anyone ever actually cited it? Did Gregory actually “reject” the title? And, how would that happen? Someone would have tried to confer the title for Gregory to reject it. Who would have the authority to confer this title in the first place, other than Gregory himself?

  1. Therefore, he was not a pope.

That’s funny. St. Gregory the Great was not a Pope. That’s like saying Isaac Newton was not a scientist.

  1. Two bishops later, Boniface 3 arrived, and DID claim to be “universal bishop.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia it was actually the Patriarch of Constantinople who was trying a power grab of some sort, calling himself the Universal Bishop, and Boniface put the smackdown on him. I cannot find any reference that Boniface claimed the title for himself. AFAIK, “Universal Bishop” is not one of the Papal titles today, which would be hard to explain if Boniface claimed it. Once a title is conferred, it is rarely (if ever) dropped. King Henry-8 retained the Papal title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) even after his Act of Supremacy and break from Rome, and this title has been claimed by every English monarch since. The style of QE2 claims only three titles, and this is one of them (the other two being Queen and Head of the Commonwealth).

It’s poor reasoning, but that is the theory.

The whole Constantine story line is SO MUCH BETTER than this. I cannot imagine how or why anyone would resort to Boniface-3 when they have Constantine. He was a pagan! There were no pagans in AD 607. He was Emperor of the Roman Empire for 31 years, not Pope for eight months. He convened and attended the first Ecumenical Council, so he definitely had his fingers in the Church pie.

And no Catholic disputes any of this. It’s so much easier to say that Constantine invented the Catholic Church. Yeah, it’s been refuted a million times, whereas the Boniface-3 idea is unknown even to many members of this Forum (including me, and I’ve been around). So there’s not a giant corpus of work refuting the Boniface idea. But it’s absurd!!!

These are the best questions you could ask. The context of this goes back to Patriarch John the Faster of Constantinople. In ~595 A.D., he claimed a title which is variously translated “universal bishop,” “universal priest,” and “ecumenical patriarch.” Pope St. Gregory I strongly rebuked him for it: “I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others.” source

The reason the pope gave was just what you speculated: the title can mean that all local bishops are merely agents of the universal bishop, and that is contrary to Church doctrine: “For if one, as he supposes, is universal bishop, it remains that you are not bishops.” source But I think St. Gregory did believe that the pope had supreme authority, and he made that clear in this quote: “To all who know the Gospel it is clear that by the words of our Lord the care of the whole Church was committed to Blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles.” source In other passages he calls the Roman See “head of all other churches” and “in command of the Church,” and writes that the See of Constantinople “is subject to the Apostolic See.” source

The Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on John the Faster has more details:

John the Faster (claimant of the title “Universal Bishop”)
oce.catholic.com/index.php?title=John_the_Faster

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia it was actually the Patriarch of Constantinople who was trying a power grab of some sort, calling himself the Universal Bishop, and Boniface put the smackdown on him. I cannot find any reference that Boniface claimed the title for himself. AFAIK, “Universal Bishop” is not one of the Papal titles today, which would be hard to explain if Boniface claimed it. Once a title is conferred, it is rarely (if ever) dropped.

The Catholic Encyclopedia seems to indicate that he did claim this title: “After his elevation to the See of Rome, Boniface obtained a decree from Phocas, against Cyriacus, Bishop of Constantinople, by which it was ordained, that ‘the See of Blessed Peter the Apostle should be the head of all the Churches’, and that the title of ‘Universal Bishop’ belonged exclusively to the Bishop of Rome—an acknowledgment somewhat similar to that made by Justinian eighty years before (Novell., 131, c. ii, tit. xiv).” source

Boniface and the title of Pope is point number 6 of Boettner’s well known 45 “Roman Catholic Heresies and Inventions”, listed chronologically, the first of which, prayers for the dead, he dates to 300 AD. So even Boettner recognized that the RCC didn’t start with Boniface III.

The “universal bishop” controversy between St. Gregory and John the Faster is a classic non-Catholic objection which misunderstands the context.

John was claiming (or, in reality, what the emperor in Constantinople was trying to claim for him), was that he was the only bishop and that all the other bishops were essentially his representatives or delegates. He made the relationship between himself and the other bishops the same as the relationship between a bishop and his priests. Not only was he wrongly claiming for himself the primacy, but he was also destroying the authority of the other bishops.

This is contrary to Catholic doctrine:

[quote=Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum]14. But if the authority of Peter and his successors is plenary and supreme, it is not to be regarded as the sole authority. For He who made Peter the foundation of the Church also “chose, twelve, whom He called apostles” (Luke vi., 13); and just as it is necessary that the authority of Peter should be perpetuated in the Roman Pontiff, so, by the fact that the bishops succeed the Apostles, they inherit their ordinary power, and thus the episcopal order necessarily belongs to the essential constitution of the Church. Although they do not receive plenary, or universal, or supreme authority, they are not to be looked as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs; because they exercise a power really their own, and are most truly called the ordinary pastors of the peoples over whom they rule.
[/quote]

The “universal bishop” controversy is actually a perfect example of the power of the authentic universal primacy being used to preserve, rather than destroy, the authority of the other bishops as the Second Vatican Council describes.

In a letter about the same controversy, St. Gregory affirmed the primacy and distinguished it from what John the Faster was claiming:

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