These are some passages and stories from the first seven ecumenical councils that I think can be used to defend the universal jurisdiction of the pope. Please let me know what you think, and if there are any other passages that could be cited, please let me know.
The First Ecumenical Council
There are several things that may indicate papal headship at this council. For one, it is my understanding that Pope St. Sylvester specially appointed Hosius of Cordoba (Spain) to lead the council on behalf of Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The Council of Nicaea lasted two months and twelve days. Three hundred and eighteen bishops were present. Hosius, Bishop of Cordova, assisted as legate of Pope Sylvester.” (source) In another article, it says, “The actual president seems to have been Hosius of Cordova, assisted by the pope’s legates, Victor and Vincentius.” source
In addition, this article cites evidence that First Ecumenical Council explicitly based its decree about the jurisdiction of various churches on a decision of the Roman Church.
The Third Ecumenical Council
Session I - “[If] your holiness * have not a mind to [accept] the limits defined in the writings of [Pope] Celestine, Bishop of the Church of Rome, be well assured then that you have no lot with us, nor place or standing among the priests and bishops of God.” source
This quotation is from a letter from St. Cyril to the heresiarch Nestorius. The letter was accepted by the Council in Session 1. The text of the letter suggests that papal authority can be universally binding, and the historical context of the letter makes this case even stronger. It appears that St. Cyril’s letter to Nestorius was a result of an earlier letter (source) from Pope Celestine to St. Cyril. In that letter, the pope instructs St. Cyril to depose the heresiarch Nestorius from the see of Antioch in the name of the pope, if he does not repent of his heresy. In that light, I think St. Cyril’s letter commanding Nestorius to submit to the pope or be deposed is a slam-dunk in favor of the pope’s authority over the other sees of Christendom, and the fact that this deposition was approved by the Council of Ephesus makes it that much more significant.
Before the papal legates arrived at the council, the pope gave them these instructions: “We enjoin upon you the necessary task of guarding the authority of the Apostolic See. … [In] the assembly, if it comes to controversy, it is not yours to join the fight but to judge of the opinions [on my behalf]." (Letters 17) source
When they arrived at the council, the legates announced that this was their right and privilege, and the council accepted it:
Session 2 - “[W]hen the writings of our holy and blessed pope had been read to you…you joined yourselves to the holy head also by your holy acclamations.” “[We now] ask that you give order that there be laid before us what things were done in this holy Synod before our arrival; in order that according to the opinion of our blessed pope and of this present holy assembly, we likewise may ratify their determination.” source
Theodotus of Ancyra responded, apparently in the name of the council, saying that this announcement was made “very reasonably.” (ibid.) Later the Council confirms this:
Session 7 - “For it is [Rome’s] custom in such great matters to make trial of all things, and the confirmation of the Churches you * have made your own care. [And] since it is right that all things which have taken place should be brought to the knowledge of your holiness, we are writing of necessity [about our Synod]. … And that you may know in full all things that have been done, we have sent you a copy of the Acts, and of the subscriptions of the Synod. We pray that you, dearly beloved and most longed for, may be strong and mindful of us in the Lord.” source*
cont’d next post*