First among equals

When did this phrase first come about?

Is it from the pre-schism Church or has it been invented since?

I could be really wrong but . . My first recollection of that term was during Vatican II when there was a lot of dialogue about ecumenism. There was concern that if Chrisian Churches coalesced, the heads of each church group would lose position or something. One solution was to have the Pope named “First among Equals” . He would still have been Pope and head of the extended Church. I think that is where there was a decision to continue the separation. More recently I do see some of the other denominations joining with us, and ecumenism still seems to be growing.

It is an oxymoron isn’t it?

Primacy and equality are contradictions.

So is being first and last. But that is what Jesus asks us, especially those who are called to serve, to do.

There is no connection between first among equals, a doctrine of men, and the alpha and omega, Jesus desctiption of Himself, the beginning and end of all things.

I think Constantine is referring to passages like this one from the Gospel of Luke, not to the title of Alpha and Omega.

[bibledrb]Luke 22:25-27[/bibledrb]

It was pre-schism and a title that was handed to the Patriarch of Constantinople after the schism.

St Olav

Thanks for that answer.

Can you supply a source as I cannot find one anywhere?

A source that applies the phrase to the bishop of Rome before the schism.

I don’t think the term was ever used as a title, it is more of a decriptor, like tall or round or* green*. In this case the term is usually employed as legal terminology.

According to this article,

Primus inter pares (Greek: Πρῶτος μεταξὺ ἴσων (protos metaxy ison), English: the first among equals or first among peers) is a Latin phrase describing the most senior person of a group sharing the same rank or office …


The phrase “first among equals” has also been used to describe the Chief Justice of the United States.

Examples of use

The term is used with reference to the Roman Emperors’ way of reducing the appearance of dictatorship (which was particularly important during the early Roman Empire to appease those who may have longed for a return to the old Roman Republic; see Princeps). Other examples include the Prime Minister of many parliamentary regimes, the President of the European Commission, the Chief Justice of the United States, and some religious figures, such as the Dean of the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, or the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Johannes Quasten uses the term to describe the thinking of St Cyprian about his counterpart the bishop of Rome.

“If he refuses to the bishop of Rome any higher power to maintain by legislation the solidarity of which he is the centre, it must be because he regards the primacy as one of honor and the bishop of Rome as primus inter pares
[Quasten, J n.d., Patrology: Vol.2, Christian Classics, Allen, pp. 375-378]

Johannes Quasten was the editor/author of the well-renowned tome Patrology, a Roman Catholic theologian in Germany and scholar of patristics.

I’m really looking for proof that this actual phrase was used for the Pope before the schism.

It seems, like several ideas in Christianity, that some argue that the idea is there but the phrase was definitely a later invention.

I can’t remember where it came from, I thought the forth council. I know Benedict spoke about in Light of the World from 2010, I’m not home to read it. That was 2010, he’s a bit older now. I wouldn’t expect any change forthcoming now.

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