Help me understand the imperial papacy


As an Eastern Catholic, I consider myself fully Eastern in praxis yet recognize the primacy of Rome as understood in the first 1000 years of the undivided church.

That said, I am having an increasingly difficult time with accepting the above and NOT realizing that I am, in fact, Orthodox. This saddens me, as I do not want to separate myself from the universal Church, and moreover I certainly do not want to separate myself from the Pope, the servant of the servants of God (a title which I fully accept).

I am hoping someone can assist me with understanding - out of love, not condemnation or arrogance - how the Church of Rome can claim the following, all of which are not compatible with how the undivided Church of the first 1000 years operated:

  • Universal jurisdiction to depose and appoint clergy everywhere
  • Papal infallibility
  • Claiming Church councils like Trent were ‘ecumenical’ without representation of the EO Patriarchs nor Eastern Catholic representatives
  • Creating dogma that is incompatible with Eastern theology yet is binding on Eastern Catholics

Again, I am asking out of love for my church, and not wanting to leave. I’m not asking for your condemnation in questioning the above.

Thank you in advance.

I believe the key to understanding the papacy begins here:

Is Jesus our king? Did He re-establish the office of the Royal Steward?

In ancient times, a king might choose a second in command (known as the royal steward or prime minister) who literally wore a large key as a symbol of his office and who spoke with the authority of the king. The prophet Isaiah confirms this:

Isaiah 22:20-22
"In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”

In the passage above, God is speaking, and He confirms the existence of the office, the key, and the continuation of the office despite the change of office holder. In other words, the office of the royal steward continued even when the man who held the office died or was replaced by someone else. God Himself passes the key from one steward to the next.

In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus inherits the throne of his father, David.

Luke 1:31–33
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.

We also read the following:

Matthew 16:13-19
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

The passage quoted above from Matthew tells us that Jesus named Peter as His royal steward and gave him the “keys to the kingdom of heaven" as the symbol of his authority to speak in His name. Since Jesus is an eternal king, the office of royal steward in His kingdom will never end. Peter died as a martyr as Jesus foretold, but the successors of Peter have taken his place in the perpetual office that Jesus established in His royal court.

In addition to the reference to a key or keys, note the following parallels:

"What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Is. 22:22)
"Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:19)

Jesus specifically referenced the passage from Isaiah when He appointed Peter, and Peter received authority from Jesus to speak universally in His name. To do so faithfully, Peter must not teach error; therefore, Peter (and his successors who hold the office of the Royal Steward - also known as the Bishop of Rome) are protected by God through the charism of infallibility.

There were no Western Bishops in attendance at Constantinople I, yet it is considered ecumenical.

So, why would the attendance of Eastern Bishops be required for Trent or Vatican I?

It appears that is the acceptance of the council by the Bishop of Rome that makes or breaks its status as ecumenical – not the demographics of the parties in attendance.

There were no western bishops as members of the Council, however, and please correct me if I am wrong (I may be thinking of a different Council), but there were Papal legates present who kept watch for the bishop of Rome of the happenings of the Council.

Is it not Ecumenical *because *the Pope ratified it?

And were there Eastern Catholics at the time of (corrected) (Trent)?Or were they still Orthodox at that time?

This link says Eastern Orthodox bishops were invited, but did not come. Perhaps since most of the issues of V1 related to Western problems and travel in those days was difficult, Eastern Catholic bishops decided not to go?

I don’t disagree with anything you wrote, but this does not vindicate nor explain why the See of Peter must be accorded with anything more than a supreme primacy of honour, as existed in the early Church. The Pope was consulted on an as-needed basis as the last arbiter of disputes, while each individual church and its bishops maintained authority and pastoral care of his own church (all of which maintained full communion with Rome). The Pope, as Patriarch of the West, never wielded influence over the other churches, and it was well-understood that he enjoyed a special place of honour - not jurisdiction - among the other Patriarchs.

These aren’t opinions, they are historical realities. We really need to ask ourselves as Catholics whether post-Schism papal claims were truly made for the betterment - or the detriment - of the Church.

I’ll answer in two parts.

Part I

If Peter is the Royal Steward, then his jurisdiction was universal, wasn’t it? Look at another example:

Scripture Parallels: Joseph, Eliakim, and Peter

Joseph - Genesis 41:40-44
40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. 44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.”

• Chosen by God who enabled him to answer Pharaoh’s questions
• Steward over Pharaoh’s kingdom
• Second in command
• Dressed in robes with gold chain around neck as symbols of authority
Universal jurisdiction throughout the land of Egypt
• No one lifts hand or foot without Joseph’s word

Eliakim - Isaiah 22:20-22
20 “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

• Chosen by God to fill the office of Steward
• Steward over Hezekiah’s kingdom
• Second in command
• Dressed in robe and sash with key on shoulder as symbols of authority
Universal jurisdiction throughout Jerusalem and Judah
• No one opens or shuts without Eliakim

Peter - Matthew 16:18-20
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

• Chosen by God who enabled him to answer the King’s questions
• Steward over Jesus’ kingdom
• Second in command (cf. John 21:15-19 vicarious shepherd of the one flock)
• Given keys as symbol of authority
Universal jurisdiction over all of Jesus’ kingdom
• Authority to bind and loose in heaven and on earth


**Part II

Bl. Cardinal Newman on the Development of Papal Infallibility**

The following excerpt is taken from John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine written just prior to his conversion to the Catholic Church from Anglicanism. In this passage, Newman considers the development of the modern papacy and explains why an explicit understanding of Papal Supremacy by the early Church Fathers is not necessary and the lack thereof not fatal to the Catholic claims defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870.

Let us see how, on the principles which I have been laying down and defending, the evidence lies for the Pope’s supremacy.

As to this doctrine the question is this, whether there was not from the first a certain element at work, or in existence, divinely sanctioned, which, for certain reasons, did not at once show itself upon the surface of ecclesiastical affairs, and of which events in the fourth century are the development; and whether the evidence of its existence and operation, which does occur in the earlier centuries, be it much or little, is not just such as ought to occur upon such an hypothesis.

. . . While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope . . .

. . . St. Peter’s prerogative would remain a mere letter, till the complication of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it. While Christians were “of one heart and soul,” it would be suspended; love dispenses with laws . . .

When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated, were it ever so certainly provided, while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined. The Creed, the Canon, the Papacy, Ecumenical Councils, all began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church. And as it was natural that her monarchical power should display itself when the Empire became Christian, so was it natural also that further developments of that power should take place when that Empire fell. Moreover, when the power of the Holy See began to exert itself, disturbance and collision would be the necessary consequence . . . as St. Paul had to plead, nay, to strive for his apostolic authority, and enjoined St. Timothy, as Bishop of Ephesus, to let no man despise him: so Popes too have not therefore been ambitious because they did not establish their authority without a struggle. It was natural that Polycrates should oppose St. Victor; and natural too that St. Cyprian should both extol the See of St. Peter, yet resist it when he thought it went beyond its province . . .

On the whole, supposing the power to be divinely bestowed, yet in the first instance more or less dormant, a history could not be traced out more probable, more suitable to that hypothesis, than the actual course of the controversy which took place age after age upon the Papal supremacy.

It will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is: it is a theory to account for facts as they lie in the history, to account for so much being told us about the Papal authority in early times, and not more; a theory to reconcile what is and what is not recorded about it; and, which is the principal point, a theory to connect the words and acts of the Ante-Nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century, which forms their presumptive interpretation. All depends on the strength of that presumption. Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it . . .

Moreover, all this must be viewed in the light of the general probability, so much insisted on above, that doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and that its developments are parts of the Divine system, and that therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later.

(Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878 ed., Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989, pp. 148-155; Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 3.)

In regard to your first difficulty, “Universal jurisdiction to depose and appoint clergy everywhere,” here is a list of some events where popes deposed and/or appointed faraway clergy before 1000 A.D.

254 A.D. - St. Cyprian writes to Pope Stephanus, urging him to depose Marcian, bishop of Arles, and appoint a new bishop for France.St. Cyprian - “[Y]ou [have been told], as well by [Faustinus] as by others our fellow bishops established in the same province, that Marcianus, who abides at Aries, has associated himself with Novatian, and has departed from the unity of the Catholic Church… Wherefore it behooves you to write a very copious letter to our fellow bishops appointed in Gaul, not to suffer any longer that Marcian… [Afterwards,] intimate plainly to us who has been substituted at Arles in the place of Marcian, that we may know to whom to direct our brethren, and to whom we ought to write.” (Epistle 66)341 A.D. - Pope St. Julius I writes to defend Patriarch St. Athanasius of Alexandria after some had unjustly tried to depose him. Pope Julius corrects them by, among other things, reminding them that depositions are only supposed to be done with the authority of the pope.Pope St. Julius I - “[The] judgment [concerning Athanasius] ought to have been made, not as it was, but according to the ecclesiastical canon. It behooved all of you to write us so that the justice of it might be seen as emanating from all. … Are you ignorant that the custom has been to write first to us and then for a just decision to be passed from this place [Rome]? If, then, any such suspicion rested upon the bishop there [Athanasius of Alexandria], notice of it ought to have been written to the church here.” (Letter on Behalf of Athanasius)342 A.D. - The Council of Sardica - “[If] some bishop be deposed by the judgment of the bishops sitting in the neighborhood, and if he declare that he will seek further redress, another should not be appointed to his see until the bishop of Rome can be acquainted with the case and render a judgment.” (Canon 4)

430 A.D. - Pope St. Celestine I deposes Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople because he defends heretical ideas about the Blessed Virgin.Pope St. Celestine I - “Know therefore, clearly, that our sentence is this, namely, that unless thou preach those very doctrines concerning our God Anointed, which both the Church of the Romans, and the Church of the Alexandrians, and all the Universal Church holds fast…and unless within the tenth day reckoned from the time that this admonition comes to thy knowledge, thou put away by a clear and written confession that unbelieving novelty and innovation of thine which attempts to separate the very things which the Holy Scripture joins together, thou art cast out from the communion of the Universal Church. We have sent this very decision of our judgment on thee…to [Cyril of] Alexandria…in order that he may hold our place and attend to this thing, that so what has been decided by us may be made known both to thee and to all the brethren.” (Letter to Nestorius Paragraph 11)451 A.D. - The Council of Chalcedon would not allow Patriarch Dioscorus of Alexandria to have a seat at the Council because Pope St. Leo the Great forbade it, who also deposed him through his legates at the Council.The Council of Chalcedon - “We received directions at the hands of the most blessed and apostolic bishop of the Roman city, which is the head of all the churches…that Dioscorus is not to be allowed a seat in this assembly, but that if he should attempt to take his seat he is to be cast out. … Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome…has stripped him of the episcopate, and has alienated from him all hieratic worthiness. Therefore let this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned Dioscorus to the canonical penalties.” (Session 1, Session 3)484 A.D. - Pope St. Felix III deposes Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople for holding to Monophysitism. This was at the beginning of the Acacian Schism, which only ended when all the Eastern Bishops signed the Libellus Hormisdae, affirming that the pope is head of the whole Church and that all the faithful must maintain communion with him.The Libellus Hormisdae - “For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,’ (Matthew 16:18), should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See * the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied. From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated… We also declare anathema their helper and follower, Acacius of Constantinople, a bishop once condemned by the Apostolic See, and all those who remain in contact and company with them…[f]ollowing, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions… [For] in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in [this] the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides. I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries.” Cont’d next post*

Cont’d from previous post

646 A.D. - Pope St. Theodore I deposes Patriarch Paul II of Constantinople for holding to Monothelitism.Liber Pontificalis - “Then the holy pope Theodore wrote to Paul, patriarch of the imperial city…[and] admonished him and declared that he should correct his falsehood and return to the orthodox faith… Yet neither…request nor…reproof [brought him] back from his endeavour. On this account he was struck by the apostolic see with the just penalty of deposition.” (Liber Pontificalis 75 Paragraph 6)~704 A.D. - Pope John VI deposes a bishop in England for intruding into the bishopric of St. Wilfrid.St. Bede - “[When] he was again expelled [from] his diocese, [Wilfrid came] to Rome, [and] together with his accusers [he was] allowed to make his defense before a number of bishops and the apostolic Pope John [VI].” “[It] was declared by the unanimous judgment of them all, that his accusers had in part laid false accusations to his charge; and the aforesaid pope undertook to write to the kings of the English, Ethelred and Alfrid, to cause him to be restored to his bishopric, because he had been falsely accused.” (Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation Book V Chapter 19)867 A.D. - Pope St. Nicholas the Great deposes Patriarch Photius of Constantinople for intruding into the bishopric of St. Ignatius.Fourth Council of Constantinople - “So, having both the most blessed pope Nicholas as the instrument of the holy Spirit and his successor, the most holy pope Hadrian, we declare and order that everything which has been expounded and promulgated by them in a synod at various times, both for the defence and well-being of the church of Constantinople and of its chief priest, namely Ignatius, its most holy patriarch, as well as for the expulsion and condemnation of Photius, the upstart and usurper, should be maintained and observed…” (Canon 2) To me, it appears clear that the pope had authority to depose and appoint clergy everywhere for a long time prior to 1000 A.D. What do you think of this evidence?

Authority is necessary for unity

An honestly necessary doctrine designating the place where the theological buck stops. Eastern churches can only rule within their own jurisdictions, generally isolated by national boundaries that limit their universality.

Schisms produce that kind of thing.

Not all Eastern Catholics would agree.

I would disagree with your reading of history. The Pope tried many times to do the things you have said were novel in the last millennium, but often ran into problems with the Patriarch of Constantinople, empowered, of course, by the Emperor. Byzantine Emperors were yet just another in a long line of secular rulers that tried to not only establish political supremacy over the Church (ultimately failing), but theological supremacy as well (all also failed).

The biggest example would be the attempt by Pope St. Nicholas I to depose the usurper Photius, Patriarch of Constanrinople, in the 800s.

Not the place for me to argue the OP but you should show proper respect to St Photios.

In the same spirit I have an extraordinary hard time understanding the Orthodox position on many things. Why, for instance, at the council of Florence where the Orthodox bishops voted to endorsed the canons and seemingly effected reunion with Rome did they thereafter refute the council and reject reunion? I have been told, by some Orthodox, that the reason was that the populace rejected the reunion. Since when did the populace have a vote? Certainly not in the first 1,000 years of Christianity. I cannot but think that the conquest of Constantinople by the Moslems just fifteen years after the rejection of reunion and with it the loss of the Haggia Sophia was retribution by God in the same manor as the loss of the Jewish temple (both times). That, I think, is something to ponder upon. But to answer your questions consider the following.

Regarding the universal jurisdiction of the pope this is based on Peter as being the chief steward. It is Peter who Jesus prayed for to have faith and who Jesus commands then to strengthen his brethern. Why pray only for one Apostle and then have him minister to the others??? Also, Peter calls for the replacement of Judas and Peter sends Paul on his missionary journeys. Why not one or more of the other Apostles? The early christians knew that Peter and his successors had authority over the other churches. The church in Corinth went to Pope Clement in Rome asking for help in a matter they could not resolve. At the time the Apostle John was in Ephesus. Why go to Clement when they could go to John, “the Apostle that Jesus loved”? Apparently they had a very good reason and apparently that reason has been lost in Orthodoxy.

Papal infallibility is easy, Mt 16:18-19 covers it well. A fisherman from Gallilee could bind or loose something both on earth as well as in heaven. No earthly leader can bind or loose anything on earth let alone heaven as well. Recall also that the OT church had people called prophets that could proclaim, “Thus sayeth the Lord…” The papacy is the NT fulfillment of that OT foreshadowing.

Regarding the church councils that were not attended by Eastern Orthodox. I ask, were they invited? Yes, they were. I am reminded of the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Similiarly you can invite someone but you can’t make them come. By the way, none of the councils, including Vatican II, had attendance of all the bishops. But then, there is no requirement that all must attend for a council to be ‘ecumenical’. The only requirement is that the call for the council is for the entire church.

As far as dogma that is incompatible with Eastern theology I would say that the problem is with Eastern Theology. Consider the fact that no pope has ever taught error yet about 46 Orthodox patriarchs have done so. Protestant theologians have tried repeatedly to find one case where a pope taught error. They have failed to do so. It is not surprising therefore that most protestant denominations have ceased making the allegation. Now I know, from the way you presented this point, that you believe differently. May I therefore suggest that instead of speaking in generalities that you list those dogmas that you think fit in this category and we can discuss the specific doctrines.

Not to argue but you are misrepresenting a few things (unintentionally I’m sure). The rejection of Florence is not that difficult to understand if you just flip the roles. If the pope sent a handful of bishop to a council and then rejected the findings of those bishops upon their return to Rome no Catholic would blink and eye. The pope is the highest authority in the Catholic Church. So when the 30 Orthodox bishops at Florence (that’s right, only 30), who signed the acts under compulsion from the emperor, returned their findings were rejected by the Eastern synods, which are the highest authority in the Eastern Church.

I would also add that the assertion that no pope has ever taught heresy is begging the question. From our perspective practically every pope since around 1000 AD has taught error. :thumbsup:

How many Orthodox bishops were in attendance at the Second Council of Ephesus? 130. How many western bishops were in attendance? One.

And as the papal legate, that western Bishop condemned the Council. Pope Leo confirmed that condemnation. So, despite a vote of 130-1 in favor of Ephesus II’s decrees, that council was condemned by one man, the Bishop of Rome. Similarly, that one man, the Pope, can accept or uphold a council even if only 30 Orthodox Bishops attend.

Councils are ultimately judged by the Pope, not the other way around.

I would also add that the assertion that no pope has ever taught heresy is begging the question. From our perspective practically every pope since around 1000 AD has taught error.

By whose authority? That of the “whole” church? Well, the vast majority of the Church has accepted all those popes and all those councils, haven’t they?

Absolutely. Bishops aren’t even all that important. Priests and laypeople have voted in many Councils (even casting the majority of votes).

The Council of Florence (Basil) opened with only a handful of Bishops present (or, by some accounts, NO Bishops present). At most, Bishops represented only 10% of the votes cast in any of its 25 sessions.

Interestingly, during the 11-year run of Florence, the Orthodox agreed to reunification with Rome, accepting Papal authority. Also, during this conference, the Pope attempted to dissolve the council, but the council fathers refused to disband (the Pope would later ratify the council).

Florence was weird.

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