Heresies & the early church

my non-catholic brother asked me to think about the early church and how it dealt with other apostolic sees.

I suspect he may be trying to make the point that the seats of other apostles either carry as much weight as the chair of Peter or they carry none at all.

Anyway I tried some quick reading on the Arian heresy and just skimming the articles it almost seems like the Pope played very little role in settling the debate over Arianism.

Are there any heresies where the pope played a considerable role in settling?

Are there any heresies or disputes between the Chair of Peter and, say, another Apostolic See?

It depends, against some heresies popes took more effort, and against some other, popes took lesser effort. Because most heresies happened in the East.

When the Church was still united, heresy would show up in the East, bishops there would fight each other, and then pope would send his delegates mostly or he would come in person at Ecumenical Council and he would condemn the heresy.

The Arian Heresy opened theological questions besides the nature of Christ. Once the heresy had been suppressed, former Arians sought communion with the Church. This presented a theological problem for the Early Church, because some of these people had first received Baptism at the hands of Arians. Was Baptism by heretics valid? This question sparked lively debate.

The question would eventually be settled by Pope St. Stephen (that the Baptisms were, indeed, valid). But (as is the ordinary custom), before promulgating the definitive teaching as Pope, Stephen participated in the preceding debate in his capacity as Bishop. Acting as Bishop, he advocated the idea that Baptism by heretics was valid.

St. Cyprian of Carthage is my favorite Early Church Father. He controlled Northern Africa. His prestige and influence was so great that his contemporary nickname was “the African Pope.”

It is difficult to overstate Cyprian’s opposition to the idea that Baptism by heretics was valid. A large body of his writing survives, and much of it is dedicated to this topic. He would often not even use the word “baptize” in this context - he referred to “those made wet by heretics.” I think that’s funny. In other writings, he used language so harsh that it would have probably earned him an infraction on this Forum.

In his Letter to Jubaianus (AD 255), a Bishop in Mauretania, Cyprian refers to a Council of African Bishops which agreed that:

Cyprian to Jubaianus his brother, greeting. You have written to me, dearest brother, wishing that the impression of my mind should be signified to you, as to what I think concerning the baptism of heretics; who, placed without, and established outside the Church, arrogate to themselves a matter neither within their right nor their power. This baptism we cannot consider as valid or legitimate, since it is manifestly unlawful among them; and since we have already expressed in our letters what we thought on this matter, I have, as a compendious method, sent you a copy of the same letters, what we decided in council when very many of us were present, and what, moreover, I subsequently wrote back to Quintus, our colleague, when he asked about the same thing. And now also, when we had met together, bishops as well of the province of Africa as of Numidia, to the number of seventy-one, we established this same matter once more by our judgment, deciding that there is one baptism which is appointed in the Catholic Church; and that by this those are not re-baptized, but baptized by us, who at any time come from the adulterous and unhallowed water to be washed and sanctified by the truth of the saving water.[73,1]

OK, this is HERESY before the fact (a heretical opinion expressed before the Church taught otherwise).

Writing to Cyprian, Firmillian, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, agreed with Cyprian, saying,

But what is his [Pope St. Stephen] error, and how great his blindness, who says that the remission of sins can be given in the synagogues of the heretics [Firmillian, *Letter to Cyprian

(AD 255), 75,16]

At this point, Cyprian and Firmillian were expressing their opposition to the opinion of Pope St. Stephen, but not in his capacity as Pope, but only as Bishop.

Alas, to nobody’s surprise, Bishop Stephen eventually acted in his official capacity as Pope Stephan and promulgated the teaching that Baptism by heretics was valid, and those Baptized by Arians were to be admitted to full Communion without undergoing any further Baptismal ceremony.

After that happened, Firmillian and Cyprian shut up about the matter (not even the otherwise prolific and single-minded Cyprian had anything else to say). We have no record of either having any continued opposition to this teaching. Likewise, we have no record of either publicly affirming the teaching, but Cyprian was the type of man to quietly accept his defeat but not champion his opponent.

Had Cyprian continued his opposition after Pope Stephen’s teaching, he would be considered a heretic after the fact, and would surely not be considered a Saint and Early Father of the Church today.

Uh, YEAH - the “Great Schism” of 1054 AD. The Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople mutually excommunicated each other. It’s the reason why the Greek Orthodox Church exists today. It’s the reason why the “Roman Catholic Church” cannot claim to be the ONLY Catholic Church. It’s the reason why BOTH Churches have been seeking reunification for centuries.

There is no heresy at stake. There is a “dispute” over leadership (this is called schism, and not heresy). Nobody has ever accused anybody of heresy in this matter. But it is the biggest “dispute” in the Christian Church, and has divided the world’s largest Christian Church and the world’s second-largest Christian Church for far too long.

Pray for reunification.

Sorry to break this for you, but Orthodox Church does accuse Rome for heresy. Not sure that you know, but whenever Orthodox Bishop is ordained, as part of his oath, he must read a document that condemns Latin Heresy. It is stll done by all Orthodox Churches. Orthodox Church does accuse west for heresy and Liturgical abuse.

Sorry to hear that. It’s just one more obstacle to overcome. Prayers, God Bless, Memaw

OK, so St. Cyprian and Firmillian were bishops who disagreed with the pope on the matter of baptism by heretics, until Pope Steven put his foot down.

Were any of these two bishops occupants of Apostolic Sees? It would be interesting to compare a dispute between a successor of Peter vs. a successor of one of the other Apostles.

The nearest one would be the schism between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic church still recognizes the Orthodox as having apostolic succession.

What were the Apostolic Sees? Jerusalem, Alexandria, Ephasus?, Antioch?, Carthage?

Apostolic Sees -

Rome - pope Francis (apostles Peter and Paul)
Constantinople - patriarch Bartholomew (apostle Andrew)
Alexandria - patriarch Theodore II (apostle Mark)
Antioch - patriarch John X (apostles Peter and Paul)
Jerusalem - patriarch Theophilios (apostle James)

“See” is just another word for “diocese.”

An Apostolic See is a Diocese which was originally founded by an Apostle. There are five “Sees of Antiquity” (which Proton has enumerated) which have traditionally been accorded a higher honor because of their ancient origin. Such Sees were first formally recognized in the Fourth Canon of the First Council of Nicea (AD 325).

But these are not the only Sees which claim Apostolic origin. For example, Ephesus was founded by St. John and Corinth was founded by Paul, so these are both considered Apostolic Sees (among many others).

These Sees were among the first “Archdioceses,” but are not fundamentally different from any other Archdiocese (including my own, Portland, Oregon).

ALL Bishops are successors of the Apostles. A Bishop’s Apostolic Succession comes from his Ordination, not from his See. Some Bishops don’t even have Sees, but are still Apostolic.

That is correct. And, despite what Photon said about Orthodox opinion, there is no Orthodox disagreement about the validity of Catholic Apostolic Orders. They might call us heretics, but that doesn’t prevent an Episcopal Consecration from being valid. Baptism isn’t the only Sacrament that can be validly performed by heretics - all of them can.

The Catholic Church also recognizes the Orders of other Churches which have left Her unity, such as the Old Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC).

Anglican Orders were once recognized, but, alas, the Anglicans forfeited the validity of their Orders when they introduced an invalid form (likely accompanied by invalid intent).

OK. Now I think the picture is coming into focus a bit more.

So, I am guessing the patriarchs that Proton listed are Orthodox Patriarchs, and that these Sees have fallen into schism with Rome.

Now when an Apostolic See falls into schism with Rome, how does the church handle that?

Does Rome re-appoint a bishop to a new seat in that diocese to guide those of the flock that remain loyal to Rome?

Or does Rome continue to respect the validity of those sees and simply strive for unity?

If Rome **does not **re-establish a new bishop to cover that geographic region, what does Rome expect the inhabitants of that area to do? Do they continue following a schismatic patriarch, working on the inside for unity? Or are they supposed to just hang in a sort of “limbo” where they do not have a bishop united to Rome?

Door #2.

Although the Latin Church reserves the right of the Pope to dismiss any or all Eastern Bishops and replace them with Latin Bishops, this has not been done. Thus, no Latin Bishops have been appointed over any (arch)Diocese which is led by a valid Apostolic Bishop of any Eastern (arch)Diocese.

But this precedent is not actually a precedent. It seems to be applied selectively. For example, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (an Apostolic Latin schismatic Bishop) was deposed and replaced by Henri Clément Victor Donze.

So it seems that the (Latin) Church is more accepting of Eastern schismatic Bishops than She is of schismatic Bishops in her own geographic ranks.

This may have something to do with the fact that the “Roman” Church has more influence in Western Christianity than it has in Eastern Christianity.

I don’t believe there is any such right of the Pope to dismiss all Eastern bishops. To do so would violate promises made to Orthodox entering into union with Rome (for example, the Union of Brest) that such a thing would not be done.


So say you are a Christian in the east and you suddenly realize that your patriarch is in error to deny Peter’s authority. How do you go about converting? You aren’t really converting to the Latin rite, and you don’t really want to move to a geographic location that is in communion with Rome.

So you wouldn’t have a bishop.

There is a difference between Bishop Lefevre & the eastern schism. Lefevre was a Latin rite bishop and it was over those rites that he separated. Thus maybe the pope has this authority over bishops of that rite (not necessarily geography). The eastern schism was not over the issue of rites as far as I know.

I don’t think that’s quite accurate. This article explains some of the evidence for the pope’s influence at the Council of Nicea. Among other things, there is evidence that Pope St. Dionysius’s Letter on the Trinity Against Sebellius was used at the Council as a significant precursor to its own definition of faith. This may have started the tradition by which later ecumenical councils read papal letters out loud as definitive condemnations of heresy, and saluted them afterwards.

We do not know that the above-linked papal letter was read at the First Ecumenical Council, because the Acts of the Council have not been preserved or rediscovered yet. But St. Athanasius, who was at the Council, placed significant weight on the pope’s letter in his summary of the decrees of the First Ecumenical Council (De Decretis Nicaenae Synodi Chapter 6) as well as in De Synodis Part 3 Paragraph 45, where he stresses that the Roman bishop first made use of the word “coessential” (Homoousious) to condemn the ideas of Arius, a century before the First Ecumenical Council.

There is also evidence that the papal legates presided over the council in the pope’s name. For example, it appears that the first three people to sign the Council’s definition of faith were the papal legates, Hosius, Vito, and Vincentius.

Are there any heresies where the pope played a considerable role in settling? Are there any heresies or disputes between the Chair of Peter and, say, another Apostolic See?

Before Arius, the error of Sebellianism held that Jesus and the Father were one person. The third-century pope St. Dionysius wrote a letter (linked earlier, and here) which seems to have been instrumental in condemning that heresy. Sebellianism was not defended by any of the 5 Patriarchs, not to my knowledge.

Before Sebellianism, the second-century pope St. Victor excommunicated the heretic Theodotus for saying that Jesus was only a man and not God. Again, he was not one of the 5 Partiarchs, but he was another precursor of Arius’s ideas, except that Arius said that Jesus wasn’t merely human, but was a superior creature, similar to an angel, but higher – and still not God. You can read about Pope Victor’s excommunication of Theodotus in Eusebius’ Church History Book 5 Chapter 28 Paragraph 6.

There are examples of popes fighting heresies that were held by some of the 5 Patriarchs, though. Nestorianism was a heresy first stated by the Archbishop of Constantinople, and the pope wrote a letter ordering him to recant his heresy or St. Cyril will depose him from the see of Constantionple in the name of the pope. St. Cyril then wrote to Nestorius: “[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

I love that example because both of those letters were read into the Acts of the Council of Ephesus, and the Council applauded them. I think this shows that the Council accepted the right of the pope to depose another Patriarch. The Council also relied on the pope’s writings for the confirmation of the faith: “The Apostolic and holy see of the most holy bishop Celestine, has previously given a decision and type in this matter, through the writings which were sent to the most God-beloved bishops… This we have also followed and…we carried into effect the type, having pronounced against [Nestorius] a canonical and judgment.” source

“Compelled…by the canons and by the letter of our most holy father and fellow-servant Celestine, the Roman bishop, we have come, with many tears, to this sorrowful sentence against [Nestorius], namely, that our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has blasphemed, decrees by the holy Synod that Nestorius be excluded from the episcopal dignity, and from all priestly communion.” source

When the pope’s letter was read at the Council, the bishops cried out: “This is a just judgment. To Celestine, a new Paul! To Cyril a new Paul! To Celestine the guardian of the faith! To Celestine of one mind with the synod! To Celestine the whole Synod offers its thanks! One Celestine! One Cyril! One faith of the Synod! One faith of the world!” source

Cont’d next post.*

Cont’d from last post.

The same thing happened with the heresy of Monophysitism. It was started by Eutyches, another Patriarch of Constantinople, and he was condemned by Pope Leo. Pope Leo’s letter against Monophysitism was read at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which then acclaimed it: “This is the faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo. So taught the Apostles. Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught [Saint] Cyril [of Alexandria]. Everlasting be the memory of Cyril. Leo and Cyril taught the same thing, anathema to him who does not so believe. This is the true faith. Those of us who are orthodox thus believe. This is the faith of the fathers.”

The same thing happened again with the heresy of Monothelitism, which was defended by the patriarch of Constantinople Heraclius. Pope St. Agatho wrote a letter condemning the doctrine, which was then solemnly accepted by the other bishops at the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

The same thing happened with the heresy of Iconoclasm, except it was defended by the Eastern Emperor rather than a partriarch. Again, the heresy was condemned by a papal letter, which was then accepted at the Seventh Ecumenical Council: “Wherefore Hadrian, the ruler of Old Rome, since he was a sharer of these things, thus borne witness to, wrote [to the emperor]…confirming admirably and beautifully the ancient tradition of the Catholic Church… so [we] have confessed, so [we] do confess, and [we] so will confess… And the holy Synod said: The whole holy Synod thus teaches.”

I hope these examples are helpful. Read more at these links:

Universal Papal Jurisdiction in the First Seven Ecumenical Councils

Papal Infallibility in the First Seven Ecumenical Councils

Eutyches was not a bishop.

I am very surprised to learn that. For quite some time, I thought I knew he was a bishop, a patriarch even. But I just checked the Catholic Encyclopedia, and it says he was just a priest and abbot. :shrug: Thanks for the correction.

I think I figured out the source of my mistake: I mixed Eutyches up with Dioscorus, the patriarch of Alexandria, who was deposed by Pope Leo. The Fourth Ecumenical Council made a big point out of the fact that Pope Leo deposed Dioscorus, by the way, which is another indication that the early Church accepted the right of the pope to depose heretics.

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