Low Petrine position – Low Petrine advocates don’t have a leg to stand on as far as Pope Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians is concerned. The example utterly refutes their error that a head bishop has no juridical authority in dioceses outside his own local diocese. The best they can do is mitigate the matter by claiming that the Church of Corinth was within the proper ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome because it was within the political jurisdiction of the civil power (in other words, his juridical authority did not extend universally, but only as far as the jurisdiction of the Roman civil power extended). There are several errors in that thinking. First of all, the marriage of Church and State did not occur until the time of Constantine. To think that ecclesiastical jurisdiction was tied to or bounded by civil jurisdiction at the time of this letter is a gross anachronism (and they pretend Catholics are the ones who try to read things back into history! Oh, the hypocrisy!). Secondly, even if Corinth was within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome, it was nevertheless outside the boundaries of the local Roman Church. Whatever else may be said of the extent of the Roman bishop’s juridical authority, it is certain that from the beginning, it was recognized to extend beyond his local diocese, and beyond the suburbican centers of Rome (contrary to non-Catholic interpreters of the Nicene Canons).
The High Petrine position – A head bishop’s intervention into and juridical authority in the affairs of a local Church is normatively exercised only by appeal, as the situation of this Letter proves. Though it is merely appellate juridical authority (in opposition to the Absolutist Petrine view), it is juridical authority nonetheless (in opposition to the Low Petrine view). Unlike the Absolutist Petrine view, the High Petrine position would focus more on the fact that another “particular Church” appealed to the bishop of Rome, rather than the fact of his intervention. Further, that the letter was sent in the name of the Church of Rome, instead of the bishop himself, demonstrates the collegial nature of formal acts of the bishop of Rome in the early Church.
POPE ST. VICTOR
Absolutist Petrine position – Pope Victor excommunicated the Churches of Asia on a disciplinary matter, which demonstrated his absolute, unilateral, and universal authority over the Church.
Low Petrine position – Pope Victor did not have absolute, unilateral, universal authority because he was corrected by his fellow bishops.
The High Petrine position – The episode demonstrated the universal authority of the bishop of Rome. Indeed, according to the ancient Apostolic Canon 34, on matters of great import (and a matter involving the entire Church certainly fits the bill), the head is always intimately involved. Low Petrine advocates don’t realize that it was Pope St. Victor who called all the Churches to universal action by directing them to hold local synods on the issue of the date of Easter in the first place. But this universal authority was not absolute, and rather mitigated by collegiality. Indeed, the Pope was corrected, and accepted correction, for trying to excommunicate the Asian Churches. Another thing that Absolutist Petrine advocates don’t seem to realize is that the determination of the date of Easter was not a unilateral decision of the Pope, but was already the Tradition of many Churches aside from Rome (e.g., Alexandria, Caesarea, Palestine, etc.). Further, neither was the decision of the Pope to excommunicate a purely unilateral decision. A letter of the Churches (who held to the same date of Easter as Rome) to Pope Victor (recorded by Eusebius) contained some strong derisive words against those who held to a different date of Easter. I believe Pope Victor would not have felt he could excommunicate the Asian Churches unless he had some indication that he might be supported by his fellow bishops. Though debate was open on the matter, breaking communion was not considered an option by the Churches, and the bishop of Rome was duly corrected.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Even High Petrine advocates will sometimes say that the bishop of Rome as head bishop of the Church universal does not have “universal jurisdiction.” But this must be taken in a different sense from when a Low Petrine advocate states the same thing. The Low Petrine view asserts that any bishop, no matter what rank, ONLY has proper jurisdiction in (1) his own local diocese. The Absolutist Petrine view asserts that the Pope has proper jurisdiction in (1) his own local diocese, (2) in every other local diocese, (3) in what pertains to the Church universal. In distinction from these, the High Petrine view asserts that the Pope has proper jurisdiction in (1) his own local diocese, and (2) in what pertains to the Church universal (according to the principle of Apostolic Canon 34). So the High Petrine view would agree with the Low Petrine view that the Pope does not have universal jurisdiction ONLY in the sense that he does not have proper jurisdiction in every local diocese. But the High Petrine view (unlike the Low Petrine view) recognizes that a head bishop has proper jurisdiction in what pertains to his entire ordinary jurisdiction (i.e., a Metropolitan has proper jurisdiction in what pertains to the entire metropolitan Church, not just his own local diocese; a Patriarch has proper jurisdiction in what pertains to the entire patriarchal Church, not just his own local diocese; the Pope of Rome has proper jurisdiction in what pertains to the universal Church, not just his own local diocese).