How To Respond To This Orthodox Argument About the Early Church

So I had this dropped on me today:

The simple fact is, that the Early Church - including the Early Church of Rome - never considered the Church to be a single corporate body united under the supreme and at times infallible authority of the Bishop of Rome. There’s simply insufficient evidence that this was a widespread belief before the 6th - 8th centuries. If there was, we’d have hundreds, if not thousands of patristic testimonies regarding this belief. Instead, we have the same couple-dozen selected excerpts that Catholics keep referencing every single time this argument comes up. This would not have been a minor doctrinal issue to be paved over - it would have been something that defined the Church at its very core and most basic level. And yet, no one can find any more than a couple dozen examples dating from before the 6th - 8th centuries. There’s a historical gap before then that simply can’t be even partially filled by the current examples Catholics are bringing up. It would simply take more than a couple-dozen testimonies to establish that this was a widespread belief in the Church - including in the Church of Rome - up until then. Like I said before, we’d have hundreds if not thousands of testimonies. And those just don’t exist. What we DO find, in hundreds if not thousands of testimonies, is that the Church was a locally-corporate Church, united in faith and doctrine, but with no bishop having direct authority over any other bishop. Which is the exact structure of the Orthodox Church today. What’s more, invoking the Council of Nicaea shows even more ignorance, because if it was a ranking of authority rather than honor you’d think that it would be clearly stated. And yet, no where in the records of the council is such a thing ever stated or even implied. Actually, we see the exact opposite - the Pope being regarded as the first AMONGST EQUALS. What would be the point of including these two words if not to specifically refute an argument about it being a ranking of authority? And if it was, what happened to the other four Church’s? Why didn’t Constantinople become second in command, Alexandria and Antioch third, and Jerusalem fourth? If they had such rightful authority granted to them by the council, they wouldn’t have given it up easily. And yet, they never claimed such authority, and specifically denied having such authority when the Church of Rome arrogantly invented the doctrine of its supremacy.

How exactly would one respond to this?

The Council of Constantinople 381

Canon III


The bishop of Constantinople is to be honoured next after the bishop of 



The Church of Christ may be easily recognised by all those who will look for her marks. She and she alone is One ; she and she alone is truly Catholic. In fact this is her name Catholica. She alone is Apostolic Apos tolic for this reason, that all over the world ( ubique )her children are in communion with the Cathedra Petri* the See of that Apostle to whom alone the Lord promised the keys of the kingdom of Heaven - the See against which to contend is sacrilege.
…We must now mention its Adornments, and see where are its five Endowments , amongst which the CATHEDRA is the first ; You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra? on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles might claim each for himself separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner.


If you use Cannon III they will throw it back as a forgery guaranteed.

Why? It doesn’t give the bishop of Rome authority over any other bishop, so why do you think we would consider this a forgery?

That’s not quite an accurate translation of Canon III.

The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.

Canon III simply states that the Pope has an honorary primacy. From what I understand, the Orthodox do not dispute this, they simply differentiate between it and a primacy of actual authority.

Become Orthodox :wink:

Read that and get some understanding from their perspective Cannon III was a big deal in their eyes.

Of course we would disagree :smiley:

If the Church was always just a bunch of disorganized churches, how come the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Emperor in Constantinople were always throwing their weight around to get bishops expelled or exiled, or new bishops installed who were to their liking? Why were they always trying to meddle with bishops outside the Empire (like in Persia) who had opinions that weren’t orthodox?

I mean, if all the churches always did their own thing, who cared what the Nestorians wanted to do, or the Arians, or the Monophysites? Surely they all had authority to think up their own theologies, or to separate off into different churches some more.

And yet… that’s not what we see. The Arians worked hard to get rid of non-Arians, the Monophysites and Nestorians did much the same, and people of orthodox theology were also pushing for a single church. Local churches were always getting meddled with by patriarchs, patriarchs were meddling with each other, Constantinople’s Emperor tried to be the boss and bishop appointer of the entire world, Constantinople’s Ecumenical Patriarch messed with everybody, and Rome was always having to step in to fix things.

Considering that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is still trying to keep the entire Orthodox world on his string by being the only certified Orthodox maker of chrism anywhere, and considering the “Moscow is the Third Rome, and we should ignore both the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch” theory of the weirder Russian Orthodox, I basically laugh hollowly at anything said by the Orthodox about Rome being grabby.

No proof, because it was a given, a known fact. According to orthodoxwiki, the title ‘Pope’ was not used until 232 when the 13th Bishop of Alexandria used it. John I Bishop of Rome used it 523-526. The Orthodox acknowledge Gregory the Great was Pope of Rome:
But they have changed his name historically as Gregory the Dialogist. They emphasize their own titles and change things to suit their own. The Orthodox I have been around are mostly anti-Catholic ex-protestants or angry ex-Catholics, they are the ones that keep fueling the arguments. The old-country, cradle Orthodox I know are not like that. We are not at war with each other.

Well, I tried the Canon III argument anyways to see if it would work, and just got sent this in reply:

And take a look at Canon II, immediately preceding it:
The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; but let the Bishop of Alexandria, according to the canons, alone administer the affairs of Egypt; and let the bishops of the East manage the East alone, the privileges of the Church in Antioch, which are mentioned in the canons of Nice, being preserved; and let the bishops of the Asian Diocese administer the Asian affairs only; and the Pontic bishops only Pontic matters; and the Thracian bishops only Thracian affairs. And let not bishops go beyond their dioceses for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited. And the aforesaid canon concerning dioceses being observed, it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province as was decreed at Nice. But the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers.

How should I respond?

Others more scholarly than I would have better answers. However, to me, the argument you posted is extremely weak. They complain that there aren’t massive numbers of references in the early days to Papal authority. Things that are well accepted usually don’t elicit massive references. How many writers assert, anymore, that concrete makes good roads? It’s just a given, so nobody does.

The better question is why aren’t there massive writings in opposition to the proposition if it was contrary to what most believed?

Two questions:

If the Bishop of Rome was not special, then why the following:

  1. Why was Pope Clement writing Epistles to the Corinthians?

  2. Why is the See of Rome, which is a Metropolitan See not titled an Archdiocese?

There is obviously something different

He is rather testy. He is trying to get you to deny the headship of the Pope over all the bishops. Look closely at the Orthodox Church. Here in the US there is an unusual uncanonical situation where every patriarch (head Bishop) has his hands in. I’ve met Greek Orthodox, OCA, ROCOR, Antiochian, they are all suspicious of each other. An OCA deacon told me not to trust a ROCOR priest because they just recently attained canonical status. Historically ROCOR and OCA fought over the same territory/people. Who is keeping these squabbles in check. No one. Sad.

I find this approach very weak, as it can justify anything.

For example, in ancient times the early church fathers predicted my presence and said that I should lead the church in 2015. It was never written down or referenced because it was widely accepted and everyone knew the prophecy, so there was no need to rehash it.

Does that convince you in any way? :smiley:

He says the evidence until the 5th century brought up for our case doesn’t count, then provides no evidence of his claims only saying there’s tons of it. Ok.

Then he concedes the evidence for our position is stronger in the 6th to 8th centuries. Ok. Was the Church corrupted at this time or something? Why does that also not count?

Notice how canon II doesn’t even address Rome or Constantinople, but rather Alexandria and Antioch (and some other more minor places). Canon III does address their status. It seems clear they were being treated separately.

Just to add, if “honor” just got a deeper bow or a special hat or seat at a table, but no real authority, Constantinople would not have tried for centuries to get more and more of it.

This is true. So what?

I don’t know why Catholics (both Latin and Orthodox) feel that it’s important that universal jurisdiction and infallibility were clearly understood (or not understood) in the Apostolic era.

The fact is, ALL DOCTRINE DEVELOPS. It always has. It is *STILL *developing. The Papacy is no different. The Church’s understanding of the Papacy developed over many centuries (and it is still developing). So what? That’s how doctrine works.

Why do people agree that doctrine regarding the nature of Christ, the Eucharist, Baptism, etc can develop, but somehow the very early Church is expected to have a fully formed understanding of the Papacy, or else it is totally spurious?

I don’t understand why you suggested we would claim canon III to be a forgery then. You claim one thing and then present evidence of the complete opposite :rolleyes:

Development of Doctrine as defined by the Catholic Church is rejected by the Orthodox Church.

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