Papal authority vis a vis an Ecumenical Council

[Moderator Note: The comment on papal authority in an ecumenical council was sufficiently off-topic to create this new thread from them. Please [URL=“”]see here for the original discussion.]

Dear brother in Christ Anthony,

For the benefit of those of us who are ignorant about the Roman Catholic church and it’s inner workings, could you please post formal documentary evidence of the authority of a bishop of Rome to unilaterally intervene in another Sui Iuris church?

BTW, what is your position on the Papal authority vis a vis an Ecumenical Council?

Thank you,

in the modern Catholic church, it’s in the codes of canon law, both western and eastern, that the pope can suspend, install, or restore episcopal dignity.

As to the situation with a council (general or otherwise): my understanding and belief is that, once called, all are bound by the council until clarified by another council.

In calling a council, the pope KNOWS that he’s placing the church into the hands of the council. He can set the agenda, break the ties, run the discussions… but at the end of the day, in council, he’s just one vote, plus a tiebreaker.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Hello Aramis,

Thank you for that.

Could you or someone else here list the Canons that are applicable?

Is it not the case that afterward the Pope must accept the Council for it to be valid?

Also, following along those sames line, haven’t there been cases where a Pope has accepted some parts of a Council, but not others, and that these today are not considered ecumenical, or valid? I am thinking of the Council of Basle in particular here, where entire sessions have been rejected by a Pope, there may be others. It seems on the surface to be a contradiction.

What about Canon 28 of Chalcedon? If the entire Council voted on it, and it passed without a tie, what right does the bishop of Rome have to nullify it? Also where in the canons is that authority formally specified?

I am just looking for clarity here…I am interested in the precise nature of the relationship through authority between the bishop of Rome and other Particular Churches, and their bishops…thank you :slight_smile:


Sozomen, Church History, Book 3. A.D. 450 :

  1. Athanasius, escaping from Alexandria, came to Rome. Paul, bishop of Constantinople, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Asclepas of Gaza went there at the same time. Asclepas, who was opposed to the Arians, had been accused by them of having thrown down an altar, and Quintian had been appointed in his place. Lucius, bishop of Adrianople, who had been deposed from his office on another charge, was also staying in Rome. The Roman bishop, on learning the accusation against each one, and finding that they were all like-minded about the doctrine of the council of Nicaea, admitted them to communion as of like orthodoxy. And alleging that the care for all belongs to him, because of the dignity of his see, he restored each to his own church. …
    10…Julius, learning that Athanasius was not safe in Egypt, called him back to himself. He replied at the same time to the letter of the bishops who were convened at Antioch, for just then he happened to have received it, and he accused them of having secretly introduced innovations contrary to the dogmas of the Nicene council, and of having violated the laws of the Church by not calling him to the synod. For there is a priestly law, making void whatever is effected against the mind of the bishop of Rome.

Pope Gregory the Great:


…Now you requested through Hilarus our chartulary, from our predecessor of blessed memory, that you might retain all the customs of past time, which, from the beginnings of the ordinances of the blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, long antiquity has so far retained. And we, indeed, according to the tenour of your representation, allow your custom (so long as it clearly makes no claim to the prejudice of the catholic faith) to remain undisturbed, whether as to constituting primates or as to other points; save that with respect to those who attain to the episcopate from among the Donatists, we by all means forbid them to be advanced to the dignity of primacy, even though their standing should denote them for that position.

To JOHN, BISHOP (bishop of Prima Justiniana)

…If, then, these things which have been brought before us have the rampart of truth, inasmuch as we consider that, taking advantage of your vicariate jurisdiction under us, you are presuming unjustly, we will, with the help of Christ, decree further concerning these things, according to the result of our deliberations. But as regards the present, by the authority of the blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, we decree that, the decrees of thy judgment being first annulled and made of none effect, thou be deprived of holy communion for the space of thirty days, so as to implore pardon of our God for so great transgression with the utmost penitence and tears. But, if we should come to know that thou hast been remiss in carrying out this our sentence, know thou that not the injustice only, but also the contumacy, of thy Fraternity will have to be more severely punished. But, as to our aforesaid brother and fellow-bishop Adrian, condemned by thy sentence, which, as we have said, was consistent with neither canons nor laws, we order that he be restored,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Hi Anthony,

Thanks for that, but I was hoping that you would point out the early canons. Any help you can provide is appreciated.


Pastor Aeternus:

Chapter 3:
2. Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.

  1. Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful [52], and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment [53]. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon [54]. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.

  2. So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.

Yes it is the case.

Canon 54 - §1. Decrees of an ecumenical council do not have obligatory force unless they are approved by the Roman Pontiff together with the fathers of the council and are confirmed by the Roman Pontiff and promulgated at his order.
§2. When the college of bishops takes collegial action in another manner, initiated or freely accepted by the Roman Pontiff, in order for its decrees to have binding force, they need this same confirmation and promulgation. 1990 CODE OF CANONS OF ORIENTAL CHURCHES.

Also, following along those sames line, haven’t there been cases where a Pope has accepted some parts of a Council, but not others, and that these today are not considered ecumenical, or valid? I am thinking of the Council of Basle in particular here, where entire sessions have been rejected by a Pope, there may be others. It seems on the surface to be a contradiction.

What about Canon 28 of Chalcedon? If the entire Council voted on it, and it passed without a tie, what right does the bishop of Rome have to nullify it? Also where in the canons is that authority formally specified?

I’m not sure about the council of Florence, but Canon 28 of Chalcedon was rejected by the Roman legates at the council and then subsequently by Pope Leo. One problem is that the entire council didn’t approve it. The legates on behalf of the Pope rejected it.

I’m not sure about the second part of the question. Are you asking for something explicit and earlier than Chalcedon (451 A.D.) to support the Pope’s authority to do this, or are you looking for the part from the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches? If it is the latter, I’ve provided that above.

I think Hexychios is looking for canons from early councils that give the pope this authority. The Eastern Orthodox don’t see canons as being written by any group of people as Rome does, the canons are the result of councils. The canons of the Oriental Churches were simply written by a bunch of people in Rome.

Where do they claim the councils got their authority. I don’t recall Jesus saying you are a council and on you I will build my Church.

Also Jesus was only talking to Peter so of course that statement wouldn’t have been. He didn’t say you are infallible either. If it was all about Peter then you would have never had Paul rebuking Peter. If it was only Peter who had authority then the other apostles wouldn’t have been given the authority to bind and loose.

The early church did not consider the pope to be beyond the council otherwise there would have been no such thing as a pope being condemned by an ecumenical council.

But Jimmy is right in interpreting what I ask.

I am looking for early canons that outline the responsibilities and prerogatives of the bishop of Rome. There are canons for all manner of other discipline in the church.

There are canons addressing the papal prerogatives and responsibilities in the modern code somewhere I take it, which canons are they and when were they originally composed…are these carried over from antiquity?

Thank you,

Not necessarily earlier than Chalcedon.

I would just like the earliest possible…500 years ago? 700 years?

I understand the Latin Code has been rewritten and recompiled more than once. Some of the canons listed must be very old. How old are the canons delineating the authority of the bishop of Rome? Does anyone know?


Some things aren’t spelled out in the canons. What canons gave Pope St. Agapetus the authority to depose a Patriarch (for heresy) and Constantinple and subsequently appoint a new one? None that I know of, yet the pope did it anyway…and the East doesn’t appear to have a problem with this. As Pope St. Damasus said:

“Likewise it is decreed . . . that it ought to be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it” (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]).

There should be canons that explain how it is exercised though. The EO do not deny that the see of Rome was first but they understand this differently than the west does. I believe Nicea recognizes the primacy of Rome. What coulcils mention the other aspects of the papacy?

This might be slightly off-topic, but from the accounts that I have read (Old Catholic Encyclopedia) It seems that Pope Agepetus happened to be in Constantinople on other business (specifically, an embassy on behalf of the OstroGoth king of Italy, an Arian in fact), and he acted more like a prosecutor, not a judge of the patriarch. From the accounts it seems that he had to rely on his powers of persuasion.

The incident is open to a lot of different interpretations, and is not really confirming what I am looking for. In fact, it could be seen as reinforcing another viewpoint, that there are natural limits to Papal power.

If I told you such and such a person was the mayor of London in 1607. We could project back from today and imagine his powers and responsibilities from what the current current mayor has and does, but does that really explain what the mayor in 1770 did, or could do? We might learn a lot from uncovering the laws establishing his post. We might learn what was expected of him, and what was not.

We could also see where he exceeded his authority, and where he failed to live up to his responsibilities. But to take the standards of 2008 and simply project back on another era could be very misleading.


Try Matthew 16:18. What part of*, when Jesus Christ said, **“whatever you[PETER] bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” *is unclear?

Are there early canons detailing Papal authority?

Up until now I have been keenly interested in how this relates to the Ecumenical Council. It appears that the nature of these councils, and how they are run and called has changed over time. Shouldn’t there be canons explaining these changes?


Hi Hail,

Are there early church canons detailing the connection between this assignment to Peter and the bishop of Rome?

In other words, what is to prevent this mandate to being interpreted as belonging to every priest or bishop? Does Nicea mention it?

In Christ,

Hi He,
If you continue reading He grants this authority later to all of those who would become Bishops, but does not grant them the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, a sign of the Prime Minister from Isaiah. Peter’s name is always mentioned first and is the leader of the Apostles. Christ,** the Good Shepard**, at the end of the Gospel of John, gives Peter alone the task of “feeding” and “tending” the in a very special way: He has delegated the task of the Shepard to Peter. You have to recognize that Christ specifically singled out Peter when He granted authority and specifically charged Peter with the task of Sheparding in a unique way in John 21 to be convinced of the reality of the Papacy.

One does not need some magical document to see the distinction that Christ is trying to make between Peter and the rest of the Bishops: all you need to do is find its seed in Scripture and Tradition and because the Catholic Church is a living Church, developments are revealed which illuminate the Pope role in the Church, as well as the rest of the Bishops.
I’m sure your familiar with all those ECFs and what they have said about the Papacy and the Church so I don’t see what a little apolgetics on the Pope will do for you because they speak with much more authority than I do.

The pope has the veto power on all the decisions of a council.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit