Polycarp Had God As His Own Bishop?

In the Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp, Ignatius says that Polycarp has God as his own bishop. Why does Polycarp not have the Bishop of Rome as his bishop? I know Orthodox use this to support their counter-claim that Papal Primacy - as Catholics believe it - is wrong. Thoughts?

“Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnæans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: [wishes] abundance of happiness.”

  1. Because the Bishop of Rome is not the Bishop of the Bishop of Smyrna;
  2. Ignatius is speaking spiritually, not administratively;
  3. The translation you are using makes it difficult to understand the intent: try this on for size:

“IGNATIUS, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, bishop of the church which is at Smyrna; their overseer, but rather himself overlooked by God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: all happiness.”

Ignatius and Polycarp were each bishops, and as such, responsible directly to God. Second Century Eastern bishops would have recognized the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, but would not have looked to him as an administrative leader.

Well, we can find evidence that appeals were made to the Church in Rome to settle disputes within other sees. Perhaps the earliest example is the appeal made by Corinth to Rome regarding a crisis in their Church over the removal of priests from their position. Anyway, I won’t argue the extent of these appeals, but there were some, at least.

. . . and as Paul said, that was an administrative, not spiritual, matter.

This a common misconception. Many Catholics *wrongly * perceive the Pope of Rome as the one superbishop with all the other bishops of world as his assistants or deputies. This is heresy and completely at odds with the Fathers. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council settled this issue in light of misunderstandings of the teachings of the First Vatican Council. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

894 “The bishops, as vicars and legates of Christ, govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations, and example, but over and above that also by the authority and sacred power” which indeed they ought to exercise so as to edify, in the spirit of service which is that of their Master.

895 “The power which they exercise personally in the name of Christ, is proper, ordinary, and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church.” But the bishops should not be thought of as vicars of the Pope. His ordinary and immediate authority over the whole Church does not annul, but on the contrary confirms and defends that of the bishops. Their authority must be exercised in communion with the whole Church under the guidance of the Pope.

As a Canadian, I often use the analogy of the Canadian federation style of government. The federal government in Ottawa has jurisdiction over the entire country and the authority exercised by the Prime Minister / Ministry flows directly from the Crown via the Governor General (the Queen’s viceroy, or vicar if you will, for Canada). The premiers leading the 10 provincial governments likewise exercise authority received directly from the Crown via the Lieutenant Governors (the Queen’s viceroys in each individual province). The Provincial Governments may have a more limited scope of governance, but their authority still comes directly from the Crown and is not delegated at the whim of the federal government.

14th Commission for Dialog between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has confirmed that there was no papal universal jurisdiction and authority in the pre-schism Church.

Appeals were made to Archbishop of Constantinople too.

Yes they were, but I don’t think anyone disputes that Rome had universal primacy over and above Constantinople’s Eastern primacy. Too many Fathers, including Patriarchs of Constantinople, attest to it. The dispute is over what that primacy entailed and what it means for the modern Church.

But the question is also over whether AD 1054 is modern! :rolleyes:

Could you link to definite confirmation of that? I understand primacy was discussed but haven’t seen anything as definitive as what you say.

I meant more how primacy *should * function in the modern Church - especially in the event of a reunion between the Catholic Church and the Eastern and/or Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Orthodox Patriarchates never denied the primacy of honor of the Rome’s bishop. Ecumenical Councils have established the order of honor in the Church - Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, later Moscow joined as 6th (5th).


Rome has always professed that her primacy is part of the divine constitution of the Church - not the mere administrative decision of a council:

“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]).


Of course, there is still a question of what that primacy entails… but it is not a modern Western notion that the primacy is of apostolic origin.

Year 382, long after emperor and everything moved to Constantinople, then Rome started claiming st. Peter’s authority more and more, because they back then felt threatened by the Church of Constantinople.
The glory and size of the cities gave primacy to Churches, not Apostolic Succession, Antioch is the first Church and was found by Peter and Paul before Rome, and yet, they were 4th, because Antioch was 4th biggest city in the Empire, Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria were bigger cities, even Jerusalem, where our Lord lived, died and has resurrected was only 5th, because Jerusalem was smaller than all these 4 cities. Constantinople simply took 2nd place because it became at first 2nd biggest city in the empire.
Then Rome started appealing on tombs of Peter and Paul more and more and that is how Rome saved it’s primacy. Then Church developed this Apostle sees romance, because Empire started to shrink and reduce anyway and has started losing these cities to barbarians, one by one.

Rome was the capitol of what was essentially a new Babylon. It’s conversion was incredibly symbolic. The idea that primacy has anything to do with secular power and governance, and that it should shift with secular power, is rather absurd. Is it absurd that Rome would be more vocal about primacy when the issue starts coming to a head and people start questioning it? If it is true, saying that Rome became more vocal about it after people started to look more towards Constantinople is not proof against it.

You are wrong if you don’t know and accept how important role secular powers played in the history of the Church, just look at Ecumenical Councils, all organized by the emperor.

That the emperor could call on the Church for a council is one thing. That the emperor has authority over the Church or that his seat of power is how we determine primacy is something else.

I mean, should the Bishop of Washington DC be given primacy? Or some other see of whichever nation we want to consider most powerful? I see that you linked to a Russian Orthodox site, is it Russia’s old claim on still being the rightful continuation of the Roman government that is at play here? Certainly Constantinople’s claim on being the seat of continuous Roman power seems exhausted now.

It just seems better to argue no primacy than to argue primacy based on regional secular power, which is bound to create more divisions and politics rather than union.

I only explained how things developed, first it was the size of the cities more important, then in 4th century churches started using Apostle See argument.

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