Pope St. Callistus I and "binding and loosing"

Was Pope St. Callistus I the first to claim that a decision (in his case, the re-admittance of penitent fornicators and adulterers) was based on the power of binding and loosing given to Peter? Was he the first to claim this authority?

Tertullian and St. Hippolytus opposed Callistus. Tertullian seems to be of the opinion that the power of binding and loosing was given only to Peter personally (Catholic Encyclopedia).

I’m inclined to refer to St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, but Clement doesn’t appear to specifically make a claim for his authority.

What am I missing? How can I respond to this question?

The power of binding and loosing, along with Apostolic Succession, are not dependent upon what Tertullian thought. They are Biblical doctrines given by Christ, and Scripture shows no trace of an expiration date on what Christ established.

Perhaps the earliest papal document which discusses papal authority is the Adversus Aleatores, which is principally about gamblers. (The name means “Against Dice-throwers.”) Jean Danielou argues that it was written around the time of the Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 170), probably before that, or possibly by Pope St. Victor I, who reigned from ~189-199 A.D.

Anyway, this very early papal document claims the authority you mention:

“The fatherly goodness of God has bestowed on us the authority of the Apostolate; of His heavenly mercy He has ordained that we should occupy the chair by which we represent the Lord [Latin vicariam Domini]; through our predecessor we have as ours that source of the true apostolate on which Christ founded His Church, and we have received authority to bind and loose, and with due regard to reason forgive sins. And on these very grounds we are warned by the doctrine of salvation to take heed, lest if we constantly overlook the faults of sinners we suffer with them a like penalty.” (Adversus Aleatores Chapter 1)

Assuming that Jean Danielou’s attribution is accurate, that makes this document decades older than the pontificate of Pope St. Callistus.

Great, thanks. Great information. I agree, ahs, that there’s no expiration. I wonder if there are other early writings, maybe that aren’t a Pope claiming the authority, but that otherwise discuss or mention it.

Part of the objection I am hearing is that Callistus was ~150 years after Peter, so why didn’t anyone prior to him make the claim of this authority?

“There is no historical proof of that thought between the times of Peter and Callistus. That would be the same as us in 2015 making claims on something that happened in 1865 when there is no written record of it.”

Even Adversus Aleatores isn’t that much older, so it’s hard for me to defend the passing down of the authority using that.

Peter died in 67 A.D. Adversus Aleatores seems to have been written between 165 (if we take the “before the Muratorian Fragment” view and if we accept a date for the Muratorian Fragment of 170 A.D.) and 199 A.D. (if we take the “Pope Victor wrote it” view), or later if Jean Danielou and Harnack are wrong (which they could be).

That means between St. Peter and Adversus Aleatores there are likely between 98 and 132 years. For this time period, that’s very close.

It is important to point out that Adversus Aleatores was sent out to many bishops – it was an encyclical. If it had taught something they didn’t believe in, we could expect backlash.

Also, the analogy you gave involving 1865 and 2015 is not very good. Between those two dates there are many writings preserved. Unsupported claims can be detected by examining primary documents. The historical record between 67 and 199 is not well documented by primary documents, and historians rely on other methods. We cannot expect lots of primary documents from this period on the attitudes of popes and others regarding any issue.

Great, thank you.

I’m not sure that they’ll find this convincing by itself, but it helps me add to the context. I may have to go a slightly different route, e.g., look at other sources that exhibit papal authority even if they don’t explicitly claim it. For example, Clement’s letter to the Corinthians is, I think, a good demonstration of authority - and that early Christians acknowledged it - even if he doesn’t come right out and say, “You must listen to me because I have the power of binding and loosing.”

Yes, Clement’s letter is a good example. It might not say “because I have the power of binding and loosing” but it does say “you must listen to me”: “If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by [God] through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger.” source

There’s also this comment from St. Irenaeus, a bishop in France in 180 A.D.: “[We indicate] that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome… For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” source

This article from Catholic Answers: catholic.com/tracts/the-authority-of-the-pope-part-i cites 7 incidents and writings before 200 A.D. that indicate papal authority, not including Biblical references. If we add Adversus Aleatores, that seems to make 8.


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