Rome Supremacy vs Registrum Epistolarum (Gregory the Great)


I’m digging early fathers’ writing to prove that Rome Supremacy is an old orthodox faith, conserved from the beginning of the church until now.
But I just found Pope Gregory the Great’s writing stating otherwise, which (in my understanding) saying that there were 3 Sees which were One, i.e. as One all Sees hold supremacy.

Registrum Epistolarum - Book VII, Letter 40

Gregory to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria.

… … … Wherefore though there are many apostles, yet with regard to the principality itself the See of the Prince of the apostles alone has grown strong in authority, which in three places is the See of one. For he himself exalted the See in which he deigned even to rest and end the present life. He himself adorned the See to which he sent his disciple as evangelist. He himself established the See in which, though he was to leave it, he sat for seven years. Since then it is the See of one, and one See, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside, whatever good I hear of you, this I impute to myself… … …

In my understanding:
For he himself exalted the See in which he deigned even to rest and end the present life. --> The See in Rome[/LIST]
*]*He himself adorned the See to which he sent his disciple as evangelist. *—> The See in Alexandria
*]*He himself established the See in which, though he was to leave it, he sat for seven years. *–> The See in Antioch

*]*Since then it is the See of one, and one See, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside *–> This last sentence, doesn’t it mean that the three bishops from these three Sees, as one, they hold the same authority from “Peter’s Chair”? Then the Rome Supremacy will not be solely rest on the hands of Rome bishop?

Can anyone please help me to understand this and help me to prove that Rome Supremacy is as defined by the Vatican Council?

I would suggest reading the fathers for growth rather than quote mining. That way you gain a greater sense of the spirit of the fathers. That is only my suggestion though.

QUESTION: Is it true that Pope Gregory I denied that the pope is the “universal bishop” and taught that the Bishop of Rome has no authority over any other bishop?

ANSWER: No. Gregory the Great (540 - 604), saint, pope, and doctor of the Church, never taught any such thing. He would have denied that the title “universal bishop” could be applied to anyone, himself included, if by that term one meant there was only one bishop for the whole world and that all other “bishops” were bishops in name only, with no real authority of their own. Such a distorted version of the biblical model of bishops is incompatible with Catholic teaching.

But that isn’t to say that the title didn’t – and doesn’t – have a proper sense of which Gregory approved. If meant in the sense that the Bishop of Rome is the leader of all the bishops, the title is correct. If it means he is the only bishop and all the other “bishops” are not really successors to the apostles, it’s false.

What Gregory condemned was the expropriation of the title Universal Bishop by Bishop John the Faster, the patriarch of Constantinople, who proclaimed himself Universal Bishop at the Synod of Constantinople in 588. Gregory condemned the patriarch’s act because universal jurisdiction applies solely to the pope.

Some anti-Catholics cite the following quotations to give the false impression that Gregory was rejecting his own universal authority:

“I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of the Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others” (Epistles 7:33).

“If then he shunned the subjecting of the members of Christ partially to certain heads, as if besides Christ, though this were to the apostles themselves, what wilt thou say to Christ, who is the head of the universal Church, in the scrutiny of the last judgment, having attempted to put all his members under thyself by the appellation of universal? Who, I ask, is proposed for imitation in this wrongful title but he who, despising the legions of angels constituted socially with himself, attempted to start up to an eminence of singularity, that he might seem to be under none and to be alone above all?” (Epistles 5:18)

Predictably, anti-Catholics neglect to inform their audiences that the context of these statements makes it clear that Gregory was not making these statements in regard to himself or to any other pope. He believed the bishop of Rome has primacy of jurisdiction over all other bishops.

Like his predecessors and successors, Gregory promulgated numerous laws, binding on all other bishops, on issues such as clerical celibacy (1:42,50; 4:5,26,34; 7:1; 9:110,218; 10:19; 11:56), the deprivation of priests and bishops guilty of criminal offenses (1:18,32; 3:49; 4:26; 5:5,17,18), and the proper disposition of church revenues (1:10,64; 2:20-22; 3:22; 4:11)

Gregory’s writings show that he regarded and conducted himself as the universal bishop of the Church. He calls the diocese of Rome “the Apostolic See, which is the head of all other churches” (13:1).

He said, “I, albeit unworthy, have been set up in command of the Church” (5:44). He taught that the pope, as successor to Peter, was granted by God a primacy over all other bishops (2:44; 3:30; 5:37; 7:37).

He claimed that it was necessary for councils and synods to have the pope’s approval to be binding and that only the pope had the authority to annul their decrees (9:56; 5:39,41,44).

He enforced his authority to settle disputes between bishops, even between patriarchs, and rebuked lax and erring bishops (2:50; 3:52,63; 9:26,27).

When Gregory denounced John the Faster’s attempt to lay claim to the title Universal Bishop, his words were in accord with his actions and with his teachings. He was unequivocal in his teaching that all other bishops are subject to the pope:

As regards the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See? Why, both our most religious Lord the Emperor and our brother the Bishop of Constantinople continually acknowledge it” (Epistles 9:26).

Source: Catholic Answers, This Rock, (December 1992).

Randy Carson,
Thank you for your reply. :thumbsup:

However, I still don’t find the answer to my questions in your posting. :frowning:
I still cannot find any explanation to refute that Gregory’s letter to Eulogius (as I quoted in my first post) admitted there are 3 bishops who succeeded Peter’s See, and since there are three Sees but there can only be One See, Gregorius explicitly say that the three bishops held the position of authority of that See

… …Since then it is the See of one, and one See, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside… …

I was expecting if we can find the intention of Pope Gregory sending this letter, and from there we might say that his statement would mean something else than to admit the 3 bishops (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch) hold the same authority of Apostolic See.

Do you know which document / letter in particular Gregory mentioned this?
I look into newadvent, and the only Gregory’s writing matching with your reference note is his letter: Book XIII, Letter 1 (
But Pope Gregory mentioned nothing about The Apostolic See in Rome as the head of all other churches.

I also found another letter that confuses me even more, that Pope Gregory is also referring The Antioch See as THE APOSTOLIC SEE.
Considering that Pope Gregory refer The See of Antioch as THE APOSTOLIC SEE as well, thus the term of “APOSTOLIC SEE” can be no longer associated as the privilege of Rome Supremacy. It would be very weak to claim that Rome has supremacy due to the title of “Apostolic See” alone.

Book V, Letter 39
Gregory to Anastasius, Bishop of Antioch.

… … … But remember that you rule an Apostolic See, and assuagest sorrow the more readily from being made all things to all men… … …

I don’t understand the referral notes that you gave. Do you know where I can find the copy of those documents? I cannot find any references in newadvent which match to ones you mentioned above.

There are different levels of authority in the Church. Perhaps Pope Gregory in his letter was not referring to papal authority, which alone resides in the bishop of Rome, but to patriarchal authority, which, prior to First Council of Constantinople, resided equally in the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. The bishops of those three cities each exercised the patriarchal authority of Peter within their respective patriarchates.

My (inexpert) guess is, in agreement with Todd, that Gregory is asserting the authority of the three traditional patriarchs. Gregory’s comments might make sense if we remember that the evolution of the patriarchates was a controversial matter at this time. The original three patriarchates consisted of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch in that order of dignity, and all derived their dignity from their Petrine roots. Jerusalem gradually attained a patriarchal status as attested in Canon VII of Nicaea, though even here Jerusalem is ranked after the three Petrine sees, and–someone who knows Church history will have to explain this–the canon sounds as though it is only at this time an honorary or somehow lesser status than a “true” patriarchate.

After Nicaea, Constantinople asserted itself as a new patriarchate and not just as an add on to the current list, but as second only to Rome, first in Canon III of Constantinople, then again at more length explicitly in Canon 28 of Chalcedon. Interestingly, the basis of Constantinople’s claim is its being the imperial capital of “New Rome.” This was not accepted by Old Rome. Pope Leo refused to accept these canons, saying that they were contrary to tradition and denied the privileges of the others. For example, in Letter 106, he writes,

And so after the not irreproachable beginning of your ordination, after the consecration of the bishop of Antioch, which you claimed for yourself contrary to the regulations of the canons, I grieve, beloved, that you have fallen into this too, that you should try to break down the most sacred constitutions of the Nicene canons : as if this opportunity had expressly offered itself to you for the See of Alexandria to lose its privilege of second place, and the church of Antioch to forego its right to being third in dignity, in order that when these places had been subjected to your jurisdiction, all metropolitan bishops might be deprived of their proper honour. By which unheard of and never before attempted excesses you went so far beyond yourself as to drag into an occasion of self-seeking, and force connivance from that holy Synod which the zeal of our most Christian prince had convened, solely to extinguish heresy and to confirm the Catholic Faith: as if the unlawful wishes of a multitude could not be rejected, and that state of things which was truly ordained by the Holy Spirit in the canon of Nicæa could in any part be overruled by any one. Let no synodal councils flatter themselves upon the size of their assemblies, and let not any number of priests, however much larger, dare either to compare or to prefer themselves to those 318 bishops, seeing that the Synod of Nicæa is hallowed by God with such privilege, that whether by fewer or by more ecclesiastical judgments are supported, whatever is opposed to their authority is utterly destitute of all authority.

With that background in mind, I think what Gregory says fits well. If the controversy was still lingering at the time (and it seems it was if the whole “Universal Bishop” dispute is anything to go by), Gregory’s words are probably an implicit dig at Constantinople. He asserts that Rome, Alexandria and Antioch possess their authority on the basis of their Apostolic origins rather than the current political situation. Moreover, even if Constantinople claimed it was established by Andrew, it is still beneath the Petrine Sees (which he here says figuratively are one See). I don’t mean that the letter was intended to attack Constantinople explicitly as much as it was Gregory slapping the back of Eulogius.

I think you would have to read very hard to extract any argument for papal primacy from this particular text, but it is certainly not a denial of papal authority. At worst, it casts a shadow of uncertainty on the assumption that every reference to the See of Peter in Gregory’s writings can be applied exclusively to Rome unless it can be discerned otherwise from context.

I’m not an expert here…I simply provide Gregory’s post to show that while one quote seems to suggest his support for three sees, other quotes leave no doubt as to his view on the authority of Rome. Fathers, like scripture, have to viewed as a whole.

The part I quoted previously was found here, and maybe there is more there to help you"

Hi Todd977.
Thanks for the reply.
I definitely agree with you, but it will be difficult to convince non-catholic with this argument when they are holding the explicit statement from Pope Gregory.
I will keep this in mind though, so I won’t get confused by those non-catholic “attacks” anymore. :slight_smile:

Thank you for your reply, QNDNNDQDCE. :thumbsup:
Agree!! There is no doubt, when we cited other early fathers teaching and historic facts from early ecumenical councils, that the Roman Church trully holds the supreme jurisdiction authority over all Churches.

Thank you for your explanation, this is really helpful.
It is easier now for me to differenciate between apostolically constituted power (which is referred by Pope Gregory in his letter) and the jurisdiction over all the faithful (which is held solely by the Pope). I also found this in newadvent after I read your explanation. Thanks. :slight_smile:

It is without doubt true that St. Gregory repudiated in strong terms the title of universal bishop, and relates that St. Leo rejected it when it was offered him by the fathers of Chalcedon. But, as he used it, it has a different signification from that with which it was employed in the Vatican Council. St. Gregory understood it as involving the denial of the authority of the local diocesan (Epistle 5:21). No one, he maintains, has a right so to term himself universal bishop as to usurp that apostolically constituted power. But he was himself a strenuous asserter of that immediate jurisdiction over all the faithful which is signified by this title as used in the Vatican Decree. Thus he reverses (Epistle 6:15) a sentence passed on a priest by Patriarch John of Constantinople, an act which itself involves a claim to universal authority, and explicitly states that the Church of Constantinople is subject to the Apostolic See (Epistle 9:12).

Although, IMO, non-catholics can reject our arguments by saying that ours are only exegesis (or even eisegesis) from the text, but at least this can provide satisfactory explanation for our fellow catholic brothers and sisters. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the link, Randy.
Although I still cannot trace the referred documents, but the link gives a lot more useful and interesting explanations. :thumbsup:


If you read the hundreds of letters St. Gregory sent to bishops all over the world (east and west) as well as studying his actions, it becomes clear how he views his office–his office is not the same as all the other bishops and patriarchs–he has the care of the whole Church, he is the final court of appeal and when bishops go bad, they are treated as his subjects (otherwise, he treats them as equals for humility’s sake).

Now onto the letter at hand from Book VII, Epistle 40. The same idea is found in Book V, Epistle 39; Book X, Epistle 35; and Book XIII, Epistle 41.

What St. Gregory is referring to here by “three places” is the principle of the three original patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, in that order of primacy, which directly governed the three regions of the universal Church (the three regions of the known world: Europe, Africa, and Asia, respectively), with Rome being the final court of appeal (which is why these Patriarchs were turning to Rome, why Rome was telling them what to do in this case, and why they later submitted to Rome for approval certain synodical acts and patriarchal judgments—see Book VII, Letter 34 and Book VIII, Letter 30 for examples; also see Book IX Letter 59 where St. Gregory says all bishops are subject to his See but they should be treated as equals when there is no cause not to).

This whole structure of authority flowed from Peter’s authority at Rome, with Alexandria and Antioch participating in that Petrine authority via their ties of discipleship to Petrine Rome. For example, back in 382, Pope St. Damasus had declared:

[quote=Decree of Damasus, par. 3 (sometimes attributed to Pope St. Gelasius I)] Although all the Catholic churches spread abroad throughout the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the holy Roman church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of the churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, Who says: “You are Peter …(Matt 16:18-19).” In addition to this, there is also the companionship of the vessel of election, the most blessed Apostle Paul who, along with Peter in the city of Rome in the time of Caesar Nero, equally consecrated the above-mentioned holy Roman Church to Christ the Lord; and by their own presence and by their venerable triumph, they set it at the forefront over the others of all the cities of the world. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman church, which has neither stain nor blemish, nor anything like that. The second see is that of Alexandria, consecrated on behalf of the blessed Peter by Mark, his disciple and an Evangelist, who was sent to Egypt by the Apostle Peter, where he preached the word of truth and finished his glorious martyrdom. The third see is that of Antioch, which belonged to the most blessed Peter, where first he dwelled before he came to Rome, and where the name “Christians” was first applied, as to a new people.

This statement was issued to deny the canon of Constantinople I (381), which tried to make Constantinople a patriarchate and replace the Eastern primacy of Alexandria with Constantinople. Because of this decree, this canon was withdrawn, and the traditional Eastern primacy of Alexandria was protected. It was of course threatened again by the infamous canon 28 of Chalcedon, which was again denied by St. Leo the Great, who cited this same tradition of the three Petrine patriarchates. This original, Apostolic order was consistently disturbed by the theocratic government at Constantinople, which intruded into the Apostolic rights of the native bishops. In fact, the context in which the letter from St. Gregory you cite was written was yet another example of Constantinople trying to do this very thing (the universal bishop controversy, falsely attributed in another thread to the Roman Catholic understanding of primacy).

Again, Rome is always considered first and Alexandria and Antioch second and third in all the acts of Councils, etc. The three are never considered tied for first.

Imho, the quote from St. Gregory that best supports papal supremacy is in his letter to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria, and Anastasius, Bishop of Antioch:

Now eight years ago, in the time of my predecessor of holy memory [Pope] Pelagius, our brother and fellow bishop John in the city of Constantinople [John the Faster was the Patriarch of the See of Constantinople], seeking occasion from another cause, held a synod in which he attempted to call himself Universal Bishop. Which as soon as my said predecessor [Pope Pelagius] knew, he dispatched letters annulling by the authority of the holy apostle Peter the acts of the said synod; of which letters I have taken care to send copies to your Holiness.

St. Gregory affirms Pope Pelagius’ power, invoking the authority of St. Peter, to unilaterally annul the acts of a Council that was presided over by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Gregory is sending those letters to the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch to show them what Pope Pelagius did. Only a Pope has this kind of authority.

Genesis315 & tdgesq,
Thank you very much. I always knew that Roman Church truly holds the supremacy, and the facts that you presented leave no more room for doubts.

Thank you, God bless you!! :signofcross:

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