The Pentarchy. Did Rome Break off? Proof?

Regarding the Pentarchy which included: Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople.

My friend says that Rome left and the True Christendom was left to the Orthodox Church which included those up their except for Rome. And then he goes on to say that Rome created a Church called the Catholic Church and so forth.

Because the great split, Catholicism and Orthodoxy never existed, only Christendom. However, after the split. What the heck went on??? Who is right?? And what is the historical proof?

The split didn’t contain doctrinal errors[Maybe Papacy], but historical and political.


The primacy of Rome was the well-established Church tradition prior to the East-West Schism. There is ample historical evidence for this, we’re talking hundreds of years of sources that all agree, making this a well-attested historical fact. When the Schism occurred, Rome didn’t create anything new, but persisted with the prevailing tradition. It was the East rejected the primacy of Rome.

The use of the word “Catholic” is very ancient - the first person known to use this word to describe the Church was St. Igantius of Antioch, who was martyred in 110 AD:

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church

Or, if you prefer the Greek:

Ὅπου ἂν φανῇ ὁ ἐπίσκοπος, ἐκεῖ τὸ πλῆθος ἔστω, ὥσπερ ὅπου ἂν ᾖ Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς, ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία.

And, by the way, Antioch is more Eastern than Greece - it was an Eastern Bishop who first used this term.

It’s not accurate to say that there was one happy Church, and then one group or another left that Church (and is thus somehow less legitimate than the people who remained). That’s what happened with the protestants - they left the Church to go off and do their own thing, forsaking (and repudiating) their Catholicism. But that’s not what happened in the Schism .

Rather, East and West went their own separate ways - both fully legitimate and fully Catholic, which is why we mutually recognize the validity of each other’s Orders and Sacraments, including Eucharist (and always have - this is not some new policy). The Latin church does not claim exclusive title to the word “Catholic” (though we use it a lot more).

The truth is of course much more complicated than the simplistic way your friend presents it, no matter whether one is on the side of the Orthodox or of the Catholics.

To start with, Alexandria and Antioch both broke with the Churches of Rome and Constantinople after the Council of Chalcedon (itself a very messy situation). Some Antiochenes and Alexandrians remained in communion with Constantinople, but the great majority were not in communion with Constantinople. Saying that Chalcedonian Orthodoxy retained the patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria in its communion is like saying that the real pentarchy exists in the Catholic Church because we have our own patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. So following 451 (roughly, the final separation took over a century), the pentarchy was already down to three, really.

The idea of a ‘pentarchy’ didn’t survive very long past its formulation, really. And it ignores the centers of Christianity which existed outside of the Roman Empire. It is biased towards the legal decrees of the Councils which were held inside the Empire and attended mainly by those within the Empire.

Furthermore, there were several times during the first millennium that communion was broken between Constantinople and Rome. It isn’t as though there was one peaceful happy Church where everybody believed the same things in exactly the same way before 1054.

The differences between Rome and Constantinople which eventually contributed to the split can be seen growing throughout the first millennium. It is a tragic case of growing apart culturally and not being able to learn how to talk in each other’s categories that really caused the split. What we are dealing with now is how to reconcile the paths that each Church has taken in the time since the definitive separation.

There’s no simple answer to this. It is just as easy for Catholics to assert that the eastern patriarchates “left” the Catholic Church.

The truth of the matter, historically and visibly, is that different regions of the Christian world drifted apart from each other in their teachings and practices, until finally they recognized this and stopped Communing each other. The excommunications of 1054 were themselves not technically schism-producing, and were only part of a long chain of events that drove us apart.

“Christendom” as a word has political/secular/historical connotations. I don’t think its use here is applicable.

Besides, “Catholicism” and “Orthodoxy” did exist then as terms identifying Christians; the former signified the church (“the Catholic Church,” a very old term), and the latter signified our faith - the Orthodox Faith, or - as today’s Eastern Orthodox Christians often call it - “Holy Orthodoxy.”

And don’t believe, either, the oversimplification that before the East-West Schism all Christianity was united. The Church of the East, in Persia and regions farther east, had long rejected the Christology of the Council of Ephesus and was out of communion with Orthodox Christianity/the Catholic Church. There were also plenty of churches that rejected the Council of Chalcedon - which today comprise the Oriental Orthodox Church.

So we were not perfectly united before 1054, far from it. And we weren’t officially in schism right in 1054, either. I believe it was in the late 1100s that the Patriarch of Antioch first instructed that Latin Christians (i.e. Roman Catholics) not be given Holy Communion, and the schism wasn’t really sealed until the sack of Constantinople and the establishment of the Latin Crusader Empire in 1204, anyway.

As you can see, it’s very complicated, and there is no easy answer.

I agree.

Historical proof is pretty easy to come by, the First Ecumenical Council (the Council of Nicaea, held in 321) says this:
Canon 6 The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome. Similarly in Antioch and the other provinces the prerogatives of the churches are to be preserved.

Canon 7 Since there prevails a custom and ancient tradition to the effect that ** the bishop of Aelia [Jerusalem]** is to be honoured, let him be granted everything consequent upon this honour, saving the dignity proper to the metropolitan.
At the very first Ecumenical Council, these two Canons answer your question: Canon 6 mentions Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Canon 7 mentions Aelia, which was the name the Romans gave to Jerusalem after they destroyed it in 70AD, but notice that Jerusalem doesn’t have the status of a Metropolitan.

Also notice, no mention of Constantinople here. That’s because it didn’t exist yet.

Just the plain reading of these, Constantinople and Jerusalem weren’t even Patriarchates, and thus there was not a Pentarchy by the time of Nicaea in 321, and there never was because the Bishop of Rome was/is not a Patriarch.

Some people mistakenly read Canon 6 as saying Rome is on the same level as Alexandria and Antioch, but This Article shows that’s an incorrect reading of the text.

That reading of canon 6 itself is fallacious. He employs a circular argument. He assumes that the early church did not see the bishop of Rome as being just a patriarch and then uses that assumption to assert that canon 6 proves this assumption to be true. His argument, in other words, boils down to A is assumed to be true therefore A is true. He also misuses the term non-sequitur quite badly. If the canon is read as “let the bishop of Alexandria, according to custom, have patriarchal jurisdiction over these sees, since a similar custom of patriarchal jurisdiction exists at Rome and in the sees surrounding it,” then it is hard to see how this is a non-sequitur. The canon would be using the system established in Rome, Antioch and other provinces as an example for the antiquity of the organizational system of the church surrounding metropolitan areas, and a justification for continuing the practice.

Excellent point. I find that many often ignore this fact.

(By the way, do we in the Catholic Church have a patriarch of Jerusalem? I don’t think we do…)


Well said.

There are three key points to my mind:

  1. The primacy of Rome was established by Our Lord Himself and is well testified to by Fathers of the first millennium. Many Fathers clearly believed that communion with Rome was a necessary element of being Catholic - Rome did not micromanage the Church, but she was the final court of appeal and the visible source of universal unity. The Orthodox may disagree, but this is the Catholic posotion. From a Catholic perspective, it doesn’t matter how many local churches sever communion with Rome - those in communion with her remain the Catholic Church proper.

“But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [A.D. 189]). - St. Irenaeus

  1. As another poster has pointed out, a good case can be made that the ‘original’ sees of Antioch and Alexandria left communion with Rome and Constantinople in 451 after the Council of Chalcedon… so it is misleading to suggest that the “five sees of the pentarchy” were in perfect communion with one another until Rome left in the 11th century.

  2. A good case can likewise be made that the see of Antioch returned to communion with Rome in the 18th century, as the legitimately elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch resumed communion with Rome leading to the formation of today’s Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

Agreed. And thanks for the citation from St. Irenaeus!

Indeed. The church now commonly known as the Orthodox Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church ended up with two, not four, of the ancient patriarchates after the East-West Schism.

Excellent point. Although I suppose if the canonically legitimate See of Antioch went Miaphysite after Chalcedon, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch may not have been the canonically legitimate claimant in the first place.

But hey, maybe he was. Antioch’s very messy to figure out, particularly due to the spread of Islam in that region. :frowning:

2 points to address that usually come up with this subject[LIST=1]
]Pope NOT 1st among equals
[/LIST](emphasis mine)
"3. In Christian literature, the expression begins to be used in the East when, from the fifth century, the idea of the Pentarchygained ground, according to which there are five Patriarchs at the head of the Church, with the Church of Rome having the first place among these patriarchal sister Churches
In this connection, however, it needs to be noted that no Roman Pontiff ever recognized this equalization of the sees or accepted that only a primacy of honour be accorded to the See of Rome.It should be noted too thatthis patriarchal structure typical of the East never developed in the West.

  1. The expression appears again in two letters of the Metropolitan Nicetas of Nicodemia (in the year 1136) and the Patriarch John X Camaterus (in office from 1198 to 1206), in which they protested that Rome, by presenting herself as *mother and teacher, *would annul their authority.In their view, Rome is only the first among sisters of equal dignity."


I’ll just start with Nicea and work backwards…

~ 325 a.d., The Nicene creed makes it an article of faith that we believe in “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”

How is “Catholic” defined so we know specifics?

~180 a.d. Bp Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Bp Polycarp who was a disciple of St John the apostle, uses “Catholic Church” in his writings, and “Catholic Church” isn’t understood in a generic sense.

Here’s why.

In “Against Heresies”

Bk 1 Ch 10 v 3 Irenaeus names the Church the Catholic Church, that he is defending.

“For in reference to these points, and others of a like nature, the apostle exclaims: Oh! The depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! Romans 11:33 But [the superior skill spoken of] is not found in this, that any one should, beyond the Creator and Framer [of the world], conceive of the Enthymesis of an erring Æon, their mother and his, and should thus proceed to such a pitch of blasphemy; nor does it consist in this, that he should again falsely imagine, as being above this [fancied being], a Pleroma at one time supposed to contain thirty, and at another time an innumerable tribe of Æons, as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said.”

Q: How does Irenaeus further define the Catholic Church that he is defending?

“Against Heresies”, Bk 3, Ch 3, v 2-3

  1. “Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. 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.”

Q: yeah but one could say, which “Church” is “this Church” that is the Catholic Church, the one that has pre-eminent authority, that all the Churches everywhere must agree with?

Here’s his answer

  1. "the apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded* Anacletus*; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes.

[snip] for space

To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. *Alexander *followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth."


Irenaeus makes the following connections, “the Church” = The “Catholic Church” = all Churches in union with the Church of Rome

That’s why Irenaeus lists all the popes of Rome down to his time, so there is no mistaking which Church is “this Church” i.e. the “Catholic Church” he is speaking of, and that all Churches everywhere must agree with, specifically on account of its pre-eminent authority. And he writes where he received this teaching
*]the apostles Peter and Paul
*]apostolic tradition faithfully handed down to his time

Ignatius bishop of Antioch from **~69 to ~107 a.d. **also a disciple of St John the apostle uses the name “Catholic Church” , (letter to Smyrna). He refers to the Church of Rome as the Church that holds the presidency. (letter to the Romans)

Being united (one) to the chair of Peter, + being united (one) to each other, is Our Lord’s prayer. That is the Catholic Church. Division is condemned in scripture

On what basis can it be assumed that the Bishop of Rome was a Patriarch among many? The argument presented doesn’t assume either way; it presents a few situations and picks from them.

He also misuses the term non-sequitur quite badly. If the canon is read as “let the bishop of Alexandria, according to custom, have patriarchal jurisdiction over these sees, since a similar custom of patriarchal jurisdiction exists at Rome and in the sees surrounding it,” then it is hard to see how this is a non-sequitur. The canon would be using the system established in Rome, Antioch and other provinces as an example for the antiquity of the organizational system of the church surrounding metropolitan areas, and a justification for continuing the practice.

A non-sequitor is when a situation cannot be validated by appealing to another situation since there isn’t really any link between the two. Take this example:
Let the bishop of New York, according to custom, have jurisdiction over the New England states, since it is also customary for the bishop of L.A. to be a Patriarch.
This is a non-sequitor. Saying the bishop of L.A. is a Patriarch says nothing about what any other bishop is, much less why that other bishop should have a specific jurisdiction. Same thing goes if you extrapolate by adding terms and replace “Patriarch” with specific territories:
Let the bishop of New York, according to custom, have jurisdiction over the New England states, since it is customary for the bishop of L.A. to govern California, Nevada, and Arizona.
Again, what territories the bishop of L.A. governs (which aren’t even listed) says nothing about what another bishop should govern. Why Rome is the benchmark to measure against doesn’t make much sense here if Rome is on par with the rest.

What is being appealed to is really an ancient custom, which strongly implies Apostolic and thus irrevocable apart from a sufficient reason to revoke it. In the Papal scheme, it makes perfect sense to reason that Rome is the leader and thus in virtue of Rome’s authority continues to confirm that ancient custom. This is perfectly intelligible.

And the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople1) says this in Canon 3:
Because it is new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome.
That’s nonsense if all bishops are equal, including Patriarchs. Here there’s clear Ecumenical reason to see Rome as head in some real sense, especially one which has to be fought over by the non-apostolic Constantinople (with no ancient customs) to push itself past Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

And lastly consider, if Constantinople comes in and takes up its own swath of territory, this entails that one or more of the other sees, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, or Jerusalem, had to cede territory. But on what basis does one determine Constantinople’s jurisdiction? There’s no “ancient custom” to appeal to, and it makes no sense to say “Constantinople should govern Y, since the Bishop of Rome has jurisdiction over X”.

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