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The Papacy:

Its Historic Origin and Primitive Relations with the Eastern Churches

by Abbé Guettée

Source: http://reocities.com/heartland/5654/orthodox/essays.html



The Christian Church is fundamentally divided. Were it desirable to expose the internal feuds which agitate all Christian societies, and the contradictory doctrines of the sects which have revolted against the Mother Church, they would form a sorrowful picture.

Yet conflicts and heresies have their purpose. Indeed, as to doctrines which do not belong to the deposit of revelation, and which have not been defined, controversy is permitted and the liberty of the human mind is to be respected. As for heresy, St. Paul tells us that it is necessary, in order that the faith of believers may be well rounded and enlightened.

But above all divisions, there is one more serious, and which before all must attract attention because of its importance and of the facts which have provoked it; it is that which exists between the Oriental Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

Every Christian heart must be saddened in view of this separation, which has subsisted for so many centuries between churches which have alike an apostolic origin; which have, save one word, the same creed; which have the same sacraments, the same priesthood, the same ethics, the same worship. In spite of these elements of union, division has been since the ninth century all acknowledged fact between these churches. Upon whom recoils the responsibility for this great religious and social crime? This is one of the gravest questions upon which a theologian can enter; he can not resolve it without bringing to judgment one of these churches, without accusing it of having despised the word of Jesus Christ, who made unity a condition essential to the existence of his Church. It is evidently only by the strangest perversion of Christian common-sense that the division could have been provoked and perpetuated. This is admitted in the two churches, Oriental and Roman. For this reason they return upon each other the accusation of schism, and are unwilling to accept before God and before the world the responsibility which they both regard as a stigma. One of the two must be guilty. For notwithstanding reprehensible acts might be specified on either side, these minor faults would not account for the separation. Discussions upon secondary points, coldness, occasioned by vanity or ambition, can engender only transient controversies. To determine a fundamental and permanent division, there must be a more radical cause and one which touches the very essence of things.

It is not possible, then, to resolve the question we have put without seeking this powerful and deep-seated cause which has provoked the schism and kept it alive to the present day. In approaching this question, we have been struck at the outset by the difference that exists between the reproaches which the two churches, Oriental and Roman, urge against each other reciprocally. The latter alleges that the Oriental Church separated herself (from her) to satisfy a pitiful grudge, through interest, through ambition. Such motives could, philosophically, explain only temporary strifes. The Oriental Church, on the contrary, assigns for the schism a motive radical and logical: she affirms that the Roman Church has provoked it in seeking to impose in the name of God an unlawful yoke upon the Universal Church, that is, the Papal sovereignty, as contrary to the divine constitution of the Church as to the prescriptions of the œcumenical councils.

If the accusations of the Oriental Church are well founded, it follows that it is the Roman Church which is guilty. In order to enlighten ourselves upon this point, we have investigated the relations of the two churches before their separation. It is, indeed, necessary to establish clearly the nature of these relations in order to see from which side has come the rupture. If it be true that the Roman Church sought in the ninth century to impose upon the whole Church a rule unknown to the previous ages and therefore unlawful, we must conclude that she alone should bear the responsibility of the schism. We have pursued the study with calmness and free from prejudice: it has brought us to these conclusions:

(1.) The bishop of Rome did not for eight centuries possess the authority of divine right which he has since sought to exercise.

(2.) The pretension of the bishop of Rome to the sovereignty of divine right over the whole Church was the real cause of the division.

We are about to produce the proofs in support of these conclusions. But before presenting them we think it profitable to interrogate the Holy Scriptures, and examine whether the pretensions of the bishop of Rome to universal sovereignty of the Church have, as is alleged, any ground in the Word of God.



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Article published in English on: 6-2-2010.

Last update: 6-2-2010.