of the Authority of the Bishops of Rome in the First
History shows us that the Fathers and
Bishops, during the first eight centuries, have given to
Holy Scripture the same interpretation that we have just set
forth. If the Bishop of Rome had by divine right enjoyed
universal authority in the Church, if, as the successor of
St. Peter, he bad been the vicar and representative of
Christ, the necessary centre of the Church, there is no
doubt that these prerogatives would have been recognized by
Christian antiquity, the faithful guardian of the Faith and
of Divine Institutions. Though the Church suffer, after the
lapse of ages, some decline on her human side, that is to
say, in the men that govern her, and form part of her, it
will not be assumed that this decay appeared at the outset.
It is natural and logical to go back to the beginnings of an
institution to become acquainted with its true character; it
is there we find the necessary starting-point from which to
trace its development, its progress, or lapses, age by age.
If we prove that the primitive Church did not recognize in
the Bishop of Rome the authority which he now assumes, that
this authority is only an usurpation dating from the ninth
century, it must necessarily be concluded, that this
authority is not of Divine origin, and that consequently, it
is the duty of every Church and all the faithful to protest
against it, and combat with it.
Now we can affirm, after deep and
conscientious study of the historical and doctrinal remains
of the first eight centuries of the Church, that the Bishop
of Rome has no ground for claiming universal authority, that
such authority has foundation neither in the Word of God nor
the laws of the Church.
The first document by which the partisans of
the Papal sovereignty justify themselves, is the letter
written by St. Clement in the name of the Church at Rome to
the Church at Corinth. They assert, that it was written by
virtue of a superior authority attached to his title of
Bishop of Rome.
Now, it is unquestionable, 1st. That St.
Clement was not Bishop of Rome when he wrote to the
Corinthians. 2d. That in this matter, he did not act of 'his
own authority, but in the name of the Church at Rome, and
from motives of charity.
The letter signed by St. Clement was written
A.D. 69, immediately after the persecution by Nero, which
took place between the years 64 and 68, as all learned men
agree. Many scholars, accepting as an indisputable fact that
the letter to the Corinthians was written while Clement was
Bishop of Rome, assign its date to the reign of Domitian.
But Clement only succeeded Anencletus in the See of Rome, in
the twelfth year of Domitian's reign, that is to say, A.D.
93, and held this See until A.D. 102. The testimony of
Eusebius leaves no doubt upon this point.
Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book III. chaps.
xiii., xv., xxxiv.
Now, it may be seen from the letter itself
that it was written after a persecution; if it be pretended
that this persecution was that of Domitian, then the letter
must be dated in the last years of the first century, since
it was chiefly in the years 95 and 96 that the persecution
of Domitian took place. Now, it is easy to see from the
letter itself, that it was written before that time, for it
speaks of the Jewish sacrifices as still existing in the
temple of Jerusalem. The temple was destroyed with the city
of Jerusalem, by Titus, A.D. 70. Hence, the letter must have
been written before that year. Besides, the letter was
written after some persecution, in which had suffered, at
Rome, some very illustrious martyrs. There was nothing of
the kind in the persecution of Domitian. The persecution of
Nero lasted from the year 64 to the year 68. Hence it
follows, that the letter to the Corinthians could only have
been written in the year 69, that is to say,
twenty-four years before Clement
was Bishop of Rome.
In presence of this simple calculation what
becomes of the stress laid by the partisans of Papal
sovereignty, upon the importance of this document as
emanating from Pope St. Clement?
Even if it could be shown that the letter of
St. Clement, was written during his episcopate, this would
prove nothing, because this letter was not written by him by
virtue of a superior and personal authority
possessed by him, but from mere charity, and in the name
of the Church at Rome. Let us hear Eusebius upon this
"Of this Clement there is one epistle
extant, acknowledged as genuine, . . . . which he wrote in
the name of the Church at Rome to that of Corinth, at the
time when there was a dissension in the latter. This we know
to have been publicly read, for common benefit, in most of
the churches, both in former times and in our own; and that
at the time mentioned, a sedition did take place at Corinth,
is abundantly attested by Hegesippus."
Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book III, chap. xvi.
Eusebius, further on, recurs to the letter
of Clement, and again remarks that it was written in the
name of the Church at Rome. Ibid.
chap. xxxviii. He could not say more explicitly, that
Clement did not in this matter act of his own authority,
by virtue of any power be individually possessed.
Nothing in the letter itself gives a suspicion of such
authority. It thus commences: "The Church of God which is at
Rome, to the Church of God which is at Corinth." The writer
speaks of the Ecclesiastical Ministry, in relation to
several Priests whom the Corinthians had rejected most
unjustly; he looks upon this Ministry as wholly derived from
the Apostolic Succession, attributing neither to himself nor
to others any Primacy in it.
There is every reason to believe that St.
Clement draughted this letter to the Corinthians. From the
first centuries it has been considered as his work. It was
not as Bishop of Rome, but as a disciple of the Apostles,
that he wrote it. Without having been charged with the
government of the Roman Church he had been made Bishop by
St. Peter, and had been the companion of St. Paul in many of
his Apostolic visitations. It may be, that he had worked
with St. Paul for the conversion of the Corinthians. It was
natural, therefore, that he should be commissioned to draw
up the letter of the Church of Rome to a Church of which he
had been one of the founders. And so, Clement speaks to them
in the name of the Apostles, and above all of St. Paul, who
bad begotten them to the faith. Even had he written to them
as Bishop of Rome, it would not be possible to
infer any thing from this in favour of his universal
authority. St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenæus of Lyons,
St. Dionysius of Alexandria, have written letters to divers
churches, not excepting that of Rome, without thereby
pretending to any other authority than that they possessed
as bishops, to do God's work in
Nothing can properly be inferred, either
from the letter itself or from the circumstances under which
it was written, that should make this proceeding on the part
of the Corinthians appear in the light of an acknowledgment
of any superior authority in the Bishop or the Church of
Rome; or this answer in the light of an authoritative act.
The Corinthians addressed themselves to a Church where dwelt
the fellow-labourers of St. Paul, their father in the faith;
and that Church, through Clement as her organ, recommended
peace and concord to them, without the least pretension to
any authority whatever.
Thus, in the intervention of Clement, no
proof can be found to support the pretended authority of the
Bishops of Rome. Clement was the deputy of the clergy of
Rome in that affair, chosen because of his capacity, his
former connection with the Corinthians, his relation with
the Apostles, and the influence he had for these various
reasons. But he did not act as Bishop of Rome, much less as
having authority over the Church of Corinth.
In the second century the question
concerning Easter was agitated with much warmth. Many
Oriental Churches wished to follow the Judaical traditions,
preserved by several Apostles in the celebration of that
feast, and to hold it upon the fourteenth day of the March
moon; other Eastern Churches, in agreement with the Western
Churches, according to an equally Apostolic tradition,
celebrated the festival of Easter the Sunday
following the fourteenth day of the March moon.
The question in itself considered was of no
great importance; and yet it was generally thought that all
the Churches should celebrate at one and the same time the
great Christian festival, and that some should not be
rejoicing over the resurrection of the Saviour, while others
were contemplating the mysteries of his death.
How was the question settled? Did the Bishop
of Rome interpose his authority and overrule the discussion,
as would have been the case had he enjoyed a supreme
Let us take the evidence of History. The
question having been agitated, "there were synods and
convocations of the Bishops on this question," says
Eusebius, Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book V.
chap. xxiii. "and all unanimously drew up an
ecclesiastical decree, which they communicated to
all the Churches in all places. . . . There is an epistle
extant even now of those who were assembled at the time;
among whom presided Theophilus, Bishop of the Church in
Cesarea and Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem. There is another
epistle" [of the 'Roman Synod] "extant on the same question,
bearing the name of Victor. An epistle also of the Bishops
in Pontus, among whom Palmas, as the most ancient, presided;
also of the Churches of Gaul, over whom Irenæus presided.
Moreover, one from those in Osrhoene, and the cities there.
And a particular epistle front Bacchyllus, Bishop of the
Corinthians; and epistles of many others who, advancing one
and the same doctrine, also passed the same vote."
It is evident that Eusebius speaks of the
letter of the Roman synod in the same terms as of the
others; he does not attribute it to Bishop Victor, but to
the assembly of the Roman Clergy; and lastly, he only
mentions it in the second place after that of the Bishops of
Here is a point irrefragably established; it
is that in the matter of Easter, the Church of Rome
discussed and judged the question in the same capacity as
the other churches, and that the Bishop of Rome only signed
the letter in the name of the synod which represented that
Church. The partisans of the Papal authority affirm that it
was Victor who commanded the councils to assemble.
This assertion is altogether false. Among the Roman theologians who make this false assertion,
we will particularly name Darruel in his work entitled Du Pape et de ses Droits. This book sums up all the
errors and exaggerations of the Romish theologians.
Several Oriental Bishops did not conform to
the decision of the others. Polycrates of Ephesus, above
all, protested against it. Euseb. Eccl.
Hist. Book V. chap. xxiv. Then a lively discussion
arose between him and Victor, Bishop of Rome, who seemed to
think that the Bishop of Ephesus would be alone in his
opinion, and advised him, in consequence, to ask the opinion
of the other Bishops of his province. Polycrates complied,
and those Bishops declared themselves in favor of his
opinion; he wrote thus to Victor, who threatened to separate
them from his communion.
This did not move Polycrates; he replied
vigorously, saying to him particularly. "They who are
greater than I have said 'we ought to obey God rather than
men.' Upon this Victor, the Bishop of the Church of Rome,
forthwith endeavoured ðåéñᾰôáé ; Euseb.loc.cit. to cut off the
Churches of all Asia, together with the neighboring
Churches, as heterodox, from the common unity. And he
published abroad by letters, and proclaimed that all the
brethren there were wholly excommunicated." Thus Eusebius.
It is difficult to believe that the
partisans of the Roman pretensions can find in these words
of Eusebius and in the conduct of Victor any proof in favor
of their system. Without much effort, they might find in
them a proof to the contrary. The expression of Eusebius,
that "Victor endeavoured," etc., must first be
noticed. It is clear that those who endeavour have not in
themselves the power to do that which they have in
view, otherwise the act would follow the will. Victor,
however, did all he could in order that this excommunication
should be recognized—he even pronounced it; but
that act remained but an attempt, and had to be
ratified by the other Churches in order to be valid. Victor
did not have, then, as Bishop of Rome, the power to
excommunicate other Churches, since the effect did not
follow the sentence which he believed himself entitled to
give in the name of the Western Churches, because of the
importance of his See.
The Bishops, who would have submitted to his
sentence, if they had recognized in him the Head of the
Church, invested with universal authority, not only did not
obey him, but strongly censured his conduct.
"But this," adds Eusebius, "was not the
opinion of all the Bishops. They immediately exhorted him,"
[Victor] "on the contrary, to contemplate that course that
was calculated to promote peace, unity, and love to one
Thus, instead of believing that
consisted in union with Victor, the bishops exhorted him to
observe better the true notions of unity. Many went even
further. "There are also extant," continues Eusebius, "the
expressions they used, who pressed upon Victor with much
severity. Among these also was Irenæus, who, in the name of
those brethren in Gaul, over whom he presided, wrote an
epistle in which he maintains the duty of celebrating the
mystery of the resurrection of our Lord only on the day of
the Lord. He becomingly also admonishes Victor not to cut
off whole churches of God who observed the tradition of an
ancient custom." Irenæus endeavored to show to Victor that
differences in practice, of which, he gives divers examples,
are not inconsistent with Unity of Faith. "And when," adds
Eusebius, "the blessed Polycarp went to Rome in the time of
Anicetus, and they had a little deference among themselves
likewise respecting other matters, they immediately were
reconciled, not disputing much with one another on this
head. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to
observe it, because he had always observed it" [a certain
custom] "with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of
the Apostles with whom he associated; and neither did
Polyearp persuade Anicetus to observe, who said that he was
bound to maintain the practice of the presbyters before him.
Which thing being so, they communed with each other; and in
the church Anicetus yielded to Polyearp the office of
consecrating." And thus, though following different usages,
all remained in the communion of the Church. "And not only
to Victor, but likewise to the most of the other rulers of
the churches, he sent letters of exhortation on the agitated
question." Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book V.
Thus Victor could not,
of his own
authority, cut off from the Church, in fact,
those whom he had declared excommunicate; the other Bishops
resisted him vigorously, and St. Irenæus, the great divine
of the age, made war in his letters upon those which Victor
had written to provoke the schism.
This discussion, invoked by the partisans of
Papal pretensions in their favor, falls back upon them with
all its weight, and with a force that can not in good faith
Anicetus did not invoke his authority
against Polycarp, nor did Victor against Irenæus and the
other Bishops. Polycarp and Irenæus reasoned and wrote as
equals of the Bishop of Rome in Episcopal authority, and
recognized but one rule—ancient tradition.
How were the Churches reünited in a common
practice? Eusebius thus relates that happy result, which
certainly was not due to the Bishop of Rome:
Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book V. chap. xxv.
"The Bishops, indeed, of Palestine,
Narcissus and Theophilus, and Cassius with them, the Bishop
of the Church at Tyre, and Clarus of Ptolemais, and those
that came together with them, having advanced many things
respecting the tradition that had been handed down to them
by succession from the Apostles, regarding the Passover, at
the close of the epistle use these words: 'Endeavor to send
copies of the epistle through all the Church, that we may
not give occasion to those whose minds are easily led
astray. But we inform you also, that they observe the same
day at Alexandria which we also do; for letters have been
sent by us to them and from them to us, so that we celebrate
the holy season with one mind and at one time.'"
Nevertheless, many Churches preserved the
tradition of the Churches of Smyrna and Ephesus, and were
not on that account regarded as schismatics, although Victor
had separated himself from their communion.
The partisans of the Papal system attach
much importance to the influence exercised by the Bishop of
Rome in the question of Easter and some other matters: they
transform that influence into authority.
This is an untenable paralogism. It is not to be wondered at
that the Bishop of Rome should have enjoyed from the first a
high influence in religious questions; for he filled the
first See of the West, and as Bishop of the Capital of the
Empire, he was the natural link between East and West. It
was then understood that the Catholic Church was not exclusively in any country; that the East possessed no
more universal authority than the West. This is why certain
heretics, born and condemned in the East, sought protection
in the West, and above all at Rome, its representative. Thus
it is, that even some saints—as Polycarp of Smyrna—went
themselves to Rome to confer with the Bishop of that city
upon religious questions.
But it is not possible conscientiously to
study these facts from reliable documents without eliciting
this truth: that the influence of the Bishop of Rome did not
arise in an universal authority—that it did not
even have its source in an authority recognized by all the
Western Churches, but was simply derived from the importance
of his See.
Rome was the centre of all communications
between different parts of the Empire. The faithful crowded
thither from all quarters—for political business or private
interests—and thus her testimony as an Apostolic Church was
strengthened by the faithful who came thither from all parts
of the world, bringing the witness of all the Churches to
which they severally belonged.
Such is the sense of a passage of St.
Irenæus, of which the Roman theologians have made the
strangest misuse. St. Iræneus, In Hæres.
Lib. III. cap. iii. This great theologian, attacking
the heretics who sought to corrupt the faithful at Rome,
establishes against them the Catholic rule of
faith, preserved everywhere and always." But," he
adds, "as it would be very tedious to enumerate in such a
work the succession of all the Churches, we will trace that
of the very great and very ancient Church and known of all,
which was founded and established at Rome by the two very
glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul; which possesses a
tradition that comes from the Apostles as much as the Faith
declared to men, and which has transmitted it to us through
the succession of her Bishops; by that, we confound all
those who in any manner whatsoever, either through blindness
or bad intention, do not gather where they should;
for every Church, that is to say,
the faithful who are from all places, are obliged to go toward that Church, because of
most powerful principality. In this Church, the tradition of
the Apostles has been preserved by those who are of all
countries." We must quote the text of
St. Irenæus, that it may be compared with our translation, "Quoniam
valde longum est, in hoc, tali volumine omnium
eccelesiarum enumerare successiones; maximæ et
antiquissimæ et omnibus cognitæ, a gloriosissimis
duobus apostolis Petro et Paullo, Romæ fundatæ et constitutæ
Ecclesiae, eam quam habet ab Apostolis Traditionem et
annunciatam hominibus fidem, per successiones Episcoporum
pervenientem usque ad nos, indicantes confundimus omnes eos,
qui quoquomodo, vel per coecitatem et malam sententiam
præterquam oportet colligunt. Ad hanc enim Ecclesiam,
propter potentiorem principalitatem, necesse est omnem
convenire ecclesiam, hoc est eos, qui sunt undique
fideles; in qua semper ab his qui sunt undique,
conservata est ea, quæ est ab Apostolis, Traditio."
The Romish theologians choose a bad
translation of this passage, in order to find in it an
argument in favor of the papal sovereignty. Instead of
saying that the faithful of the whole world were obliged to
go to Rome, because it was the Capital of the Empire, the
seat of government, and the centre of all business, civil
and political, they translate convenire ad by the
words, to agree with—which is a misinterpretation;
they make potentiorem principalitatem refer to the
Church of Rome, and they see in this its primacy, whereas these words are only used
general manner, and nothing indicates that they do not
solely designate the capital and principal
city of the Empire. Again, they translate, maximæ,
antiquissimæ, by greatest and most ancient,
without reflecting that they thus attribute to St. Irenæus
an assertion manifestly false; for, granting that the Church
of Rome was the greatest of her day, she could not
certainly be called the most ancient—every one knew that a
great number of churches had been founded in the East before
that of Rome. Moreover, their translation does not make the
author say in conclusion, that the Apostolic tradition has
been preserved at Rome, by those who were of all
countries—(ab his qui sunt undique,) as the
text requires, but like Pius IX, in his Encyclical
Letter to the Christians of the East, "In all
that the faithful believe," not reflecting that this is a
misconstruction, and that they are thus attributing nonsense
to the good Father.
In the text as we render it all things hang
together. St. Irenæus after having established that only the
universal Faith should be received, points out to
the heretics of that city the Church of Rome, as offering to
them an evidence the more convincing that Apostolic
tradition had been there preserved by the faithful of the
How then could St. Irenæus, whose purpose it
is to give the universal Faith as the rule for
private belief, and who enlarges precisely upon this point
in the chapter from which the text is taken, logically say
what is attributed to him by the Popes and their
theologians? He would then have argued thus: It is
necessaryto adopt as the rule the belief of all the
churches; but it suffices to appeal to that of the
Church of Rome, to which there must be uniformity and
submission, because of her primacy. St. Irenæus never
expressed so unreasonable an opinion. He lays down as a
principle the universal Faith as a rule, and he points out
the Faith of the Church of Rome as true—thanks to the
concourse of the faithful who assembled there from all
parts, and who thus preserved there the Apostolic
tradition. How did they preserve it? Because they would have
protested against any change in the traditions of their own
churches, to which they were witnesses at Rome. St. Irenæus
does not give the pretended Divine authority of the Bishop
of Rome, as the principle of the preservation of tradition
in the Church of that city—but logically, he
attributes that preservation to the faithful of other
Churches who controlled her traditions by those of their own
Churches, and who thus formed an invincible obstacle to
It was natural that the Bishop of the
Capital of the Empire, precisely because of the faithful who
there gathered from all parts, should acquire a great
influence in religious matters, and even occasionally take
the lead. But all the monuments, as also the circumstances
attending, those transactions in which he took part, show
that he enjoyed no authority superior to that of the other
It is clear that all discussion relative to
this text of St. Irenæus turns upon the sense to be given to
the word convenire. If this word signifies to agree with, we must conclude that the venerable writer
thought it all must necessarily agree with the
Church of Rome, and without that it is impossible to be in
the unity. If the word means to go, all the
Ultramontane scaffolding will fall of itself, for it can not
reasonably be affirmed that all the faithful must of necessity go to Rome, even though the Church
established in that city should be the first and principal
Church, the centre of Unity. It follows that the sense of
this word should be determined in so evident a manner that
there remain no doubt in respect to it.
We have already remarked that the
preposition ad determined the sense of it—we can
add many others to this already conclusive proof.
If we possessed the Greek text of the
passage in question, there is no doubt there would not be
the uncertainty resulting from the Latin word. But Eusebius
and Nicephorus have preserved for us other fragments of the
primitive text. Now it happens that in these fragments the
good Father uses expressions which the Latin translator has
rendered by the word convenire, and which have no
meaning, except just this one of going—whether together or separately.
In the second book, chapter xxii., (Migne's
edition, col. 785,) St, Irenæus says: "All the priests who
have gone to Asia, to John, disciple of the Lord, bear
witness to it."
Greek Text: êáὶ ðÜíôåò ïἱ ðñåóâýôåñïé
ìáñôõñïῦóéí, ïἱ êáôὰ ôὴí Ἀóßáí ἸùÜííῃ ôῷ ôïῦ êõñßïõ ìáèçôῇ
Latin translation: "Omnes seniores testantur
qui in Asia apud Joannem discipulum Domini convenerunt."
In the third book, 21st chapter, (Migne's
edition, col. 947,) speaking of the Septuagint interpreters
of Scripture, St. Irenæus says of them, "Being assembled at
Ptolemy's house," etc.
In Greek: "Óõíåëèüíôùí äὲ áὐôῶí ἐðὶ ôὸ áὐôὸ
ðáñὰ ôῷ Ðôïëåìáßῳ."
The Latin translator renders this "Convenientibus
autem ipsis in unum apud Ptolemæum."
The Benedictine Massuet, editor of St.
Irenæus's works, pretends that St. Irenæus must have used in
the text in question, the words óõìâáßíåéí ðñὸò ôὴí ôῶí
Ñùìáßùí Ἐêêëçóßáí. And he pretends that óõìâáßíåéí ðñὸò ôéíá
is the same thing as óõìâáßíåéí ôéíß.
Although this opinion were unimpeachable,
such erudition would be worth nothing, for we must content
ourselves with supposing that the good father has
used the word óõìâáßíåéí. It would seem to us more natural
and logical to look for the unknown word among the
known words, which the translator renders convenire.
Now from that study, it should appear that St. Irenæus did
not use óõìâáßíåéí but óõìâåâëçêόôåò, which has the sense of
a running together toward a place, or of
óõíåëèόôåò, which has an analogous signification, since, in
the Greek texts that have been preserved, he has used these
words to express the idea for which the translator used convenire.
In general, the translator of St. Irenæus
gives to the word convenire the sense of to go,
and not to agree with. Why then give it this sense
in the famous text in question, when in the text itself the
preposition ad gives the idea of direction toward a place, and the adverb
that of departure from all places other than Rome where the
faithful were found?
Nothing is wanting to prove that it is
impossible to give to the words of St. Irenæus the sense
attributed to them by the Romish theologians. The good
father then has simply said that, the concourse of
Believers from all countries, drawn to Rome by the
necessities of their business, because that city was the
first and most powerful of the Empire, contributed to
preserve there the Apostolic tradition, because those
Believers carried there the Faith of the Churches to which
It is certain that Rome, in her position as
an Apostolic Church, had a very great authority during the
first centuries, and Tertullian is right in calling her as a
witness against the heretic to whom he said, "Thou hast
Rome, whose authority is close at hand. Happy Church! to
whom the Apostles gave all the doctrine with their blood!"
(De Præscrip. c.xxxvi.) But cannot an Apostolic Church
bear witness to the Faith against heresy without
enjoying universal and divine authority?
St. Cyprian was right in calling the Church
of Rome, "the chair of Peter; the principal Church,
from whence sacerdotal unity emanated." (St. Cyp. 55th epis.
to Cornelius.) But for all that, did he pretend that the
Bishop enjoyed authority by Divine right? He
believed it so little, that in his Treatise upon the
Unity of the Church, he understands by the "chair
of Peter," the entire Episcopate, he regards
St. Peter as the equal of the other Apostles and denies his
primacy, he makes St. Peter to be the simple type
of the unity of the Apostolic College. Further on will be found entire the texts of St. Cyprian and
Tertullian. Therefore, it is in a limited sense that
he calls the Church of Rome the chair of Peter; he
makes her the principal Church—but that was a fact
resulting from her exterior importance. She was the source
of Sacerdotal Unity in this sense that Peter was
the sign and type of the unity of the
Apostolic College. To give any other sense to the text from
the letter of St. Cyprian to Cornelius would be to
contradict the Treatise on the Unity of the Church,
to attribute to St. Cyprian two contradictory doctrines, and
consequently to take from him all logic and all authority.
Those who have given such high importance to
the text of St. Cyprian, taken from his letter to Cornelius,
have forgotten another that so well explains it that it is
difficult to understand how they have omitted it. It is that
in which he declares that, "Rome should precede Carthage,
because of its great size—pro magnitudine sua."
Cypr. Ep. 59 ad Cornel. This
doctrine agrees with that of St. Irenæus and the other
Fathers, who have never mentioned any divine
prerogative with which the Church of Rome had been favored.
St. Optatus, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and
many other Western Fathers have praised the Church of Rome
as an Apostolic Church, and have attached a high importance
to her testimony in questions of faith. But not one
of them ascribes to her any such doctrinal authority
that her testimony would of itself be sufficient to
determine questions under discussion. It must even be
remarked that St. Augustine sets up the authority of the
Oriental churches against the Donatists, and does not
mention that of Rome, although she was the Apostolic
Church of the West. St. Irenæus would be the only one
to sustain that doctrine, if we should receive his text as
translated by the Romish theologians.
But we have seen that this interpretation is
false, and that he has attributed to the testimony of the
Church of Rome a great authority in this sense only: that it
had received the Apostolic tradition, and, thanks to the
Believers who congregated there from all parts, that
tradition had been preserved pure unto his times.
Therefore, it was not because the Church of Rome was the
principal, the first, the most powerful in Christendom
that her testimony was chiefly valuable, but because
of the Believers from other churches, who strengthened it by
When Constantinople had become the capital
of the Roman Empire, St. Gregory Nazienzen said of that
Church, what St. Irenæus had said of that of Rome, and with
still more formal expressions. "This city," said he, "is the
eye of the world. The most distant nations press toward her
from all parts, and they draw from her as from a spring the
principles of the Faith." (Greg. Naz. 42d dis., §10,
col..470, Migne's edit.) The Latin translation of St.
Gregory, like that of St. Irenæus, employs the word
convenire to express the crowding Of people toward
Constantinople. Must we give to it the sense of agreeing
with, because this Father calls Constantinople not only
a powerful and principal Church—but the eye of the
world, source of faith?
The ninth canon of the Council of Antioch
held in 341, will of itself be sufficient to determine the
sense of the text of St. Irenæus. The canon reads: "Let the
bishops established in each province know that to the bishop
of the metropolitan city is confided the care of the whole
province, because all those who have business come
to the metropolis from all parts. Therefore it has appeared
advisable to grant a superior honor to him."
If the faithful were drawn to a mere
metropolis to transact their business, how much more to the
capital of the empire, which was for them a necessary
centre, and in which they must meet from all parts of the
empire! Such is the fact established by St. Irenæus, and
from it he concludes that the witness of the Church of Rome
should suffice to confound heretics.
Finally let us remark, that the chapter of
the learned Father only relates to the heretics of Rome, for
whom he destined the book; and that will convince us, that
it is a strange abuse of the words to give them an absolute
sense, making them relate to heretics in general, and to all
ages; for he only affirmed that the Roman Church had
preserved her apostolic tradition pure to his time, and
not, that she would always so preserve it.
The discussion upon the baptism of heretics
throws further light upon the question we are examining.
From all antiquity
Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book VII. chaps. ii. and iii. it
was customary merely to impose bands upon those who had
fallen into heresy, and wished to reënter the bosom of the
Church. In the third century a grave discussion arose upon
this subject. St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, was the first
in the West who maintained that baptism should be
reädministered to converted heretics. Dionysius, Bishop of
Alexandria, who at that time exerted a great influence
throughout the Church by reason of his holiness, his zeal
and learning, declared himself openly for the Bishop of
Carthage, and wrote upon the subject to Stephen, Bishop of
Rome. Stephen, persuaded that no change should be made in a
tradition handed down from time immemorial, was very much
grieved at an opinion which he looked upon as an innovation.
St. Cyprian admitted the existence of the custom, but he
contended that it was not lawful. He even took advantage of
a contrary doctrine that he said his church had preserved,
and according to which baptism administered by heretics was
regarded as null.
St. Cyprian, having assembled several
councils of bishops of the province of Africa, sent their
transactions to Stephen, with a letter, Cyprian, Epp. 72, 73, ad. Steph. in which he said, "I
believe that I should write to you upon a subject that
concerns the unity and dignity of the Church Catholic, and
should confer upon it, with a man so grave and so
wise as you."
It is not, as one may see, to a superior
that he addresses himself, but to an equal whose gravity and
wisdom he esteems. He even makes him understand, that he is
in error in supporting the custom of the Roman Church. He
says: Ibid. "I am persuaded that
your faith and piety make that which conforms to the
truth agreeable to you. However, we know there are some
who will not abandon sentiments with which they have been
once imbued, and who maintain particular usages, without
interrupting harmony among the Bishops. In such cases we do
no violence and impose no law upon any one."
St. Cyprian does not wish here to impose his
opinion upon Stephen; but he blames him for preserving that
which he regards as a prejudice contrary to the truth.
Stephen rejected the doctrine of St.
Cyprian; he further declared that he would not even
communicate with him, nor with the Bishops of Cilicia, of
Cappadocia and Galatia, who followed the same doctrine.
Dionysius of Alexandria Letter of St.
Dionysius of Alex. In Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. Book VII. chap.
v. wrote to him, to exhort him to peace; telling him
that all the Oriental churches, although divided in their
opinions, on the doctrines of Novatus, were in most
perfect union, and rejoicing in that happy result. He
counseled him not to trouble again the Church in regard to
the baptism of heretics.
At this stage of the matter Xystus succeeded
Stephen. Dionysius of Alexandria hastened to write to him to
dissuade him from following the way of Stephen. He says of
this bishop: Letter of St. Dion. of
Alex. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. Book VII chap. v. "He had
written before respecting Helenus and Firmilian, and all
those from Cilicia and Cappadocia and Galatia and all the
nations adjoining, that he would not have communion with
them on this account, because they, said he, rebaptized the
heretics; and behold, I pray you, the importance of the
matter; for in reality, as I have ascertained, decrees have
been passed in the greatest councils of the Bishops, that
those who come from the heretics are first to be instructed,
and then are to be washed and purified from the filth of
their old and impure leaven. And respecting all these things
I have sent letters entreating them."
St. Dionysius did not see an act of
authority in the letter of Stephen, but an intervention that
might throw a new germ of trouble in the Church; it was on
this ground that he wished to check him. Instead of
troubling the Church, Stephen would have pacified it, if a
universal authority had been recognized in him. This
consideration suffices to establish the entirely private and
personal character, of his letter.
What had been the result? Was he obeyed, as
he would have been had the Bishop of Rome had supreme
authority? Was his separation regarded as breaking the unity
of the Church? Assuredly not! St. Dionysius of Alexandria
acted in this affair as St. Irenæus did in the question of
Easter; he declared openly for those who differed with the
Bishop of Rome, while to the latter he addressed earnest
prayers for the peace of the Church. St. Cyprian assembled a
new council of the bishops of Africa, who confirmed their
first opinion; and he consulted with Firmilian, in order to
oppose the entire Church against the Roman Church in this
Firmilian answered St. Cyprian in a letter,
that will show the belief of Oriental Christendom touching
the authority of the Bishops of Rome. Firmilian to St. Cyp. among the letters of the latter.
Seventy-fifth letter. Edit. Baluze—reviewed by the
"Firmilian to his brother in the Lord,
"We have received by our very dear deacon
Rogatian, whom you have sent to us, the letter, beloved
brother, that you have written us; and we have rendered
thanks to God, that while being thus separated in body, we
are united in spirit, as if we were dwelling, not only in
the same country, but in the same house; which may well be
said, since the spiritual house of God is one. In the last days, says the prophet, the mountain of the
Lord, and the house of God, placed on the summit of the
mountains, shall be manifested. Reünited in this house,
we there enjoy the bliss of unity. It is what the psalmist
asks of the Lord—to dwell in the house of the Lord all
the days of his life. Whence, and from another passage,
appears the happiness of the saints in being united: Oh!
how good and pleasant a thing it is for brethren to
live together in unity. In fact, union, peace, and
concord confer a very great felicity, not only to faithful
men who know the truth, but to the angels of heaven
themselves, who according to the divine word experience joy
when a sinner repents and returns to the bond of unity. This
would not be said of the angels who inhabit heaven, if they
also were not united to us, who rejoice over our union; as,
on the other hand, they are grieved when they see hearts and
minds in division, not only as though they did not invoke
the same and only God, but as if they would not speak to or
hear each other. But in this we may be grateful to Stephen;
for, by his violence, he has put your faith and wisdom to
trial; yet if we have an advantage because of him,
it is not to him that we owe it. Truly, Judas for his
perfidy and treachery which he so criminally employed toward
his Saviour, should not be regarded as the cause of the
great blessings that the passion of the Lord procured for
us, in delivering the world and all people. But for the
present we will pass over what Stephen has done, fearing,
lest in remembering his audacity and insolence, we
experience too much grief at his bad actions."
This preamble of Firmilian's letter
demonstrates that he was very far from placing the centre of
unity in the pope. In his eyes, Stephen was but a bishop,
full of audacity and insolence, because he
had dared to separate himself from the communion of those
who had another belief from his own upon the question of the
baptism of heretics; and he even goes so far as to compare
him to Judas. Nor must it be forgotten that Firmilian was
one of the holiest and wisest bishops of his time.
The principle of unity he placed in God; he
says, "As it is but one and the same Lord that dwells in us,
he joins and knits together his own among themselves, by the
bond of unity, in whatever place they may be."
As for the Church of Rome, which it is
sought to impose upon us now as the centre of unity,
he thus speaks of her:
"Those who are at Rome do not observe all
the things which were given at the beginning, and it is in
vain that they pretend to support themselves upon the
authority of the apostles: it is thus, that, upon the day
for the celebration of Easter, and upon a great number of
other mysteries of religion, there are diversities among
them and that they do not observe all that is observed at
Jerusalem; likewise in other provinces, many varieties are
encountered according to the diversity of places and
tongues; yet they are not separated for all that from the
peace and unity of the Church Universal."
The Church of Jerusalem was the
church, according to Firmilian; she was the mother of
all the others, and the purest type after which all the
others should form themselves. As for the Church of Rome,
she could, like any other private church, be cut off from
unity. This is why he declared so energetically against
Stephen, who had dared to break peace with the
bishops of Africa; who slandered the Apostles Peter and
Paul, by pretending to follow their traditions. "I have
reason," he said, "to be indignant at the manifest folly of
Stephen, who, on the one hand, glories in his episcopal
seat, and pretends to possess the succession of Peter, upon
whom the foundations of the Church were placed, and who, on
the other hand, introduces other stones, (Pierres,)
and constructs new buildings for other churches, by
asserting, upon his own authority, that they possess the
true baptism. . .
Stephen, who boasts of possessing the see of
St. Peter by succession, shows no zeal against the heretics.
. . You, Africans, you may say to Stephen, that having known
the truth, you have rejected the custom of error; but for
us, we possess at the same time, truth and usage; we oppose
our custom against that of the Romans; our usage is that of
truth, preserving, since the beginning, that which Christ
and the Apostles have given to us. . . Yet Stephen does not
blush to affirm, that those in sin can remit sins, as though
the waters of life could be found in the house of the dead.
What! dost thou not fear God's judgment, when thou showest
thyself favorable to heretics against the Church! But thou
art worse than all the heretics; for when those among them,
who have recognized their error, come to thee to receive the
true light of the Church, thou then comest in aid of their
errors, and extinguishing the light of the truth of the
Church, thou gatherest around them the darkness of the night
of heresy. Dost thou not understand that an account of these
souls will be demanded of thee in the day of judgment, since
thou hast refused the waters of the Church to those who were
thirsty, and hast caused the death of those who wished to
live? And yet thou art angered! Look at thy folly, who
darest to attack those who fight against falsehood for
truth's sake! Who is it, that is most righteously angry with
another? Is it he who agrees with the enemies of God, or
rather, he, who for the truth of the Church, declares
himself against those who agree with the enemies of God? . .
What disputes, what discussions thou preparest for all the
churches of the world! What grievous sin thou hast committed
in separating thyself from so many flocks! Thou hast killed
thyself; do not deceive thyself; for he is truly schismatic
who renounces the communion of the unity of the Church!
While thou thinkest that all others are separated from thee,
it is thou who art separated from all others." Thus
Firmilian speaks to the Bishop of Rome, and no one dreamed
of taxing him with wrong, even among those who differed with
him concerning the baptism of heretics. Some Ultramontanes have contested the authenticity of
Firmilian's letter; but the most learned among them agree,
with the learned of all the schools, to regard it as
authentic. The strongest reason that Barruel alleges to
contest its authority, is that Firmillan could not have
written such a letter, since, according to St. Dionysius of
Alexandria, he was reconciled to the pope before the letter
could have been written. ¶ If Barruel had been a little more
learned, he had known that in the letter of St. Dionysius of
Alexandria to Stephen, the letter to which he alludes, he
does not say that the whole church was in peace upon the
subject of the baptism of heretics, since the discussion was
just beginning; but that he only says, Stephen would be
wrong to trouble the church by this discussion, when she was
in the enjoyment of peace after the troubles created by
Novatus. The other pretended proofs of Barruel are still
more feeble, and do not deserve discussion. We only say that
he has displayed an extraordinary audicity in in confronting
thus the most illustrious scholars of every school, who
admit this letter as authentic, without any dispute.
St. Dionysius of Alexandria without openly
taking part against the Bishop of Rome, endeavored to lead
him to the idea of rebaptizing. It is to this end that he
displays his doubts in regard to a man whom he had admitted
to the communion without rebaptizing him, and who,
nevertheless, scarcely dared to participate in the body of
the Lord, because he had only received baptism among, the
heretics, and with guilty words and rites. "Brother,"
Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Book VII. chap. ix
he wrote to Xystus, "I have need of your counsel,
and I ask your opinion on an affair that has presented
itself to me, and in which, indeed, I am afraid I may be
deceived." It is not to a superior he addresses himself, to
ask a decision, but to an equal, to a brother,
in order to know his views, that he may himself come to a
determination. We ask every man in good faith, is it thus
that the Bishop of Alexandria would have written to the
Bishop of Rome, if the latter had enjoyed an authority
universally acknowledged to terminate dogmatic or
We find in the acts of the last council of
St. Cyprian a very significant criticism upon the
pretensions which the Bishop of Rome had begun to put forth.
After having asked the advice of his colleagues, he speaks
thus, "Let each one give his opinion without judging any one
and without separating from the Communion those who
are not of his opinion; for none of us sets himself up
for a bishop of bishops, nor compels his brethren to
obey him by means of tyrannical terror, every bishop
having full liberty and complete power; as he cannot be
judged by another, neither can he judge another. Let us all
wait the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone
has the power to appoint us to the government of his Church
and to judge our conduct. Concil. carth.
St. Cyprian, pp. 329, 330, Bened. edit.
It is evident that St. Cyprian had in view
Stephen, Bishop of Rome, who had dared to declare those out
of his communion who thought otherwise than he did upon the
baptism of heretics. The Roman Theologians choose to
consider these excommunications by the Bishops of Rome as
sentences which separated from the Church those upon whom
they fell. But the manner in which the sentence of Victor in
the Easter question and that of Stephen in the discussion
upon the baptism were considered, proves that they were only
regarded as personal acts of the Bishop of Rome, and had no
other effect than to sever the relations between him and
those who the unity of did not share his way of thinking. As
for the Church, that remained intact, for the very
simple reason that this unity did not consist in an union
with the Bishop of Rome, and that those whom he separated
from his communion communicated with the rest of the Church.
Those only were considered out of the Church, upon whom
excommunication was declared by the Church itself in general
council, or in particular councils to which the rest of the
The criticism made by St. Cyprian upon the
title of bishop of bishops leads one to think that
the Bishop of Rome endeavoured even then to assume it, and
recalls a remark of Tertullian. Tertull.
de Pudicitia, § 1.
This learned priest of Carthage said
ironically of a Roman bishop whose teaching he censured: "I
learn that an edict has been given, even a peremptory edict,
the Sovereign Pontif, that is, the Bishop of
Bishops has said: 'I remit the sins of impurity and of
fornication to those who do penance.' O edict! not less then
can be done than to ticket it—Good work. But where
shall such an edict be posted? Surely, I think upon the
doors of the houses of prostitution." . . . Tertullian
equally ridicules the titles of Pope and apostolic
which had been taken by the Bishops of Rome. Men like
Zephyrinus and Callistus his successor, See the work entitled Öéëïóïöïύìåíá upon the scandal of
these two unworthy bishops, which with justice has been
attributed to St. Hippolytus, Bishop of Ostia, or to the
learned priest Caius. It is certain at any rate that this
book is the work of a writer contemporary with the events
recorded, and one who enjoyed great authority in the Roman
Church. Tertullian reproaches a bishop of Rome with having
adopted, owing to the seductions of Praxeas, the heresy of
the Patripassians, (Lib. adv. Prax. § 1.) The author of
Öéëïóïöïύìåíá attributes this heresy to Zephyrinus and to
Callistus, Bishops of Rome at that time. He did not believe,
it is evident, in their infallibility. could well
appropriate pompous titles that they did not deserve; but
the Church, instead of recognizing their legitimacy, and
regarding them as emanating from a divine right, censured
them by her most learned doctors, and looked upon them as
the evil fruit of pride and ambition. St. Cyprian would not
have been consistent with himself if he had submitted and
declared himself in favour of the pretensions of the Bishops
of Rome. In fact, in his Treatise upon Church Unity,
he positively denies the primacy of St. Peter himself; he
makes that Apostle merely to be the type of unity, which
resided in the apostolic college as a whole; and by
succession in the whole episcopal body, which he calls the
see of Peter. It is only by a series of the
strangest of distortions that the Roman theologians
understand by this last expression the see of Rome.
They can not give such a sense to it without completely
forgetting the rest of the text from which this is taken. We
will give it as an example among a thousand of the want of
good faith of the partisans of popery, when they cite from
ancient traditions. After mentioning the powers promised to
St. Peter, St. Cyprian remarks that Jesus Christ promised them to him alone, though they were to be
given to all. "In order to show faith unity," he says,
"the Lord has wished that unity might draw its origin from
one only. Here is the explanation of the
passage, of which we have already spoken, where St. Cyprian
calls the Church of Rome "Source of sacredotal unity."
The other Apostles certainly
were just what Peter was, having
the same, honor
and power as he.
In some manuscripts, in this place it
has been added, "But the primacy has been given to Peter, in
order that there might be but one church and one see. Sed primatus Petro datur ut una Ecclesia et cathedra una
monstretur." These words could be explained in a sense
not Ultmmontane, by that which precedes in St. Cyprian upon
Peter—his type of unity; but it is useless to waste time in
explaining an interpolated text. Thus it was regarded by the
learned Baluze, who prepared the edition of the works of St.
Cyprian, published subsequently by the Benedictine Don
Maran. When that edition was published, one named Masbaret,
professor at the Seminary of Angers, obtained authority from
the government to reëstablish the passage. It was at that
time thought desirable not to oppose Rome, and the passage
was inserted by means of a card. See l'Histoire des
Capitulaires, in which notice the observations of
Chiniac upon the Catalogue of the Works of Stephen Baluze.
All are shepherds, and the flock nourished by all
the Apostles together is one, in order that the
Church of Christ may appear in its unity."
The see of Peter in St. Cyprian's idea, is
the authority of the apostolic body, and, by succession, of
the episcopal body; all the bishops had the same honour
and the same authority, in all that relates to
their order, as the Apostles had the same honor and authority as Peter.
Since St. Cyprian admits this principle, how
has it been possible to misconstrue some of his expressions
as has been done? Even were it necessary to understand the
see of Peter to mean the see of Rome, there would follow
nothing favorable to the pretensions of the bishop of that
see, since as bishop he would possess no more honor, no
more authority than the others; and, as St. Cyprian
further proves, the episcopate is one, and the
bishops possess it jointly and severally.
But the Bishop of Carthage calls the Church
of Rome root and womb of the Catholic
Church. St. Cyprian letter 45 to
Cornelius. What follows if such expressions were
generally employed in his time to designate all the
apostolic churches? No one denies the Church of Rome was
founded by the Apostles—it was thus a root of the
Catholic Church, a mother church—but not exclusively
mother of the Church. In fact, Tertullian calls all the
apostolic churches wombs and originators—which means, "mothers having given origin
to others;" Tertul. Præscript, c. xxi.
the same divine calls Jerusalem—mother of religion,
matricem religionis. Tertul. adv.
Marcionem Book IV. c. xxxv. The first Council of
Constantinople Labbe, Collect. des
Conciles. gave to the Church of Jerusalem, the title
of mother of all the churches. In Africa the title
of matrix or mother was given to all the
great metropolitan churches. See
Conciles d'Afrique. Same collection. A Gallican
bishop of the fifth century, Avitus of Vienne, wrote to the
Patriarch of Jerusalem: "Your apostolate exercises a primacy
granted to it by God: and it is careful to show that it
occupies a principal place, (principem locum) in
the Church not only by its privileges, but by its merits."
Works of St. Avitus, edited by Father
Sirmond. 2d volume of the miscellaneous works of P. Sirmond.
Thus it is not surprising that St. Cyprian should give the
title of mother church—root of the church to that
of Rome, which had given birth to others, perhaps even in
Africa, and whose origin was of apostolic date. Through the
Apostles she was, like other apostolic churches, the mother
and root of the Catholic Church. Since these qualifications
are not given to her in an exclusive manner, they prove
nothing in favour of the authority she claims. No one denies
that Rome has been one of the most important centres of
Christian radiation over the world; no one disputes that she
was a powerful, venerable, and apostolic church. But all
concurs to prove that her importance did not confer
universal authority upon her during the first centuries.
We see that as early as the third century,
the Bishops of Rome, because St. Peter had been one of the
founders of that see, claimed to exercise a certain
authority over the rest of the Church, giving themselves
sometimes the title of bishop of bishops; but we also see
that the whole Church protested against these ambitious
pretensions, and held them of no account.
Since the Roman theologians attach so much
importance to the testimony of St. Cyprian and Tertullian,
we have been obliged to determine the sense of it in a clear
and precise manner. To the texts of the great Carthaginian
bishop we will add some of Tertullian, which are of high
importance, because the Roman theologians have wished to
interpret them in their favor.
In his book against Marcion,
Tertull. adv. Marcion. Book IV. § 5.
he expresses himself thus: "If it be proved, to begin with:
that is most true which is most primitive; that is most
primitive which has been from the commencement; that which
was from the commencement was established by the Apostles;
it will then be equally unquestionable, that that has been
given by the Apostles which has been held sacred by the
apostolic churches. Let us see what milk the
Corinthians have received of St. Paul; according to what law
the Galatians have been corrected; what the Philippians, the
Thessalonians, the Ephesians read; what the Romans our
neighbors announce, they who have received direct from Peter
and Paul the Gospel attested by their blood. We have also
the churches nourished by John." . .
The Church of Rome is here assigned its
proper place, which is after the apostolic churches, whose
foundation was anterior to her own.
Tertullian does not esteem her witness
superior to that of others; only he establishes one fact,
namely, that the Church of Rome, the only apostolic Church
of the West, was nearer than the others, and it was
therefore more easy for him and his opponents to ascertain
her testimony touching the questions that divided them.
In his book De Prœscriptionibus
Tertullian develops the same doctrine of the witness
of apostolic churches, and he appeals to that of the Church
of Rome in the same manner as in his book against Marcion.
"That which the Apostles have preached," he
said, Tertul De Præscript. § xxi.
"that is to say, that which Christ has revealed to them, I
claim by prescription, that it should only be
proved by the churches that the Apostles have founded,
teaching them, either viva voce, or by their
epistles. If this be so, all doctrine that agrees with that
of the apostolic churches, mothers and sources of faith,
Matricibus et originalibus fidei.
is agreeable to the truth."
Further on, Tertullian applies this general
"Let us glance,"
De Prescript. § xxxvi. he says, "at the apostolic
churches, where the sees of the apostles still remain, where
their epistles are still read, where their voice still
resounds, and their face, as it were, is still seen. Is it
Achaia that is near thee? thou hast Corinth; if thou art not
far from Macedonia, thou hast the Philippians; if thou canst
go to Asia, thou hast Ephesus; if thou dwellest near Italy,
thou hast Rome, whose authority is near us. How happy is
that church to whom the Apostles have given all its doctrine
with their blood—where Peter suffered death like his
Lord, where Paul was crowned by the death of John the
Baptist, whence the Apostle John, after being plunged into
boiling oil without suffering any ill, was banished to an
island. Let us see what that church says, what it teaches,
what it testifies in common with the churches of Africa."
The Romish theologians ordinarily content
themselves with quoting that part of the text we have put in
italics. They are careful not to call attention to the fact
that Tertuillian speaks of the Church of Rome, only after the other apostolic churches, and
in the same
character; that he appeals specially to her evidence,
only because it was the apostolic church nearest to
Africa, whose testimony it was most easy to obtain.
These observations, the importance and truth of which all
will understand, destroy completely the interpretation that
these theologians endeavour to give to the few lines they
cite. This doubtless is why they ordinarily pass the others
over in silence.
The Romish theologians have eagerly
collected many causes brought for adjudication to the see of
Rome during the first three centuries, and have instanced
them as proofs of the superior authority of the bishops of
this see over all the Church. Nevertheless, these appeals
prove absolutely nothing in favour of that authority. The
principal instances upon which they rely are those of
Origen, of St. Dionysius of Alexandria, of Paul of Samosata,
and of the Novatians. We will examine these cases in the
light of authentic historical monuments.
First we will establish a general principle
which determines their true character, as well as that of
the appeals addressed subsequently to the Bishop of Rome; it
is, that an appeal to a see or a bishop is not a proof in
favour of its authority. During the first three centuries,
frequent intercourse existed between the bishops; and if a
discussion arose in one particular church, those who
endeavoured to prove to their adversaries that they were
wrong, addressed themselves to other bishops, praying them
to make known the belief of their churches, so as to condemn
those who wished to give force to new opinions. Distant
churches were most commonly appealed to, such as could not
be suspected of partiality, apostolic churches, or bishops
who enjoyed a high reputation for holiness or learning.
Those who were condemned in the West appealed to the East,
and those who were condemned in the East appealed to the
West, and above all to Rome, which was the only apostolic
church of that country.
It is very natural that the Church of Rome
should not have been excluded from these appeals; but,
before alleging these appeals in support of her supreme
authority, it would be necessary to show her to have been
the only one appealed to, and that her sentences were
received as emanating from that authority. We shall see that
such was not the case.
Origen never appealed to Rome,
notwithstanding many Romish theologians affirm that he did.
Condemned at first by the bishops of Egypt, subsequently by
several others, and in particular by the Bishop of Rome, he
saw fit to justify himself before those who had condemned
him. "But he also wrote," says Eusebius,
Euseb. Hist. Eccl. Book VI. chap. xxxvi. "to
Fabianus, Bishop of Rome, and to many others of the bishops
of churches, respecting his orthodoxy." Such is, in all its
simplicity, the fact in which Roman theologians have found a
proof of the primacy in authority and jurisdiction of the
Bishops of Rome. They carefully avoid quoting the text of
Eusebius, and have passed over in silence the opinion of St.
Jerome touching the condemnations of which Origen had been
the object. Jerome, after speaking of the innumerable
labours of the learned priest of Alexandria, cries,
Ap. Ruff, liv. ii. "What reward
has he received for so much toil and sweat? He is condemned
by Bishop Demetrius, and, excepting the bishops of
Palestine, Arabia, Phœnicia and Achaia, he is unanimously
condemned by all. Even Rome assembled her Senate (that is,
her synod) against him; not that he taught new dogmas, not
that he held heretical opinions, as those who bark after him
like furious dogs would persuade us; but because they could
not bear the brilliancy of his eloquence and learning, and
because, when he spoke, all the others seemed dumb."
Thus, according to St. Jerome, the clergy of
Rome associated themselves in low intrigues against Origen;
and, according to Eusebius, this great man wrote to the
Bishop of Rome as he wrote to many others to justify his
We ask what this fact proves for the
authority of the Bishops of Rome.
The case of St. Dionysius of Alexandria
proves nothing more. Many of the faithful, not having
understood the teaching of this great bishop against
Sabellius and his partisans, went to Rome, and attributed a
heretical doctrine to him. A council was then holding in
that city. The Roman bishop wrote, in the name of the
council, a letter to Dionysius of Alexandria, to ascertain
if it were true that he taught the doctrine attributed to
him. The Bishop of Alexandria sent to Rome a work he had
composed and in which his sentiments were set forth with
Such is the substance of what St. Athanasius
and Eusebius wrote on this point. Now, because one bishop
asks in the name of a council, for information from another
bishop respecting his faith, must we conclude that the
bishop who seeks this information possesses authority and
jurisdiction over him to whom he writes? It is not only the
right but the duty of every bishop to seek
to enlighten a brother whom he believes in error, and to
hold himself ready to give an account of his own faith.
Thus, the bishops of Rome and Alexandria performed an
imperative duty; neither of them exercised authority.
Again, because many went to Rome to accuse
him, is there, therefore, no reason to say that they
recognized a superior authority in this see?
Faustinus, Bishop of Lyons, wishing to have
Marcianus of Arles condemned, accused him to St. Cyprian.
Did he thereby acknowledge a superior authority in St.
Cyprian? Two wicked bishops, who showed in their favour
letters from the Bishop of Rome, Letters
of St. Cyprian. were condemned by St. Cyprian upon
the accusation of the Spanish bishops. Shall we infer that
the Spanish bishops acknowledged in Cyprian an authority not
only over their church, but superior to that of the Bishop
of Rome? The history of the Church affords numerous examples
of bishops who appealed to each other, and that without
recognizing any authority in those to whom the causes were
Dionysius of Alexandria,
Euseb, Decl. Hist Book VII chap. xxviii. and xxx. Library of
the Fathers, vol. xi. himself received complaints
against the doctrine of Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch,
as the Bishop of Rome had received them against his. As that
bishop had written to him, he wrote to the Bishop of
Antioch, to inform him of the accusations made against him.
He addressed himself to Paul in the name of his clergy, as
the Bishop of Rome had addressed him in the name of the
Roman council. The Bishop of Antioch replied, in order to
give explanations; and Dionysius, not finding them
sufficiently clear, wrote back to refute them. The bishops
of Syria assembled at Antioch to judge Paul. They wrote to
Firmilian of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, and to Dionysius of
Alexandria, praying them to come and judge with them. Had
they thus written to the Bishop of Rome, the Romish
theologians would have gloried in the fact, which,
nevertheless, would prove nothing more in favour of the
jurisdiction of that bishop, than it proves in favour of
that of Firmilian or of Dionysius.
The latter could not present himself at the
council, because of a serious malady that shortly after laid
him in the tomb; but he wrote to the Council of Antioch a
letter which was sent to the whole Church by a Second
council that terminated the case of Paul of Samosata.
This heretical bishop having wished to
continue in the episcopal dwelling, the bishops, in order to
have him expelled, wrote to the Emperor Aurelian at Rome,
who, says Eusebius, Eusebius Eccl, Hist.
Book VII. chap. xxx. "decided most equitably,
ordering the building to be given up to those to whom the Christian bishops of Italy and Rome should write."
The second Council of Antioch had written to
the Bishop of Rome as well as to the successor of Dionysius
in the see of Alexandria. The Church of Italy adhered to the
sentence of the council against Paul of Samosata, who was
driven from the Church.
It has been wished to find in the decision
of Aurelian, a proof in favor of the universal jurisdiction
of the Bishop of Rome. It is more accurate to say that the
Emperor, in the affair upon which he had been consulted,
wished to hear the testimony of bishops, who could not be
reasonably challenged by either party, because they
were not interested to favour one more than another; of
bishops whose sentence he himself could easily ascertain,
since he lived among them. It must be remarked that the
Emperor did not give as final the sentence of the Bishop of
Rome; he named him with the other bishops of Italy, and after them; and if he mentioned him in a special
manner, it was evidently because of the importance of his
see, established in the capital of the empire, and not
because he enjoyed any particular authority.
There must truly be great need of proofs in
favour of the Roman supremacy, when its supporters look for
them in the conduct of a pagan emperor; while all the
ecclesiastical details of the affair of Paul of Samosata
prove that supremacy had not been recognized by the Church.
The case of the Novatians is not more
favourable to their system. The schism of Novatus of
Carthage is easily confounded with that of Novatian of Rome.
The partisans of Novatian like those of Novatus, affected an
extreme rigor toward those whom persecution had overcome.
Novatian having established his schism at Rome, as Novatus
had done at Carthage, the schismatics of Rome endeavoured to
obtain the support of the Church of Africa, as the
schismatics of Carthage that of the Church of Rome. From
their relations and appeals one might as fairly infer the
supremacy of Carthage over Rome. But the Romish theologians
endeavour to fix the attention only upon that of Rome;
wherefore is easily understood. Their efforts are useless,
for facts confound them.
St. Cyprian in several councils severely
condemned the opinions of Novatus and Novatian. The first, a
most zealous partisan of sentiments which were not less than
criminal seeing he was about to be brought to trial, fled to
Rome. There he had an understanding with Novatian, who
aspired to the Episcopate of that city, and caused him to be
proclaimed bishop, although Cornelius was already lawfully
Cornelius and his competitor addressed
themselves to the Bishop of Carthage. Cyprian believed in
the lawfulness of Cornelius' election; yet he did not admit
him at once to his communion, because of the letters of his
rival. He called a council of the bishops of Africa, who
determined to send two of their number to Rome, in order to
learn what had happened there. The result being favourable
to Cornelius, communion was established between him and the
bishops of Africa.
Novatian still continued to call himself the
Bishop of Rome, and renewed his appeals to the Church of
Africa. He was foiled by the energy of Cyprian, but
nevertheless gained some partisans. At Rome his party was
considerable. Cyprian interfered to reëstablish the order of
the Church, and succeeded, and Cornelius informed him of the
Up to this time, it is rather the Bishop of
Carthage who influences the affairs of the Church of Rome,
than the Bishop of Rome, those of the Church of Carthage.
But soon after, the schismatics of the latter city elected a
bishop who sought communion with the Church of Rome. This
party afterward divided in two portions, each one choosing a
bishop; this division weakened them. Not having been able to
gain any partisans in Africa, they presented themselves at
Rome, to accuse Cyprian, as formerly they bad accused
Cornelius before the Bishop of Carthage. The Bishop of Rome
permitted himself to be shaken by their calumnies; but he
arrived at other conclusions after having received the
letters of Cyprian.
Novatian's party existed at Rome after the
death of Cornelius. He had partisans in most of the
churches. Marcianus, Bishop of Arles, was of the number.
Faustinus, Bishop of Lyons, believed it
necessary under these circumstances to appeal for support to
the principal bishops of the West, in order to condemn
Marcianus. He therefore addressed Stephen, Bishop of Rome,
and Cyprian. The latter had written to the Bishop of Rome,
to tell him what he ought to do under the circumstances. He
was himself too far from the seat of the trouble to give
much attention to the case, and he entreated his brother of
Rome to write to the clergy and people of Arles, advising
them to depose Marcianus.
In all these facts, related exactly after
authentic documents, See chiefly the
Letters of St. Cyprian. nothing can be seen but an
equal intervention by the bishops of Rome and Carthage, in
the affairs of the Church, an equal desire to entertain
friendly relations between them, and to be in perfect
communion. If St. Cyprian praises Cornelius and the
Church of Rome for condemning the schismatics of Africa, he
had previously blamed them for having hesitated to
pronounce between him and the illegitimate bishop who had
presented himself at Rome. Happy that his adversaries had
not found in that church the support they hoped for, he gave
great praise to the Romans, and it was then he wrote that
famous passage, which has been so much abused:
"They (his adversaries) dared to embark and
carry their letters to the see of Peter, to the principal
church from which sacerdotal unity has sprung, not thinking
there were the Romans whose faith the
Apostle has praised, and to whom perfidy can have no
We have explained according to St. Cyprian
himself, the expressions from which the Romish theologians
would draw such vast conclusions. It only remains for us,
therefore, to notice that the circumstances and the context
take from them all the importance it has been sought to
attribute to them. It was right that St. Cyprian should
thank the Church of Rome for declaring in his favour against
his adversaries. In order to do this, he recalls the memory
of its two founders—of St. Peter, who was the type of unity in the apostolic, and, by consequence, of
the Episcopal body; of St. Paul, who had praised the faith
of the Romans. It must be observed, it is not to
the Bishop of Rome that he gives this praise, but
to the clergy and faithful of that Church, who, at his
prayer, had read his letters, and before whom he had pleaded
his cause. In his eyes the bishop is nothing without his
clergy and the faithful, and he grants him no personal
prerogative. This text of St. Cyprian, therefore, is
contrary, not favourable to the system of a Papal autocracy.
Any one will be convinced of this who reads entire the
letters of the bishops of Rome and Carthage. They both act
only in concert with the clergy of their Church and the
bishops of their province; neither assumes any personal