The long and painstaking journey of my conversion to Orthodoxy began one day while I was in the process of re-organizing the library catalogs of the Roman Catholic monastery to which I belonged. This monastery, one of the most beautiful in the northern region of Spain, belonged to the monastic order of Saint Francis of Assisi. It was built on the Mediterranean coastline, a few miles outside of my birthplace, Barcelona. At the time, the abbots of the monastery had assigned me the task of updating the catalogs of the books, transcripts, and authors of our voluminous library. This task would be instrumental in the assessment of the incalculable losses the library had sustained during the last Spanish civil war, when the monastery had been set ablaze and partially destroyed by the communists. On one of those evenings, buried in the endless work, hidden behind mountains of old books and charred manuscripts, I made a discovery that puzzled me greatly. In an envelope that contained documents referring to the Holy Inquisition from around 1647, I found a copy of a decree written in Latin, proclaimed by Pope Innocent X. By this decree, any Christian who would dare to believe, follow, or profess the doctrine regarding Saint Paul's authentic apostolic authority1 was anathematized [eternally condemned] as a heretic.
Furthermore, this paradoxical document compelled all faithful, under the threat of post mortem punishment, to accept that the Apostle Paul had never exercised his apostolic work freely or independently. In other words, from the moment he had become a Christian until the time of his death, Paul was under the constant monarchial authority of the Apostle Peter, the first among the popes and leaders of the church. Additionally, the decree asserted that Peter's absolute authority was exclusively and solely inherited by the subsequent popes and bishops of Rome through direct succession. I confess that had I found in our monastery library a book forbidden by the Index,2 it would have been less of a surprise. Naturally, I was not ignorant of the exaggerated practices and machinations concerning dogmatic matters to which the courts of the Holy Inquisition had resorted during the Middle Ages and even during later years. That was a period when the Roman Catholic hierarchy would go to extreme lengths to substantiate a theological justification for the imperialist ambitions of Papism.
To succeed in this endeavor, Rome had given explicit orders to its theologians and preachers to prove -with all possible means- that the popes had received from God the authority to reign as caesars over the entire ecumenical church, given their position as heirs of the Apostle Peter's primacy. Thus, a true crusade was organized in the West to disparage the Orthodox teaching regarding the Apostle Peter's primacy of honor. The purpose for this was twofold. On one hand, it would develop a theological basis for papal caesarism, and on the other, it would diminish the importance of the Eastern patriarchs' position in terms of the monarchial claims of their Roman colleague. One of the main ploys to fulfil this agenda was the circulation of a plethora of adulterated publications or misinterpretations of the Holy Fathers.
These misleading publications, supported by the misinterpretation of various Scriptural verses,3 attempted to have the notorious Primatus Petri shine forth as a special privilege bequeathed solely to the Apostle Peter and subsequently to his alleged successors, the Roman pontiffs. According to this privilege, the popes of Rome had the right to exercise monarchial and practically absolute authority over the ecumenical church, a notion against which the Orthodox Church rebelled. So an excess of anthologies and catenae 4 of patristic verses relating to papal primacy -mostly absolutely false or heavily distorted, with a minimal basis of authentic content- were pressed in the print shops of the main monastic orders of the West and circulated in vast quantities throughout Mediterranean Europe.5
Yet if the faithful comprehended that neither the Apostle Paul nor the other apostles were under the absolute authority of the so-called first pope, Simon Peter, then the entire edifice of the heavily distorted teaching of Papism would collapse on its own. To prevent this, the bishops of Rome never ceased to terrorize, condemn, and anathematize with postmortem punishments all those who dared to express the slightest doubt on this subject. Their cause was assisted by the courts of the Holy Inquisition, which, under the adage "the end justifies the means," 6 were authorized to use brute force such as torturing by fire, submerging in boiling oil, and skinning alive in order to beat into submission the most persistent and unrepentant Christians, in the name of the Holy Trinity and for the general good of the Church. Nevertheless, I had never expected my church to reach such a level of fanaticism as to dare to prohibit and condemn the teaching of the Holy Scriptures that had been recorded with absolute clarity and taught by the apostles themselves, with a document such as the one I was holding in my hands. That document had exceeded all limits, especially since the condemnation of the faithful following the teaching of the Apostle Paul amounts to the absurd condemnation of the orthodox teaching of this apostle, who declares, in no uncertain terms, that he is not at all inferior to the most eminent of the apostles. 7 In this context, the decree of Pope Innocent X seemed to be so implausible that I decided to examine the possibility of some typographical error or some accidental distortion of the authentic text, something not so unusual during its publication era.8
In any case, whether authentic, forged, or simply distorted, I reckoned that this text was a rather curious bibliographical possession of our library, in need of serious attention and further research. Shortly thereafter, however, my initial interest changed into much confusion. After doing some additional research at the Central Library of Barcelona, I discovered that not only was this document unequivocally authentic, but its views were rather common at the time. In fact, in the two decisions of the Holy Inquisition, those of 13279 and 135110 and prior to the one of 1647, Popes John XXII and Clement VI had anathematized and condemned every man and every teaching daring to refute the argument that the Apostle Paul obeyed the mandates of the Apostle Peter, the first of the popes. These mandates, which no one dared question, were presumed to be under the Apostle Peter's absolute authority. Point in case was the anathema Pope Martin V placed on John Huss at the Synod of Constance.11 Later, Popes Pius IX at the Synod of Vatican,12 Pius X in 1907, and Benedict XIV in 1920 repeated the same condemnation in the most official and unequivocal terms.13
Since the possibility of forgery proved to be unlikely, I found myself tormented by a deep crisis of conscience. I found it impossible to accept that the Apostle Paul was subordinate to human authority. For me, Paul's independent and unhindered ministry among the nations, akin to the ministry of the Apostle Peter among the Hebrews, is an irrefutable fact of the greatest significance.14
The Apostle Paul, "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father,"15 thought Simon Peter second to James among those considered to be pillars in the Church of Christ.16 Subsequently, he adds that the positions they assume in these matters find him indifferent since they are simply their personal preferences which God does not take seriously.17 At any rate, the Apostle Paul clearly declared that whoever those apostles were, he was not at all inferior to any of them.18
To me this was loud and clear, especially given the exegetical works of the Holy Fathers that leave no room for the slightest doubt on this issue. Saint John Chrysostom says the following about the Apostle Paul: [Paul] declares his equality to the rest of the apostles and wishes to be compared not only with all the others but with the first one of them, to prove that all of them had the same authority.19
In addition, the Consensus Patrum (the consensus of the Fathers) was that:
All of the apostles were exactly like Peter; namely, endowed with the same honor and authority.20
It would have been impossible for the Apostle Paul to be under the tutelage of some higher authority of another apostle since the power of the apostle is "the ultimate power and the apex of all authorities."21 Saint Cyprian shares this position as well:
They were all shepherds equally even though the flock was one. And it [the flock] was shepherded by the apostles, as they conformed to the same thought.22
Saint Ambrose of Milan further adds:
If the Apostle Peter had some precedence in relation to the other apostles, this was a precedence of confession and not of honor; of faith and not of degree.23
Justifiably then, this same Saint later wrote referring to the popes: "They cannot have the inheritance of Peter, those who do not keep the same faith with him."24 Although this matter was crystal clear, Roman Catholic dogma, being diametrically opposed to it, posed a terrible dilemma to me: Should I knowingly choose and abide by the Gospel and the Tradition of the Fathers or side with the arbitrary teaching of the Catholic Church?
To make matters worse, according to Roman Catholic soteriology 25 [doctrine of salvation], a Christian must believe that the Church is a monarchy 26 and its monarch is the Pope.27 Accordingly, the Synod of Vatican, combining all the previous convictions on this matter, officially declared:
If anyone says... that Peter, the first bishop and pope of Rome, was not crowned as prince of the apostles by Christ and [established] as the visible head of the church militant... let him be anathema.28
In the face of these two diametrically opposed doctrinal positions, how could I possibly compromise my conscience?
FOOTNOTES TO CHAPTER 11. Decree of Sancti Officii of the 21st of January 1647, which was approved and sent by Pope Innocent X. See the complete text in, Du Plessis d'Argente, 3,2,218. 2. Index Liborum Prohibitorum [index of censored books].This official index released by the Vatican posts all books which include content contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. 3. Specifically: Matt 16:18-19, Luke 22:31-32, John 21:1517. 4. Catenae (singular, "catena," from Latin meaning "chain" are the successive collocation of exegetical verses of the Holy Fathers juxtaposed to the verses of the Holy Scriptures they intended to interpret. 5. All these activities did not escape the attention of the Roman Catholic historians themselves. See, for example, G. Greenen, Dictionaire de Theologie Catholique, Paris 1946, XVI, 1, pg.745-746; J. Madoz S. J., Une nouvelle rédaction des texts pseudopatristiques sur la Primaute, dans Pocuvre de Jacques de Viterbe? (Gregorianum, vol. XVII, , pp 563-583); R. Ceiller, Histoire des Auteurs Ecclesiastiques, Paris vol.VIII, pg 272. Also: F. X. Reusch, Die Fälschungen in dem Tractat des Thomas Aquin gegen die Griechen (Abhandlungen der K. Bayer, III, cl. XVIII, Bd. III, Munich, 1889); C.Werner, Der heilige Thomas von Aquin, I, Ratisbone, 1889, pg. 763. 6. "Licetfacere mala ut veniaut bona". 7. 2 Cor. 11:5 and 12:11: I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super apostles. 8. See: G. Greenen, Dictionaire deThéologie Catholique, Paris 1946, vol. XVI, 1, pg. 745; also in: R. Ceiller, Histoire des Auteurs Ecclésiastiques, Paris, vol. VIII, pg. 272. 9. October 23rd of 1327, in the decision: "Licet Luxta Doctri-nam". "Ioannis XXII, Constitutio, qua damnantur errores Marsilli Patavini et Ioannis de Ianduno". See text in Du Plessis d'Argenté, 1,365. 10. September 29th of 1351, in the papal epistle "Super Quibusdam" to the Catholic Paregoretes of the Armenians. See text in Cardinal Baronio's Chronicles, 1351, num. 3. 11. Articuli 30 loannis Huss damnati a Concilio Constantiniensi et Martino V, Artic 7. 12. The Vatican Synod, which convened at the Basilica of Saint Peter of Rome from December 8, 1869 until September of 1870, determined that papal primacy was the most significant dogma of Christianity and confirmed the theory of papal infallibility. See texts in Conc. Vatic., Const. Dogmat., Sess. 4, Const. 1, Bulla "Pastor Aeternus", ch. 1. (Denzinger, Enchiridion, 139, 1667-1683). 13. Pius X in the decree "Lamentabili," whose text can be found in "Actae Sanctae Sedis", 40/1907/, 470-478. See also: Concilii Florentini Decreta, Decretum unionis Graecorum, in Bulla Eugenii IV “Laetentur Coeli” Professio fidei Graecii praescripta a Gregorio XIII per Constitutionem 51 “Sanctissimus Dominus noster”; Professio fidei Orientalibus praescripta ab Urbano VIII et Benedicto XIV per Constitutionem 79 “Nuper ad Nos.” 14. Cf. Gal. 2:7-8. 15. Gal. 1:1. 16. Ibid. 2:9. 17. Ibid. 2:6 18. Ibid. 2:6-9 19. St. John the Chrysostom's comments on the epistle to the Galatians2:3. 20. "Hoc erant utique et cacteri Apostoli quodfuit Petrus,pari consortio praediti et honoris potestatis"; St. Cyprian, De Unitate Ecclesiae, IV; St. Basil, In Isaias 2; St. Isidore Hispanensis (of Seville), De Officiis, Liber II, cap. 5, etc. 21. St. John the Chrysostom, About the Importance of the Holy Scriptures, Acts 3. 22. St. Cyprian, De Unitate Ecclesiae, V. 23. St. Ambrose, Lib. De Incarnatione, 7. 24. St. Ambrose, De Poenitentia, 7. In the West in the latter editions of the works of St. Ambrose, the Latin term "Fidem" has been replaced by the term "Sedem" Thus, the text conveniently reads: "They cannot have the inheritance of Peter those who are not enthroned on the same episcopal see as him.” This very text however, having lost its logical meaning, smacks of forgery. 25. Martin É, Bull "Inter Cunctas", 8 Calend. Martii 1418. Gerson, De Statu Sum. Pontiff Consid., I. 26. Devoti, Instit. Canonicae, Prolegom., Cap. 2, Benedict XIV, De Synod. Diocesan, 2,1. 27. Benedict XIV, Ibid. 28. "Si quis dixerit [...] Petrum non esse a Christo contutum Apos-tolorum Principem et totius Ecclesiae Militantis Visibile Caput [...] anathema sit," Concilii Vaticani, Constit., Dogmat., Sess. 4, Const. 1, Bulla "Pastor Aeternus," Cap. I.
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