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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



Author’s Introduction

The Pope is a king, and pretends to be sovereign pontiff of the Christian Church.

We do not propose to occupy ourselves with his royalty. To what advantage? It will soon fall. Its ruin is decreed by Providence. Foreign bayonets will no more save it than the sophisms of its defenders. If, as is affirmed, these are necessary to uphold the sovereign pontificate, it is but another reason for desiring its fall—because this pontificate is an usurpation. This we proceed to demonstrate in the present work. To reach this end we shall have recourse neither to questionable arguments nor to declamation. Facts drawn from original sources are summoned as witnesses. We take the Roman episcopate at the origin of Christianity, follow it through centuries, and are able to prove incontestably, that during eight centuries the spiritual Papacy, as we understand it at the present day, had no existence; that the bishop of Rome was during three centuries only a bishop, with the same rank as the others; that in the fourth century he received a primacy of honor without universal jurisdiction; that this honor has no other foundation than the decrees of the Church; that his restricted jurisdiction over certain neighboring churches is supported only upon a custom legalized by Councils.

As for the universal sovereignty, absolute, of divine right—in other words, the Papacy—facts and catholic testimony of the first eight centuries condemn instead of sustaining it.

History reveals to us the Papacy, after several fruitless attempts, taking its birth from circumstances and establishing itself in the ninth century, with its double political and ecclesiastical character. Its real founder was Adrian I. Nicholas I chiefly contributed to its development; Gregory VII raised it to its loftiest pitch.

Adrian I was in fact the first Pope. They who before this occupied the see of Rome, were only bishops, successors, not of St. Peter, as has been declared and repeated to satiety, but of Linus, who was already bishop of Rome when St. Peter arrived in that city, to seal there by his martyrdom the faith he had preached. The defenders of the Papacy commit, therefore, at the outset, one of the grossest historical errors in carrying back the Papacy, that is, the Papal sovereignty, to the origin of Christianity. This error has led them to a thousand others, impelled, as they have been, to seek proofs for the support of this false theory in the history of the Church and in the writings of the ancient fathers. They have thus wrested facts and distorted testimonies. They have even dared to attack Holy Scripture, and by delusive anti-Catholic interpretation, made it bear false witness in favor of their system. It is thus that the Church of Rome was the first to give example of those individual interpretations for which she so bitterly reproaches Protestantism. She was the first to abandon the Catholic rule of the interpretation of the sacred books; she has put aside the collective interpretation of which the fathers of the Church have been the faithful echoes, and upon her own authority she has presumed to discover in Scripture that which the Church Catholic has not found there. She has come thus to arrogate for her usurped sovereignty a divine foundation. She has drawn from this principle all its consequences; the Pope has become the vicar of Jesus Christ, the necessary centre of the Church, the pivot of Christianity, the infallible organ of heaven. These Papal errors were so skillfully disseminated in the western countries that they were there gradually adopted. The protests which they drew forth were indeed continued, but partaking of the spirit of the age, they were not sufficiently pointed; such even as were raised against the abuses of the Papacy, admitted as beyond question a divine basis for that institution.

At the present day, these errors have penetrated not only among the clergy and religious men; the rationalists—anti-Christians themselves—admit the idea that the Pope is the sovereign chief of the Christian Church, and that his spiritual prerogatives are derived from Jesus Christ. Many Protestants themselves do not conceive of a Catholic Church without a Pope, and see this church only in the Roman Church.The author thus touches two of the greatest advantages which modern writers, unfortunately, concede to the Papists: 1st. That of identifying historical Christianity with the Mediæval Roman system; 2d. That of calling the Trentine Church the Catholic Church.

We ourselves have been misled by the common error, taught as we had been to regard it as a revealed and incontestable verity.

In embarking upon the extensive researches we were obliged to make for the preparation of the History of the Church of France, it did not enter our thoughts to examine certain questions, which only in an indirect way entered into our subject and upon which we had blindly accepted certain opinions. Hence some expressions too favorable to the Papacy, and some errors of detail in our book. We seize the occasion now offered to give warning of them, in order that our readers may be on their guard against these errors, which, however, will find their correction in the present work.

Rome has visited with her censure the History of the Church of France because it was not sufficiently favorable to her pretensions. We ourselves censure it because too many concessions are there made to Roman prejudices which bad been imparted to us as truth, and which we had not been at the pains thoroughly to examine. Should Providence ever put it into our power to reprint the History of the Church of France, we shall deem it an obligation of conscience to make the correction. This would have been done at the demand of Rome, had Rome condescended to convince us of error. We shall do it, however, at the requirement of our own conscience, now more enlightened.

No man is infallible; hence, inasmuch as a man dishonors himself by changing his opinions without good reason or pretending such change from motives of interest, in the same degree does he honor himself when acknowledging and retracting errors he discovers himself to have committed.

We are therefore disposed to great tolerance toward Roman Catholics who believe in the divine origin of the Papal prerogatives; for we know that this prejudgment is communicated to all of them with the first elements of religious instruction, and that every thing in the Roman Church tends to strengthen it in their souls. But the more deeply this delusion is rooted in the Roman Church, and generally in all the West, the more are we bound to combat it with vigor.

To this pursuit have we for several years perseveringly devoted ourselves, and, thanks to God, our labors have not been useless. We hope the new work we now send forth will also bear its fruits, and will come to the help of those religious men, daily increasing in number, who, in the presence of the abuses and excesses of every kind committed by the. Papacy, can no longer be blinded respecting it by old delusions.

Accustomed to see in it the divine centre of the Church, they can no longer recognize such a centre in this hotbed of innovations and of sacrilegious usurpations; they ask, therefore, where is the Church of Jesus Christ? We need only divest the Papacy of the glory it has usurped, that the Church Catholic may at once appear in her majestic perpetuity, in her universality. The Papacy has narrowed it to the point of presuming to comprehend the whole Church in itself. Tear away these glittering pretensions, and the Christian society will appear marching with unbroken progress through ages, preserving inviolate the deposit of revelation, protesting against every error, whether emanating from Rome or elsewhere; accepting as her rule only the catholic rule founded upon the Word of God, of which the Councils and the Fathers are the organs.

In this holy society there are neither Greeks nor Barbarians, but Christians only, who can say with St. Pacian, Christian is my name; Catholic my surname, because they believe without exception in all fullness (êáè’ ὅëïí) the doctrine taught by the Master and preserved intact by the Church in all ages and in all places. This great truth is concisely expressed by the well-known words of Vincent of Lerins:

Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus.

The Pope would, in his own interest, limit the Church to such as acknowledge his sovereignty, that he might then absorb them and say, I am the Church. Let us break down the barriers he has raised, and we shall at once see the Church in all her beauty, expanding in freedom, unshackled by territorial boundaries, owning as its members all particular churches, bound together by the same faith, communing with one another through pastors alike apostolic, made one in Jesus Christ, the great Pontiff, the sole Head of the Church, and in the Holy Spirit its guide.

Who has broken this admirable unity of the first Christian ages? The Pope.

He has usurped the place of Jesus Christ, and has said to all churches, It is in me and by me you shall be united; the ministry of your pastors shall proceed from me; from me are you to receive doctrine. I am supreme pastor. It is my right to govern all. I am supreme judge. I may judge all and be myself judged by no one whomsoever. I am the echo of heaven, the infallible voice of God. To similar words, almost the same as those summed up by the author, the present pontiff, Plus IX, lately presumed to add the awful expression, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.Editor.

Shall the harmony of the Church Catholic be destroyed because the Papacy has availed itself of outward circumstances to extend its usurped domination over a certain number of individual churches? Assuredly not. So far from excluding from this concord churches which have resisted her usurpations, it is the Papacy itself that is to be thus excluded. Not only has she broken with churches truly Catholic, but she has violated the traditions of her own Church. She has divided them into two distinct parts, like the Roman episcopate itself. The Roman traditions of the first eight centuries are not the same as those of succeeding ages. The Papacy has, therefore, lost its true perpetuity in the very points wherein it has innovated. Thus a member of the Roman Church who returns to the primitive doctrine of that Church, who rejects the innovations of the Papacy, reënters at once into the Catholic concord, belongs to the true Church of Jesus Christ, to that Church which has maintained itself in its double character of perpetuity, of universality. Far from us be those deplorable accusations of schism hurled at venerable churches, which have preserved the revealed doctrine in its primitive purity, which have preserved the apostolic ministry! The Papacy calls them schismatical, because they have refused to acknowledge its usurpations. It is full time such noisy misapprehensions should cease.

We proceed, then, to demonstrate that it is the Papacy itself which is guilty of schism; that after having provoked division, it has perpetuated and consolidated it by its innovations; in a word, that it has caused its divisions to pass into a state of schism.

This proved, we shall be at liberty to conclude that those who are considered by the Papacy as schismatics because of their opposition to her autocracy, are in reality the true Catholics, and that it has, in seeking to separate others from it, become itself separated from the Church.

There are those in the West who would present the Papacy as the legitimate development of the Christian idea, as Christianity arrived at its completion. The truth is, that it is the negation of the evangelical idea, of the Christian idea. Can, then, the negation of an idea be considered as its development? There will be some astonishment perhaps in seeing us enter upon such a subject with this degree of candor. We answer, that at the epoch in which we live, there is need to speak frankly without mental reserve. We do not understand circumlocution with respect to error. Indulgent, charitable toward men who are deceived, we believe that we obey a true instinct of charity in waging open war with the errors that deceive men. To speak truth, as wrote the Patriarch Photius to Pope Nicholas, is the greatest act of charity.


L’Abbe Guettée


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

Last update: 6-2-2010.