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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 58. The Latin Patriarch.


These advantages of the patriarch of Rome over the patriarch of Constantinople are at the same time the leading causes of the rise of the papacy, which we must now more closely pursue.

The papacy is undeniably the result of a long process of history. Centuries were employed in building it, and centuries have already been engaged upon its partial destruction. Lust of honor and of power, and even open fraud,526526   Recall the interpolations of papistic passages in the works of Cyprian; the Roman enlargement of the sixth canon of Nice; the citation of the Sardican canon under the name and the authority of the Nicene council; and the later notorious pseudo-Isidorian decretals. The popes, to be sure, were not the original authors of these falsifications, but they used them freely and repeatedly for their purposes. have contributed to its development; for human nature lies hidden under episcopal robes, with its steadfast inclination to abuse the power intrusted to it; and the greater the power, the stronger is the temptation, and the worse the abuse. But behind and above these human impulses lay the needs of the church and the plans of Providence, and these are the proper basis for explaining the rise, as well as the subsequent decay, of the papal dominion over the countries and nations of Europe.

That Providence which moves the helm of the history of world and church according to an eternal plan, not only prepares in silence and in a secrecy unknown even to themselves the suitable persons for a given work, but also lays in the depths of the past the foundations of mighty institutions, that they may appear thoroughly furnished as soon as the time may demand them. Thus the origin and gradual growth of the Latin patriarchate at Rome looked forward to the middle age, and formed part of the necessary, external outfit of the church for her disciplinary mission among the heathen barbarians. The vigorous hordes who destroyed the West-Roman empire were to be themselves built upon the ruins of the old civilization, and trained by an awe-inspiring ecclesiastical authority and a firm hierarchical organization, to Christianity and freedom, till, having come of age, they should need the legal schoolmaster no longer, and should cast away his cords from them. The Catholic hierarchy, with its pyramid-like culmination in the papacy, served among the Romanic and Germanic peoples. until the time of the Reformation, a purpose similar to that of the Jewish theocracy and the old Roman empire respectively in the inward and outward preparation for Christianity. The full exhibition of this pedagogic purpose belongs to the history of the middle age; but the foundation for it we find already being laid in the period before us.

The Roman bishop claims, that the four dignities of bishop, metropolitan, patriarch, and pope or primate of the whole church, are united in himself. The first three offices must be granted him in all historical justice; the last is denied him by the Greek church, and by the Evangelical, and by all non-Catholic sects.

His bishopric is the city of Rome, with its cathedral church of St. John Lateran, which bears over its main entrance the inscription: Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput; thus remarkably outranking even the church of St. Peter—as if Peter after all were not the first and highest apostle, and had to yield at last to the superiority of John, the representative of the ideal church of the future. Tradition says that the emperor Constantine erected this basilica by the side of the old Lateran palace, which had come down from heathen times, and gave the palace to Pope Sylvester; and it remained the residence of the popes and the place of assembly for their councils (the Lateran councils) till after the exile of Avignon, when they took up their abode in the Vatican beside the ancient church of St. Peter.

As metropolitan or archbishop, the bishop of Rome had immediate jurisdiction over the seven suffragan bishops, afterward called cardinal bishops, of the vicinity: Ostia, Portus, Silva candida, Sabina, Praeneste, Tusculum, and Albanum.

As patriarch, he rightfully stood on equal footing with the four patriarchs of the East, but had a much larger district and the primacy of honor. The name is here of no account, since the fact stands fast. The Roman bishops called themselves not patriarchs, but popes, that they might rise the sooner above their colleagues; for the one name denotes oligarchical power, the other, monarchical. But in the Eastern church and among modern Catholic historians the designation is also quite currently applied to Rome.

The Roman patriarchal circuit primarily embraced the ten suburban provinces, as they were called, which were under the political jurisdiction of the Roman deputy, the Vicarius Urbis; including the greater part of Central Italy, all Upper Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica.527527   Concil. Nicaean. of 325, can. 6, in the Latin version of Rufinus (Hist. Eccl. x. 6): “Et ut apud Alexandria et in urbe Roma vetusta consuetudo servetur, ut vel ille Ægypti, vel hic suburbicariarum ecclesiarum sollicitudinem gerat.” The words suburb. eccl. are wanting in the Greek original, and are a Latin definition of the patriarchal diocese of Rome at the end of the fourth century. Since the seventeenth century they have given rise to a long controversy among the learned. The jurist Gothofredus and his friend Salmasius limited the regiones suburbicariae to the small province of the Praefectus Urbis, i.e. to the city of Rome with the immediate vicinity to the hundredth milestone; while the Jesuit Sirmond extended it to the much greater official district of the Vicarius Urbis, viz., the ten provinces of Campania, Tuscia with Umbria, Picenum suburbicarium, Valeria, Samnium, Apulia with Calabria, Lucania and Brutii, Sicilia, Sardinia, and Corsica. The comparison of the Roman bishop with the Alexandrian in the sixth canon of the Nicene council favors the latter view; since even the Alexandrian diocese likewise stretched over several provinces. The Prisca, however—a Latin collection of canons from the middle of the fifth century—has perhaps hit the truth of the matter, in saying, in its translation of the canon in question: “Antiqui moris est ut urbis Romae episcopus habeat principatum, ut suburbicaria loca [i.e. here, no doubt, the smaller province of the Praefectus] et omnem provinciam suam [i.e. the larger district of the Vicarius, or a still wider, indefinite extent] sollicitudine sua gubernet.” Comp. Mansi, Coll. Conc. vi. 1127, and Hefele, i. 380 sqq. In its wider sense, however, it extended gradually over the entire west of the Roman empire, thus covering Italy, Gaul, Spain, Illyria, southeastern Britannia, and northwestern Africa.528528   According to the political division of the empire, the Roman patriarchate embraced in the fifth century three praefectures, which were divided into eight political dioceses and sixty-nine provinces. These are, (1) the praefecture of Italy, with the three dioceses of Italy, Illyricum, and Africa; (2) the praefectum Galliarum, with the dioceses of Gaul, Spain, and Britain; (3) the praefecture of Illyricum (not to be confounded with the province of Illyria, which belonged to the praefecture of Italy), which, after 879, was separated indeed from the Western empire, as Illyricum orientale, but remained ecclesiastically connected with Rome, and embraced the two dioceses of Macedonia and Dacia. Comp. Wiltsch, l.c. i. 67 sqq.; Maassen, p. 125; and Hefele, i. 383.

The bishop of Rome was from the beginning the only Latin patriarch, in the official sense of the word. He stood thus alone, in the first place, for the ecclesiastical reason, that Rome was the only sedes apostolica in the West, while in the Greek church three patriarchates and several other episcopal sees, such as Ephesus, Thessalonica, and Corinth, shared the honor of apostolic foundation. Then again, he stood politically alone, since Rome was the sole metropolis of the West, while in the East there were three capitals of the empire, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. Hence Augustine, writing from the religious point of view, once calls Pope Innocent I. the “ruler of the Western church;”529529   Contra Julianum, lib. i. cap. 6. and the emperor Justinian, on the ground of political distribution, in his 109th Novelle, where he speaks of the ecclesiastical division of the whole world, mentions only five known patriarchates, and therefore only one patriarchate of the West. The decrees of the ecumenical councils, also, know no other Western patriarchate than the Roman, and this was the sole medium through which the Eastern church corresponded with the Western. In the great theological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries the Roman bishop appears uniformly as the representative and the organ of all Latin Christendom.

It was, moreover, the highest interest of all orthodox churches in the West, amidst the political confusion and in conflict with the Arian Goths, Vandals, and Suevi, to bind themselves closely to a common centre, and to secure the powerful protection of a central authority. This centre they could not but find in the primitive apostolic church of the metropolis of the world. The Roman bishops were consulted in almost all important questions of doctrine or of discipline. After the end of the fourth century they issued to the Western bishops in reply, pastoral epistles and decretal letters,530530   Epistola decretales; an expression, which, according to Gieseler and others, occurs first about 500, in the so-called decretum Gelasii de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis. in which they decided the question at first in the tone of paternal counsel, then in the tone of apostolic authority, making that which had hitherto been left to free opinion, a fixed statute. The first extant decretal is the Epistola of Pope Siricius to the spanish bishop Himerius, a.d. 385, which contains, characteristically, a legal enforcement of priestly celibacy, thus of an evidently unapostolic institution; but in this Siricius appeals to “generalia decreta,” which his predecessor Liberius had already issued. In like manner the Roman bishops repeatedly caused the assembling of general or patriarchal councils of the West (synodos occidentales), like the synod of Axles in 314. After the sixth and seventh centuries they also conferred the pallium on the archbishops of Salona, Ravenna, Messina, Syracuse, Palermo, Arles, Autun, Sevilla, Nicopolis (in Epirus), Canterbury, and other metropolitans, in token of their superior jurisdiction.531531   See the information concerning the conferring of the pallium in Wiltsch, i. 68 sq.



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