We have already mentioned that the title of œcumenical had been given to the Bishop of Rome as a mere honour in the Council of Chalcedon; that Pope Felix bad affected to give to his see the title of catholic in the same sense; and that some Oriental monks had called Pope Agapitus œcumenical Patriarch. These precedents were copied at Constantinople. The emperors were bent upon raising the Patriarch of that capital, which they called the new Rome, to the same degree of honour as belonged to the one of ancient Rome, still keeping him in the second rank, but only in respect of seniority. The Emperor Maurice thus gave to John the Faster the title of œcumenical Patriarch.
Pope Pelagius II. and his successor Gregory the Great protested against this title. Gregory then wrote those famous letters which so absolutely condemn the modern Papacy. We will give some extracts from them.
At the beginning of his episcopate, Gregory addressed a letter of communion to the Patriarchs John of Constantinople, Eulogius of Alexandria, Gregory of Antioch, John of Jerusalem, and to Anastasius, formerly Patriarch of Antioch, his friend. If he had considered himself the chief and sovereign of the Church; if he had believed he was so by divine right, he would certainly have addressed the Patriarchs as subordinates; we should find in that encyclical letter some traces of his superiority. The fact is quite the reverse of this. It speaks at great length of the duties of the episcopate, and not even dreams of mentioning the rights which such a dignity would have conferred on him.
He particularly insists upon the duty of a bishop not to permit himself to be engrossed by the cares of external things, and concludes his encyclical letter with his confession of faith, in order to prove himself in communion with the other Patriarchs, and through them with all the Church. St. Greg. Pap. Epist. 25, lib. 1.
Such silence on St. Gregory's part concerning the pretended rights of the Papacy is of itself significant enough, and Romish theologians would find it difficult of explanation. What, then, shall they oppose to the letters from which we are about to give a few extracts, and in which St. Gregory most unreservedly condemns the very idea which is the foundation of their Papacy as they understand it—that is, the universal character of its authority?
Gregory to John, Bishop of Constantinople:
"You remember, my brother, the peace and concord which the Church enjoyed when you were raised to the sacerdotal dignity. I do not, therefore, understand how you have dared to follow the inspiration of pride, and have attempted to assume a title which may give offence to all the brethren. I am the more astonished at it that I remember your having taken flight to avoid the episcopate; and yet you would exercise it to-day, as if you had run toward it, impelled by ambitious desires. You who used to say so loud that you were unworthy of the episcopate, you are no sooner raised to it than, despising your brethren, you aspire to have alone the title of bishop. My predecessor, Pelagius, of saintly memory, wrote very seriously to your Holiness upon this subject. He rejected, in consequence of the proud and magnificent title that you assumed in them, the acts of the synod which you assembled in the cause of Gregory, our brother and fellow-bishop; and to the archdeacon, whom, according to usage, he had sent to the Emperor's court, he forbade communion with you. After the death of Pelagius, having been raised, notwithstanding my unworthiness, to the government of the Church, According to St. Gregory, every bishop has a part in the government of the Church, the authority residing in the episcopate. it has been my care to urge you, my brother, not by writing, but by word of mouth, first by my envoy, The Bishop of Rome had kept representatives at the court of Constantinople ever since that city had become the imperial residence. and afterward through our common son, Deacon Sabinian, to give up such assumption. I have forbidden him also to communicate with you if you should refuse to yield to my request, in order that your Holiness may be inspired with shame for your ambition, before resorting canonical proceedings, in case shame should not cure you of pride so profane and so reprehensible. As before resorting to amputation, the wound should be tenderly probed, I pray you—I entreat you—I ask with the greatest possible gentleness, that you, my brother, will resist all the flatterers who give you an erroneous title, and that you will not consent to ascribe to yourself a title as senseless as vainglorious. Verily I have tears for this; and from the bottom of my heart I ascribe it to my own sins that my brother has not been willing to return to lowliness—he who was raised to the episcopal dignity only to teach other souls to be lowly; that he who teaches others the truth would neither teach it to himself, nor consent, for all my prayers, that I should teach it him.
"I pray you, therefore, reflect that by your bold presumption the peace of the whole Church is troubled, and that you are at enmity with that grace, which was given to all in common. The more you grow in that grace, the more humble you will be in your own eyes; you will be the greater in proportion as you are further removed from usurping this extravagant and vainglorious title. You will be the richer as you seek less to despoil your brethren to your profit. Therefore, dearly beloved brother, love humility with all your heart. It is that which insures peace among the brethren, and which preserves unity in the Holy Catholic Church.
"When the Apostle Paul heard certain of the faithful say, 'I am of Paul of Apollos, and I of Cephas,' he could not see them, without horror, thus rending the body of the Lord, to attach his members to various heads; and he exclaimed, 'Was Paul crucified for you?—or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?' If he could not bear that the members of the body of the Lord should be attached piecemeal to other heads than that of Christ, though those heads were Apostles, what will you say to Christ, who is the head of the universal Church—what will you say to him at the last judgment—you who, by your title of universal, would bring all his members into subjection to yourself? Whom, I pray you tell me, whom do you imitate by this perverse title if not him who, despising the legions of angels, his companions, endeavoured to mount to the highest, that he might be subject to none and be alone above all others; who said, 'I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the North; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High'? What are your brethren, the bishops of the universal Church, but the stars of God? Their lives and teaching shine, in truth, through the sins and errours of men, as do the stars through the darkness of the night. When, by your ambitious title, you would exalt yourself above them, and debase their title in comparison with your own, what do you say, if not these very words, I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God? Are not all the bishops the clouds that pour forth the rain of instruction, and who are furrowed by the lightnings of their own good works? In despising them, my brother, and endeavouring to put them under your feet, what else do you say than that word of the ancient enemy, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds? For my part, when, through my tears, I see all this, I fear the secret judgments of God; my tears flow more abundantly; my heart overflows with lamentations, to think that my Lord John—a man so holy, of such great abstinence and humility, but now seduced by the flattery of his familiars—should have been raised to such a degree of pride that, through the lust of a wrongful title, he should endeavour to resemble him who, vaingloriously wishing to be like God, lost, because he was ambitious of a false glory, the grace of the divine resemblance that had been granted to him, and the true beatitude. Peter, the first of the Apostles, and a member of the holy and universal Church; Paul, Andrew, John—were they not the chiefs of certain nations? And yet all are members under one only head. In a word, the saints before the law, the saints under the law, the saints under grace — do they not all constitute the body of the Lord? Are they not members of the Church? Yet is there none among them who desired to be called universal. Let your Holiness consider, therefore, how much you are puffed up when you claim a title that none of them had the presumption to assume.
"You know it, my brother; hath not the venerable Council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of universal upon the bishops of this Apostolic See, whereof I am, by God's will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given to him; none hath assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren.
. . . 'The Lord, wishing to recall to a proper humility the yet feeble hearts of his disciples, said to them, 'If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all;' whereby we are clearly taught that he who is truly high is he who is most humble in mind. Let us, therefore, beware of being of the number of those 'who love the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.' In fact, the Lord said to his disciples, 'Be ye not called Rabbi, for one is your Master . . . and all ye are brethren. Neither be ye called Fathers, for ye have but one Father.'
"What then could you answer, beloved brother, in the terrible judgment to come, who desire not only to be called Father, but universal Father of the world? Beware then of evil suggestions; fly from the counsel of offence. 'It is impossible,' indeed, 'but that offences will come; but,' for all that, 'Woe unto him through whom they come!' In consequence of your wicked and vainglorious title, the Church is divided and the hearts of the brethren are offended.
. . . "I have sought again and again, by my messengers and by humble words, to correct the sin which has been committed against the whole Church. Now I myself write. I have omitted nothing that humility made it my duty to do. If I reap from my rebuke nothing better than contempt, there will nothing be left for me but to appeal to the Church."
By this first letter of St. Gregory we see, first, that ecclesiastical authority resides in the episcopate, and not in any one bishop, however high in the ecclesiastical hierarchy; secondly, that it was not his private cause that Gregory defended against John of Constantinople, but that of the whole Church; thirdly, that he had not himself the right to judge the cause, and was compelled to refer it to the Church; fourthly, that the title of universal bishop is contrary to God's word, and vainglorious and wicked; fifthly, that no bishop, however high in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, can assume universal authority, without invading the rights of the entire episcopate and lastly, that no bishop in the Church can claim to be Father of all Christians without assuming a title which is contrary to the Gospel, vainglorious, and wicked.
John of Constantinople, having received his title of universal from the Emperor, Gregory wrote the following letter to that prince: Letters of St. Gregory, Book V. Letter 20, Benedictine edition.
"Our very pious lord does wisely to endeavour to accomplish the peace of the Church that he may restore peace to his empire, and to condescend to invite the priesthood to concord and unity. I myself desire it ardently; and as much as in me lies, I obey his worshipful commands. But since not my cause alone, but the cause of God is concerned; since it is not I alone who am disturbed, but the whole Church that is agitated; since the canons, the venerable councils, and the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ himself are attacked, by the invention of a certain pompous and vainglorious word; let our most pious lord cut out this evil; and if the patient would resist him, let him bind him with the bonds of his imperial authority. In binding such things you will give liberty to the commonwealth, and by excisions of this sort you will diminish the malady of your empire.
"All those who have read the Gospel know that the care of the whole Church was confided by our Lord himself to St. Peter, first of all the Apostles. Indeed, he said to him, 'Peter, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.' Again it was said to him, 'Satan has desired to sift thee as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.' It was also said to him, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it: and l will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' He thus received the keys of the celestial kingdom; the power to bind and loose was given to him; the care of all the Church and the primacy were committed to him; and yet he did not call himself universal Apostle. But that most holy man, John, my brother in the priesthood, would fain assume the title of universal bishop. I can but exclaim, O tempora! O mores!"
We cannot pass over these words of St. Gregory without pointing out their great importance. This learned doctor interprets, as we have seen, the texts of the Gospel, which refer to St. Peter, in the sense most favourable to that Apostle. He exalts Peter as having had the primacy in the Apostolic college; as having been intrusted by the Lord himself with the care of the whole Church. What does he infer from all this? Ever since the Popes have abused the texts that he quotes, in order to attribute to themselves an absolute, and universal authority in the Church, we know how they reason. They give to the language of the Gospel, in the first place, the very broadest and most absolute sense, and then apply it to themselves as the successors of St. Peter. St. Gregory acts quite otherwise: he places Peter's prerogatives side by side with his humility, which kept him from claiming universal authority; he is so far from holding himself out as Peter's heir, that he only quotes the example of that Apostle to confound John of Constantinople, and all those who would claim universal authority in the Church. Thus he attacks, by St. Peter's example, the same authority that the popes have since claimed in the name of St. Peter and as his successors.
St. Gregory continues:
"Is it my cause, most pious lord, that I now defend? Is it a private injury that I wish to avenge? No; this is the cause of Almighty God, the cause of the universal Church.
"Who is he who, against the precepts of the Gospel and the decrees of the canons, has the presumption to usurp a new title? Would to Heaven there were but one who, without wishing to lessen the others, desired to be himself universal! . . . .
"The Church of Constantinople has produced bishops who have fallen in the abyss of heresy, and who have even become heresiarchs. Thence issued Nestorius, who, thinking, there must be two persons in Jesus Christ, mediator between God and man, because be did not believe that God could become man, descended thus to the very perfidy of the Jews. Thence came Macedonius, also, who denied that the Holy Spirit was God consubstantial with the Father and the Son. But if any one usurp in the Church a title which embraces all the faithful, the universal Church—O blasphemy!—will then fall with him, since he makes himself to be called the universal. May all Christians reject this blasphemous title—this title which takes the sacerdotal honour from every priest the moment it is insanely usurped by one!
"It is certain that this title was offered to the Roman Pontiff by the venerable Council of Chalcedon, to honour the blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles. But none of us has consented to use this particular title, lest, by conferring a special matter upon one alone, all priests should be deprived of the honour which is their due. How, then, while we are not ambitious of the glory of a title that has been offered to us, does another, to whom no one has offered it, have the presumption to take it?"
This passage of Gregory is very remarkable. He first asserts that it was a council that offered the Bishops of Rome the honour of being called universal. Would this council have done this with a view to honour these bishops if it had believed that they already had universal authority by divine right? Moreover, St. Gregory asserts that the council wished to honour the bishops as an honour to St. Peter. He, therefore, did not believe that universal authority came to them by succession from that Apostle. The Church of Rome has cause to glory in St. Peter, for he made her illustrious by his martyrdom. It was, therefore, in remembrance of this martyrdom, and to honour this first of the Apostles, that the General Council of Chalcedon offered the Bishops of Rome this honorary title. How shall we reconcile these statements of St. Gregory with the pretensions of the modern Bishops of Rome, who believe that of divine right they are invested not only with the title of universal Bishop and common Father of the Faithful, but also with an universal sovereignty?
These letters of St. Gregory are unquestionable records attesting that the universal Church was startled from the moment there appeared in her bosom the first glimmerings of an universal power residing in a single bishop. The whole Church understood that such authority could not be established without depriving the entire episcopate of its rights; in fact, according to divine institution, the government of the Church is synodical. Authority can, therefore, only reside in the entire body of legitimate pastors, and not in any individual pastor.
We cannot declare in favour of the universal authority of one without destroying the divine principle of the organization of the Church.
This truth stands out prominently from the writings of Pope Gregory the Great.
He writes upon the same subject to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria, and Anastasius, Bishop of Antioch. He says to them: "Eight years ago, in the life of our predecessor, Pelagius, of saintly memory, our brother and fellow-bishop, John, taking occasion from some other matter, assembled a synod in the city of Constantinople, and sought to assume the title of universal, which our predecessor no sooner learned than he sent letters by which, in virtue of the authority of the Apostle St. Peter, he nullified the acts of the synod."
Romish theologians have strangely misused this passage in favour of their system. Had they compared it with the other texts from St. Gregory on the same subject, and with the whole body of his doctrine, they might have convinced themselves of two things: First, that in this passage Gregory only refers to the primacy granted by the councils to the Bishop of Rome because of the dignity of his see, made glorious by the martyrdom of St. Peter, first of the Apostles. Secondly, that the only question before the synod of Constantinople was one of mere discipline, in which the accused priest had appealed to Rome. Pelagius, then Bishop of Rome, was therefore judge in the last resort in this matter, in virtue of the primacy granted to his see. This primacy had been granted to his see for the sake of St. Peter. The Council of Chalcedon, in order to honour St. Peter, had also offered the title of universal to the Bishops or Rome, as we learn from St. Gregory.
But between this and a sovereignty of divine right coming to the popes by succession from St. Peter, there is a great gulf; yet Romanists have found it all in the text from St. Gregory above quoted; carefully avoiding, to quote, however, the other texts that limit its meaning, and teach us the true doctrine of this Pope. They often act thus in respect of their quotations from the councils and the Fathers of the Church, as we have already repeatedly shown.
St. Gregory continues:
"As your Holiness, whom I particularly venerate, well knows, this title of universal was offered by the holy Council of Chalcedon to the Bishop of the Apostolic see, which, by God's grace, I serve. But'none of my predecessors would use this impious word, because, in reality, if a Patriarch be called universal, this takes from all the others the title of Patriarch. Far, very far, from every Christian soul be the wish to usurp any thing that might diminish, however little, the honour of his brethren! When we deny ourselves an honour that has been offered to us, consider how humiliating it is to see it violently usurped by another."
Roman theologians have carefully avoided calling attention to this passage, where St. Gregory considers himself a Patriarch equal to the other Patriarchs; where he clearly says, if one of the Patriarchs may claim to be universal, the others are, ipso facto, no more Patriarchs. This doctrine perfectly agrees with that of the primacy granted to the Patriarch of Rome, for St. Peter's sake, and in remembrance of the martyrdom suffered by this first of the Apostles at Rome; but does it agree with a universal sovereignty, coming by divine right to the Bishops of Rome, through Peter, their assumed predecessor? Assuredly not.
St. Gregory continues to unfold a teaching contrary to the modern Papal system:
"Therefore," he says, "let your Holiness not give to any one in your letters the title of universal, lest you deprive yourself of your own due, by offering to another an honour that you do not owe to him. For my part, though separated from you by great distance of land and sea, I am, nevertheless, closely bound to you in heart. I am confident that such are also the sentiments of your Holiness toward me; if you love me as I love you, no distance can separate us. Thanks be, then, to that grain of mustard-seed, which was, indeed, in appearance, small and contemptible, but which, spreading afar its branches, sprung all from one root, has formed a shelter for all the birds of the air! Thanks be, also, to that leaven which, hidden in three measures of meal, has joined in one unity the whole of mankind. Thanks, again, for that little stone, broken without effort from the mountain, that has covered the whole surface of the earth, which has so extended itself as to make out of the human race, now united, the body of the universal Church, which has even made distinctions of the parts serve to rivet the bonds of unity.
"Hence it follows, that we are not far from you, since we are one in Him who is everywhere. Let us give Him thanks for having so destroyed all enmities that, in his humanity, there is in the world but one fold and one flock, under one shepherd, which is Christ himself. Let us always remember these warnings of the Preacher of truth: 'Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.' (Ephes. 4:3.) 'Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.' (Heb. 12:14.) The same said to his disciples, 'If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.' (Romans 12:18.) He knew that the good could have no peace with the wicked; therefore, he says at once, as you know, 'If it be possible.'"
Let us pause a moment over this part of Gregory's letter. Is it not remarkable that, in speaking of the Church as one flock under the guidance of a single pastor, which is Jesus Christ, he expressly says that Jesus Christ is the only visible pastor of the Church, or, which is the same thing, that he is the pastor in his humanity, in his flesh, according to the whole strength of the expression, "in carne suâ?"
Does not this exclude all idea of a universal pastor, taking the place of and representing Christ? Therefore, does it not, in one word, destroy all the assumptions of the modern Papacy, and reduce the true Papacy to a primacy established by the Church?
Further, St. Gregory, in quoting the epistle to the Romans, calls these Romans "disciples" of St. Paul. St. Paul only wrote his epistle to the Christians at Rome, a.d. 58. There were then at Rome very few Christians—not established as a Church, properly so called, and assembling at, the house of Aquila, one of their number. They had come to Rome from various countries that had been evangelized by St. Paul, and are thus called by St. Gregory his disciples. They wrote to him, beseeching him to visit and instruct them. Paul replied to them by his letter, in which he promises to evangelize Rome. He went there two years later. There he found some Jews, who only knew the Christians by name, and who, therefore, cannot have already been converted by St. Peter, their special Apostle. Paul formed a church at Rome, and gave it for a bishop one Linus, his disciple, whom Tertullian, St. Irenæus, and Eusebius mention, as we have already seen, as the first Bishop of Rome.
Where, now, is the alleged episcopate of St. Peter at Rome, upon which the Ultramontanes base all their systems? St. Peter evidently came to Rome but a short time before be suffered martyrdom there. It was because of the martyrdom of the first of the Apostles, and not because of his episcopate at Rome, that the councils, like that of Chalcedon and that of Sardica, for example, granted certain special privileges to the Bishops of Rome. Nor does St. Gregory, in his letters to the Patriarchs, endeavour to ascribe to himself, by right of Apostolic succession from St. Peter, an authority which was not his; he even very justly traces his Church back to St. Paul, and not to St. Peter. Thus, when, in another place, he calls the authority of his predecessor the authority of St. Peter, he means by that only the rights which the Bishops of Rome had received from the councils for the honour of St. Peter, who had made that Church illustrious by his glorious death!
Could any one find in St. Gregory's letter to the Patriarchs the language of a superiour toward his subordinates? St. Gregory, as first bishop of the Church, as first of the Patriarchs, takes the lead, calls the attention of the other Patriarchs, his brethren, to the encroachments of one of their number. He entreats them to join him in resisting what he regards as a misfortune for the whole episcopate; nay, for the universal Church. He does not make the slightest allusion to any superiour authority in himself; he appeals only to the divine precept and to the canons, against an usurpation, which he calls diabolical. Is this the language of a chief, of a universal monarch? Clearly not. We cannot read this beautiful letter of St. Gregory to the Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria without being convinced that such a Papacy as is now assumed to be of divine right, was unknown to him; that he cried out against tendencies that may be looked upon as the first attempts at universal jurisdiction; that he looked upon those first attempts as an enterprise which might upset the Church and which threatened the rights of the entire priesthood. Perhaps he attached too much importance to a purely honorary title which only emanated from the imperial authority; but he saw, under this title, an anti-canonical undertaking, and the first attempts at a universal Papacy. What would he say of this Papacy itself, with all its modern pretensions? He would justly show himself its greatest enemy, and would see in it the source of all the evils with which the Church has been for centuries overwhelmed.
The Patriarch of Alexandria, not replying to him, Gregory wrote asking for his opinion. Letters of St. Gregory, Book VI., Ep. 60, Benedictine Ed.
Thereupon John of Constantinople died. Gregory wrote at once to his successor, Cyriacus, who had sent him a letter of communion. He congratulates him upon his faith, but adds, concerning the title of universal, which he had followed the example of his predecessor in taking:
"We shall truly be at peace, Ibid. Book VII. Ep. 4. if you renounce the pride of an impious title, according to the word of the Apostle of the Gentiles, 'O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings.' (1 Tim. 6:20.) It is indeed too unjust that those who have become the preachers of humility, should glory in a vain title of pride. The Preacher of truth says, 'God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.' (Gal. 6:14.) Hence he is truly glorious who glories not in temporal power, but in what he suffers for the name of Christ. In this we heartily embrace you, in this we recognize you as priest, if, repelling the vanity of titles, you occupy an holy see with holy humility.
"For we have been offended in respect to a sinful title; we have had a grudge concerning it, we have declared loudly on the subject. Now you know, my brother, that the Truth hath said, 'If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against theeleave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.' (St. Matt. 5:23, 24.) Thus, although every fault is wiped away by the sacrifice, the evil of giving offence to the brethren is so great, that the Lord will not accept from him who is guilty of it the sacrifice that usually atones for sin. Hasten, therefore, to purify your heart of this offence, that the Lord may look with favour upon the offering of your gift."
Gregory having occasion to write again to Cyriacus, alludes again to the subject, so much importance did he attach to it:
"I could not express to you in this letter," says he, Ibid. Book VI. letter v. "how my soul is bound to you; but I pray Almighty God, by the gift of his grace, to strengthen still more this union between us, and destroy all occasion of offence, in order that the holy Church, united by a confession of the true faith, of which the bonds are riveted by the reciprocal sentiments of the faithful, may suffer no damage from any discussions that the priests may have among themselves. As for me, in spite of all I say, and through all the opposition that I make to certain acts of pride, I preserve charity in the depth of my heart, God be thanked, and while I sustain externally the claims of justice, I do not inwardly repel those of love and affection.
"On your part, reciprocate my sentiments, and respect the rights of peace and affection, that remaining in unity of spirit, there may be left no subject of division between us. We shall the more easily obtain the grace of the Lord if we come before him with united hearts."
Cyriacus was not touched by Gregory's tender exhortations, who, some time after, wrote to the Patriarch of Antioch, blaming him, in a friendly way, for not attaching enough importance to the usurpation of their brother of Constantinople. We see by that letter that the Patriarch of Antioch feared to draw upon himself the displeasure of the Emperor if he declared against the Patriarch of Constantinople. He wrote his friend St. Gregory a very flattering letter. "But," replied the great Pope, "your Holiness, I perceive, would have your letter like the bee that carries both honey and a sting, that you might both satisfy me with honey and sting me. But I have found in this an occasion to reflect upon these words of Solomon, 'Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.' (Prov. 27:6.)
"As regards what you say to me concerning the title whereat I am offended, that I should yield, because the thing is of no importance, the Emperor has written me to the same effect. That which he says by virtue of his power, I know you say out of friendship. I am not surprised to find the same expressions in your letter as in that of the Emperor, for love and power have many things in common; both are in the first rank, and they always speak with authority.
"When I received the synodical letter from our brother and fellow-bishop, Cyriacus, I did not see fit to put off replying to him, in spite of the impious title he assumed in it, lest I should thereby trouble the unity of the holy Church; but I took care to tell him my opinion touching this grand and superstitious title; I told him that he could not have peace with us if he did not refrain from taking this title of pride, which was but an invention of the first apostate. You must not consider this same affair as unimportant; for, if we tolerate it, we corrupt the faith of the whole Church. You know how many, not heretics only but heresiarchs, have arisen in the church of Constantinople. Not to speak of the injury done to your dignity, it cannot be denied that if any one bishop be called universal, all the Church crumbles if that universal one fall. But far be it from me to lend an ear to such folly, to such levity! I confide in the all-powerful Lord, who will fulfil the promise he has made, 'Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased.'" (Luke 14:11.)
No one could more wisely estimate than does St. Gregory the serious inconveniences that the Church might suffer from a central authority assuming to represent and sum up the Church. Man, whatever he may be, and frequently from the superiour dignity itself with which he is invested, is subject to errour: if the Church be summed up in him, the Church falls with him. Such is St. Gregory's reasoning. He foresaw but too well; and the Roman Church has fallen into endless errours, with a Pope who claims to sum her up in his own person, and to be her infallible personification.
Happily the Church of Jesus Christ is neither that of one time nor that of one place, and she may always be distinguished by the Catholic criterion so clearly set forth by the Fathers of the Church. Otherwise, we must cease to believe the promises of Christ, and must say in an absolute sense what St. Gregory said hypothetically, The universal one has fallen, the whole Church has fallen!
They said at the court of Constantinople, that Gregory only made such fierce war against the title of universal from jealousy of the Bishop of the New Rome, and to debase him. The Emperor and Cyriacus wrote thus to him with all the respect that was his due; but Gregory made Cyriacus clearly understand that he had misjudged him. He sent to him and to the Emperor a deacon, Anatolius by name, to undeceive them, giving him letters for the Emperor and the Patriarch. To the latter, after thanking him for his flattering words, he says: Book VII. Ep. 31.
"It must be not only by words, but by deeds, that you show to me and to all your brethren the splendour of your charity, by hastening to renounce a title of pride, which has been a cause of offence to all the churches. Fulfil these words, 'Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, (Eph. 4:3,) and this other, 'Give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.' (1 Tim. 5:14.) Your charity will shine forth if there be no division between us in respect to a vainglorious title. I call Jesus to witness, from the depth of my soul, that I do not wish to give offence to any person, from the least to the greatest. I desire all to be great and honoured, provided such honour detracts nothing from that which is due to Almighty God. Indeed, whoever would be honoured against God is not honourable in my eyes. . . . In this matter I would injure no one; I would only defend that humility which is pleasing to God and the peace of the holy Church. Let the things newly introduced be therefore abrogated in the same manner as they have been established, and we shall preserve amongst us the purest peace of the Lord. What kindly relations can exist between us if our sentiments are but words, and we wound one another with our deeds?"
In his letter to the Emperor, Gregory devotes himself to refuting the argument that was drawn from the insignificance of this honorary title, to which they pretended, at Constantinople, not to attach any great importance. "I pray your Imperial Piety," be says, Book VII. Ep. 33. "to observe that there are some frivolous things that are inoffensive, but also some others that are very hurtful. When Antichrist shall come and call himself God, it will be in itself a perfectly frivolous thing, but a very pernicious one. If we only choose to consider the number of syllables in this word, we find but two, (De-us;) but if we conceive the weight of iniquity of this title, we shall find it enormous. I say it without the least hesitation, whoever calls himself the universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, THE PRECURSOR OF ANTICHRIST, because he thus attempts to raise himself above the others. The errour into which he falls springs from pride equal to that of Antichrist; for as that Wicked One wished to be regarded as exalted above other men, like a god, so likewise whoever would be called sole bishop exalteth himself above others."
Nowadays they teach, in the name of the Church and in favour of the Bishop of Rome, the same doctrine that St. Gregory stigmatized with so much energy. The partisans of the Papacy teach continually that the Pope has a universal authority—that he is the universal bishop — that, properly speaking, he is the only bishop, the source whence flows all ecclesiastical dignity, including the episcopate, which is but indirectly and mediately of divine right.
Such is the instruction that they would now foist upon us as Catholic doctrine. Do our modern innovators apprehend that Pope Gregory the Great regarded such a doctrine as diabolical, and has, in anticipation, called this Pope, so invested with an assumed universal episcopate, Antichrist?
St. Gregory was in the habit of taking no important decision without giving information of it to the other Patriarchs. He therefore wrote to those of Alexandria and Antioch, to inform them what course he had adopted with regard to the new Patriarch of Constantinople. Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria, was persuaded, and announced to Gregory that be would no longer give the title universal to the Bishop of Constantinople; but, thinking to flatter Gregory, whom he loved and who had done him service on many occasions, he gave the same title to him, and wrote that if he did not give it to the Bishop of Constantinople, it was in submission to the COMMANDS of Gregory. Gregory answered at once, and the following passage from his answer shows what idea he had of his own authority as bishop of Rome:
"Your Holiness has been at pains to tell us that in addressing certain persons you no longer give them certain titles that have no better origin than pride, using this phrase regarding me, as you have commanded.' I pray you let me never again hear this word command; for I know who I am and who you are. BY YOUR POSITION YOU ARE MY BRETHREN; by your virtues you are my fathers. I have, therefore, not commanded; I have only been careful to point out things which seemed to me useful. Still I do not find that your Holiness has perfectly remembered what I particularly wished to impress on your memory; for I said that you should no more give that title to me than to others; and lo! in the superscription of your letter, you give to me, who have proscribed them, the vainglorious titles of universal and of Pope. May your sweet Holiness do so no more in future, I beseech you; for you take from yourself what you give in excess to another. I do not ask to increase in dignities, but in virtues. I do not esteem that an honour which causes my brethren to lose their own dignity. My honour is that of the whole Church. My honour is the unshaken firmness of my brethren. I consider myself truly honoured when no one is denied the Honour due to him. If your Holiness calls me universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what I should then be altogether. God forbid! Far from us be the words that puff up vanity and wound charity."
Thus did Pope Gregory condemn, even in the person of the Bishop of Rome, the title of Pope and that of universal. He acknowledges that the Patriarch of Alexandria is his equal, that be is not entitled to lay any commands upon him and consequently that he has no authority over him.
How is this orthodox doctrine of St. Gregory's to be reconciled with the modern teaching that ascribes to the Pope a universal authority of divine right?Let the defenders of the Papacy answer.
St. Gregory, consistent with himself, sees the unity of the Church only in the true faith, and never makes the least allusion to the necessity of being in communion with the Church of Rome.
And no wonder; for he did not regard the see of Rome as the only see of St. Peter. He expressly acknowledged that the sees of Alexandria and Antioch were, quite as much as that of Rome, the see of the first of the Apostles, and that these three sees were but one. Let us quote his words. He writes thus to Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria: Ib. Book VII. Ep. 39.
"Your Holiness has spoken to me at large, in your letters, of the see of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, saying that he still resides here by his successors. Now, I acknowledge myself unworthy not only of the honour of the chiefs, but even to be counted in the number of the faithful. Yet I have willingly accepted all that you have said, because your words regarding the see of Peter came from him who occupies that see of Peter. A special honour has no charms for me; but I greatly rejoice that you, who are very holy, only ascribe to me what you also give to yourself. Indeed, who is ignorant that the holy Church has been made fast upon the solidity of the prince of the Apostles, whose name is the type of the firmness of his soul, and who borrowed from the rock his name of Peter?—that it was said to him by the Truth, 'I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . . When thou art converted strengthen thy brethren. . . Simon, Son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep." Therefore, though there were many Apostles, the single see of the prince of the Apostles prevailed by his princedom; which see now exists in three places; for it is he that made glorious that see where he condescended to rest (quiescere) and close his present life. It is he who adorned the see, whither he sent the Evangelist, his disciple. It is he who strengthened the see, which he occupied for seven years, although finally compelled to leave it. Since then there is but one see of the same Apostle, and three bishops now hold it by divine authority. All the good I bear of you I also impute to myself."
Observe that St. Gregory, in speaking of Rome, only says that St. Peter rested there and died there. To Alexandria he only sent his disciple; but at Antioch he held the see for seven years. If, then, in the strict acceptation of the words, any bishop has inherited the see of St. Peter, it must be, according to St. Gregory, the Bishop of Antioch. The great Pope was well aware that Peter only went to Rome to die there; that the Roman Church was already founded and governed by a bishop; he accordingly limits himself to saying that he made glorious the see of Rome by the martyrdom he suffered there, while he designates Antioch as the true episcopal see of Peter. We believe that St. Peter was, strictly speaking, no more Bishop of Antioch than of Rome; but we only wish to show what was the opinion of St. Gregory; and that opinion, whatever it was, is no less a withering argument against the pretensions of the court of Rome.
Writing to Anastasius, Patriarch of Antioch, to offer consolation in his sufferings, Gregory says: Ib. Book VIII. Ep. 2. "Behold now, your Holiness is weighed down with many tribulations in your old age; but remember what was said of him whose seat you fill. Is it not of him that the Truth himself said, 'When thou shalt be old . . . another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not"? (John 21:18.)
We know that these words were addressed by our Lord to St. Peter. In another letter to the same Anastasius, St. Gregory thus expresses himself, after having quoted what be believed to be the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch:
"I have introduced in my letter these words drawn from your writings, that your Holiness may know that your own holy Ignatius is also ours. For as we have in common the master, the prince of the Apostles, we must neither of us exclusively claim the disciple of this prince of the Apostles." Ib. Book V. Ep. 39.
St. Gregory wrote to Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria, "We have received, with the same tenderness as it was given us, the benediction of St. Mark the Evangelist, or rather, more properly speaking, of the Apostle St. Peter." Ib. Book VIII. Ep. 39.
He wrote again to the same, after having congratulated him upon his refutation of the errours of the Monophysites:
"Praise and glory be in the heavens to my saintly brother, thanks to whom the voice of Mark is heard from the chair of Peter, whose teaching resounds through the Church as the cymbal in the tabernacle, when he fathoms the mysteries—that is to say, when, as priest of the Most High, he enters the Holy of Holies." Ib. Book X. Ep. 35.
Was any thing more flattering ever said to the Bishops of Rome than Gregory here says to Eulogius of Alexandria? Does not the saintly Pope seem to copy the very words of the Council of Chalcedon, "Peter has spoken by the mouth of Leo"? Why draw such vast consequences from the words of the Fathers of Chalcedon, spoken in praise of the Bishop of Rome, and yet draw none whatever from those of the great Pope addressed to the Patriarch of Alexandria? He wrote again to the same: Ibid. Book XII. Ep. 50. "The bearers of these presents, having come to Sicily, were converted from the errours of the Monophysites and have joined the holy Church universal. Desiring to go to the Church of the blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles, they have besought me to give them commendatory letters to your Holiness, in order that you might assist them against the attacks of their heretical neighbours."
In another letter, in which he discourses of simony, he writes to Eulogius : "Root out this simoniacal heresy from your most holy see, which is ours also." He calls the Church of Alexandria a most holy church. Ibid. Book XIII. Ep. 41. With such evidence before us, how can we draw any conclusion in favour of the Roman see from expressions like these of apostolic see, or holy see? Such epithets were common, during the first eight centuries, to all the churches founded by the Apostles, and were never exclusively employed to describe the Church of Rome.
From what we have shown of the doctrine of St. Gregory respecting the see of St. Peter, it is easy to see that no absolute sense can be honestly attached to such expressions as these, "My son, the lord Venantius has come toward the blessed Apostle Peter to beg me to commend his cause to you," etc. Ibid. Book II. Ep. 53. "The care of the whole Church was confided to Peter, prince of the Apostles." Ibid. Book V. Ep. 20. "He received the keys of the heavenly kingdom, the power to bind and to loose was given to him, the care of the whole Church, and the princedom were intrusted to him." Ibid. "Who does not know that the holy Church has been strengthened by the firmness of the prince of the Apostles?" Ibid. Book VII. Ep. 40.
These expressions certainly belong to St. Gregory; but is it fair to quote them separately and give them an absolute sense? Yet this is the course of the Romish theologians, not only with the works of Gregory, but with all those of the other Fathers of the Church. In this manner they have succeeded in deceiving a great number of the faithful, and even many sincere theologians; the latter could not suspect such a strange dishonesty in writers who at every turn are boasting of their devotion to the cause of the Church and truth, and they have thought it safe to quote from them at second hand.
We can now understand what St. Gregory meant by the see of St. Peter, and by the titles of first and prince of the Apostles. But that we may throw still stronger light upon his thoughts, we will quote a few more texts, both decisive and clear, which shall determine the exact meaning of these phrases, that have been so culpably misused by the advocates of Popery.
St. Gregory, in his book upon the Pastoral Rule, lays down this principle: that the pastors of the Church should not use their authority toward blameless believers, but only toward sinners whom gentleness could not correct. In support of this principle he quotes the examples of the Apostles Peter and Paul. "Peter," he says, "the first pastor holding the princedom of the holy Church, by the will of God, (auctore Deo,) showed himself humble toward the faithful, but showed how much power he had beyond others when he punished Ananias and Sapphira; when it became necessary to punish sins, he remembered that he was the highest in the Church, (summus,) and in taking vengeance of the crime, he exercised the right of his power." St. Greg. Pastoral Rule, Part II. Chap. vi.
In the same passage he proves by the example of St. Paul, as well as by that of St. Peter, that the pastor should be humble toward the faithful, and only exercise his power when he is compelled to take in hand the cause of justice. Thus St. Paul declared himself the servant of the faithful, the least among them; "but," adds St. Gregory, "when he finds a fault to correct, he remembers he is master, and says, 'What will ye? I will come to you with a rod of iron.' Hence," concludes St. Gregory, the highest places are best filled when he who presides rules rather his own vices than the brethren. But when those who preside correct those who are subject unto them, they should observe this duty," etc. St. Greg. loc. cit.
It appears from this that St. Gregory regarded St. Paul as well as St. Peter and their successors as filling the highest place in the Church, as presiding in the Church. If he says that Peter held the princedom, he also says that Paul was master; he uses the same word (summus) to signify the authority of St. Peter and that of St. Paul, and of all those who have the right to exercise authority in the Church. Would he have expressed himself in a manner so general, if by this word princedom he had meant to signify a superiour authority ascribed exclusively to St. Peter? Just as by the see of St. Peter, he means the first degree of the episcopate represented by the Patriarchs; so likewise by the words "superiour authority," he only means that of the episcopate which the pastors of the Church have inherited.
The more intimate we grow with the works of the Fathers of the Church, the more we are convinced of their unanimity in considering the authority in the church as one and possessed jointly and severally by the first pastors or the bishops. At first blush we might believe that the word "princedom," or that of "prince" of the Apostles, given by them to St. Peter, clashed with this principle. St. Gregory has shielded us from this false interpretation. For while ascribing to Peter the princedom of the Church, he has not exalted him more than St. Paul. He shall tell us so most clearly in his own words. We read in his Dialogues:
"Peter. How can you prove to me that there be those who do no miracles, and yet are not inferior to those who do them?
"Gregory. Dost thou not know that the Apostle Paul is the brother of Peter, first of the Apostles in the princedom?
"Peter. I know this perfectly," etc., etc. St. Greg. Dialogues, Book I. chap. 12.
Thus Paul was the equal or brother of Peter in the Apostolic princedom. Is it possible to say with greater clearness that by such titles no particular personal and exclusive dignity was intended?
In another place St. Gregory regards St. Paul as having a right, as well as St. Peter, to the title of first Apostle. In relating in his Dialogues the death of one Martin, a priest, he says that this holy man saw Peter and Paul calling him to heaven: "I see, I see," said Martin. "I thank you. I thank you!"
As he often repeated these words, his friends about him asked him to whom he spoke. He wondered at their question, and said, "Do you not see here the holy Apostles? do you not perceive Peter and Paul the first of the Apostles?" Ibid. Book IV. Chap. 11.
And lastly, Gregory leads us to think that St. Peter was never Bishop of Rome. We have already quoted some positive texts on this point. Here is another to confirm them:
"It is certain," he says, "that at the time when the holy Apostles Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom, the faithful came from the East to beg the bodies of these Apostles, who were their fellow-countrymen. They carried these bodies as far as the second mile stone, and deposited them in the place called the Catacombs. But when they would have taken them up, to continue their journey, the thunder and lightning threw those who attempted it into such a panic that no one has ever again dared to attempt their removal." Letters of St. Gregory, Book IV. Ep. 30.
It is not our business to discuss the truth of this story; but one truth may be clearly inferred from this recital, namely, that the Eastern people could claim the body of St. Peter because he was of their country, and that the Romans never dreamed of answering that his body belonged by a better title to them, because be had been their bishop.
Thus the doctrine of Gregory the Great upon the Church destroys, piece by piece, the whole Papal system. We defy the Romanists to find in the writings of this great Pope a single word which gives any idea of that universal monarchy whose centre is in the Church of Rome, and whose sovereign the bishop of that city. This doctrine runs utterly counter to that of St. Gregory. According to him, the unity of the Church results from the reciprocal relations of its chiefs. "May your piety," he wrote to Anastasius, Archbishop of Corinth, "reply to our letters in which we have notified him of our ordination, and by replying (litteris reciprocis) give us the pleasure of knowing that the Church is united."
He defines the "unity of the Catholic Church" as "the totality (compago) of the body of Christ." Ibid. Book II. Ep. 47. He does not swerve from this: the individual churches are the members of the church; each church is governed by its pastors; the authority is the same, of divine right, in all the pastors of the Church; the whole edifice is supported upon the see of St. Peter; that is, upon the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome, which exercise, of ecclesiastical right, a supervision over the whole Church.
Can any thing be conceived more diametrically opposed to the Papal system than this doctrine of St. Gregory?