On Papal Primacy

St. Symeon of Thessaloniki ca. 1381-1429

We should not contradict the Latins when they say that the Bishop of Rome is the first. This primacy is not harmful to the Church. But only let them show that he is true to the faith of Peter and his successors; then let him have all the privileges of Peter, let him be first, the head of all and the supreme hierarch. Only let him be faithful to the Orthodoxy of Sylvester and Agathon, Leo, Liberius, Martin and Gregory, then we too shall call him apostolic father and the first among hierarchs; then we will be under his authority not only as under Peter, but the very Saviour Himself. (PG 145, 120 AC)

Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs 1848

Therefore let his Holiness be assured, that if, even now, he will write us such things as two hundred fathers on investigation and inquiry shall find consonant and agreeing with the said former Councils, then, we say, he shall hear from us sinners today, not only, “Peter has so spoken,” or anything of like honor, but this also, “Let the holy hand be kissed which has wiped away the tears of the Catholic Church.” (Paragraph 15)


  1. Could the Orthodox Church really exist in a hierarchal system where one bishop demands primacy above the others? Could it remain unmoved when one man has ultimate authority in the Church? It is my unworthy opinion that until the office of the Pope of Rome is but an honorary primacy there can never be unity…even if the RCC dumps the majority of its heretic teachings.

  2. Good to hear from you Toby! We have many Pope Saints who claimed a “functional” (as opposed to honorary) primacy. The Ecumenical Patriarch also claimed it when Rome fell from the Church. As you can see in the post the Eastern Patriarchs are willing to acknowledge papal primacy even in a polemical context. St. Justin of Chelie has peered deeply into this issue and he has identified the fundamental problem. This problem has spilled over into Protesantism as well.

    “The Papacy persistently and continuously tried to replace the God-man with man, until finally when the dogma of the infallibility of man supplanted the God-man with an infallible man. With this dogma, man (the Pope) was proclaimed decisively and clearly to be something not only greater than man, but greater than the holy Apostles, the holy Fathers, and the Ecumenical Synods…Truly then, Protestantism is nothing other than an abstract papism being applied to everything, that is, the basic principle of infallibility of one man has been applied to to every individual human being. According to the example of the infallible man in Rome, every Protestant becomes infallible since he claims personal infallibility in matters of faith.” (Highest Value and Last Criterion in Orthodoxy)

  3. Mr. Roman Catholic says:

    The quote from Symeon not only undermines orthodox ecclesiology, but demonstrates that he recognized some form of universal jurisdiction. Firstly, he says that the bishop of Rome is the “head of all” and the “supreme hierarch”. He then shows that the bishop of Rome has real authority over others: “then we will be under his authority”. This in no way suggests a primacy of honor only, or the novel invention “first among equals”.

    His primary issues with the Catholic Church was its use of unleavened bread, as well as the addition of the filioque. None of these issues, of course, warrant schism.

    But as the Roman Church wrote the following to Michael Cerularius in 1053 AD, so I write to all the orthodox:

    “In prejuding the case of the highest See, the see on which no judgement may be passed by any man, you have received the anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils. As a hinge remaining unmoved, opens and shuts a door, so Peter and his successors have an unfettered jurisdiction over the whole Church….since no one ought to interfere with their position, because the highest see is judged by none” (In Terra Pax Hominibus, Mansi, xix. 638 B ff).

    And again:

    “The sacred Roman Church… firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’, unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”

    — Eugene IV, Cantate Domino

  4. Mr. Roman Catholic,

    Some Orthodox are actually willing to grant the Pope a headship and some form of universal jurisdiction based on the authority of the Councils and the practical needs of the Church. But NOT based on the proud and vain imaginings of the medieval Papacy, false documents and the authority vacuums in the West. The Pope of Rome was indeed “the first among equals”, since there is no office in the Church higher than a bishop BUT the office had real authority and not merely honorary prestige. However, the East never accepted the authority of the Pope the way you express it in your comments. I actually prefer your forthrightness and zeal to the flowery love-speak which is prevalent in our our times.

    I thought your Church holds that even schismatics and heretics can be saved since Vat II?

    thanks for commenting,

  5. Roman Catholic says:

    “Some Orthodox” i.e. a minority.

    “But NOT based on the proud and vain imaginings of the medieval Papacy,” Pope Ss Leo and Gregory would disagree with you.

    “false documents” Ill take that to mean the donation of Constantine. The whole history of the document is more complicated than appears.

    “the East never accepted the authority of the Pope” Ss Maximus the Confessor and Theodore the Studite clearly disagree. Which brings us to the question of epistemology. If there were competing ecclesial conceptual models of the Church, how do we know which model is the correct tradition and which tradition is false? Clearly we have representatives from both east and west in favor of a more western outlook of the papacy.

    “I thought your Church holds that even schismatics and heretics can be saved since Vat II?” You are simply misreading the documents at hand. It is predicated upon knowledge of the truth. Cantate Domino takes for granted that the provisions of Session 19 of the Council of Basel, mentioned below, had already been put into effect so that the gospel was regularly preached and expounded in the places where they live with such clarity and with such charity that no pagan, Jew, heretic, or schismatic at that time in history could justly claim invincible ignorance of Christ and his Church.

    It therefore decrees that all diocesan bishops should depute persons well trained in scripture, several times a year, in the places where Jews and other infidels live, to preach and expound the truth of the catholic faith in such a way that the infidels who hear it can recognize their errors. … But the bishops and the preachers should behave towards them with such charity as to gain them for Christ not only by the manifestation of the truth but also by other kindnesses.

  6. Mr. Roman Catholic,

    You misunderstand most of what I said. I simply don’t have the time to debate about the Roman Pope. I’m well aware of the writings of Pope Sts. Leo and Gregory. And also the writings of Sts. Maximus and Theodore Studite. If you read those holy men so as say that one must be subjected to the infallible Roman Pope to be saved then there is nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. Again, thanks for commenting and speaking forthrightly (hopefully for the glory of God and out of concern for our souls).

    in ICXC,

  7. Roman Catholic says:

    I didn’t misunderstand anything you wrote. It is you who is way off base.

    “If you read those holy men so as say that one must be subjected to the infallible Roman Pope to be saved then there is nothing I can say to convince you otherwise.”

    I didn’t reference these saints to state what you are implying. I quoted them so as to counteract your claims that the universal jurisdiction of the pope was a medieval invention.

    “out of concern for our souls” Yes, I have told you that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Your disregard for the divine institution of the papacy will be your undoing.

  8. Understood. And I say that you’re raising the Papacy to an idolatrous level and embracing a host of other heresies in doing so. May God be the judge between us!

  9. Roman Catholic says:

    “raising the Papacy to an idolatrous level” These are the same kinds of remarks I hear from the heretics with regards to the Holy Mother of God, and the glorious saints.

    “embracing a host of other heresies in doing so” Now you accuse the Roman See of promulgating heresies. This a heresy in and of itself. I suggest you read the quote above.

    “May God be the judge between us!” I don’t need to wait for the general judgement, I have direct knowledge of the truth. What the Catholic Church has proclaimed, one must adhere to. Failure to do so, will indeed be your undoing.

  10. I guess the depths of the Final Judgment are known to “Mr. Roman Catholic”! The Sixth Ecumenical Council also charged the Roman See with heresy so I’m doing nothing new. You’ve already stated your case friend. This is my blog so surely the last word is rightfully mine.

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