The Roman Church As The Centre O

In the confusion of the fifth century, when the provinces of the Roman

Empire were being lopped off one by one, Italy invaded, and the larger

political institutions disappearing, the Church was the one institution

that maintained itself. In not a few places among the barbarians the

bishops became the acknowledged heads of the Roman element of the

communities. In meeting the threatened invasion of Italy by Attila, Leo

s the representative of the Roman people, the head of the embassy sent

to induce the Hun to recross the Danube. Under such circumstances the see

of Rome constantly gained in importance politically and ecclesiastically.

As a centre of unity it was far more powerful than a feeble emperor at

Ravenna or puppets set up by barbarians. It was the one and only great

link between the provinces and the representative of the ancient order. It

represented Rome, an efficient and generally gratefully recognized

authority. In the development of the papal idea the first stadium was

completed with the pontificate of Leo the Great (440-461), who, fully

conscious of the inherited Petrine prerogatives, expressed them the most

clearly, persistently, and, on the whole, most successfully of any pontiff

before Gregory the Great. Leo, therefore, stands at the end of a

development marked by the utterances of Victor, Cornelius, Siricius,

Innocent I, Zosimus, Boniface I, and Celestine. For their statements of

the authority of the Roman see, see Denziger, under their names, also

Kirch and Mirbt. The whole may be found combined in one statement in

Schwanne, Dogmengeschichte, I, 413 f.; II, 661-698.

Additional source material: In English there is comparatively

little except the writings of Leo, see especially Sermones 2,

82, 84; Epistulae 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 105, 167; Jerome,

Ep. 146, ad Evangelum. Kirch, Mirbt, and Denziger give many

references to original texts and citations.

(a) Leo the Great, Sermo 3. (MSL, 55:145 f.)

On the prerogatives of Peter and his see.

Ch. 2. From His overruling and eternal providence we have received also

the support of the Apostle's aid, which assuredly does not cease from its

operation; and the strength of the foundation, on which the whole lofty

building of the Church is reared, is not weakened by the weight of the

temple that rests upon it. For the solidity of that faith which was

praised in the chief of the Apostles is perpetual; and, as that remains

which Peter believed in Christ, so that remains which Christ instituted in

Peter. For when, as has been read in the Gospel lesson [i.e., for the

day], the Lord has asked the disciples whom they believed Him to be, amid

the various opinions that were held, the blessed Peter replied, saying:

"Thou art the Christ," etc. [Matt. 16:16-19].

Ch. 3. The dispensation of the truth therefore abides, and the blessed

Peter, persevering in the strength of the rock which he has received, has

not abandoned the helm of the Church which he undertook. For he was

ordained before the rest in such a way that since he is called the rock,

since he is pronounced the foundation, since he is constituted the

doorkeeper of the kingdom of heaven, since he is set up as the judge to

bind and to loose, whose judgments shall retain their validity in heaven,

from all these mystical titles we might know the nature of his association

with Christ. And still to-day he more fully and effectually performs what

is intrusted to him, and carries out every part of his duty and charge in

Him and with Him, through whom he has been glorified. And so if anything

is rightly done or rightly decreed by us, if anything is obtained from the

mercy of God by daily supplications, it is his work and merits whose power

lives in his see and whose authority excels. For this, dearly beloved,

that confession gained, that confession which, inspired in the Apostle's

heart by God the Father, transcends all the uncertainty of human opinions,

and was endued with the firmness of a rock, which no assaults could shake.

For throughout the Church Peter daily says, "Thou art the Christ, the Son

of the living God," and every tongue which confesses the Lord is inspired

by the instruction [magisterio] of that voice.

(b) Leo the Great, Ep. 104, ad Marcianum Augustum, A. D. 452. (MSL,


Condemnation of the twenty-eighth canon of Chalcedon.

This and the two following epistles upon the twenty-eighth canon

of the Council of Chalcedon define the relation of the Roman see

to councils, canons, and patriarchal sees. Apostolic sees may not

be constituted by mere canon; political importance of a place does

not regulate its ecclesiastical position; the see of Rome can

reject the canons of councils even though general; apostolic sees

connected with Peter may not have their authority diminished. For

the twenty-eighth canon of Chalcedon, v. infra, § 90, d.

Ch. 3. Let the city of Constantinople have, as we desire, its glory, and

may it, under the protection of God's right hand, long enjoy the rule of

your clemency. Yet the basis of things secular is one, and the basis of

things divine another; and there can be no sure building save on that rock

which the Lord laid as a foundation. He that covets what is not his due,

loses what is his own. Let it be enough for the aforesaid [Anatolius,

bishop of Constantinople] that by the aid of your piety and by my

favorable assent he has obtained the bishopric of so great a city. Let him

not disdain a royal city, which he cannot make an apostolic see; and let

him on no account hope to be able to rise by injury to others. For the

privileges of the churches, determined by the canons of the holy Fathers,

and fixed by the decrees of the Nicene synod, cannot be overthrown by an

unscrupulous act, nor disturbed by an innovation. And in the faithful

execution of this task by the aid of Christ, it is necessary that I show

an unflinching devotion; for it is a charge intrusted to me, and it tends

to condemnation if the rules sanctioned by the Fathers and laid down under

the guidance of God's spirit at the synod of Nicaea for the government of

the whole Church are violated with my connivance (which God forbid) and if

the wishes of a single brother have more weight with me than the common

word of the Lord's whole house.

(c) Leo the Great, Ep. 105, ad Pulcheriam Augustam A. D. 452. (MSL,


Condemnation of all canons contravening those of Nicaea.

§ 3. Let him [Anatolius] know to what sort of man he has succeeded, and,

expelling all the spirit of pride, let him imitate the faith of Flavian,

his modesty and his humility, which raised him up even to a confessor's

glory. If he will shine with his virtues, he will be praiseworthy and

everywhere he will win an abundance of love, not by seeking human things,

but divine favor. And by this careful course I promise that my heart will

also be bound to him, and the love of this apostolic see which we have

ever bestowed upon the church of Constantinople shall never be violated by

any change. Because, if rulers, lacking self-restraint, fall into errors,

yet the purity of the churches of Christ continues. As for the assents of

bishops which are in contradiction with the regulations of the holy canons

composed at Nicaea, in conjunction with your faithful race we do not

recognize them, and by the authority of the blessed Apostle Peter we

absolutely disannul in comprehensive terms in all cases ecclesiastical,

following those laws which the Holy Ghost set forth by three hundred and

eighteen bishops for the pacific observance of all priests, so that, even

if a much greater number were to pass a different decree from theirs,

whatever was opposed to their constitution would have to be held in no


(d) Leo the Great, Ep. 106, ad Anatolium A. D. 452. (MSL, 54:1005.)

The relation of the apostolic sees to Peter.

Your purpose is in no way whatever supported by the written assent of

certain bishops, given, as you allege, sixty years ago,(181) and never

brought to the knowledge of the Apostolic See by your predecessors; under

this project(182) which from its outset was tottering and has already

collapsed, you now wish to place too late and useless props. The rights

of provincial primates may not be overthrown, nor metropolitan bishops be

defrauded of privileges based on antiquity. The see of Alexandria may not

lose any of that dignity which it merited through St. Mark, the evangelist

and disciple of the blessed Peter, nor may the splendor of so great a

church be obscured by another's clouds, when Dioscurus fell through his

persistence in impiety. The church of Antioch, too, in which first, at the

preaching of the blessed Apostle Peter, the Christian name arose, must

continue in the position assigned to it by the Fathers, and, being set in

the third place [Can. 6, Nicaea, 325, v. supra, § 72], must never be

lowered therefrom. For the see is one thing, and those who preside in it

something different; and an individual's great honor is his own integrity.

(e) Leo the Great, Ep. 6, ad Anastasium A. D. 444. (MSL, 54:616.)

Cf. Kirch, nn. 814 ff.

The policy of centralization. The primates are representatives of

the bishop of Rome. Anastasius was bishop of Thessalonica.

Ch. 2. Inasmuch, dear brother, as your request has been made known to us

through our son Nicholas, the priest, that you also, like your

predecessors, might receive from us in your turn authority over Illyricum

for the observance of the rules, we give our consent, and earnestly exhort

that no concealment and no negligence may be allowed in the management of

the churches situated throughout Illyricum, which we commit to you in our

stead, following the precedent of Siricius, of blessed memory, who then,

for the first time acting on a fixed method, intrusted them to your last

predecessor but one, Anysius, of holy memory, who had at the time well

deserved of the Apostolic See, and was approved by after events, that he

might render assistance to the churches situated in that province, whom he

wished to keep up to the discipline.

Ch. 5. Those of the brethren who have been summoned to a synod should

attend, and not deny themselves to the holy congregation. But if any more

important question spring up, such as cannot be settled there under your

presidency, brother, send your report and consult us, so that we may write

back under the revelation of the Lord, of whose mercy it is that we can do

aught, because He has breathed favorably upon us; that by our decision we

may vindicate our right of cognizance in accordance with old-established

tradition, and the respect which is due the Apostolic See; for as we wish

you to exercise your authority in our stead, so we reserve to ourselves

points which cannot be decided on the spot and persons who have appealed

to us.(183)