Featured Article

 “Tell His Disciples and Peter”

(Mark 16:7)

 Christian Unity with One College of Apostles (Later Bishops), With Peter (Later his Successor) at Their Head

 The Intertwined Development of the Papacy and the Ecumenical Councils to Safeguard Christian Orthodoxy and Unity in the First Millennium Points the Way to Overcome Past East/West Prejudice and Restore Christian Unity Today

 by William Baptiste SFO


 Preface:  Ecumenism (Especially Healing the “Great Schism” of Christian East and West) was at the Heart of Vatican II from its First Breath to its Final Day

 Notice About This Featured Article

 Part I:  Background Issues Concerning the Dialogue Towards East-West Christian Reunification 

  • Introduction with Background on the Christian East and West and Their Past Relations

  • The Undivided Early Church and Some Factors (Especially Cultural Prejudice After Loss of Contact) Which Led to its First “Great Schism”

  • 4 Separated Ancient Christian Communions

  • Cultural Prejudice Underlying the Failure of the Union of Florence and “Uniatism” both Byzantine and Roman

 Part II:  The Development of the Authority of the First Millennium Ecumenical Councils of the World’s Christian Bishops East to West (Beginning in the 4th Century) Was Always Intertwined in Integral Fashion with the Older Papal Authority Rooted in the Commissions of Jesus to Peter in the Gospels, as Reflected in Vatican II’s Ecclesiology as Clarified with Eastern Orthodox Help in the Official Orthodox/Catholic Theological Dialogue

  • Promising Developments in the Modern Catholic/Orthodox Ecumenical Dialogue

  • Always 3 Levels of Church Communion: Local, Regional/Patriarchal, and Universal/Catholic with a Greek Protos (First or Chief) at Each Level

  • The Pope is the Protos (First or Chief) at All 3 Levels (Local Bishop, Regional Patriarch, Universal Pope), as Reflected in the Traditional Papal “Triple Crown” on the Vatican Flag

  • Distinguishing the Pope’s Roles as Universal/Catholic Pope from His Roles as Regional Roman Catholic Patriarch

  • The History of the Ecumenical Councils, Intertwined with the Older Papacy: Never An Ecumenical Council without the Pope, and Never A Papal Resolution Without a Synod/Council – One Holy-Spirit-led College of Bishops with the Pope as its Universal Protos

  • Vatican I’s Extreme Formulation of Papal Primacy and Infallibility (So Problematic for Ecumenism) Is Not Intended For the Pope To Operate Without the College of Bishops, But as a Member and Head of the College of Bishops In Extreme Situations Where Normal Collegiality Is Not Possible

Conclusion:  Rooting Out the Past Prejudice Which Led to “Uniatism” Both Roman and Byzantine, and Preparing for a New Ecumenical Council to Heal the Great Schism “So that the World May Believe” When it Sees Our “Love For One Another”

 Appendix: Excerpt from the Conclusion of the Essay,

“Neither Jew Nor Greek”

(Neither Roman nor Greek)

After Loss of Contact Galatians 3:28’s Ideal of Unity in Diversity as Lived in the Undivided Catholic Church Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches of East and West Is Gradually Replaced with Divisive “Unity Equals Uniformity”:

Background of the Gradual Estrangement and Increasing Cultural Prejudice and Bigotry on Both Sides as the Underlying Root Cause (Undiagnosed in All Reunion Attempts) of the Schism Between Roman and Greek Christianity between the 9th and 15th Centuries


Ecumenism (Especially Healing the 1054 “Great Schism” of Christian East and West) was at the Heart of Vatican Council II from its First Breath to its Final Day

Vatican II implementation is at the heart of the Christian educational ministry of The Institute for Promoting the Gift of Truth which I founded (and where I first published this article on March 7, 2014), and Ecumenism, the restoration of Christian Unity as in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church, is at the heart of the Second Vatican Council.  The official Ecumenical “Dialogue of Love” between the two oldest and largest bodies of Christians, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, began on October 7 (and 10), 1958, initiated by Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras with his heartfelt condolences at the grave illness (shortly thereafter the death) of Pope Pius XII.  Before this the 2 Churches had not officially spoken to each other unless to criticize since the failure of the 1439 Reunion Council of Florence after the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453.   On October 28, 1958, the conclave to replace Pius XII elected Blessed (soon to be canonized) John XXIII as Pope.  Pope John XXIII had previously been the Papal Nuncio residing in Istanbul (Constantinople) where he had befriended Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras and the Eastern Orthodox would later credit Pope John XXIII with beginning the “Dialogue of Love” even though Athenagoras had officially begun it shortly before John XXIII became Pope.  From the very first day (soon to be Saint) Pope John XXIII breathed news of the coming Second Vatican Council on January 25, 1959, it was in the context of Church Unity.  The official Dialogue of Love between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches had begun just 3 months before, and John XXIII first told the Cardinals that he was calling an Ecumenical Council at the January 25, 1959 celebration of Vespers for the conclusion of The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. 

In keeping with this context of unity, on the last full day of Vatican Council II, December 7, 1965, Pope John’s successor Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras mutually lifted and “consigned to oblivion” the mutual excommunications of 1054 which mark the beginning of the “Great Schism” of the First Millennium Church of Christ (the Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches of East and West usually calling itself simply “the Catholic Church”) into a Second Millennium separated Western Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church.  This symbolic action did not of course immediately heal the Great Schism, but removed the power of the historical incident which had become a symbol of the Schism and a barrier to reunification.  The mutual lifting of the 1054 mutual excommunications on the last day of the Second Vatican Council was explicitly intended to be taken as

an expression of a sincere desire shared in common for reconciliation, and as an invitation to follow out in a spirit of trust, esteem and mutual charity the dialogue which, with Gods help, will lead to living together again, for the greater good of souls and the coming of the kingdom of God, in that full communion of faith, fraternal accord and sacramental life which existed among them during the first thousand years of the life of the Church.

– Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration Of His Holiness Pope Paul VI And the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, December 7, 1965 (Last full Day of Vatican Council II) 

I believe the solution to the problems separating Christian East and West for almost 1000 years might be summarized in the simple Inspired phrase from the Gospels in which the Angelic Messenger exhorts the first witnesses of Jesus’ Resurrection to “go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him,  just as He told you’ ” (Mark 16:7).  This Scripture verse indicates the collegial structure with Peter at its head of the Holy-Spirit-guided leadership of Jesus’ Church, which actually became evident in the intertwined organic development in the First Millennium of the Ecumenical Councils of Christian Bishops (the Successors of the Apostles) with the Papacy (the Successor of Peter), in settlement of the many First Millennium Christian controversies with heretics, which established the fundamental doctrines or dogmas of Christianity held still held by Christians (even Protestant Christians who remain true to the Christian fundamentals accepted by the Protestant Reformation) today.

Notice About This Featured Article

As I am presently working on a Doctorate in Eastern Christian Studies hoping to aid East/West Christian reunification according to Vatican II ecclesiology (Doctrine of the Church) as clarified and developed in the official Joint Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue, and as I am excited about the developments and the prospects for this, I cannot resist publishing this article to the web (before it being more refined, as I have no more time to polish it because of my doctoral Comprehensive Final Exams) in order to get these important facts and this synthesis of them “out there,” to encourage Christian readers of all types to think about and prepare their minds and hearts for the coming reunion (in God’s perfect timing as we cooperate with His Love).

This article is not a scholarly nor even (for now) a polished work (especially Part I which is only a first draft, and Part II though more revised has incomplete citations).  It is rather an insightful reflection on what I have learned in the first two years of my Ph.D. Theology in Eastern Christian Studies, applied to important questions at the cutting edge of the Joint Catholic Church/Eastern Orthodox Church Dialogue towards the re-establishment of full communion which all the Catholic Popes and Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchs since Vatican II have committed their respective Churches to seeking, according to Jesus’ prayer for our Christian unity “so that the world may believe.”  I apologize for its defects, being not a “final draft,” but I believe this article makes an significant contribution to the ongoing dialogue towards East-West Christian reunion and for this reason I have published it to the web in its current form.

“Tell His Disciples and Peter”

(Mark 16:7)

 Christian Unity with One College of Apostles (Later Bishops), With Peter (Later his Successor) at Their Head

 The Intertwined Development of the Papacy and the Ecumenical Councils to Safeguard Christian Orthodoxy and Unity in the First Millennium Points the Way to Overcome Past East/West Prejudice and Restore Christian Unity Today


PART I:  Background Issues Concerning the Dialogue Towards East-West Christian Reunification

 Introduction with Background on the Christian East and West and Their Past Relations

Many have noted that the only substantial difference between the two oldest and largest Christian Church Communions, the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the papacy.  In fact, it is not the existence of the papacy, of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome among the bishops (literally overseers in the New Testament) of Christianity, which is even in dispute by the knowledgeable on either side, but rather the precise proper nature and limitations of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome which was in fact undisputably exercised by the popes in the First Millennium when there was one both Catholic (Universal) and Orthodox (non-heretical) Christian Church.  Structurally this Undivided Early Church was a communion of different local and regional particular “Sister Churches,” each having their own distinct hierarchy of local bishops usually headed by a regional Patriarch, all the Patriarchs being in communion with each other, which made the different Patriarchal territories or Patriarchates akin to “Church Provinces” of the one Christian Church.  The separated Catholic and OrthodoxChurches today retain this characteristic structure, and each Church is actually a Communion of Sister Churches, both local and regional.

The Catholic Communion of 26 Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates of East and West gathers around the ancient Christian Patriarchate of Rome, which always had the first place of honour among the original “Pentarchy” of 5 Patriarchates (regional “Church Provinces”) defined by the first Ecumenical Councils which also defined the Christian Church’s fundamental faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Rome had the first place of honour because both Peter (the “first” (Greek protos) of the Apostles – Matthew 10:2 – to whom Jesus gave special commissions – Luke 22:31-32, John 21:15-19, Matthew 16:18-19) and Paul (the “Apostle to the Gentiles” who wrote much of the New Testament) preached and died in Rome.  All the Catholic Sister Churches acknowledge Rome’s local bishop and regional patriarch as also the Successor of Peter’s special commissions in the Bible, and thus as the one universal overseer, the pope (hence the traditional papal “triple-crowned” bishop’s mitre representing the 3 offices at 3 levels of Church Communion).

The Eastern Orthodox Communion of 16 Patriarchs pastoring their regional Eastern Sister Churches or Patriarchates gathers around the ancient Christian Patriarchate of Constantinople (Byzantium), which had the second place of honour in the ancient Pentarchy of Christian Patriarchates not at first, but after Constantinople became the capital of the officially Christian Roman Empire.  All the EasternOrthodox SisterChurches or Patriarchates acknowledge the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople among their 16 Patriarchs in communion with each other as “First Among Equals.”

In the Catholic Church the Petrine, papal primacy is regarded as an “office of unity” among the many local and regional Sister Churches which together make up the Catholic (Universal) Church.  It is an office which guards the Church’s unity among other things by the pope having a “final say” that prevents any deadlock among the many bishops and patriarchs who are also successors of the Apostles, such as happens in the Eastern Orthodox Communion which lacks such an authority with “final say” so as to move forward through deadlock.  However, the Catholic Church today is still looking for the ideal balance between the proper collegiality between all the bishops as successors of the Apostles in their own right and the proper role of the pope as both a member of and as the head of that College of Bishops.  There has been an imbalance since the First Vatican Council of 1870 defined the maximum upper limit of the pope’s prerogatives (assuming an “emergency” situation and going beyond what had ever been normal papal practice even in the West and far beyond normal papal practice outside the Roman Patriarchate) but the Council was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and so the Council did not as intended also get to define the balancing role of all the bishops (including the pope) together, as one college of overseers/bishops in Apostolic Succession with the pope at its head.  The Second Vatican Council of 1962-5 finally clarified the role of the bishops in a brotherly collegial relationship with the pope as head of the College of Bishops but after nearly 100 years between the two Councils, of focusing on the maximum possible limits of the papal primacy without a clear role for bishops in relation to it, the Catholic Church is still searching for what in practice the proper collegiality among the members of her hierarchy should look like.  This is one of the great values of the official Catholic/Orthodox dialogue: since the Eastern Orthodox Church focuses on collegiality among its bishops and patriarchs in a long tradition back to the Undivided Early Church, it can help the Catholic Church see more what its collegiality should look like, at the same time as the Catholic Church helps the Orthodox to see the benefits and advantages of a primacy within that collegiality (which was also present in the Undivided Early Church) that prevents the deadlocks to which the Orthodox are now prone.

Orthodox hierarchs and theologians have long said they would be willing to acknowledge the Bishop and Patriarch of Rome as “First” of the Patriarchs, as they did in the First Millennium, if the papacy had not developed so many new prerogatives and claims in the Second Millennium, after the 1054 “Great Schism” between East and West.  The implication is that the papacy making what they perceive as illegitimate claims or overstepping the legitimate papal primacy of the First Millennium is primarily what keeps the Eastern Orthodox out of the Catholic Communion, and so they substituted the Patriarch of Constantinople, second in honour in the ancient Pentarchy, for the Patriarch of Rome as their “First Among Equals” (and naturally enough, since Constantinople came to have influence over even the older Patriarchates of the East like Antioch and Alexandria after they were largely destroyed by Muslim conquest). All this substantiates the general consensus that the only substantial difference between the Catholic and OrthodoxChurches is the papacy – the dispute being not its existence, but its nature and limitations.

With so little of substance dividing these two oldest and largest of Christian Communions which separated nearly a thousand years ago, and given Jesus’ prayer that His disciples “be one … so that the world may believe” (John 17:21), our Christian disunity in fact being a major factor in the secularization of once-Christian Western Civilization, there was much to motivate in modern times the official Dialogue of Love between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches since 1958, and the official Orthodox/Catholic Theological Dialogue since 1982.  This Dialogue has beautifully established tremendous common ground between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in understanding that the Universal Church is not abstract but concretely exists in the concrete local Churches gathered around Holy Communion with Jesus in the Eucharist celebrated by their bishop in Apostolic Succession (or by those he has ordained to share in this ministry), and in understanding the proper “unity in multiplicity” of the one Universal (Greek Katholikos, or Catholic) Church of Christ in which the one Christian faith is properly expressed in multiple complementary ways in the different (Sister) Churches which together make up the Universal Christian Communion which in the Undivided First Millennium called itself simply the Catholic Church – of East and West.

In 2007 the official Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue, as a fitting product of 50 years of the Dialogue  of Love and 25 years of the Theological Dialogue, produced the Ravenna Joint Document which further clarified the issues surrounding the main remaining item of dispute which separates the two Communions: the nature and limitations (not the existence) of the papacy.  As discussed below, at Ravenna both sides jointly declared together that, as is obvious from a close reading of history, the primacy given to the Roman Bishop and Patriarch in the First Millennium was beyond that of merely a “First Among Equals” (making it effective to prevent deadlocks), yet also clearly less than the prerogatives developed by the papacy in the Second Millennium when the Roman Patriarchate and Sister Church operated largely on its own, out of communion with most of the Eastern Sister Churches or Patriarchates and out of communication with most of those Eastern Catholic Sister Churches which can claim to have never been out communion, such as the Maronite and Malabar Eastern Catholic Churches.  So the question remains, as the final question needing to be definitively answered before any formal Church reunification between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches produced by the first “Great Schism” of Christianity, a reunion desired by both in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity “so that the world may believe,” can begin to be undertaken: Just what is exactly is the proper nature of the papacy and what are its proper limitations?

Because the Eastern Orthodox Church has such a great emphasis on the 7 Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided First Millennium Church, and understandably so since these Councils clarified and defined the essential fundamentals tenets of Christianity such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, against all heretical challenges, it will be an important and necessary backdrop to the final laying to rest of the disputes which began the East-West Christian division with a brief schism in the 9th Century and an enduring one in the 11th, and important to the final restoration of Christian union as in the First Millennium, that in both Eastern and Western minds the historical relationship between the Ecumenical Councils and the Papacy be well understood, as it has already come to be recently clarified in the official Orthodox/Catholic dialogue.  A new and fully Ecumenical Council including both sides (Orthodox and Catholic) will at some point have to be the vehicle for formally and finally ending the disputes.  Before discussing the First Millennium history of the Ecumenical Councils which began in the 4th Century when Christianity ceased to be persecuted, and how they were always intertwined with the Papacy which first became explicit in the 4th Century though it had a long implicit tradition going back to the 1st Century (based on the New Testament’s unique commissions of Jesus to Peter), it is worth briefly describing the Undivided Early Church and some factors which led up to its division into Eastern and Western Churches at the beginning of the Second Millennium.

 The Undivided Early Church and Some Factors (Especially Cultural Prejudice After Loss of Contact) Which Led to its First “Great Schism”

The Undivided First Millennium Church enjoyed a mutually enriching unity in diversity in which it was understood that the different Eastern and Western Rites or regional Sister Churches expressed and celebrated their common Christian faith with different worship liturgies and different devotional customs and even different theological emphases with corresponding different lesser doctrines.  These differences stemming from the different cultural milieus which had embraced the Gospel were all declared valid forms of Orthodox (non-heretical) and Catholic (Universal) Christianity at the Ecumenical Councils which recognized each such culturally-based regional Sister Church as a Patriarchate (or Church Province) whose Bishop/Eparch (from the New Testement Greek Episkopos, literally Overseer) was officially declared a Patriarch at the same Early Ecumenical Councils which officially clarified and defined essential, fundamental Christian doctrine or dogma, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, with Jesus being clarified as not only Divine (325 AD 1st Ecumenical Council) but also “fully God and fully human” (451 AD 4th Ecumenical Council).

Unfortunately, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the barbarian tribes of Europe and after the growth of the Islamic Empire in between the Western and Eastern halves of Christendom, the Muslims even ruling the sea routes which had once connected East to West, Eastern and Western Christians had very little contact with each other.  Although the Sister Churches of both East and West maintained the valuable tradition of being in full Communion with each other in one both Universal (Catholic) and Orthodox (non-heretical) Church, both sides having very little actual contact with each other gradually caused both sides to forget the mutually-enriching unity in diversity which had always existed between them, and both sides started to assume that those other Christians “over there,” “who we are in communion with, must do things exactly the same way we do them, and must express their Christian faith exactly as we express it.”  That is, both sides started to assume a principle of “unity equals uniformity,” forgetting the unity in diversity of the past, after centuries of little contact to remind them different Christians did things differently and this was good (in the Ecumenical Councils it had been mutually enriching, and all the Sister Churches had pooled their different insights from different theologies so as to come up with the best answer to heretical challenges).  This false and forgetful assumption that other Christians “must do things as we do” caused great problems centuries later when Eastern and Western Christian missionary fields overlapped, first in the 9th Century and then in the 11th.  Each side was shocked to discover that their Christian brothers on the other side did many things in the celebration and expression of their Christian faith that were different.  Sadly, not only shocked but offended, and each side accused the other of being wrong for being different.  In these accusations both sides might be reasonably said to have been thereby doing Satan’s work, since the Hebrew word satan literally means, “accuser,” the New Testament specifically identifying Satan as “the accuser of our [Christian] brothers” in Revelation 12:10.  In this manner “in the service of Satan” by accusing their own Christian brothers of being wrong for being different, both sides actually excommunicated each other over differences as trivial as whether clergy were bearded or clean-shaven, and which kind of bread was used for Holy Communion – even though these very same differences between East and West had existed during the early centuries of unity in diversity, which had been forgotten.  Even the one issue that sounded like it might be a substantial issue of difference between East and West, the Filioque dispute, truly was not a substantial difference.  Saint Maximus the Confessor, the hero whose theology against the Monothelite heresy was dogmatized at the 6th Ecumenical Council, who was from the East but lived 25 years in the West and thus understood both “ways” of being Christian, had explained centuries before, in the 7th Century, that when Western Christians added the phrase “and the Son” to the original Nicene Creed (when it says, quoting the Bible, that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father”), they did not mean it in the heretical sense in which it could be misinterpreted, which was of such concern to the East in the 9th Century as to cause a brief schism which was soon healed.  Ironically, this only-seemingly significant difference was not even an important point of dispute in the 11th Century “Great Schism” which endures to this day – the major concern of the 1054 mutual excommunication between East and West was the trivial issue of whether to use leavened or unleavened bread for Holy Communion, even though for many centuries the East had used leavened bread while the West used unleavened bread – each side ascribing different spiritual symbolism to their different practices – and both had still been happy to be together in one Catholic Communion of Orthodox Sister Churches since the early centuries of unity in diversity.  Such unity in diversity had been completely forgotten after centuries of very little contact with each other, assumptions of “unity equals uniformity” had become entrenched in both sides, and the documents of both the 9th and 11th Century schisms are therefore dripping with cultural prejudice and should be an embarrassment to both sides of the schism today.  The Undivided Early Church had displayed the “love for one another” by which Jesus said the world would recognize His disciples, a love which superceded the many barriers dividing human beings and made them one family in Christ Jesus despite differences of language and culture and so on.  But an immaturity in love on both sides, after centuries of little contact, apparently caused both sides to regress into the “us” and “them” mindset in which different is wrong, a prejudiced mindset which still divides human beings and causes human conflicts and wars today.

Unfortunately, the more substantial underlying cause of the schism in cultural prejudice was never consciously identified and discussed so as to be healed.  Instead, apparently as an excuse to justify the schism, the highly exaggerated idea from the brief 9th Century schism that the Filioque represented a major difference in Eastern and Western dogma later came once again to the fore, and so it was discussed at very great length by both sides together at the 1439 Reunion Council of Florence.  At this time the deadlock of the Council was resolved when a member of the large Eastern delegation found in the library he brought on the ship with him a copy of Eastern Saint Maximus the Confessor’s 7th Century letter explaining to the East that the West did not interpret “and the Son” (filioque) in the heretical way the East was concerned about (and that a mere “language barrier” was part of the problem).  This united Council of East and West was then able, following Saint Maximus, to declare the equivalence of the Western phrase “and the Son” to the more precise Eastern phrase “through the Son” which Eastern Fathers and theologians used to describe the procession of the Holy Spirit (without actually adding “through the Son” to the Creed).  The Council wrote that both sides shared the same ancient Christian faith but had merely been “aiming at the same meaning in different words,” and joyfully declared the Great Schism healed.

Unfortunately, the cultural prejudice against things different which was behind the original confusion over the Filioque was still in evidence on both sides at and after Florence in 1439, making the successful reunion imperfect.  Even more unfortunately, although the West did send military aid to their reunified brothers in Constantinople, this army was soundly defeated by the Muslims who went on to conquer Constantinople in 1453 (despite some more Western military aid at Constantinople’s last stand).  It is important to note that the Patriarchs of Constantinople held to the East-West Reunion until after the Muslim conquest, when the conquering Muslim Sultan Mohammed II made the most anti-Roman he could find among his captured slaves, who was the hand-picked successor of the only Eastern representative not to sign the reunion in 1439, the new Patriarch of Constantinople, who of course then abandoned the recent reunion.  Though the abandonment was thus the result of Muslim manipulation for Muslim purposes, one reason the reunion could be abandoned so quickly was because it had not in any case yet “taken hold” fully among the populace who had not participated in the long deliberations at Florence.  Despite the Council’s imperfections due to continuing (unidentified) cultural prejudice on both sides, the long process at Florence of actually listening to each other out of serious commitment to Jesus’ prayer that Christians be united had at least managed to dismantle many of the prejudices of those Eastern and Western Christian leaders who actually participated in the Council, who had thus so joyfully if prematurely declared the full reunion of Christian East and West.  The people back home had not gone through this vital ecumenical process in Christian brotherhood.

It is important to note that a great part of the prejudiced resistance of the common people of the East to the reunion with the West which had been negotiated by their spiritual leaders, which made them susceptible to the Muslim machinations to end the union for Muslim purposes, was the hatred they understandably still bore towards the Christian West for the 4th Crusade.  The 4th Crusade actually brutally sacked Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, and set up for decades later a Latin, Roman Rite Patriarchate in Constantinople to replace the legitimate Greek, Byzantine Patriarchate.  Although this horrible sin was not an act of the Western Church, and in fact the leaders of the 4th Crusade were excommunicated by Pope Innocent III for so horrifically hijacking the 4th Crusade from its purpose which he had approved in support of freeing the Holy Land from the Muslims, still this was the ultimate extreme example of the prejudice of Western Christians against the Christian East for being different, showing they did not properly value the East’s different ways of being Christian, and Eastern Christians understandably held a grudge for it (and sadly returned the bigotry). 

Despite its imperfections, the Council of Florence had eminently reasonably and successfully resolved the Filioque dispute, clarifying among other things that the Western phrase “and the Son” in the Creed must be interpreted according to the Eastern theological understanding (originally from Saint Gregory of Nyssa) of “through the Son.”  But unfortunately, such theological misunderstandings were never the actual core of the problem, but prejudice, and this was never resolved nor even addressed.  A foreign and anti-Christian power was then free to manipulate this prejudice for its own Muslim ends.  The Muslim conquerors of Byzantium/Constantinople did not want the Eastern Christians in their conquered territories on friendly terms with the Christian West which had sent Crusaders into Muslim-held lands.  The First Crusade had successfully protected Constantinople from Muslim conquest centuries earlier!  Thus Sultan Mohammed II chose a new Patriarch for Constantinople who he knew was the spokesman for opposition to the union which all his predecessors (not chosen by Muslims!) had upheld, who would then abandon the recent reunion with the Christian West.  With the Christian East afterwards continuing under such Muslim domination which benefitted so greatly from the failure of the Union of Florence which the Muslim Sultan had influenced, no serious attempt at East-West unity on a large scale was made again until modern times.

Thankfully in our own day the “unity equals uniformity” principle, and its attendant cultural prejudice or bigotry against things different – factors which were never explicitly identified and dealt with at any time in any East-West negotiations since serious East-West tension broke out in the 9th Century – are now much less strong (still not absent), since the systematic prejudice of the Nazis showed the whole world the full ugliness of bigotry.  Also, today there has been much more openness to recognizing the complementary Christian value of differing Christian traditions rooted in the several different ancient cultures which embraced the Gospel after hearing the Apostle’s very widespread preaching from Egypt to India, establishing Churches which eventually converted all the pagan Romans, Greeks, Syrians and Egyptians in the vast Roman Empire.  These four ancient cultures expressed their different cultural responses to the Christian Gospel within the four ancient Patriarchates of Rome, Byzantium (Constantinople), Antioch and Alexandria, the leading cities in each of these culture’s territories (with the small Patriarchate of Jerusalem these made up the ancient Pentarchy of five Patriarchates or “Church Provinces” of the Undivided Early Church).  Thus there is more openness today to the possibility of re-establishing a kind of unity in diversity as existed between the different Patriarchates or SisterChurches of the UndividedEarlyChurch.

 4 Separated Ancient Christian Communions

Today there are four separated Christian Communions with ancient roots in these ancient Patriarchates and their different Rites for Christian worship.  From smallest to largest, first of all is the tiny Assyrian Church of the East, with ties to Antioch though representing Eastern Christians beyond the Roman Empire and into the Far East who were not directly involved in the 3rd Ecumenical Council of Ephesus and maintained a more primitively articulated Christology.  This Church is associated with the Nestorian heresy because Nestorians who fled the Roman Empire after the Council of Ephesus found a home with them since their more primitive, pre-Ephesus Christology was not so precise as to exclude Nestorianism.  But their independent development has been on a convergence with the orthodox Christianity of the later Ecumenical Councils and in modern times the Assyrian Church of the East has signed declarations of common Christology with the Catholic Church.  Second is the small Oriental Orthodox Communion, representing those of the Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria (or their daughter Churches) who were separated from the Undivided Early Church halfway through the First Millennium because of non-reception of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon which is now recognized to be due to many non-theological factors (language barriers, political factors, etc) and their independent development is also on a convergence with Chalcedonian faith which has similarly allowed them to sign statements of common Christology with the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Communions, and negotiations towards full reunion continue.  Third is the large Eastern Orthodox Communion gathered around the ancient Byzantine (Greek) Patriarchate of Constantinople, which eventually as a mark of membership forced all of its member Sister Churches to use the Byzantine liturgy for worship, even though the small portions of the older Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria which are in the Eastern Orthodox Communion had different legitimate liturgies from the Undivided Early Church (meaning the Eastern Orthodox Communion has only one Rite, the Byzantine, with only minor liturgical variations among its Sister Churches, even though it is the second largest Christian Communion after the Catholic Church and has 16 Patriarchates).  Fourth is the huge Catholic Communion of 26 Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates gathered around the ancient Patriarchate of Rome, and around Rome’s Bishop and Patriarch as the Successor of Peter.  Together these last two ancient Christian Communions represent almost 3/4 of the world’s professed Christians, most of the rest being Western Protestant Reformation-descended Christians in their approximately 35,000 separated denominations.  Thankfully even many of these are involved in some form of ecumenical activity or even official theological dialogues with their Christian brothers and sisters of other Churches.

The Catholic Communion with its 26 unified Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates represent all of the ancient Christian Rites for worship, and include smaller or greater portions of every Sister Church in the other three ancient Communions which returned to the Catholic Church Communion after a period of separation.  Ideally this would mean that the Catholic Church Communion today already ideally displays the unity in diversity of the Undivided Early Church in miniature, in which case all that would remain for Church reunion is to negotiate for the rest of the other three Communions to formally rejoin or merge with the portions of them which are already in the Catholic Communion.  Unfortunately, except for Catholic Sister Churches like the Maronites and Malabars and Italo-Albanians which were never out of the Catholic Communion (and so have no counterpart in the non-Catholic Eastern Communions), all the other Eastern Catholic Sister Churches achieved their small “partial reunion” in non-ideal and deficient manner after the Muslim-influenced and prejudice-influenced failure of the Reunion Council of Florence.  Even the Malabars reestablished communication and formal contact with Rome after Florence and ended up suffering much of the same following deficiencies in their relationship with the Roman Catholic majority.

 Cultural Prejudice Underlying the Failure of Florence and “Uniatism” both Byzantine and Roman

The Catholic Church, reduced to mostly its Roman Patriarchate after the Great Schism, had at Florence invested tremendous effort and resources to negotiate more or less as equals with the great bulk of the Eastern Sister Churches gathered around the Patriarchate of Constantinople, only to have the union fail.  The particularly Roman Catholic Sister Church, since the Schism the great bulk of all Christians who remained Catholic, no longer had the patience for such complex and costly negotiations with only small parts of different Eastern Sister Churches only one at a time over the next centuries.  More to the point, Roman Catholics (like the separated Eastern Orthodox after the failure of the union) were also still prejudiced, still generally thinking their particular ways of being Christian were somehow “superior” to others even though they accepted that other Rites than theirs existed since the Early Church.  Being such a huge Church negotiating reunion terms with only small portions of Eastern Sister Churches one at a time, and not really respecting the ancient and proper “fully equal dignity” of all the different Christian Rites, the Roman Catholic Sister Church largely dictated terms to each small returning Church.  Although the terms usually included Rome’s recognizing the right of each smaller Sister Church to its own distinct Eastern traditions such as clerical marriage (no longer practiced in the Roman Catholic Church since the 12th Century), still in practice these Eastern Catholic Churches after returning to the Catholic Communion at various times and in various places were often pressured by the ignorant and prejudiced Roman Catholic majority to “Romanize” some of their customs to “prove” they were “really Catholic” (even though, since “Catholic” means “Universal,” not “Roman,” it actually would best prove that both Romans and Easterns were “really Catholic” if their Catholic Communion allowed both to freely practice their diversities in unity as in the Undivided Early Catholic Church!). 

This kind of Church reunion, in which the larger and stronger Sister Church dictates terms to the smaller and weaker Sister Church (instead of both Sister Churches fully respecting each other’s different traditions and taking the time and making the effort to truly seek in Christian brotherhood to understand any differences which seem strange or problematic, until a mutually-agreed understanding or resolution to the difficulty can be found), today is called “uniatism.”  Though this term was once used descriptively, to simply describe the “Uniate” Eastern Catholic Churches which were in union with the Western, Roman Catholic Church, this term now carries a negative connotation because of the recognized imperfections of such unions, and uniatism was condemned as an unacceptable model of Church reunion at the Balamand session of the Joint Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue in 1993.

The context of this 1993 Joint Catholic/Orthodox condemnation of uniatism was many Eastern Catholic Churches, some of substantial size (especially in Ukraine), at that time coming out from the underground after the recent lifting of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, since they officially did not exist under Soviet Communism.  The Eastern Orthodox who had since 1958 been negotiating with the Roman Catholic Church towards reunion were understandably frightened that their future reunion with Rome as Eastern Churches back in the Catholic Communion as in the First Millennium might end up looking like the Eastern Catholic Churches – recognizably Eastern but more or less Romanized, subject to being occasionally pressured to abandon or alter some of their legitimate Eastern Christian ways by a Roman Rite majority who did not share nor understand these ways.  This understandable Orthodox fear distracted and delayed the progress of the official  Orthodox/Catholic dialogue for many years, though it did eventually get back to the fruitful progress it had been making before Balamand.  

 Balamand itself has done much good for the dialogue by clarifying for both sides what reunion should not look like, and this as a rebuke for the Orthodox Church’s past as much or more as for the Catholic Church’s past.  Balamand only mentioned the more recent past Roman Catholic uniatism in its condemnation of uniatism generally.  However, ironically, such past Roman Catholic prejudiced practice of “unity equals uniformity” principle, resulting in most Eastern Catholic Sister Churches being in lesser or greater degree “Romanized,” has never been as bad as the uniatism which in the farther past was practiced by the Orthodox Church Communion centered around the Patriarchate of Byzantium/Constantinople.  Back when Constantinople was large and powerful, it forced non-Byzantine Rite Churches in its sphere of influence, including the devastated older Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria, to abandon their own legitimate heritage from the Undivided Early Church and adopt the Byzantine Rite of Constantinople for Christian worship.  Although these same ancient non-Roman and non-Byzantine Rites within the Catholic Communion have been somewhat “Romanized,” they still recognizably have their own character, whereas these Rites cannot be found at all in the Orthodox Communion which far more thoroughly “Byzantinized” its member Churches than Catholic Rome ever “Romanized” its member Churches. 

Thus the Orthodox will have more work to do than Catholics to completely expunge the “unity-equals-uniformity” prejudice behind uniatism from their inmost beings, and re-instill in themselves the “unity in multiplicity” principle of the Undivided Early Church, which they themselves have thankfully helped define in the Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue, because while the Catholic Communion can already recognize itself as a truly Catholic/Universal Communion of different Sister Churches worshiping according to different Rites (despite the deficiencies of past “Romanization” which are now slowly being corrected), after its past thorough “Byzantinization” of all its non-Byzantine Sister Churches the Orthodox Communion actually elevated this violation of the Early Church’s unity in diversity to the status of a “mark of Church unity!”  Eastern Orthodox Christians through the centuries of division have known who belongs to their Christian Communion largely because they all worship according to the Byzantine Rite, and thus Byzantine-style worship has unfortunately become part of their conception of the “true Church” they belong to, against the reality of the Undivided Early Church Pentarchy practicing 5 mutually-enriching Rites during the Ecumenical Councils, even though the Orthodox can legitimately claim to have the direct succession of 4 of the 5 Patriarchs of that ancient Pentarchy.  In contrast, as imperfect as the past “uniate” Eastern Church reunions with the Catholic Church Communion were, at least they have allowed Catholics to immediately recognize the sense of Vatican II’s wonderful Early Church ecclesiology of a truly Universal/Catholic Communion of different particular (and regional, “Sister”) Churches worshiping according to different Rites (of “fully equal dignity”)The Eastern Orthodox in a “Dialogue of Love” with Rome since 1958 very much helped Vatican II achieve that wonderful ecclesiology, but since the Great Schism they have not been able to say they are anything but merely Byzantine in worship, so even though the proper “fully equal dignity” of the Eastern Catholic Sister Churches was often sadly compromised by a prejudiced Roman Catholic majority in the past, at least Catholic Christians today can look at Vatican II’s ecclesiology and own it as “the Catholic way,” and can honestly say they have always had non-Roman Rite Christians in their Catholic Communion, not only in the First Millennium but also for most of the Second Millennium as portions of all the separated Eastern Churches gradually came back, and at least the Italo-Albanian Byzantine Catholics were never even out of communication with Rome as were the Maronites and Malabars who like them were also never out of the Catholic Communion.

Thus though the divisive (and literally “satanic,” that is, accusatory) prejudice that regards one way of being Christian “superior” to another still exists on both sides, the Catholic Church Communion has so far come much farther along in eliminating such prejudices which sabotage reunion attempts (as they did at Florence).  The Catholic Church Communion at Vatican II indeed very strongly affirmed the “fully equal dignity” of all the Rites of the Catholic Church – Roman and Eastern – such that “no one is superior to the others because of its Rite.”  Although such Vatican II concepts remain to be deeply implemented into the minds and hearts of “the average Catholic,” at least by now most Catholics are at least aware of the existence and validity of non-Roman Rites of their Church – that there is more than just the Roman way of being “really Catholic.”  The deficiencies of the past “uniate” reunions which created most of the current Eastern Catholic Churches have even begun to be reversed.   Vatican II, without specifically naming the problem “Romanization,” still recognized that the Eastern Catholic Churches had lost some of their legitimate Eastern Christian ways over their time back in the Catholic Communion and encouraged them to restore their legitimate Eastern practices where they had been lost, such that any future development of their Rite (Christian worship has always developed according to new times and circumstances) would be a legitimately Eastern development (never again a forced Romanization).  In the decades since there has been progress towards this goal, and Eastern Catholic Christians are much less likely to feel in any way “inferior” to the majority of Roman Rite Christians in the Catholic Communion, and are ready to insist on the full and valuable validity of their Eastern ways against any still-ignorant Roman Catholic’s criticisms, having the full force of Catholic dogmatic ecclesiology in Vatican II behind them1.  Balamand’s condemnation of uniatism thus reinforced the concept of legitimate Catholic “unity in diversity” which Vatican II had already set in motion – albeit only because Vatican II happened in the context of the recently begun Dialogue of Love with the Eastern Orthodox Church. 

The Eastern Orthodox turnaround in actually initiating the Dialogue of Love with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras’s formal condolences on the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 and the active participation of the Orthodox in the Dialogue of Love and the formal Joint Orthodox/Catholic Theological Dialogue since 1982 shows the commitment of the Eastern Orthodox to Jesus’ desire for our Christian reunification.  Still, many Orthodox do not quite see how Balamand’s condemnation of uniatism actually applies to their own past in this area, because they have actually forgotten that their Eastern Church Communion with their 4 ancient Patriarchs used to be a Communion of different Eastern Rites before Byzantine prejudice suppressed the non-Byzantine Rites in a much more thorough manner than more recent Roman prejudice pressured Eastern Catholics to merely “Romanize” some aspects of their non-Roman Rites.  This is merely a sincere warning for Eastern Orthodox Christians to be extra wary of the prejudice that judges Christian worship that is different to be wrong which is entrenched in their second-largest of all Christian Communions which somehow adheres to only one of the ancient Undivided Church’s Rites, the ByzantineAs extremely beautiful as the Byzantine Rite is, which I say as a Byzantine Christian myself (from the Ukrainian daughter Church of the ancient Byzantine/Greek Sister Church of the ancient Catholic Communion, still in communion with the Successor of Peter), still the Byzantine Rite is only one of the beautiful bouquet of Rites which enrich the Church of Christ with stunning variety; only one of the jewels in Jesus’ crown which is all the more resplendent because of their variety.

Having noted the past prejudice against other ancient Christian Rites than their own displayed by both the Roman and the Byzantine Patriarchal Churches (around which gather the two largest Christian Church Communions today, the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox), which has been so harmful to the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity and the primary factor sabotaging reunion attempts up until now, I note the following with hope:

It took Christians very many centuries of reflection on the full implications of the Christian Revelation to finally and totally abandon the slavery common in the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity’s birth, as totally incompatible with the proper dignity of human beings revealed in the Bible.   I suggest that it has likewise taken even more centuries of Christian reflection and experience (including some Christian participation in the prejudice which resulted in the Nazi Holocaust) for Christians to start to conclude that harboring any kind of prejudice and bigotry, any kind of “us” and “them” mentality which separates human beings from each other, is wholly inappropriate and a sin against God our Father who created every human being to be members of His one redeemed family.  And we find that many of the things we Christians have separated ourselves from each other over are rooted in ignorance and bigotry, of ignorantly assuming “different” is “wrong.”  This has opened us to starting to humbly seek to truly understand each other as Christian family under one Father instead of pre-judging each other for being different.  This has been one of the great accomplishments of the official Catholic/Orthodox Dialogue of Love since 1958 and Theological Dialogue since 1982: Despite how long it may yet take for this realization to truly deeply sink into the minds and hearts of the “average Catholic” and the “average Orthodox” (who together are almost 75% of Christians), at least their Churches have officially recognized the inappropriateness of past prejudice and articulated the ideal of Christian “unity in multiplicity.”  How that Christian unity in diversity was proclaimed and guarded in the First Millennium, and what this suggests about how it is best restored and maintained today, it the subject of the following, main part of this article.

PART II:  The Development of the Authority of the First Millennium Ecumenical Councils of the World’s Christian Bishops East to West (Beginning in the 4th Century) Was Always Intertwined in Integral Fashion with the Older Papal Authority Rooted in the Commissions of Jesus to Peter in the Gospels, as Reflected in Vatican II’s Ecclesiology as Clarified with Eastern Orthodox Help in the Official Orthodox/Catholic Theological Dialogue

 Promising Developments in the Modern Catholic/Orthodox Ecumenical Dialogue

I believe the previous background given in Part I was important to clarify the issues affecting the main topic of this article.  Before discussing the First Millennium history of the Ecumenical Councils and their relation to the papacy in more detail, which I consider to be the core of this article, it is worth considering the modern developments in the Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue which are in line with the history and how they shed light on the historical facts.

The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-5) began in the ecumenical context of the recently begun official “Dialogue of Love” between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in 1958, with an official communication recorded in the Tomos Agapis (“The Tome of Love”) from Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras on the death of Pius XII, not yet knowing that his old friend Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, who had served as Papal Nuncio in Istanbul (Constantinople) would soon be elected Pope John XXIII (the Eastern Orthodox side, on the death of Pope Paul VI would later credit John XXIII as having begun the dialogue)2.   It is significant that the Second Vatican Council, which for the first time invited Eastern Orthodox observers as “separated brothers,” within this ecumenical context officially recaptured the ideal of the Undivided Early Catholic Church, the Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox (Non-heretical) Christian Sister Churches of East and West, as it was lived in the First Millennium Ecumenical Councils.  Though the now long-formalized Schism prevented the Eastern Orthodox observers from participating directly in the Council as Council Fathers, during the Council itself it was finally realized that the smaller Eastern Churches which remained in communion with the Catholic Church properly had “fully equal dignity” with the huge majority Roman Church, and so the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs in the midst of the Council had their seating upgraded alongside the Cardinals and the Eastern Catholic bishops, notably the Melchites, made large contributions to the Council from the long-ignored Eastern perspective – making this the first Catholic Ecumenical Council with substantial Eastern representation since the 1438-9 Council of Ferrara/Florence (which had 700 Eastern delegates compared to 360 Western delegates, though the Council was held in the West – it had been slated for Constantinople but Muslim threat prevented this).3

Always 3 Levels of Church Communion: Local, Regional/Patriarchal, and Universal/Catholic with a Greek Protos (First or Chief) at Each Level

The Catholic Church’s very first dogmatic ecclesiology, which thus reflects the First Millennium ideal of the Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, which was promulgated at the Second Vatican Council, has since been beautifully developed and clarified within the official Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, starting from the perspective of local Church Eucharistic Communion as constituent of the Universal (Catholic) Church (in the 1982 Munich document) and (most recently) resulting in the 2007 Ravenna document which jointly recognizes there have always been three levels of Church Communion (local, regional/Patriarchal, and Universal), and there has always been a primate or protos (Greek first or chief) at all three levels (the local bishop being the protos of the ordained presbyters at the local level; the Patriarch being the protos of the bishops/eparchs at the regional level; and the Pope being the protos of the Patriarchs at the universal level).  The Eastern Orthodox side of the Joint Commission agree with the plain history that the Pope in fact served as universal protos in the First Millennium Councils, though it remains for the official dialogue to sort out just which of the Pope’s current prerogatives (which clearly go beyond what the Pope exercised in the East the First Millennium) may be legitimate developments of the Popes’ First Millennium function as universal protos which would apply to the Eastern Churches in a reunion, and which may actually be developments of the Pope’s function as Roman Patriarch, which may be completely legitimate for him to continue to exercise within his own specifically Roman Patriarchate (some Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs exercise a similar or greater level of direct management of their Patriarchates), but which would not apply to the Eastern Patriarchates in a reunified Church, as of course the Popes in the First Millennium did not exercise their properly Patriarchal/regional level functions in the East.

 The Pope is the Protos (First or Chief) at All 3 Levels (Local Bishop, Regional Patriarch, Universal Pope), as Reflected in the Traditional Papal “Triple Crown” on the Vatican Flag

Although the Pope (only since 20004) no longer uses his ancient traditional title of “Western Patriarch” (which previously had been proclaimed every year in the papal yearbook Annuario Pontificio) because it was considered too vague and potentially misleading in the current ecumenical dialogue (since the Pope, as he is more than a bishop, is also more than a Patriarch), the Pope remains, in his secondary office, the specific Patriarch of the specifically Roman Patriarchate, the first of the Patriarchates or Church ‘Provinces’ recognized by the very first Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 AD (the title of Roman Patriarch given the Pope at Nicea thus belongs to history and cannot be taken from him).  The Roman Catholic Church is a Sister Church, and is an ancient Patriarchate, and on this basis it entered into the official “Dialogue of Love” (followed by an official Theological Dialogue) with the Orthodox Church shortly before its own Vatican Council II – a Dialogue which repeatedly used the term “Sister Church(es)” and referred to the ancient Patriarchates of Rome and Constantinople – yet the Holy See is also more.  In distancing itself from the title “Patriarch” in 2000, the Holy See was concerned that it not be seen as “just another Patriarchate,” “just another Sister Church,” dialoguing completely as equals with the other Eastern Patriarchates and Sister Churches, when it is also more.  Yet it is important to properly understand the Pope’s ancient title of Patriarch just to fully understand the whole structure of the Catholic Church – and the Popes roles within it.  Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols notes

This title of patriarch is, in the West, a largely forgotten name for the papal office. The new Code of Canon Law of the Latin church never draws on it, even though only that title can make sense of the Code’s own opening canon, [Canon 1:] “The canons of this Code concern only the Latin church.” [that is, the Roman Catholic Church, not the Eastern Catholic Churches, which have their own Eastern Code of Canon Law]. As long ago as 1927, however, the Greek Catholic bishop of Athens remarked to his Greek Orthodox counterpart that 99 percent of the decisions of Rome belong to the power of the pope as Latin patriarch and concern, therefore, only those within his patriarchal jurisdiction [and do not concern the Eastern Catholic Churches which are under the Pope’s universal papal jurisdiction but not under the Pope’s regional patriarchal jurisdiction]. 5

Perhaps Ravenna in 2007 has already done enough to clarify the concern for misinterpretation which caused Pope Benedict XVI to stop using the title “Western Patriarch”6 in the Annuario Pontificio in 2000, since Ravenna has specified the three different levels of Church Communion (local, regional, universal) which all have a protos (first or chief) position which clearly applies to the Pope at all three levels (local Bishop of Rome; regional Patriarch of the Roman Patriarchate or Sister Church; universal Pope, Successor of Peter the protos of the Apostles – Matthew 10:2) – a triple role as protos that has been traditionally reflected in the traditional triple-crowned papal tiara.

 Distinguishing the Pope’s Roles as Universal/Catholic Pope from His Roles as Regional Roman Catholic Patriarch

The confusion up until now stems from the fact that Roman Catholics in the thousand years of separation (wherein most Catholics have been Roman Catholics, unlike in the First Millennium) have typically confused the pope’s actions concerning them which are properly regional/ patriarchal (and performed by the Patriarchs or otherwise-titled Heads of regional Sister Churches among the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches) and which are properly universal/papal, actions unique to the Pope as Pope (not as Roman Patriarch) and which apply to all Catholic Christians of whichever Eastern or Western Sister Church in the Catholic Communion (these actions have always been much rarer than the patriarchal functions).  Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols observes:

It is because Rome has never managed to distinguish adequately in her own mind her administrative functions as a patriarchal see from her apostolic charge as the Petrine see (remarked Father Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 1964) that she has presented the image of centralising, omnicompetent governmental force—something which, in that form, the [Orthodox] East could never accept [as it violated the First Millennium relationship of the Papacy to the East]. Nevertheless, there were Latin Christians who never forgot, when practising ecclesiology, that the pope is a patriarch and that what he appropriately does patriarchally is both more than what he does as bishop and less than what he may do as successor of Peter 7

Still, the concern of the Holy See that it be recognized as being “more” than just a Patriarchate has been addressed by Ravenna: Indeed the Pope has not only local overseership over the City of Rome, not only regional overseership of the Roman Catholic Church (the Roman Patriarchate or Sister Church), but also universal overseership of the entire Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches of East and West.  Currently there are over 20 such Sister Churches in the Catholic Communion under the Pope’s universal jurisdiction, of which the Pope’s own regional Roman Patriarchate is currently the largest.  Ravenna means that the Eastern Orthodox already agree that should any of the currently separated regional Sister Churches or Patriarchates within the Eastern Orthodox Communion ever reunify with the Catholic Church, properly they would once again, as in the First Millennium, come under the Pope’s jurisdiction as universal-level protos,8 [scroll down to footnote 8 below for a consideration of the Russian objection] under whatever terms the official Catholic/Orthodox Dialogue jointly decides are legitimate developments of the Pope’s First Millennium universal Petrine office (and not mere spill-overs of his properly regional/patriarchal office into the universal sphere), making allowances of course for the fact that with today’s travel and communications technology, the Pope as universal protos cannot help but be more involved in the life of the Eastern Churches than he was in the First Millennium, if only by way of more visits and communications (still rarely if ever making decisions that properly belong to the Eastern regional/patriarchal sphere).

On this last point, I say “rarely if ever” since under Vatican II’s Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches, which are already in full Communion with the papacy, the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs are indeed already acknowledged as the highest authority for matters concerning only their own Patriarchate, yet “without prejudice to the Roman Pontiff’s ability to intervene in any particular case.”  This means that in the normal course of events one would not expect the Pope to interfere with Patriarchal matters outside his own Roman Patriarchate, yet he has the ability to should he (in surely very rare circumstances) deem it necessary (as in the First Century Pope Saint Clement of Rome’s settling of an internal dispute in the far-away diocese/eparchy of Corinth).  Just how precisely this rarely-used ability should be defined and described, what general policies should frame it, will be part of the work of the Joint Catholic/Orthodox Dialogue to work out before actual reunion can occur, but it should be noted that this most extreme ability of the pope to intervene universally was only defined (at Vatican I in 1870) in a context of “emergency powers,”9 and was never intended to mean the pope would normally interfere in day to day affairs of other (non-Roman) local or regional Churches.

In any case, these modern developments which recognize a distinction between the Pope’s roles as regional Roman Patriarch and Universal (Catholic) Pope (as well as local Bishop of the City of Rome) fall very much in line with the First Millennium practice of the papacy, which also had regular day-to-day functions affecting only the Roman Church and separate universal-level functions, much more rarely used, which were most pronounced of course during the ultimate expression of the Church’s universality – an Ecumenical Council.

 The History of the Ecumenical Councils, Intertwined with the Older Papacy: Never An Ecumenical Council without the Papacy, and Never A Papal Resolution Without a Synod/Council – One Holy-Spirit-led College of Bishops with the Pope as its Universal Protos

The following discussion focuses upon the evidence for how vital the older papacy was to the very establishment of the Ecumenical Councils as the instrument and voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church, so I at the outset want to clarify the balancing facts that the pope did not ever act on his own to settle the many controversies of the First Millennium, but rather as a Member and the Head of a College of Bishops who shared with him the Apostolic Succession and the “charism of truth” Jesus promised to all His Apostles (and their successors).  When controversies arose the Bishop of Rome often held a local Roman Synod which pronounced on the matter, but this was never the final end of the matter.  The end of the matter typically came after an Ecumenical Council had judged (typically mirroring any previous Roman Synod’s conclusions), and after the pope (the Head of the College!) had confirmed or ratified the Ecumenical Council’s decision.

It is important to remember the Ecumenical Councils were unprecedented before the (still officially pagan head of the pagan Roman Senate, unbaptized until on his death-bed) Roman Emperor Constantine (who represented the secular pagan Roman authority up until recently the biggest persecutor of Christians) called the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea.  The authority of such an Ecumenical Council to settle anything, never mind definitively for the whole Christian Church for all time, had not been yet established, which caused nearly a century of chaos that temporarily split the Church in two because the Arian heretics condemned by Nicea rejected the authority of this completely unprecedented Council.  The authority of Ecumenical Councils was only ever recognized universally in the Christian Church by later relying on the ratification of the Roman Pope, whose authority, though more implicit than explicit before this time, could be shown to have been exercised throughout the centuries back to apostolic times and was rooted on Christ’s several unique commissions to Peter who died in Rome.  So there never were any Ecumenical Councils of the First Millennium Church which did not have the older authority of the papacy intertwined with them in integral manner, as demonstrated below.  Therefore it is not surprising that without the papacy, the Eastern Orthodox have never been able to have another Ecumenical Council – their 16 autocephalous (self-headed) Churches, without a universal-level protos (first or chief) among them, can never agree to have one (and none of the seven Ecumenical Councils they recognize were without the ratification of the Pope).

In fact the authority of Ecumenical Councils, that is, of gatherings of the worldwide ordained overseers (bishops or eparchs), successors to the Apostles, to be the official mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit to definitively end disputes within the Christian Church (patterned after the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council of Apostles, which together proclaimed what Peter had first proclaimed), developed out of necessity during the early centuries in an organic process of the Living Body of Christ the Church and never existed without the previously recognized authority of the Bishop of Rome as the Successor of Peter the Chief Apostle, who died there, his successors affectionately called “Papas” or Popes in recognition of the loving fatherly nature of this role in God the Father’s adopted Family the Church.

The First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 AD was called, to end the politically disruptive Arian controversy, by politically-motivated Roman Emperor Constantine shortly after the official persecution of Christianity by the pagan Roman Empire finally stopped in 313 AD.  It was the first time conditions had ever been peaceful enough to have a truly ecumenical or worldwide council of the apostolic successors, the bishops, but it was called by the Roman Emperor, representing a secular Roman Government that, as mentioned above, up until very recently had been the primary persecutor of Christians, therefore the authority of this very first, Ecumenical Council, when there had never even been one before, was disputed.  In fact the Arian heresy was far stronger and more numerous after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD than before, precisely because the Arians claimed this unprecedented first Ecumenical Council did not have the authority to declare the Bible must be interpreted to mean Jesus was “one in being” or “consubstantial” (Greek homoousios) with the Father, when the Bible itself did not use this clarifying word.  As they also rejected the long interpretetive tradition handed down within the Church since apostolic times which was aptly summarized and clarified by the word homoousios, the Arian heretics can be described as the first “Bible Alone” Christians, rejecting both the Sacred interpretive Tradition handed down within the Living Body of Christ the Church and the Magisterium or Teaching Office of the Church’s ordained overseers/bishops gathered in Ecumenical Council, as did the Protestant Reformation 12 centuries later. The Protestant Reformation explicitly declared “the Bible Alone” (and not Tradition nor Magisterium) to be the sole source of a Christian’s faith – therefore it is no surprise that the majority of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations today have gone “doctrinally liberal,” doubting or denying traditional Christian faith, and include a great number of modern-day Arian heretics who deny the divinity of Jesus, since the Protestant Reformation worked from principles very similar to those of the Arian heretics.  The Arian heretics had a very thorough and sophisticated interpretation of the Bible Alone, one which did not appropriately consider the living Sacred interpretive Tradition handed on within the Living Church as one generation of Christians introduced the next personally to Jesus, and an interpretation which did not submit itself to the judgement of the Living Church’s Magisterium or Teaching office of the ordained overseer/bishops, successors of the Apostles, gathered in Ecumenical Council (patterned after the Acts 15 Apostolic Council of Jerusalem) and there “guided into all the truth” (John 16:13) according to Jesus’ promise to His Apostles, so as to settle a major dispute as did the Jerusalem Council.

With the Arians thus disputing the not-yet-established authority of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD which had condemned Arianism as heretical, the Arian heresy grew bigger and more powerful after the Council of Nicea, and the Christian Church was so rocked by this controversy that through the 4th Century a temporary majority of Christians were uncertain whether they should believe the Council of Nicea or the Arians, and some adopted a “compromise formula” between the two positions.  This majority in the East were perhaps unfairly called “Semi-Arians” by those who were firmly committed to Nicene orthodoxy, but they were eventually persuaded to accept Nicea’s definition by the Eastern Saints and Doctors of the Church Athanasius, Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, and the younger Cappadocian Fathers (whom Athanasius had helped convert from the “middle position”).  To help bring this “convincing” process to a close, one of the Cappadocians, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, “the Theologian,” initially led a local Eastern council at Constantinople in 381 AD, which reaffirmed the teaching of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea which had first condemned Arianism.   Less than half the number of bishops, and no Western bishops at all, attended this council, so it was in no sense an “Ecumenical Council” as Nicea had been, and in any case 325 AD Nicea’s authority to settle the Arian dispute had not been at all universally recognized, which is why there even was another, local Eastern council in 381 AD in another attempt to settle the very same Arian dispute.  So how did the Arian dispute within the Roman Empire finally end and how did the authority of Ecumenical Councils to definitively end disputes finally become firmly established, with the local Eastern Council of 381 AD eventually becoming known to history as the Second Ecumenical Council?

Nicea’s authority was initially bolstered by the Pope in Rome’s adoption of it and his sheltering of Eastern Patriarch Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, its greatest defender, during his exile (one of several as Arian-sympathetic Emperors exiled him five times).  It is also in the mid-fourth century, in the very middle of the crisis over whether to believe Nicea or the Arians, that there first comes to be abundant explicit evidence (in letters) of the Roman popes’ view of Rome as the supreme arbiter for the whole Church.10  This view was not at all new but based on the previously more implicit Sacred Tradition of Roman, papal authority over the whole Church (not just the territory of Rome) which had actually been practised earlier by Popes Clement (1st Century, very possibly the same Clement mentioned in the Bible in Phillipians 4:3) and Victor (2nd Century) and others throughout early Christian history.  This authority over the rest of the Church located in Rome had been testified to by the early Saints Ignatius of Antioch (one of the most beloved early Christian martyrs11) and Irenaeus (the Church’s first systematic theologian) and others.  This authority of Rome (where Peter died) was rooted in the New Testament’s unique commissions by Christ to Peter including giving Peter the Keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19; see also John 21:15-17, Luke 22:31).  It is very significant that this papal tradition becomes so much more explicit during the fourth century when the Ecumenical Councils began, but were so sorely challenged, Ecumenical Councils having no such previous tradition, implicit or explicit, as the papacy had enjoyed, and had in fact practised in various ways since the time of Pope Saint Clement I while the Apostle John was still alive (Clement was so highly regarded in the primitive Church his letters were even included in very early New Testaments before the traditional New Testament Canon as we all know it was first proposed by Patriarch Saint Athanasius in 367 AD and ratified by Pope Innocent I in 405 AD12).  So in the fourth century the pope lent his still largely implicit yet much more established authority to bolster the cause of the Ecumenical Councils.  Thus the First Ecumenical Council of 325 AD was only universally recognized as an Ecumenical Council with authority to define things forever for the whole Church after the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 AD which upheld its decisions, but the Second itself was not even at all Ecumenical but was only attended by local Eastern bishops, half the number as at Nicea, and it was only ever universally recognized as an Ecumenical Council at all after Pope Damasus in his 382 AD Decree of Damasus declared it had such authority, and without his ratification and endorsement as so authoritative, 381 would have only been a local, entirely Eastern, Council.  This Papal ratification of the local Eastern 381 Council of Constantinople, which made it the Second Ecumenical Council, and which confirmed the unprecedented First Ecumenical Council as truly authoritative, was done specifically by Pope Damasus explicitly on the principle of the Primacy of the Roman Church rooted in the New Testament’s record of Jesus giving Peter who died in Rome “the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and this was never disputed in the East, but in fact the local 381 Council was recognized as the Second Ecumenical Council ever since:”

 “Likewise it is decreed: … we have considered that it ought to be announced that although all the Catholic Churches spread abroad through the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18-19] . . . .

The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it.” (Damasus, The Decree of Damasus 3[382 A.D.]), in W.A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970, 406.13

Since both the First and Second Ecumenical Councils were only universally recognized as even having authority to once-and-for-all settle disputes for the whole Church after the Pope in Rome ratified them, using his own authority as Peter’s Successor rooted in Christ’s unique New Testament commissions to Peter which had been practised in more or less subtle ways in the centuries between, it is no surprise then that when there was a need for a Third Ecumenical Council to settle the next major Christological dispute, the Nestorian heresy, it was the Pope in Rome who deputized Patriarch Saint Cyril of Alexandria to preside over the 431 Council at Ephesus in his absence.  Pope Celestine in Rome specifically deputized Patriarch Saint Cyril of Alexandria to preside over the Third Ecumenical Council in his place, in words clearly indicating his Roman primacy such as these (earlier) from circa 423 AD:

 “Therefore let all those whom he [Nestorius] has separated from his communion understand that they continue in ours, and that from this time he himself (Nestorius) cannot continue in communion with us, if he persists in opposing the Apostolic doctrine.  Wherefore you shall execute this Judgement with the Authority of our See, acting in our Stead, and having our Power delegated to you; and that if, in the space of 10 days after he has received this admonition, he does not expressly anathematise his impious doctrines, and promise to confess, for the future, that faith which the Roman Church and your Church and all Christendom teach concerning the generation of Jesus Christ our God, your Holiness [note the Pope calls his brother Patriarch “your Holiness” indicating the high regard for all the Patriarchates even though the Roman See is that of the protos] may forthwith set about to provide for this Church (of Constantinople) under the full assurance that in such a case it is necessary that he should be utterly separated from our body.” (Celestine, Labbe, Concil. T. iii. col.898-9), in Colin Lindsay, The Evidence for the Papacy, (London: Longmans, 1870), 234.14

At the Third Ecumenical Council the Petrine Primacy they represented was clearly declared by the other, lesser papal legates who also attended the 3rd  Ecumenical Council with Cyril and this was recorded in the 3rd Ecumenical Council’s Acts (quoted below), and the 4th  Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon would later refer to that Third Council “whose leaders of most holy memory were Celestine of Rome and Cyril of Alexandria.”15  The 4th Ecumenical Council formally recognized the Pope as the first leader of the Third Ecumenical Council even though he wasn’t there!  His primatial authority as Pope, the Petrine Successor, had given Patriarch Saint Cyril (mentioned second as leader) the right to actually preside over the Council, and one of the other, lesser papal legates representing Celestine at the 3rd Ecumenical Council introduced the papal delegation with the following very explicit declaration of the doctrine of the authoritative Petrine Office of the pope:

 Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince (ἔξαρκος) and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation (θεμέλιος) of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Coelestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy synod.16

This explicit affirmation of the Petrine primacy of the Pope, who was recognized by the Fathers of the 4th Ecumenical Council as the first leader of this 3rd Ecumenical Council, was not disputed at all by the Eastern and Western Fathers of the 3rd Council, who after this introduction simply proceeded to deal with the business of the Council, condemning the Nestorian heresy.

The next big Council held to settle a major dispute (over Monophysitism) was in 449 AD, and even though this Council was called and supported by the Emperor, Pope Saint Leo the Great’s declaration of that Council as an invalid “robber Council” (because it refused to read Pope Leo’s famous Tome and instead promoted the Monosphysite heresy) trumped the Emperor.  The 451 Council Leo insisted be held to replace the 449 Council declared that “Peter had spoken through Leo” after his Tome was finally read, and went on to adopt his definition of Jesus as (in brief) “fully God and fully man,” after which he of course ratified the 4th Ecumenical Council as a truly Ecumenical Council (unlike the 449 Council which had not received his papal ratification).

All the later Ecumenical Councils of the First Millennium were similarly presided over by the papal legates, and as earlier, the Pope (though physically absent except at the 5th Ecumenical Council) was recognized as the true leader of them all.  Thus Emperor Justinian felt motivated to pressure the pope to get the result he wanted (the condemnation of the “Three Chapters”) from the reluctant pope in the 5th Ecumenical Council of 553.17  Thus during the 6th Ecumenical Council, the Synod of Bishops at the Council wrote a letter to Pope Saint Agatho, calling him the ‘Head of the Church” and his chair, ‘The First See of the Ecumenical Church.’18  Pope Saint Agatho, similar to Pope Leo at the 4th Ecumenical Council, then directed the Council to condemn the Monothelite heresy, ending the controversy (Leo and Agatho, similar to Peter in the Acts 15 Proto-Council, speaking the final judgement of the Council before the Council was completed).  After the 7th Ecumenical Council, Saint Nicephorus (758-828 AD), Patriarch of Constantinople and Secretary of the 7th Ecumenical Council, wrote,

“Without whom [the Roman papal legates presiding in the seventh Council] a doctrine brought forward in the Church could not, even though confirmed by canonical decrees and by ecclesiastical usage, ever obtain full approval or currency. For it is they [the Roman Popes] who have had assigned to them the rule in sacred things, and who have received into their hands the dignity of headship among the Apostles.”19

Thus there never were any Ecumenical Councils recognized by the Eastern Orthodox apart from the Petrine ministry of the Pope of Rome; the very authority of Ecumenical Councils, so revered by the Eastern Orthodox, was from the beginning only recognized universally because it was intertwined with the Papal authority which had been implicitly recognized and practised since apostolic times and was rooted in the New Testament special commissions of Jesus to Peter (alongside the New Testament precedent of the apostolic Jerusalem Council, in which Peter also played a very prominent role).

It should however also be noted again that like Peter first declared the position later espoused by the Proto-Council of Jerusalem, so the popes often made statements in their local Roman Synods which later were espoused by an Ecumenical Council, which was later ratified by the Pope, but it was never the Pope’s initial declaration on its own which finally settled the matter at hand.  The Pope consistently acted rather as the protos, first or chief, of a College of episcopal successors of the Apostles who acted together – never an Ecumenical Council without the Pope, but neither ever a Pope settling major matters without an Ecumenical Council.

 Vatican I’s Extreme Formulation of Papal Primacy and Infallibility (So Problematic for Ecumenism) Is Not Intended For the Pope To Operate Without the College of Bishops, But as a Member and  Head of the College of Bishops In Extreme Situations Where Normal Collegiality Is Not Possible

I remind the reader that the far-reaching definition of immediate papal jurisdiction and infallibility in 1870’s Vatican I was conceived in a context of “emergency powers”20 of the Head of the College of Bishops, and was intended to be balanced by a doctrine of the role of the rest of the College but this task was left unfinished due to the Franco-Prussian War which ended the Council and even ended the Papal States (including the Vatican) where the Council was held.  It is also important to remember that even the only 2 instances in all of history (1854 and 1950) where a Pope exercised “papal infallibility” in defining a dogma on his own, and not as part of the Holy Spirit-guaranteed infallibility of the whole College of Bishops which he heads gathered in Ecumenical Council, the pope still first consulted the whole College of Bishops, asking them each to consult their whole flock of the faithful to determine the “sensus fidelium” of the whole People of God.  Finding these were matters not in significant dispute by the faithful (which would have required an Ecumenical Council to resolve), and finding that the faithful and the whole College of Bishops were open to such a definition, the Pope proceeded to infallibly define those 2 dogmas.  The pope in these two instances of using papal infallibility was acting not “on his own” but “as the Head of the College of Bishops,” who had been consulted.  It might be said this consultation ascertained that there was such consensus among the faithful and their bishops that it was not worth the time and expense of holding a full-blown Ecumenical Council to define these dogmas.  The consensus even went beyond the Catholic faithful.  Although sadly the Eastern Orthodox were offended by not being consulted because they were not in communion with the Pope, in fact (unlike the case with Protestants) these dogmatic definitions did not increase the doctrinal differences between Catholics and Orthodox, since the Pope in these instances only clarified and dogmatized doctrines which were already part of Eastern Orthodox belief and practice.  The Orthodox already recognized Mary as Pan-Hagia or “All-Holy” as in the 1854 Definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and in conformity with the 1950 Definition of the Assumption of Mary the Orthodox already celebrated this event liturgically on the same day (August 15), calling it the “Dormition” of Mary.

The extreme form of the Vatican I definition of papal infallibility, where the pope (the Head of the College of Bishops), under a very rigidly defined set of circumstances may make dogmatic statements even without such consultation, is meant to cover emergency situations where the consultation of the Church or the gathering of an Ecumenical Council is not possible, as in the case of the early centuries of violent persecution.  It must be remembered that this kind of extreme situation seemed very close to the Council Fathers at the time the extreme Vatican I definition was made.  In 1870 the Catholic Church was in the midst of the trauma of being forced fully into the Modern (and secularized) world by the end of the last vestiges of the Medieval Period when it securely reigned as the most important and influential force in Europe.  Enemy armies were literally at the door, disrupting the Council and taking away the last of the Papal States, the large area of Italy (including the Vatican where the Council was going on) which the Popes had ruled politically (making the Catholic Church’s headquarters independent of any national ruler) since ancient times.  Much of the Catholic Church’s history has involved protecting itself from being dominated by powerful rulers in Europe who tried to unduly influence the Church, meaning that a strong Church (led by a strong pope) was important for the Catholic Church’s credibility and survival, so the Church would not be a pawn of the State.  So it is not surprising that the 1st Vatican Council defined the absolute maximum limit of a pope’s abilities in such extreme terms, the Council meeting in an unstable context in which political control of the Vatican itself was actually taken away (until Vatican City State was formed in 1929) by hostile military forces who did not respect the Church and her sovereignty as even many Medieval invaders of Rome had.  While the Eastern Orthodox are understandably concerned by such an extreme dogmatic formulation of the outer limit of the pope’s abilities, which go so far beyond what the pope typically exercised as regards the East in the First Millennium, Orthodox Christians (and Catholic theologians) remembering the “emergency context” of this Council should assuage their concerns – Vatican I’s dogmatically defined extreme outer limit of the Pope’s abilities meant to serve the Church in crisis is not meant to replace the normal exercise of the universal-level protos the Pope in the East as exercised in the First Millennium.

Conclusion:  Rooting Out the Past Prejudice Which Led to “Uniatism” Both Roman and Byzantine, and Preparing for a New Ecumenical Council to Heal the Great Schism “So that the World May Believe” When it Sees Our “Love For One Another”

Also, as noted above, the Pope’s Patriarchal role as regional-level protos of the huge ancient Roman Patriarchate, the specifically Roman Catholic Church (not the entire Catholic Communion of Orthodox Sister Churches East and West) was also never meant to be normative for the Eastern Churches which already have their own regional protoi, the Patriarchs.  Roman Catholics, after a thousand years with their regional Roman protos no longer in communion with other, non-Roman regional protoi from Sees also founded by the Apostles (Antioch’s Church is older than Rome’s, and also founded by Peter!), have to get used to distinguishing when the Pope is acting as their regional Patriarch and when he is acting as their universal Pope (citizens of Rome hopefully already know when the Pope is acting as their local Bishop).

It is important that these 3 distinct offices of the Pope as protos at each of the local, regional, and universal levels, reflected in the traditional triple-crowned Papal Tiara, be clearly understood by Roman Catholics, the members of the regional Roman Patriarchate and particular or “Sister” Church, and it is important that this understanding replaces all vestiges of the past history of ignorant Roman Rite prejudice that used to demand non-Roman Catholics “Romanize” themselves instead of keeping to their own legitimate ancient non-Roman Rites and traditions rooted in the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s Catholic Communion of Orthodox Particular or “Sister” Churches of East and West.

This past “uniatism” condemned by Catholics and Orthodox together in the 1993 Balamand Document of the Joint Dialogue is literally anti-Catholic, that is, anti-Universal Christian, and it is this kind of prejudice of the superiority of “our Christian ways” to “your Christian ways,” on both sides, which is the primary factor which led to the Schisms in the first place, and to the failure of the past attempts at reunion (see the Appendix below).  There has been great progress already since Vatican II, but the huge Roman Catholic majority of all Christians must completely exorcize this demon of prejudice, of any air that the specifically Roman ways of being Catholic are in any way “superior” to the others, because Roman Catholics can be intimidating as by far the largest group of all Christians, especially when they still have vestiges of that ignorant prejudice which confuses the terms “Catholic” and Roman Catholic” as if they were wholly interchangeable, still forgetting after a thousand years of separation from the majority of the once-Catholic East that there are ways to be completely Catholic without being at all Roman, except for being in Communion with the Successor of Peter and universal-level protos who happened to die in Rome, which is the only reason why the succession of Peter’s office as protos of the Apostles is located there (if Peter had died in Antioch, the Bishop of Antioch would be the Pope and universal-level protos, not the Bishop of Rome).  Roman Catholics must not only form their conception of the Church according to Vatican II’s dogmatic ecclesiology which recognizes the “fully equal dignity” of all the Particular or “Sister” Churches in the Catholic Communion, but also remember with great respect that at least half the Saints and Doctors of the First Millennium Catholic Church were not Roman Catholics like them, but Eastern Catholics like their minority Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ with whom they are already in full communion, and like their Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ who have only remained so long out of the Catholic Communion because of the understandable fear that their legitimate ancient Eastern Rites would not be respected and would be Romanized by such a huge Roman Catholic majority (as happened to the Eastern Catholic Churches which is only since Vatican II starting to be corrected).  This Roman majority did not always exist in the Catholic Church: Before the decimation of the Catholic Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch only about 25% of Catholics were Roman Catholics.  At the turn of the First Millennium there were as many Eastern Byzantine Catholics as Roman Catholics even after the Muslim conquests.  The current Roman Catholic majority of all Christians is only due to the Muslim conquest of Byzantium/ Constantinople as well, and to prepare for reunion to occur Roman Catholics need to really understand the unity in diversity of the First Millennium Catholic Church and divest themselves of all remaining vestiges of the past prejudiced urge to “Romanize” non-Roman Christians, or else their current huge majority is too threatening to Eastern Christians trying to obey God’s call to be in unity with them as one Christian Family of God.

Sadly this “our Rite is superior” kind of prejudice is also present on the Eastern Orthodox side, and in some ways Orthodox Christians will have more work to do to divest themselves entirely of it in preparation for the reunion Christ wishes, since the past “uniatism” condemned jointly by Catholics and Orthodox at Balamand, though this is not mentioned in the document, as mentioned above, actually applies to the (much earlier) forced Byzantinization of the non-Byzantine Eastern Churches in Byzantium/ Constantinople’s sphere of influence much more than it applies to the sad Roman practice of (in greater or lesser degree) eventually Romanizing the non-Roman Churches in the Roman sphere of influence.  The ancient worship of the Antiochian and Alexandrian Patriarchates may have been more or less Romanized in the Catholic Church Communion gathered around the ancient Patriarchate of Rome; but they were completely obliterated in the Orthodox Church Communion gathered around the ancient Patriarchate of Constantinople, to the point that the Eastern Orthodox Church so completely forgot the ancient unity in diversity of the Undivided Early Church that they made the specifically Byzantine ritual worship of the Particular Church of Constantinople part of their conception of the “True Church” that helped them recognize who belonged to their Church communion.  Old habits die hard, but this too must go or it will sabotage any future reunion as it sabotaged the past reunion attempts.

As a final consideration of the above discussion of the intertwined history of the papacy and the Ecumenical Councils, which was the core around which this article was written, I note the Eastern Orthodox have no Ecumenical Council of the 7 they recognize which did not intimately involve the papacy.  Unsurprisingly they are thus, without a universal-level protos among their 16 Patriarchs, unable to agree to ever have another Ecumenical Council (and without the universal “office of unity” they are plagued with breaches of Communion and even, today, 3 separate “denominations” of Ukrainian Orthodox under 3 Patriarchs in one territory).  It is hoped that the recognition of just how integrally necessary the papacy is to the very origin and concept of an Ecumenical Council, as shown in this reflection, will motivate my Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ to (when the time is right) fully participate with the Catholic Church (and its Pope) in another fully Ecumenical Council of East and West, to finally and forever formally lay to rest the Filioque and other over-inflated disputes (rooted not in substantial disagreement but more in the cultural prejudice which set in after centuries of little contact by the 9th Century), and together finally formally reestablish union, for the benefit of both sides which are wounded without each other, and for the sake of the Church’s mission to the world “so that the world may believe” through our common loving witness of the One God in Three Persons who is Love.


© 2013, 2014 Peter William John Baptiste SFO


 Appendix: Excerpt from the Conclusion of the Essay,

 “Neither Jew Nor Greek”

(Neither Roman nor Greek)

After Loss of Contact Galatians 3:28’s Ideal of Unity in Diversity as Lived in the Undivided Catholic Church Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches of East and West Is Gradually Replaced with Divisive “Unity Equals Uniformity”:

Background of the Gradual Estrangement and Increasing Cultural Prejudice and Bigotry on Both Sides as the Underlying Root Cause (Undiagnosed in All Reunion Attempts) of the Schism Between Roman and Greek Christianity between the 9th and 15th Centuries


With our modern sensibilities and explicit awareness of the dangers of prejudice, which went undiagnosed during all the previous attempts at reunion, and thus recognizing now how much ignorance, prejudice, and outright bigotry on both sides played a huge part both in the initial schisms and in the failure of all of the reunions, we can hope and pray that we are now ready to pursue reunion watching out for our own remaining prejudice and not letting it sabotage our attempts at reunion, as happened in the past, so that we may at last re-establish the unity in diversity of the Undivided Early Church.


To begin with, it is important to realize just how much the non-theological factor of grossly un-Christian attitudes of cultural prejudice and bigotry (on both sides) were involved right from start as the background context of the filioque dispute, which was the only actual, and still lingering, doctrinal issue between East and West.  After centuries of being cut off from regular contact with each other by the historical circumstances of the Western Roman Empire being overrun by barbarian tribes, and by the sea and land routes which once united East and West being interrupted by the Muslim Empire which had formed between them, both sides through lack of contact with Christians of other ways lost the earlier implicit unity in diversity and replaced it with implicit “unity equals uniformity,” descending into prejudice and bigotry against anything unfamiliar.  It is one thing to acknowledge the filioque dispute came up in the 9th Century brief Photian Schism and the 1054 Great Schism and divided us; it is quite another to examine the actual texts of these schisms and want to own them.  Christians of both sides should be highly embarrassed by these documents.  Of course Christians who had become so bigoted they actually made a doctrinal issue (backed up with Biblical proof-texts!) of why the other side was heretical to have a clean-shaven clergy instead of a bearded clergy would no longer be able to see beyond their own narrow perspectives enough to appreciate the complementary subtleties in each other’s theology of the Procession of the Holy Spirit.  It is only after East and West had long lost most contact with each other and gradually become so intolerantly bigoted to the slightest differences once held in peace that Photius so violently objected to the filioque.  If this is the background of when we were divided, do we really want to stay divided?  Must a Schism from such an era forever dominate our destiny when we for centuries earlier lived unity in diversity on this specific issue?

As suggested earlier, ideally the filioque dispute should never have gotten so complicated and out of hand.    Eastern Saint Maximus the Confessor, equally revered in East and West as the primary theologian defending the Christian faith (against the Monothelite heresy) at the 6th Ecumenical Council, an entire century before Photius made the filioque the first issue of major dispute between East and West, had resolved any such potential dispute by explaining and demonstrating how the Western, Latin phrase filioque (“and the Son”) was equivalent in meaning to the Eastern phrase “through the Son,” such that East and West meant the same thing in the different language they used to theologically describe the one faith.  But somehow (not too surprising in an age lacking comprehensive databases of the Church Fathers and computer search engines), Saint Maximus’ extremely pertinent Eastern testimony on this issue was overlooked by both sides at the time Photius in the East first objected to the filioque as a Western heresy, first making it an issue of contention, and somehow, Maximus’ testimony continued to be overlooked by both sides and did not enter the later discussions of the filioque until very near the end of the Council of Florence in 1439.  It is very significant that as soon as Maximus’ testimony did, so late, enter the discussion (brought up by one lesser Eastern delegate in a private meeting of the Eastern delegates only), it was in fact the major turning point which then quickly brought about the Union of Florence.  The large (700 member)21 Eastern delegation at Florence had spent most of the lengthy deliberations at the Council on the filioque question; they had seen the vast evidence that the filioque had been a significant part of the Western theological understanding of the faith since the time of the early Western Church Fathers who were acknowledged and revered by the East as Catholic/Universal Church Saints (including Pope Saint Leo the Great); they had seen that there was substantial teaching by their own Eastern Church Fathers (notably “through the Son”) that could be seen as compatible with the filioque (“and the Son”); and they had seen that not even Mark Eugenicus, the one Eastern Father not to sign the Union, who railed consistently against the filioque as heretical and incompatible with Eastern teaching, could produce even a single text from the Eastern Church Fathers which actually said that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, which was the interpretation Mark (and all who saw the filioque as incompatible) assumed, which was the only interpretation that was incompatible with the filioque;22 yet despite all this no argument yet presented by the Western side at the Council had convinced them to unify, though they had recently been greatly comforted by the clear assertions from the Western side that the West absolutely did NOT mean by the filioque the heretical interpretation which Eastern Christians since Photius had feared it meant (which was the main reason for their dispute about it).  Many misconceptions about the short-lived Union enacted at the Council of Florence in particular have now been clarified by scholarship.  Close examination of the Greek Acts of the Council of Florence (now proven accurate, an interlacing of three independent Greek transcribers of the daily events of the Council, though once regarded with suspicion by some), reveals that once the testimony of Maximus finally entered into the discussion in a private Greek meeting, the fact that such a highly regarded Eastern Saint had specifically testified to the equivalency of the filioque to Eastern explications of the faith, and had done so before the East had ever even disputed the filioque, was the decisive discovery which led the Eastern side to (once confirming that Pope Eugenius agreed with their revered Saint Maximus) declare the equivalency of the Eastern and Western teaching on the subject and unify with the Western Church in the formal Decree of Union produced at the Council (not any Western coercion, nor even Western arguments, so quickly produced this result at the end of the Council).

Unfortunately, the cultural prejudice and bigotry (on both sides) which had characterized the brief 9th Century Photian Schism and the 1054 Great Schism still remained as an undiagnosed and un-dealt-with non-theological factor pressuring hard on this new union.  The Union of Florence ultimately failed, not only due to the demonic temptation of anti-Latin cultural prejudice among the masses in the East who had not attended the Council and had not been part of its lengthy deliberations seeking unity (and in a Latin prejudice that despite the desired union still regarded the Greek Rite as inferior), but in no small degree the Union failed due to the not-long-after interference of the Muslim conquerors, who for the Muslim purposes of keeping their conquered Eastern Christian subjects from friendly contact with the Christian West (who sent crusaders into Muslim territories), fanned the existing prejudice and bigotry into a flame and ensured it continued (as it has in some degree to this day) by installing the most anti-Latin person they could find among their conquered slaves the new Patriarch of Constantinople, who of course finally abandoned the Union of Florence, such that the masses of the Byzantine East never had the chance to be taught why it was important to overcome their prejudice and accept the union by their leaders who themselves had only come to accept the union through a serious and lengthy investigation of the issue with a heart towards brotherly reunification.  It is significant to note in this regard  that the union effected at Florence lasted substantially longer in Antioch than in Constantinople, and was brought to an end by the same means: the Muslim conquest of the city.  Even despite the powerful factors of cultural prejudice, there was still an Eastern will to hold to the brotherly union until outside anti-Christian interference destroyed it.  The Schism between the ancient Patriarchate of Rome and the Catholic Communion gathered around it, and the ancient Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Orthodox Communion gathered around it, which started with the brief 9th Century Photian Schism, and had its key central moment in 1054, was  never a complete nor total schism, and this schism only ever became “permanent,” with no serious seeking of reunion for 500 years23 with anti-Christian Muslim interference, for Muslim purposes which were best served by the separation of Christian East and West.

Regarding the claims of some that the massive undertaking of the Council of Florence was “politically motivated”, Aidan Nichols notes that “The popes were genuinely committed to the ecumenical cause. They regarded the political aspect as the work of Providence, using the Turkish menace to throw divided Christians together.”24  I note that some today are likewise suspicious of the Ecumenical Movement, because divided Christians probably would not be as motivated to talk to each other if they had not all been so seriously marginalised by our increasingly secularized culture.  I contend that as with the political factors which influenced the Council of Florence (which Ecumenical Council was not influenced by political factors?), far from being the “real” or “only” reason for ecumenism, our current common Christian alienation from the mainstream secularized society, which our being divided helps the secular wave to do to us, and which greatly hampers our collective Christian mission, is a pressing reason that as at Florence actually helps us to seek to overcome the various (often petty) barriers towards our actively seeking the unity we should be building with each other anyway just because Jesus desired it and we need to present a loving and united witness “so that the world may believe.”  Such external pressures help to counteract the simple spiritual laziness of not looking into unity just because it is difficult.  Ecumenism demands we live our Christian lives in a way that takes us out of the “comfort zone” of just staying in what is familiar and therefore comfortable – even though God wanted a Church of different cultures from the beginning (hence Adam and Noah were told to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth” – the different languages and different geographical locations since Babel guaranteeing different cultures) and thus Christ made us a Church of different cultures (the nations of the world, redeemed).  From the beginning we as Christians were meant to stretch ourselves beyond the comfort zone of “our own local ways” in order to see all other human beings who were renewed in Jesus as our brothers and sisters in God’s adopted family even though we were different, since the love of God overcomes all human barriers.  We must keep these things in mind as we look more closely at the (entirely non-theological and actually anti-Christian) factor of cultural prejudice and bigotry so blatantly involved in the historical events which divided us, and in the failures of our historical attempts to reunify, so that this divisive factor can be formally repented of on behalf of the past, so we can perform searching self-examinations of our hearts today for remaining traces of it and repent of those, so that we can all the more seriously pursue the reunion we all know Jesus wished for us, with all the greater chance of success the next time we seriously attempt to reunify, having purified ourselves of the main undiagnosed factor which sabotaged our past attempts.


© 2013 Peter William John Baptiste SFO



1In Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, and its two supporting decrees promulgated the same day of the Council, the Decree on The Catholic Eastern Churches and the Decree on Ecumenism.

2Stormon, E.J., SJ., ed. & trans.  Towards the Healing of Schism: The Sees of Rome and Constantinople: Public Statements and correspondence between the Holy See and the Ecumenical Patriarchate 1958-1984.  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987.

3Nichols, Rome and the Eastern Churches: A Study in Schism

4Nichols , Rome and the Eastern Churches: A Study in Schism. Emphasis added.

5Nichols, Rome and the Eastern Churches: A Study in Schism. Emphasis and square brackets added.

6Although the term “Western Patriarch” remains vague – since all of the other Patriarchates are distinct territories with distinct Rites, usually around a specific major city  – it may well stay relatively unused.  The term really just means that the specific Patriarchate of Rome is the only one of the five major ancient specific Patriarchates which is located in the West.  But there should be no concern around the term “Patriarch,” applied in its proper and specific sense of Roman Patriarch, within the context of the eminently sensible and Early-Catholic-Church descriptive terms of the Ravenna document, which acknowledges the Roman primacy of the Pope as universal-level protos of all of the Patriarchs.

7Nichols, Rome and the Eastern Churches: A Study in Schism. Emphasis and square brackets added.

8Unfortunately, one of the 16 Orthodox Patriarchates, the Russian Orthodox Church, that is, the medieval (not ancient) Patriarchate of Moscow, did not participate in the Ravenna Document and has stated it does not support it. Although the largest Eastern Orthodox Church being the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) specifically means this is a significant blight on the otherwise magnificent progress towards East/West reunification represented by Ravenna, the Russian objection to the Ravenna Document need not overly impede the significance of Ravenna for the following reasons: 1) The Russian Representatives did not walk away from Ravenna after initially being there for reasons of the content of the ecumenical dialogue in which all the other Orthodox Representatives recognized the ancient primacy of Peter’s Successor the Pope: rather they walked away and excluded themselves from this dialogue before it started, for the reason of not recognizing the independent Orthodox representative of Estonia, which Moscow claims primacy over (this reason itself illustrates the weakness of the Eastern Orthodox Communion without a Petrine Primate with a ministry of unity to settle such jurisdictional controversies); 2) Russian representative Hilarion very tellingly described the Russian objection later with the words, “we have no experience of universal primacy.”  Of course the Russians of the Moscow Patriarchate have no experience of universal primacy!  Moscow as a city, never mind a Patriarchate, did not even exist until centuries AFTER the schism between East and West, and so Moscow indeed never experienced the universal primacy of the successor of Peter, the Pope in Rome (this is akin to a child conceived but not born before its parents separated, who of course has no experience of both parents, in this case the Eastern and Western Churches, being together).  But the Patriarchate of Kiev in Ukraine, Kiev being also the “first capital of Russia,” even though it was “born” in 988, only shortly before the 1054 schism, has enough experience of the universal primacy of the Bishop of Rome that the dominant half of Ukraine formally reunified with Rome in 1596 and the second largest Rite of the Catholic Church today (after the huge Roman Rite) is the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  Even more importantly, all of the other, older, Eastern Orthodox Churches, who also did experience universal primacy in the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium, DID take part in the Ravenna dialogue with the Catholic Church and together with the Catholic representatives drafted and signed the magnificent joint document of Ravenna towards Christian reunification, recognizing the clear first millennium primacy of Peter’s Successor in Rome, while identifying some of the issues still to be worked out in the future dialogue as to the exact proper nature and scope of this primacy.


I have articulated the remaining areas of dialogue as mainly to determine which of the Pope’s current prerogatives are legitimate developments of the First Millennium Papal office as Protos (first or chief) of the Patriarchs which the Eastern Orthodox have long said they are willing to recognize; and which of the Pope’s current (micro-managing) prerogatives are simply “spill-overs” of the Pope’s Patriarchal office as Patriarch of the huge Roman Rite (as they developed in the Second Millennium in which the Roman Rite was mostly separated from the East), which are completely legitimate for the Pope to exercise over his own (Second Crown on the Papal Tiara) Roman Patriarchate, as indeed some Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs so micro-manage their own Patriarchates, but which would not be appropriate for the Pope to exercise over the non-Roman, Eastern Patriarchates which returned to Catholic Communion in a formal reunion, as indeed the Popes in the First Millennium never exercised such prerogatives over the Eastern Churches in the First Millennium.

9McPartlan. A Service of Love: Papal Primacy, the Eucharist, and Church Unity.

10Eno, Robert.  Teaching Authority in the Early Church.

11who one early account says was the child Jesus pointed out in the Gospels (Matthew 18:2-3), and who certainly died for the faith in his old age in a Roman Arena circa 107 AD.

12Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolarum.

13Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, Jesus, Peter and the Keys, 314-315

14Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, Jesus, Peter and the Keys, 324-325.

15Pelikan, Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, Volume I

16Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Father Series II: The Third Ecumenical Council: the Council of Ephesus, Extracts from the Acts, Session III.


17The Pope was not reluctant to oppose the heretical notions written in the “Three Chapters,” but was reluctant to do it in the unprecedented way it was done.  The long-dead authors of these Three Chapters had died in the peace of the Church before the Church had ever formally declared such notions ultimately heretical, at least when taken to their full logical conclusions as later formal heretics had taken them.  Thus it might be said today that they had held theological opinions which were incorrect but in their time not yet formally heretical since the Church had not yet judged on them.  These long-dead authors thus had no opportunity to explain what they meant when they wrote these works; they had no opportunity to recant or withdraw any heretical meaning of their works now that the Church had formally judged on these matters, and it was their condemnation as heretics alongside gross, obstinate, formal heretics in these unusual (and unfair) circumstances which the Pope was reluctant about.

18 Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, Jesus, Peter and the Keys,  275.

19Butler, Dahlgren, Hess, Jesus, Peter and the Keys, 356.

20McPartlan. A Service of Love: Papal Primacy, the Eucharist, and Church Unity.

21Schroeder, H. J. Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation, and Commentary. St. Louis, MO; London: B. Herder Book Co., 1937.

22“No Greek Father, not even one that Mark Eugenicus could quote in all his most spirited defences of the Greek position, specified that the Spirit proceeded “from the Father ONLY,” the exclusive sense that Mark and most of the Greeks had generally come to believe, which was opposed to the Latin “and the Son.” Gill, The Council of Florence, 230.

231453-1958.  From the 1453 Muslim Conquest and Muslim-manipulated abandonment of the Union of Florence by the Sultan Mohammad II choosing the anti-Roman monk Gennadius, hand-picked successor of Mark Eugenicus, the only Eastern hierarch not to sign the Union and chief opposer of the Union, as the new Patriarch of Constantinople, to the 1958 beginning of the formal “Dialogue of Love” between Constantinople and Rome and their two ancient Church Communions formed out of their first “Great Schism.”

24Nichols, Aidan (2010-03-30). Rome And The Eastern Churches (Kindle Locations 4153-4154). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.