Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Roman See's Desire for Power

In about 359 AD, Constantinople became the capital of the Roman empire. This caused disruption in the church because the sees of Rome and Constantinople both wanted to be the head of the church. Leo I (5th century) was very interested in claiming power for himself. Calvin writes about him, "For that man was as immoderately fond of glory and dominion as he was learned and eloquent." He declared that if any conflicts arise within the church, they should come to him for a ruling. By doing this, Leo basically stated that he is the supreme authority within the church.

By contrast, the 6th century pope Gregory I (or Gregory the Great) did not bestow upon himself these high honors. The Roman empire had been torn apart after the death of Constantine. His sons each received parts of the empire. This caused confusion within the church as well, so everyone within the church looked to the Roman church for leadership. Calvin writes about the power of the Roman see at the time, "But the Roman see was held in such reverence that it could by its authority subdue and repress the wicked and obstinate who could not be kept within their duty by their own colleagues." Gregory was not proud and did not take advantage of his position. In fact, he made a point in stating that all are equal. He expected other bishops to hold him accountable when he erred. When Gregory did act as judge, he did so only after being directed by the emperor and not under his own volition.

Calvin writes, "This, then, was the entire power of the Roman bishop, to take a stand against obstinate and unrestrained prelates where there was need of some extraordinary remedy - and that to help, not to hinder, the other bishops. He therefore assumes no more power over others than he elsewhere yields to all over himself, when he admits that he is ready to be corrected by all, to be amended by all." Gregory became unhappy with his position. He felt that he was weighed down too much by administrative obligations and did not get to feed his flock as well as he wished. I am sure that there are many pastors today who get lost in the administrative duties of their roles and are unable to fulfill their calling to pastor their congregations.

After the capital moved to Constantinople, the bishops of Rome feared more and more that the primacy of the Roman see would be lost. There were false documents drafted in an effort to keep the primacy in place. Pope Innocent was afraid during his day that the primacy would move, therefore "he promulgated a contrary law in which he states that it is unnecessary for ecclesiastical metropolitan sees to be changed whenever imperial metropolitan cities are changed."

Pope Leo was quite upset with the move of the Roman capital. He protested any idea of the primacy of the church moving. After two councils, Leo still protested the decision that the bishop of Constantinople would be second behind the bishop of Rome. Calvin contends what it should have been the bishop of Constantinople who protested being second to Leo than the other way around.

Calvin addresses the title of "universal patriarch" or "universal pope." He uses the bishop of Constantinople, John the Faster, who was bishop during the time of Gregory the Great. John claimed that he was "the universal patriarch" and wanted people to respect this title. Gregory opposed John taking this title for himself. But, he also denied the similar title "universal pope" for himself. Eulogious, bishop of Alexandria had referred to Gregory by this title. Gregory responded by saying, "See here by calling me 'universal pope' in the preface to the letter you have sent me, you have taken care to inscribe a word of proud address that I have forbidden. I beg your holiness not to do this henceforth, because when more is given to another than reason requires, it is withdrawn from you. I consider it no honor to see the honor of my brethren diminished. For my honor is the honor of the church universal, and the life and vigor of my brethren. But if your holiness calls me 'universal pope,' that is to deny to yourself what you attribute wholly to me." Gregory saw this title not as much a title elevating him to a higher position, but as lessening those around him. He truly seemed to be content with his position and did not have aspirations to gain power over his colleagues.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.7.17-4.7.30


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  8. The real influence on the adherents was in the hands of noble Roman families in these territories. This was a prerequisite for some change outside the church.


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