Tuesday, November 2, 2010

False Claims of Authority by the Roman See

The Roman see did not initially have any authority over the other churches throughout the world. However, they were able to gain power through help from the emperors and deceit and other means until they held the highest place of authority within the church. Calvin insists that ever since the beginning of the church, the Roman see has sought to gain control over all other churches. Calvin points to an early example of Rome's quest for dominance in the story of Athanasius. He was the chief opponent against Arius and his herecies. Athanasius appealed to Rome because the eastern churches were divided. Rome was all too happy to accept this appeal because it gave them the final decision like our Supreme Court. It became the seat of final appeal throughout the church which gave Rome authority over other churches.

Calvin lists four categories of church power. There are (1) the ordination of bishops, (2) the calling of councils, (3) the hearing of appeals or juristiction, and (4) motions of chastisement or censures. In the early church, only when a church that was under the Roman patriarch was required to have a Roman bishop ordain any new bishops. Over time, Roman bishops began attending all ordinations throughout Italy. Eventually this practice became perceived as Rome giving its blessing to the ordination, demonstrating Rome's authority over these other churches which were outside Rome's jurisdiction.

Early in the church's history, bishops were able to admonish or censure each other equally. Calvin points out that Irenaus rebuked Victor because he was causing a great disturbance in the church over an unimportant issue. This equality among bishops was important so that no one bishop or see could commit heresies with no consequence. Once this equality no longer existed, then the Roman see was accountable to no one.

Bishops in the early church whad the authority to call provincial synods, but only the emperor could call a universal council. For instance, it was Constantine who called the Council of Nicaea and not the bishop of Rome. If it had been the bishop of Rome who had called this early council, only the bishops in his province would have come and other bishops would have been very upset with this assumption of authority by Rome. Calvin states, "We do not deny that the bishop of Rome was one of the chief bishops, but we refuse to accept what the Romanists now contend - that he had dominion over all."

In the Roman see's quest to be over the entire church, there were examples where forged documents and epistles were used to prove their power. For instance at the Second Council of Milevis, documents were introduced which were supposedly from the Council of Nicaea but were really changed documents from the Synod of Sardica. There are other examples used by Calvin where the Roman pontiff tried to pass off false documents which "proved" his dominion over all the church.

Again, Calvin looks at another case which showed that the Roman pontiff did not originally have control over all the church. In this particular case, the bishop of Carthage had been accused and found guilty of some heresy. He appealed to Emperor Constantine. Constantine then had the bishop of Rome plus other bishops from Italy, Gaul, and Spain to hear the case. The man was again found guilty then he appealed to Constantine again. Constantine judged the case himself and overturned what the bishops had decided. This shows that the Roman see did not have all power over the entire church, but really the emperor held even higher authority. Calvin writes, "It is Constantine, who, they boast, devoted not only all his effort, but almost all the resources of his entire empire to enhancing the prestige of the Roman see. We therefore see how far the Roman pontiff then was from that supreme dominion which he declares to have been given him by Christ over all churches, and which he falsely asserts that he held in all ages by the consent of the whole world."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.7.11-4.7.18


  1. Where are your primary sources? Everything you say here is "according to Calvin". What authority did Calvin have?

  2. I can argue with you in this theme! I'm happy to see that someone is interested in history as I am!

  3. That was something really new for me. I've heard of this story earlier, but I wasn't aware of all the details you've described here.

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  5. This is a very delicate matter that requires more thorough research and study in the future.

  6. Yes, you are right, Roman pontiff did not originally have control over all the church. This caused the greatest problem!

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  10. The change of the pope suggests some changes in the canons of the church. However, his power remains unbreakable, even in this period.


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