I've noticed that many non-Chalcedonians assert that St. Leo the Great had certain unseemly ambitions. As a corrective, I offer these extracts from Fr. Vladimir Guettee's The Papacy
. Since I don't think this topic is necessarily of a polemical nature, I've decided to post here.
The Œcumenical Council of Chalcedon, a.d. 451, which met a century after that of Constantinople, throws a new light upon this point, and thus expresses itself in the twenty-eighth canon:http://www.geocities.com/trvalentine/orthodox/guettee07.html
"In all things following the decrees of the holy Fathers, and recognizing the canon just read by the one hundred and fifty bishops well-beloved of God, (third canon of the second council,) we decree and establish the same thing touching the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, the new Rome. Most justly did the Fathers grant privileges to the see of the ancient Rome, because she was the reigning (capital) city. Moved by the same motive, the one hundred and fifty bishops well-beloved of God, grant equal privileges to the most holy see of the new Rome, thinking, very properly, that the city that has the honour to be the seat of the empire and of the senate, should enjoy in ecclesiastical things the same privileges as Rome, the ancient queen city, since the former, although of later origin, has been raised and honoured as much as the latter." In consequence of this decree, the council subjected the dioceses of Pontus, of Asia, Asia Minor is understood, the ancient Metropolis of which was Ephesus. The part of Asia confided to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Antioch is called the East. and of Thrace, to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Constantinople.
The legates of Pope Leo I in the Council of Chalcedon opposed this canon. It was adopted, nevertheless; but the Fathers of the council addressed a respectful letter to Leo, in which, after alluding to the opposition of the legates, they add: "We therefore beg you to honour our judgment by your own decrees."
Romish theologians have claimed to see in this proceeding a proof that the Fathers of Chalcedon recognized in the Bishop of Rome a supreme authority over the decisions of the councils, which, they say, would be of no avail if not confirmed by him. But it is more just to see in this but an act of great propriety inspired by the love of peace and harmony. The council would of course desire that the West should be in concord with the East. The Bishop of Rome represented the West in the council, being the only bishop in the West possessing an apostolic see; again, his see was the first in honour in the universal Church, and evidently it was proper to entreat him to acquiesce in the decision of the council. He was not asked to confirm it, but by his own decrees to honour the judgment which had been rendered. If the confirmation of the Bishop of Rome had been necessary, would the decree of Chalcedon have been a judgment, a promulgated decision before that confirmation?
St. Leo did not understand the letter from the Council of Chalcedon as do our Romish theologians. He refused—not to confirm it by his authority—but simply to admit it. "This decree shall never obtain our consent," he said. St. Leo, epis. liii. vet. edit.; lxxxiv. edit. Quesn. And why did he refuse his consent? Because the decree of Chalcedon took from the Bishop of Alexandria the second rank, and the third from the Bishop of Antioch, and was in so far forth contrary to the sixth canon of the Council of Nicea, and because the same decree prejudiced the rights of several primates or metropolitans. Ibid. In another letter addressed to the Emperor Marcianus, St. Leo, epis. liv. vet. edit.; lxxxviii. edit. Quesn. St. Leo reasoned in the same manner: "The Bishop of Constantinople, in spite of the glory of his church, cannot make it apostolic; he has no right to aggrandize it at the expense of churches whose privileges, established by canons of the holy Fathers and settled by the decrees of the venerable Council of Nicea, cannot be unsettled by perversity nor violated by innovation."
The Church of Rome has too well forgotten this principle of one of her greatest bishops.
In his letter to the Empress Pulcheria, St. Leo, epis. iv. vet. edit. St. Leo declares that he has "annulled the decree of Chalcedon by the authority of the blessed Apostle St. Peter." These words seem at first sight to mean that he claimed for himself a sovereign authority in the Church in the name of St. Peter; but upon a more careful and an unbiased examination of his letters and other writings, we are convinced that St. Leo only spoke as the bishop of an apostolic see, and that in this character he claimed the right, in the name of the apostles who had founded his church, and of the western countries which he represented, to resist any attempt on the part of the Eastern Church to decide, alone, matters of general interest to the whole Church.
The proof that he regarded matters in this light is that he does not claim for himself any personal authority of divine origin, descended to him from St. Peter, but that, on the contrary, he presents himself as defender of the canons, and looks upon the rights and reciprocal duties of the churches as having been established by the Fathers and fixed by the Council of Nicea. He does not pretend that his church has any exceptional rights, emanating from another source. But by ecclesiastical right, he is the first bishop of the Church; besides, he occupies the apostolic see of the West; in these characters he must interfere and prevent the ambition of one particular church from impairing rights that the cannons have accorded to other bishops, too feeble to resist, and from disturbing the peace of the whole Church. After carefully reading all that St. Leo has written against the canon of the Council of Chalcedon, it cannot be doubted what he really meant. He does not claim for himself the autocracy which Romish theologians make the ground-work of papal authority. In his letter to the Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, he only styles himself "guardian of the catholic faith and of the constitutions of the Fathers," and not chief and master of the Church by divine right. St. Leo, epis. lxi. vet. edit.; lxxx. edit. Quesn. He regarded the canon of the Council of Chalcedon as wrung from the members of that assembly by the influence of the Bishop of Constantinople, and he wrote to the Bishop of Antioch, St. Leo, epis. lxii. vet. edit; xcii. edit. Quesn. that he ought to consider that canon as null, inasmuch as it was contrary to the decrees of Nicea. "Now," he adds, "universal peace can only subsist upon the condition that the canons be respected."
Modern Popes would not have written thus, but would have substituted their personal authority for the language of the canons.
Anatolius of Constantinople wrote to St. Leo that he was wrong, in attributing the twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Chalcedon to his influence; that the Fathers of the council had enjoyed full liberty; and that as far as he himself was concerned, he did not care for the privileges that had been conferred upon him. Nevertheless, these privileges remained in spite of the opposition of the Bishop of Rome, and were recognized even in the West. Let us give one proof among a thousand. It is a letter from an illustrious Gallican bishop—St. Avitus, metropolitan Bishop of Vienne—to John, Bishop of Constantinople. Works of St. Avitus, in the miscellaneous works of P. Sirmond. At the same time we can perceive in the struggles between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople respecting the canon of Chalcedon, the origin of the dissensions which afterward led to an entire rupture. In principle, Leo was right to defend the canons of Nicea; but he could not deny that one œcumenical council had the same rights as another that had preceded it; especially while it adhered to the spirit that had directed it. The Nicene Council, in consecrating the usage by which the Bishop of Rome was regarded as the first in honour in the Church, had in view not so much the apostolic origin of his see, as the splendour which he acquired from the importance of the city of Rome; for many other churches had an equally apostolic origin, and Antioch, as a church founded by St. Peter, had priority over Rome. Why, then, should not the Bishop of Constantinople have been received as second in rank, Constantinople having become the second capital of the empire; since the Bishop of Rome was first in rank, only because of its position as the first capital? It was well understood that the Council of Chalcedon had not been unfaithful to the spirit that had inspired that of Nicea; and that if it had somewhat changed the letter of its decrees, it had done so in obedience to the same motives that had directed the first œcumenical assembly. It sustained itself, moreover, upon the second œcumenical council, which, without giving to the Bishop of Constantinople any patriarchal jurisdiction, had, nevertheless, conferred upon him the title of second bishop of the universal Church, and that too without any opposition on the part of the Bishop of Rome, or any other Bishop in the West.
The twenty-eighth canon of Chalcedon was the consequence of the third canon of Constantinople. It was the more necessary to give to a patriarch jurisdiction over the dioceses of Asia, Pontus, and Thrace, that elections and consecrations occasioned in these dioceses perpetual struggles between the primates and the metropolitans. The Council of Nicea having sanctioned the privileges founded upon usage, every primate and metropolitan pretended to have some such rights.
It was thus the Bishop of Antioch endeavoured to stretch his jurisdiction over the isle of Cyprus; but from time immemorial this Church had governed herself by her bishops together with the metropolitan. The case was carried to the Œcumenical Council of Ephesus, which declared in favor of the Church of Cyprus. Its motive was, "that it was necessary to beware, lest under pretext of the priesthood the liberty be lost which Jesus Christ, the liberator of all men, has given to us, at the cost of his blood." St. Leo, Epis. xcii. Labbe, Collec. of Councils. Cabassut. Not. Eccl. p. 209.
This is why the metropolitans of Cyprus styled themselves as before αὐτοκέφαλοι (independent) and did not recognize the jurisdiction of any superior bishop. The Bishop of Jerusalem was likewise acephalous, or without chief, according to the seventh canon of the Nicene Council, and he retained the ancient honour of his see.
Thus Leo was right to pronounce in favour of respect for canons; but he was wrong in placing disciplinary canons in the same rank with dogmatic definitions. In fact, the first may be modified when grave reasons demand it, nay, should be modified, sometimes, in the letter, if it be desired to preserve them in spirit; while definitions of faith should never be modified as to the letter, much less as to the spirit.
The Acts of the Fourth Œcumenical Council, held at Chalcedon in 451, are not favourable to the Papal system, whatever may be said by Romish theologians.
The council was convoked by the Emperor Marcianus, All the documents to which we refer in this account, may be found in Labbe's Collection of the Councils. See also, the works of St. Leo. who gave notice of it to the Bishop of Rome, St. Leo. The Empress Pulcheria also wrote to him, and said that it had pleased the very pious Emperor, her husband, to assemble the Eastern bishops in council, in order to consider the necessities of the Catholic faith. She entreats him (the Bishop of Rome) to give his consent, in order that its decisions may be according to rule. It was, in, fact, just and necessary to demand the adhesion of the West, so that the council might be œcumenical. St. Leo replied that the doubts which had been raised concerning the orthodox faith made a council necessary; consequently, the Emperor Marcianus and Valentinian his colleague, addressed letters of convocation to all the bishops.
It must be remarked that St. Leo only consented to the convocation of the council He, therefore, believed neither in his right to convoke it, nor to terminate the discussions himself, by virtue of his authority. His letters to Marcianus, to Pulcheria, and to the Fathers of the council, leave no doubt of this.
This preliminary fact is of great importance.
Leo had requested that the council should take place in Italy; but the Emperor refused this, and convoked it at Nicea and afterward Chalcedon. In nearly all its sessions the council recognizes having been convoked by the most pious Emperors, and never mentions the Bishop of Rome in this connection. A Roman council under Pope Gelasius, asserts that the Council of Chalcedon was assembled by the intervention of the Emperor Marcianus, and of Anatolius, Bishop of Constantinople. The original conception was in fact theirs; yet, as St. Leo consented to it, his prerogatives as first bishop were allowed him, as they should have been. Consequently, he sent to Chalcedon his legates, who were, Boniface, one of his fellow-priests of the city of Rome—as he says in several of his letters to Marcianus—Paschasinus, Bishop of Sicily, Bishop Julian, and Lucentius.
"Let the brethren," said he, in his letter to the Fathers of the council, "believe that by them I preside in the council. I am present amongst you in the persons of my vicars. You know from ancient tradition what we believe; you cannot therefore doubt what we wish."
As this shows, St. Leo appeals to the old traditions, and leaves the council to judge all questions without interposing his pretended doctrinal authority.
But does he use the word preside in its strictest sense ?
If we attentively examine the Transactions of the Council, we see that the delegates of the Emperor occupied the first place; that the assembly had several presidents; that the legates of the Bishop of Rome and Anatolius of Constantinople acted simultaneously as ecclesiastical presidents. Such was the case in the twelfth session particularly; and accordingly a council of Sardinia says, in a letter addressed to the Emperor Leo: Int. act. Conc. Chalced. "The Council of Chalcedon was presided over by Leo, the very holy Archbishop of Rome, in the persons of his legates, and by the very holy and venerable Archbishop Anatolius."
Photius, in the seventh book of The Synods, designates as presidents of the Council Anatolius—the legates of the Bishops of Rome, the Bishop of Antioch and the Bishop of Jerusalem. Cedrenus, Zonarius, and Nilus of Rhodes relate the same thing. Ced. Compend. Hist; Zonar. Annal.; Nil. Rhod. de Synod.
On the other hand, in the report addressed to St. Leo by the Fathers of the Council, we read that the assembly was presided over by the delegated officers of the Emperor. We must, therefore, admit that the Council of Chalcedon was held under the same conditions as that of Nicea; that the civil authority held the first place there; and that the bishops of sees since called patriarchal presided together. We have no difficulty after this in admitting that the Bishop of Rome occupied the first place among the bishops in the persons of his legates; but it is one thing to occupy the first place and another thing to preside, especially in the sense that Romish theologians give to this word.
It is an undeniable fact that the dogmatic letter addressed by St. Leo to the Fathers of the Council was there examined and approved for this reason: that it agreed with the doctrine of Celestine and Cyril, confirmed by the Council of Ephesus. When the two letters of St. Cyril were read, in the second session, the "most glorious judges" and all the assembly said: "Let there now be read the letter of Leo, most worthy in God, Archbishop of Royal and Ancient Rome." At the close of the reading the bishops exclaimed: "Such is the faith of the Fathers; this is the faith of the Apostles! We all believe thus! Anathema to those who do not thus believe ! Peter has spoken by Leo. Thus taught the Apostles. Leo teaches according to piety and truth; and thus has Cyril taught." Some of the bishops having raised doubts as to the doctrine contained in St. Leo's letter, it was determined that after five days, they should meet at the house of Anatolius, Bishop of Constantinople in order to confer with him, and receive further explanations. If such a commission had been given to the legates of the Bishop of Rome, there is no doubt that the Romish theologians would draw numerous conclusions from it in favour of their system. But the legates were only called upon by Anatolius to explain certain Latin words that seemed obscure to those who doubted and who, after the explanation of the legates, gave their adherence with the others to Leo's letter. All that was done in this council in the matter of this letter proves, in the most evident manner, that it was not approved as coming from a bishop having authority, but rather because it agreed with traditional teachings. It suffices to glance through the Transactions, to find abundant evidence of this. Some Romish theologians can see nothing but these words, "Peter has spoken by Leo," as if that expression could have an Ultramontane sense, placed as it is in the midst of other exclamations, and taken with a host of other declarations, which give it only the meaning we have indicated.
As those honorary titles which are found in the Transactions of the Council, addressed to the Bishop of Rome, have been much abused, we must point out their true meaning.
St. Gregory the Great in his letters against the title of œcumenical bishop assumed by John the Faster, the Patriarch of Constantinople, teaches us that the Council of Chalcedon had offered this title to the Bishop of Rome. In fact we see, in the Transactions of the Council, that this title was given to him by his legates. The first of them subscribed to the profession of faith in the sixth session in these terms:
"Paschasinus, bishop, vicar of his Lordship Leo, Bishop of the universal church, of the city of Rome, president of the Synod. I have ordered consented, and signed." The other legates signed in about the same terms.
Again in the third session, the legates in speaking of St. Leo, said: "The holy and blessed Pope Leo, head of the universal Church, endowed with the dignity of the Apostle Peter, who is the foundation of the Church and the rock of faith," etc., etc.
In the fourth session, the legate Paschasinus gave also to Leo the title of Pope of the universal Church
The Fathers of the council saw in these expressions nothing more than an honorary title, which the Bishop of Rome, no doubt, desired the better to determine his superiority over the Bishop of Constantinople, whom the second œcumenical council had raised to the second rank, and who as bishop of the new capital of the empire must naturally gain a preponderant influence in the affairs of the Church, because of his frequent relations with the emperors. There is then every reason to believe that the council, in order to humour the jealousy of the Bishop of Rome, accorded to him the title of œcumenical bishop. It was one way of causing Rome to adopt the twenty-eighth canon, of which we have already spoken, and in which was developed that of the second œcumenical council, concerning the elevation of the Bishop of Constantinople to the second rank in the episcopate. But the Bishops of Rome, if we are to believe St. Gregory, their successor, regarded this title as illegal.
In view of such a decision by the popes themselves, can much importance be attached to the words of the legates, and is it fair to use them as proofs of an authority, of which the expression alone was condemned at Rome? Let us observe, moreover, that the council in offering a title to the Bishops of Rome, indirectly decided that they had no right to it in virtue of their dignity, and that they should never claim for this title any thing more than a purely ecclesiastical value.
As for the confirmation of the Acts of the Council, we must observe two things: that it was the council that confirmed the dogmatic letter of St. Leo, and that the Fathers only addressed him in order to ask his adherence and that of the Western Church. Leo refused to admit the twenty-eighth canon, as we have said; yet that did not prevent its being universally admitted in the West no less than in the East.
Thus the Bishop of Rome did not convoke the Council of Chalcedon; he did not preside alone by his deputies, who only bad the first place because he was the first bishop in virtue of the canons; be did not confirm the council; and the honorary titles conferred upon him prove nothing in favour of the universal and sovereign authority that is sought to be ascribed to the Papacy.
It is clear that he [St. Epiphanius] did not believe that it was Peter who bad inherited the throne of the Lord in this world. He believed then that the primacy granted to St. Peter was a mere priority, as Pope Leo St. Leo, Sermon II., (III in Migne,) upon the anniversary of his elevation to the Pontificate. explains it in the following passage: "The disposition of the truth remains: and the blessed Peter has persevered in that strength of the rock which he had received, and has never abandoned the reins of the Church which had been confided to him; he received ordination before the others, in order that when he is called rock (Pierre) and foundation, . . . . we might know, by the mystery of these titles, what union exists between him and Christ."
This text proves that St. Leo saw in St. Peter nothing more than a priority of ordination. He believed that it was by his ordination uniting him to Christ that he was the rock (Pierre) and the foundation of the Church.
He understands the power of binding and loosing committed to Peter in an equally orthodox sense. "This power is confided to him," he says, St. Leo, Sermon III., (IV Migne.) "in a special manner, because the type (forma) of Peter is proposed to all the pastors of the Church. Therefore the privilege of Peter dwells wherever judgment is given with his equity." Hence he concludes that only that will be remitted or retained which might be so by a just sentence and one worthy of Peter.
It is difficult to understand how the Romish theologians have dared to quote the two preceding texts in support of the papal autocracy, so evident is it that St. Leo ascribes to St. Peter only a primacy, or rather a priority of ordination, and that instead of ascribing to the Bishop of Rome only, the power of Peter, be regards that Apostle only as the form or figure of the apostolic power, which is exercised in reality wherever it is exercised with equity.
And this also explains these other words of St. Leo: Ib.
"From the whole world is Peter chosen to lead the vocation of all peoples, all the Apostles, and all the Fathers of the Church; so that, though there are many priests and many pastors, nevertheless, Peter governs all those whom also Christ governs in chief.
"The divine condescension gave to this man a great and wondrous participation in His power; whenever He willed there should be something in common between him and the other princes, he never gave save through him what he did not deny to the others."
Such phrases that smack of panegyric should have their doctrinal interpretation according to the positive instruction which we find in the other texts of the same father.
St. Leo does not pretend that St. Peter's power, whatever it was, passed to the Bishops of Rome. His letter to the Council of Chalcedon proves this, as we have seen, sufficiently; and this power of the first Apostle did not make him master of the others; it has passed to all bishops who exercise it lawfully; Peter was only distinguished by the priority of his ordination.
Romish theologians have misused the eulogiums that St. Leo and other Fathers have addressed to St. Peter, in an oratorical way, without choosing to see that even literally understood, they do not constitute privileges transmissible to the Bishops of Rome, since none of these Fathers have recognized any in them; but no one who is familiar with the Fathers could take these eulogies literally.