Finally, in regard to the four great ecumenical councils, the first of NICE, the first of CONSTANTINOPLE, that of EPHESUS, and that of CHALCEDON: we have already presented their position on this question in connection with their legislation on the patriarchal system. We have seen that they accord to the bishop of Rome a precedence of honor among the five officially coequal patriarchs, and thus acknowledge him primas inter pares, but, by that very concession, disallow his claims to supremacy of jurisdiction, and to monarchical authority over the entire church. The whole patriarchal system, in fact, was not monarchy, but oligarchy (oligarchy refers to a government by a, few—H.V.). Hence the protest of the Roman delegates and of Pope Leo against the decrees of the council of Chalcedon in 461, which coincided with that of Constantinople in 381. This protest was insufficient to annul the decree, and in the East it made no lasting impression; for the subsequent incidental concessions or Greek patriarchs and emperors, like that of the usurper Phocas in 606, and even of the sixth ecumenical council of Constantinople in 680, to the see of Rome, have no general significance, but are distinctly traceable to special circumstances and prejudices. 

It is, therefore, an undeniable historical fact, that the greatest dogmatic and legislative authorities of the ancient church bear as decidedly against the specific papal claims of the Roman bishopric, as in favor of its patriarchal rights and an honorary primacy in the patriarchal oligarchy. The subsequent separation of the Greek church from the Latin proves to this day, that she was never willing to sacrifice her independence to Rome, or to depart from the decrees of her own greatest councils. 

Here lies the difference, however, between the Greek and the Protestant opposition to the universal monarchy of the papacy. The Greek church protested against it from the basis of the oligarchical patriarchal hierarchy of the fifth century in an age, therefore, and upon a principle of church organization, which preceded the grand agency oi the papacy in the history of the world. The evangelical church protests against it on the basis of a freer conception of Christianity, seeing in the papacy an institution, which indeed formed the legitimate development of the patriarchal system, and was necessary for the training of the Romanic and Germanic nations of the middle ages, but which has virtually fulfilled its mission and outlived itself. The Greek church never had a papacy; the evangelical historically implies one. The papacy stands between the age of the patriarchal hierarchy and the age of the Reformation, like the Mosaic theocracy between the patriarchal period and the advent of Christianity. Protestantism rejects at once the papal monarchy and the patriarchal oligarchy, and thus can justify the former as well as the platter for a certain time and a certain stage in the progress of the Christian world.


In most of the earlier bishops of Rome the person is eclipsed by the office. The spirit of the age and public opinion rule the bishops, not the bishops them. In the preceding period, Victor in the controversy on Easter, Callistus in that on the restoration of the lapsed, and Stephen in that on heretical baptism, were the first to come out with hierarchical arrogance; but they were somewhat premature, and found vigorous resistance in Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Cyprian, though on all three questions the Roman view at last carried the day.

In the period before us, Damascus, who subjected Illyria to the Roman jurisdiction, and established the authority of the Vulgate, and Siricius, who issued the first genuine decretal letter, trod in the steps of those predecessors. Innocent I (402-417) took a step beyond, and in the Pelagian controversy ventured the bold assertion, that in the whole Christian world nothing should be decided without the cognizance of the Roman see, and that, especially in matters of faith, all bishops must turn to St. Peter.

But the first pope, in the proper sense of the word, is Leo I, who justly bears the title of “the Great” in the history of the Latin hierarchy. In him the idea of the papacy, as It were, became flesh and blood. He conceived it in great energy and clearness, and carried it out with the Roman spirit of dominion, so far as the circumstances of the time at all allowed. He marks the same relative epoch in the development of the papacy, as Cyprian in the history of the episcopate. He had even a higher idea of the prerogatives of the see of Rome than Gregory the Great, who, though he reigned a hundred and fifty years later, represents rather the patriarchal idea than the papal. Leo was at the same time the first important theologian in the chair of Rome, surpassing in acuteness and depth of thought all his predecessors, and all his successors down to Gregory I. Benedict XIV placed him (A.D. 1744) in the small class of doctores ecclesiae, or authoritative teachers of the catholic faith. He battled with the Manichaean, the Priscillianist, the Pelagian, and other heresies, and won an immortal name as the finisher of the orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ.

The time and place of the birth and earlier life of Leo are unknown. His letters, which are the chief source of information, commence not before the year 442. Probably a Roman—if not one by birth, he was certainly a Roman in the proud dignity of his spirit and bearing, the high order of his legislative and administrative talent, and the strength and energy of his will he distinguished himself first under Coelestine (42-432) and Sixtus (432-440) as archdeacon and legate of the Roman church. After the death’ of the latter, and while himself absent in Gaul, he was elected pope by the united voice of clergy, senate, and people, and continued in that office one-and-twenty years (440-461). His feelings at the assumption of this high office, he himself thus describes in one of his sermons: “Lord, I have heard your voice calling me, and I was afraid: I considered the work which was enjoined on me, and I trembled. For what proportion is there between the burden assigned to me and my weakness, this elevation and my nothingness? What is more to be feared than exaltation without merit, the exercise of the most holy functions being entrusted to one who is buried in sin? Oh, you have laid upon me this heavy burden, bear it with me? I beseech you; be you my guide and my support.” During the time of his pontificate he was almost the only great man in the Roman empire, developed extraordinary activity, and took a leading part in all the affairs of the church His private life is entirely unknown, and we have no reason to question the purity of his motives or of his morals. His official zeal, and all his time and strength, were devoted to the interests of Christianity. But with him the interests of Christianity were identical with the universal dominion of the Roman church. He was animated with the unwavering conviction that the Lord himself committed to him, as the successor of Peter, the care of the whole church. He anticipated all the dogmatical arguments by which the power of the papacy was subsequently established. He refers thepetra, on which the church is built, td Peter and his confession. Though Christ himself—to sum up his views on the subject—is in the highest sense the rock and foundation, besides which no other can be laid, yet, by transfer of his authority, the Lord made Peter the rock in virtue of his great confession, and built on him the indestructible temple of his church. In Peter the fundamental relation of Christ to his church comes, as it were, to concrete form and reality in history. To him specially and individually the Lord entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven; to the other apostles only in their general and corporate capacity. For the faith of Peter the Lord specially prayed in the hour of his passion, as if the standing of the other apostles would be the firmer, if the mind of their leader remained unconquered. On Peter rests the steadfastness of the whole apostolic college in the faith. To him the Lord, after his resurrection, committed the care of his sheep and lambs. Peter is therefore the pastor and prince of the whole church, through whom Christ exercises his universal dominion on earth. This primacy, however, is not limited to the apostolic age, but, like the faith of Peter, and like the church herself, it perpetuates itself; and it perpetuates itself through the bishops of Rome, who are related to Peter as Peter was related to Christ. As Christ in Peter, so Peter in his successors lives and speaks and perpetually executes the commission “Feed my sheep.” It was by special direction of divine providence, that Peter labored and died in Rome, and sleeps with thousands of blessed martyrs in holy ground. The center of worldly empire alone can be the center of the kingdom of God. By Peter was Rome, which had been the center of all error and superstition, transformed into the metropolis of the Christian world, and invested with a spiritual dominion far wider than her former earthly empire. Hence the bishopric of Constantinople, not being aseeds apostolica, but resting its dignity on a political basis alone, can never rival the. Roman, whose primacy is rooted both in divine and human right. Antioch also, where Peter only transiently resided, and Alexandria, where he planted the church through his disciple Mark, stand only in a secondary relation to Rome, where his bones repose, and where that was completed, which in the East was only laid out. The Roman bishop is, therefore, the primus omnium episcoporum, and on him devolves the plenitude potestatis, the solicitude omnium pastorum, andcommunis cura universalis ecclesae. (these views Leo repeatedly expresses in his sermons on the festival of St. Peter and on the anniversary of his own elevation, as well as in his official letters to the African, Illyrian, and South Gallic bishops, to Dioscurus of Alexandria, to the patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople, to the emperor Marcian and the empress Pulcheria. Particular proof passages are unnecessary.) 

Leo thus made out of a primacy of grace and of personal fitness a primacy of right and of succession. Of his person, indeed, he speaks in his sermons with great humility, but only thereby the more to exalt his official character. He tells the Romans, that the true celebration of the anniversary of his accession is, to recognize, honor, and obey, in his lowly person, Peter himself, who still cares for shepherd and flock, and whose dignity is not lacking even to his unworthy heir. Here, therefore, we already have that characteristic combination of humility and arrogance, which has stereotyped itself in the expressions: “Servant of the servants of God, “vicar of Christ,” and even “God upon earth.” In this double consciousness of his personal unworthiness and his official exaltation, Leo annually celebrated the day of his elevation to the chair of Peter.