Again, the very remoteness of Rome from the imperial court was favorable to the development of a hierarchy independent of all political influence and intrigue; while the bishop of Constantinople had to purchase the political advantages of the residence at the cost of ecclesiastical freedom. The tradition of the donatio Constantini (a reported gift of Emperor Constantine in which he is reputed to have made vast land concessions, among other things, to the pope at Rome-H.V.), though a fabrication (italics is of the undersigned) of the eighth century, has thus much truth: that the transfer of the imperial residence to the East broke the way for the temporal power and the political independence of the papacy.
Further, amidst the great trinitarian and christological controversies of the Nicene and post-Nicene age, the popes maintained the powerful prestige of almost undeviating ecumenial orthodoxy and doctrinal stability; while the see of Constantinople, with its Grecian spirit of theological restlessness and disputation, was sullied with the Arian, the Nestorian, the Monophysite, and other heresies, and was in general, even in matters of faith, dependent on the changing humors of the court. Hence even contending parties in the East were accustomed to seek counsel and protection from the Roman chair, and often times gave that see the coveted opportunity to put the weight of its decision into the scale. This occasional practice then formed a welcome basis for a theory of jurisdiction. The Roma locuta est assumed the character of a supreme and final judgment. Rome learned much and forgot nothing. She knew how to turn every circumstance, with consummate administrative tact, to her own advantage.
Finally, though the Greek church, down to the fourth ecumenical council, was unquestionably the main theatre of church history and the chief seat of theological learning, yet, according to the universal law of history, “Westward the star of empire takes its way,” the Latin church, and consequently the Roman patriarchate, already had the future to itself. While the Eastern patriarchates were facilitating by internal quarrels and disorder the conquests of the false prophet, Rome was boldly and victoriously striking westward, and winning the barbarian tribes of Europe to the religion of the cross.
These advantages of the patriarch of Rome over the patriarch of Constantinople are at the same time the leading causes of the rise of the papacy, which we must now more closely pursue.
The papacy is undeniably the result of a long process of history. Centuries were employed in building it, and centuries have already been engaged upon its partial destruction. Lust of honor and of power, and even open fraud, have contributed to its development; for human nature lies hidden under episcopal robes, with its steadfast inclination to abuse the power entrusted to it; and the greater the power, the stronger is the temptation, and the worse the abuse. But behind and above these human impulses lay the needs of the church and the plans of Providence, and these are the proper basis for explaining the rise, as well as the subsequently decay, of the papal dominion over the countries and nations of Europe.
That Providence which moves the helm of the history of world and church according to an eternal plan, not only prepares in silence and in a secrecy unknown even to themselves the suitable persons for a given work, but also lays in the depths of the past the foundations of mighty institutions, that they may appear thoroughly furnished as soon as the time may demand them. Thus the origin and gradual growth of the Latin patriarchate at Rome looked forward to the middle age, and formed part of the necessary external outfit of the church for her disciplinary mission among the heathen barbarians. The vigorous hordes who destroyed the West-Roman empire were to be themselves built upon the ruins of the old civilization, to Christianity and freedom, till, having come of age, they should need the legal schoolmaster no longer, and should cast away his cords from them, The Catholic hierarchy, with its pyramid-like culmination in the papacy, served among the Romanic and Germanic peoples, until the time of the Reformation, a purpose similar to that of the Jewish theocracy and the old Roman empire respectively in the inward and outward preparation for Christianity. The full exhibition of this pedagogic purpose belongs to the history of the middle age; but the foundation for it we find already being laid in the period before us.
The Roman bishop claims, that the four dignities of bishop, metropolitan, patriarch, and pope or primate of the whole church, are united in himself. The first three offices must be granted him in all historical justice; the last is denied him by the Greek church, and by the Evangelical, and by all non-Catholic sects.
His bishopric is the city of Rome, with its cathedral church of St. John Lateran, which bears over its main entrance the inscription: Omnium Urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput; thus remarkably outranking even the church of St. Peter—as if Peter after all were not the first and highest apostle; and had to yield at last to the superiority of John, the representative of the ideal church of the future. Tradition says that the emperor Constantine erected this basilica by the side of the old Lateran palace, which had come down from heathen times, and gave the palace to Pope Sylvester; and it remained the residence of the popes and the place of assembly for their councils (the Lateran councils) till after the exile of Avignon, when they took up their abode in the Vatican beside the ancient church of St. Peter.
As metropolitan or archbishop, the bishop of Rome had immediate jurisdiction over the seven suffragan bishops, afterward called cardinal bishops, of the vicinity: Ostia, Portus, Silva candida, Sabina, Praeneste, Tusculum, and Albanum.
As patriarch, he rightfully stood on equal footing with the four patriarchs of the East, but had a much larger district and the primacy of honor. The name is here of no account, since the fact stands fast. The Roman bishops called themselves not patriarchs, but popes, that they might rise the sooner above their colleagues; for the one name denotes oligarchical power, the other monarchical. But in the Eastern church and among modern Catholic historians, the designation is also quite currently applied to Rome.
The Roman patriarchal circuit primarily embraced the ten suburban provinces, as they were called, which were under the political jurisdiction of the Roman deputy, the Vicarius Urbis; including the greater part of Central Italy, all Upper Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. In its wider sense, however, it extended gradually over the entire west of the Roman empire, thus covering .Italy, Gaul, Spain, Illyria, southeastern Britannia, and northwestern Africa.
The bishop of Rome was from the beginning the only Latin Patriarch, in the official sense of the word. He stood thus alone, in the first place, for the ecclesiastical reason, that Rome was the only sedes apostolica in the West, while in the Greek church three partriachates and several other episcopal sees, such as Ephesus, Thessalonica, and Corinth, shared the honor of apostolic foundation. Then again, he stood politically alone, since Rome was the Metropolis of the West, while in the East there were three capitals of the empire, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. Hence, Augustine, writing from the religious point of view, once calls Pope Innocent I the “ruler of the Western church;” and the emperor Justinian, on the ground of political distribution, in his 109th Novelle, where he speaks of the ecclesiastical division of the whole world, mentions only five known patriarchates, and therefore only one patriarchate of the West. The decrees of the ecumenical councils, also, know no other Western patriarchate than the Roman, and this was the sole medium through which the Eastern church corresponded with the Western. In the great theological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries the Roman bishop appears uniformly as the representative and the organ of all Latin Christendom.
It was, moreover, the highest interest of all orthodox churches in the West, amidst the political confusion and in conflict with the Arian Goths, Vandals, and Suevi, to bind themselves closely to a common center, and to secure the powerful protection of a central authority. This center they could not but find in the primitive apostolic church of the metropolis of the world. The Roman bishops were consulted in almost all important questions of doctrine or of discipline. After the end of the fourth century they issued to the Western bishops in reply, pastoral epistles and decretal letters, in which they decided the question at first in the tone of paternal counsel, then in. the tone of apostolic authority, making that which had hitherto been left to free opinion, a fixed statute. The first extant decretal is the Epistola of Pope Siricius to the Spanish bishop Himerius, A.D. 385, which contains, characteristically, a legal enforcement of priestly celibacy, thus of an evidently unapostolic institution; but in this Siricius appeals to “generalia decreta,” which his predecessor Liberius had already issued. In like manner the Roman bishops repeatedly caused the assembling of general or patriarchal councils of the West, like the synod of Arles in 314. After the sixth and seventh centuries they also conferred the palium on the archbishops of Salona, Ravenna, Messina, Syracuse, Palermo, Arles, Autun, Sevilla, Nicopolis (in Epirus), Canterbury, and other metropolitans, in token of their superior jurisdiction.
But this patriarchal power was not from the beginning and to a uniform extent acknowledged in the entire West. Not until the latter part of the sixth century did it reach the height we have above described. It was not a divine institution, unchangeably fixed from the beginning for all times, like a Biblical article of faith; but, the result of a long process of history, a human ecclesiastical institution under providential direction. In proof of which we have the following incontestable facts:
In the first place, even in Italy, several metropolitans maintained, down to the close of our period, their own supreme headship, independent of Roman and all other jurisdiction. The archbishops of Milan, who traced their church to the apostle Barnabas, came into no contact with the pope till the latter part of the sixth century, and were ordained without him or his pallium. Gregory I, in 593, during the ravages of the Longobards, was the first who endeavored to exercise patriarchal right there: he reinstated an excommunicated presbyter, who had appealed to him. The metropolitans of Aquileia, who derived their church from the evangelist Mark, and whose city was elevated by Constantine the Great to be the capital of Venetia and Istria, vied with Milan, and even with Rome, calling themselves “patriarchs,” and refusing submission to the papal jurisdiction even under Gregory the Great. The bishop of Ravenna likewise, after 408, when the emperor Honorius selected that city for his residence, became a powerful metropolitan, with jurisdiction over fourteen bishoprics. Nevertheless, he received the pallium from Gregory the Great, and examples occur of ordination by the Roman bishop.