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In them are the inheritance of the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Cæsarea, Galatia, Pontus, Asia, Crete, Ephesus, Smyrna, Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, Athens, and so many others which meet us in the New Testament. Ultramontanes of course treat these Churches with contempt. Nevertheless they are Churches which are remarkable for their adherence to ancient traditions. They are Churches to whose tradition Roman Catholic controversialists are only too happy to appeal, when the antiquity of their own tenets or practices is called in question by Protestants.
Well, these ancient Churches, representing a moiety of early Christendom--What is their tradition on the subject of the Papal supremacy ? These Churches admit the primacy of the Pope: they have always admitted it. They acknowledge the Roman Pontiff to be the first bishop, the leading patriarch in Christendom; but they adhere to the doctrine taught by six hundred and thirty bishops in the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon A.D. 451, which in its 28th Canon declared that Rome had acquired its primacy on account of its being the Imperial capital ; and not consequently from any Divine institution ; not in virtue of representing St. Peter; not as the centre of Catholic unity; not as the Divinely appointed head of Christendom. The same doctrine was taught by the 3rd Canon of the Ecumenical Synod of Constantinople, A.D. 381.
There is a singular coincidence between the doctrine
thus authoritatively taught and that of several very distinguished writers of the Latin Communion, whose zeal on behalf of the Papacy is beyond question.
The celebrated Moehler, one of the ablest defenders of the Roman system, in a work which is of the highest reputation even amongst the Roman Jesuits (such as Perrone), has these observations:
I was for a very long time in doubt whether the Primacy is of the essence of the Catholic Church: I was even disposed to deny it; for the organic union of all the parts in one whole, which the idea of the Catholic Church absolutely requires, and which she herself is, appeared completely attained by the unity of the Episcopate such as we have explained it. On the other side it is evident, that the history of the three first centuries is not rich enough in materials to dissipate all our doubts on this point."
In other words there is no sufficient historical evidence of the existence of the Papal primacy during the first three centuries. What there is leaves us in a state of doubt on the question. Moehler, however, argued further, that without the Papal supremacy the development of the unity of the Church would not be complete. This supremacy he viewed as a personified reflection of the unity of the whole Church,"? but since this unity could not be reflected before it had penetrated all the members of the Church, the inference is, that the Papacy could not have been developed till the age of Cyprian, when the principle of ecclesiastical unity was fully established. 3
· Moehler, De l'Unité de l'Église, p. 221. ? Ibid., p. 222.
3 Ibid., p. 224.
Those who desire to have undeniable proofs in favour of the Primacy before that epoch . should know that they ask for what is unfitting, because it is not possible, accordantly with the laws of a true development. It may be said of those who imagine that they have found it established before that epoch, that the trouble which they have given themselves has been fruitless, and that their pretensions are untenable.'
We hence learn that the Papal supremacy could not possibly have been established before the middle of the third century, and therefore that it is in vain to look for its exercise in Scripture or in the early history of the Church. This view as regards Scripture harmonises very well with the admission of Count de Maistre, the most ardent advocate of Papal supremacy:
Had St. Peter a distinct knowledge of the extent of his own prerogative, and of the questions which it would produce hereafter? I know not. . . . The monarchical supremacy of the Roman Pontiff was not in its origin, doubtless, what it was some centuries afterwards.?
That is to say, it is as well not to look too closely to Scripture or the early Church for evidences of its exercise.
We may also gather something from the language of Father Newman, the chosen champion of Roman Catholic principles. This distinguished writer, in speaking of “the evidence which is adducible, in the first three centuries, on behalf of the supremacy of the Holy See,' intimates (without any dissent from the notion) that it is considered by Protestants to be characterised by . dimness and indis
Moehler, De l'Unité de l'Église, p. 224.
tinctness' as regards its Ante-Nicene portion. He conceives that it did not at once show itself
the surface of ecclesiastical affairs, but that the events of the fourth century' led to its development. Previously to this, Christians being of one heart and one soul,' it remained suspended--sleeping, not as an obsolete--for it had never been operative—but as a inysterious privilege which was not understood.' When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources,
first local disturbances gave rise to bishops, and next oecumenical disturbances gave rise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity, would not, and could not be debated, till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred.'
Now we must of course admit that there are Roman Catholic controversialists who take a very different view, and see Papal supremacy established, and in full exercise during the lifetime of our Lord Himself, and so continually onwards.
The statements however, of writers like those whom I have cited, are deserving of more credit, because they are not such as the writers would have made except under the compulsion of irresistible necessity.
What do their statements amount to ? That the Papal supremacy was, as a matter of fact, not understood, not exercised, not known amongst Christians till the fourth century.
Does not this serve to explain and to account for what is otherwise perfectly inexplicable ; namely, the omission
Newman, Essay on Development, p. 165.
of all notice of the doctrine in the early creeds and confessions of faith? Of course, if the supremacy was not in operation, and not known, we see at once why the Christians did not include it in their professions of faith. The same fact also completely explains the attitude of the Eastern Church: it has never known or received this article of faith : it has never been developed there. It has been developed only in Latin Christianity.
The doctrine then of the Papal supremacy is, if this be so, not one of those that was handed down by universal tradition from the apostles as part of the depositum fidei; it was a development, and a western development. In order that a thing should be developed, however, it is necessary that there should be something from which it is developed, and one would suppose that in the case of a dogma of such importance it would be understood at least what the germ really was. Strange to say, this is a point on which the ablest Roman Catholic writers are entirely at variance. Moehler says that the Papal supremacy was the personified reflection of Catholic unity, and therefore, that it could not possibly exist until that unity became established in the time of St. Cyprian. Newman, on the other hand, maintains that the Papal supremacy was developed from the schisms of the Church, and could not have been developed until there were ecumenical disturbances in the fourth century. These views are diametri
i De l' Unité de l'Église, p. 252.