Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium

The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium

Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church

Charlemagne's coronation in 800 by Pope Leo III marked the beginning of a new era in the history of papal claims. A further factor leading to differences between East and West was the emergence of the False Decretals (c. 850), which aimed towards strengthening Roman authority in order to protect the bishops. The Decretals played an enormous role in the following centuries, as popes gradually started to act in the spirit of the Decretals, which declared, for instance, that all major issues (causae maiores), especially the deposition of bishops and metropolitans, were the ultimate responsibility of the bishop of Rome, and that all councils and synods received their legal authority through being confirmed by the Roman see. The patriarchs of Constantinople did not accept such a view, which was contrary to the principle of synodality. Though the Decretals, in fact, did not refer to the East, at a later stage, in the second millennium, they were applied to the East by Western figures. Despite such increasing tensions, in the year 1000 Christians in both the West and the East were still conscious of belonging to a single undivided Church.

The early emphasis on the link of the see of Rome with both Peter and Paul gradually developed in the West into a more specific link between the bishop of Rome and the apostle Peter. Pope Stephen (mid-3rd century) was the first to apply Mt 16:18 ("you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church") to his own office. The Council of Constantinople in 381 specified that Constantinople should have the second place after Rome: "Because it is New Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy seniority of honour after the bishop of Rome" (canon 3). The criterion invoked by the Council for the ordering of sees was thus not apostolic foundation but the status of the city in the civil organisation of the Roman Empire.

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