Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 12-24


Wednesday, Week 33

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A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope

12] VI. The Council of Nice resolved that the bishop of Alexandria should administer the churches in the East, and the Roman bishop the suburban, i.e., those which were in the Roman provinces in the West. From this start by a human law, i.e. the resolution of the Council, the authority of the Roman bishop first arose. If the Roman bishop already had the superiority by divine law, it would not have been lawful for the Council to take any right from him and transfer it to the bishop of Alexandria; nay, all the bishops of the East ought perpetually to have sought ordination and confirmation from the bishop of Rome.

13] VII. Again the Council of Nice determined that bishops should be elected by their own churches, in the presence of some neighboring bishop or of several. 14] The same was observed [for a long time, not only in the East, but] also in the West and in the Latin churches, as Cyprian and Augustine testify. For Cyprian says in his fourth letter to Cornelius: Accordingly, as regards the divine observance and apostolic practice, you must diligently keep and practice what is also observed among us and in almost all the provinces, that for celebrating ordination properly, whatsoever bishops of the same province live nearest should come together with the people for whom a pastor is being appointed, and the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who most fully know the life of each one, which we also have seen done among us at the ordination of our colleague Sabinus, that by the suffrage of the entire brotherhood, and by the judgment of the bishops who had assembled in their presence, the episcopate was conferred and hands laid on him.

15] Cyprian calls this custom a divine tradition and an apostolic observance, and affirms that it is observed in almost all the provinces.

Since, therefore, neither ordination nor confirmation was sought from a bishop of Rome in the greater part of the world in the Latin and Greek churches, it is sufficiently apparent that the churches did not then accord superiority and domination to the bishop of Rome.

16] Such superiority is impossible. For it is impossible for one bishop to be the overseer of the churches of the whole world, or for churches situated in the most distant lands to seek ordination [for all their ministers] from one. For it is manifest that the kingdom of Christ is scattered throughout the whole world; and to-day there are many churches in the East which do not seek ordination or confirmation from the Roman bishop [which have ministers ordained neither by the Pope nor his bishops]. Therefore, since such superiority [which the Pope, contrary to all Scripture, arrogates to himself] is impossible, and the churches in the greater part of the world have not acknowledged [nor made use of] it, it is sufficiently apparent that it was not instituted [by Christ, and does not spring from divine law].

17] VIII. Many ancient synods have been proclaimed and held in which the bishop of Rome did not preside; as that of Nice and most others. This, too, testifies that the Church did not then acknowledge the primacy or superiority of the bishop of Rome.

18] IX. Jerome says: If the question is concerning authority, the world is greater than the city. Wherever there has been a bishop, whether at Rome, or Eugubium, or Constantinople, or Rhegium, or Alexandria, he is of the same dignity and priesthood.

19] X. Gregory, writing to the patriarch at Alexandria, forbids that he be called universal bishop. And in the Records he says that in the Council of Chalcedon the primacy was offered to the bishop of Rome, but was not accepted.

20] XI. Lastly, how can the Pope be over the entire Church by divine right when the Church has the election, and the custom gradually prevailed that bishops of Rome were confirmed by the emperors? 21] Also, when for a long time there had been contests concerning the primacy between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople, the Emperor Phocas finally determined that the primacy should be assigned to the bishop of Rome. But if the ancient Church had acknowledged the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, this contention could not have occurred, neither would there have been need of the decree of the emperor.

22] But they cite against us certain passages, namely, Matt. 16:18f : Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; also: I will give unto thee the keys; also John 21:15: Feed My sheep, and some others. But since this entire controversy has been fully and accurately treated elsewhere in the books of our theologians, and everything cannot be reviewed in this place, we refer to those writings, and wish them to be regarded as repeated. Yet we shall reply briefly concerning the interpretation [of the passages quoted].

23] In all these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of apostles [and does not speak for himself alone, but for all the apostles], as appears from the text itself. For Christ asks not Peter alone, but says: Whom do ye say that I am? And what is here said [to Peter alone] in the singular number: I will give unto thee the keys; and whatsoever thou shalt bind, etc., is elsewhere expressed [to their entire number], in the plural Matt. 18:18: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc. And in John 20:23: Whosesoever sins ye remit, etc. These words testify that the keys are given alike to all the apostles and that all the apostles are alike sent forth [to preach].

24] In addition to this, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the keys adds, Matt. 18:19: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling. [For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the keys belong immediately to the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to every one who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the Church has the power to ordain ministers of the Church. And Christ speaks in these words: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc., and indicates to whom He has given the keys, namely, to the Church: Where two or three are gathered together in My name. Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: Tell it unto the Church.]

Therefore it is necessary that in these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of the apostles, and for this reason they do not accord to Peter any prerogative or superiority, or lordship [which he had, or was to have had, in preference to the other apostles].


Today’s reader: Matthew Carver

Matthew Carver lives in Nashville, Tenn., and works as a freelance artist and translator. His interests include languages, liturgy, hymnody, and church history. A selection of his work is viewable online on his blog, HYMNOGLYPT.