Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the Pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as the visible foundation and source of unity, and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered: that, in brief, "the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls."
The doctrine had the most significance in the relationship between the church and the temporal state, in matters such as ecclesiastic privileges, the actions of monarchs and even successions.
Institution of papal supremacyEdit
The Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy is based on the assertion by the Bishops of Rome that it was instituted by Christ and that papal succession is traced back to Peter the Apostle in the 1st century. The authority for the position is derived from the Confession of Peter documented in Matthew 16:17–19 when, in response to Peter's acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, which many relate to Jesus' divinity, Jesus responded:
Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood hast not revealed this to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death [gates of hell] shall not prevail against it. I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The same historical early church tradition states that Peter was Bishop of Antioch before his travels to Rome. Therefore it could be argued that the Bishop of Antioch could claim the same Apostolic succession from Christ to Peter and to later Bishops of Antioch as is asserted by the Bishop of Rome. However, Bishop of Antioch St. Ignatius of Antioch, around the year 100, described the Church of Rome as "presiding", and "occupying the first place".
St. Irenaeus in the year 180 wrote of St. Hyginus as ninth Bishop of Rome, which according to the conventional list of Bishops of Rome places St Peter as the first Bishop. In 250, St. Cyprian and St. Firmilian both wrote of the Bishop of Rome as successor of Peter, and the latter mentions how the Bishop of Rome decreed policy for other regions based on this succession (he does not try to object to this claim).
Some scholars as well as critics instead claim that there was no single “bishop” of Rome until well after the year 150 AD, and that there was no papacy for the first three centuries. Catholic theologian Francis A. Sullivan, who dissents from Church doctrine on many points, claims "expressed agreement with the consensus of scholars that available evidence indicates that the church of Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century." The research of Jesuit historian Klaus Schatz led him to claim that, "If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no." But he believes it likely that 'there very quickly emerged a presider or ‘first among equals.’" Critics argue that, in contrast to a universal papacy to which all were subject, Roman bishops who tried to exert authority as supreme heads were severely reprimanded by other bishops, and that it was not until the 4th and 5th centuries that papal primacy, helped by myths and legends, began to take shape. This marked the beginning of the rise of the Bishops of Rome to the position of not just religious authority, but also of the power to be the ultimate ruler of the kingdoms within the Christian community (Christendom), which it has since retained.
Catholics have countered this argument by the fact that in the first three centuries of Christianity the church in Rome intervened in other communities to help resolve conflicts. Pope Clement I did so in Corinth in the end of the first century. In the end of the 2nd century, Pope Victor I threatened to excommunicate the Eastern bishops who continued to celebrate Easter on 14 Nisan, not on the following Sunday Despite Victor's failure to carry out his intent to excommunicate the Asian churches, many Catholic theologians point to this episode as evidence of papal primacy and authority in the early Church, citing the fact that none of the bishops challenged his right to excommunicate but rather questioned the wisdom and charity of doing so. In the third century, Pope Cornelius convened and presided over a synod of 60 African and Eastern bishops, and his rival, the antipope Novatian, claimed to have "assumed the primacy".
In the complex development of papal supremacy, two broad phases may be noted.
First phase of papal supremacyEdit
Cited evidence about the supremacy of the pope in the earliest days of the church is a matter of dispute. Most scholars recognize that he was given unique esteem as the successor to St. Peter. Roman Catholics maintain that the unique authority of the Petrine seat was given deference, but non-Roman Catholic Christians argue that the bishop of Rome held greater esteem, not greater authority than the other bishops. The Roman Catholic Church claims a Papal succession which runs unbroken back to Peter who it claims was invested with the "keys of the kingdom of heaven".
Saint Innocent I, who served in the papacy from 401 to 417, championed papal supremacy in the entire Church. Saint Gelasius I, who served from 492 to 496, in a controversy with Anastasius, the Byzantine emperor, likewise fought to maintain the doctrine of papal supremacy. This dispute was an incipient point of conflict between the Holy See and the Empire.
From the late 6th to the late 8th centuries there was a turning of the papacy to the West and its escape from subordination to the authority of the Byzantine emperors of Constantinople. This phase has sometimes incorrectly been credited to Pope Gregory I (who reigned from 590 to 604 A.D.), who, like his predecessors, represented to the people of the Roman world a church that was still identified with the empire. Unlike some of those predecessors, Gregory was compelled to face the collapse of imperial authority in northern Italy. As the leading civil official of the empire in Rome, it fell to him to take over the civil administration of the cities and to negotiate for the protection of Rome itself with the Lombard invaders threatening it. Another part of this phase occurred in the 8th century, after the rise of the new religion of Islam had weakened the Byzantine Empire and the Lombards had renewed their pressure in Italy. The popes finally sought support from the Frankish rulers of the West and received from the Frankish king Pepin The Short the first part of the Italian territories later known as the Papal States. With Pope Leo III's coronation of Charlemagne, first of the Carolingian emperors, the papacy also gained his protection.
In the Letters of the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicea, the Roman Church is referred to as the "head of all churches" twice; at the same time it affirms Christ to be the head of the Church, and the Apostle Peter is referred to as the "chief [of the] Apostles" – but when listed with Paul they are together referred to as the "chief apostles."
Second phase of papal supremacyEdit
From the middle of the 11th century and extending to the middle of the 13th century was the second great phase in the process of papal supremacy’s rise to prominence. It was first distinguished in 1075 by Gregory VII's bold attack on the traditional practices whereby the emperor had controlled appointments to the higher church offices. The attack spawned the protracted civil and ecclesiastical strife in Germany and Italy known as the Investiture Controversy. Secondly, it was distinguished in 1095 by Urban II's launching of the Crusades, which, in an attempt to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim domination, marshaled under papal leadership the aggressive energies of the European nobility. Both these efforts, although ultimately unsuccessful, greatly enhanced papal prestige in the 12th and 13th centuries. Such powerful popes as Alexander III (r. 1159 – 81), Innocent III (r. 1198 – 1216), Gregory IX (r. 1227 – 41), and Innocent IV (r. 1243 – 54) wielded a primacy over the church that attempted to vindicate a jurisdictional supremacy over emperors and kings in temporal and spiritual affairs. As Matthew Edward Harris writes, “The overall impression gained is that the papacy was described in increasingly exalted terms as the thirteenth century progressed, although this development was neither disjunctive nor uniform, and was often in response to conflict, such as against Frederick II and Philip the Fair.”
Early in this phase, defense of Papal supremacy was voiced by the likes of St. Anselm of Canterbury and Saint Thomas Becket. St. Anselm (1093–1109) testified to the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff in his writings (relating to Matthew 16) and by his acts. When pressed to surrender his right of appeal to Rome, he answered the king in court: "You wish me to swear never, on any account, to appeal in England to Blessed Peter or his Vicar; this, I say, ought not to be commanded by you, who are a Christian, for to swear this is to abjure Blessed Peter; he who abjures Blessed Peter undoubtedly abjures Christ, who made him Prince over his Church." Saint Thomas Becket in 1170 famously allowed his blood to be shed in defense of the liberties of the Church against the encroachments of the Norman King Henry II who, in popular belief, ordered his murder in Canterbury Cathedral. Whether or not King Henry II actually ordered the killing of Becket may never be known.
An example of Gallicanism was the dispute between King Louis XIV of France and the Holy See about the application of the 1516 Concordat of Bologna after Louis XIV's extension of the droit de régale throughout the Kingdom of France in 1673. The dispute led to the 1682 Declaration of the Clergy of France promulgated by the 1681 Assembly of the French clergy. The Articles asserted that the civil power has absolute independence; that the pope is inferior to the General Council and the decrees of the Council of Constance were still binding; that the exercise of pontifical authority should be regulated by the ecclesiastical canons, and that dogmatic decisions of the pope are not irrevocable until they have been confirmed by the judgment of the whole Church. The apostolic constitution Inter multiplices pastoralis officii promulgated by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690, and published in 1691, quashed the entire proceedings of the 1681 Assembly and declared that the Declaration of the clergy of France was null and void, and invalid. In 1693, Louis XIV rescinded the four articles and "wrote a letter of retraction" to Pope Innocent XII.(p487) Those members of the 1681 Assembly, who were presented as candidates for vacant episcopal sees and were refused papal confirmation of their appointment, received confirmation, in 1693, only after they disavowed everything that the 1681 Assembly decreed regarding ecclesiastical power and pontifical authority.
Examples of papal supremacyEdit
- Urban II's launching in 1095 of the Crusades, which, in an attempt to recover the Holy Land and territories of the Byzantine Empire which had been conquered by Muslim Seljuk Turks, marshalled European nobility under papal leadership.
- The Papacy determined whom they wished to be the king of various lands by the crowning by Pope Leo III of Charlemagne, first of the Carolingian emperors, rather than a man proclaiming himself king.
Role of Holy Spirit in papal electionsEdit
In 1997, Benedict XVI (prior to his papacy) was asked on Bavarian television whether the Holy Spirit selects people to fill the office of pope. He responded, "There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked."
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- Paragraph 937 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997).
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- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Ott, Michael (1911). . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 12. New York: Robert Appleton.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Dégert, Antoine (1909). . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 6. New York: Robert Appleton.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Sicard, Jean Auguste (1907). . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Robert Appleton.
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- For the question and a longer quote of the answer, see Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election by John Allen