A PRE-SCHISM EASTERN BISHOP
ON THE TRUE CHURCH

By JAMES LIKOUDIS


The publication of "Popes and Patriarchs" by a former British Catholic now living in Canada comes as a negative rebuke to contemporary ecumenical efforts to heal the ancient Schism between the Catholic Church and the autocephalous national Eastern Orthodox Churches. The author, Michael Whelton, had also written a previous book to justify his abandoning the Catholic Faith to become Eastern Orthodox by an appeal to history wherein he rehashed many of the puerile objections made by Anglican Protestant polemicists, Eastern Orthodox theologians, and dissident liberal Catholics to Papal supremacy and Papal infallibility, the two dogmas infallibly defined by Vatican I. His previous work I had treated in great detail in my "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church", and demonstrated the folly of appealing to "history" against the verdict of the Church whose history it is.

The errors of biased and prejudiced historians and theologians having a bitter animus against the Papacy repeated by Whelton are not calculated either to inspire confidence in readers or to make any credible case against Christ Our Lord’s establishing a Petrine Primacy of universal authority in the Church to safeguard its perpetual Unity and Catholicity.

Interestingly, it was liturgical and doctrinal disorders in the Catholic Church which played a great role in Whelton’s lapsing from the Catholic Faith. The spread of the errors of Teilhard de Chardin among priests and laity especially troubled him. "The thirty years following the council (1965-1995)", he wrote, "were extremely painful for us as traditional Catholics". Lamenting the "25 million Catholics [who] left the Church in North America", on coming to Canada he added himself and his wife to that number. In his second book "Patriarchs and Popes" which again attempts to subvert the theological foundations of the Petrine Office, he adds more grievances including unfair criticisms of St. Augustine and his theology that have become staple fare with some Eastern Orthodox writers wishing to distance their "Orthodox Mysticism" as far as possible from "Western Rationalism". The main thrust of his book is to claim that St. Peter and his successors the Bishops of Rome:

  • possessed only a "primacy of honor",
  • possessed no universal authority or jurisdiction over other bishops,
  • that "nowhere in the canons, creeds, or councils of the early Church is there any recognition of papal supremacy" (p. 130),
  • and that the historic "claims of the Papacy" so forcefully reaffirmed by Vatican I and Vatican II are based on distortions of history and forgeries.

My own book on "The Divine Primacy..." amply disposed of such false allegations, and noted the remarkable witness to the divine Primacy of the Successor of Peter of such Eastern Saints as St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Theodore Studites, St. Nicephorus of Constantinople, the Apostle of the Slavs St. Methodios, St. Ignatius of Constantinople, and even that of the patriarch Photius of Constantinople who originated the controversy over the "Filioque". With other Saints, they all testified to the reality of Papal authority and jurisdiction over the patriarchates of the East long before the consummation of the Byzantine Greek Schism with repudiation of the Council of Lyons in the 13th century.

All the false premises and arguments and special pleading found in Whelton’s two books to uphold Eastern Orthodox resistance to the Papacy may be said to be destroyed in the following passages from the works of Theodore Abu Qurrah, a Syrian Catholic bishop (died c. 820 A.D.), one of the first Christian theologians to write in Arabic as well as in Greek, and who deserves to be better known to Catholic apologists. As translator John C. Lamoreaux observes in his book "Theodore Abu Qurrah" (Library of the Christian East, vol. I, Brigham Young University Press, Provo, UT 2005), "The heart of Theodore’s theology lay in the attempt to discern the true religion and the true Church" (p. xxv) amidst the conflicting claims of Jews and Muslims, and the divisions among Christians in the Middle East. In his work "On the Councils", Theodore refuted the claims of "Nestorians, Jacobites, Julianists, Maronites, and other heretics who lay claim to Christianity":

"You should understand that the head of the Apostles was St. Peter, to whom Christ said, ‘You are the rock; and on this rock I shall build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.’ After his resurrection, he also said to him three times, while on the shore of the sea of Tiberius, ‘Simon, do you love me? Feed my lambs, rams and ewes.’ In another passage, he said to him, ‘Simon, Satan will ask to sift you like wheat, and I prayed that you not lose your faith; but you, at that time, have compassion on your brethren and strengthen them.’ Do you not see that St. Peter is the foundation of the church, selected to shepherd it, that those who believe in his faith will never lose their faith, and that he was ordered to have compassion on his brethren and to strengthen them? As for Christ’s words, ‘I have prayed for you, that you not lose your faith; but you, have compassion on your brethren, at that time, and strengthen them’, we do not think that he meant St. Peter himself. Rather, he meant nothing more than the holders of the seat of St. Peter, that is, Rome. Just as when he said to the apostles, ‘I am with you always, until the end of the age’, he did not mean just the apostles themselves, but also those who would be in charge of their seats and their flocks; in the same way, when he spoke his last words to St. Peter, ‘Have compassion, at that time, and strengthen your brethren; and your faith will not be lost’, he meant by this nothing other than the holders of his seat.

Yet another indication of this is the fact that among the apostles it was St. Peter alone who lost his faith and denied Christ, which Christ may have allowed to happen to Peter so as to teach us that it was not Peter that he meant by these words. Moreover, we know of no apostle who fell and needed St. Peter to strengthen him. If someone says that Christ meant by these words only St. Peter himself, this person causes the church to lack someone to strengthen it after the death of St. Peter. How could this happen, especially when we see all the sifting of the church that came from Satan after the apostles’ death? All of this indicates that Christ did not mean them by these words. Indeed, everyone knows that the heretics attacked the church only after the death of the apostles – Paul of Samosata, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius, Sabelllius, Apollinaris, Origen, and others. If he meant by these words in the gospel only St. Peter, the church would have been deprived of comfort and would have had no one to deliver her from those heretics, whose heresies are truly ‘the gates of hell’, which Christ said would not overcome the church. Accordingly, there is no doubt that he meant by these words nothing other than the holders of the seat of St. Peter, who have continually strengthened their brethren and will not cease to do so as long as this present age lasts." (pp. 68-69)

In another tract "On the Death of Christ", our Syrian theologian transmits the orthodox tradition concerning the relationship of the Popes’ Petrine Primacy to the first six Ecumenical Councils held in the First Millennium of the Church’s history:

"As for us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, our sole goal is to build ourselves on the foundation of St. Peter, he who directed the six holy councils. These councils were gathered by command of the Bishop of Rome, the city of the world. Whoever sits on that city’s throne is authorized by Christ to have compassion on the people of the church, by summoning the ecumenical council, and to strengthen them, even as we have demonstrated in other places. We ask Christ to confirm us in this forever, that we might inherit through it his kingdom, in that we have joined with it the doing of his commandments. To him be praise, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and forever." (p. 128)

The above constitute an extraordinary witness to the place of the See of Peter in the Church by an Eastern bishop long before Byzantine Greeks began to waver in their allegiance to the Pope whom many times before they had acknowledged to be the heir of Peter’s Primacy in the Church and as "head of all the churches" of the Catholic communion. They give the lie to all those who claim that pre-Schism Eastern theologians only admitted a vague "primacy of honor" to the visible head of the Church Militant.



James Likoudis’ volume "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church" ($ 27.95 includes S & H) is available from the author, P.O.Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865. His Website: WWW.CREDOBUFFALO.COM

The above article was published in the national Catholic weekly, "The Wanderer", April 12, 2007.