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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Five Patriarchs (Pentarchy) - Separating Fact from Fiction

It is often argued by the Eastern Orthodox that rather than there being a Papacy in the early Church, there was a Pentarchy, consisting of the co-equal leadership of the Church by the Five Patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. From this the Eastern Orthodox argue that Rome "fell away" from the orthodoxy of other Four Patriarchs, demonstrating that Rome is the odd-man-out and clearly in the wrong. Obviously only one of these can be correct, as they are two mutually exclusive forms of ecclesiology. The focus of this post will show that the Eastern Orthodox concept is false, and from this refute the idea that Rome is effectively 'out voted' 4-to-1 by the other Patriarchs. I will be presenting two definitive blows to Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology in this matter.

The first blow comes from examining the First Ecumenical Council, held in 325AD at Nicaea. In Canons 6 and 7 it reads:
Canon 6 The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome. Similarly in Antioch and the other provinces the prerogatives of the churches are to be preserved.

Canon 7 Since there prevails a custom and ancient tradition to the effect that the bishop of Aelia [Jerusalem] is to be honoured, let him be granted everything consequent upon this honour, saving the dignity proper to the metropolitan.
These two canons are very revealing on this matter: Canon 6 mentions Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Canon 7 mentions Aelia, which was the name the Romans gave to Jerusalem after they destroyed it in 70AD, but notice that Jerusalem doesn't even have the status of a Metropolitan. (In this case a Metropolitan is what the EO would classify as a Patriarch.) Also notice, no mention of Constantinople here. That's because it didn't exist yet.

So Constantinople and Jerusalem weren't even Patriarchates, and thus there was not a Pentarchy at the time of Nicaea, meaning such a concept is not Apostolic nor part of the pre-Nicene Church. (Some people mistakenly read Canon 6 as saying Rome is on the same level as Alexandria and Antioch, but This Article shows that's an incorrect reading of the text. Catholics deny that Rome ever was a Patriarchate since the Bishop of Rome is above the status of a Patriarch.)

The second blow comes from the Patriarchal schism at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held in 451 at Chalcedon. Here the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch refused to accept the decisions of the Council, considering the Chalcedonian idea of "two natures" to be heretical. As a result, they split off, considering themselves the true Church and defending orthodoxy. They are known as the Oriental Orthodox - not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox. They remain out of communion with both Rome and Eastern Orthodox to this day. Again, this entails that the theory of a Pentarchy is false, since the only window of time such a Pentarchy could have existed was between Nicaea and Chalcedon, a span of just around 100 years long.

What many people don't realize, and I myself didn't realize for a while, is that shortly after the Oriental Orthodox schism, the Patriarch of Constantinople appointed his own Greek-speaking heritage Patriarchs of Alexandria and of Antioch. So while some might say there has always been an Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and of Antioch, this is very misleading since these were invented after Chalcedon. The Oriental Orthodox are generally Arabic-speaking heritage Churches and constitute the original Patriarchs of Alexandria (known popularly as the Coptic Church) and Antioch (known popularly as Syriac Orthodox).

With these two details in mind, it becomes clear that the Pentarchy is a historical fiction. The idea was invented around the time of Chalcedon (451AD) as a way for Constantinople to slowly take over the Church and push Rome aside. The 4-agaist-1 idea arose when Constantinople used it's political power to take control of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem and use this phony 'majority' to make Rome look unreasonable and out of place.

16 comments:

Restless Pilgrim said...

Hmm....so that really doesn't leave much time for a Pentarchy, huh?

So were the the Alexandrian and Antioch Patriarchs basically re-established with those who affirmed Chalcedon?

Couldn't one argue that there *was* a Pentarchy, but since the Alexandrian and Antiochian Patriarchs were "outvoted", they were ejected from the Pentarchy and their spots were then filled by those loyal to the decision of the Pentarchy?

Nick said...

From what I understand, Constantinople appointed 'loyalists' to be the new Patriarchs. The term "Melkite" means from the royal appointment, meaning Constantinople, so the Melkites in those areas were not the original successors. This explains why there is a Greek speaking (ie Greek Orthodox) Patriarch in Alexandria and Antioch as well as an Arabic speaking (ie the native language of Egypt and Syria) Patriarch in each.

I think you're right that the EO would argue there was a Pentarch in that the spots were filled by loyalists, the problem there is that it's a fictitious succession. That raises the interesting question though of why Rome was never replaced with a Greek Patriarchate.

Nick said...

I'm not sure if this is a good analogy, but during the Civil War when Virginia seceded from the Union and thus left their seats in Congress open, the Union officials filled those seats with Virginians who were loyal to the Union, and as part of that 'deal' the Union agreed to cut a piece of Virginia and make it a new state, West Virginia. In this case, the original elected officials of Virginia were essentially bypassed, while meanwhile the South was claiming it was the one truly faithful to the Constitution and that the North had defected.

Steven Reyes said...

Hmmm, me thinks you need a new article out brother!

Nick said...

Haha, yes I know. It's been embarrassing not having anything out for this long. I've just been so busy and the articles I've started have not been finished. Thanks for the prompting though.

Nick said...

Plus, you can subscribe via email or RSS, so you will get an alert that something new is posted and thus don't have to check back.

Steven Reyes said...

Subscribed!

Trebor135 said...

Hi Nick--you wrote:

"It is often argued by the Eastern Orthodox that rather than there being a Papacy in the early Church, there was a Pentarchy, consisting of the co-equal leadership of the Church by the Five Patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. From this the Eastern Orthodox argue that Rome 'fell away' from the orthodoxy of other Four Patriarchs, demonstrating that Rome is the odd-man-out and clearly in the wrong. Obviously only one of these can be correct, as they are two mutually exclusive forms of ecclesiology. The focus of this post will show that the Eastern Orthodox concept is false, and from this refute the idea that Rome is effectively 'out voted' 4-to-1 by the other Patriarchs. I will be presenting two definitive blows to Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology in this matter.

...

"With these two details in mind, it becomes clear that the Pentarchy is a historical fiction. The idea was invented around the time of Chalcedon (451AD) as a way for Constantinople to slowly take over the Church and push Rome aside. The 4-agaist-1 idea arose when Constantinople used it's political power to take control of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem and use this phony 'majority' to make Rome look unreasonable and out of place."

1) You jump from "[something] is often argued by the Eastern Orthodox" to "[this conception is] Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology". But to avoid a straw-man fallacy, you have to show that what some apologists say is equivalent to what their Church teaches.

2) As an Eastern Orthodox catechumen, I actually agree with your post--the bishopric of Rome can't be faulted for leaving the pentarchy because it wasn't in effect by the time of the Great Schism and this arrangement wasn't divinely established in any case.

But the unique, and therefore automatically concern-engendering, character of the papal dogmas promulgated at Vatican I seems plausible when one ponders why the Oriental Orthodox didn't accept the Tome of Pope St. Leo. If the early Church considered the bishop of Rome to possess a charism of doctrinal infallibility, shouldn't the to-be-non-Chalcedonian hierarches, clerics, and laity in Armenia, Egypt, the Horn of Africa, India, and the Levant have accepted its content based on the document's authorship--or at least been far more cautious in rejecting it?

Plus, shouldn't the Christian 'East' and 'Orient' en masse judging the see of Rome to be in error then and even now regarding universal ordinary jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility, no matter the stance taken on the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, speak volumes about the authority ascribed to the pope in the early Church?

Nick said...

Hello Trebor,

Thanks for your worthy response.
Here are my thoughts:

1) My goal was not to show what the EO officially teach in regards to ecclesiology, since there really is no official view on a lot of doctrinal matters in Eastern Orthodoxy. All I can do is really consider individual views that I've seen EO make and evaluate them on a case by case basis. I've seen the Pentarchy argument by enough EO to come to the conclusion it is seen as a viable possible official EO view.

I don't remember what prompted me to write this post originally, but I've seen folks like Perry Robinson argue that the way we know a Council is Ecumenical is when it is ratified by all 5 Patriarchs. In showing the Pentarchy model never really existed, this undermines Perrry's claim. The big problem in Eastern Orthodoxy is that they cannot explain what makes a Council Ecumenical, but Perry at least attempts an answer.

2) You ask a good question as to why the OO didn't accept Pope Leo's Tome. Given that the OO action was both schismatic and heretical (at least as far as denying Chalcedon's doctrinal conclusions), I would say the OO were going against historic Christianity. In other words, if they were willing to reject orthodox Christology, then it wouldn't be hard for them to reject the Papacy.

All that said, there could have been other significant factors involved in the OO schism, such as politics. There is also many claiming today that the OO basically misunderstood the doctrinal issue, and in fact have agreed with the CC and EO this whole time just using different language.

3) You asked why the EO and OO rejection of the Papacy not speak volumes about the Papacy of the early centuries. If I am understanding you correctly, I think the problem with your question is that it assumes majority suggests orthodoxy. When major heresies break out, there often follows a lot of historical revisionism and smearing of the opposing side. Thus, the EO and OO today will have a hardened view of the Papacy that simply didn't exist back at that time. And this is what I think is the most 'damning' argument against the EO and OO. They claim they were the vigiliant defenders of orthodoxy, crushing heresy, and yet the Mother-of-All-Heresies went undetected until after the 1 millennium.

I've had various EO tell me that, without a doubt, all errors trace back to the Papacy, which makes the Papacy the Mother-of-All-Heresies. That's a valid assertion, but then these EO have to explain why some of the most vocal men for the Papacy were not only allowed to go about undetected, they were even given canonized status on the EO calendar. Pope Leo and Pope Agatho are two such saints that espoused a heresy worse than Arianism-Nestorianism, and yet they were embraced as champions of the faith by two Ecumenical Councils.

Denny Sellen said...

"Pope Leo and Pope Agatho are two such saints that espoused a heresy worse than Arianism-Nestorianism..."

1) What is your proof that Leo and Agatho stood for Papal Supremecy and Infallibility?
2) Even if they did, why should we count them correct vs. simply being power hungry?

Nick said...

Denny,

Consider the Letter that Pope St Agatho sent to the Sixth Ecumenical Council, from which the Eastern Orthodox consider him a great Saint for writing.

Here are some excerpts from Agatho's Letter:

=========================

And therefore I beseech you [Emperor and Council] with a contrite heart and rivers of tears, with prostrated mind, deign to stretch forth your most clement right hand to the Apostolic doctrine which the co-worker of your pious labours, the blessed apostle Peter [i.e. Agatho], has delivered, that it be not hidden under a bushel, but that it be preached in the whole earth more shrilly than a bugle: because the true confession thereof for which Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all things, was revealed by the Father of heaven, for he received from the Redeemer of all himself, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church; under whose protecting shield, this Apostolic Church [Rome] of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error, whose authority, as that of the Prince of all the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced, and followed in all things

Let your tranquil Clemency [Emperor and Council] therefore consider, since it is the Lord and Saviour of all, whose faith it is, that promised that Peter’s faith should not fail and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, how it is known to all that the Apostolic pontiffs [Popes], the predecessors of my littleness, have always confidently done this very thing: of whom also our littleness, since I have received this ministry by divine designation, wishes to be the follower, although unequal to them and the least of all.

Therefore the Holy Church of God, the mother of your most Christian power, should be delivered and liberated with all your might (through the help of God) from the errors of such teachers, and the evangelical and apostolic uprightness of the orthodox faith, which has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error

=======================

There are other quotes as well, which I can dig up if you're interested. All of them easily available online at CCEL.

Denny Sellen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Denny Sellen said...

The EO consider him a great saint simply because he wrote this letter? Hmm...Me thinks other reasons.

"...of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error..."

St. Agatho had apparently never heard of his predecessor's forbidding orthodox language (and during the council being condemned in his person). He also must have been unaware that another predecessor, Vitalans, had entered into communion with the Monothelites. If that isn't error, what is? Then again, when you've got a self-styled image to protect...

"That's a valid assertion, but then these EO have to explain why some of the most vocal men for the Papacy were not only allowed to go about undetected, they were even given canonized status on the EO calendar."

Were they really undetected or is the modern RCC ascribing more to their words than was there? I've seen plenty of RC apologists quote the bishops at Chalcedon as praising Leo, yet mysteriously leaving out the sections about Cyril and failing to point out that Leo's work was held as orthodox only after it was compared with Cyril's. Did Leo really think he had universal jurisdiction? If so, why didn't he say "I told you guys not to hold a council but you did against my authority, anathema!" He didn't, he went along with the bandwagon (can you imagine that happening now in the RCC? People would freak out).

Regardless, these issues were confronted in 879-880 by Photios.

But if accepting the saint means accepting their teaching, what about Isaac of Nineveh, Ulfila, Lucian of Antioch, etc. Last I recall, emperors had called councils against both Arianism and Nestorianism.

Nick said...

Denny,

Yes, Agatho's Letter was a triumph in stopping heresy. The Council lauded Agatho as other Councils have lauded other Fathers who bravely defended the Faith.

The rest of your post is desperate attempts to overturn the plain evidence by finding some technicality to invalidate my claim. But that's not how good arguments are made. That's a very Protestant approach to the Faith.

As for Leo, he struck down the 28th Canon of Chalcedon, even though Constantinople begged him to ratify it. That's pretty significant in showing that Papal ratification was necessary. Leo even responded by saying Canon 28 illegally overturns Canon 6 of Nicaea, by illegally putting non-apostolic Constantinople ahead of Alexandria and Antioch.

If you want to be really shocked and are interested in the truth, research the fact St Andrew never founded Constantinople and that Constantinople is a purely human/political invention.

Denny Sellen said...

"Yes, Agatho's Letter was a triumph in stopping heresy. The Council lauded Agatho as other Councils have lauded other Fathers who bravely defended the Faith."

So, without his letter, all the work of Maximos would have come to naught...But you're saying he's a saint *simply* because of this or for this and his holiness of life, pastoral work, etc.?

"The rest of your post is desperate attempts to overturn the plain evidence by finding some technicality to invalidate my claim. But that's not how good arguments are made."

I had thought you were above cop outs. I was mistaken. Instead of meeting arguments head on, you simply lump them into one mass and ignore them.

"That's a very Protestant approach to the Faith."

Then you throw out a red herring (which makes you look desperate) label me with the "P-word" to stigmatize what I say.

"As for Leo, he struck down the 28th Canon of Chalcedon, even though Constantinople begged him to ratify it. That's pretty significant in showing that Papal ratification was necessary."

Hmm...So because Leo weighs in on a question of the canonical taxis of Constantinople in relation to his own see, this suddenly means he had control over the entire council doctrinal declarations, canons, and all?

Let's not forget that the bishops took his supposed supremacy so seriously that a few years later, they had already blown him off and canon 28 was installed in the Byzantine Empire as a nomocanon (part of the Empire's law) which is why regardless of what the Bishop of Rome said, the Empire continued to rank Constantinople after Rome and in the ECs to follow, the Patriarch of Constantinople took his place ahead of the bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, and eventually Jerusalem. Let's look at this realistically: they asked him to ratify a canon they knew he was sensitive about because it was the polite thing to do and they wanted to maintain peace (see discussion here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.xi.xviii.xxix.html). When he didn't, they pushed it through anyway and blew off the supposed "Pontifex Maximus." They obviously held him in *really* high esteem (rolls eyes)...

"If you want to be really shocked and are interested in the truth, research the fact St Andrew never founded Constantinople and that Constantinople is a purely human/political invention."

Umm...this is known and has been known for a long, long, long time. But why should the Petrine See of Rome rank higher than the Petrine sees of Alexandria and Antioch (which were Petrine long before Rome) unless the political nature of Rome had something to do with it's status above Alexandria and Antioch. Then again, think of all the less significant places Peter could have preached and established churches (which would also have a Petrine succession) but we've never heard of because they weren't major political centers. I'm sure Peter preached and established churches in his native Galilee, but why aren't they ranked with Rome (biggest city in the Empire by 325), Alexandria (second biggest city), and Antioch (third biggest city - notice a pattern?).

Anonymous said...

Um actually the pentarchy is a very old concept. And you said that their was no mention of Constantinople because it didn't exist yet. That is false the first ecumenical was called by the emperor of Constantinople- so then how could it not have existed. And the first council was chaired by the emperor Constantine and later Chalcedon was chaired by the emperor Marcian both Eastern Orthodox emperors. Also we see that Rome had no more power than any of the other pentarchs since the church had a claim to all of the apostles "And the Apostles were first called Christians in Antioch." And Alexandria had claim to St. Mark. And most sources claim (though this is probably untrue.) that the patriarchate of Constantinople was established by St. Andrew the first called- and if indeed this claim is true- for it is probably true that St.Andrew established a bishop in Constantinople he had claim to just as much if not more authority than St.Peter since he brought him to Christ. And Jerusalem had claim to being the first church and St.James the brother of The Lord. And now we come to another point IT IS A HISTORICAL FACT that Catholicism broke from Orthodoxy. And also Orthodoxy follows the most ancient traditions of the church whilst Catholicism has changed the very essence of the Holy Spirit with the philoqua demeaning the very meaning of Christs words about the Holy Spirit.