Friday, March 7, 2014

Another Papacy proof from the Early Church - (Pope Hormisdas, AD519)

Here's a relatively brief apologetics argument for the Papacy that I was introduced to which I think is worth sharing. I'll start with a historical background (with lots of assistance from Wikipedia), then present the argument, and then I'll end by examining some potential objections.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council which was held in Chalcedon in AD 451 condemned the heresy of Monophysitism, which was the heretical idea that the two (distinct) natures of Jesus, His humanity and His divinity were actually to be understood as one (combined) nature (mono-physis). While this Council was approved by Rome and Constantinople, the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch did not approve of the Council's condemnation, and as a result they latter separated from communion with the Universal Church. Most people are aware of the schism between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox starting around the year AD 1054, but this schism with Alexandria and Antioch took place 500 years earlier and remains to this day. (I wrote about this HERE.)

This schism of the Orientals (Alexandrian and Antioch) caused understandable pain in the Empire and the Church, so thirty years later in AD 482 the Emperor Zeno and Acacius the Patriarch of Constantinople got together to "fix" this problem. Their "solution" was to have bishops repudiate the Council of Chalcedon, which resulted in a backlash from Rome. As a result of their refusal to recant, Pope Felix excommunicated them, resulting in what is popularly termed the "Acacian schism" (which lasted from 484–519) which now had Constantinople (i.e. the Greeks) in schism. This thirty-five year schism between West and East was sought to be resolved by the new Pope (Hormisdas), the new Emperor (Justin), and the new Patriarch of Constantinople (John II).

To effect the restoration of communion, Pope Hormisdas wrote a theological Formula and demanded that Justin, John II, and the Eastern bishops sign it. This "Formula of Hormisdas" stated the following (red highlights mine):
"The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church," [Matthew 16:18], should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied. From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated and, following the doctrine of the Fathers, we declare anathema all heresies, and, especially, the heretic Nestorius, former bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Council of Ephesus, by Blessed Celestine, bishop of Rome, and by the venerable Cyril, bishop of Alexandria. We likewise condemn and declare to be anathema Eutyches and Dioscoros of Alexandria, who were condemned in the holy Council of Chalcedon, which we follow and endorse. This Council followed the holy Council of Nicaea and preached the apostolic faith. And we condemn the assassin Timothy, surnamed Aelurus ["the Cat"] and also Peter [Mongos] of Alexandria, his disciple and follower in everything. We also declare anathema their helper and follower, Acacius of Constantinople, a bishop once condemned by the Apostolic See, and all those who remain in contact and company with them. Because this Acacius joined himself to their communion, he deserved to receive a judgment of condemnation similar to theirs. Furthermore, we condemn Peter ["the Fuller""] of Antioch with all his followers together with the followers of all those mentioned above.

Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion. And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides. I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries. But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned. I have signed this, my profession, with my own hand, and I have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome." [Source: "
Eastern Orthodox opposition to papal supremacy"]
As far as I can tell, no Eastern Orthodox denies this Formula is a historical document and is accurately presented here. What they do deny are the Papal 'overtones' of the document, which is what I'll be addressing in a moment.

From this Formula, it is clear that the See of Rome saw itself as the head of the Church by which all controversies are to be settled and all bishops (and Emperors) must submit to. Pope Hormisdas quotes Matthew 16:18-19 in regards to himself, he anathematizes the previous Patriarch of Constantinople, and he demands the new Patriarch of Constantinople and schismatic bishops all unconditionally sign this Formula. All these factors are huge for anyone who has common sense, for they clearly spell out that the Pope didn't see himself as subject to the whims of other bishops. Just the fact the Pope unilaterally condemned a Patriarch is huge, since that's something which is impossible in Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology.

And it is also undisputed in the sources I've checked (including EO sources) is that Emperor Justin and Patriarch John II of Constantinople did in fact sign this Formula. One Catholic I know even came upon the actual words of the Letter which Justin sent to the Pope:
You should know, most religious father, the end which for a long time was being sought by the highest efforts; you should know clearly – even before those who have been sent to you should have arrived – that the most blessed John, bishop of our New Rome, along with his clergy agrees with you, varying by no ambiguities, divided by no discords; you should know that that by him has been subscribed a certificate, which you had decided must be submitted, conforming with the council of the holiest fathers.
(Letter of Justin I to Pope Hormisdas, from Roman State & Christian Church: a Collection of Legal Documents to A.D. 535, vol. 3, edited by P. R. Coleman – Norton, p. 974)
Given that the Formula of Hormisdas and the subscription by Justin and John II are beyond dispute, we can now look at how the EO have chosen to try to get out of this plain evidence for Papal Supremacy in the early Church. 

Objection #1: The EO have no problem with agreeing with the Formula because Rome was teaching orthodoxy; the EO didn't agree with Rome because Rome was the leader.

Response: This is just silly. Yes, Rome was orthodox here, but the Formula says a lot more than "agree with this document because it's orthodox," and rather it is saying "submit to the Apostolic See, which cannot err."

Objection #2: Patriarch John II (allegedly) added this detail when he subscribed to the Formula: "I declare that the see of apostle Peter and the see of this imperial city are one." This indicates he saw himself on par with the Pope.

Response: Again, this is just silly. Nothing in the Formula indicates the Pope saw anyone as an equal, and in fact the Formula recalled how the prior Pope unilaterally condemned the previous Patriarch of Constantinople. That's hardly seeing him on equal footing. That wasn't the point of the Formula at all. Even Justin's Letter shows this was about unconditional subscription, which he says he and John II did. Agreement with the Pope, yes, but on par with the Pope, no.

Objection #3: The EO link I provided above says: "Furthermore despite it being one of the demands in the formula the east continued to disregard papal demands by not condemning Acacius."

Response [Updated 3/9/13]: After some further research into this matter, the issue seems to be more of a pastoral problem than one of disregarding Papal Primacy. From the same work "Roman State & Christian Church" cited earlier (I can make pdf scans if people are interested), Emperor Justin wrote to Pope Hormisdas in AD520 saying:
[W]ith all attention we have ordained that the venerable Constantinopolitan Church and many others should support your wishes, not only in all other matters but also in withdrawing from the sacred diptychs the names which you particularly have demanded ought to be removed. But there have been several cities and churches, both Pontic and Asian and especially eastern, whose clergy and laity, though thoroughly assailed by all threats and persuasions, nevertheless to no avail have been influenced that they should abrogate and should remove the names of bishops whose repute has flourished among them, but they count life harsher than death, if they shall have condemned the dead, in whose life, when alive, they used to glory. What therefore are we to make of this kind of stubbornness, which, in not heeding the word, exists and despises tortures to such a degree that it judges it glorious and gladsome for itself, if it should desist from the body sooner than from religious opinion? Indeed there seems to us the need of acting rather mildly and rather leniently. ... Accordingly will it be more preferable that for the sake of minor matters so many multitudes should be separated entirely from us or that, after insignificant points have been conceded and remitted, greater matters and those which by all means must be investigated should be corrected, that at least in view of their necessary aspects may be selected for amendment those matters on which it has not been permitted to achieve entire acceptance? Accordingly we demand remission for the names, not of Acacius, not of each Peter, not of Dioscore or of Timothy, whose names your Sanctity's letters sent to us contained, but for the persons whom reverence for bishops has celebrated in other communities, with the exception also of the cities where your Beatitude's memorandum already has been accepted in its entirety, unless your Benevolence shall have decided that this part also should be emended more gently.  (Letter #560, p984)
Justin is very clear here and elsewhere that Patriarch John II of Constantinople and several other cities had indeed followed all the demands of the Formula including striking the names of certain clergy from the diptychs (a list of names read during the Mass). But what had happened was that even though certain clergy who were named and condemned in the Formula were indeed in the wrong, the Formula seemed to extend beyond these clergy to include successors of Acacius and others associated with him. This caused understandable discomfort to many churches in the east who saw striking the names of certain beloved clergy (some of them still living) as a insult and character smear. So Justin asks the Pope if he will take a more pastoral and lenient approach to this matter. Justin requests that the Pope either limit the condemnation to Acaius only, or better yet condemn the errors but don't mention any names. The fact that Constantinople obeyed without hesitation is no small historical detail, nor is it a minor matter that the Emperor looked to Rome to settle this matter. I see this 'disobedience' in the east as simply a pastoral issue.

I would also add that since Monophysitism was alive in the east, this could also explain some hesitancy by some eastern churches to condemn certain clergy, since significant churches in the east did reject Chalcedon. So what Justin could have been saying is that it would be more pastorally prudent if the Pope sought to win over Monophysite churches and just ignore the matter of striking out names, since the latter could be an unnecessary obstacle to the former goal.

Objection #4: Patriarch John II couldn't have submitted to the Formula in full because John II held on to Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, a canon which equated Constantinople's authority with Rome's authority. 

Response: It is beyond dispute that Rome never approved of Canon 28 of Chalcedon, despite a lot of begging by the Emperor and EO at the time of that Council. Pope Leo explicitly and repeatedly rejected Canon 28 as teaching error, specifically saying it contradicted Canon 6 of Nicaea (which it did). See more details about that HERE (scroll down to Leo). But that's not all, the Formula of Hormisdas explicitly requires all people to "endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion," which would mean they had to approve of Leo's famous Letters which he wrote to Constantinople and Emperor in rejection of Canon 28.

As you can see, the primary EO "objections" are pure desperation and completely ridiculous. They show just how far a person can sink and be blinded by the truth because of an embedded hatred of Catholicism. The historical record shows they will lie, cheat, etc, to not affirm or downplay the plain facts. And yet anyone can see that this kind of deceptive behavior is completely from the Devil, no excuses. No Christian should ever have to defend his position by saying his bishop had to resort to lies and deception to get by. That's not a 'victory over Rome' but a humiliating display of what not to do if you're doing apologetics.


Devin Rose said...

Good analysis. I'm reading (Eastern Orthodox) Fr. John Meyendorff book "Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions" The Church AD 450 - 680 from the St. Vladimir Press Church in History series.

He raises some of the arguments you rebut in this post. His overall tenor throughout the book is to diminish and down-play anything from the West and the pope in particular, but he raises some other mitigating factors to this triumph of Rome. None however fully blunt the force of it.

Nick said...

Hello Devin,

Thank you for your comment. I would guess that since Meyendorff was cited in the Eastern Orthodox link I gave that his main objections were addressed.

You might be interested to see Objection #3 above has been revised to address Meyendorf's claim that many in the east disobeyed the Pope. It turns out this wasn't so much 'disobedience' as it was a way to (understandably) avoid unfair tarnishing of their eastern heritage.

ST PETER said...


2500 Greek and eastern bishops signed this Formula. This formula is an absolute death blow to EO ecclesiology.

About 6 weeks ago, I was debating an EO priest.The debate lasted 2 weeks! I accidentally stumbled upon this Hormisdas Formula on Google,8 pages into the search!

Once I posted this formula to him, I never heard back from him! Lol!

Where Pope Hormisdas refers to Matt 16 to himself,is a killer.

You are 100% correct, they will lie, cheat, smear, smother, change and twist facts around to justify their erroneous theology.

This type of deceit can only come from one source; The Devil.

Bottom Line, they are heretics and schismatics, and continually dispense Catholic Sacraments illegally.


Daniel Roy said...

This is the detailed history that you have shared about Catholicism and its very interesting to got to know about the background of Pope and Catholicism history in detail.

Carl Anderson knights of Columbus

Anonymous said...

"Bottom Line, they are heretics and schismatics, and continually dispense Catholic Sacraments illegally."

Not Catholic but LCMS but doesn't this comment seem contrary to other position statements I've read regarding Catholicism's view of the Sacraments in the Eastern Orthodox Church? Maybe I'm not understanding the language of some of those statements but thought that EO Sacraments were valid?

Denny Sellen said...

But what do you make of the fact that the name of Acacius was never removed from the Dyptich and that the bishops in the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem never signed it? What do you make of the fact that the bishop of Thessalonika tore it up in front of his congregation and nothing ever happened to him?

@St. Peter "2,500 bishops signed?" Where is this number from?

All in all, RCs talk a big talk about the letter, but I'd be interested to see the "signed copy" - that'll settle the dispute about how important it was.

Nick said...


I addressed this in my original post. There are two plausible answers for why certain bishops in the East didn't strike out his name.

(1) It was pastorally tough for them to strike out a beloved figure from recent memory.

(2) These diocese contained bishops who subscribed to the Monophysite heresy, which is why many in the Syriac/Alexandrian regions rejected Chalcedon, and thus they weren't in communion with Rome or Constantinople and thus kept the Chalcedon-denyers like Acacius in their prayer books.

Arlen Stuart said...


I am no expert on these matters, but I would venture to guess that it comes down to the difference between valid and licit. Just as when a priest is laicized and excommunicated, they are forbidden from confecting the Eucharist. However: "once a priest, always a priest." If that excommunicated and laicized priest chooses to disobey, he is still capable of consecrating bread and wine because of the indelible character on his soul. It gets even more complex when excommunicated bishops enter the equation since they are capable of giving faculties to priests under their charge, thus enabling them to hear confessions validly inspite of it being unlawful.

Unless I have misunderstood, even a Roman Catholic can, when in danger of death, receive the sacraments from an excommunicated and/or laicized priest be that EO, SSPX, etc.

***Anyone is free and welcome to correct me if the above is not entirely accurate.

Anonymous said...

"Bottom Line, they are heretics and schismatics, and continually dispense Catholic Sacraments illegally."

Even if we accept that Peter is the primate and leader of the Apostles ---

How do you explain the fact that not just Rome but also the Church of Antioch was founded by Peter.

Today the Church of Antioch is the Antiochian Orthodox Church!

As for the person who wrote the above quote --

Friend, I cannot believe that people like St Seraphim of Sarov, St John of San Francisco, St Theophan the Recluse, St Gregory Palamas, St Tikhon of Moscow and Father Seraphim Rose were schismatics devoid of all grace!
But, pardon me, the same does not apply for post-schism Catholic saints.
Please go to this website:

I pray that God leads you to the Truth.

Christ Is Truly Risen!

Anonymous said...

One crucial point has been ignored in this proof. As the Acacian Schism had been causing division is the empire at the time, Emperor Justin took it upon himself to repair the schism. As Michael Whelton notes in his book, "Two Paths", he used imperial authority to force the Eastern Church to comply. Meaning that the Eastern Bishops who signed this were forced into doing so.

You say that the Eastern bishops continued to recognize the Pope's supreme jurisdiction after this was signed? So maybe you can explain how in the Council of Constantinople in 879, the sees of Rome and Constantinople agreed "not to interfere in each other's internal affairs"? This is a flat rejection of any claim of supremacy by the Pope. And no, the Pope was not forced into agreeing to this, it was completely of his own accord.

Another undeniable example of the Pope flatly denying his supreme jurisdiction lies in the 28th canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council. "For the fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome [Constantinople], justly judging that the city which is honored with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is." Not only does this explicitly state that the church of Rome has equal privileges to the church of Constantinople, but it also notes that these privileges were granted because of the POLITICAL STANDING of these cities, and having nothing to do with a "See of Peter." What is important to note here, is that for a council to be considered Ecumenical, it had to be recognized by all of the Patriarchs, THE POPE INCLUDED. Meaning that the Pope accepted the rulings of this council, fully conceding that the office of the Pope had no supreme jurisdiction, and that it was not descended from a See of Peter.

In short, the fact that one Pope believed he held supreme jurisdiction and was able to get the Emperor to support him, is nothing near a proof of the early papacy. On the other hand, an Ecumenical Council agreed upon universally by the church... THAT is solid proof.