Notes From “Popes and Patriarchs”

The following are notes taken from the book Popes and Patriarchs, written by Michael Whelton, and published by Conciliar Press. Whelton’s journey took him from the Anglican church, to Roman Catholicism, and eventually to Orthodoxy. The notes below deal with many of the problems he found with the Roman Catholic Church.


It is in the third century that we first begin to see Rome seeking to assert her authority over the rest of the Church.

Pope Damasus (366-384) was the first pope to seriously promote Matt. 16:18 as the Biblical basis for supreme papal authority. He adopted the imperial “we”, referred to his see as Apostolic, and addressed his fellow bishops not as brothers but as sons.

When commenting on Matt. 16:18-19, seventeen (17) of the Early Church fathers said that Peter was the rock; 44 said that Peter’s confession was the rock; 16 said the rock was Christ; and 8 said the rock was the Apostles. Eighty (80) percent did not think Peter was the rock.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine in his retractions says that he doesn’t care which interpretation of Matt. 16:18 one chooses to believe.

But I know that I have afterwards in very many places so expounded the Lord’s saying “Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build My Church” as to be understood of Him whom Peter confessed, when he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” … For it was not said to him, “Thou art the Rock (petra), but, Thou art Peter” (petrus). But Christ was the Rock, whom Simon confessing, as the Whole Church confesses Him, was called Peter. But of these two meanings let the reader choose the more probable. (Retractationes, 1:21. P.L. 32:618)

St. Augustine said that if the Bishop of Rome makes a faulty judgment then a general council could fix it.

Well let us suppose that those bishops who decided the case at Rome were not good judges; there still remained a plenary council of the universal Church, in which these judges themselves might be put on their defense; so that, if they were convicted of a mistake, their decisions might be reversed. (Confessions and Letters, p. 282)

St. Cyprian

St. Cyprian is quoted by Pope Leo 13 as saying, “To be in communion with Cornelius is to be in communion with the Catholic Church” (Ep. Lv., n. 1). St. Cyprian says this because there were two contestants for the see of Rome–Cornelius and Novation. St. Cyprian was supporting the rightful candidate in Cornelius.

St. Cyprian actually says:

For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let us all wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there. (Address to the Seventh Council of Carthage, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 565.)

Ecumenical Councils

Icon depicting the First Ecumenical Council convened in Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in A.D. 325.

The first seven ecumenical councils were called by the emperors. They were not called by the bishop of Rome, who today claims to be the only one who can call an ecumenical council. All five patriarchs had to confirm the council’s decrees.

The Council of Nicea (325) was summoned by Constantine with no recorded consultation with the pope.

The Council of Constantinople (381) was called by Emperor Theodosius without the knowledge of the Pope. It was presided over by St. Meletius bishop of Antioch who was not in communion with Rome.

The Council of Ephesus (431) was called by Emperor Theodosius to settle the issue of Nestorius. Pope Celestine had excommunicated Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, for heresy. This did not necessarily mean that he had jurisdictional authority over Constantinople. For example, a hundred years after this, Pope Vigilius was excommunicated by a North African council led by Bishop Reparatus. Even though the pope had excommunicated Nestorius the council was called to try him. They ignored the pope’s excommunication, and came to their own decision to depose Nestorius. Only a general council could bind the whole Church.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) was called by Emperor Marcion against the wishes of Pope Leo who wanted the emperor to wait for a more peaceful time.

Pope Leo’s Tome, which was definitive for the council, was accepted only after it was scrutinized by the Church Fathers.

The Council declared that privileges were given to Rome because it was the royal city. It gave similar privileges to Constantinople because it was now the capital city.


Following in every way the decrees of the holy fathers and recognizing the canon which has recently been read out–the canon of the 150 most devout bishops who assembled in the time of the great Theodosius of pious memory, then emperor, in imperial Constantinople, new Rome — we issue the same decree and resolution concerning the prerogatives of the most holy church of the same Constantinople, new Rome. The fathers rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of older Rome, since that is an imperial city; and moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honoured by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equaling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her.

The ancient rankings of Apostolic Sees had Rome first, Alexandria second, and then Antioch, even though Peter founded the See of Antioch. The ancient rankings were done by size of city and not apostolic foundation. Rome was not only the imperial city but also the city where Peter and Paul were martyred and buried.

Rome had its privileges because a council conferred it not because Peter founded it.

Pope Leo of Rome refused to recognize canon 28, but it shows the mind of the rest of the Church.

The Second Council of Constantinople (553) was called by Emperor Justinian in opposition to the wishes of Pope Vigilius.

The Council condemned the “Three Chapters” which were Nestorian texts written by Theodore, Theodoret, and Ibas. Initially Pope Vigilius refused to assent to the condemnation and wrote a work called Constitutum in their defense. He later reversed his judgment and agreed with the Council. It was the Council that was authoritative not the pope.

The Third Council of Constantinople (680) was convened by Emperor Constantine IV to condemn the Monothelite heresy, which claimed that Jesus only had one will.

Both Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople and Pope Honorius of Rome supported the Monothelite heresy in support of which Pope Honorius wrote two letters to Sergius.

The council posthumously condemned both as heretics.

The condemnation was sustained by Pope Leo II and repeated by subsequent popes. It was reaffirmed at the Seventh Ecumenical Council as well as by over 50 popes at their elevation as found in the Liber Diurnus. This is a book of ecclesiastical formularies used by the Roman Catholic Church during the early middle ages.

The Catholic Church today will claim that Pope Honorius was not speaking ex cathedra because it was a private response to Patriarch Sergius. However the Patriarch of Constantinople was asking for an official opinion on a major controversy. In any case, the Council obviously saw it as a dogmatic statement, as bishops were not anathematized in ecumenical councils for private opinions. This is confirmed by Formula 84 of the Liber Diurnus.

The Second Council of Nicea (787) was called by Empress Irene and dealt with the iconoclasts. (Those who wanted to do away with icons) Charlemagne rejected the Council despite the Pope’s affirmation of it and held his own council. (Council of Frankfurt 794) It took the West centuries to iron things out and to finally side with the Council of Nicea and the Pope of Rome.

Popes and Their Decrees

Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) was the first pope, in his writing Dictus Papae, to claim jurisdiction over the Church and the temporal realms. He was the first pope to depose a ruling sovereign. (German emperor Henry IV). The text of the Dictus Papae reads:

Decrees of the Dictus Papae

  • That the Roman church was founded by God alone.
  • That the Roman pontiff alone is rightly to be called universal.
  • That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops.
  • That his legate, even if of a lower grade, takes precedence, in a council, of all bishops and may render a sentence of deposition against them.
  • That for him alone it is lawful to enact new laws according to the needs of the time, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey or a canonry; and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.
  • That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
  • That the pope is the only one whose feet are to be kissed by all princes.
  • That his title is unique in the world.
  • That he may depose emperors.
  • That no synod may be called a general one without his order.
  • That no chapter or book may be regarded as canonical without his authority.
  • That he himself may be judged by no one.
  • That to this see the more important cases of every Church should be submitted.
  • That the Roman Church has never erred, nor ever, by the witness of Scripture, shall err to all eternity.
  • That he should not be considered as Catholic who is not in conformity with the Roman Church.

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) managed to submit England and its king under his authority.

Other countries also came under papal control. All of this acquiring of temporal power was backed by a forged document called the Donation of Constantine. In this document Constantine supposedly deeded Rome, Italy, and the western provinces of the empire to the papacy in gratitude for Pope Sylvester curing him of leprosy.

Papal infallibility means that the pope can define a doctrine dealing with faith and morals without the consent of the Church.

This infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining a doctrine of faith and morals extends as far as extends the deposit of divine revelation, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. This is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (cf. Lk. 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter. Therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. (Abbott, op. cit., pp. 48-49)

St. Vincent of Lerins (c.450) put forth the rule of faith when he said that the Catholic faith is, that which is believed everywhere, always, and by all. Papal infallibility fails this test.

St. John Chrysostom

The Roman Catholic Church considers St. John Chrysostom to be one of the few doctors of the Church. St. Meletius, Patriarch of Antioch ordained St. John Chrysostom to the deaconate in 381. In 386 Chrysostom was ordained a priest by Meletius’ successor St. Flavian whom Chrysostom revered as his spiritual father. Under patriarchs Meletius and Flavian Antioch was not in communion with Rome. By accepting ordination from them St. John Chrysostom was recognizing them as genuine successors to the see of Antioch. By doing this he was knowingly putting himself outside communion with Rome. It was only after he was elevated to the see of Constantinople in 398 that he came into communion with Rome. He died nine years later in 407.

The schism between Antioch and Rome happened when St. Meletius was elected Patriarch of Antioch over the objections of Rome and Alexandria who favored Paulinus. St. Basil also supported St. Meletius. St. Meletius was made president of the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. When St. Meletius died during the council, Rome and Alexandria were still ignored, and St. Flavian was elected his successor in Antioch.

The schism lasted 20 years until St. John Chrysostom was elevated to the See of Constantinople, and brought St. Flavian into communion with Rome with him. St. John Chrysostom spent most of his clerical life outside of communion with Rome, which didn’t seem to concern him, since he never made reference to it in his writings, most of which occurred before he was elevated to the See of Constantinople.

During his last exile Chrysostom appealed to Pope Innocent of Rome, Venerus Bishop of Milan, and Chromatius Bishop of Aquileia that they would not accept the injustice of his exile, keep fellowship with him, and have the guilty persons judged by an ecclesiastical court. It cannot be said that St. John Chrysostom was appealing to the pope as the one who had jurisdictional authority over all sees. If so he would have addressed his appeals only to the pope.

Pope Innocent, who was sympathetic to St. John Chrysostom, sent a letter to the western emperor asking him to contact the eastern emperor asking that a general council be called to rectify the situation. Along with the letter from Pope Innocent were letters from the bishops of Milan and Aquileia. If Pope Innocent believed he had the power that the Catholic Church today says the pope has, he wouldn’t have had to ask the emperor to call the council. Nor would he have needed letters from other bishops.

Apostolic Canon 34 written in the first half of the fourth century says that bishops of every nation must acknowledge the bishop which is first amongst them, but each may do those things which concern their own parish. Neither let the first bishop do anything without the consent of all.

Canon 34 The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things which concern his own parish and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him who is the first do anything without the consent of all. For so there will be oneness of mind and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

St. Basil

In the Meletian schism Rome wanted Paulinus as bishop in Antioch and St. Basil favored St. Meletius. The Paulinians had a letter from the west calling on Antioch to put Paulinus in as bishop. St. Basil wrote a letter to Count Terentius rejecting any authority to the letter and putting his full weight behind St. Meletius.

I hear, moreover, that the Paulinians are carrying about a letter of the Westerns, assigning to them the episcopate of the Church in Antioch, but speaking under a false impression of Meletius, the admirable bishop of the true Church of God. I am not astonished at this. They are totally ignorant of what is going on here; the others, though they might be supposed to know, give an account to them in which party is put before truth; and it is only what one might expect that they should either be ignorant of the truth, or should even endeavour to conceal the reasons which led the blessed Bishop Athanasius to write to Paulinus. But your Excellency has on the spot those who are able to tell you accurately what passed between the bishops in the reign of Jovian, and from them I beseech you to get information. I accuse no one; I pray that I may have love to all, and especially unto them who are of the household of faith; Galatians 6:10 and therefore I congratulate those who have received the letter from Rome. And, although it is a grand testimony in their favour, I only hope it is true and confirmed by facts. But I shall never be able to persuade myself on these grounds to ignore Meletius, or to forget the Church which is under him, or to treat as small, and of little importance to the true religion, the questions which originated the division. I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men. Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints. (Letter 214, emphasis added from Popes and Patriarchs)

In fighting the Arian heresy there is no evidence that St. Basil ever turned to Rome to settle the dispute. In fact, he turned to St. Athanasius bishop of Alexandria.

When St. Basil did turn to the west for help he sought the general help of the western church, but never the specific help of the Roman bishop as supreme bishop. In fact, he addressed one letter to the bishops of Gaul and Italy putting Gaul first.

To his brethren truly God-beloved and very dear, and fellow ministers of like mind, the bishops of Gaul and Italy, Basil, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia. (Letter 243)

St. Basil wrote letters showing that he had no respect for Pope Damasus when it came to ecclesiastical affairs.

Really lofty souls, when they are courted, get haughtier than ever. If the Lord be propitious to us, what other thing do we need? If the anger of the Lord lasts on, what help can come to us from the frown of the West? Men who do not know the truth, and do not wish to learn it, but are prejudiced by false suspicions, are doing now as they did in the case of Marcellus, when they quarreled with men who told them the truth, and by their own action strengthened the cause of heresy. Apart from the common document, I should like to have written to their Coryphæus (i.e. Pope Damasus)— nothing, indeed, about ecclesiastical affairs except gently to suggest that they know nothing of what is going on here, and will not accept the only means whereby they might learn it. I would say, generally, that they ought not to press hard on men who are crushed by trials. They must not take dignity for pride. Sin only avails to produce enmity against God. (Letter 239)

St. Maximus the Confessor

St. Maximus is said to have penned a document which says that Rome received her authority from Christ, all holy synods, sacred canons and decrees.

It is not clear of what councils and canons St. Maximus may have been speaking. Some Roman Catholic authors point to a statement coming from the formal deliberations of the Council of Ephesus which says, “No one can doubt, indeed it is known to all ages, that Peter, Prince and Head of the Apostles and Foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from Christ our Redeemer, and that to this day and always he lives in his successors exercising judgment”. However this statement was made by a lone papal legate named Father Phillip and was not produced by the council itself.

Since St. Maximus spent time in Rome he may have run into the “Apostolical” canons, which in their original form were mostly written in Greek. In their Latin form they greatly enhance the power and authority of the pope. Since none of this can be found in the original Greek documents, they were most likely forged.

In the end, the document that St. Maximus is said to have penned is a Latin translation (the Greek original no longer exists if it ever did) which is found only in fragments. Its authenticity is doubtful.

St. Photius

St. Photius was canonized at the end of the 10th century. He is revered in the Orthodox Church for his holiness, his defense against the claims of the papacy, and his opposition to the Filioque clause. Rome on the other hand sees him as being insatiably and unscrupulously ambitious, and one of the worst enemies of the Church.

The controversy concerning Photius began in 858 when Ignatius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, believed the ill-founded accusations of immorality against Regent Bardas, who was the uncle of Emperor Michael III, and refused to give him communion. He also openly sided with rebels opposed to the regent.

The Patriarch was immediately banished to an island for treason, and resigned his patriarchal see. It has been claimed that he was forced out of office and appealed to Pope Nicholas I, but at the synod at Constantinople 861 he is recorded as saying: “I did not appeal to Rome.”

At the urging of bishops a synod was held and the layman Photius was chosen. In six days he was moved through Holy Orders from reader to bishop, and was recognized as a legitimate patriarch.

Two months later the supporters of Ignatius revolted and Photius called a council to address the issue, but it ended in chaos. In order to prevent his opponents from using Ignatius’ patriarchal status to widen the schism, another synod pronounced Ignatius’ patriarchate and his ordinations illegitimate because he had not been canonically elected.

In 861 Emperor Michael III decided to convoke a council in Constantinople in order to condemn iconoclasm. He sent envoys to Pope Nicholas requesting that he send legates to the council. The envoys at that time announced to the pope the election of Photius to the patriarchal see of Constantinople.

The pope sent two legates and claimed the right to confirm the legitimacy of Photius’ election. For the sake of peace the Byzantines allowed the legates to look at the case though the Byzantines saw it as an internal matter which was already closed.

The Roman legates examined the evidence and confirmed the deposition of Ignatius and the election of Photius.

A refugee monk who falsely claimed to have been sent by Ignatius gave a very biased account of the council’s proceedings. This, combined with the Byzantine refusal to return Illyricum (Albania) to Rome’s jurisdiction, caused the pope to declare Photius’ election uncanonical. He excommunicated him, and deposed his own legates for exceeding their power by declaring Photius a legitimate patriarch.

Bulgaria, an emerging power, had been converted by Orthodox missionaries. The Bulgarian King Bois wanted his own patriarch, and Photius refused, so he looked toward Rome.

Roman missionaries poured into Bulgaria condemning Orthodox practices and teaching the Filioque.

Photius called a council in 867 in Constantinople, which was attended by 500 bishops. The council condemned the Filioque, denounced the right of the pope to interfere in the election of a patriarch, and excommunicated Pope Nicholas I.

Co-emperor Basil assassinated Michael III and looked to Rome for support. He reinstated Ignatius as patriarch and restored communion between Rome and Constantinople.

Basil requested Pope Hadrian to send legates to a new council, which came to be called the “Anti-Photian Council.” Pope Hadrian told his legates that the council had to sign an affirmation of papal primacy. This alienated the emperor and many bishops.

The council opened with only 12 bishops and eventually grew to 103. Photius was excommunicated along with many of his supporters.

Eventually Basil realized that most clergy remained faithful to Photius, and the pope was more controlling than the patriarch of Constantinople. In 870 the emperor returned Bulgaria to Byzantine jurisdiction and expelled Roman missionaries.

Photius became reconciled to Ignatius and when Ignatius died in 877 Photius succeeded him as patriarch. Basil then asked Pope John VIII to send legates to a new council to regularize Photius’ position in the church.

The new council (879-80) was attended by 380 bishops and unanimously confirmed Photius as patriarch and anathematized the previous council, which had condemned Photius.

In letters to Emperor Basil and the council Fathers Pope John VIII agreed to Photius’ election, but said he should apologize before the synod and make amends for his previous conduct. Photius refused to apologize. It was made clear to the Roman legates that each patriarchate was accustomed to choosing its own patriarch without interference from another patriarchate.

The letters from the Pope were read at the council omitting the demand for an apology. The council condemned the Filioque with the papal legates agreeing to the condemnation.

By St. Photius’ actions it is clear that he never accepted Rome’s claim of supreme universal jurisdiction.


The Donation of Constantine
The Donation of Constantine purports to be a legal document in which Constantine, in gratitude for being healed of leprosy by Pope Sylvester, gives Rome authority over all churches, in addition to temporal power over the city of Rome, all provinces, places and cities of Italy and western regions.

Italian renaissance scholar Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) found many problems with the document and showed it to have been written many years after Constantine. It was probably written in the middle of the 8th century.

In order to further his claims over the Eastern Church Pope Leo IX, in a letter to Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople in 1054, was the first pope to make official use of the Donation of Constantine.

Using the Donation of Constantine, John of Salisbury in 1156 convinced Pope Hadrian IV (the only English pope) to give Ireland as a possession to the English.

Pseudo-Isidore is a forged document that was used to promote Rome’s spiritual authority. The first part of the three-part collection is completely spurious containing 70 forged letters attributed to popes before the Council of Nicea. It also contained two spurious letters of Clement. The second part, containing canons of councils, is mostly genuine except for the Donation of Constantine. The third part is a skillful blending of false and genuine decretals.

The Decretum
The most influential book produced by the Roman Catholic Church was her book of canon law known as the Decretum. It was compiled by a Benedictine monk in the 10th century by the name of Gratian.

Of the 324 papal quotations in the Decretum only 11 are genuine. Gratian misquoted the 36th canon of the sixth ecumenical council, which gave Constantinople equal rights with the bishop of Rome and made it say the opposite.

Of the 60 letters or decrees from the early popes (From Clement I to Melchiades in 314) 58 are forged.

Thesaurus of Greek Fathers
In order to show that the eastern fathers had always recognized the authority of Rome, a forger created a collection of mixed genuine and forged quotations that was titled the Thesaurus of Greek Fathers. The quotes were attributed to St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Maximus the Confessor.

St. Thomas Aquinas in his work,  Against the Errors of the Greeks, unknowingly relied on this forged material.

If there were abundant evidence in the canons, creeds, and councils of the Church there would be no need for forgeries.