Roman Catholic Teaching on Papal Supremacy

Fourth Lateran Council (1215)

4. On the pride of the Greeks towards the Latins
Although we would wish to cherish and honour the Greeks who in our days are returning to the obedience of the apostolic see, by preserving their customs and rites as much as we can in the Lord, nevertheless we neither want nor ought to defer to them in matters which bring danger to souls and detract from the church’s honour. For, after the Greek church together with certain associates and supporters withdrew from the obedience of the apostolic see, the Greeks began to detest the Latins so much that, among other wicked things which they committed out of contempt for them, when Latin priests celebrated on their altars they would not offer sacrifice on them until they had washed them, as if the altars had been defiled thereby. The Greeks even had the temerity to rebaptize those baptized by the Latins; and some, as we are told, still do not fear to do this. Wishing therefore to remove such a great scandal from God’s church, we strictly order, on the advice of this sacred council, that henceforth they do not presume to do such things but rather conform themselves like obedient sons to the holy Roman church, their mother, so that there may be one flock and one shepherd. If anyone however does dare to do such a thing, let him be struck with the sword of excommunication and be deprived of every ecclesiastical office and benefice.

5. The dignity of the patriarchal sees
Renewing the ancient privileges of the patriarchal sees, we decree, with the approval of this sacred universal synod, that after the Roman church, which through the Lord’s disposition has a primacy of ordinary power over all other churches inasmuch as it is the mother and mistress of all Christ’s faithful, the church of Constantinople shall have the first place, the church of Alexandria the second place, the church of Antioch the third place, and the church of Jerusalem the fourth place, each maintaining its own rank. Thus after their pontiffs have received from the Roman pontiff the pallium, which is the sign of the fullness of the pontifical office, and have taken an oath of fidelity and obedience to him they may lawfully confer the pallium on their own suffragans, receiving from them for themselves canonical profession and for the Roman church the promise of obedience. They may have a standard of the Lord’s cross carried before them anywhere except in the city of Rome or wherever there is present the supreme pontiff or his legate wearing the insignia of the apostolic dignity. In all the provinces subject to their jurisdiction let appeal be made to them, when it is necessary, except for appeals made to the apostolic see, to which all must humbly defer.

Second Council of Lyon (1274)

2. On election and the power of the elected person
Furthermore, since when a disordered passion enslaves the will or some pledge compels it to one way of acting, the election is null from lack of freedom, we implore the cardinals through the tender mercy of our God, and we call them to witness through the sprinkling of his precious blood, that they consider very carefully what they are about to do. They are electing the vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter, the ruler of the universal church, the guide of the Lord’s flock. They are to lay aside all the disorder of private affection, to be free from any bargain, agreement or pledge; they are not to consider any promise or understanding, to have no regard for their mutual advantage or that of their friends.

Council of Constance (1414-1418), Session VIII

Sentence condemning various articles of John Wyclif
41. It is not necessary for salvation to believe that the Roman church is supreme among the other churches.

Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517)

On the abrogation of the Pragmatic Sanction
Leo, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting record. The eternal Father, who will never abandon his flock up to the close of the age, so loved obedience, as the Apostle testifies, that to make expiation for the sin of disobedience of the first parent, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death. Moreover, when he was about to depart from the world to the Father, he established Peter and his successors as his own representatives on the firmness of a rock. It is necessary to obey them as the book of the Kings testifies, so that whoever does not obey, incurs death. As we read in another place, the person who abandons the teaching of the Roman pontiff cannot be within the church; for, on the authority of Augustine and Gregory, obedience alone is the mother and protector of all virtues, it alone possessing the reward of faith.

Moreover, since subjection to the Roman pontiff is necessary for salvation for all Christ’s faithful, as we are taught by the testimony of both sacred scripture and the holy fathers, and as is declared by the constitution of pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, also our predecessor, which begins Unam sanctam, we therefore, with the approval of the present sacred council, for the salvation of the souls of the same faithful, for the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff and of this holy see, and for the unity and power of the church, his spouse, renew and give our approval to that constitution, but without prejudice to the declaration of pope Clement V of holy memory, which begins Meruit .

First Vatican Council (1869-1870)

Chapter 1: On the institution of the apostolic primacy in blessed Peter

  1. We teach and declare that,
    • according to the gospel evidence,
    • a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole church of God
    • was immediately and directly
      • promised to the blessed apostle Peter and
      • conferred on him by Christ the lord.


  2. It was to Simon alone,
    • to whom he had already said
      • You shall be called Cephas ,

    that the Lord,

    • after his confession, You are the Christ, the son of the living God,

    spoke these words:

    • Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
    • And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.


  3. And it was to Peter alone that Jesus,
    • after his resurrection,

    confided the jurisdiction of supreme pastor and ruler of his whole fold, saying:

    • Feed my lambs, feed my sheep .
  4. To this absolutely manifest teaching of the sacred scriptures, as it has always been understood by the catholic church, are clearly opposed the distorted opinions of those who misrepresent the form of government which Christ the lord established in his church and deny that Peter, in preference to the rest of the apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction.
  5. The same may be said of those who assert that this primacy was not conferred immediately and directly on blessed Peter himself, but rather on the church, and that it was through the church that it was transmitted to him in his capacity as her minister.
  6. Therefore,
    • if anyone says that
      • blessed Peter the apostle was not appointed by Christ the lord as prince of all the apostles and visible head of the whole church militant; or that
      • it was a primacy of honour only and not one of true and proper jurisdiction that he directly and immediately received from our lord Jesus Christ himself:

      let him be anathema.

Chapter 2. On the permanence of the primacy of blessed Peter in the Roman pontiffs

  1.  Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received.
  2. For this reason it has always been necessary for every church–that is to say the faithful throughout the world–to be in agreement with the Roman church because of its more effective leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that see, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single body .
  3. Therefore,
    • if anyone says that
      • it is not by the institution of Christ the lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole church; or that
      • the Roman pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy:

      let him be anathema.

Chapter 3. On the power and character of the primacy of the Roman pontiff

  1. Since the Roman pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole church, we likewise teach and declare that
    • he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that
    • in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment.
    • The sentence of the apostolic see (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone,
    • nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so
    • they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman pontiff.
  2. So, then,
    • if anyone says that
      • the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and
        • not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this
        • not only in matters of
          • faith and morals, but also in those which concern the
          • discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that
      • he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that
      • this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful:

      let him be anathema.

Chapter 4. On the infallible teaching authority of the Roman pontiff

  1. That apostolic primacy which the Roman pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching.
    • This holy see has always maintained this,
    • the constant custom of the church demonstrates it, and
    • the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it.


  2. So the fathers of the fourth council of Constantinople, following the footsteps of their predecessors, published this solemn profession of faith:
    • The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of our lord Jesus Christ, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the apostolic see the catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honour. Since it is our earnest desire to be in no way separated from this faith and doctrine, we hope that we may deserve to remain in that one communion which the apostolic see preaches, for in it is the whole and true strength of the christian religion.

    What is more, with the approval of the second council of Lyons, the Greeks made the following profession:

    • “The holy Roman church possesses the supreme and full primacy and principality over the whole catholic church. She truly and humbly acknowledges that she received this from the Lord himself in blessed Peter, the prince and chief of the apostles, whose successor the Roman pontiff is, together with the fullness of power. And since before all others she has the duty of defending the truth of the faith, so if any questions arise concerning the faith, it is by her judgment that they must be settled.”

    Then there is the definition of the council of Florence:

    • “The Roman pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and to him was committed in blessed Peter, by our lord Jesus Christ, the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church.”

    [Holy See]

  3. To satisfy this pastoral office, our predecessors strove unwearyingly that the saving teaching of Christ should be spread among all the peoples of the world; and with equal care they made sure that it should be kept pure and uncontaminated wherever it was received.[Custom]
  4. It was for this reason that the bishops of the whole world, sometimes individually, sometimes gathered in synods, according to the long established custom of the churches and the pattern of ancient usage referred to this apostolic see those dangers especially which arose in matters concerning the faith. This was to ensure that any damage suffered by the faith should be repaired in that place above all where the faith can know no failing.[Holy See]
  5. The Roman pontiffs, too, as the circumstances of the time or the state of affairs suggested,
    • sometimes by
      • summoning ecumenical councils or
      • consulting the opinion of the churches scattered throughout the world, sometimes by
      • special synods, sometimes by
      • taking advantage of other useful means afforded by divine providence,
    • defined as doctrines to be held those things which, by God’s help, they knew to be in keeping with
      • sacred scripture and
      • the apostolic traditions.
  6. For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter
    • not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine,
    • but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

    Indeed, their apostolic teaching was

    • embraced by all the venerable fathers and
    • reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors,

    for they knew very well that this see of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Saviour to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.

  7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this see so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.
  8. But since in this very age when the salutary effectiveness of the apostolic office is most especially needed, not a few are to be found who disparage its authority, we judge it absolutely necessary to affirm solemnly the prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God was pleased to attach to the supreme pastoral office.
  9. Therefore,
    • faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the christian faith,
    • to the glory of God our saviour,
    • for the exaltation of the catholic religion and
    • for the salvation of the christian people,
    • with the approval of the sacred council,

    • we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that
      • when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
        • that is, when,
        • in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,
        • in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,
        • he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church,
      • he possesses,
        • by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter,
      • that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
      • Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.

    So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

Roman Catholic Catechism

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful–who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

[ilink url=”” style=”tick”]An Orthodox Rebuttal: “Against Rome’s Claim of Supremacy”[/ilink]
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