Monday, February 20, 2012

St. Augustine on the Chair of St. Peter and the Petrine Office

Yesterday was the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, a feast that commemorates the office which St. Peter held in the Church as the leader of the Apostles. The feast draws upon the tradition of St. Peter’s authority in the Roman See and the seat by which he sat in his authority. In some manner than St. Augustine in his numerous writings reflects on the nature of this Apostolic See (of which city both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred), though some might wonder whether this is the full on Roman primacy that we see in other authors of the same time, and more to the point whether this Roman primacy has the same effect and nature as it did in the Medieval Church. Though St. Augustine’s interpretation of Matthew 16 varies at times he still speaks of the honor which the Apostolic See has, and the manner in which it need be respected as a See of nobility.

We must be careful though and note that St. Augustine was a great rhetorician and orator, though certainly no flatterer, so we must read carefully, especially when he is trying to make an appeal.

Here are some texts of which I have gathered from a post from Called to Communion (

Please note that St. Augustine took part in several African councils including the Councils of Carthage (read more here: to which there was a considerable amount of Roman papal deference and honor.

Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 4-5, 396 AD

There are many other things which most justly keep me in [the Catholic Church's] bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church …no one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion…. For my part I should not believe the gospel except the authority of the Catholic Church moved me. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you — If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel.

This is an interesting early ecclesiology that St. Augustine puts forth in the early years of his bishopric, and one that is repeated in other Church Fathers, that is that the bishop’s status and office derives directly from St. Peter. However, it seems that this quote is more stating that St. Augustine’s bishopric descends in some nature from St. Peter’s charge to feed Christ’s sheep. This is an interesting tension as to how it relates to the Apostolic See (Rome), especially when juxtaposed with the statement at the Council of Chalcedon about St. Peter speaking through Pope St. Leo in his tome (which may be Augustinian in nature).

Letter 43, 397 AD, regarding excommunication, the schismatic Donatists, and communion of bishops in the Church:
Then we said, sometimes after the ordination of Maiorinus whom they wickedly raised up against Caecilian, setting altar against altar, and rending the unity of Christ with frightful divisions, that they had requested Constantine, then emperor to appoint bishops as judges to arbitrate the differences that had arisen to break the bond of peace in Africa. But, when this was granted, in the presence of Caecilian and those who had gone abroad to appear against him, Melchiades, Bishop of Rome, acting as judge, with his colleagues whom the emperor had sent at the request of the Donatists, had decided that nothing could be proved against Caecilian, that he was thereby confirmed in his Bishopric, and that Donatus, who had appeared against him, was censured.

This certainly is an interesting segment in the letter which ought to be read at large for those interested in early Church ecclesiology and the Donatist schism. The seat of the bishopric was in contest here and they had asked the Christian emperor Constantine to arrange a council of bishops to judge who was the true bishop of Carthage. The bishop of Rome, the only bishopric noted prominently in this segment by St. Augustine, acted with other colleague bishops to settle the matters of another bishopric [who was the successor of the bishopric]. The emperor plays a prominent role as striving to bring order to the Church’s infrastructure and so too does the bishop of Rome show prominence here, though what his function is, is not clearly stated other than to pass judgment in this case on the matters of another episcopate. Note that St. Melchiades [ruled 311-314 AD] the bishop of Rome is very far removed from St. Augustine’s time, and the Donatists have been around for a long while!

… [paragraph]. You remember that these were read to you before noon, and in the afternoon we made public the petitions to Constantine, the judges appointed by him, the ecclesiastical proceedings at Rome, which they were censured but Caecilian confirmed in his episcopal office, and finally the letters of emperor Constantine, which proved all this with explicit testimony.

What more, fellow men? What more do you want? There is no question of your gold and silver; … [St. Augustine proceeds to that the decision is out in the open, and more details regarding the Donatist schism, of which details are not necessary for our preliminary sketch]

I include this text in that the proceedings seem to have occurred at Rome and so the bishop of Rome necessarily was involved. Why did Constantine have the matter settled at Rome though and not in some other See? Perhaps it is the apostolic nature of the Roman See, or perhaps the prominence of the city of Rome itself that drew him to this? Perhaps it was the authority and prominence of the Roman See that made him choose this. Of importance as cited later in the letter is the understanding that ecclesial matters must be settled in ecclesiastical councils and not governmental arbitration, so this is why the emperor must call bishops and cannot settle the matter himself.

For, if the thought of peace dwelt in his heart, he would not afterwards, at Carthage, in company with betrayers whom he had acquitted, have condemned of betrayal men who were absent and whom none had convicted. All the more should he have feared to break the peace of unity, because Carthage was a great and famous city, whence the evil might spread from the head through the whole body of Africa. Besides, it was in touch with the overseas countries, and enjoyed widespread fame. Certainly, it had a bishop of no ordinary authority, who was able to pay no attention to a crowd of hostile conspirators, which he saw that he was united by pastoral letters to the Church of Rome, where the primacy of the apostolic chair has always flourished, and to those other countries which the Gospel came to Africa, itself, and when arrangements were made for him to plead his case if his opponents should try to win over those churches from him.

Here we get an interesting statement from St. Augustine that there is a greater importance to the occurrence of one See as depends the fame and influence of that see. The Apostolic See is agreed by all during the later Middle Ages as the See of primacy, though its nature is called into question, but here we see that there is a primacy of the apostolic Roman chair which continues to flourish. The reference of no ordinary authority it seems to me refers to the bishopric of Carthage, an important city in North Africa, that St. Augustine seems to be claiming to have brought the Gospel to most of Africa, which I think may be quite plausible.

If the proconsular records displease you, turn to the ecclesiastical ones. All the facts are set out in order for you. But perhaps Melchiades, Bishop of the Church of Rome, with his colleagues, the overseas bishops, should not have taken over the jurisdiction of a case which had been concluded by seventy Africans under the primacy of Tigisis? The emperor, when requested, sent bishop-judges to sit with him and decide what seemed just to them about the whole affair.

The paragraph continues in this aspect, but why does St. Augustine cite again the eminent bishop of Rome, St. Melchiades? This is much a mystery but St. Augustine’s main argument throughout the letter and in this segment is that the whole Church (or at least many bishops) have cited the schism of the Donatists and rebuked them on it. Namely, schism is a grave sin in that it is the rending of the Body of Christ which is supposed to be at one in peace. The emperor called forth the bishop of Rome along with other bishops to set up an ecclesiastical council to judge the matter, alongside already held councils against the Donatists, and St. Augustine continues to cite this council (as well as more texts on the sin of schism, and other councils of bishops in Africa). Why didn’t the African bishops beckon the Apostolic See itself instead of calling the emperor to call forth bishop-judges? I do not know entirely, but it seems Christian emperors played an important role in gathering bishops together to form final ecclesial decisions. What does this say about the Church’s ecclesiology? Certainly the government cannot decide ecclesiastical rulings, as St. Augustine notes in his letter, but perhaps the emperor is used for his utility. The emperor has the greatest capacity and authority in the Roman Empire and so can easily send letters with imperial seal and regale to all of the varying bishops. These letters would be better protected than other messengers sent out to say the Roman See or to other bishoprics. I posit this as a theory, though I feel that there is a certain eminence to the Apostolic Roman See that other Sees do not have.

[There are a few other segments in this letter where St. Augustine praises Pope Melchiades for his judgment]

[paragraph] Yet, as a Christian emperor, he did not venture to sustain their disorderly and unfounded complaints by giving a judgment on the court of bishops which had sat at Rome, but, as I said, he appointed other bishops. And even from these they chose to appeal to the emperor in person. In this affair, you have heard how he despised them; would that by his decision he at least had made an end of their senseless rivalries! And, as he yielded to them by taking up the question after the bishops had decided, with an apology to the holy prelates, it could be wished that they, too, having nothing more to say, yet unwilling to give in to his verdict to which they had appealed, might at length yield to truth. He ordered that both sides come to him at Rome to try the case. But, when Caecilian, for some reason or other, did not go there, notified by them, the emperor instructed to follow him to Milan.

Again the emperor comes up and beckoned the contesting bishops to come see him at Rome. It is curious why the Apostolic See is not involved in this or at least mentioned, perhaps it is somewhere in the culture that is only available to us in text, or perhaps not. There is not much to speculate in this segment, though I think my theory above may hold for this case too.

I ask, however, and I think it a just request, that the synod of Secundus of Tigisis, which Lucilla stirred up against the absent Caecilian, and the Apostolic See, and the whole world on the side of Caecilian, be worth as much as the synod of the Maximian supporters, which some woman or other stirred up against the absent Primian and all the rest of the people in Africa on Primian’s side. What is more obvious? What more reasonable to ask?

The ecclesiastical debate in this segment need not be that important to us, but the fact that the Apostolic See is placed just before the statement of the entire world of bishops on the side of Caecilian seems to show that the Roman See has a significant place, even as compared to say the whole world.

It is difficult to see a Roman primacy that looks like the one we see in the late Middle Ages, but I posit that the Roman See still was the Apostolic See of pre-eminence and was deferred to as a See of great honor and prudence. This See did take as part of its prerogative the maintenance of other Sees, but other Sees it seems while respecting that prerogative did not always feel the necessity of complying to the Roman See.

Letter 53, 400 AD, regarding the Donatist schism and the unity of the Church
This letter is addressed to a Catholic of Constantina named Generosus and is written as coming from Fortunatus, Alypius, and St. Augustine, all African bishops if my memory serves me correctly. It begins:
As you wished to show us the letter sent you by the Donatist priest, which you, of course, repudiate with a truly Catholic mind, we are writing you an answer to send him, so as to set him right, if he is not hopelessly far gone in folly.

Here we have the response of multiple African bishops about a truly Catholic way to respond to the Donatists. The Donatist priest told Generosus that an angel told him to become a Donatist and not a Catholic to which follows:

…it would be your duty to recall the Apostle’s words, when he said: ‘But though we or an angel from heaven preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.’ It has been preached to you by the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: ‘that His Gospel shall be preached… to all nations, and then shall the consummation come’; it has been preached to you be prophetic and apostolic writings that: ‘to Abraham were the promises made and to his seed…which is Christ,’ when God said to him: ‘In thy seed shall all the nations…be blessed.’ If, therefore you hold to these promises, an angel from heaven should say to you: ‘Give up the Christianity of the world, and lay hold of the sect of Donatus, who origin is explained for you in a letter of a bishop of your city,’ he ought to be anathema, because he is trying to cut you off from the whole and push you into a part, and to make you a stranger to the promises of God.

For, if the order of succession of bishops [of Rome] is to be considered, how much more surely, truly and safely do we number them from Peter, to whom, as representing the whole Church, the Lord said: ‘Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’ For, to Peter succeeded Linus, to Linus Clement, to Clement Anacletus, to Anacletus Evaristus, to Evaristus Sixtus, to Sixtus Telesphorus, to Telesphorus Hyginus, to Hyginus Anicetus, to Anicetus Pius, to Pius Soter, to Soter Alexander, to Alexander Victor, to Victor Zephyrinus, to Zephyrinus Calistus, to Calistus Urban, to Urban Pontian, to Pontian Antherus, to Antherus Fabian, to Fabian Cornelius, to Cornelius Lucius, to Lucius Stephen, to Stephen Sixtus, to Sixtus Dionysius, to Dionysius Felix, to Felix Eutychian, to Eutychian Gaius, to Gaius Marcellus, to Marcellus Eusebius, to Eusebius Melchiades, to Melchiades Sylvester, to Sylvester Marcus, to Marcus Julius, to Julius LIberius, to LIberius Damasus, to Damasus Siricius, to Siricius Anastasius. In this order of succession not a Donatist bishop is found. On the other hand, they ordained and sent somebody from Africa who wielded authority over a few Africans in Rome and who gave out names of Montenses or Cutzupitae. [note that the Donatists tried to place a sectarian alter-bishopric of Rome]

Even if the succession of bishops which comes down from Peter to Anastasius, now occupying the throne, there had happened to be a betrayer, there would still be no harm to the Church and to innocent Christians, to whom the Lord, foreseeing it, said, of evil rulers: ‘Whatsoever they say to you,…do, but according to their works, do ye not, for they say and do not.’ Thus He made sure that a faithful hope, founded not on man but on the Lord, should never be scattered by the storm of sacrilegious schism, as those are scattered who read the names of churches in the holy books which the Apostles wrote, but they have not a single bishop in them. What could be more erroneous or more absurd than for their readers, when they read these Epistles, to say, ‘Peace be to thee!’ and to be separated from the peace of those Churches to which the Epistles were written?

This is a very peculiar statement regarding the bishopric of Rome. There was a promise made to Abraham, St. Augustine writes, and to his seed, that is that Christ’s Church would be protected from error. This is shown in Matthew 16 where Christ promises to St. Peter and to the Church that the gates of Hell will not prevail upon the Church. Earlier we saw a notion of St. Peter feeding his flock, and so we see here a list of the bishops of Rome. Why they are mentioned at all when we ought to expect an apostolic succession of the Generosus’ city is mysterious, and then why mention Rome and not say another African city close to Generosus? St. Augustine and his brother bishops also make the point that the Donatists strove to set up their own See in the Apostolic city. Why the Donatists saw this important unless they recognized some sort of importance in having hold of the Apostolic See is mystifying. It seems that there may be something to the authority of the Roman See’s approval as giving a stamp of approval as to legitimate practice in Christendom during late Antiquity.

Also of importance is the biblical text quoted from Matthew 23 regarding the Pharisees and Christ commanding the Jews to do as the Pharisees say for they sit on the seat of Moses, but not to do as the Pharisees do since they were hypocrites. This argument is applied to the Roman See and seems to be advocating that we must do as the Apostolic See dictates even if we have bad bishops in Rome (which the Donatists claim), hence to set up a rival Apostolic See is contrary to Christ’s commandment.

[St. Augustine mentions that Generosus ought to make mention of the proceedings at Rome by the beckoning of the emperor and other councils too.]

There is an important Catholic Roman primacy seen in this letter I think, and though I am trying to take a minimalist approach, the response that Generosus is supposed to give to the Donatist priest on behalf of the Catholic bishops regards the integrity of the Roman See and the manner in which St. Peter’s throne on which Anastasius now sits and compares it to Matthew 23 where we must do as he who sits on the throne of Moses dictates if not as he does [though Pope Anastasius was regarded by St. Jerome as a holy man].

Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Book II, c. 51, AD 400-401, concerning the Donatist schism

Petilianus said: 'If you wretched men claim for yourselves a seat, as we said before, you assuredly have that one of which the prophet and psalmist David speaks as being the seat of the scornful. For to you it is rightly left, seeing that the holy cannot sit therein.'

Augustine answered: Here again you do not see that this is no kind of argument, but empty abuse. For this is what I said a little while ago, You utter the words of the law, but take no heed against whom you utter them; just as the devil uttered the words of the law, but failed to perceive to whom he uttered them. He wished to thrust down our Head, who was presently to ascend on high; but you wish to reduce to a small fraction the body of that same Head which is dispersed throughout the entire world. Certainly you yourself said a little time before that we know the law, and speak in legal terms, but blush in our deeds. Thus much indeed you say without a proof of anything; but even though you were to prove it of some men, you would not be entitled to assert it of these others. However, if all men throughout all the world were of the character which you most vainly charge them with, what has the chair done to you of the Roman Church, in which Peter sat, and which Anastasius fills today; or the chair of the Church of Jerusalem, in which James once sat, and in which John sits today, with which we are united in catholic unity, and from which you have severed yourselves by your mad fury? Why do you call the apostolic chair a seat of the scornful? If it is on account of the men whom you believe to use the words of the law without performing it, do you find that our Lord Jesus Christ was moved by the Pharisees, of whom He says, “They say, and do not,” to do any despite to the seat in which they sat? Did He not commend the seat of Moses, and maintain the honor of the seat, while He convicted those that sat in it? For He says, “They sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Matt. 23:2-3) If you were to think of these things, you would not, on account of men whom you calumniate, do despite to the apostolic seat, in which you have no share. But what else is conduct like yours but ignorance of what to say, combined with want of power to abstain from evil-speaking? [...]

But if you [i.e. Donatatists] are really men like this, how much better and how much more in accordance with truth do we act in not baptizing after you [i.e. in your manner], as neither was it right that those whom I have mentioned should be circumcised after the worst of Pharisees! Furthermore, when such men sit in the seat of Moses, for which the Lord preserved its due honor, why do you blaspheme the apostolic chair on account of men whom, justly or unjustly, you compare with these?

This book only reinstates the African Doctor of Grace’s position that the Apostolic seat is likened to the throne of Moses in Matthew 23, and by that manner that it must be respected even if one is at odds with it (which St. Augustine is not). He similarly cites the seat of Jerusalem as an Apostolic See, but when he says Apostolic See he seems to refer mainly to the Roman See, though this trend is seen above, it may require more textual evidence to show that the Apostolic See is always the Roman See even if Jerusalem may be an Apostolic See.

Letter 191, 418 AD, St. Augustine to Pope Sixtus

To My Venerable Lord and Pious Brother and Co-Presbyter Sixtus, Worthy of Being Received in the Love of Christ, Augustine Sends Greeting in the Lord.

Since the arrival of the letter which, in my absence, your Grace forwarded by our holy brother the presbyter Firmus, and which I read on my return to Hippo, but not until after the bearer had departed, the present is my first opportunity of sending to you any reply, and it is with great pleasure that I entrust it to our very dearly beloved son, the acolyte Albinus. Your letter, addressed to Alypius and myself jointly, came at a time when we were not together, and this is thereason why you will now receive a letter from each of us, instead of one from both, in reply. For the bearer of this letter has just gone, meanwhile, from me to visit my venerable brother and co-bishop Alypius, who will write a reply for himself to your Holiness, and he has carried with him your letter, which I had already perused. As to the great joy with which that letter filled my heart, why should a man attempt to say what it is impossible to express? Indeed, I do not think that you yourself have any adequate idea of the amount of good done by your sending that letter to us; but take our word for it, for as you bear witness to your feelings, so do we bear witness to ours, declaring how profoundly we have been moved by the perfectly transparent soundness of the views declared in that letter. For if, when you sent a very short letter on the same subject to the most blessed aged Aurelius, by the acolyte Leo, we transcribed it with joyful alacrity, and read it with enthusiastic interest to all who were within our reach, as an exposition of your sentiments, both in regard to that most fatal dogma [of Pelagius], and in regard to the grace of God freely given by Him to small and great, to which that dogma is diametrically opposed; how great, think you, is the joy with which we have read this more extended statement in your writing, how great the zeal with which we take care that it be read by all to whom we have been able already or may yet be able to make it known! For what could be read or heard with greater satisfaction than so clear a defence of the grace of God against its enemies, from the mouth of one who was before this proudly claimed by these enemies as a mighty supporter of their cause? Or is there anything for which we ought to give more abundant thanksgivings to God, than that His grace is so ably defended by those to whom it is given, against those to whom it is not given, or by whom, when given, it is not accepted, because in the secret and just judgment of God the disposition to accept it is not given to them?

It is a curious thing indeed that St. Augustine greets the pope as a co-presbyter and brother bishop, though this is in fact true, the Pope even if he is Pope in the modern sense is a bishop, the bishop of Rome. It is curious to note that the Pelagians thought they had a great ally in the bishop of Rome, who now condemns them. If the bishop of Rome is little other than another autonomous bishopric, why so much hope that they back your cause? Vying for the Apostolic See’s favor seems to have been very important in Late Antiquity, even St. Augustine writes with great joy saying to the bishop of Rome that he has no idea how much he has helped their cause.

Wherefore, my venerable lord, and holy brother worthy of being received in the love of Christ, although you render a most excellent service when you thus write on this subject to brethren before whom the adversaries are wont to boast themselves of your being their friend, nevertheless, there remains upon you the yet greater duty of seeing not only that those be punished with wholesome severity who dare to prate more openly their declaration of that error, most dangerously hostile to the Christian name, but also that with pastoral vigilance, on behalf of the weaker and simpler sheep of the Lord, most strenuous precautions be used against those who more covertly, indeed, and timidly, but perseveringly, and in whispers, as it were, teach this error, “creeping into houses,” as the apostle says, and doing with practiced impiety all those other things which are mentioned immediately afterwards in that passage. (2 Tim.3:6) Nor ought those to be overlooked who under the restraint of fear hide their sentiments under the most profound silence, yet have not ceased to cherish the same perverse opinions as before. For some of their party might be known to you before that pestilence was denounced by the most explicit condemnation of the apostolic see, whom you perceive to have now become suddenly silent; nor can it be ascertained whether they have been really cured of it.

St. Augustine is calling on the Apostolic See, his words, to condemn and punish severely those who are Pelagian heretics. Whether he is asking the bishop of Rome to issue some sort of edict or letter for the condemnation of Pelagians abroad or simply in his own See. Given the eminence of the Apostolic See, St. Augustine is calling Sixtus to do more to put an end to Pelagianism, and it seems that he desires him to send letters abroad in his own See and to others regarding this error.

On the Soul and its Origin, Book 2, 17, 419-420 AD
The new-fangled Pelagian heretics have been most justly condemned by the authority of catholic councils and of the Apostolic See.

Here it seems that not only Catholic councils have authority but even the ruling of the Apostolic See. Taking a few times to read this sentence over and over, seems to show that the authority is not just in the council but the Apostolic See itself (as a See that seems to be able to adjudicate among different Sees perhaps).

Against Two Letters by the Pelagians, Book II, 420-421 AD

For who does not see in what degree Cœlestius was bound by the interrogations of your holy predecessor and by the answers of Cœlestius, whereby he professed that he consented to the letters of Pope Innocent, and fastened by a most wholesome chain, so as not to dare any further to maintain that the original sin of infants is not put away in baptism? Because these are the words of the venerable Bishop [of Rome] Innocent concerning this matter to the Carthaginian Council: ‘For once,” he said, “he bore free will; but, using his advantage inconsiderately, and falling into the depths of apostasy, he was overwhelmed, and found no way whereby he could rise from thence; and, deceived forever by his liberty, he would have lain under the oppression of this ruin, if the advent of Christ had not subsequently for his grace delivered him, and, by the purification of a new regeneration, purged all past sin by the washing of His baptism.’ What could be more clear or more manifest than that judgment of the Apostolical See?

Here again we see that St. Augustine is citing the Apostolic See, the Roman bishop Innocent’s opinion as definitive and a clear judgment on the manner of original sin which the Pelagian Coelestius does not agree with. As we see time and time again, St. Augustine feels strongly that the Apostolic See has a strong authority on what is orthodox in the Church and what is not.

Letter 209, 423 AD, to Bishop of Rome Caelestine

To Cælestine, My Lord Most Blessed, and Holy Father Venerated with All Due Affection, Augustine Sends Greeting in The Lord.

First of all I congratulate you that our Lord God has, as we have heard, established you in the illustrious chair which you occupy without any division among His people. In the next place, I lay before your Holiness the state of affairs with us, that not only by your prayers, but with your council and aid you may help us. For I write to you at this time under deep affliction, because, while wishing to benefit certain members of Christ in our neighbourhood, I brought on them a great calamity by my want of prudence and caution.

To be thorough we note the illustrious chair of the Apostolic See, the Petrine chair, though no doubt other Sees have other chairs, and so it is to be wondered whether St. Augustine’s talk of the Petrine throne in Rome has more authority than that of other chairs. It seems that it does as I noted in the comment on On The Soul and Its Origin, Book II.

But why should I detain you with further particulars? I beseech you to assist us in this laborious matter, blessed lord and holy father, venerated for your piety, and revered with due affection; and command all the documents which have been forwarded to be read aloud to you. Observe in what manner Antonius discharged his duties as bishop; how, when debarred from communion until full restitution should be made to the men of Fussala, he submitted to our sentence, and has now set apart a sum out of which to pay what may after inquiry be deemed just for compensation, in order that the privilege of communion might be restored to him; with what crafty reasoning he prevailed on our aged primate, a most venerable man, to believe all his statements, and to recommend him as altogether blameless to the venerable Pope Boniface. But why should I rehearse all the rest, seeing that the venerable old man, aforesaid must have reported the entire matter to your Holiness?

St. Augustine implores the help of the Bishop of Rome in particular to settle the matter of a council of African bishops regarding a dispute between Antonius and St. Augustine’s brother bishops.

There are cases on record, in which the Apostolic See, either pronouncing judgment or confirming the judgment of others, sanctioned decisions by which persons, for certain offenses, were neither deposed from their episcopal office nor left altogether unpunished. I shall not bring forward those which occurred at a period very remote from our own time; I shall mention recent instances. Let Priscus, a bishop of the province of Cæsarea, protest boldly: ‘Either the office of primate should be open to me, as to other bishops, or I ought not to remain a bishop.’ Let Victor, another bishop of the same province, with whom, when involved in the same sentence as Priscus, no bishop beyond his own diocese holds communion, let him, I say, protest with similar confidence: ‘Either I ought to have communion everywhere, or I ought not to have it in my own district.’ Let Laurentius, a third bishop of the same province, speak, and in the precise words of this man he may exclaim: ‘Either I ought to sit in the chair to which I have been ordained, or I ought not to be a bishop.’ But who can find fault with these judgments, except one who does not consider that, neither on the one hand ought all offenses to be left unpunished, nor on the other ought all to be punished in one way.

Here St. Augustine readily recognizes and calls forth the fact that the Apostolic See, the Bishop of Rome, through either pronouncing a judgment on other bishops or confirming the judgment of a council of bishops regarding what decisions ought to be carried out in another’s See. This is significant and is entirely what I understand the Catholic papal primacy to be composed of.

Since, then, the most blessed Pope Boniface, speaking of Bishop Antonius, has in his epistle, with the vigilant caution becoming a pastor, inserted in his judgment the additional clause, if he has faithfully narrated the facts of the case to us, receive now the facts of the case, which in his statement to you he passed over in silence, and also the transactions which took place after the letter of that man of blessed memory had been read in Africa, and in the mercy of Christ extend your aid to men imploring it more earnestly than he does from whose turbulence they desire to be freed. For either from himself, or at least from very frequent rumors, threats are held out that the courts of justiciary, and the public authorities, and the violence of the military, are to carry into force the decision of the Apostolic See; the effect of which is that these unhappy men, being now Catholic Christians, dread greater evils from a Catholic bishop than those which, when they were heretics, they dreaded from the laws of Catholic emperors. Do not permit these things to be done, I implore you, by the blood of Christ, by the memory of the Apostle Peter, who has warned those placed over Chistian people against violently ‘lording it over their brethren.’ I commend to the gracious love of your Holiness the Catholics of Fussala, my children in Christ, and also Bishop Antonius, my son in Christ, for I love both, and I commend both to you. I do not blame the people of Fussala for bringing to your ears their just complaint against me for imposing on them a man whom I had not proved, and who was in age at least not yet established, by whom they have been so afflicted; nor do I wish any wrong done to Antonius, whose evil covetousness I oppose with a determination proportioned to my sincere affection for him. Let your compassion be extended to both—to them, so that they may not suffer evil; to him, so that he may not do evil: to them, so that they may not hate the Catholic Church, if they find no aid in defense against a Catholic bishop extended to them by Catholic bishops, and especially by the Apostolic See itself; to him, on the other hand, so that he may not involve himself in such grievous wickedness as to alienate from Christ those whom against their will he endeavors to make his own.

This is a curious statement as well, regarding how those under Bishop Antonius who did great evils may come into censure by the local authorities who will be heeding the judgment of the Roman Apostolic See. St. Augustine is frightened about this because he cares about Antonius and thinks that Antonius can make up for his faults, and he is also worried about scandal. There is a statement about nor lording his Apostolic authority over his brethren bishops, and also that the people under Bishop Antonius fear the judgment of the bishop of Rome greater than that of the emperor’s laws, which is significant. The Apostolic See’s judgment is even greater feared in Late Antiquity Africa than that of any Catholic emperor’s laws.

On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin, Book 2, 19, AD 426, against the Pelagians

"Now Pelagius was either afraid or ashamed to avow this to be his own opinion before you; although his disciple experienced neither a qualm nor a blush in openly professing it to be his, without any obscure subterfuges, in presence of the Apostolic See. … The venerable Pope Zosimus, keeping in view this deprecatory preamble, dealt with the man, puffed up as he was with the blasts of false doctrine, so as that he should condemn all the objectionable points which had been alleged against him by the deacon Paulinus, and that he should yield his assent to the rescript of the Apostolic See which had been issued by his predecessor of sacred memory. The accused man, however, refused to condemn the objections raised by the deacon, yet he did not dare to hold out against the letter of the blessed Pope Innocent; indeed, he went so far as to “promise that he would condemn all the points which the Apostolic See condemned.” … This being the case, you of course feel that episcopal councils, and the Apostolic See, and the whole Roman Church, and the Roman Empire itself, which by God’s gracious favour has become Christian, has been most righteously moved against the authors of this wicked error, until they repent and escape from the snares of the devil…. But I would have you carefully observe the way in which Pelagius endeavoured by deception to overreach even the judgment of the bishop of the Apostolic See on this very question of the baptism of infants. He sent a letter to Rome to Pope Innocent of blessed memory; and when it found him not in the flesh, it was handed to the holy Pope Zosimus, and by him directed to us."

Here we see St. Augustine possibly hierarchically scaling the importance of certain person’s authority. First is given the Catholic councils against the Pelagians, then the Apostolic See itself (the Bishop of Rome), and the Roman Church itself (Rome as apart from just one bishop it seems to me), and then finally the whole Church. There is a strong point written in St. Augustine’s book written to many readers regarding how the Pelagians have neglected the Apostolic See. It seems that it is important to everybody in the Catholic world that deference be made to the Apostolic See. This is a strong case for a 5th century Roman primacy.

Letter 250, unknown date, regarding excommunication
I desire with the Lord’s help to use the necessary measures in our Council, and, if it be necessary, to write to the Apostolic See; that, by a unanimous authoritative decision of all, we may have the course which ought to be followed in these cases determined and established.

St. Augustine seems to simply be pounding into the African bishoprics that if a council of bishops in Africa fails, it is necessary to write to the Apostolic See so that heretics and schismatics see that there is a unanimous and authoritative decision of all (does the Roman Church’s decision stand for all?).

Sermon 81 on the New Testament, unknown date, regarding Pelagianism
For already have two councils on this question [i.e. Pelagianism] been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The cause is finished; would that the error may sometime be brought to an end as well!

Here it seems that again the councils play a great role in determining a heretical or schismatic sect but it is the Apostolic See’s endorsement that really puts everything to an end, that the cause is finished. St. Augustine may be saying here that the eminence of the Apostolic See added to the unanimous votes of bishops truly makes any heretical sect feel sorry for being against such a formidable alliance.

This long, long document is intended as a beginning to affirming a view of papal authority in late Antiquity, and to show that St. Augustine truly believes in some form of papal primacy in the Catholic Church. The extent to which this primacy holds seems to be:

1.      The just and proper role of adjudicating disputes in foreign Sees when it is absolutely necessary for the health of those Sees
2.      Using its authority to help put an end to heretical or schismatic groups.
3.      Ensuring that heresies and schisms do not go on perpetuating themselves, but to take means to ending them in their own See and even in foreign Sees.

Perhaps I am being too Catholic, but I think the body of evidence shows that a very traditional and orthodox saint, like St. Augustine whom everybody in his world held as a saintly destroyer of heresies and faithful to tradition [though some became disquieted with some of his more difficult works] held to a view of a Roman primacy that is similar to the prerogatives that the Pope in the Catholic Church holds today. This large document though is only a cursory glance at the mountains of work that St. Augustine provides for us.

1 comment:

  1. One of the Councils that St. Augustine cites against the Donatists is the 314 AD Council of Arles.

    Here is what they wrote to Pope Sylvester (successor of St. Melchiades)

    "But since you were by no means able to leave that region [i.e. Rome] where the apostles daily sit, and their blood without ceasing bears witness to the glory of God, … it did not seem to us, most well-beloved brother, that we ought to deal exclusively with those matters on account of which we had been summoned, but we judged that we also should take counsel on our own affairs."

    Which may be an echo of Tertullian's statement:
    "But if you are near to Italy, you have Rome, whence also our authority derives. How happy is that Church, on which Apostles poured out their whole doctrine along with their blood, where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John’s [the Baptist], where the Apostle John, after being immersed in boiling oil and suffering no hurt, was exiled to an island.” (The Prescription Against Heretics, 36)