Months I ago I compiled and posted a list of Eastern Christian quotes from the first eight centuries of the Church's life all having to do with the authority of the Bishop of Rome, as the successor of St. Peter. I encourage you to have a look at this list. When I review it, I am continually surprised to hear just how, well, *papal* so many Eastern Fathers sound so long ago.
Of course, not everyone found my florilegium as edifying, and certainly not as compelling as I did in favor of Catholicism. One reader, a Calvinist, objected the quotes were, basically, nuanced products of a radically different rhetorical milieu, and thus cannot be so easily appropriated by us (especially not us Romanists!) at "face value." Another reader, an Orthodox, objected oh so wittily they were just "spoof-texts," absent any real heuristic or apologetical power unless we first understand the different theological grids through which the East and the West process such "raw" quotes. Stangely enough, though, he then threw a
It just so happens this same quote, from the Sentence of the Synod of the Second Council of Constantinople II (ConsII; A.D. 553), was thorwn at me last night (yes, in the *same* infalliblity discussion at Papal Ponty's). Here is the fabled quote (with appropriate anti-papal emphases):
“For although the grace of the Holy Spirit abounded in each one of the Apostles, so that no one of them needed the counsel of another in the execution of his work, yet they were not willing to define on the question then raised touching the circumcision of the Gentiles, until being gathered together they had confirmed their own several sayings by the testimony of the divine Scriptures. And thus they arrived unanimously at this sentence...”
I think this quote deserves more attention, for two reasons. First, because I've had this same quote sent my way, I think other Catholics can be edified by seeing how to address such a quote in complicated discussions like this. Second, insofar as all Tradition is my "birthright" as a Catholic, I feel I ought to have a go at seeing how it all fits together, sort of like understanding how human physiology and anatomy helps us take greater ownership and pride in our bodies. Indeed, as Hans Urs von Balthasar says (c/o of Papal Ponty),
A Catholic can turn and twist as much as he likes; he cannot go back before Vatican I, which was solemnly confirmed by Vatican II (Lumen Gentium 22). As always, the only path after definition is that of an integration into a larger, all-embracing whole. And this whole has been available for a long time: it is the indefectibility of the believing Church, of which the indefectibility of the Petrine office is only a particular aspect, theologically undergirding and confirming the reality of the unifying Holy Spirit. (The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (1986), pp. 125-126.)
It is my privilege as a Catholic to pursue this "larger, all-embracing whole."
[This quote came up again, from the same person, in July 2007, to which I replied here: Pope on a rope?.]
I hasten to affirm this quote is a great corrective to the illusion that Peter (and the Pope) stand alone like some infallible renegade. No, the Petrine chrism is first and foremost an *apostolic* chrism; there would be no Peter or pope without the grace given the Apostles in unified submission to the Lord.
Nevertheless, an important question is how Peter fit in among the apostles. Did the apostles need Peter’s OK to be apostolic? The simple answer is No. But the historical realities that militate against simply a simple “No” are twofold. First, James’s apostle-hood had its own parameters, just like Paul’s did, and so on for each of the Apostles. Each Apostle was an Apostle by virtue of the grace and authority given by Christ. For each apostle to be apostolic could go only so far – namely to his own jurisdiction. However, to be fully and functionally apostolic FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH required the unified efforts of the apostolic college. Peter letting James be James in his apostolic parameters is one thing; letting James be James in the parameters of the whole Church is quite something else.
Second, when we first see this unified action at work in the Gospels and the Acts, we see a remarkable thing: Peter’s undeniable prominence and leadership. The truth that balances and harmonizes with Peter’s primarily *apostolic* chrism is the apostolic college’s irrevocably and prominently *Petrine* chrism. This is not about Peter pulling rank on Paul or vice versa, but about *us* looking the phenomenology of the early Church square in the eye and following its contours faithfully.
It’s one thing to say each apostle needed Peter to be an apostle – that’s nonsense. It’s quite another, though, to acknowledge the ineluctable fact that the apostolic college as a matter of historical and revelatory fact DID, so to speak, fly in Petrine V-wing formation. My point is that we must deny the claim that the other apostles’ grace and authority derived FROM PETER, which is exactly what ConsII denies. What we as Christians, and what I as a Catholic, must not deny, however, is the pattern handed on to us in its concrete historical and “dramatic” fullness. The apostles did not have a Petrine “center of gravity” by intrinsic sacramental or absolute metaphysical necessity, and so we mustn’t think the Church today does either. The truth is simpler and less stunning: the apostolic college, and therefore the Church, has a Petrine center of gravity because *that is how* Christ, in the concrete Heilsgeschichte, as a matter of vital fact, guided his Church to be born and grow.
The sentence of ConsII after the “anti-papal” quote really just fleshes out the biblical basis for why the apostles took this path (ie., the ensuing quotes from Hebrew wisdom literature, etc.).
But also the Holy Fathers, who from time to time have met in the four holy councils, following the example of tile [sic] ancients, have by a common discussion, disposed of by a fixed decree the heresies and questions ... [so] that by common discussion when the matter in dispute was presented by each side, the light of truth expels the darkness of falsehood.
Nor is there any other way in which the truth can be made manifest when there are discussions concerning the faith, since each one needs the help of his neighbour, as we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: "A brother helping his brother shall be exalted like a walled city; and he shall be strong as a well-founded kingdom;" and again in Ecclesiastes he says: "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour."
So also the Lord himself says: "Verily I say unto you that if two of you shall agree upon earth as touching anything they shall seek for, they shall have it from my Father which is in heaven. For wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
In this sense, ConsII is rather unassumingly explaining the material devices Christ implanted in the early Church to guide it and its apostles towards unity, humility, dialogue etc. Indeed, the immediate goal of the quoted passage is that of a defense by the ConsII Fathers for the calling of another council. Principle 1: “Councils are good because the apostles were brothers in counsel.” Another application of the passage is, of course, a wider moral meditation on Christian fraternity, ie., Principle 2: “Unified counsel, like at the councils, is good because its apostolic.”
In either case, I simply fail to see how the Fathers’ defense of councils as apostolic facts and their moral meditation on apostolic fraternity detract from the Petrine center of gravity that was ALSO found in the apostolic life. In synthesis, the Catholic Church now agrees with, and always has agreed with, the first two principles – but hastens to add, in conformity with the received-pattern, the paradosis, Principle 3: “Having a Petrine center of gravity in fraternal counsel is good, just like at the councils, because to do so is apostolic.”
When facing all these “raw” quotes, we must respect a crucial distinction between considering “could” in the life of the Church (as pure abstract possibility) and “can”, “does” and “is” (as divinely revealed possibilities) in the life of the Church. Peter *could* have functioned without the other apostles; but Tradition teaches us that God simply deigned that not to *be* the case. The apostles *could* have functioned without Peter; but Tradition teaches us they *did not* in fact do so. The Church *could* have continued without (episcopal) apostolic successors; but Tradition teaches us that God simply deigned that not to *be* the case. Hence, while the Church *could* this very moment live without the Pope as the successor of Peter in union with the bishops as successors of the apostles, Tradition, the living, present, right-now Tradition of the Church, mediated by her Magisterium, simply shows us that *is* not, *cannot* and therefore will not be the case.
The question becomes even more interesting when we consider a couple passages from the next Council, Constantinople III (A.D. 680-681). The first passage is from a letter of Pope St. Agatho to the Emperor Constantine the Great, Heraclius and Tiberius (I've added the appropriate pro-papal emphases ;p ):
And therefore I beseech you [the Emperor Constantine the Great, and to Heraclius and Tiberius – EBB] with a contrite heart and rivers of tears, with prostrated mind, deign to stretch forth your most clement right hand to the Apostolic doctrine which the co-worker of your pious labours, the blessed apostle Peter [Agatho –EBB], has delivered, that it be not hidden under a bushel, but that it be preached in the whole earth more shrilly than a bugle: because [of] the true confession [of Christ's identity and anture] Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all things ... for he received from the Redeemer of all himself, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church; under whose protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error, whose authority, as that of the Prince of all the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced, and followed in all things; and all the venerable Fathers have embraced its Apostolic doctrine, through which they as the most approved luminaries of the Church of Christ have shone; and the holy orthodox doctors have venerated and followed it, while the heretics have pursued it with false criminations and with derogatory hatred. This is the living tradition of the Apostles of Christ, which his Church holds everywhere.
For this is the rule of the true faith, which this spiritual mother of your most tranquil empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, has both in prosperity and in adversity always held and defended with energy; which, it will be proved, by the grace of Almighty God, has never erred from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Saviour himself, which he uttered in the holy Gospels to the prince of his disciples: saying, "Peter, Peter, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that (thy) faith fail not. And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
[I]t is the Lord and Saviour of all that promised that Peter's faith should not fail and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, how it is known to all that the Apostolic pontiffs, the predecessors of my littleness, have always confidently done this very thing: of whom also our littleness, since I have received this ministry by divine designation, wishes to be the follower, although unequal to them and the least of all.
Therefore the Holy Church of God, the mother of your most Christian power, should be delivered and liberated with all your might (through the help of God) from the errors of such teachers, and the evangelical and apostolic uprightness of the orthodox faith, which has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error.
Now have a look at an excerpt from the Council Fathers' letter in reply to Agatho (op. cit.):
Serious illnesses call for greater helps, as you know, most blessed [father]; and therefore Christ our true God gave a wise physician, namely your God-honoured sanctity, to drive away by force the contagion of heretical pestilence by the remedies of orthodoxy, and to give the strength of health to the members of the church. Therefore to thee, as to the bishop of the first see of the Universal Church, we leave what must be done, since you willingly take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith, as we know from having read your true confession in the letter sent by your fatherly beatitude to the most pious emperor: and we acknowledge that this letter was divinely written (perscriptas) as by the Chief of the Apostles, and through it we have cast out the heretical sect of many errors which had recently sprung up. 
The significant thing is that this letter is totally wrapped up with Agatho and Con II’s anathematization of Honorius for affirming the Monothelites in his two letters. This suggests Agatho (and others) had a good sense of the difference between the Bishop of Rome’s princely infallibility *as a divine office* and a particular pope’s sins or heresies in that office under non-ex-cathedra conditions. As Steve O'Reilly says,
...Honorius wrote that "on account of the simplicity of man and to avoid controversies, we must, as I have already said, define neither one nor two operations in the mediator between God and man" (Scripta dilectissimi filii quoted by William Shaw Kerr in A Handbook on the Papacy 196; emphasis added).
These words make it clear Honorius did not address the nascent heresy as the "teacher of all Christians" defining what ought to be believed. On the contrary, the pope declines to "define" anything and merely follows Sergius’s suggestion in saying neither expression should be spoken of. ...
Honorius urged a rule of silence, not a rule of faith. His letters, which anathematized nothing, were intended for a few Eastern bishops and were unknown in the West until after his death. They were hardly the sort of documents with which a pope communicates his intent to bind the whole Church to a solemn dogmatic definition. ...
The truth is, although monothelites such as Pyrrhus, Patriarch of Constantinople, did cite Honorius after his death, the Pope had orthodox defenders who insisted upon his orthodoxy and rejected the attempts of heretics to misuse his words. Maximus the Confessor, who was martyred by the monothelites, wrote that heretics "lie against the Apostolic See itself in claiming Honorius to be one with their cause" (Ad Petrum illustrem, quoted in the online Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent). Pope John IV (640–642) defended Honorius, saying he meant only to deny "contrary wills of mind and flesh" (Apologia pro Honorio Papa, quoted by Joseph Costanzo, S.J., in The Historical Credibility of Hans Küng, 105). ...
Though Agatho asserted the orthodoxy of all his predecessors and the infallibility of the apostolic see, he left open the possibility that a pope is nonetheless liable to judgment should he "neglect to preach the truth" to the faithful. Agatho thereby provided the tacit basis for the condemnation of Honorius on these grounds: that by neglecting to preach the truth, Honorius left the Lord’s flock exposed to ravaging wolves....
When confirming the council, Pope Leo II (682–683) faulted Honorius because he "did not endeavor to preserve" the faith and for having "permitted" it to be assaulted, but not for having either invented, taught, or adhered to the heretical doctrine (Paul Bottalla, S.J., Pope Honorius Before the Tribunal of Reason and History, 111–112). Elsewhere, Leo blames "Honorius, who did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence" (Leonis II ad Episcopos Hispanie in the Catholic Encyclopedia, volume VII, 455; emphasis added). In sum, Honorius failed to teach.
Remember: Impeccability is not infallibility. Honorius was a heretical pope precisely because he failed to “live up to” the role of Peter by infallibly denouncing the heresy. Rather, because he remained diffident (in a non-extraordinarily infallible) way, he merited the Council's anathematization.
 To head my Orthodox critic off at the pass: Why such material in my hands is spoof-texting while a (singular) similar proof-text (against papal supremacy, of course) is a defense in his hands, I’ll never know. Apologetical transubstantiaton!