Responding to an Eastern Orthodox Christian who challenged me about the Papacy on Catholic Answers Live

by Steve Ray on March 4, 2019

When I was last on Catholic Answers Live last week Constantine Regas called in to defend the Eastern Orthodox position against the Catholic Church’s teaching on Peter and the Primacy of Rome. Constantine’s words are in BLUE and my responses are in BLACK. I appreciated Constantine’s irenic tone and honest demeanor. 

CONSTANTINE REGAS (CR): I called the “Catholic Answers Live” show last Monday to clarify the Orthodox position on authority in the Church.

STEVE RAY (SR): I remember Constantine. And the studio cut us off before we got very far in our conversation.

CR: My exact question was that, if Christ gave St Peter the Keys to the Kingdom, why isn’t the current Bishop of Antioch the head of the universal Church since St Peter was the founding bishop of that city several years before he became the bishop of Rome? Part of your response was that he was also the first bishop of Jerusalem. The Apostle James was Jerusalem’s first bishop.

SR: Jesus promised him the keys to Peter in Matthew 16:19. The Royal Steward steps up to his position of authority when appointed, especially to fill in for the King in his absence. Once Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit fell Peter picked up those keys and exercised his authority on the day of Pentecost. From that point on we hear no words of the other Eleven. Except for Paul, none of the others have any recorded words in Acts. Peter is the Bishop, the Pope and the visible Head of the Church from that point.

In his massive history of the Church, Warren Carroll gives a very cogent outline of Peter’s movements. You can read this list here as I provided in my book Upon this Rock.

30 AD Death and Resurrection of Jesus
30-37 Peter head of the Church in Jerusalem
38-39 Peter’s Missionary journeys along Mediterranean Coast and Samaria
40-41 Peter in Antioch
42 Imprisonment in Jerusalem and departure to “another place.’
42-49 First sojourn to Rome
49 Expulsion from Rome by edict of Claudius
49-50 In Jerusalem for the Apostolic Council (Acts 15)
50–54 In Antioch, Bithynia, Pontus, Asia, and Cappadocia (or some of them)
54–57 Second sojourn in Rome; Gospel of Mark written under Peter’s direction
57–62 In Bithynia, Pontus, and Cappadocia (or some of them); Mark in Alexandria, Egypt
62–67 Third sojourn in Rome; canonical Epistles of Peter; Mark with Peter in Rome
67 Martyrdom in Rome and burial near the Necropolis at the Vatican

You say that the Apostle James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. If you referring to James the son of Zebedee, you are incorrect because he was killed by the sword about 42 AD as recorded in Acts 12:2. The James that became bishop of Jerusalem was James “the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19). He was referred to as James the Righteous. He became bishop of Jerusalem after Peter’s departure for Antioch around 40-41.

Doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom (an Eastern bishop) says, “‘And having spoken thus,’ the Evangelist declared, ‘he said, “Follow me.” ’ In these words He was once again referring indirectly to His solicitude for Peter and to the fact that He was on terms of intimate friendship with him. And, if someone should say: ‘How is it, then, that it was James who received the bishop’s chair in Jerusalem?’ I would make this reply: that Christ appointed this man [Peter], not merely to a chair, but as teacher of the world.” (John Chrysostom, Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist: Homilies 48–88, trans. Thomas Aquinas Goggin, vol. 41, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1959), 473.)

Peter was the leader of Jerusalem for 10 years before going to Antioch for 2 years then ending up as the leader of the Church in Rome about 42 AD.

CR: The point I was making is that primacy of honor (not authority which rests with Christ alone) was given to the bishop of Rome because it was capital of the empire.

SR: Unfortunately, you are incorrect again. Never was the phrase “primacy of honor” used until after the Eastern churches broke away from Rome, took a new name (Orthodox) and used this phrase as a justification for rejecting the honorary and jurisdictional authority of Rome. One only needs to read history to find the Eastern churches in heresy for much of their existence and always depending on Rome to establish the truth of the faith and to appoint orthodox bishops in Eastern churches.

Rome was established as the See of Peter because Peter chose it to be. Jerusalem had become a backwater city after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and the 10th Legion. Yes, Rome was the capital of the Empire and the hub of the wheel (“all roads lead to Rome”). Peter and Paul established the Church of Rome by their blood and it was by their appointment, the See of Peter and the Head of the Church.

Of course, Jesus is the head of the Church. But he left his royal steward with the keys of the kingdom as a visible head of the Church and a source of unity. There is no contradiction here.

CR: The second canon of the Second Ecumenical Council A.D. 381 explains this clearly. After the capital was moved to Constantinople, primacy of honor became shared. Feel free to investigate.

SR: I see you do not provide the quote from the source you cite. It is easy to say a council said this or that, but proving it is quite another thing. And claiming the primacy was “shared” is an eastern idea and refuted by the facts of the first 1000 years of the Church. This I have made abundantly clear in my book Upon this Rock.

Yet in that very Council, in the beginning of the very next Cano  it contradicts tour claim. Here is the except from that Canon of that Council:

Canon III
The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.
Ancient Epitome of Canon III: The bishop of Constantinople is to be honoured next after the bishop of Rome.

CR: I also noticed that the above comment (among others) was edited out of yesterday’s rebroadcast.

SR: I am not aware of that, nor is that under my care. The sound techs at Catholic Answers Live handle what is posted in the podcast.

CR: One last point if I may: All the Eastern bishops can trace their authority back to one of the Apostles. The Vatican recognizes this and therefore acknowledges the validity of the Orthodox priesthood and sacraments.

SR: We have no argument here. That is why we consider the eastern churches to be legitimate churches. We don’t consider Protestants to be churches since they have lost the apostolic succession, which the Eastern Orthodox churches have maintained. However, that has nothing to do with the fact that Rome has the primacy both in honor and in jurisdiction. The Eastern churches are in schism and we all hope that one day there will again be unity.

St. Pope John Paul II said it best when he stated his desire that the Western and Eastern lungs be breathing together again in one united Body of Christ.

If you are interested in my thorough study on all of these matters, in which I interact a great deal with Orthodox theologians, I suggest you get my book referenced below.

I appreciate your irenic tone and honest discussion. God bless you my brother in Christ!

(Stephen K. Ray, Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, Modern Apologetics Library (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 67.)

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Govern March 4, 2019 at 10:24 PM

Wow! I just cannot help and admire the thought and research that goes into understanding THE faith enough to conduct this type of discussion. Steve, God has given you special graces and talents and I for one am grateful to see it in action. God bless you and Janet for your ministry.

John Flaherty March 5, 2019 at 11:30 AM

In your debate with Constantine, Constantine wrote: "The second canon of the Second Ecumenical Council A.D. 381 explains this clearly. After the capital was moved to Constantinople, primacy of honor became shared. Feel free to investigate."

Yet in that very Council, in the beginning of the very next Cannon it contradicts that statement. Here is the except from that Canon of that Council:

Canon III
The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.
Ancient Epitome of Canon III: The bishop of Constantinople is to be honoured next after the bishop of Rome.

STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks!

Jacob March 10, 2019 at 1:30 AM

In this context, it is noteworthy that Solovyov the Russian writer of Orthodox tradition subscribed wholeheartedly to the juridical supremacy of the Roman See. His book, Russia and the Universal Church, was a robust historical and theological defense of this doctrine which he published in France in 1889 to avoid Russian censorship. Placed at the end of the introduction to this book was a declaration of faith which made it clear that his hope for Church unity rested in the formal and practical acknowledgement of the Petrine Office:
As a member of the true and venerable Eastern or Greco-Russian Orthodox Church, which does not speak through an uncanonical Synod or officials of the secular Government, but through the voice of its great Fathers and Teachers, I acknowledge as the supreme judge in matters of religion him who has been recognized as such by St. Irenaeus, St. Dionysius the Great, St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril, St. Flavian, the blessed Theodoret, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Ignatius and others—namely, the Apostle Peter living in his successors to whom not in vain Our Lord said; “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church. Strengthen thy brethren. Feed my sheep, feed my lambs.”

STEVE RAY HERE: BRAVO JACOB!! THANKS!

Steve Ray March 10, 2019 at 8:40 AM

And let me add to that from my book Upon this Rock:

“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ He says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven.’ And again He says to him after His resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.’ On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity.65 Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter,66 whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair.67 So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?”68

Stephen K. Ray, Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, Modern Apologetics Library (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 180–182.

Brian D Kelly March 11, 2019 at 3:52 PM

Just a note. I applaud your defense of the papacy. And the quote from the Council of Constantinople is right on the issue. However, this canon on second Rome was not a definition of any doctrine but merely discipline. In any event it shows that in 381 the east and west were one under the bishop of Rome. I do find this canon III unfortunate in that there was no Constantinople in the days of the apostles. It’s privilege was imperial after its founding. Unlike Antioch, Jerusalem, and even Alexandria where Peter also had his chair shortly. Jerusalem, however, was given to James the Less who was much respected by the Jews until he refused to renounce Christ from the pinnacle of the temple and was thereupon thrown to his death. If you don’t mind though I need to point out an error at the start of your email wherein you state that no apostle from the eleven spoke in Acts. Of course this was an oversight because James spoke at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

Steve Ray March 12, 2019 at 2:25 PM

James was not an apostle but the brother of the Lord.

Brian D Kelly March 13, 2019 at 2:48 PM

STEVE RAY HERE

But from my research I have concluded differently. James the brother of the Lord is not one of the original apostles. Sorry, but I have done some good research on this and I think I am correct.

But Saint Paul in Galatians 1:19 identifies the Apostle James as the brother of the Lord. And, from the Catholic Encyclopedia T"here is, at any rate, very good ground (Galatians 1:19, 2:9, 2:12) for believing that the Apostle James, the son of Alpheus is the same person as James, the brother of the Lord, the well-known Bishop of Jerusalem of the Acts." And, same source: "The identity of the Apostle James (2), the son of Alpheus and James (3), the brother of the Lord and Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 15, 21), although contested by many critics and, perhaps, not quite beyond doubt, is at least most highly probable, and by far the greater number of Catholic interpreters is considered as certain."

Brian D Kelly March 15, 2019 at 1:05 PM

Thanks Mr. Ray. Great article all the same.

Chris March 19, 2019 at 2:33 PM

Great back and forth. I really pray that the Eastern Orthodox Church will one day rejoin, but I fear that while Russia maintains its power (and thus power over the Russian Orthodox Church), reconciliation will not happen. For example, the Russian government (and again the Russian Orthodox Church) recently rebuked the decision to grant Ukraine as autocephalous (Orthodox Church in Ukraine). Ukraine has always been politically and religiously under Russia's sphere of influence, and Russia has successfully thwarted every nation under its perceived influence that has attempted to assert themselves (think the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine and subsequent Russian invasions). Religion is no exception here. Whereas the Roman Catholic Church is unified across the globe, the confederation of Eastern Orthodox national patriarchs has no central leader accept the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, which really is more of an honorific position at most. Because there's no Eastern Orthodox "Vatican," so to speak, as a political and spiritual authority, the Orthodox Church cannot really be above politics in their nations because there is no one central figure like the Pope to remind them that God is above politics (and above all nations and kingdoms actually). Essentially, if the Patriarch in Russia wants to remain in his position, he will not dare go against the Russian government. This is a serious stumbling block to ecumenical progress for the Catholic Church… other than theological and ideological schism. Oh what a tangled web…

STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks so much. Well said!

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