The African schism was a wearing and harassing trouble to a part of the Western Church. But it could not be compared, in point of pernicious effect to the great heresy which some years later broke forth at Alexandria, denying the eternity and the uncreatedness, and therein the true Divinity, of the Son of God. Consider the situation. Here is a controversy which menaces the very life of Christian religion; which affects not merely, like Donatism, the conditions and limitations of the Church's purity, the validity or nullity of ordinances administered by "unworthy" hands, but the core and basis of Christian belief and practice - the worship of Christ and the idea of God. Consider, next the Papal assertion that from the beginning, and therefore in the fourth century, the Roman bishop has had a teaching gift which involves such "assistance" from above as to make him, when speaking officially, an "infallible" guide in matters of faith. Could there ever be a dignior nodus for his intervention, a more


imperious call for the fulfilment of so unparalleled a trust? Why did not Sylvester speak ex cathedra against Arianism, and promulgate from the fouutain-head of orthodox teaching a decision which for all obedient Christians would have been an end of all strife? He did not; and nobody asked him to do so. Nobody, as far as we know, throughout the Church, even thought of applying for a decisive utterance from Rome. A new departure had to be taken, a great experiment had to be made; the first Oecumenical Council had to be assembled, to hear evidence, to debate, and to formulate a creed. Why - on the Papal hypothesis - was all this trouble taken, and all this anxiety endured? The Roman writer so often already referred to appears not unconscious of the naturalness of the question, [1] and propounds three substitutes, as we must call them, for an answer.

(I) The doctrine of infallibility, it is observed, does not imply that "the Pope" was always "able to close the question" when dealing "with such people as the Arians;" as our Lord Himself did not convince the Jews at Capernaum or in the Temple, "His vicar might be equally unable to silence heretics. If this is to excuse


Sylvester's inaction, it reflects on the Nicene Council for putting forth a formulary that could not compass its object. But the argument is a paltry quibble; to "close a question" by winning-over opponents is one thing, to "close" it by stating the truth for the guidance and comfort of good Christians is another. We are not asking why - on the above hypothesis - the Roman bishop Sylvester did not succeed in doing the one, but why he did not attempt to do the other. The point is, If Christians then believed about Sylvester what Roman doctrine affirms to have been part of Christian belief from the first as to Roman bishops, - and if he, too, believed himself to possess an infallible magisterium when speaking under certain conditions, - why was he not appealed to, or why did he not, ex mero motu, speak?

(2) Again, it is pretended that Rome had already done her part when "Pope St. Dionysius set his seal to the use of the term Homoousion" as a safeguard of faith, without imposing it on all Christians, and had thus in effect "closed the question." But was the approval of the term by a Roman Council some sixty years earlier sufficient for the exigencies of A.D. 319-325? Could it justify the "Pope" of that later day in not


republishing the term, or some other equivalent, in presence of a far greater peril to Christianity? But in fact, whatever Dionysius may have said had no general effect on the Church, for it was at any rate widely believed that the term was actually withdrawn (some eight years later), under pressure of heretical objections, by the great Council of Antioch in 269, [2] and it is certain that at Nicaea it was only adopted as a last expedient against Arian evasions. Nor did Alexander of Alexandria, in his encyclicals put forth amid the stress and storm of a painful conflict while Sylvester was sitting quietly in the Lateran, even once refer to Dionysius of Rome and his pronouncement as authoritative in support of the orthodox Christology.

(3) Lastly we are reminded that Sylvester may have acted, but his utterances may have perished, for only one Papal letter of the period has been preserved; and that, at any rate, the Sixth Oecumenical Council ascribes "the idea of the Council not to the Emperor, but to the Pope himself" and "it is in the highest degree


probable" that Sylvester and Alexander had planned the Council between them; that "the way in which St. Sylvester elected to govern the Church was by" such a Council; that thus the Pope then exhibited his Roman "genius for government" while "the Emperor hailed" the proposal of a Council as fulfilling "his own desire for" Church unity; and that, though "not needed for the purpose of" a final definition, because "the decision of the Pope was already formed," it was "conducive to the ends which the Holy Father had in view."

If history may thus be developed, by the aid of maybe's, out of a writer's own consciousness, his work is easy indeed. But perhaps it is not quite worth doing. The suggestion that the Catholics of the period, being, by hypothesis, devout believers in Papal infallibility, could have suffered a Papal judgment against Arianism to perish as a document and be forgotten as a fact, is, to say the least, injudicious; and to refer to the Sixth Council - held 355 years later - for such a statement as the one quoted above, when the passage in question ascribes the assembling of the Nicene Council to "Constantine and Sylvester," [3] is to


deal somewhat unscrupulously with authorities invoked. Naturally Constantine would consult some bishops; the point is, that there is no real warrant for ascribing to the bishop of Rome a specially potential voice in the matter.

The Council met; and who presided over it? Apparently Hosius, bishop of Cordova, the Emperor's venerated adviser, the "father" of Western bishops. But did he preside by commission from Rome? Not according to any trustworthy records. He signs first, then two presbyters; but it is to them, not to him, that the delegation from Sylvester is attributed [4] so that he, a Spanish prelate, takes precedence of presbyters who represent the Roman see. As for the authority of Gelasius of Cyzicus, [5] adduced in favour of his legatine presidency,


a parallelism between his account and that of Eusebius will exhibit his boldness in falsification. [6] He interpolates into the Eusebian text the legateship of Hosius, adding also, in order to give a colour of fact, the names of the "wide-famed Spaniard" and of the two Roman presbyters; and what Eusebius says of Rome and of Sylvester is transferred to Byzantium and Metrophanes! Well may the nobly honest Tillemont - objectionable, as a mere Gallican, and not a "Catholic divine," to modern Papalists [7] - remark that "one cannot read the text of Eusebius as Gelasius represents it without a corruption and a renversement manifeste of its sense." [8]


That Sylvester was himself orthodox, and that his deputies at Nicaea [9] represented his mind in that respect, may be assumed without hesitation. But Rome (strange to say, on the Vatican hypothesis) was not famous for theological study; and Vincent and Vito were hardly likely to take an active part in the discussions in which Athanasius, as yet only


an Alexandrian deacon, shone supreme. But we are reminded of a Council's assertion that the Nicene fathers" referred the confirmation of all things, and the authority, to the holy Roman Church." When and where was this Council held? At Rome itself, just one hundred and sixty years later, and when Felix of Rome was in the full career of his strife with Acacius of Constantinople! [10] It is obvious to remark that we "like not the security; we think we do know the sweet Roman hand."

There is a considerable significance in the fifth of the Nicene canons: it provided for a right of appeal to provincial synods. Now, either the see of Rome was then regarded as jure divino a supreme court of appeal for the whole Church, or it was not. If it was, then we may ask, with Collier, [11] how the Nicene fathers came to ignore a jurisdiction so august in its origin and sanction. If it was not the Vatican decree is fundamentally wrong in its history, whereas it professes to be right; and


its dogma is closely connected with that profession. But there is one express reference in the Nicene canons to "the Roman bishop" as such. The first sentence of the sixth canon, in its Greek text runs literally thus: "Let the ancient usages which exist in Egypt, and Libya, and Pentapolis, remain in force, to the effect that the bishop of Alexandria should have authority over all these (districts), since this is customary also for the bishop who is in Rome; and similarly, both as to Antioch and in the other provinces, let the Churches have their privileges secured to them." Thus the purview of the opening clause is limited to the Alexandrian "patriarchate," if we may for convenience antedate the use of that term. This reading is confirmed not only by the Dionysian and Isidorian Latin versions, but by two others of much earlier date. One, which may be referred to the fourth century, though it is known simply as the "Vetus," reads: "Antiqua per Aegyptum ac Libyam atque Pentapolim" [or, "per Aegyptum atque Pentapolim] consuetudo servetur ut Alexandrinus episcopus horum habeat potestatem" [or, "sollicitudinem"], quoniam et urbis Romae episcopo similis mos est." In all three we have a marked accordance


with the Greek, the substitution of singular for plural being unimportant; while a third, which Mansi gives as sent from Constantinople to Carthage in 419, agrees literally with the Greek, as does the Coptic. These versions are thus decisive against the reading produced on Rome's behalf at the Council of Chalcedon, "Quod ecclesia Romana semper habuit primatum: teneat autem et Aegyptus, etc.;" [12] and against another Roman version, or rather paraphrase, which bears the name of the "Prisca," and reads, "Antiqui moris est ut urbis Romae episcopus habeat principatum," and which goes on to describe this "principatus," - "ut suburbicaria loca et omnem provinciam suam sollicitudine gubernet," adding that "the bishop of Alexandria is to have


the care of all things in Egypt." Nor does Rufinus' free version commend itself as a true representative of the original: "Et ut apud Alexandriam, et in urbe Roma, vetusta consuetudo servetur, ut vel ille Aegypti, vel hic suburbicariarum ecclesiarum sollicitudinem gerat." [13] In two of these Latin renderings we see at once that there is an attempt made to transfer the mention of the Roman bishop's authority from an illustrative parallel to a primary assertion; whereas in the Greek, the Roman case is brought in as pro tanto similar to the Alexandrian; one "custom" is cited to back up another. And what was the custom to be backed up? That the bishop of Alexandria should in effect be sole metropolitan, not only for the single province of Egypt but also for the other regions of Libya and Pentapolis; [14] and this ample extent of his jurisdiction was confirmed by the Council. But by way of meeting an objection on the


part of those who were accustomed to see one metropolitan in each province, it is added that the case of the bishop of Rome is similar. The canon does not explain "how;" but it was evidently understood at Nicaea that the Roman was the only metropolitical see for the provinces of central and southern Italy, with the three great islands, which were civilly under the "vicarius urbis." The "suburbicarian Churches," or "places," are now identified with the much smaller district of a hundred miles around Rome, which was under the "praefectus urbis." [15]

To pretend that in Nicene times the Roman see was, in fact though not in name, patriarchal in regard to the whole West, is to go beyond historical warrant and to ignore the subsequent enactments obtained by Rome from docile Western Emperors, as we shall see further on.

But to return to the clause adducing the custom" in regard to the Roman bishop as parallel to that which affected Alexandria. Is it legitimate to treat it as implying that Rome was "the true norm" of Church government everywhere? [16] Assuredly not; to do


so is to thrust on the words a sense which no natural construction would find in them. Still more hopeless is the attempt to infer that Alexandria's jurisdiction over all Egypt, in the extended sense, had been itself a grant from Rome, [17] that "the Papal legates may have given the information that the bishops of Rome had long ago originated, or arranged, or consented to, this jurisdiction of Alexandria." [18]


But, lastly, the utter silence of this canon as to any specifically Papal prerogatives [19] inhering in the Roman see can hardly be explained by saying that here its quasi-patriarchal rights alone were in question, and its Papal character might therefore, for the time, be left out of consideration. The rejoinder is obvious; the language of the canon is exactly what would be natural on the part of a Council which knew nothing of Papal claims, which simply regarded one chief see as in an analogous condition to another. It is not what would be natural on the part of any assembly of Christian bishops who believed that Christ had given to the Roman see a plenitude of jurisdiction which differed, not only in degree but in kind, from that of any other see whatsoever. Men who so believed would have taken care to safeguard in very express terms that unique prerogative of "the bishop who is in Rome," which made him, by Divine commission, so very much more than a primate or patriarch, - which set him apart as, in an awfully full


and absolute sense, the representative of the Church's Heavenly Lord.


[1] Rivington, p. 154 ff. So Reply to Ch. Quart. Rev. p. 14. ff.

[2] S. Athan. de Synod. 43-45. Mr. Rivington thinks that although Athanasius "seems to allow this," he was misinformed, and observes that he says he had not a copy of the synodal letter. Anyhow he expected that this letter would explain the proceedings in question (ib. 47). Hefele believes the statement.

[3] Mansi, Concil. xi. 661. In his Reply, p. 58, Mr. Rivington perforce admits this, which in his volume he had in effect denied (p. i58).

[4] A Coptic document, given by Pitra in Spicil. Solesm. I. 553 ff., says, "These are the names of the bishops who signed; from Spain, Osius of the city of Corduba, - 'I believe thus as is above written;' Vito and Innocentius" (Vincentius) "presbyters, 'We sign for our bishop, who is the bishop of Rome: he believes thus as is above written.'" For somewhat fuller forms of this statement, see Mansi, Conc. ii. 691, 697. The "Vetus Interpretatio" and the "Prisca Editio also make "Osius" sign before the "presbyteri urbis Romae."

[5] For him and his untrustworthiness, see Dict. Chr. Biogr. ii. 620. He lived in the latter part of the fifth century.




And of the Spaniards themselves the one widely famed was seated with the great body (of bishops).

And of the Spaniards he, the widely famed Hosius, holding also the place of Sylvester bishop of the great Rome, with Vito and Vincent, presbyters of Rome, were seated together with the great body.

But of the imperial city the prelate was absent through old age; but presbyters of his were present, and supplied his place.

And of the now imperial city, the prelate, named Metrophanes, was absent through old age; but presbyters of his were present, and supplied his place.

[7] Rivington, p. 235.

[8] Tillemont, iii. 808. Mr. Rivington pleads (p. 164) that Gelasius "professes to be copying from older lists." What would be their value against the authority of Eusebius, a member of the council? Le Quien uses no "holiday terms" about this passage: "Quae a Gelasio, vel ab altero nugatore, conficta esse nemo sanus inficiabitur" (Or. Christ. i. 207).

[9] They are referred to by a Roman council in a letter to the Illyrians (Hefele would date it in 369) in which, after "the 318 bishops," we read, "atque ex parte sanctissimi episcopi urbis Romae directi" (cf. Theodoret, H.E. ii. 22, ed. Gaisford). It was natural enough that a Roman council should thus mention the presence of Roman deputies at Nicaea. But we cannot accept such a phrase, in default of other evidence, as a proof that they exercised a preponderative influence. In the theological debates they would not be likely to feel at home. But now as to directi, which (vid. supr.) means "sent." Mr. Rivington had twice, in a professed translation, rendered the words "the 318 bishops directed from the city ef the most holy bishop of Rome" (pp. 164, 210), and previously had spoken of "the bishops directed from Rome" (p. 160). The mistranslation was duly pointed out; whereupon, at the end of his "Reply," Mr. Rivington said that "united with those" should be inserted before "directed from" in p. 164, and that "and those" should be similarly inserted in p. 210. Thus the directi would be, not (as he had represented it) the 318, but only the Roman legates. But the false rendering was kept. However, in the corrigenda, it is abandoned as to pp. 160, 164, 210, "and the legates," or "sent," being substituted. In p. 147, as we have seen, the correction is imperfect.

[10] Mansi, vii. 1140. The letter is there given as belonging to 484: but Hefele gives reasons for dating it in 485. The bishops must have simply accepted, without any attempt at verifying, the statement which Felix made, probably in good faith, on the warrant of traditional Roman assertion.

[11] Eccles. Hist. Brit. i.75

[12] It is fair to observe that the version did not claim for the Roman church a "primatus" over all other churches. For a "primatus" is to be secured to the church of Egypt (i.e. of Alexandria), and further on we read, "Similiter autem et qui in Antiochia constitutus est; et in caeteris provinciis, primatus habeant ecclesiae civitatum ampliorum," so that this Roman translator meant by "primatus," in all three cases, a patriarchal or exarchal jurisdiction. Or, if he meant more by "primatus" in the first case, - if he altered the first words of the original in order to magnify his own church above all others, - he forgot to adopt a different term for the position ascribed to the Alexandrian, Antiochene, and other churches of "the large cities;" he did not, in short, remember that, unless he altered more, he could not make Rome's "primacy" big enough.

[13] The gloss about "suburbicarian places" found its way into the "Vetus." See "Additional Note" at the end.

[14] Evidence for the existence of other metropolitans within this patriarchate in the time, e.g. of Synesius (see Hefele), is irrelevant, for the hierarchical arrangements of the Nicene period might naturally have been developed and made more complex, after the episcopate of St. Athanasius had raised the prestige, and consolidated the authority, of the great "evangelical throne."

[15] See Hefele, Councils, i. 398, E.T., on this sense of "suburbicarian." Cf. Bingham, ix. 1.9.

[16] Rivington, p. 168. In a note, we are told that this "is the interpretation given by Nicolas I. in his letter to the emperor Michael." Mr. Rivington seems unaware that there are five such letters. The passage intended is in the fourth: "Si instituta Nicaenae synodi diligenter inspiciantur, invenietur profecto quia Romanae ecclesiae nullum eadem synodus contulit incrementum, sed potius ex ejus forma, quod Alexandrinae ecclesiae tribueret particulariter, sumpsit exemplum" (Mansi, Conc. xv. 206). And what if Nicolas I. did say so? It cost him no trouble to affirm after this fashion. In the same letter he dogmatically interprets "primatem dioeceseos," in the Latin version of Chalc. can. 9, of the pope, as "vicar of the first apostle"! (ib. 201). We know, too, that having ignored the "false decretals" in 863, he argued disingenuously for them in 864.

[17] Mr. Rivington (p. 169) prefers this explanation. "Taking the words simply as they stand, the canon may be said to assert that the subjection of the Egyptian bishops to Alexandria was customary with the bishop of Rome. That is to say, the jurisdiction of Alexandria over these bishops had been the arrangement with respect to them recognised and acted upon by the bishop of Rome himself, and that consequently things must remain as they were." The little word kai between epeidh and tw en th Rwmh episkopw is ignored in this ingenious videlicet. Thus far we get only the idea of "recognition by," or "cognisance of" Rome. Then, when the ground has been thus far prepared, Mr. Rivington leads us a step forward; the word "originated" glides into the paragraph, and the page-heading boldly affirms that "the sixth canon bases its judgment on papal authority"!

[18] The notion that such information given by "legates" would have decided such a point, or that, if decided, it would not have been put into plain terms, may be left to refute itself.

[19] Hefele condescends to use an ambiguous term here, contending that the canon contains nothing contrary to "the primacy of the holy see." How much does "primacy" cover?