We must now go back a few years, to notice the first of a series of what may be called State acts which have contributed materially to the growth of the Roman bishop's power. Damasus had been repeatedly harassed by accusations proceeding from the partisans of Ursinus, the disappointed candidate in that election to the see which was disgraced by faction-fights resulting in wholesale slaughter; and there was also trouble caused by Donatist and Luciferian schismatics. A Roman Council in 378 addressed a letter to Gratian [1] (and as a matter of form to Valentinian II., as his colleague), referring to a


former imperial decree, [2] and asking that it might be carried out. What does this request amount to? If a deposed bishop [3] is contumacious, the Council desires that he may be sent to Rome by the praetorian prefect of Italy or the vice-prefect (vicarius) of Rome; or, if the case arose "in remoter parts," let it go before the metropolitan; or, if the metropolitan himself is the offender, let him be sent to Rome, or be tried before judges named by Damasus: let an accused bishop, who suspects his metropolitan, or any other bishop, of partiality, appeal (provocare) to the Roman bishop, or to a Council of at least fifteen neighbour bishops; and if Damasus himself is again accused - seeing that "though equal to his brethren in office (munere) he excels them praerogativa apostolicae sedis," - let him be exempt from ordinary civil jurisdiction and allowed to plead before the emperor himself Gratian, in his reply, concedes


the request, [4] but enlarges its scope. For whereas the Council had been thinking, first of cases in Italy, as at Parma, Puteoli, etc., and next of cases in "remoter parts" of the praetorian prefecture of Italy, which included the Italic, Illyrian, [5] and (Western) African "dioceses" (or groups of provinces), Gratian speaks of the praetorian prefects of Gaul and Italy, and the "proconsuls" and "'vicarii," thus associating with the officials referred to by the council the head of the vast Gallic prefecture, with his three "vicarii" and the subordinate provincial governors, and also the proconsul of Africa (in its narrower sense, as one of the six provinces of the African "diocese"), who was immediately under the emperor. Gratian adopts the Council's phrase "remoter parts;" but as used by him, it must mean the remoter parts of that much wider region which he contemplates in his rescript and which is in fact the whole Western empire. For as it is impossible that Gratian should use


the phrase for districts outside the region which he had just described by mentioning its highest civil officials, we must interpret it analogously in the Council's memorial, which had referred, in similar style, to a smaller area. Here, then, as Fr. Puller has said, "by one stroke of his pen the Emperor Gratian created, so far as the civil power could create, a patriarchal jurisdiction over the whole Western empire, and vested it in the bishop of Rome." The act was in some respects parallel to a later edict which, under the prompting of Leo the Great, was issued by Valentinian III. [6] But it was not tainted by overbold generalisations.

But Gratian's act in dividing Illyricum, and


attaching the Eastern part to the dominions of Theodosius, must have given no small dissatisfaction to Damasus: and he "is said" to have managed to neutralise it ecclesiastically by appointing the bishop of Thessalonica his vicar for Eastern Illyricum. [7] It is, however, probable that Damasus only gave to bishops Ascholius and Anysius power to represent him in certain cases, and that a permanent vicariate was first established by his successor Siricius, to whose action Leo the Great refers as a precedent for his own appointment of Anastasius as his representative. [8] Siricius, we may observe in passing, issued the first authentic "decretal" [9] to Himerius of Tarragona, claiming thereby authority over Spain (A.D. 385j). [10]


[1] See the letter and the rescript in Mansi, iii. 624. Gratian was then only nineteen.

[2] Cf. Tillemont, viii. 392, ascribing this earlier decree to Valentinian I. It was aimed at the Ursinians. Gratian was then nominally associated with his father.

[3] Mr. Rivington translates a sentence beginning, "We ask that your goodness would deign to order, that whoever shall have been condemned, and shall have determined unjustly to retain his church" (p. 240). After "condemned" should come in "either by his (Damasus') judgment or by that of us who are Catholics." The omission is significant.

[4] This imperial concession is described by Mr. Rivington, in a grandiloquent chapter-title, as "The Homage of Kings."

[5] See Fr. Puller's Prim. Saints and See of Rome, p. 156, note; and Bury's Later Roman Empire, i. p. xvii. If the earlier decree to which the bishops' letter refers had included the Gallic prefecture, it would have been very much to their purpose to mention its officials; but this they did not do.

[6] Duchesne observes that, until Zosimus, "deceiving himself as to the character" of Patroclus of Arles, made him his vicar so respect to the Gallic and Spanish churches, Rome had never been able to exercise over the Gallic episcopate more than "one action faible et intermittente:" a significant admission (Origines du Culte Chrét. p. 38). Nor had the Spanish church of old been accustomed to regard Rome as its patriarchal centre. When the Priscillianists, having been condemned in 380 by a council at Saragossa, resolved to seek for Italian support, they thought not only of Damasus but of Ambrose, whose see of Milan at this time shared with Rome in the "hegemony of the West" (ib. p. 32); and Priscillian, in his recently recovered memorial to Damasus (Corp. Script. Lat. Eccl. xviii. p. 34 ff.) addresses him as "your crown" (= your highness), as holding an "apostolic see," as "handing on the faith left him by the apostles," and as "senior omnium nostrum," a phrase quite inadequate for supreme jurisdiction.

[7] Neale, Introd, East. Church, i. 47. See Tillemont, viii. 417.

[8] Leo. Ep. 6.2. See Core, Leo the Great, p. 103. As Neale says (following Le Quien) "the council of Chalcedon, while it subiected to the patriarch of Constantinople the Thracian, Pontic, and Asian dioceses, gives him no authority over that of Illyricum;" but since the reign of Leo the Isaurian (716-741) Eastern Illyricnm has been subjected to Constantinople, and a series of papal decrees made void. Le Quien denounces this act of the iconoclastic emperor as "Leonini furoris facinus" (Oriens, Christ. ii. 25). Duchesne, however, considers that some two centuries earlier the vicariate had ceased to be effective (Origines de Culte, p. 42). Ascholius was Acholius to Latins.

[9] Littledale, Petrine Claims, p. 169.

[10] Siricius is named in a passage of Optatus (ii. 3) as the existing bishop of Rome. Optatus may have added this reference at a later period than that of the composition of his treatise. He calls Siricius "noster socius;" but does he say that all churches ought to obey him? No; but only that with him "nobis totus orbis commercio formatarum (letters of ecclesiastical communion) in una communionis societate concordat." Certainly he had just said that Peter, "omnium apostolurum caput," was the first to sit in the episcopal chair at Rome, "unde et Cephas appellatus est" (?), "in qua una cathedra unitas ab omnibus servaretur." Mr. Rivington (p. 38) claims this passage: but the next words show what is in Optatus' mind; "Ne coeteri apostoli singulas sibi quisque defenderent; ut jam schismaticus ... esset qui contra singularem cathedram alteram collocaret." Then, after giving his list of the Roman bishops, he makes a hit at Macrobius as the Donatists' bishop at Rome. He means, of course, not that Peter's see was the only one existing in the apostolic times, but that no other apostle ever thought of setting up a chair of his own at Rome, as against Peter's.