A Laymen’s Commentary on the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope: Testimony of History

12] VI. The Council of Nice resolved that the bishop of Alexandria should administer the churches in the East, and the Roman bishop the suburban, i.e., those which were in the Roman provinces in the West. From this start by a human law, i.e. the resolution of the Council, the authority of the Roman bishop first arose. If the Roman bishop already had the superiority by divine law, it would not have been lawful for the Council to take any right from him and transfer it to the bishop of Alexandria; nay, all the bishops of the East ought perpetually to have sought ordination and confirmation from the bishop of Rome.

13] VII. Again the Council of Nice determined that bishops should be elected by their own churches, in the presence of some neighboring bishop or of several. 14] The same was observed [for a long time, not only in the East, but] also in the West and in the Latin churches, as Cyprian and Augustine testify. For Cyprian says in his fourth letter to Cornelius: Accordingly, as regards the divine observance and apostolic practice, you must diligently keep and practice what is also observed among us and in almost all the provinces, that for celebrating ordination properly, whatsoever bishops of the same province live nearest should come together with the people for whom a pastor is being appointed, and the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who most fully know the life of each one, which we also have seen done among us at the ordination of our colleague Sabinus, that by the suffrage of the entire brotherhood, and by the judgment of the bishops who had assembled in their presence, the episcopate was conferred and hands laid on him.

15] Cyprian calls this custom a divine tradition and an apostolic observance, and affirms that it is observed in almost all the provinces.

Since, therefore, neither ordination nor confirmation was sought from a bishop of Rome in the greater part of the world in the Latin and Greek churches, it is sufficiently apparent that the churches did not then accord superiority and domination to the bishop of Rome.

16] Such superiority is impossible. For it is impossible for one bishop to be the overseer of the churches of the whole world, or for churches situated in the most distant lands to seek ordination [for all their ministers] from one. For it is manifest that the kingdom of Christ is scattered throughout the whole world; and to-day there are many churches in the East which do not seek ordination or confirmation from the Roman bishop [which have ministers ordained neither by the Pope nor his bishops]. Therefore, since such superiority [which the Pope, contrary to all Scripture, arrogates to himself] is impossible, and the churches in the greater part of the world have not acknowledged [nor made use of] it, it is sufficiently apparent that it was not instituted [by Christ, and does not spring from divine law].

17] VIII. Many ancient synods have been proclaimed and held in which the bishop of Rome did not preside; as that of Nice and most others. This, too, testifies that the Church did not then acknowledge the primacy or superiority of the bishop of Rome.

18] IX. Jerome says: If the question is concerning authority, the world is greater than the city. Wherever there has been a bishop, whether at Rome, or Eugubium, or Constantinople, or Rhegium, or Alexandria, he is of the same dignity and priesthood.

19] X. Gregory, writing to the patriarch at Alexandria, forbids that he be called universal bishop. And in the Records he says that in the Council of Chalcedon the primacy was offered to the bishop of Rome, but was not accepted.

20] XI. Lastly, how can the Pope be over the entire Church by divine right when the Church has the election, and the custom gradually prevailed that bishops of Rome were confirmed by the emperors? 21] Also, when for a long time there had been contests concerning the primacy between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople, the Emperor Phocas finally determined that the primacy should be assigned to the bishop of Rome. But if the ancient Church had acknowledged the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, this contention could not have occurred, neither would there have been need of the decree of the emperor.

We not only have clear Scripture on our side, but also the testimony of history. First the Council of Nicaea (325) (here labelled as the Council of Nice) by human right set up that the Bishop of Alexandria should oversee the East and the Bishop of Rome should oversee the West. This was purely by human right.  If the Pope really had divine right to rule over everything the Church would not have needed to do this.

Second, we have that the Council of Nicaea prescribed that bishops be elected by their own churches in the presence of neighboring bishops.  This was the ancient practice from prior to the Council according to Cyprian (200-258). No one, East or West, sought the approval of the Bishop of Rome for this. A system that purely depended solely on the approval of the Bishop of Rome is impossible as there are churches in many lands far away from Rome, and not in contact with its bishop or seeking his approval.

Third, many councils have been held (in fact most of them) without the Bishop of Rome being present. The Bishop of Rome usually sent a legate, but was typically not present himself.  Jerome (347-420) also points out (in accordance with Scripture) that no bishop is greater than another, no matter what city he hails from.

Fourth, Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) refused to be called the universal bishop.  Another Bishop of Rome also refused the title when it was offered at the Council of Chalcedon (451). If this title was the Bishop of Rome’s by divine right, he should have no need to have it offered to him and if it was offered he would have naturally assented to it not reject it.

Finally if the pope really was the head of the Church by divine right, why is it that the church elects him?  What about the fact that the emperor had to settle disputes of authority between bishops. If it was a divine right, everyone would have accepted the primacy of the pope from the beginning.  In fact it was Emperor Phocas (547-610) who gave primacy to the bishop of Rome.

We can see from this that the pope from ancient times was highly regarded but never considered head of the church and that all bishops were of the same office and authority in the church. While some bishops were held in higher regard, for instance the five patriarchs, they were regarded this by human distinction not by divine right. Even when the Bishop of Rome was given honor as the first among equals, it was by human decision to honor the chair of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Next Melancthon will go on to refute the doctrinal arguments of the papists and show them to be a misinterpretation of Scripture.

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