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The Primacy of the Roman Church

as evidenced in ancient Christian writings

The following quotations have been culled from the book Jesus, Peter & the Keys: a Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy, by Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, and David Hess. All page number references are from that book.

My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. (St. Jerome, AD 375, p 247)

We will that all people who are governed by our clemency should practise the same religion as the divine Apostle Peter delivered to the Romans, as the religion proclaimed by him up to this time declares it; and which it is clear the Pontiff Damasus follows, and Peter, the Bishop of Alexandria.... Those who follow this law we order to take the name of Catholic Christians. (Emperor Theodosius, AD 380, p 314)

The holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior.... The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it. (Pope Damasus, AD 382, p 238)

Where Peter is, there is the Church. (St. Ambrose of Milan, AD 385, p 198)

From this Church [of Rome] the rights of venerable communion flow unto all. (St. Ambrose of Milan, AD 385, p 316)

Why did He shed His blood? That He might gain possession of those sheep which He intrusted to Peter and to his successors. (St. John Chrysostom, AD 387, p 295)

Number the bishops from the see of Peter itself. And in that order of Fathers see who succeeded whom. That is the rock against which the gates of hell do not prevail. (St. Augustine of Hippo, AD 393, p 250)

I am held in the communion of the Catholic Church by... the succession of priests from the very Chair of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, committed His sheep to be fed, even to the present Episcopate. (St. Augustine of Hippo, circa AD 400, p 296)

For who knows not, or notices not, that what was delivered to the Roman Church by Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and is to this day guarded, ought to be observed by all men, and that nothing ought to be superinduced (or, introduced), which has not (that) authority, or which may seem to derive its precedent elsewhere.... (St. Pope Innocent I, AD 410, p 321)

Yea, why have you confirmed this by your own act, but that you know that, throughout all the provinces, answers to questions always emanate from the Apostolic Spring.... For the authors of these evils must needs be more cautious, in seeing themselves, upon the report of two synods, separated from the communion of the Church, by the Decree of our sentence. (St. Pope Innocent I, AD 410, p 321)

Although the tradition of the Fathers has assigned so great an Authority to the Apostolic See, that no one should dare to dispute about a Judgment given by it, and that See, by laws and regulations, has kept to this; and the discipline of the Church, in the laws which it yet follows, still pays to the name of Peter, from whom that See (or discipline) descends, the reverence due,--for canonical antiquity, by universal consent, willed that so great a Power should belong to that Apostle, a Power also derived from the actual promise of Christ our God, that it should be his to loose what was bound, and to bind what was loosed, an equal state of Power being bestowed upon those who, by His will, should be found worthy to inherit his See.... (St. Pope Zosimus, AD 417, p 253)

I appeal to the justice of your Holiness, my Lord Zosimus, venerable Pope. The true faith is never troubled, and this especially in the Apostolic Church, wherein the teachers of a corrupt faith are as easily detected as they are truly punished... that they may have in them that true faith which the Apostles taught, and which is held by the Roman Church, and by all the teachers of the Catholic faith. (Paulinus Orosius, AD 418, pp 321f)

If, for one man's fault, the population of a whole province is to be anathematised, then will be condemned also that most blessed disciple (of Peter), Rome to wit, out of which there have sprung up not one, but two or three, or even more heresies, and yet not one of them has been able either to have possession, or to move the Chair of Peter, that is, the Seat of Faith.... Seeing that the institutes of the Apostolic doctrine exhort us, to produce to all that ask us the reason of the faith and hope that is in us, we will not delay to place the rule of our faith before your Holiness, who are the builder of that edifice. (Bachiarius, AD 420, p 322)

Therefore let all those whom he has separated from his communion understand that they continue in ours, and that from this time he himself (Nestorius) cannot continue in communion with us, if he persists in opposing the Apostolic doctrine. Wherefore you shall execute this Judgment with the Authority of our See, acting in our Stead, and having our Power delegated to you; and that if, in the space of ten days after he has received this admonition, he does not expressly anathematise his impious doctrines, and promise to confess, for the future, that faith which the Roman Church and your Church and all Christendom teach concerning the generation of Jesus Christ our God, your Holiness may forthwith set about to provide for this Church (of Constantinople) under the full assurance that in such a case it is necessary that he should be utterly separated from our body. (St. Pope Celestine to St. Cyril of Alexandria, AD 430, pp 324f)

There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to to-day and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed Pope Coelestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place. (Philip, presbyter, legate of the Apostolic See at the Council of Ephesus, AD 431, p 258)

We exhort you, honourable brother, that you obediently listen to what has been written by the blessed Pope of the city of Rome, since Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, offers the truth of faith to those who seek. For we, in our zeal for peace and faith, cannot decide questions of faith apart from the consent of the Bishop of Rome.... (St. Peter Chrysologus, circa AD 432, p 328)

The blessed Apostle Peter, in his Successors, has transmitted what he received. Who would separate himself from his doctrine, whom the Master Himself declared to be the First amongst the Apostles? (St. Pope Sixtus III, AD 434, p 329)

Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it [rebaptism], thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith. (St. Vincent of Lerins, AD 445, p 331)

The primacy of the Apostolic See having been established by the merit of the Apostle Peter, by the dignity of the city of Rome, and by the authority of the holy Synod, no pretended power shall arrogate to itself anything against the authority of that See. For peace can be universally preserved only when the whole Church acknowledges its ruler. (Emperor Valentinian III, AD 445, pp 335f)

It pertains to you (Pope Leo) to hold the primacy in all things, for your throne is adorned with many prerogatives. (Theodoret of Cyrus, circa AD 450, p 333)

Rome the See of Peter, which has been made to the whole world the head of the pastoral office. (St. Prosper of Acquitaine, AD 450, p 335)

Peter hath spoken by the mouth of Leo [pope, AD 440-461]. (The Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, AD 451, p 261)

Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, hath stripped him [Dioscorus] of the episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic worthiness. Therefore let this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned Dioscorus to the canonical penalties. (Bishop Paschasinus, legate of the Apostolic See at the Council of Chalcedon, AD 451, p 265)

This same norm of apostolic doctrine persists in the successors of him to whom the Lord enjoined the care of the entire sheepfold. (St. Pope Simplicius, AD 468, p 301)

The Roman Church, which is the head of all the churches. (Victor of Vita, circa AD 485, p 338)

The canons themselves willed the appeals of the whole Church to be referred to the examination of this See. From it they decreed also that no appeal whatever ought to be made; and thereby that it judged of the whole Church, and that itself passed under the judgment of none.... (St. Pope Gelasius, circa AD 492, p 339)

The first See both confirms every synod by its authority, and guards by its continuous rule, by reason, to wit, of its supremacy, which, received by the Apostle Peter from the mouth of the Lord, the Church nevertheless seconding, it both always has held and retains.... (St. Pope Gelasius, circa AD 492, p 339)

We who desire to serve the Apostolic see without blame, according to the divine precepts and statutes of the Fathers. (The bishops of Dardania to Pope Gelasius, circa AD 494, p 340)

We were anxious in mind and fearful in the cause of the Roman Church, as feeling our own position tottering in the head assailed... the chief of the Universal Church.... If the Pope of that city is called into doubt, not a Bishop, but the Episcopate will at once seem to be in danger. (St. Avitus of Vienne, circa AD 495, p 341)

Because the statement of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church," etc., cannot be set aside; this, which is said, is proved by the results; for in the Apostolic See religion has always been preserved without spot.... In which (See) is set the perfect and true solidity of the Christian religion. (from the "Formula of Pope Hormisdas", accepted and signed by eastern bishops, AD 519, p 268)

In the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept undefiled and her holy doctrine proclaimed. Desiring, therefore, not to be in the least degree separated from the faith and doctrine of that See, we hope that we may deserve to be in the one communion with you which the Apostolic See preaches, in which is the entire and true solidity of the Christian religion: promising also that the names of those who are cut off from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, not consentient with the Apostolic See, shall not be recited during the sacred mysteries. This is my profession, I have subscribed with my own hand, and delivered to you Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of the city of Rome. (from the "Formula of Pope Hormisdas", accepted and signed by eastern bishops, AD 519, p 344)

Nor do we allow that any of these things, concerning ecclesiastical institution, should fail to be brought before his Holiness, as being the head of all the holy Priests of God.... (Emperor Justinian I, AD 520-533, p 344)

For we do not allow of any point, however manifest and indisputable it be, which relates to the state of the Churches, not being brought to the cognizance of your Holiness, since you are the Head of all holy churches. (Emperor Justinian I, AD 520-533, pp 344f)

That which the Roman Church--which is the summit of the world enlightened with resplendent rays by the words of two great luminaries, namely Peter and Paul, and decorated with their bodies--holds and teaches, the entire Christian world unhesitatingly believes and professes with her, unto righteousness and salvation. (St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, AD 523, p 346)

Since the authority of convoking General Synods by a singular privilege has been delivered to the Apostolic See of Blessed Peter, and we do not read that any synod was ever considered ratified which was not supported by Apostolic authority. (Pope Pelagius II, circa AD 579-590, p 348)

We know who is in charge in the Church of Christ to the extent that we reverently, humbly and devoutly profess more especially to give due obedience in all things to the Roman Pontiff as God's Vicar. Whoever proudly resists this principle, we decree, is altogether outside the fellowship of the faithful, as a heretic. (St. Isidore of Seville, AD 620, p 351)

No one can doubt that there is in the Apostolic See a great unfailing fountain, pouring forth waters for all Christians; whence rich streams proceed, bountifully irrigating the whole Christian World; to which See also, in honour of blessed Peter, the decrees of the Fathers gave special veneration in searching out the things of God, which ought by all means to be carefully examined; and above all, and justly, by the Apostolic Head of Bishops, whose care from of old it is, as well to condemn evils as to commend the things that are to be praised. For by the ancient discipline it is ordained that whatsoever be done, even in provinces remote and afar off, shall neither be treated of nor accepted, unless it be first brought to the knowledge of your August See, so that a just sentence may be confirmed by its authority, and that the other Churches may thence receive the original preaching as from its native source, and that the mysteries of saving faith may remain in uncorrupt purity throughout the various regions of the world. (Three Councils of Africa, in their Synodical letter sent to Pope Theodore, and read in the Council of Rome under Martin I, AD 646, pp 353f)

O holy Head, Christ our God hath destined thy Apostolic See to be an immovable foundation, and a pillar of the faith. For thou art, as the divine Word truly saith, Peter, and on thee as a foundation-stone have the pillars of the Church been fixed. (Metropolitan Sergius of Cyprus to Pope Theodore, AD 649, pp 352f)

The extremities of the earth, and everyone in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the Most Holy Roman Church and her confession and faith, as to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from there the brilliant radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers, according to that which the inspired and holy Councils have stainlessly and piously decreed. For, from the descent of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held that greatest Church alone to be their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell never prevail against her, that she has the keys of orthodox confession and right faith in Him, that she opens the true and exclusive religion to such men as approach with piety, and she shuts up and locks every heretical mouth which speaks against the Most High. (St. Maximus the Confessor, of Constantinople, AD 650, p 272)

For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which from the incarnate Son of God Himself, and also by all holy synods, according to the holy canons and definitions has received universal and supreme dominion, authority and power of binding and loosing over all the holy Churches of God which are in the whole world. (St. Maximus the Confessor, of Constantinople, AD 650, pp 354f)

This Apostolic Church never turned away from the way of truth nor held any kind of error. This is the rule of faith. All who wish to please God must study to conform the Apostolic rule of the primitive faith founded on the rock Peter, and kept by him from error. (St. Pope Agatho, AD 680, p 276)

Without whom (the Romans presiding in the seventh Council) a doctrine brought forward in the Church could not, even though confirmed by canonical decrees and by ecclesiastical usage, ever obtain full approval or currency. For it is they (the Roman Pontiffs) who have had assigned to them the rule in sacred things, and who have received into their hands the dignity of headship among the Apostles. (St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople, AD 758-828, p 356)

In truth we have seen that a manifest successor of the prince of the Apostles presides over the Roman Church. We truly believe that Christ has not deserted the Church here (at Constantinople), for assistance from you has been our one and only aid from of old and from the beginning by the providence of God in the critical times. You are, indeed, the untroubled and pure fount of orthodoxy from the beginning, you the calm harbour of the whole Church, far removed from the waves of heresy, you the God-chosen city of refuge. (St. Theodore of Studios, circa AD 800, p 355)

Order that the declaration from old Rome be received, as was the custom by the tradition of our Fathers from of old and from the beginning. For this, O Emperor, is the highest of the Churches of God, in which first Peter held the chair.... (St. Theodore of Studios to the Emperor Michael, circa AD 800, p 279)

Lest he be found a schismatic or a non-Catholic, let him follow the most approved authority of the Roman Church, so that we may ever have the examples of our salvation from the same place we received the beginnings of the Catholic faith. Let not the members be separated from the Head; let not the key-bearer of the heavenly kingdom cast out those whom he knows have deviated from his teachings. (Alcuin, AD 780, pp 357f)

All the credit for research into these sources belongs to the authors of Jesus, Peter & the Keys: a Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy, by Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, and David Hess, © 1996 by the authors, ISBN # 1-882972-54-6. Their book is published by Queenship Publishing, P. O Box 42028, Santa Barbara, CA 93140-2028, phone: (800) 647-9882. It is available at most Catholic bookstores and from most direct-mail Catholic booksellers.
As would be expected, Jesus, Peter & the Keys has been attacked by Protestant polemicists. In defense of JPK, see James White vs. Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, or A Response to James White's Comments on Jesus, Peter and the Keys, or James White and Robert Sungenis on Matthew 16:18.

St. Ambrose of Milan
(circa AD 335-397)

Where Peter is, there is the Church.
And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal.

Commentaries on Twelve of David's Psalms
quoted in W. A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 2
(Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970), page 150

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(Created April 26, 1998; revised February 23, 2001)