Conservative Colloquium

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Importance of Tradition and Primacy of the Pope in 4th c. AD

Posted by Tony Listi on January 5, 2008

I will use the excerpts from Defense Against the Arians by St. Athanasius to demonstrate the importance of Tradition and the primacy the Bishop of Rome during the 4th century AD (when this work was written).

I find my text of the work here so you can find these passages yourself if you wish. And I would note that this is NOT a Catholic website.

The Arians are condemned at the Council of Sardica. The council writes a “synodal epistle,” presumably with their conclusions, and this  epistle is particularly addressed to Pope Julius. Hmmm, I wonder why?

“Thus wrote the Bishops of Egypt to all Bishops, and to Julius, Bishop of Rome…” Athanasius singles out the Bishop of Rome, hmmm….

Athanasius includes the text of a letter by Pope Julius to the Eusebians (Arians) in this work:
“…for it is unreasonable that a custom which had once obtained in the Church, and been established by councils, should be set aside by a few individuals,” writes Pope Julius. Seems like tradition was pretty important.

“For what canon of the Church, or what Apostolical tradition warrants this, that when…” writes Pope Julius. Again, an appeal to Tradition.

“…and the Canons received from the Apostles ought not thus to be set aside,” writes Julius again. Again, another appeal to apostolic Tradition.

“Wherefore, as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ knows, it was from a regard for your good name, and with prayers that the Churches might not fall into confusion, but might continue AS THEY WERE REGULATED BY THE APOSTLES, that I thought it necessary to write thus unto you, to the end that you might at length put to shame those who through the effects of their mutual enmity have brought the Churches to this condition.” (Emphasis mine)Again, a reference to apostolic Tradition with regard to Church business. Also, Julius seems to be in charge, encouraging fellow bishops to put confusion to an end.

“Are you ignorant that the custom has been for word to be written first to us, and then for a just decision to be passed from this place?” Seems like Pope Julius of Rome is asserting some privilege over the other Bishops! And again, this is based on “custom” or Tradition.

Continuing from the quote directly above, “If then any such suspicion rested upon the Bishop there, notice thereof ought to have been sent to the Church of THIS PLACE; whereas, after neglecting to inform us, and proceeding on their own authority as they pleased, now they desire to obtain our concurrence in their decisions, though we never condemned him.” (Emphasis mine) Again, same assertion of primacy for Rome.

Continuing from the quote directly above, “Not so have the constitutions of Paul, not so have the traditions of the Fathers directed; this is another form of procedure, a novel practice.” Again, explicit reference to traditions, while a denigration of novelty.

Continuing from the quote above, “I beseech you, readily bear with me: what I write is for the common good. For what we have received from the blessed Apostle Peter, that I signify to you; and I should not have written this, as deeming that these things were manifest unto all men, had not these proceedings so disturbed us.” Julius references that he received something from Peter. Hmmm, what could it be? Authority? Traditions? I think both, for they are one and the same: Apostolic Traditions are authoritative.

Here is what other historians relate according to a footnote (584) for the above quotes on the site:
“Socrates says somewhat differently, “Julius wrote back….that they acted against the Canons, because they had not called him to a Council, the Ecclesiastical Canon commanding that the Churches ought not to make Canons beside the will of the Bishop of Rome.” Hist. ii. 17. Sozomen in like manner, “for it was a sacerdotal law, to declare invalid whatever was transacted beside the will of the Bishop of the Romans.” Hist. iii. 10. vid. Pope Damasus ap. Theod. Hist. v. 10. Leon. Epist. 14. &c.”
The footnote wishes to dismiss these strong assertions of papal authority by saying they were limited to this one case in Alexandria. But no support is given to this claim. In fact, the text clearly points to unqualifiably “custom,” not a custom with regard to a particular local church such as Alexandria. Besides, Socrates and Sozomen were historians of the Church who were born in the 4th century AD. He is much closer in time and culture to these events and writings of Athansius (hardly more than a generation later).

Athanasius includes the Letter of the Council of Sardica to the Church of Alexandria:
“The Holy Council, by the grace of God assembled at Sardica, from Rome, Spain, Gaul, Italy, Campania, Calabria, Apulia….” Interesting how Rome is mentioned first, as Peter is almost always mentioned first in lists with other apostles.

“…maintaining the doctrine of the Catholic Church, which was delivered to them from the Fathers.” Again, reference to Tradition has the source of doctrine. (obviously not to the exclusion of Scripture, since that was and still is a major source of traditional teachings)

“From this it became evident that the decision of our brother and fellow-Bishop Julius was a just one; for after cautious deliberation and care he had determined, that we ought not to hesitate at all about communion with our brother Athanasius.” Hmmm, mentioning and singling out of the Bishop of Rome.

“This is the letter which the Council of Sardica sent to those who were unable to attend, and they on the other hand gave their judgment in accordance; and the following are the names both of those Bishops who subscribed in the Council, and of the others also. Hosius of Spain, Julius of Rome by his Presbyters Archidamus and Philoxenus, Protogenes of Sardica, Gaudentius….” The mentioned letter is provided by Athanasius for the reader before this quoted passage.  Hosius is mentioned first in the list only because he wrote the aforementioned letter and presided over the Council of Sardica.  Thus the pope and his legates come next and first before all others.
Here Athanasius singles out Julius: “The Church was filled with all joy, and the Bishop Julius rejoiced with me in my return and wrote to the Church….”

“When Ursacius and Valens saw all this, they forthwith condemned themselves for what they had done, and going up to Rome, confessed their crime, declared themselves penitent, and sought forgiveness, addressing the following letters to Julius, Bishop of ancient Rome, and to ourselves.” Again, an importance to Rome is clearly implied.

The letter of recantation begins “Ursacius and Valens to the most blessed Lord, Pope Julius.” These two men also write a letter to Bishop Athanasius but do not address him as “pope.” Apparently, the Bishop of Rome was called “pope” as far back as the 4th century!

One Response to “Importance of Tradition and Primacy of the Pope in 4th c. AD”

  1. […] Arianism held that Jesus was created by the Father. In trinitarian Christianity, Christ and the Holy Spirit are both equal to, uncreated, and co-eternal with God the Father. Arius (c.256-336), the heresiarch, was based in Alexandria and died in Constantinople. In a Council at Antioch in 341, the majority of 97 Eastern bishops subscribed to a form of semi-Arianism, whereas in a Council at Rome in the same year, under Pope Julius I, the trinitarian St. Athanasius was vindicated by over 50 Italian bishops. The western-dominated Council of Sardica (Sofia) in 343 again upheld Athanasius’ orthodoxy, whereas the eastern Council of Sirmium in 351 espoused Arianism, which in turn was rejected by the western Councils of Arles (353) and Milan (355). Learn more about St. Athanasius’ appeal to Rome by clicking here. […]

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