In 385 Pope Siricius responded back to a letter from Bishop Himerius of Tarragona (Spain) with regard to clerical discipline (Directa decretal). He clearly exercises papal authority according to Catholic doctrine. This is just one of several ecclesiastical letters that popes sent to bishops, exercising their Petrine authority.
The account which you, brother, directed to our predecessor of holy memory Damasus, found me now installed in his see because the Lord thus ordained.
Papal authority is passed down in a line of succession.
When we read that [account] more carefully in an assembly of brethren, we found to the degree we had hoped to recognize things which ought to be praised and much which was worthy of reprimand and correction.
The Church of Rome gives “reprimand and correction” to this other church.
And since it is necessary for us to succeed to the labors and responsibilities of him whom, through the grace of God, we succeeded in honor, having first given notice, as was necessary, of my promotion, we do not refuse, as the Lord deigns to inspire, a proper response to your inquiry in every point.
Again, there is a succession. One of the “labors and responsibilities” of the Church of Rome is to give a “proper response” to all doctrinal questions. The very fact that another bishop wrote to the bishop of Rome for guidance is significant. Notice it is the office that is important here. Pope Siricius felt obliged to respond back, even though it was addressed to his predecessor.
For in view of our office there is no freedom for us, on whom a zeal for the Christian religion is incumbent greater than on all others, to dissimulate or to be silent.
Again, the Church of Rome cannot “dissimulate” or “be silent” on doctrinal issues important “for the Christian religion.” In fact, it has a “greater” responsibility “than…all others,” all other churches.
We bear the burdens of all who are oppressed, or rather the blessed apostle Peter, who in all things protects and preserves us, the heirs, as we trust, of his administration, bears them in us.
The responsibilities and “burdens” of the Church of Rome, including response to doctrinal questions, is attributed to St. Peter, of whom Pope Siricius and his ministers claim to be the “heirs.” Moreover, it is St. Peter himself and “his administration” which “protects and preserves” the Church of Rome. He continues to bear the burdens of the Church even after death.
On the first page of your letter, therefore, you indicated that multitudes who were baptized by the impious Arians were hastening to the catholic faith, and that certain of our brothers wished to baptize these same people again.
Notice “catholic faith.” There was only one universal faith, not several, despite the presence of heresies like Arianism.
This is not allowed, since both the Apostle forbids and the canons oppose doing it; and after the Council of Rimini was annulled, the general decrees sent to the provinces by my predecessor of venerable memory Liberius prohibit it.
The Apostle? I believe this to be a title for St. Paul. The canons are Church law. Notice that the previous pope sent “general decrees…to the provinces” prohibiting a certain practice. Seems demonstrate that the bishop of Rome had authority over other churches in the Roman Empire. Pope Siricius appeals to past tradition to justify his judgment, not Scripture or any arbitrary, egocentric whims.
We unite these people, and the Novatianists and other heretics, to the assembly of catholics, just as it was constituted in the synod, solely through invocation of the sevenfold Spirit by imposition of the bishop’s hand. Indeed all the East and the West preserves this practice, and it is also inappropriate henceforth for you to deviate from that path, if you do not wish to be separated from our company by synodal sentence.
Notice that true Christian are called “catholics,” those who adhere to the catholic (universal) faith throughout the Church. Also, Pope Siricius threatens this church of Tarragona with excommunication if they do not adhere to this universal practice for readmitting certain heretics into the Church.
Then follows objectionable confusion, in need of correction, about those who are about to be baptized just as it pleases each and every one of them.
Pope Siricius goes on to discuss more “objectionable confusion, in need of correction” with regard to when new members of the Church should be baptized.
Our fellow priests–we speak in indignation–not by reason of any authority but by temerity alone presume this, so that throngs of people, as you report, attain the mystery of baptism randomly and freely at Christmas, or Epiphany, and also on the feasts of the apostles or martyrs, although both with us and in all churches the Lord’s Resurrection and Pentecost claim this privilege specially for themselves. On these days alone through the year is it proper for the complete rites of baptism to be bestowed on those coming to the faith, but only on those select people who applied forty or more days earlier, and were cleansed by exorcisms, daily prayers, and fasts, so that the precept of the Apostle is fulfilled that with old leaven having been driven out, new dough comes into being.
Notice that “priests” perform the baptism. Notice that the Church of Rome speaks “in indignation” against these priests who, without “any authority” but rather with defiant “temerity,” perform baptisms “randomly and freely” at different times of the year. Pope Siricius informs the bishop that “with us and in all churches the Lord’s Resurrection and Pentecost” are the only “proper” days for this sacrament.
But just as we say that sacred Paschal reverence in no way ought to be diminished, so we wish for the waters of sacred baptism to be of assistance with all speed to infants, who because of age are not yet able to speak, and to those for whom in any emergency it is needed, lest the destruction of our souls be at stake if, the salutary font being denied to those seeking it, someone departing from the world loses both the kingdom and life….
Infant baptism is clearly upheld as sound doctrine. Also, the “waters” are necessary for the sacrament. Baptism is not merely mental acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior.
… Enough error on this matter! All priests who do not wish to be torn from the solidity of the apostolic rock, upon which Christ built the universal Church, should now hold the aforementioned rule.
This is quite a strong passage! Pope Siricius declares what is in error and demands that it stop. Otherwise, those deviant priests and churches will be removed from the steadfast Rock of the Apostle Peter “upon which Christ built the universal Church” (Mt 16:18). Lacking the “solidity of the apostolic rock,” their souls will then be in danger to the floods of evil and sin. Read the rest of this entry »