"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity (II): the Fourth Century

When we were last met to discuss the very informative and important collection of essays recently published as The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity, I noted some of the historiographical problems which the editor, Geoffrey Dunn, treats in his introduction.

There he also notes that the book is designed to look at papal relations with: (i) his own church; (ii) other bishops; and (iii) civil authorities.

Today, let us cast a glance at some of the insights of the first section, devoted to the fourth century and consisting of three chapters.

In the first chapter, "The Pax Constantiniana and the Roman Episcopate," Glen Thompson reviews the data--which is conflicted in some cases--over the move from private worship in the pre-toleration period to more public worship and the concomitant construction of basilicas and other churches for such worship. Not surprisingly he notes that the rate of attendance and zeal for participation both decline after the legalization of Christianity. Additionally, he notes that while there is some evidence for monarchic episcopate in and for Rome in the fourth century, one should not assume that it was a highly developed, consolidated, centralized structure governing all Christian life in the city--that would assume far too many facts not in evidence.

In Marianne Saghy's "The Bishop of Rome and the Martyrs," we find documentation of the relationship that was forged, especially by Damasus, between Roman martyrs and Roman bishops. The most powerful example of this is of course the cult of devotion to Peter and Paul, who form the only church that could claim a dual apostolic foundation.

Though Saghy confines herself to the fourth century, it must be noted that in time, of course, the memory of this dual apostolic foundation would fade considerably in the Roman ecclesial imaginary--so much so that more than a quarter-century ago now, William R. Farmer and Roch Kereszty would publish an important aide-mémoirePeter and Paul in the Church of Rome: The Ecumenical Potential of a Forgotten Perspective.

Christian Hornung's chapter, "Siricius and the Rise of the Papacy" rounds out this first section of The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity. She makes a convincing case, by means of analyzing the decretals and letters of Siricius (384-98), that his marks the first papal episcopate, the first papacy insofar as he clearly sees his office as one with the power to legislate for the whole Church. Responding to a letter from a Spanish bishop, Siricius uses the occasion to assert that he is heir to St. Peter; that his response is not just a pastoral letter from a brother bishop but a legal text in the mode of Roman imperial legislation; and that his response is not confined merely to the one Spanish case, but is to be taken as having universal authority in the whole Church.

Siricius comes up again in the next chapter, Alberto Ferreiro's "Pope Siricius and Himerius of Tarragona (385): Provincial Papal Intervention in the Fourth Century." This chapter looks at the same decretal and papacy as Hornung's chapter did, but widens the context and introduces important additional considerations, not least by noting that Siricius's intervention in the Spanish case was part of a series of interventions outside of the Italian peninsula. Siricius had, before the Spanish case, already been intervening in the affairs of the North African church.

Next up: the fifth century.

To be continued. 

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