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Bishops and Popes of Rome

Bishops of Rome, the Popes; the Patriarchs of Constantinople

We have the Roman Empire as it was partially restored at the death of Justinian I. The capital, of course, is Constantinople, with the recovered western areas ruled from Ravenna (Italy, the Exarchate of Ravenna) and Carthage (Africa and Spain, the Exarchate of Carthage). The One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, Una Sancta Romana Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia, is governed through the Emperor and the Patriarchs, namely the Patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, in that order of precedence.

The role of the Emperor in governing the Church is now called "caesaro-papism", i.e. an Emperor acting like a Pope. However, the Emperor had exercised his powers since Constantine I, while the familiar powers of the Pope were much later claims and inventions. It is thus much less anarchonistic to characterize the claims of later Popes, not the Emperors, as the "caesaro-papism", i.e. the Pope trying to act like an Emperor. Chief among the powers of the Emperor -- the "Equal to the Apostles", isapóstolos, always portrayed with a halo, -- was that of calling Church Councils, as Constantine had called the Council of Nicaea in 325. Indeed, he had already called a Council at Arles in 314 to deal with the Donatist controversy in North Africa, a production carried out, apparently, without any reference to the Bishop of Rome.

The first Council called by a Pope, and regarded by him a Ecumenical, was the Lateran Council I in 1123. To resolve the Great Schism, the Council of Constance, 1414-1418, was called by the Emperor Sigismund; but once a single line of Popes was secure in Rome again, they denied that the Emperor had any authority to call Councils. The last Emperor in any position, and with any need, to call a Council, Charles V, deferred to the Pope -- who then was the one to call the Council of Trent, 1545-1563. At the time of Justinian, the Pope was regarded as primus inter pares, first among equals of the Patriarchs, but that was all. The Patriarch of Constantinople was made second in rank, although this was a bit resented by the other, older Patriarchates. The Papacy, of course, claims that its full authority and its position as the head of whole Church existed from the beginning.

The convention of calling the Latin Church "Catholic" and the Eastern Churches "Orthodox" obscures the circumstance that katholikę, "universal," signifies the Church of the Roman Empire, whose Emperor and Patriarch in Constantinople the Bishop of Rome excommunicated in 1054 AD.

The Greek Church therefore still uses katholikę, while the Churches that fell out over one of the Ecumenical Councils, especially the Nestorians and Monophysites, would be heterodox, not "Orthodox," to both the Latin and Greek branches of the Catholica Ecclesia. While the Coptic and Syrian Churches broke away over the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, there remained a continuous line of Greek Patriarchs in Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, even as the Patriarch of Constantinople proselytized Bulgaria, Russia, and other states in the Balkans. Beginning with the Crusades, the Church of Rome sought converts over the same territory; and so we see Latin/Catholic churches and counter-churches swarming around the older, Orthodox ones. The counter-churches double up with the existing Orthodox churches, but sometimes a Catholic church exists, e.g. in the Ukraine or Ruthenia, where a separate Orthodox one doesn't. The Popes claim doctrinal authority, while the doctrine of Constantinople is based on the Church Councils.

Just how people can be confused about the history of the Church we see in a statement by film maker Francis Ford Coppola in the director's commentary on his movie, Bram Stoker's Dracula [1991, 2007], as he is watching the stars (Winona Ryder & Keanu Reaves) being married, which was actually filmed at a Greek Orthodox church in Los Angeles:

The Orthodox religions, Greek Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, is [sic] in fact the original Christianity and, for my part, I think the most beautiful expression of Christianity -- that Roman Catholicism is Christianity having been fused with the Roman Empire and really I think has more to do with the Roman Empire than it does with Christianity. [transcribed from audio track] Coppola is apparently unaware that the Orthodox Churches he mentions, Churches in doctrinal agreement with the Patriarch of Constantinople, are the actual direct descendants of the State Religion of the Roman Empire, founded under the authority of the Patriarch and the Emperor in Constantinople (starting with Constantine), while modern Roman Catholicism, far from being Christianity "fused with the Roman Empire," is the religion of the Bishops of Rome who repudiated the authority of the Roman Emperor and excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The religion of the City of Rome detached itself from the religion of the Roman Empire, i.e. Mediaeval Romania, centered in Constantinople. Few people, indeed, remember that Mediaeval "Romans" meant the Greek, Albanian, Vlach, Armenian, and other inhabitants of the so-called "Byzantine" Empire. The phenomenon that Coppola describes is thus not Christianity being "fused" with the Roman Empire, which is actually the way it began -- it was the "Roman" religion to one and all -- but Catholicism being corrupted by the attempt of the Popes to assume the authority of Emperors. When the Emperors were strong, whether in Constantinople or in Germany, the ability of the Popes to make good their claims was limited; but in the decline of the power of both Thrones, there was little to restrain them.

A different sort of confusion involving the Roman Empire comes from a more scholarly source, the classic study of Delphi by Peter Hoyle [Cassell, London, 1967].

Religion in the Greek world was tolerant, there was no religious persecution... it was through the Romans, the strong and well-organized, the cruel and authoritative power, that Christianity developed and became a state religion. The terrors and massacres, the inquisitions, the persecutions of Christian by Christian, might never have come about if Greece and not Rome had prevailed. [p.7] Hoyle has apparently forgotten that Socrates was put to death for "not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new spiritual [things]." That looks like some kind of religious persecution, on behalf of the state religion of Athens. Furthermore, the practice of Roman religion as generally tolerant was little different from that of Greece. Christians were never asked to renounce their faith or to desecrate its images, as Christians were in Japan; they were simply asked to honor the traditional gods as well and to demonstrate this by pouring a small libation to them.

The subsequent intolerant exclusivism we see, when pagan practice and belief were suppressed, came from the Christians, not from previous Roman traditions. And where then did this Christian exclusivism come from? Clearly from Judaism -- Thou shalt have no other gods before me [Exodus 20:3] -- but I doubt that Hoyle would have wanted to put in print that the "terrors and massacres" were ultimately due to Judaism. I do not want to place all the blame there either, for something that is the most characteristic of Christianity may in fact derive from the Greeks rather than the Jews. We find Sophocles saying: Thrice blessed are those among men who, after beholding these rites, go down to Hades. Only for them is there life; all the rest will suffer an evil lot. [Triptolemus]

Sophocles is talking about the Eleusinian Mysteries, which promised rebirth and eternal life to those who were initiated and denied it to those who were not. There is nothing in Judaism like that. In the modern polemic against Christianity, Nietzsche was willing to blame Judaism for the evils of Christianity (the "slave revolt" in morals), but then this is little noted in the popular apologetic for Nietzsche's anti-Semitism. Nietzsche was also willing to blame Socrates (that victim of religious persecution) and Plato for corrupting the Greek spirit and making it vulnerable to Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps Hoyle, consciously or not, tries to avoid this mess by simply placing the blame on the Romans -- the opposite of Nietzsche, who said that the Romans were the most noble people who had ever lived, and that "Rome viewed Israel as a monstrosity; the Romans regarded the Jews as convicted of hatred against the whole of mankind" [The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, translated by Francis Golffing, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956, p.185-186]. Yet the characteristic attitude of traditional Christianity, that we are saved and you are going to Hell -- Extra Ecclesiam, nemo salvatur (Outside the Church, no one is saved): that looks like something from Hoyle's "tolerant" Greeks.

In this period there were five significant centers of Christianity outside what had ever been in the Roman Empire: in the Caucasus, in Mesopotamia, in India, in Ethiopia, and in Ireland. In the Caucasus were the Churches of Georgia and Armenia. Georgia was doctrinally in union with Romania, but Armenia had not accepted the decision of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. The Patriarchate of Armenia was thus regarded by the Roman Church as heterodox. Similarly heterodox was the Patriarchate of the East, seated at the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon, which had not accepted the decision of the Third Ecumenical Council -- and thus is often called the "Nestorian" Church, after the doctrine condemned by the Third Council.

The authority of the Patriarch of the East already extended to Christians in India, and subsequently would reach all the way to China. Ethiopia was under the authority of the Patriarch of Alexandria and so, until the Fourth Ecumenical Council, was doctrinally in union with Rome -- later it would continue to follow the lead of the Coptic Church, and now has had its own autonomous Patriarchate just since 1959. That leaves Ireland, which traditionally was converted by
  • St. Patrick after 432 AD. As communication between Ireland and the Empire became more tenuous, the Irish Church preserved literacy, as Britain itself fell out of history, and developed some of its own traditions -- though these never came to serious heterodoxy and any differences were subsequently straightened out. As Irish nationalism later became identified with the Catholic Church, over and against the Protestant Church of England and British rule in Ireland, Ireland became one of the most staunchly Catholic states in Europe -- and today, with Poland, provides a disproportionate number of priests to the Catholic Church.

    Bishops and Popes of Rome

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    The Patriarchs of Constantinople

    The passage from the Catholicism of the Fathers to that of the modern Popes was accomplished by willful falsehood; and the whole structure of traditions, laws, and doctrines that support the theory of infallibility and the practical despotism of the Popes stands on a basis of fraud.

    Chronology of the Popes
    Note: The years that each of the following Popes have served are approximations

    • St. Peter (32-67)
    • St. Linus (67-76)
    • St. Anacletus (Cletus)
    • (76-88)
    • St. Clement I (88-97)
    • St. Evaristus (97-105)
    • St. Alexander I (105-115)
    • St. Sixtus I (115-125)
    • St. Telesphorus (125-136)
    • St. Hyginus (136-140)
    • St. Pius I (140-155)
    • St. Anicetus (155-166)
    • St. Soter (166-175)
    • St. Eleutherius (175-189)
    • St. Victor I (189-199)
    • St. Zephyrinus (199-217)
    • St. Callistus I (217-222)
    • St. Urban I (222-230)
    • St. Pontain (230-235)
    • St. Anterus (235-236)
    • St. Fabian (236-250)
    • St. Cornelius (251-253)
    • St. Lucius I (253-254)
    • St. Stephen I (254-257)
    • St. Sixtus II (257-258)
    • St. Dionysius (260-268)
    • St. Felix I (269-274)
    • St. Eutychian (275-283)
    • St. Caius (283-296)
    • -- also called Gaius
    • St. Marcellinus (296-304)
    • St. Marcellus I (308-309)
    • St. Eusebius (309 or 310)
    • St. Miltiades (311-314)
    • St. Sylvester I (314-335)
    • St. Marcus (336)
    • St. Julius I (337-352)
    • Liberius (352-366)
    • St. Damasus I (366-383)
    • St. Siricius (384-399)
    • St. Anastasius I (399-401)
    • St. Innocent I (401-417)
    • St. Zosimus (417-418)
    • St. Boniface I (418-422)
    • St. Celestine I (422-432)
    • St. Sixtus III (432-440)
    • St. Leo I (the Great)
    • (440-461)
    • St. Hilarius (461-468)
    • St. Simplicius (468-483)
    • St. Felix III (II)
    • (483-492)
    • St. Gelasius I (492-496)
    • Anastasius II (496-498)
    • St. Symmachus (498-514)
    • St. Hormisdas (514-523)
    Additional information being gathered

    Victory was commemorated with the construction of the Arch of Ctesiphon, the greatest suriving monument of Sassanid Persia. The Persians were back in 611, and by 613 had conquered all of Syria. The Emperor Heraclius defeated them with an invasion of Persia itself, and all the Persian conquests were restored in 628. The respite was brief. The Arabs secured all of Syria by 640. This abruptly introduced religious and cultural changes unlike any seen in Antioch since the city was founded by the Seleucids. Indeed, although Antioch remained the principal city of the area for a while, it was never the home of an Islamic state, like Damascus or nearby Aleppo.

    Lord Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 8th Baronet Acton, 1st Baron Acton, North British Review, 1869, p.130