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Papal Authority: 4th and 5th Centuries CE, continued
Early medieval centuries were predominantly marked by the failure to organize and
administer any large territory as an effective state/society. Consequently, it is the Church
that emerges as political mediator, economic provider, and social preserver in the West.
Bishops: Members of the old Roman aristocracy appealing to all parties for they were
signs of continuity with the past; administrators/magistrates of peace and stability
within the cities; land owners and military leaders.
Papacy: As the bishop of Rome, all of what is said of bishops applies but on a more
grand scale given the historical, cultural, and mythic import of Rome.
Monasteries: Main source of contact between the Church and commoners; large land
holders; preservers of past traditions/culture; missionaries; catalysts of reform;
primer for bishops.
In sum, the Church emerges as the power in the West due to the:
Christianization of Rome: Constantine’s “Donations;” appeal to the upper class; unity
via worship (Latin, holidays, martyr cults, calendar, sacraments); military resources.
Elevation of Bishops: Constantine’s “Donations” of political tasks and legal authority;
upper class.
Papal Doctrines: Reverence for Peter and Paul as Vicars of Christ (authority to loose
and bind; shepherd via instruction); letters; clerical control; wealth/land
holdings/taxation powers; record of orthodoxy at early ecumenical councils.
Pope Leo I The Great c. 440-461 CE strengthens the papacy via asserting the notion of
Petrine supremacy vis-à-vis apostolic succession. Peter’s role among the disciples as
narrated in Scripture is increasingly interpreted in a manner to underpin the increasingly
unfolding power and position of the pope/bishop of Rome. Just as bishops had come to be
viewed in terms of apostolic succession, the papacy comes to be viewed in terms of Petrine
succession; i.e., just as Peter enjoyed a privileged role among the apostles (Peter acts as a
spokesperson for the disciples; Peter is privy to miracles and teachings of Jesus that the
other disciples are not; Jesus asks Peter’s advice; Peter proffers a messianic confession
regarding Jesus; Peter is identified by Jesus as the rock upon which He would build the
Church and is admonished by Jesus to tend to/feed the community of believers; etc.) so,
too, do the successors of Peter, the bishops of Rome/popes enjoy a privileged role among
the apostle’s successors/bishops. The power and prestige of the papacy are also supported
by the sort of mythical quality associated with Rome due to it being the site of the
martyrdoms of Saints Peter and Paul; the city’s mass and cosmopolitan population; and the
fact that Rome had previously been the center of the empire.
Read Matthew 16:16f; John 21:15f.
Pope Gelasius I c. 494 CE articulates the Two Sword/Power Theory whereby spiritual
matters/authorities are deemed superior to temporal matters/authorities, furthering the
advance of papal notions of power over secular authorities/matters, a notion echoed in
Augustine’s City of God (see Pneumatic Correctives, 107-108).
This mounting power of the papacy is checked by poor ecclesial organization in Spain and
Gaul, a powerful Church in North Africa, and rather poor theology. Consequently, the late
5th century sees a decline in papal influence, but the seeds for far-reaching political import
were sown and would be realized later.