Of the writing of treatises, polemic and tracts about Papal primacy there is no end. Catholics tend to come down on the Catholic side of the argument, non-Catholics ones on the other side. Both are convinced that history is on their side; they know, they wrote the history.
What is going on here is an attempt to establish what men in the fifth century believed they were saying when the Chalcedonian Fathers declared that ‘Peter speaks through Leo'; we know what the non-Chalcedonian Fathers made of it, so we can leave them where they wanted to be – out of it.
Canon 28 of the Council was, as we have seen, opposed by Leo’s representatives, but passed by the majority, and then Leo’s consent sought. It was not granted. Leo’s letter to the Emperor Marcian, written on 22 May 452 may be seen in full here. The parts most relevant to our argument are as follows:
Let the city of Constantinople have, as we desire, its high rank, and under the protection of God’s right hand, long enjoy your clemency’s rule. Yet things secular stand on a different basis from things divine: and there can be no sure building save on that rock which the Lord has laid for a foundation. …….
For the privileges of the churches determined by the canons of the holy Fathers, and fixed by the decrees of the Nicene Synod, cannot be overthrown by any unscrupulous act, nor disturbed by any innovation. And in the faithful execution of this task by the aid of Christ I am bound to display an unflinching devotion; for it is a charge entrusted to me, and it tends to my condemnation if the rules sanctioned by the Fathers and drawn up under the guidance of God’s Spirit at the Synod of Nicæa for the government of the whole Church are violated with my connivance (which God forbid), and if the wishes of a single brother have more weight with me than the common good of the Lord’s whole house.
St. Peter had founded Rome and Antioch, St. Mark, Alexandria; Constantinople owed its foundation to the Emperor, no Apostle had founded it and any priority it claimed could not be justified on the grounds the other Sees used. Leo’s own representatives, who had not been present when the canon was passed, had protested:
The apostolic see ought not to be humiliated in our presence, and therefore we ask your sublimity to order that whatever was transacted yesterday in our absence in prejudice of the canons or rules be nullified. But if otherwise, let our formal objection be recorded in the minutes, so that we may know what we ought to report to the apostolic man the pope of the universal church, so that he may pass sentence on either the insult to his see or the overturning of the canon. (Price and Gaddis, Acts of Chalcedon, III, p. 91]
Neither tradition, nor apostolic authority sanctioned the novelty that was Canon 28. Its sole basis in ‘tradition’ was canon 8 of Constantinople 381. But this canon was controversial at Rome, and in the form it was recorded at Chalcedon in canon 28 it was also inaccurate, as the Pope’s delegate, Paschasinus pointed out in the sixteenth session. There is a difference between the Greek and Latin versions of the Acta, and since the original is no longer extant, we cannot tell which version is more accurate.
The Latin version asserts Roman primacy, the Greek version omits this. In contemporary terms this did not matter since what was actually at issue was not the relative standing of the two sees but Constantinople’s jurisdiction in the east. It was only later that this difference was elevated to one of importance
But, as we have seen, it did not matter which version was advanced, the one in the canon itself or the conciliatory one put to Leo, he was having none of it because it infringed his unique apostolic privilege. There is no hyperbole, no poetic language – and no chance of misunderstanding. If we note in passing that Leo’s claims were far less limited than those of the modern Papacy, it ought to give all sectarian viewpoints pause for thought.