Before Leo had rejected the canon, both the Emperor Marcion, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Anatolius, had written to him in conciliatory tones. Marcion hoped (Leo, Epistles CII) that now Rome’s doctrinal position had triumphed , that Chalcedon could be ratified. Anatolius went along the same line in another December letter (Price III pp. 138-142) in which he tried to convince Leo that his delegates had reported things incorrectly and stated clearly they had not simply sent him the canon as a conciliatory measure but for his approval:

This decree has been transmitted to your sacredness by the holy council and by us in order to receive from you approval and confirmation.


He went on the ‘beg’ him to do so so that ‘everything that was transacted in writing at this holy and ecumenical council’ could then be enacted. This was not the language even of primus inter pares – it was language used to a superior. But as we have seen, Leo was not mollified and would not give his approval. He told the Empress Pulcheria that delighted though he was that the Council had proclaimed orthodoxy, he was saddened that an attempt had been made to add to the canons of Nicaea for no aim higher than political advantage.

Leo’s claims were based on Tradition and Apostolicity, he could not, and did not yield them.  On 21 March 453, with parts of Palestine claiming Chalcedon was not legitimate because Leo had not ratified it Leo confirmed (Ep. 114.2) that he agreed to everything at Chaldecon which did not contravene Nicaea. Letter 116 to the empress makes the same point, adding:

Let vicious ambition covet nothing belonging to another, nor let anyone seek his own increase through injuring another, for however much vainglorious pride builds on extorted assent and thinks that its depredations can be strengthened through talking of councils, whatever differs from the canons of the aforesaid fathers [Nicaea] will be null and void.

Leo’s ratification of the Council was thought necessary by all concerned, and given the nature of the crisis in Egypt and Palestine, no one mentioned Canon 28, although clearly Leo was not ratifying it; Rome did not do so until the thirteenth century.

Leo’s claims were well-known and public; they were not contested by Constantinople. All men knew what it meant for Peter to speak through Leo. He spoke through no other Bishop. No other Bishop stood at the head of the others. No other Bishop’s ratification was sought in the way Leo’s was. Once can debate until well after the cows have come home what later men later claimed these things meant; contemporaries seem to have been clear enough. Lack of clarity came only when men desired it – as is so often the case.

Loose talk about Caesaro-Papism conceals a harsh reality. In Constantinople the Patriarch owed the claims he made in 451 to the fact he was the Imperial Patriarch;  Church and State were one. The Roman Empire was effectively a theocracy – at Constantinople. Rome, deserted by the imperial bureaucracy, threatened by Huns, and already much reduced in population, owed its claims solely to Apostolicity. In upholding them, Leo was doing what generations of his predecessors would do – resisting the claims of the State to dictate to the successors of Peter.

The practicalities of doing this were never less than problematic. It might have been Stalin who famously asked ‘how many divisions has the Pope?’, but he was hardly the first. From Justinian through to Hitler, powerful men would threaten the Pope, even hold him hostage. The Popes would create their own State for safety and invent Western diplomacy to protect it. Whatever the modalities, the reasoning was consistent – Peter spoke through the Pope and against that Rock not even the Gates of Hell would prevail Nor have they, nor can they. On that we have His promise.

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