Did Rome Have Universal, Ordinary, and Immediate Jurisdiction at the Council of Ephesus? | Part II | Rebuttal to Catholic Apologist Erick Ybarra


The Council of Ephesus

(This is the second part in a three part series, parts I and III can be found here and here)

In part I, we began analyzing Mr. Ybarra’s article on the role of Pope St. Celestine in the dispute regarding Nestorius prior to the Council of Ephesus in 431 and we demonstrated two points:

  1. That the excommunication of Nestorius by the Roman Synod prior to the calling of the Council of Ephesus was not actually an example of Vatican I’s universal ordinary and immediate papal jurisdiction.
  2. The ten day ultimatum issued by the Roman synod was not actually “extended” by the Emperor calling a council.

In this installment, we will deal with Mr. Ybarra’s claims regarding the role of St. Celestine and the Roman legates at the Council and what happened there. 

The Bishops who convened at Ephesus thus opened up under the presidency of St. Cyril. At the opening, the list of names has the following for St Cyril: “By Cyril of Alexandria, who managed the place of the most holy and sacred [Pope] Celestine, Archbishop of the Roman Church” (Latin/Greek)

That St. Cyril held the place of Pope St. Celestine and that Rome holds the presidency at an ecumenical council is a non-controversial point as the role of the Pope in the ancient Church was that of a metropolitan in a synod, which is analogous to the position of the prime minister in a parliamentary system. What is important to note, though is that St. Cyril simply ignored St. Celestine’s instructions on how he expected the council to be conducted were St. Cyril to have the auctoritas of Rome behind him: that the council be held in an orderly manner [1]. This becomes painfully clear when St. Cyril does not wait for John of Antioch and the Syrian contingency to arrive to open the council and therefore opens it contra the wishes of the Emperor and his representative Count Candidian, who had been tasked by the Emperor with overseeing the proceedings [2].

Erick: “As, in addition to other things, the impious Nestorius has not obeyed our citation, and did not receive the holy bishops who were sent by us to him, we were compelled to examine his ungodly doctrines. We discovered that he had held and published impious doctrines in his letters and treatises, as well as in discourses which he delivered in this city, and which have been testified to. Compelled thereto by the canons and by the letter (ἀναγκαίως κατεπειχθέντες ἀπό τε τῶν κανόνων, καὶ ἐκ τὴς ἐπιστολῆς, κ.τ.λ.) of our most holy father and fellow-servant Cœlestine, the Roman bishop, we have come, with many tears, to this sorrowful sentence against him, namely, that our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has blasphemed, decrees by the holy Synod that Nestorius be excluded from the episcopal dignity, and from all priestly communion.” (Decree of the Council Against Nestorius)

The last part of the Decree gives the reasons for why they are compelled to carry through with the open sentence of excommunication on Nestorius. Notice that the Council Father appeal to the letter of Pope St. Celestine, which had said an “open sentence” of excommunication would have to be passed on Nestorius. It seems quite apparent that since the summoning of the Synod came to the notice of all in the East, that they were going to have to give Nestorius the space to defend himself, or recant. And yet, still without knowing that the Pope gave the extension to his threat to Nestorius, the Council Fathers believed that the Pope’s letter was still in force. Otherwise, why would they be “compelled” by it?

The use of the term “compelled” in the translation of the Greek ἀναγκαίως κατεπειχθέντες ἀπό τε τῶν κανόνων, καὶ ἐκ τὴς ἐπιστολῆς, κ.τ.λ. appears only in one translation I am aware of, that of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Vol. XIV (this is the same translation used by EWTN but it is not the same translation used by the Catholic Encyclopedia and approved by a Nihil Obstat). The translator here admits, embarrassingly and surprisingly, that he is not actually following the original Greek text at all but instead the ‘Old Latin text’[3] and then attempts to read the Latin into the Greek text itself [4]. The important words are ἀναγκαίως [5] and κατεπειχθέντες [6]. The first is an adverb meaning “Necessarily” and the second is a verb meaning “to press hard” or “to urge.” It states “Having by necessity been hard pressed by the canons and the letter of our most holy father and fellow servant Celestine…” The Catholic Encyclopedia translates the term more vaguely with “of necessity impelled”(1,2).

That they mention the canons in the same breath is significant because canons are used at the discretion of the bishop (or synod) and do not “compel” because they are not rulings from the bench that must be enforced.

Erick: If, as some Eastern Orthodox and Anglican historians have attempted to argue, the Council thought of the Pope’s letter as a having no intrinsic bearing on the examination of Nestorius in the fresh venue of the supreme authority of an Ecumenical Council, then why are these Council Fathers compelled by the Pope’s letter? It is, I believe, because they understood the hammer dropping on Nestorius to have been under the open force of the Pope’s letter. In other words, there was no need to judge Nestorius since the Pope’s letter itself was enough, together with the canonical disobedience to the Council’s summons, to pass the sentence they did.

It would certainly be nice if that were true but they actually read at least one of Nestorius’ letters in Session I one of the council to judge for themselves (the scene speaks for itself):

“Palladius, the bishop of Amasea, said, The next thing to be done is to read the letter of the most reverend Nestorius, of which the most religious presbyter Peter made mention; so that we may understand whether or not it agrees with the exposition of the Nicene fathers.

And after this letter was read, Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, said, What seems good to this holy and great synod with regard to the letter just read? Does it also seem to be consonant to the faith set forth by the holy Synod assembled in the city of Nice?

[The bishops, then as before, individually express their opinion, and at last the Acts continue (col. 502):]

All the bishops cried out together: Whoever does not anathematize Nestorius let him be anathema. Such an one the right faith anathematizes; such an one the holy Synod anathematizes. Whoever communicates with Nestorius let him be anathema! We anathematize all the apostles of Nestorius: we all anathematize Nestorius as a heretic: let all such as communicate with Nestorius be anathema, etc., etc.”
(Session I)

Prior to this, they had read a letter of St. Cyril’s and sought the approval of the council on its orthodoxy so they were not simply taking Rome or Alexandria’s decision blindly, they were quickly reviewing a case they had all been following for the months before.

Further, in the final decree against Nestorius at the end of the first session, they again repeat that they had reviewed his case:

“As, in addition to other things, the impious Nestorius has not obeyed our citation, and did not receive the holy bishops who were sent by us to him, we were compelled to examine his ungodly doctrines. We discovered that he had held and published impious doctrines in his letters and treatises, as well as in discourses which he delivered in this city, and which have been testified to.” (Session I)

Mr. Ybarra continues…

Erick: When the legates arrive, the Council went into its 2nd Session. Here at the opening, the legate Phillip opened up with the following:

“Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: We bless the holy and adorable Trinity that our lowliness has been deemed worthy to attend your holy Synod. For a long time ago (πάλαι) our most holy and blessed pope Cœlestine, bishop of the Apostolic See, through his letters to that holy and most pious man Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, gave judgment concerning the present cause and affair (ὥρισεν) which letters have been shown to your holy assembly. And now again for the corroboration of the Catholic (καθολικῆς) faith, he has sent through us letters to all your holinesses, which you will bid (κελούσατε) to be read with becoming reverence (πρεπόντως) and to be entered on the ecclesiastical minutes.” (all citations of the Council sessions are taken from NewAdvent)

The legate make is clear that while Pope St. Celestine understood the criteria of orthodox faith and the discipline of Nestorius had not changed, his dispatching of legates is clear implication that he understood a wider space to examine Nestorius was provided.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

As shown earlier, Rome’s 10 day dictate had already expired and had not been extended so Nestorius was already considered condemned by both Rome and Alexandria. The question was in regard to the rest of the bishops present.

The late arrival of the legates is where we begin to see the gentle interplay between Rome and the rest of the bishops in the back and forth requests and ratifications. A good example of this is how John of Antioch refers to the papal legates as “defenders sent by Celestine of happy memory” as they were defending the Roman verdict against Nestorius before the council. (Letter 35, “The Fathers of the Church, St. Cyril of Alexandria” John McEnerney).

Contrary to the belief that the council was some sort of “pope vs. council” or (just as wretched) “council obeys autocratic pope,” the council actually functioned along the same principles as canon 34 of the Apostolic Canons in that everything followed mutual consent. We see this first in the letter of Pope St. Celestine to the Council:

A Synod of priests gives witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit. For true is that which we read, since the Truth cannot lie, to wit, the promise of the Gospel; Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. And since this is so, if the Holy Spirit is not absent from so small a number how much more may we believe he is present when so great a multitude of holy ones are assembled together! Every council is holy on account of a peculiar veneration which is its due; for in every such council the reverence which should be paid to that most famous council of the Apostles of which we read is to be had regard to.

Never was the Master, whom they had received to preach, lacking to this, but ever was present as Lord and Master; and never were those who taught deserted by their teacher. For he that had sent them was their teacher; he who had commanded what was to be taught, was their teacher; he who affirms that he himself is heard in his Apostles, was their teacher. This duty of preaching has been entrusted to all the Lord’s priests in common, for by right of inheritance we are bound to undertake this solicitude, whoever of us preach the name of the Lord in various lands in their stead for he said to them, Go, teach all nations. You, dear brethren, should observe that we have received a general command: for he wills that all of us should perform that office, which he thus entrusted in common to all the Apostles.

We must needs follow our predecessors. Let us all, then, undertake their labours, since we are the successors in their honour. And we show forth our diligence in preaching the same doctrines that they taught, beside which, according to the admonition of the Apostle, we are forbidden to add anything. For the office of keeping what is committed to our trust is no less dignified than that of handing it down…I exhort you, most blessed brethren, that love alone be regarded in which we ought to remain, according to the voice of John the Apostle whose relics we venerate in this city. Let common prayer be offered to the Lord. For we can form some idea of what will be the power of the divine presence at the united intercession of such a multitude of priests, by considering how the very place was moved where, as we read, the Twelve made together their supplication. And what was the purport of that prayer of the Apostles? It was that they might receive grace to speak the word of God with confidence, and to act through its power, both of which they received by the favour of Christ our God.

And now what else is to be asked for by your holy council, except that you may speak the Word of the Lord with confidence? What else than that he would give you grace to preserve that which he has given you to preach? That being filled with the Holy Ghost, as it is written, you may set forth that one truth which the Spirit himself has taught you, although with various voices…Out of our solicitude, we have sent our holy brethren and fellow priests, who are at one with us and are most approved men, Arcedius, and Projectus, the bishops, and our presbyter, Philip, that they may be present at what is done and may carry out what things have been already decreed be us. To the performing of which we have no doubt that your holiness will assent when it is seen that what has been decreed is for the security of the whole church.

After first telling them how great they would be, the last line is St. Celestine asking the bishops present to accept the Roman Synod’s decision as their own.

Erick: During the reading of the Pope’s letter to the Council, the instructions that the Pope gave to his legates are included:

“Out of our solicitude, we have sent our holy brethren and fellow priests, who are at one with us and are most approved men, Arcedius, and Projectus, the bishops, and our presbyter, Philip, that they may be present at what is done and may carry out what things have been already decreed by us (quæ a nobis antea statuta sunt, exequantur).”

Important to see here that the Pope understood his decisions which were put in the original letter to have been not open for question. The matter had been decided already, and this council was merely to determine whether Nestorius was going to repent or not. The papal legate, Projectus, then stood up and exhorted the Council fathers to give their assent to the Papal letter:

“Projectus, the most reverend bishop and legate, said: Let your holiness consider the form (τύπον) of the writings of the holy and venerable pope Cœlestine, the bishop, who has exhorted your holiness (not as if teaching the ignorant, but as reminding them that know) that those things which he had long ago defined, and now thought it right to remind you of, you might give command to be carried out to the uttermost, according to the canon of the common faith, and according to the use of the Catholic Church.”

Again, that original Papal letter continues to be presented as the non-negotiable settlement on the matter of the faith.

If that were the case, there would have been no reason to review the writings of Cyril and Nestorius during the first session. As the story of St. Meletius of Antioch [7] shows, a condemnation from Rome is not the be-all-and-end-all Mr. Ybarra is making it out to be but is instead simply a statement of whom Rome will hold communion with as well as, especially in this case, the largest and most prominent piece of a universal condemnation. Case in point, the venerable and famous Acacius or Beroea (known as “the Old Man of the Orient”), who was instrumental in healing the schism between Antioch and the Council in 433 was in communion with both Rome and Alexandria as well as with the schismatic Antioch who refused to accept the Council.

Second, together with the language in the letter of St. Celestine to the Council, notice the language employed by the papal legate: “exhorted your holiness” and “might command to be carried out.” Far from language of universal ordinary jurisdiction where an order is given and must immediately be obeyed and carried out, we are seeing the legate present the Roman Synod’s decision to the council for universal ratification.

Erick: Firmus, Bishop of Caesarea, speaking on behalf of the Council fathers responded to the Papal legates with this: “Firmus, the bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia said: The Apostolic and holy see of the most holy bishop Cœlestine, has previously given a decision and type (τύπον) in this matter, through the writings which were sent to the most God beloved bishops, to wit to Cyril of Alexandria, and to Juvenal of Jerusalem, and to Rufus of Thessalonica, and to the holy churches, both of Constantinople and of Antioch. This we have also followed and (since the limit set for Nestorius’s emendation was long gone by, and much time has passed since our arrival at the city of Ephesus in accordance with the decree of the most pious emperor, and thereupon having delayed no little time so that the day fixed by the emperor was past; and since Nestorius although cited had not appeared) we carried into effect the type (τύπον) having pronounced against him a canonical and apostolic judgment.”

This representative of the Council has striking words. They recognized that they were carrying out the sentence, under St. Cyril (whom the Pope originally dispatched), that had been pronounced a long time ago by the Pope. The express words are “we carried into effect the τύπον” of Pope St. CelestineThus the Council understood itself as working off the Pope’s authority in the matter.

First, τύπος (τύπον is the accusative) though it does mean “type” it is a vague word meaning anything from “a formula” to a “rough draft” or even “a general outline”. They are simply saying Pope St. Celestine gave an idea for what it would take for Nestorius to be reinstated with Rome and you can see this in St. Celestine’s Letter to Nestorius but nowhere does he give a precise creedal formula.[8] 

Because of the vagueness of Rome’s τύπος and without asking Rome, St. Cyril and the Egyptian Synod immediately ‘fixed’ this by attaching the now famous “12 Anathemas” onto their own condemnation and sent that with the letter from Pope St. Celestine ordered Nestorius to accept all 12 anathemas saying:

“To all these your reverence [Nestorius] also should agree, and give heed, without any guile. And what it is necessary your reverence should anathematize we have subjoined to our epistle.” [the 12 anathemas follow][9]

Via the lens of Vatican I, it is impossible that Nestorius could be condemned by a criterion laid out in documents which had not even been reviewed by the “Supreme Pontiff.”

In addition, against what Mr. Ybarra strangely alleges, Firmus testifies to the fact that no extension was considered given to Nestorius by Pope St. Celestine when he says “since the limit set for Nestorius’s emendation was long gone by…”

Erick: In the 3rd Session, the Papal legate Phillip stood up and gave one of the clearest expositions of the Papal-Apostolic theory of Rome’s primacy:

“Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince (ἔξαρχος) and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation (θεμέλιος) of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors.The holy and most blessed pope Cœlestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy synod, which the most humane and Christian Emperors have commanded to assemble, bearing in mind and continually watching over the Catholic faith. For they both have kept and are now keeping intact the apostolic doctrine handed down to them from their most pious and humane grandfathers and fathers of holy memory down to the present time”

What is most striking is the context. The context is that the letters of the Pope which sought to depose an Eastern bishop (Nestorius) is an example of a Petrine authority which had been inherited by the occupant of Peter’s chair in Rome.

Another striking occurrence is that St. Cyril of Alexandria chimed in after Phillip and others were done speaking and gives obedience to what the Papal legates said, and offers a conclusion to the whole matter of Nestorius:

“Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria said: The professions which have been made by Arcadius and Projectus, the most holy and pious bishops, as also by Philip, the most religious presbyter of the Roman Church, stand manifest to the holy Synod. For they have made their profession in the place of the Apostolic See, and of the whole of the holy synod of the God-beloved and most holy bishops of the West. Wherefore let those things which were defined by the most holy Cœlestine, the God-beloved bishop, be carried into effect, and the vote cast against Nestorius the heretic, by the holy Synod, which met in the metropolis of Ephesus be agreed to universally; for this purpose let there be added to the already prepared acts the proceedings of yesterday and today, and let them be shown to their holiness, so that by their subscription according to custom, their canonical agreement with all of us may be manifest.”

But the power of loosing and binding sins is not limited to the Pope – and the presbyter does not say so – but the way Mr. Ybarra and other pop-apologists make it out to be, it is something unique to the Pope. If they are not saying that, then there really is nothing special about this quotation aside from it saying what Orthodoxy completely agrees with: that the pope holds the first place at a council and he is the successor of Peter par excellence. That Peter lives on in the Pope is not the silver bullet Mr. Ybarra imagines either as even popes can, and do, become heretics even by the Roman Catholic standards.[10] So this quotation really only does what Mr. Ybarra excels at: Proving non-controversial points while acting like they are a big deal.

Erick: Thus, St. Cyril believed the Papal-Apostolic theory of Rome’s primacy. Secondly, he also realizes that the force of the Pope’s original letter to Nestorius is what is being dropped into the Council as its own decision.

Archbishop Nestorius

Except, Mr. Ybarra never actually defines what “Papal-Apostolic theory of Rome’s primacy” is, he just states it as a fact that it was presented here. Without a doubt, Mr. Ybarra is referring to Pastor Aeternus but there is nothing in any of the above quotations proving either a universal immediate jurisdiction unique to the Pope or papal infallibility. In addition, the Letter of St. Celestine is actually the letter of the Roman Synod headed by St. Celestine and synods were typically referred to by the name of their head as shorthand due to the role of the head in ratifying the decisions of the bishops within it.[11]

The council’s “own decision” is its own decrees. That the council “dropped in” the decision of the Roman Synod is really of less significance than the fact that it used the 12 anathemas, which had not been previewed by Rome, to judge Nestorius.

To be continued in Part III (here).

[1] Letter 16 of Pope St. Celestine. Patrologia Latina 50. 501

[2] This is why St. Cyril goes to such incredible length to explain to St. Celestine, both privately and via the official letter of the Council to the Pope what John of Antioch had done – he was attempting to clean up the mess he had made by justifying behavior both the Pope and the Emperor had forbade. Now, it is well known that an advanced party of Antiochians arrived bringing word from John to start without him were he delayed further but Cyril took this to be stalling tactics so that John could avoid condemning his friend, Nestorius. When John arrived and convened a counter council, Cyril discovered the opposite.

[3] NPNF Vol. XIV, page 219: “The participle by itself might mean nothing more than “urged” (vide Liddell and Scott on this verb and also ἐπείγω) but the adverb which precedes it, ἀναγκαίως , certainly is sufficient to necessitate the coacti of the old Latin version which I have followed, translating “compelled thereto.” It will also be noticed that while the prepositions used with regard to the “canons” and the “letter” are different, yet that their grammatical relation to the verb is identical is shewn by the τε—καὶ, which proves the translation cited above to be utterly incorrect.”

[4] The merits of the Latin text are not really any better than those of the Greek text, especially considering the texts of the Acts of Ephesus are nearly hopelessly fraught with variants to the point that “In the Ata Conciliorum Oecumenicorum seven (sub-) volumes of various Greek records and five of Latin translations and collections are concerned with the First Council of Ephesus.” Those cover nearly 1,800 pages. Price & Whitby “Chalcedon in Context” p. 27-28

[5] “III. Adv. -ως of necessity, perforce”

[6] 2. to press much, press hard, drive on, urge on, impel” 

[7] St. Meletius of Antioch was considered a heretic and episcopal interloper by Rome and Alexandria but was in communion with the Three Cappadocians (Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory Nyssa) who repeatedly defended him and who themselves were in communion with Rome and Alexandria. 

[8] “Know therefore, clearly, that our sentence is this, namely, that unless thou preach those very doctrines concerning our God Anointed, which both the Church of the Romans, and the Church of the Alexandrians, and all the Universal Church holds fast, and as the holy Church in the great city of Constantine very well held fast until thee, and unless within the tenth day reckoned from the time that this admonition comes to thy knowledge, thou put away by a clear and written confession that unbelieving novelty and innovation of thine which attempts to separate the very things which the Holy Scripture joins together, thou art cast out from [all] the communion of the Universal Church.” 

[9] St. Cyril’s Third Letter to Nestorius. It is contained in first session of the Acts. 

[10] Of particular interest is the case of Pope Vigilius who was suspended by the 5th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 553 and whose successor signed off on the acts which detail his suspension. Pope St. Liberius is another instance as in Pope Honorius. Even Pope Vitalian entered into communion with the Monothelites and knew what he was doing was against Church teaching as the name of Pope St. Martin was left out of the Roman diptych for several decades until shortly before the 6ths Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 681. For further reading, see “Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes” by Andrew J. Ekonomou pages 158-159, 176, 182n18.

[11] A great example of this is how throughout the Acts of Chalcedon, the decisions of Ephesus II are continually attributed to Dioscorus. This is why, in the Third letter of St. Cyril to Nestorius, St. Cyril mentions the Synod of Rome and Pope St. Celestine interchangeably. Were it the case that he did this because the Roman Synod was superfluous in making the decree, then it would also be the case that the bishops at Ephesus II were superfluous in making the decrees and we would have to accord to Dioscorus powers similar to that which Mr. Ybarra is attributing to the Pope. 


3 thoughts on “Did Rome Have Universal, Ordinary, and Immediate Jurisdiction at the Council of Ephesus? | Part II | Rebuttal to Catholic Apologist Erick Ybarra

  1. robert

    While you are ignoring most of what HAPPENED AT the great council OF Ephesus in which Philip the legate gives a clear exhortation of the role of the Bishop Of Rome!


  2. Pingback: Rebuttal to Erick Ybarra’s "Pope St. Celestine I (422-432) and Immediate Universal Jurisdiction" Part I – Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia

  3. Pingback: Rebuttal to Erick Ybarra’s "Pope St. Celestine I (422-432) and Immediate Universal Jurisdiction" Part III – Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia

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