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

In part I and part II (here and here), we addressed the bulk of Mr. Ybarra’s article in which he oddly claimed the excommunication of Nestorius by the Roman Synod prior to the Council of Ephesus was an act of universal, ordinary, and immediate papal jurisdiction. In this third part, we will conclude with his article and in light of correct data, we will address his conclusions with references to the previous parts. 

Erick: Now, since I intended to write this post, in particular, for my Coptic and Eastern Orthodox readers, I want to pose the question if the above data can be reconciled with their respective ecclesiologies. Some might want to point out that where the Pope had Nestorius excommunicated 10 days of the receipt of his letter, the Bishops of the Council of Ephesus celebrated him as “reverend Nestorius”, i.e. a man in good standing. The implication here is that the Pope’s letter of excommunication was a dead letter which carried no authority whatsoever. The Pope claimed a pending excommunication at the failure to recant at 10 days, and it did not actually happen, some might point out. Those who would point this out might also say that it was only when a Council met together and judged in a Conciliar fashion that penal action was taken against Nestorius. Ergo, Council is above the Pope, and a Pope cannot judge and excommunicate Bishops outside of his Patriarch. There are some problems with this gloss.

First, it ignores the fact that St. Celestine himself believed he was capable of excommunicating Nestorius by the authority of his See, which he gave a share of to St. Cyril (as cited above). That is significant testimony right there. This is not a self-aggrandizing Nebuchadnezzar who was hungry for power and money. On the contrary, he is a venerated Saint.

In Part I, in the section on episcopal depositions, we discussed how ubiquitous such depositions were and that they were not universally recognized but were local unless adopted by other synods. Ephesus was a classic example of this: Rome, Alexandria, and their allies had excommunicated Nestorius and the job of the council was whether or not to universalize those decisions and extend them beyond the boundaries of the Roman and Alexandrian synods. Present to ‘defend’ the decisions of the Roman and Alexandrian synods were St. Cyril and many Egyptian bishops as well as Roman legates – as mentioned in part II, John of Antioch even refers to the Roman legates as “defenders” in reference to their role in defending the decision of Rome before the bishops present (i.e. they are attempting to convince the bishops present to adopt their decision as their own). Second, the “authority” St. Celestine speaks of is one of  auctoritas (“reputation” or at the strongest, “confirmation”).  

Erick: Secondly, this gloss ignores the fact that St. Cyril of Alexandria was ready and prepared to see the Pope’s excommunication get carried out quite apart from any idea of a Council. So did St. Cyril buy into the Papal claims, too? If one is going to sustain the objection I’ve described, this is the inevitable implication.

Again, an ecumenical council is not required for an episcopal deposition, simply a synod – realistically, any synod so this is not a point of contention and making it out to be is either ignorance or, just as likely, a straw man.

Second, we know St. Cyril was aware of this because he led the Alexandrian Synod in issuing a deposition against Nestorius so of course he believed it could work out without an ecumenical synod.

Third, St. Cyril wrote to John of Antioch describing the situation and asking him to intervene with his friend, Nestorius (we know because John writes to Nestorius saying as much in November of 430 ). Letters were sent to other prelates throughout the Balkans and the East notifying them of the Roman and Alexandrian decisions and urging them to excommunicate the wayward prelate so we know St. Cyril himself did not think a general council was necessary to depose Nestorius.

Erick: Third, it ignores the fact that when the letters of the Pope arrived to be served to Nestorius in Constantinople, it had already been more than 2 weeks after the Emperor Theodosius II had already sent out a summons for the Bishops to assemble in Ephesus on account of Nestorius (and some other matters). The four bishops which were sent by St. Cyril to serve Nestorius must have returned even far after that to inform St. Cyril of the summons. Then, as I cited above, St. Cyril was torn in half as to allow the Council to provide a fresh trial or to assume Nestorius was already condemned by the authority of the Pope’s letter. On the contrary, if St. Cyril was of the mind that a Council dictates to the Pope, then the idea would have been straightforward: [Cyril speaking to himself] “Well an Ecumenical Councils has been called, so obviously the Pope’s letter is dead, and washed aside.” However, that was not the instinct of St. Cyril, as we know from his question to the Pope. When the Council convened, it appears as if St. Cyril, not having received the Pope’s reply to his question yet (that comes with the late-coming Papal legates in the 2nd Session of the Council), provided a fresh trial for Nestorius, however, continued to use the authority of the Pope’s letter to ground the excommunication of Nestorius. This is why, therefore, the Council understood itself as merely “carrying into effect” what had already been decided by the Pope. If it were the case that the Council thought itself as a superior court than the Pope’s, then the Council would have not considered themselves “carrying into effect” a decision from the Pope, but rather their own decision, and on the basis of their own authority. But we see the contrary. Fourth, and lastly, if Pope St. Celestine’s letter of excommunication were an overstepping of his boundaries, then why is it that not only the Pope himself, nor St Cyril, but neither the Council took any care to rebuke the Pope?

This is expanded upon in part I in the discussion on Ep. XVI of Pope St. Celestine but being that Pope. St. Celestine, the Roman Synod, and the bishops present at Ephesus followed the conciliar model, they would have never thought a council “superior” to the pope but the pope as part of such a council and as working with their lead hierarch. This option did not occur to Mr. Ybarra as his thought on the issue is too black and white (i.e. ‘either the pope or the council’). 

Erick: Therefore, the more preferable interpretation is that the Pope’s letter was not anticipating a Council to be convened, but on the knowledge of said convening, it was obvious to both St. Cyril and St. Celestine that some sort of an extension or delay is to be put on the Pope’s letter.

If that were the case, the Roman and Egyptian synods would have resumed commemorating him as he would not have been excommunicated yet. But they did not. In fact, upon arriving in Ephesus, Nestorius found himself completely locked out of all the churches (McGuckin) showing he was considered excommunicated.  

Erick: Just by the fact that St. Celestine sent legates to Ephesus (431) shows that he understood there to be some room for Nestorius to recant of his error in the mode of a Council. However, the idea here is not that the letter becomes brushed to the side. Far to the contrary, we see the Council still respecting its authority as *still in force*! If it were the case that the Bishop of Ephesus (431) were really Eastern Orthodox, they would have not been so happy with the overstepping of the boundaries of St. Celestine. Remember, this was not merely the Pope’s removing Nestorius’s name from the diptycha, making some sort of a internal schism at time. It was a claim for an open sentence , and to trust that sentence as coming from Jesus Christ. And yet, it is the Pope’s sentence which is , by the admission of the Council, carried out. If it were an abusive Papal overreach, then the Council is saying that an abusive Papal overreach had been united to their own judgment, thereby condemning themselves. For great reasons, I reject this reading of the situation. In short, all the evidence presented shows that the Council followed the orders of the Pope, and so we have to be careful how we are characterizing the initial judgment of the Pope. For if we taint it with Papal-overreach, than the Council falls prey to it. If it were a failed attempt at exercising universal jurisdiction, then the Council falls prey in holding the Pope’s orders as the center of gravity for its decisions. What other way can we interpret the representative voice of Fimus of Caesarea from the Council who said:

“The Apostolic and holy see of the most holy bishop Cœlestine, has previously given a decision and type (τύπον) in this matter…This we have also followed and we carried into effect the type (τύπον) having pronounced against him a canonical and apostolic judgment.”

This testimony is not consistent with the view that sees the Pope’s original order against Nestorius as basically invalid in light of the Council. The Pope had no intention of carrying the sentence into effect himself, and this is why he dispatched St. Cyril to make a public sentence.


But no one serious is saying the “original order against Nestorius” is “basically invalid in light of the Council.” Only a noob would argue for that. What is being said is that Roman Synod’s condemnation of Nestorius is the Roman Synod’s condemnation of Nestorius, not the entire Church’s, and the Roman Synod like all other synods reserved the right to depose wayward clerics and laity both inside and outside their territory. What had occurred was Rome had weighed in on the side of Cyril. Had the council decided in favor of Nestorius without him repenting, Rome and Alexandria certainly would not have backed down and would have continued to view him as a persona non grata but as the case of St. Meletius of Antioch shows, just because Rome excommunicates you does not mean everyone in communion with Rome just accepted that condemnation nor was Rome naïve enough to believe everyone was required to. Cases such as those of St. Meletius of Antioch and that of Acacius of Beroea also demonstrate Rome was just fine with others not accepting the excommunication and continuing to hold communion with those condemned as Rome continued to hold communion with the Three Cappadocians (in the case of St. Meletius) and Acacius (in the case of John of Antioch, Acacius was in communion with Antioch on the one hand and Alexandria and Rome on the other after the Council of Ephesus).

Second, Mr. Ybarra seems to think “carried into effect” means something along the lines of “to obey” or “to submit” while it really is a neutral term that just means to “put into action” or “apply.” In part II, we saw as they analyzed the material presented by St. Cyril and company, agreed the Roman and Alexandrian synods had made a correct decision, and then adopted the contents to make their own decisions (the council’s excommunication of Nestorius and its dogmatic decree).  

Erick: There is only one single alternative which makes any sense of the data: The Bishop of Rome , as successor to the primacy of St. Peter, is endowed with the power of the keys to bind and to loose, over the universal Church and has judged on the matter of Nestorius long ago, and while a fresh examination of Nestorius has been conceded on account of the unforeseen convening of an Ecumenical Council, it is the very same judgment of the Pope, made long ago, that is ordered to take effect through the Council.

If it were the same judgement of the Pope, there would have been no reason for the 12 Chapters.  

Erick: There is actually one more piece from this Council which corroborates that the Pope was understood to judge and ratify Councils. The Bishop of Antioch, John, did not actually make it to Ephesus to join with the Bishops in Council. In fact, he opposed the Council, and sought to exclude St. Cyril from communion for condemning Nestorius. In the letter of the Council to the Pope, they describe his opposition to the Council:

“For we had hoped that the most reverend John, bishop of Antioch would have praised the sedulous care and piety of the Synod, and that perchance he would have blamed the slowness of Nestorius’s deposition. But all things turned out contrary to our hope. For he was found to be an enemy, and a most warlike one, to the holy Synod, and even to the orthodox faith of the churches, as these things indicate.”

That is incorrect, John of Antioch and the rest of the Antiochian contingent did actually make it to the city of Ephesus either on the fourth or fifth day after the council opened and refusing to attend, they immediately convened a counter-council.[1] The same letter Mr. Ybarra quotes states so openly but Mr. Ybarra failed to pick up on it.

Erick: So what did the Holy Synod do about John’s refusal to attend, and his unwanted opposition? We read in the same letter to the Pope:

“But although most justly and in accordance with law he would have suffered this punishment yet in the hope that by our patience his temerity might be conquered, we have reserved this to the decision of your holiness.”

Now, why would the Council of Ephesus (431), if it were a higher court than the Apostolic See, reserve the judgment of a wayward cleric to the Pope? It would seem unbecoming of a Council, if it were the only venue to judge the Bishops of any region, to reserve a matter to the Pope. It would almost appear as if they understood the Apostolic See to be endowed with the prerogative of judging both the Council and the Bishops of all Sees.

Mr. Ybarra leaves off the last two-thirds of the quotation in order to give it a more pro-papal feeling. The fuller quotation is below:

“But although most justly and in accordance with law he would have suffered this punishment yet in the hope that by our patience his temerity might be conquered, we have reserved this to the decision of your holiness. In the meanwhile, we have deprived them of communion and have taken from them all priestly power, so that they may not be able to do any harm by their opinions. For those who thus ferociously, and cruelly, and uncanonically are wont to rush to such frightful and most wicked things, how was it not necessary that they should be stripped of the powers which [as a matter of fact] they did not possess, of being able to do harm.” (translation from New Advent)

Syriac folia of Socrates Scholasticus “The Ecclesiastical History.”

Notice it is the council deposes them. That the counsel then does the pope the courtesy of referring John of Antioch and his companions to him for upholding the condemnation is more a matter of politeness as the council has already accomplished the act as Rome’s legates were present and voted to depose John’s party as well as the fact Rome had already given St. Cyril its pre-approval to do what needed to be done (Ep. XVI of St. Celestine). Further, the Reunion letter of 433 is something brought about by St. Cyril of Alexandria, John of Antioch, Acacius of Beroea, and the imperial court (Letters 34, 39, 40, 43, 47, 48, and 49 of St. Cyril), In fact, echoing what John of Antioch says in the aforementioned letter 47, Socrates, in his Ecclesiastical History, states:

“But soon afterwards, having set aside their enmity and accepting each other as friends, they [St. Cyril and John of Antioch] mutually reinstated each other in their episcopal chairs.”[2]

The pope was barely involved the reunion aside from stating he would not hold communion with those who rejected the council and then later issuing a congratulations after the reunion to both St. Cyril and John (letters 51 and 52 of St. Cyril)

In closing, had Mr. Ybarra taken the time and made the effort to differentiate between an act of the Roman Synod as opposed to an act of the Pope on his own, he would not have come to the conclusions he did. Further, had he not viewed the situation in terms of ‘Vatican I or Anglicanism,’ he would have seen more options before him such as the pope being the head of the council in a standard synodal process identical to how the Orthodox Church handles councils. Having read the available primary source material in English and much of it in the original Latin, one cannot understand how it could be argued this was an application of the type of jurisdiction Pastor Aeternus gives the Pope when it is clearly a conciliar model. 


It should be noted that in April 2020, the translation of and commentary on the Acts of Ephesus in the THT series will be coming out and, hopefully, I will be able to add to the pieces of this series. 

[1] “For as soon as he had come to Ephesus, before he had even shaken off the dust of the journey, or changed his travelling dress, he assembled those who had sided with Nestorius and who had uttered blasphemies against their head, and only not derided the glory of Christ, and gathering as a college to himself, I suppose, thirty men, having the name of bishops (some of whom were without sees, wandering about and having no dioceses, others again had for many years been deposed for serious causes from their metropolises, and with these were Pelagians and the followers of Celestius, and some of those who were turned out of Thessaly), he had the presumption to commit a piece of iniquity no man had ever done before. For all by himself he drew up a paper which he called a deposition, and reviled and reproached the most holy and reverend Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, and the most reverend Memnon, bishop of Ephesus, our brother, and fellow-minister, none of us knowing anything about it, and not even those who were thus reviling knew what was being done, nor for what reason they had presumed to do this. But ignoring the anger of God for such behaviour, and unheeding the ecclesiastical canons, and forgetting that they were hastening to destruction by such a course of action, under the name of an excommunication, they then reviled the whole Synod.”

[2] Socrates Scholasticus “Ecclesiastical History” Book VII, Ch. 34. It should be noted Socrates mistakenly records that the synod John of Antioch and the Antiochians held contra the legitimate council of Ephesus as being held in Antioch after returning from Ephesus.




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

  1. Justina

    basically, this “excommunication” was only valid per Rome’s relationship with Constantinople, and did not automatically bring in anyone else. Like the present situation where Russia has drawn away from Constantinople EP because of the Ukraine thing. some other jurisdictions support the EP some are playing neutral.


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

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

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