Saint Robert Bellarmine Examines the Attacks Against the Roman Pontiff

Jesus Giving Peter the KeysWherefore, that I should pass over the rest, which would take a very long time to enumerate, where is the consensus in doctrine, the bond of peace, the unity of Faith, where is the very salvation and life of religion, unless it is from this see? Otherwise, why is it that the heretics of our time, when they have sufficiently obtained many and even great lands, such as England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Bohemia and not a small part of Hungary, have not yet been able to compel one general Council that they all might agree on one point of doctrine? Why even the Greeks, since the year 800, in which they cut themselves off from the See of Peter and the Roman Church, for almost 800 years have not once celebrated a Council to argue mutually among themselves for agreement and peace? When we, on the other hand, have had around ten general Councils, and at that very frequently, the last of which was in this time, in which the Lutherans bitterly contended among themselves, and publicly despaired of the unity and the supreme agreement of the celebrated fathers. What can be the reason for such a difference, except that all of them lack a leader and rule, who alone can and ought to confirm all the brethren in Faith, and retain the whole Church in unity?

At length the prophet (Isaiah) adds: ‘It has been founded in the foundation.’ What, indeed, is founded in the foundation, except a foundation after the principle foundation, that is, a secondary foundation, not the first? Accordingly, the first and particular foundation of the Church we know to be Christ, about which the Apostle said: ‘No man can place another foundation, apart from that which has been placed, which is Christ Jesus.’ But after Christ, the foundation is Peter, and unless it is through Peter, one does not reach unto Christ. Although the heretics talk about Christ, and boast that they follow his word and doctrine, nevertheless it is unavoidable that, as Leo the great says, one is exiled from the divine mystery who will have dared to recede from the solidity of Peter.

The See of Peter, therefore, is the proven stone, the corner stone, the precious stone, founded in the foundation, and it is indeed so for us: but on the other hand, to our adversaries, the heretics, it is nothing other than the stone of offense, and the stone of shame. Although they ought to build themselves upon it into a holy temple in the Lord, instead these, like truly blind and insane men, dash themselves against it. It goes against human wisdom, against their pride, for those who in their own eyes are experienced, that one mortal, in whom there is no erudition, nor goodness, nor any other reason they should judge themselves inferior to him, should be called the foundation of the Church, above which, a building has been placed, at the same time vast, sublime, and immense. For this reason it displeases them, because they do not understand, what may be not only easy for God, but even glorious to choose from the weak, that he might confound the strong. Nor do they seem to have noticed that this is God’s way, that through Faith and humility he leads to wisdom and glory.

Thus it is certain, without a doubt, that through the foolishness of preaching a Crucified Man, believers are saved: thus he chose fishermen, that he might convert emperors; thus in abject and common things, water, oil, bread and the species of wine, he bound the strength of the sacraments, and the endless treasures of heavenly gifts: that while we are subject to abject things by humility and faith, we are carried to the lot of the sons of God, and to the consort of the very divine nature. Nevertheless, the heretics close their eyes to all these things, and do not cease to fury and rage against the salutary rock, and against the counsel of God, that it should be to them the stone of offense and the rock of scandal. Indeed the Donatists named this seat the chair of pestilence: Berengarius called the pontiff of this seat the pmpificem and pulpificem; the Waldenses ‘the whore clothed in purple’; Wycliff called it the synagogue of Satan; the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists contend it is the seat of Antichrist. And although they might disagree with us on many other matters, nevertheless, from this cause alone, have they wished to impose upon us a name. They call us nothing other than Papists, as if only, or particularly, they reckon we err in defending the supreme pontiff. And they do not reckon to themselves to be able to give someone any greater insult, than if they might call him a Pope. On the other hand every place found to be filthy and sordid, and whatsoever is found to be foul and ugly in the nature of things, they begin to call according to some derivation of the term “Pope.”

Therefore, this is the spirit of Luther and Calvin and the like against the Pope, that although they indeed write sharply and petulantly on all other matters, when it comes to the Supreme Pontiff, they do so violently, by loading on insults, calumnies, jeers, that he is driven by mad spirits, and is filled with a wicked demon, or rather, that he has lain aside human nature, and clothed himself with a demonic one. Besides, even if they would wish to establish a leader (naturally they refuse), they are weak and useless, but the supreme pontificate is the firmest rock, not them. For while they strike at this seat, that they should try to break it, instead they shall by broken by it: ‘upon this stone, will be broken, upon whom this stone should fall, it will break them.’ And Pope Leo the Great declared: ‘Whoever things it wise to deny the first place is to this seat, truly in no way can he decrease its dignity, but being puffed up with the spirit of his pride, he shall sink himself into hell.’

As some vast boulder, which stands out in the midst of the sea above the waves and tides is never thrown down nor moved, although again and again the blowing of the winds and the waves of the sea rush upon it with great force, but instead all these dissipated and broke: in like fashion when the See of Peter has been struck so many times already by the Jews, the heathen, heretics, rebels, and schismatics with incredible fury, nearly all of these were either consumed or conquered, or made prostrate, for over 1500 years she has stood immovable: and always (as St. Augustine said) while heretics howled around, it obtained the summit of authority. Since these things are so, unless I am mistaken, you will see the magnitude of this controversy we have proposed to explain.

I come now to it, which we have placed in the second point. The first ones who attacked the primacy of the Roman Pontiff in earnest appear to have been the Greeks. Truly, already then in the year of our Lord 381, they wished that the bishop of Constantinople, who as yet was not even a patriarch, should be set before the Eastern Patriarchs, and be made second to the Roman Pontiff. This can be seen in the second Ecumenical Council, Can. 5. Thereafter in the year 451, the Greeks, not being content with the matter, tried to make the bishop of Constantinople equal to the Roman Pontiff. For, in the Council of Chalcedon, act. 16, the Greek Fathers defined, not without fraud, since the Roman legates were absent, that the bishopric of Constantinople ought to be so close to the Roman See, that still it should have equal privileges. Not content with this, in the times of St. Gregory, and of his predecessor Pelagius II, around the year 600 they began to call the Bishop of Constantinople ‘Ecumenical’, that is, or the whole world, or universal bishop. The witness of this affair is St. Gregory himself in letters, many of which he wrote on this subject in a short time to John the bishop of Constantinople, to the Emperor Maurice, to the Empress Constance, and to the rest of the patriarchs of the East.

Next, in year 1054, they openly pronounced that the Bishop of Rome had lost his position on account of the addition of the phrase Filioque to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, based on a judgment from the Council of Ephesus which had forbidden it, and further pronounced the Bishop of Constantinople to be the first of all the bishops. There is even a little book extant in Greek written by Nilus, the archbishop of Thessalonika, against the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, which recently Illyricus brought into the light from unknown darkness, and translated into Latin.

On the side of the Latins, the first were the Waldenses, who removed themselves from obedience to the Roman Pontiff. The Waldensians arose in the year 1170, as Reynerius writes, and they flourished for 300 years. Then, in the year 1300, from the witness of Matthew Palmerio in his Chronicle, there existed those who were called the Fraticelli, who apart from other errors, held this: that the authority of Peter had long since ceased in the Roman Church, and was transferred to their sect. Not long after, in the time of John de Turrecremata who witnesses it, Marsilius of Padua arose, and John of Janduno, who held that not only are all bishops equal to the Roman Pontiff, but even all priests.

Thereupon, around the year of Our Lord 1390, arose Jon Wycliff, and John Huss followed him, whose opinions against the Apostolic See can be read in the Council of Constance, sess. 8, and 15.

At length in our century Martin Luther, and so many heretics appeared after him, who tried to undermine the Roman Pontificate with all their strength and every effort of their spirit. And the summation of their doctrine is, the Roman Bishop was at some time shepherd and preacher of the Roman Church, and one from the rest, not one above the rest: but now it is nothing other than Antichrist.

– Saint Robert Bellarmine, De Controversiis On the Roman Pontiff


– Lucas G. Westman


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