Question #27 – Was the Bishop of Rome, Pope Boniface III, the founder of the Roman Catholic Church in the year 606 Anno Domini? Was Patriarch Cerularius the founder of the Greek Orthodox Church in the year 1054?

Answer:  No! Bishop Boniface III is not the founder of the Roman Catholic Church 606 A.D.!!! Patriarch Cerularious is not the founder of the Greek Orthodox Church!!!  We submit two historians’ quotations to support our view. 

 Victor of Rome, Bishop in the City of Rome

    a) “By 190 Victor of Rome claimed to be ‘universal bishop’ but he was ignored by the other churches.  Cyprian (200-258) worked to give greater prestige to the bishop and after 250 the monarchal bishopric was almost universally established.” (The Eternal Kingdom, F. Mattox, p. 106)       

     My Comment:  This means that Bishop Victor of Rome had made the claim of universal headship of the church as early as the year 190 A.D. which means that Boniface III is not the first to make that claim of universal headship. – ET. 

     b) “The Western church under the leadership of Rome said that Peter and Paul taught them to observe Easter day always on the first day of the week. About the close of the second century, Victor, bishop of Rome, excommunicated the church of Asia because they would not agree with Western custom is always celebrating Easter on Sunday.  At this time it was generally believed that all bishops were of equal authority and Victor was considered out of place by such action. The churches of Asia would not change and Irenaeus got Victor to withdraw his rash declaration. Each continued its own practice until the first general council in 325 decided in favor of the Roman position.  This was another step in the exaltation of the Roman bishop.” (The Eternal Kingdom, F. W. Mattox, p. 117)     

     My Comment:  Roman bishop Victor presumed himself as ruler of the universal church issued the ex-communication against Asia Minor congregations but was prevailed upon by Irenaeus, an influential a so-called church father. — ET

Patriarch John the Faster of Constantinople Declared Universal Patriarch

     a) “In 527 the Emperor Justinian gave the bishop of Constantinople the title of “Ecumenical Patriarch,” and the succeeding bishops tried to hold on to this title.  John the Faster, as late as 588, claimed he was world bishop and that this honor belonged only to Constantinople. The bishops of Rome denied all these assertions, and circumstances soon favored their positions.” (The Eternal Kingdom, F. W. Mattox, p. 134)     

     My Comment:  Year 527 A.D. the Patriarch of Constantinople was declared “Ecumenical Patriarch” of the church by his backer, the Emperor Justinian.  Ecumenical suggests the idea of universal or worldwide. Why is he not declared as the founder of the Greek Orthodox Church if making a declaration of leadership is the measure of headship? Why wait for the year 1054?– ET

Leo I, Bishop of Rome Claimed Supremacy

     a) “Leo I, later called ‘the Great’ became bishop of Rome in 440 and served twenty years.  He stressed the theory of Roman supremacy on the basis of apostolic succession. He taught that the Lord held the Roman bishop responsible for the care of all the churches and that other bishops were assistants to the Roman bishop in administration, but could not share his authority.  To the bishop of Constantinople, he said:

‘Constantinople has its own glory and by the mercy of God has become the seat of the empire. But secular matters are based on one thing, and ecclesiastical matters on another. Nothing will stand which is not built on the Rock which the Lord laid in the foundation. . . Your city is royal but you cannot make it Apostolic.’

“Leo thus became the first pope.  His claim did not stand unchallenged but remained steadfast nevertheless. Weaker men who succeeded him were not able to defend these claims successfully, and after a period of ascendency for the bishops of Constantinople, another strong personality became bishop of Rome. Gregory I, who was also given the title ‘The Great’ ruled from 590 to 604.  At the close of his reign, the theory of the primacy of Peter and the Roman bishop as his successor and universal head of the church was definitely established.” (The Eternal Kingdom, F. W. Mattox, pp. 134, 135)

      b) “Constantine called this first general council to meet in Nicaea in Asia Minor, June 19, 325. Its purpose was to settle the controversy over the nature of Christ x x x. The council also created the office of Metropolitan, or Patriarch, by exalting the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.” (The Eternal Kingdom, F. W. Mattox, p. 138)  

     My Comment:  Please note that Leo I, bishop of Rome, was a powerful leader. F. Mattox calls him a believer in the supremacy of the Roman bishop and he is called by our historian as “the first pope.”  There is no strong historical reason by bishop Boniface III should be considered the first Roman Pope and founder of the Roman Catholic Church. Would you think that notable church historians would honor the claim that Boniface III is the first Roman Pope? – ET 

Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.

     a) “. . . Marsian, who became emperor upon the death of Theodosius in 450, called the council of Chalcedon. x x x This council said that ‘Peter has spoken through Leo’ and drew up its decision on the basis of this arguments.  The decree says that Christ is: ‘At once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable Soul and body; as of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood. . . begotten . . . of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ Son, Lord, Only begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without divisions, without separation. x x x  This council also decreed that the bishop of Constantinople was due all of the rights and powers bestowed upon the bishop of Rome. That as Rome ruled the West, Constantinople would rule the East.” (The Eternal Kingdom, F. Mattox, p. 141)

     b) “Leo I (440-461) was the first to set forth Papal claims on the basis of Scripture as proof.  Matthew 16:16-19 was used as proof that the church was built upon Peter. Luke 22:32 was used to prove that Peter was given responsibility for the other brethren as an overseer, and Leo said John 21:15-19 gave Peter the responsibility to feed the sheep, which meant clergy and feed the lambs, which meant the laity.” (The Eternal Kingdom, F. W. Mattox, p.160-161) 

     c) “Against the canon of the Council of Chalcedon, which declared the patriarch of Constantinople to be of equal dignity with the bishop of Rome, Pope Leo I vainly protested. Leo I, who died in 461, has been called the last of the ancient and the first of the medieval popes.” (The Church in History, B.K. Kuiper, page 84) 

     d) “In chapter six (sec. 9) we learned that the bishops in the large cities came to be called metropolitan bishops, and that the bishops of the five most important cities in the Empire acquired the title of patriarch.  Those five cities were Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. The bishop in Rome gradually came to be recognized by all the other bishops in the West as their superior. By the year 461, the year in which Leo I died, the papacy had become fully established.” (The Church in History, B.K. Kuiper, page 127     

 My Comment:   Again, Roman bishop Leo I is called Pope by a noted church historian. Which means that Boniface III is not the first Roman Pope and founder of the Roman Catholic Church. — ET

Gregory I (590-604)  

     a) “On the basis of his own successes he made peace with the Lombard king and enjoyed a greater position of honor in secular administration. One of his chief conflicts was with the patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, who had assumed the title “universal bishop.” Gregory was successful in causing a revocation of this title, but instead of adopting the same title for himself he said that he was a servant of the servants of God. (The Eternal Kingdom, pp. 181-182) 

     b) “The most important pope in the days when the new barbarian kingdoms were being built up on the ruins of the Empire in the West was Gregory the Great.  He was the first monk to become pope, and ruled from 590 to 604. He called himself ‘the servant of the servants of God’, a title used by popes down to the present day. x x x   He strongly upheld the claim of the bishops of Rome to power over the entire Church as successors of the apostle Peter.” (The Church in History, B. K. Kuiper, pp.100-101) 

     My Comment:   Bishop Gregory I is an immediate predecessor of Bishop Boniface III. It was in the year 604 A.D.     when Patriarch John the Faster of Constantinople declared himself as the Universal Patriarch of the Church which act was again rejected by the Roman bishops.  This act of the Greek Orthodox Church leader perhaps excited the succeeding Roman Bishop to insist on his primacy, so Boniface III made his own declaration in the year 606 A.D. that the Roman Pontiff is the overall head of the church.  This latest declaration would not qualify Boniface as the founder of the Roman Catholic Church in the year 606 A.D. because the Roman Catholic Church has been existing for many years prior to the year 606 A.D.. I hope that this explanation is clear. I suggest that my fellow preachers in our fellowship would stop posting or reposting a chart which says that Boniface III is the founder of the RCC in the year 606 A.D..

Leo IX (1049-1054)

     a) “. . . Henry the Emperor exalted his cousin Bruno to the papal throne as Leo IX. x x x   Leo IX, a strong man in his own right, had a very able assistant in the person of Hildebrand, who became an advisor of popes and later pope himself (Gregory VII).  Leo IX, however, had a very serious problem on his hands. His army was defeated by the Normans in Italy in 1053, and Cerularius Patriarch of Constantinople, began to bring discredit upon the authority of the Roman pope.  He also influenced the Patriarch of Achrida of Bulgaria to write to the bishops of southern Italy and refer to all of the errors propagated by the Roman church. This instigated a very bitter struggle between Rome and Constantinople. Leo sent delegates to Constantinople in an attempt to bring about unity and restore his authority over certain churches and monasteries.  But rather than producing unity the conferences led to a permanent division of the Eastern and Western churches. This final break took place July 16, 1054, and shall be discussed in detail later. (The Eternal Kingdom, p. 183) (NOTE: It is the final break between the two camps, not their founding year because both existed in previous years.) 

     b)   “Leo IX, who was pope from 1049-1054, was a leading supporter of Cluny. x x x   But Leo’s term as pope, which began so gloriously, had also its troublous side. You will remember that, although the eastern and the western parts of the Church had for long time been drifting apart, they were up to this time still united. It was while Leo was pope that the two parts of the Church separated from each other.  Pope Leo IX of Rome became involved in trouble with Michael Cerularius, the patriarch of Constantinople. In 1054 he sent representatives to Constantinople with a letter, which they laid at the high altar of the St. Sophia Church. In that letter Pope Leo IX excommunicated Cerularius. The patriarch in turn excommunicated the people.  That was the schism, or division, of the Church (mentioned in chapter 10), the division of the one Church into two – the Greek Eastern and the Latin Western Church.” (The Church in History, pp. 143-144)

     My Comment:  Many congregations in the eastern side of the Roman Empire used Greek as their language.  It is believed that all the New Testament original manuscripts were written in Greek. Many ancient manuscripts were written in Greek.  Which is why the congregations that continued on into the second and third centuries that did not recognize the Bishop of Rome as their head were called “Greek Orthodox Church” because they used Greek scriptures and made very few changes in belief and practice compared to congregations that bowed to the leadership of the Roman bishop.  The congregations in the western side of Roman Empire eventually employed Latin as their language and the Roman bishop allowed many pagan religious practices and other innovations like infant baptism, December 25 as Christ’s birthday celebration, a distinction of clergy and laity, monastic vows, belief that the bread and wine blessed by a priest would turn into the actual body and blood of Christ, celebration of December 25 as the birthday of Christ, placing images on the altar and inside the church building, celebration of the crucifixion of Christ always on a Friday nearest the full moon about the end of March or early April as opposed to the Jewish computation of 14th of the month of Nisan which was followed by the eastern or Greek churches.  — ET

Conclusion:  It is of general knowledge that Roman Bishop Boniface III declared himself as the “Universal Father of the Church” in 606 A.D..  Evidently this was a reaction against the Constantinople Patriarch John the Faster’s claim in 604 A.D. that he was the “Universal Patriarch of the Church.”  However, the quotations above prove that there have been several individuals who made similar declarations previous to the year 606 A.D.. It is therefore a very simplistic explanation and it lacks historical basis to say that the Roman Catholic Church was founded by Bishop Boniface III in 606 A.D..  Why not Bishop Victor in 190 A.D.? Or Bishop Leo I who was more active and stronger compared to Boniface III? Was there a Roman Catholic Church and popes in the year 605 A.D. or none? Also the year 1054 A.D. marked the filing of excommunication documents by the Roman Bishop versus Patriarch Cerularius on one hand and Patriarch Cerularius filing his own letter of excommunication against Roman Bishop Leo IX.  Why put 1054 as the founding year of the Greek Orthodox Church simply on the basis of excommunication exchange? 1054 A.D. as founding year of the Greek Catholic Church has no historical basis. Was there a Greek Orthodox Church in 1053 or none?  

        My appeal is for us to take the stand that both congregations in Rome and in Byzantium started in the first century.  Each slowly added traditions and beliefs foreign to the scriptures. The exact year of complete apostasy for both is unknown to man. Only God knows when the exact date was. Just like the Seven Churches in Revelation 2 & 3.  God gave the warning that if they don’t repent and restore their doctrinal purity, their candlestick would be taken away.       

        Documented critical observations are welcome.

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