The Errors of Canon 28 at the Council of Chalcedon

Canon 28 was rejected by the Roman legates and later by the Roman Pontiff, so it is not formally “of a Council”. This article examines the errors of the Canon and why the Pope was right to reject it.

“Following in every way the decrees of the holy fathers and recognising the canon which has recently been read out — the canon of the 150 most devout bishops who assembled in the time of the great Theodosius of pious memory, then emperor, in imperial Constantinople, new Rome — we issue the same decree and resolution concerning the prerogatives of the most holy church of the same Constantinople, new Rome. The fathers rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of older Rome, since that is an imperial city; and moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honoured by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equalling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her. The metropolitans of the dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace, but only these, as well as the bishops of these dioceses who work among non-Greeks, are to be ordained by the aforesaid most holy see of the most holy church in Constantinople. That is, each metropolitan of the aforesaid dioceses along with the bishops of the province ordain the bishops of the province, as has been declared in the divine canons; but the metropolitans of the aforesaid dioceses, as has been said, are to be ordained by the archbishop of Constantinople, once agreement has been reached by vote in the usual way and has been reported to him.”

The seat of the Roman empire was of course, for centuries, the city of Rome. When Constantinople became the seat of the Roman empire, it was termed “new Rome“. That is why you will sometimes see references to “old Rome” in various documents. Honorius for example was called “Pope of old Rome”.

The Canon claims that the fathers of the Church “rightly accorded prerogative to the See of Older Rome”, as if the divine authority and divinely-conferred charisms of the See of Peter at Rome were merely prerogatives and as if they were from the fathers rather than from God. That is an error.

Then the Canon claims that the reason Rome had these “prerogatives” is “that is an imperial city”. In other words, the power of the See of Peter at Rome was falsely attributed to Rome being the Seat of the Roman empire, rather than the Seat of authority in the Church. That is an error.

Next, the Canon attempt to give equal power to the See of Constantinople as to the See of Peter at Rome. And that is a particularly grievous error.

“apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honoured by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equaling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her.”

First, the power of the See of Peter is from Christ; it is divinely-conferred authority. The Roman empire is not the source of the power of the See of Saint Peter. Second, the bishops are not claiming that this decision is from divine revelation, but only from reason: “reasonably judging”. One cannot confer divine authority based on a judgment by fallen sinners. And divine authority does not have the Roman empire as its source.

The worst error is this, that the bishops had tried to apportion “equal prerogatives” and elevate Constantinople to the level of Rome “in ecclesiastical affairs” (in Church matters). Such a proposal breaks the unity of the Church provided by having one Vicar of Christ over one Church, as Unam Sanctam infallibly teaches. A ship cannot have two captains. The Ark of Salvation cannot have two Popes or two Holy Sees.

Then the text equivocates by saying that the city would take second place after Rome. But the See of Constantinople was already long considered second to Rome. This assertion of “second place” appears to be an attempt to put an acceptable mask on a power grab by Constantinople. So of course this attempt failed and was rejected by the Pope.

If Canon 28 had passed, then the Patriarch of Constantinople would be constantly competing with the Roman Pontiff for power over the universal Church. Then the charism of the Roman Pontiff as the principle of unity in the Church would be lost, as would the supreme authority of the Pope — which would then be a shared authority.

Canon 28 was heretical and yet the Council fathers approved it, and only the Roman Pontiff (and his legates) rejected it, preventing the Canon from being officially, “of the Council”.

The Important Point

How is this relevant today? Everyone is crying out against the Roman Pontiff, as if any Catholic who considers themselves conservative or traditionalist has the role to judge and correct the Roman Pontiff. The conservative Catholic subculture has decided that its decisions on doctrine and discipline are essentially inerrant, and if even the Roman Pontiff disagrees, he must be wrong. Over the past 8+ years, never has the subculture considered the possibility that it (they) might be wrong and the Pope right.

But in the example of Chalcedon, we see that even an Ecumenical Council, apart from the agreement of the Roman Pontiff, can err gravely and assert heresy. Since that is the case, then certainly the group of bloggers, Catholic media leaders, video bloggers (vloggers) and article writers, along with some prominent members of the clergy and a few theologians, can certainly err gravely in evaluating Pope Francis and his decisions of doctrine and discipline.

There are some persons with good credentials, priests and theologians, who are opposing Pope Francis. That is nevertheless a grave error. The First See is judged by no one. The Church is indefectible because She is founded on the Roman Pontiffs who have the papal charisms to keep them from leading the Church astray. The Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith. The Apostolic See is unblemished by any grave error. Therefore, it cannot be the case that Traditionis Custodes or any other decision of the Roman Pontiff under either Key of Peter is a grave error.

But most of the opponents of Traditionis Custodes and of the Roman Pontiff for these many years are just a collection of poorly-educated loud-mouthed self-exalting commentators.

John-Henry Westen has no degrees in theology; his education is in child psychology. Yet he uses his media outlet, originally designed for the truly laudable purpose of protecting unborn life and promoting Church teaching on life issues, now for the wicked purpose of attacking the Roman Pontiff, Vatican II, and the Magisterium itself. Now any decision of any authority in the Church that is contrary to the understanding of Westen is condemned by his media outlet. He uses it to exalt himself above the Magisterium. That is severe patent formal schism. And his rejection of the dogmas of Vatican I and other dogmas on papal charisms is heretical.

Steve Skojec at least has some theological training. His website says: “He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001.” But doesn’t really matter, does it? Once you oppose Pope Francis, other Popes, Vatican II, and reject the dogmas of Vatican I, what is left? Skojec and all these other papal accusers are essentially their own Popes. They decide what is and is not true doctrine and correct discipline. Their decisions are treated by them and by many of their readers as from Supreme Authority. They speak as if they were infallible. They never admit that any of the conservative Catholic subculture leaders might fail in faith. They have usurped the papal charisms for themselves.

Phil Lawler has attacked the Roman Pontiff not only with many posts at CatholicCulture.org (along with Jeff Mirus) but also with a couple of books. One book attacks the Roman Pontiff, calling him a “Lost Shepherd” and the other attacks the body of Bishops. Because when you’ve decided to go schismatic, you might as well go full hog. What is Lawler’s background? “Beekeeper, tennis player, music lover, x-country skier, Red Sox fan.” Sure he “attended Harvard College and did graduate work in political philosophy at the University of Chicago before entering a career in journalism.” But which set of credentials is he using to oppose the Roman Pontiff? I think it’s the former.

Then there are multiple authors at Crisis Magazine, LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, Rorate Caeli, and similar sites. Anyone who opposes the Roman Pontiff can use one or another “Catholic” media platform to cry out against his teachings and decisions. Often, at the end of the article, there’s a description of the author, and he or she has no theological background. Their thoughts are featured because they oppose the Pope; that is their credential. And in the conservative Catholic subculture, opposing the Roman Pontiff is a better credential than a Ph.D. or an S.Th.D. All you need is a computer and an internet connection and, poof, you are one of many supreme judges over the Vicar of Christ.

It is really true that the Church should be run this way? Was it the plan of Christ from the beginning to allow anyone, and I mean anyone, to exalt themselves above the Roman Pontiffs, judge them, condemn them, and then proclaim their own understanding as dogmatic and infallible? None of these papal accusers ever admit that they might be wrong.

Pope Saint Pius X: “The authority of the Pope is not preceded by that of other people, however learned, who disagree with the Pope, who, if they are learned, are not saints, because whoever is holy cannot disagree with the Pope.” [Speech, 18 November 1912.]

So, again, if the Council of Chalcedon could propose such a grave error as Canon 28, if an Ecumenical Council could be wrong, apart from the agreement of the Roman Pontiff, then all these online commentators, bitching and moaning about Traditionis Custodes, can also be gravely wrong. This error of any Catholic at all exalting himself or herself above the Roman Pontiff has to stop. It is schismatic and heretical. The First See is judged by no one. Stop judging and condemning the Roman Pontiff, and stop reviewing and opining on the errors in his every word and deed. You are gravely offending Christ, if that matters to any of you.

If you love the TLM more than you love Christ, raise your hand. Or, instead of raising your hand, you could write an article or an online post maligning the Vicar of Christ for the decisions in Traditionis Custodes. Same thing. There’s no love for Christ in attacking the Roman Pontiff with open malice because you are attached to the beauty of form in the Latin Mass.

So Canon 28 wanted to make Constantinople equal in authority to Rome. And today, each Catholic media outlet wants to be equal or greater in authority than the Roman Pontiff. It is the same error. Is Rome the Seat of authority in the Church? Is the Bishop of Rome the Head of the Church and the Vicar of Christ? Or does that role go to whoever is in charge of “New Rome” i.e. modern media outlets?

The correct position to take with any Pope whom one thinks has possibly erred is simple:

1. Put your faith in the indefectibility of the Church, the never-failing faith of the Pope, the unblemished character of the Apostolic See, and the perpetual help to the Church of the Holy Spirit.

2. The decisions of the Roman Pontiff are to be considered the decisions of Christ himself, though on occasion, uncommonly, non-infallible decisions can err.

3. If you think a decision that is non-infallible on doctrine or discipline is in error, do not assume that you are correct. You may mildly dissent from a less-than-grave error. But you must consider that you yourself are more likely to be in the wrong than the Magisterium. See Donum Veritatis.

4. If the Pope has either erred gravely, or you are the one who is wrong, then you must accept that the Pope is right, and you are wrong. Live by faith, not by reason alone. No matter how sure you are that the Pope is wrong, he cannot err gravely in his use of the Keys, neither in doctrine nor in discipline. Accept what the Pope teaches or decides, even if you do not understand the teaching well, or do not see the benefit of his decision on discipline.

5. Live the Catholic Faith by faith, love for the Pope and the Bishops, hope for an ever more holy Church, and the conversion of sinners. Pray the Rosary with faith in the Magisterium and the Vicar of Christ. When faced with a Roman Pontiff whom you dislike or whose decisions you cannot accept, like him and accept his decisions. You have free will.

6. Do not pray for the Pope to convert and repent, as if you were telling God, who is Truth, that you yourself are Truth, as if you were telling God that His Vicar is not led by God. Do not pray like the Pharisee in the temple. Be the repentant tax collector. Be like the Apostles in John 6, who absolutely had no explanation they could give for the teaching eat my flesh and drink my blood (they also did not understand the leaven of the Pharisees, or what rise from the dead might mean). But they accepted it, without a clarification for Jesus’ ambiguous and clearly “offensive” teaching.

7. Pray for the Pope with faith that his decisions and teachings are from Christ by the Holy Spirit.

{16:12} I still have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now.
{16:13} But when the Spirit of truth has arrived, he will teach the whole truth to you. For he will not be speaking from himself. Instead, whatever he will hear, he will speak. And he will announce to you the things that are to come.
{16:14} He shall glorify me. For he will receive from what is mine, and he will announce it to you.

8. No Pope or Council has ever taught or committed heresy, apostasy, or schism. (But recall that nothing is of a Council unless approved by the Pope.) No Pope has ever bound the faithful to grave error, not even under the ordinary (religious) assent due to non-infallible teachings and decisions. The Church has not gone astray by the Novus Ordo Mass nor by any other teachings or decisions of a Pope or Council. Have faith in the Church founded by Christ, which still have Christ as Her head and the Holy Spirit as Her soul.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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