Apostolic see

Apostolic see

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In Christianity, an apostolic see is any episcopal see whose foundation is attributed to one or more of the apostles of Jesus.

Out of the many such sees, five acquired special importance in Chalcedonian Christianity (beginning with the council held in 451) and became classified as the Pentarchy in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. But before then, the First Council of Nicaea of 325 recognized in its sixth canon the special position of RomeAlexandria, and Antioch and the chief sees in other provinces: “The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome. Similarly in Antioch and the other provinces the prerogatives of the churches are to be preserved.”[1] And Jerusalem received special recognition in the seventh canon.[2] The Council, which was held in 325, of course made no mention of Constantinople, a city which was founded and became the capital of the empire only in 330.[3][4][5]Officially, Constantinople was founded on 11 May 330.[6] Constantine the Great (who died on 22 May 337) divided the expanded city (previously known as Byzantium), like Rome, into 14 regions, and ornamented it with public works worthy of an imperial metropolis.[7] The First Council of Constantinople (381) decreed in a canon of disputed validity: “The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.”[8] A century after the Council of Chalcedon (451) and the ensuing schism between those who accepted it and those who rejected it, the theory of the Pentarchy was given expression: “formulated in the legislation of the emperor Justinian I (527–565), especially in his Novella 131, the theory received formal ecclesiastical sanction at the Council in Trullo (692), which ranked the five sees as Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.”[9]

The bishops of these five sees consider themselves to be successors of those indicated in the following list:

Other sees who claim to be founded by an apostle and thus can claim to be apostolic sees include:

Specific reference to Rome[edit]

See also: Papal supremacy

In Roman Catholic usage,[13] “the Apostolic See” is used in the singular and capitalized to refer specifically to the See of Rome, with reference to the Pope‘s status as successor of the Apostle Peter.[14] This usage existed already at the time of the third ecumenical council, held at Ephesus in 431, at which the phrase “our most holy and blessed pope Cœlestine, bishop of the Apostolic See” was used.[15]

In Catholic canon law, the term is applied also to the various departments of the Roman Curia. Both the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches state: “In this Code the terms Apostolic See or Holy See mean not only the Roman Pontiff, but also, unless the contrary is clear from the nature of things or from the context, the Secretariat of State, the Council for the public affairs of the Church, and the other Institutes of the Roman Curia.”[16] The bodies in question are seen as speaking on behalf of the See of Rome.

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up^ Canons of the First Council of Nicaea
  2. Jump up^ Schaff’s Seven Ecumenical Councils: First Nicaea: Canon VII: “Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Aelia [i.e., Jerusalem] should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour.”; “It is very hard to determine just what was the “precedence” granted to the Bishop of Aelia, nor is it clear which is the metropolis referred to in the last clause. Most writers, including Hefele, Balsamon, Aristenus and Beveridge consider it to be Cæsarea; while Zonaras thinks Jerusalem to be intended, a view recently adopted and defended by Fuchs; others again suppose it is Antiochthat is referred to.”
  3. Jump up^ Robin W. Winks, World Civilization: A Brief History (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 1993 ISBN 978-0-939693-28-3), p. 120
  4. Jump up^ Timelines: Southeast Europe
  5. Jump up^ Catholic Encyclopedia, article Constantinople
  6. Jump up^ Commemorative coins that were issued during the 330s already refer to the city asConstantinopolis (see e.g. Michael Grant, The climax of Rome (London 1968), p. 133), or “Constantine’s City”. According to the Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, vol. 164 (Stuttgart 2005), column 442, there is no evidence for the tradition that Constantine officially dubbed the city “New Rome” (Nova Roma). It is possible that the emperor called the city “Second Rome” (GreekΔευτέρα ῬώμηDeutéra Rhōmē) by official decree, as reported by the 5th-century church historian Socrates of Constantinople: see Names of Constantinople.
  7. Jump up^ A description can be found in the Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae.
  8. Jump up^ Canon 3
  9. Jump up^ Encyclopaedia Britannica: Pentarchy
  10. Jump up^ Saint Mark is not called an apostle in the New Testament, but he is said to have been one of the Seventy Apostles and to have been commissioned as an apostle when he accompaniedSaint Paul and Saint Barnabas in their apostolic journeys.
  11. Jump up^ Craig A. Evans,The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Acts-Philemon (David C. Cook, 2004), p. 610)
  12. Jump up^ A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament – 2 Corinthians
  13. Jump up^ “In the east there were many Churches whose foundation went back to the Apostles; there was a strong sense of the equality of all bishops, of the collegial and conciliar nature of the Church. The east acknowledged the Pope as the first bishop in the Church, but saw him as the first among equals. In the west, on the other hand, there was only one great see claiming Apostolic foundation — Rome — so that Rome came to be regarded as the Apostolic see” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, Orthodox Church).
  14. Jump up^ “An Apostolic see is any see founded by an Apostle and having the authority of its founder;the Apostolic See is the seat of authority in the Roman Church, continuing the Apostolic functions of Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Heresy and barbarian violence swept away all the particular Churches which could lay claim to an Apostolic see, until Rome alone remained; to Rome, therefore, the term applies as a proper name” (Catholic Encyclopedia, article The Apostolic See).
  15. Jump up^ Extract from the Acts of the Council of Ephesus
  16. Jump up^ Code of Canon Law, canon 361Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 48

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