Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In the 6th Century, Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote this:

"I say it without the least hesitation, whoever calls himself the universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, the precursor of Antichrist, because he thus attempts to raise himself above the others. The error into which he falls springs from pride equal to that of Antichrist; for as that Wicked One wished to be regarded as exalted above other men, like a god, so likewise whoever would be called sole bishop exalteth himself above others....You know it, my brother; hath not the venerable Council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of 'universal' upon the bishops of this Apostolic See [Rome], whereof I am, by God's will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given to him; none hath assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren." (Orthodoxwiki)

In the 19th Century, the Bishop(s) of Rome decreed this:

Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world...

...In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd. (Pastor Aeternus)

How does a Catholic layman reconcile these two contexts?

share|improve this question
How does the Catholic layman reconcile Francis with Benedict 16? They choose whichever one they like better. –  david brainerd Mar 24 at 22:06
It seems that Gregory uses "sole bishop" as well as "universal bishop", perhaps meaning these to denote the same concept. I certainly don't know of a Pope who's claimed to be sole bishop. –  James T Mar 25 at 1:05
@James T maybe Leo is implying that if a bishop claims to be supremely universal...all other bishops would essentially become "vicars" or auxiliaries –  Charles Alsobrook Mar 27 at 2:50

3 Answers 3

In your question it would be very helpful to have a citation as to where in the writings of Gregory the quote is from. I followed the link provided and there is no citation there for the quote either. As a matter of fact, you can google the first sentence of the quote and find a few websites that also have the quote but leave it uncited. Knowing its context is crucial to understanding what it is saying. As a note of caution, taking Papal quotations out of context seems to be a cottage industry on the web.

The quote and its full context can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360207033.htm

And an explanation of what Gregory was addressing can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/library/almanac_thisrock92.htm

The below is taken from the New Advent article. "What Gregory condemned was the expropriation of the title Universal Bishop by Bishop John the Faster, the patriarch of Constantinople, who proclaimed himself Universal Bishop at the Synod of Constantinople in 588. Gregory condemned the patriarch's act because universal jurisdiction applies solely to the pope. . . Predictably, anti-Catholics neglect to inform their audiences that the context of these statements makes it clear that Gregory was not making these statements in regard to himself or to any other pope. He believed the Bishop of Rome has primacy of jurisdiction over all other bishops."

The two contexts are not in contradiction when they are properly understood.

Secondly, the second quote comes from a Church Council. Church Councils can produce dogmatic teaching. What is written by Popes can sometimes be considered Church teaching, but not dogmatic teaching. What is written in letters by Popes is not something that could not change. As to the status of what is quoted by Gregory, it seems to me that Gregory it not really trying to make a Church teaching, but is telling a particular person what he thinks.

share|improve this answer

Refer, please, to Matthew 20:26. Christ tells His apostles that whoever would be great in the Kingdom of Heaven must be your servant.

Every group must have a head that directs it or it soon disintegrates. Every corporation must have a CEO or some such position.

In the Catholic Church, yes, the Bishop of Rome is the head of the College of Bishops. His position, however, is not to Lord it over the other bishops, but rather to assure that each diocese is given an equal hearing as to its problems and needs. His ultimate assignment by God in the power of the Holy Spirit is to assure that Christ's teachings are passed on correctly from generation to generation so that all people hear the truth of God's Word correctly interpreted and lived out in the Church's actions.

I hope that helps. Believe me, no man in his right mind truly wishes to be Pope. It is a frightful position to hold, one that allows for little time to oneself and little peace. Picture a father with multiple children, all of them wanting individual attention.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to the site, please take the tour and check out how are we different from other sites and what makes a good answer if you haven't already. –  bruised reed Jun 16 at 14:53

Full Question

How do you reconcile the pope's claim to be the "universal bishop" or ecumenical patriarch with Pope Gregory the Great's statement that anyone who claims such a title is the Antichrist?


How? By carefully observing how the term is used differently in different instances. In its approved sense, the title "universal bishop" suggests that the Bishop of Rome’s jurisdiction and authority extend to the whole Church, something with which Gregory was in hearty agreement.

But it can be used in an incorrect sense also, and it is this sense that Gregory condemned. In the condemned sense the title is taken to mean that in the Church there is only one true bishop, with all others who claim the title merely acting as the true bishop’s delegates or deputies.

Although Gregory believed the papacy to possess a universal jurisdiction and supremacy of authority, he didn’t think, nor does the Catholic Church teach, that this means only the Bishop of Rome is truly a bishop endowed by Christ with the power to teach, sanctify, and govern in Christ’s name.


share|improve this answer
Just as a heads up, we prefer answers have at least some original text of the author. We'd prefer you select a shorter quote and use it to support a well written answer, this keeps everyone in the clear regarding citation permissions etc. –  wax eagle May 21 at 12:37
@Geremia I think that the article from Catholic Answers that you copied and pasted grasps for straws just a little bit. How does the Catholic church define what a "bishop" is? Essentially this would mean that all bishops are vicars our auxiliary bishops to the pope. If you read the entire letter(s) from Gregory I think it becomes evident at least to me that universal bishop is closely link Mir do than CA would portray.. –  Charles Alsobrook May 21 at 13:19

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.