In honor of the Feast of the Chair of St Peter, here are some passages of Vladimir Solovyev’s Russia and the Universal Church.
[Christ] begins by seeking elsewhere the human response to revealed truth. He turns first of all to general public opinion; He wishes to see whether He cannot be recognized, accepted and acclaimed by the opinion of the mob, the voice of the people: Quem dicunt homines esse Filium Hominis? For whom do men take Me? But Truth is ever one and the same, whereas the opinions of men are many and conflicting. The voice of the people, which some claim to be the voice of God, only answered the question of the God-Man with its own erroneous and discordant opinions. There is no bond possible between Truth and such errors; mankind cannot enter into relation with God by the way of popular opinion; the Church of Christ cannot be founded on democracy.
Having questioned popular opinion and failed to find there man’s response to divine truth, Jesus Christ turns to His chosen, the college of the Apostles, that first of all oecumenical councils: Vos autem quem me esse dicitis? And for whom do you take Me? But the Apostles are silent. The moment before, when asked for the opinions of men, the twelve all spoke together: why do they leave the word to one of their number when it is a question of asserting divine truth? Possibly they are not quite agreed among themselves; possibly Philip does not perceive the essential relation of Jesus to the heavenly Father; possibly Thomas is doubtful of the Messianic power of his Master. The last chapter of St. Matthew tells us that even on the Galilean mountain, whither they were summoned by Jesus after His resurrection, the Apostles did not show themselves unanimous and firm in their faith: quidam autem dubitaverunt (Matt. xxviii. 17).
If it is to bear unanimous witness to the pure and simple truth, the council must be in absolute agreement. The decisive act must be an entirely individual act, the act of a single person. It is neither the multitude of the faithful nor the apostolic council, but Simon Bar-Jona alone who answers Jesus. Respondens Simon Petrus dixit: Tu es Filius Dei vivi. He replies for all the Apostles, but he speaks on his own responsibility without consulting them or waiting for their consent. When the Apostles had repeated, a moment before, the opinions of the crowd which followed Jesus, they had only repeated what were errors; if Simon had only wished to voice the opinions of the Apostles, he would possibly not have reached the pure and simple truth. But he followed his own spiritual impulse, the voice of his own conscience; and Jesus, in pronouncing His solemn approval, declared that this impulse, for all its individual character, came nevertheless from His heavenly Father, that it was an act both divine and human, a real co-operation between the absolute Being and the relative subject.
The fixed point, the impregnable rock, has been discovered whereon to base the divine-human activity. The organic foundation of the universal Church is found in a single man who, with the divine assistance, answers for the whole world. It is fixed neither upon the impossible unanimity of all believers, nor upon the inevitably hazardous agreement of a council, but upon the real and living unity of the prince of the Apostles. And henceforward every time that the question of truth is put to Christian humanity, it will not be from the voice of the masses nor from the opinion of the elect that the fixed and final answer will come. The arbitrary opinions of men will only give rise to heresies; and the hierarchy separated from its center and abandoned to the mercy of the secular power will refrain from speaking or will speak through such councils as the robber-council of Ephesus. Only in union with the rock on which it is founded will the Church be able to assemble true councils and define the truth by authoritative formulas. This is no mere opinion; it is a historic fact of such impressiveness that on the most solemn occasions it has been averred by the Eastern bishops themselves for all their jealousy of the successors of St. Peter. Not only was the wonderful dogmatic treatise of Pope St. Leo the Great recognized by the Greek Fathers of the fourth oecumenical Council as a work of Peter, but it was also to Peter that the sixth Council attributed the letter of Pope Agatho, who was far from having the same personal authority that Leo had. “The head and prince of the Apostles,” declared the Eastern Fathers, “fought with us . . . The ink (of the letter) was plain to see and Peter spoke through Agatho (Και μέλαν εφαίνετο, και δι Αγαθνος ό Πέτρος εφθέγετο). (pp.83-84)
The piety of the Romans, which is their chief claim to glory and the foundation of their greatness, was a true sentiment though rooted in a false principle, and it was just that change of principle that was necessary in order that the true Rome might be revealed based upon the true religion. The countless triads of parricidal gods must be replaced by the single divine Trinity, consubstantial and indivisible, and the universal society of mankind must be set up, not on the basis of an Empire of Might, but on that of a Church of Love. Was it a mere coincidence that, when Jesus Christ wished to announce the foundation of His true universal monarchy, not upon the servile submission of its subjects nor upon the autocracy of a human ruler, but upon the free surrender of men’s faith and love to God’s truth and grace, He chose for that pronouncement the moment of His arrival with His disciples at the outskirts of Cæsarea Philippi, the town which a slave of the Cæsars had dedicated to the genius of his master? Or again, was it a coincidence that Jesus chose the neighborhood of the Sea of Tiberias for the giving of the final sanction to that which He had founded, and that under the shadow of those monuments which spoke of the actual ruler of false Rome He consecrated the future ruler of true Rome in words which indicated both the mystical name of the Eternal City and the supreme principle of His new Kingdom: Simon Bar-Jona, lovest thou Me more than these? (p.106)
In the borders of Cæsarea and on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus dethroned Cæsar — not the Cæsar of the tribute-money nor the Christian Cæsar of the future, but the deified Cæsar, the sole absolute and independent sovereign of the universe, the supreme center of unity for the human race. He dethroned him because He had created a new and better center of unity, a new and better sovereign power based upon faith and love, truth and grace. And while dethroning the false and impious absolutism of the pagan Cæsars, Jesus confirmed and made eternal the universal monarchy of Rome by giving it its true theocratic basis. It was in a certain sense nothing more than a change of dynasty; the dynasty of Julius Cæsar, supreme pontiff and god, gave place to the dynasty of Simon Peter, supreme pontiff and servant of the servants of God. (p. 107)