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Model of Church organization in the Roman Empire / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Pentarchy (from the Greek Πενταρχία, Pentarchía, from πέντε pénte, "five", and ἄρχειν archein, "to rule") is a model of Church organization formulated in the laws of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565) of the Roman Empire. In this model, the Christian Church is governed by the heads (patriarchs) of the five major episcopal sees of the Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.[3]

Map of the four Eastern Churches in the Pentarchy, c. 500 AD. In this version, almost all of modern Greece such as the Balkans and Crete is under the jurisdiction of the Holy See of Rome. Emperor Leo III moved the border of the Patriarchate of Constantinople westward and northward in the 8th century.[1][2]

The idea came about because of the political and ecclesiastical prominence of these five sees, but the concept of their universal and exclusive authority was attached to earlier Hellenistic-Christian ideas of administration.[4] The pentarchy was first legally expressed in the legislation of Emperor Justinian I, particularly in Novella 131.[5] The Quinisext Council of 692 gave it formal recognition and ranked the sees in order of preeminence, but its organization remained dependent on the emperor, as when Leo the Isaurian altered the boundary of patriarchal jurisdiction between Rome and Constantinople.[6][7] Especially following Quinisext, the pentarchy was at least philosophically accepted in Eastern Orthodoxy, but generally not in the West, which rejected the Council, and the concept of the pentarchy.[8]

The greater authority of these sees in relation to others was tied to their political and ecclesiastical prominence; all were located in important cities and regions of the Roman Empire and were important centers of the Christian Church. Rome, Alexandria and Antioch were prominent from the time of early Christianity, while Constantinople came to the fore upon becoming the imperial residence in the 4th century. Thereafter it was consistently ranked just after Rome. Jerusalem received a ceremonial place due to the city's importance in the early days of Christianity. Justinian and the Quinisext Council excluded from their pentarchical arrangement churches outside the empire, such as the then-flourishing Church of the East in Sassanid Persia, which they saw as heretical. Within the empire they recognized only the Chalcedonian (or Melkite) incumbents, regarding as illegitimate the non-Chalcedonian claimants of Alexandria and Antioch.

Infighting among the sees, and particularly the rivalry between Rome (which considered itself preeminent over all the church) and Constantinople (which came to hold sway over the other Eastern sees and which saw itself as equal to Rome, with Rome "first among equals"), prevented the pentarchy from ever becoming a functioning administrative reality. The Islamic conquests of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch in the 7th century left Constantinople the only practical authority in the East, and afterward the concept of a "pentarchy" retained little more than symbolic significance.

Tensions between East and West, which culminated in the East–West Schism, and the rise of powerful, largely independent metropolitan sees and patriarchates outside the Byzantine Empire in Bulgaria, and later in Serbia, also Russia, eroded the importance of the old imperial sees. Today, only the sees of Rome and of Constantinople still hold authority over an entire major Christian Church, the first being the head of the Catholic Church and the second having symbolic hegemony over the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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