The fourth canon of the First Council of Nicaea of 325 attributed to the bishop of the capital (metropolis) of each Roman province (the "metropolitan bishop") a position of authority among the bishops of the province, without reference to the founding figure of that bishop's see. Its sixth canon recognized the wider authority, extending beyond a single province, traditionally held by Rome and Alexandria, and the prerogatives of the churches in Antioch and the other provinces. Of Aelia, the Roman city built on the site of the destroyed city of Jerusalem, the council's seventh canon reads: "Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Aelia should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour." The metropolis in question is generally taken to be Caesarea Maritima, though in the late 19th century Philip Schaff also mentioned other views.
This Council of Nicaea, being held in 325, of course made no mention of Constantinople, a city which was only officially founded five years later, at which point it became the capital of the Empire. But 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." A century after the Council of Chalcedon (451) and the ensuing schism between those who accepted it and those who rejected it, Eastern Orthodox Christianity wove these two sources together to develop the theory of the Pentarchy. "[F]ormulated 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." Earlier, the Council of Ephesus decreed in 431 that the Church of Cyprus should be autocephalous, against the claims of Antioch, the capital of the Roman diocese of the East, of which Cyprus was part.
The bishops of these five sees consider themselves to be successors of those given special status in these canons:
- Rome, in Italy (Saint Peter and Saint Paul)
- Constantinople, now Istanbul in present-day Turkey (Saint Andrew)
- Alexandria, in Egypt (Saint Mark the Evangelist)
- Antioch, in present-day Turkey (Saint Peter).
- Jerusalem, in the Holy Land (Saint Peter and Saint James)
Other sees who claim to be founded by an apostle and thus can claim to be apostolic sees include:
- The Church of Cyprus, based at New Justiniana (Erdek), Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas
- Athens, Greece (Saint Paul)
- Ephesus, in present-day Turkey (John the Apostle)
- Babylon or Seleucia-Ctesiphon, in present-day Iraq (Thomas the Apostle, Bartholomew the Apostle, and Thaddeus of Edessa)
- Aquileia, in northeastern Italy (Mark the Evangelist as one of the Seventy Apostles)
- See of Milan, in northwestern Italy (Barnabas the Apostle)
- See of Syracuse, in Sicily (Peter)
- Philippi, in Greece (Saint Paul)
- Thessaloniki, in Greece (Saint Paul)
- Corinth, in Greece (Saint Paul)
- Church of Malta (Saint Paul)
- The Russian Orthodox Church claims a connection with Saint Andrew, who is said to have visited the area where the city of Kiev later arose.
- Armenian Apostolic Church (Thaddaeus (Jude the Apostle) and Bartholomew the Apostle)
- The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church claims founding by Saint Philip the Evangelist.
- The Orthodox Church of Georgia claims Saint Andrew and Simon the Canaanite as its founders.
- Saint Thomas Christian Churches in India (Thomas the Apostle)
Specific reference to Rome
In Roman Catholic usage, "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. 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.
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." The bodies in question are seen as speaking on behalf of the See of Rome.
- Canons of the First Council of Nicaea
- Brian E. Daley, "Position and Patronage in the Early Church" in Everett Ferguson, Norms of Faith and Life (Taylor & Francis 1999 ISBN 978-0-81533070-7), p. 207
- Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place ((University of Chicago Press 1992 ISBN 978-0-22676361-3), p. 78
- Ian Gilman, Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Christians in Asia before 1500 (Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-13610978-2), p. 28
- Lucy Grig, Gavin Kelly, Two Romes (Oxford University Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-19973940-0), p. 354
- Schaff's Seven Ecumenical Councils: First Nicaea: Canon VII: "It is very hard to determine just what was the 'precedence' granted to the Bishop of Ælia, 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 Antioch that is referred to."
- Robin W. Winks, World Civilization: A Brief History (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 1993 ISBN 978-0-939693-28-3), p. 120
- Timelines: Southeast Europe
- Catholic Encyclopedia, article Constantinople
- Commemorative coins that were issued during the 330s already refer to the city as Constantinopolis (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" (Greek: Δευτέρα Ῥώμη, Deutéra Rhōmē) by official decree, as reported by the 5th-century church historian Socrates of Constantinople: see Names of Constantinople.
- Canon 3
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Pentarchy
- Ronald G. Roberson, "The Orthodox Church of Cyprus"
- 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 accompanied Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas in their apostolic journeys.
- "Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria Official Website". Greekorthodox-alexandria.org. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "website of the Coptic Orthodox Church Network". Copticchurch.net. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "Syriac Orthodox Resources". sor.cua.edu. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
- ""Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine" at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Ccel.org. 13 July 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- Craig A. Evans,The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Acts-Philemon (David C. Cook, 2004), p. 610)
- A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament - 2 Corinthians
- "History of the Russian Church". Russian-crafts.com. Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "Official Website of the Armenian Church". 188.8.131.52. Archived from the original on 5 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "Ethiopian Orthodox Official website". Ethiopianorthodox.org. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "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).
- "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).
- Extract from the Acts of the Council of Ephesus
- Code of Canon Law, canon 361; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 48