The Decrees of Justinian Declaring John, Bishop of Rome to be Chief Bishop of All the Churches [AD 533]

4. John, Bishop of the City of Rome, to his most Illustrious and Merciful Son Justinian.

Among the conspicuous reasons for praising your wisdom and gentleness, Most Christian of Emperors, and one which radiates light

as a star, is the fact that through love of the Faith, and actuated by zeal for charity, you, learned in ecclesiastical discipline, have preserved reverence for the See of Rome, and have subjected all things to its authority, and have given it unity. The following precept was communicated to its founder, that is to say, the first of the Apostles, by the mouth of the Lord, namely: "Feed my lambs."

This See is indeed the head of all churches, as the rules of the Fathers and the decrees of Emperors assert, and the words of your most reverend piety testify. It is therefore claimed that what the Scriptures state, namely, "By Me Kings reign, and the Powers dispense justice;" will be accomplished in you. For there is nothing which shines with a more brilliant lustre than genuine faith when displayed by a prince, since there is nothing which prevents destruction as true religion does, for as both of them have reference to the Author of Life and Light, they disperse darkness and prevent apostasy. Wherefore, Most Glorious of Princes, the Divine Power is implored by the prayers of all to preserve your piety in this ardor for the Faith, in this devotion of your mind, and in this zeal for true religion, without failure, during your entire existence. For we believe that this is for the benefit of the Holy Churches, as it was written, "The king rules with his lips," and again, "The heart of the King is in the hand of God, and it will incline to whatever side God wishes"; that is to say, that He may confirm your empire, and maintain your kingdoms for the peace of the Church and the unity of religion; guard their authority, and preserve him in that sublime tranquillity which is so grateful to him; and no small change is granted by the Divine Power through whose agency a divided church is not afflicted by any griefs or subject to any reproaches. For it is written, "A just king, who is upon his throne, has no reason to apprehend any misfortune."

We have received with all due respect the evidences of your serenity, through Hypatius and Demetrius, most holy men, my brothers and fellow-bishops, from whose statements we have learned that you have promulgated an Edict addressed to your faithful people, and dictated by your love of the Faith, for the purpose of overthrowing the designs of heretics, which is in accordance with the evangelical tenets, and which we have confirmed by our authority with the consent of our brethren and fellow bishops, for the reason that it is in conformity with the apostolic doctrine.

The following is the text of the letter of the Emperor Justinian, Victorious, Pious, Happy, Renowned, Triumphant, always Augustus, to John, Patriarch, and most Holy Archbishop of the fair City of Rome:

With honor to the Apostolic See, and to Your Holiness, which is, and always has been remembered in Our prayers, both now and formerly, and honoring your happiness, as is proper in the case of one who is considered as a father, We hasten to bring to the knowledge of Your Holiness everything relating to the condition of the Church, as We have always had the greatest desire to preserve the unity of your Apostolic See, and the condition of the Holy Churches of God, as they exist at the present time, that they may remain without disturbance or opposition. Therefore, We have exerted Ourselves to unite all the priests of the East and subject them to the See of Your Holiness, and hence the questions which have at present arisen, although they are manifest and free from doubt, and, according to the doctrine of your Apostolic See, are constantly firmly observed and preached by all priests, We have still considered it necessary that they should be brought to the attention of Your Holiness. For we do not suffer anything which has reference to the state of the Church, even though what causes the difficulty may be clear and free from doubt, to be discussed without being brought to the notice of Your Holiness, because you are the head of all the Holy Churches, for We shall exert Ourselves in every way (as has already been stated), to increase the honor and authority of your See.

From THE CODE OF JUSTINIAN. To read the whole document click here


The following is quoted from Daniel and Revelation by Uriah Smith.1 The book, published by an Adventist Company is not a hindrance to careful copying. Smith also cites material from other primary historical documents and a secondary source: The Apocalypse of St. John by George Croly. Not being able to gain access to the primary documents we offer the following as nearly assured of accuracy as possible.

AD March 533: Justinian's letter to John reads:

"Justinian: victor, pius, fortunate, ever Augustus, to John, the most holy Archbishop and patriarch of the noble city of Rome. Paying honor to the Apostolic See and to Your Holiness, as always has been and is our desire, and honoring your Blessedness as a father, we hasten to bring to the knowledge of Your Holiness all that pertains to the condition of the churches , since it has always been our great aim to safeguard the unity of your Apostolic See and the position of the holy churches of God which now prevails and abides securely without any disturbing trouble. Therefore we have been sedulous to subject and unite all the priests of the Orient throughout its whole extent to the See of Your Holiness. Whatever questions happen to be mooted at present , we have thought necessary to be brought to Your Holiness' knowledge, however clear and unquestionable they might be, and though firmly held and taught by all the clergy in accordance with the doctrine of Your Apostolic See; for we do not suffer that anything which is moored to Your Holiness, however clear and unquestionable, pertaining to the state of the churches, should fail to be known to Your Holiness, as being the head of all the churches. For as we have said before, we are zealous for the increase of the honor and authority of your See in all respects."2 Croly quotes a letter of March 25, 533 from Justinian to Epiphanius where Justinian repeats the parts of the statement above, which had been sent earlier in March, that the Bishop of Rome is: "head of all Bishops and the true and effective corrector of heretics [sic]."3

In March 534 the Roman Bishop returned answer to Justinian in which he praises him as in the night sky

"one shines as a star, his reverence for the Apostolic chair, to which he has subjected and united all the churches, it being truly the Head of all; as was testified by the rules of the Fathers, the laws of the Princes, and the declarations of the Emperor's piety."4

Smith quotes the following from Justinian's Code in the edicts of the "Novellae;" in the preamble of the ninth it states:

"that the elder Rome was the founder of the laws; so was it not to be questioned that in her was the supremacy of the pontificate." In the 131st; chap. II, on the ecclesiastical titles and privileges it states: "We therefore decree that the most holy Pope of the elder Rome is the first of all the priesthood, and that the most blessed Archbishop of Constantinople, the new Rome, shall hold the second rank after the holy Apostolic chair of the elder Rome."5

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1. Smith, Uriah; Daniel and Revelation, Pub.?
2. Codex Justinian, lib. 1; translation as given by R.F. Little, The Petrine Claims p. 293. See Smith op.cit.> p.275.
4. ibid Croly p. 170, 171; Smith p. 276
5. ibid