Pentarchy is a Greek-derived word meaning "rule by five". In Christian history, the word applies particularly to the idea of the administration of the entire Christian church by the Five Great Sees or early Patriarchates of Late Antiquity.

The Historical Pentarchy


The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the Pentarchy in this sense as "the proposed government of universal Christendom by five patriarchal sees under the auspices of a single universal empire". Each of the five sees arose in the Apostolic Age and their relationships with each other were later formalized in the legislation of the emperor Justinian I (527–565), especially in his Novella 131, the theory received official ecclesiastical sanction at the Council in Trullo (692)." [ [ Encyclopaedia Britannica Online] ] The theory of the Pentarchy was based on the special prerogatives and authority that the sees in question actually held with respect to others, some of them since before the fourth century. For Justinian and the Council in Trullo, the patriarchs heading those sees were the bishop of Rome and those classified as Greek Orthodox, not the claimants who rejected the Council of Chalcedon.

The respective sees, with their presumed founders during the Apostolic Age, are:

Note that the Pentarchy includes Jerusalem, which was an important church in the Apostolic Age, but which had been reduced by Justinian's time. So although in practice it was made up of "four" sees, by retaining the term "Pentarchy," Justinian was giving special honor to the church in Jerusalem for its historical role in the Apostolic church.

Furthermore, the Catholic Encyclopedia calls Jerusalem "the mother church": :During the first Christian centuries the church at this place was the centre of Christianity in Jerusalem, "Holy and glorious Sion, mother of all churches." Certainly no spot in Christendom can be more venerable than the place of the Last Supper, which became the first Christian church. [ [ Catholic Encylopedia online] ] In the theory of the Pentarchy, Jerusalem was included (despite its small size after 70 AD) by virtue of its foundational role in establishing the Church. During the Apostolic Age, Jerusalem sent out the Apostles to evangelize the world and James the Just maintained authority over them until his martyrdom. Canon 7 of that Council reaffirmed the ancient first place of honor given to Jerusalem. [ [ FIRST COUNCIL OF NICAEA - 325 AD] ] However, although the "mother of all churches," by the time of the First Council of Nicaea (325), Jerusalem no longer had influence over other sees, and until the Council of Chalcedon (451), had no patriarch. Thus, its presence in the Pentarchy was an honorarium.

Canon 6 spoke of special "honor" given to Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, which were the chief Christian cities of the time. ["ibid."] Rome by its sheer size and influence occupied the first place in honor in all practical terms. Of these sees, Rome was alone in the Western Roman Empire (of which Justinian ruled only a small part). The other sees were all in the Eastern Roman Empire. Thus Rome was the one patriarchate in all the West empire.

Canon 9 of the Council of Chalcedon gave "authority" over the whole church to Constantinople as the place of final ecclesiastical appeal. This was done for practical reasons, for, since Christianity was made the official religion of empire, Constantinople was the imperial capital. First place in "honor" was still afforded to Rome. According to Eastern ecclesiology, the established order was a hierarchy of honor only, among four "equal" Apostolic Sees. The foundations of Constantinople, restructuring and enlarging the existing city of Byzantium, [ [ Sozomen, "Ecclesiastical History", II.3] ] were laid after that Council, on 26 September 329. [ [ Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XVII, III] ] This see was added, ranked second after Rome, in Canon 3 of the First Council of Constantinople (359) and canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon (451), both of which councils were accepted by Rome under protest at the time.

As noted above, the theory of the Pentarchy was formally acknowledged in the reign of emperor Justinian I (527–565) and official ecclesiastical sanction was given at the Council in Trullo (692), [ [ Encyclopaedia Britannica Online] ] which is recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Church; the whole of these canons was accepted and confirmed by Roman Pope Hadrian I. [cite web | last =Schaff | first =Philip | coauthors =Wace, Henry | title =Introductory Note: Council in Trullo | work =Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. XIV | publisher =Charles Scribner's Sons |date=1900 | url = | accessdate =2007-07-05]


However, even by 692 the Pentarchic system had been seriously disrupted. After the 7th century Arab conquests, and the Byzantine loss of the Rome-Ravenna corridor, only Constantinople remained securely within a state calling itself the "Roman Empire", whereas Rome became independent (see Gregory the Great), Jerusalem and Alexandria fell under Muslim rule, and Antioch was on the front lines of hundreds of years of recurring border warfare between the Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate. These historical-political changes, combined with the northward shift of the center of gravity of Christendom during the Middle Ages, and the fact that the majority of Christians in Muslim-ruled Egypt and Syria were Non-Chalcedonians who refused to recognize the authority of either Rome or Constantinople, meant that the original idea of five great co-operating centers of administration of the whole Christian church under the emperor grew ever more remote from practical reality.

Over time as the old relationships of the Pentarchy waned, the influence of Rome grew. Rome had become both the largest episcopate and the largest patriarchate; it had also developed the best theological, financial, and political resources. After Alexandria and Antioch had fallen out of communion with the rest of the church over the Chalcedonian controversies, Rome won still greater respect for its reliable orthodoxy. Furthermore, after the barbarian invasions of the West, the papacy became the seat of unity as civilization in the West was rebuilt. The sphere of Roman influence grew still further as she sponsored new missionaries to new northern nations who joined the ranks of Christendom and a new, Western Christian civilization arose.

Thus Rome's first place of honor in the ancient Pentarchy was confirmed as its first place in influence spread throughout the West and beyond. By the time of the Great Schism (1054), the Pentarchy was a term applicable primarily to Eastern orthodoxy, which after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 was entirely under the political control of Islam, leaving the Holy Roman Empire in the West as the heir to the former imperial settlement, under a single patriarch (Pope) in Rome.

17th-century Eastern Orthodox pentarchy

When in 1589 the metropolitan see of Moscow became an independent patriarchate (and so was no longer directly subordinated to the formerly Byzantine Ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople), some Orthodox counted it as being part of a new pentarchy, consisting of Constantinople, Moscow (in place of Catholic Rome), and the Greek Orthodox-recognized claimants to Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. However, the office of Patriarch of Moscow was left vacant after 1700, and formally abolished on 25 January 1721. In more recent centuries, multiple autocephalous patriarchates (each heading a national branch of the Eastern Orthodox Church) have been created.

The Pentarchy's legacy

The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes the Pope as the out-of-communion Patriarch of the West, and recognizes nine, no longer four, Patriarchs within its communion (see list). For its part, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes as Patriarchs all those to whom Eastern Christianity as a whole gives that title. Among these, the Second Vatican Council made special mention in its dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium" of "the ancient patriarchal churches" as among the churches that, "as parent-stocks of the Faith, so to speak, have begotten others as daughter churches, with which they are connected down to our own time by a close bond of charity in their sacramental life and in their mutual respect for their rights and duties". [ [ "Lumen gentium", 23] ]

In the present day, the See of Rome is the primary see of the centralized Roman Catholic Church alone, the See of Constantinople is the primary see of the confederated Eastern Orthodox Church, and the See of Alexandria is the principal see of Oriental Orthodoxy. Each of the Eastern sees is the seat of patriarchs from more than one of the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. Three patriarchs now claim to hold this office as Saint Mark's successor: the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, and the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria. Two claim the title of Patriarch of Constantinople: the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. The See of Antioch has five claimants: the patriarch of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, which is part of theEastern Orthodox Church; the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, part of the Oriental Orthodox communion; and the patriarchs of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Maronite Catholic Church and the Syrian Catholic Church, all in communion with the Roman pontiff and part of the Catholic Church. And for the three ancient claimants to the title of Jerusalem, see Patriarch of Jerusalem.


ee also

*East-West Schism for some relevant background discussion.
*Dyarchy, Heptarchy, Tetrarchy
*Primate (religion)
*Primacy of Simon Peter

External links

* [ Patriarch and Patriarchate] (Catholic Encyclopedia)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pentarchy — Pen tar*chy, n. [Gr. ?: cf. F. pentarchie. See {Penta }, and { archy}.] A government in the hands of five persons; five joint rulers. P. Fletcher. The pentarchy of the senses. A. Brewer. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pentarchy — [pen′tär kē, pen′tär΄kē] n. pl. pentarchies [Gr pentarchia: see PENTA & ARCHY] 1. a federation of five states, each under an individual leader or ruler 2. government by five rulers …   English World dictionary

  • pentarchy — pentarch, n. pentarchical, adj. /pen tahr kee/, n., pl. pentarchies. 1. a government by five persons. 2. a governing body of five persons. 3. a federation of five nations, each under its own government or ruler. [1580 90; < Gk pentarchía. See… …   Universalium

  • pentarchy — noun Etymology: Greek pentarchia, from penta + archia archy Date: circa 1586 a group of five countries or districts each under its own ruler or government …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • pentarchy — noun a) Government by five persons. b) A governing body consisting of five persons …   Wiktionary

  • Pentarchy —    Greek term for the rule of five, referring to the Byzantine theory, which evolved in the fifth and sixth centuries (formally sanctioned by Justinian I [q.v.]), that church authority is collective, residing in the five patriarchates (q.v.) of… …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • pentarchy — government by five individuals Forms of Government …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • pentarchy — pen·tarchy …   English syllables

  • pentarchy — pen•tar•chy [[t]ˈpɛn tɑr ki[/t]] n. pl. chies 1) gov a government or governing body consisting of five persons 2) gov a union of five states or kingdoms, each under its own ruler • Etymology: 1580–90; < Gk pentarchía. See pent , archy… …   From formal English to slang

  • pentarchy — /ˈpɛntaki/ (say pentahkee) noun (plural pentarchies) 1. a government by five persons. 2. a governing body of five persons. 3. a group of five states or kingdoms, each under its own ruler. {Greek pentarchia} …   Australian English dictionary

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