Before analyzing the Byzantine understanding of the new Roman primacy, a brief synopsis of the issue as it was understood before 1100 is in order. In the first place, the East had no difficulty in explicitly recognizing Rome’s presidency or primacy within the pentarchy of patriarchs. Its willingness to do so is well documented. It was assumed, however, that the government of the Church was vested jointly in all five patriarchs. No one bishop or patriarchate—including the primary see in Christendom—possessed universal jurisdiction as an exclusive prerogative. Certainly primacy, though in principle never denied, was not understood or confused with doctrinal infallibility or absolute supremacy over all Churches and their hierarchy in toto orbe. As such, the right of any see to intervene directly in the internal affairs of another Church was alien to the Christian East. Indeed, monarchical government was never part of Orthodox ecclesiology, canon law, or tradition. (It is safe to assume that this was also true in the West before the eleventh century; the special papal prerogatives listed in the Dictatus papae [of Gregory VII/Hildebrand] represented, as we have seen, the particular bias of reformist policy; they did not reflect catholic tradition in its historical form.) It was for this reason that the papacy’s claims to jurisdiction over the Byzantine Church during Photius’ patriarchate were resented. The priveleges claimed by pope Nicholas I were indeed deemed uncanonical and, as such, unacceptable. Western attempts to undermine the balance of conciliarity and legitimate primacy in the Church catholic were always passionately rejected as ecclesiologically unsound. As conclusive evidence that Church structure stipulates such an equilibrium, the Byzantines often pointed to the familiar canon 34 of the apostles.
The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him who is the first do anything without the consent of all. For so there will be oneness of mind, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.
Suffice it to say, allusions to the Petrine idea found in Byzantine texts before the eleventh century also should be understood the same way. Churchmen invariably used the idea “rhetorically” without any real recognition of its implications; invoking it was in fact the smart thing to do, especially if the moral support of the Roman bishop was required against a powerful emperor or a heretical teaching.
Invariably, twelfth century Byzantine theologians remained faithful to this earlier ecclesiological vision. Their polemic is in all essential respects in full agreement with the traditional understanding of ecclesiological authority professed by Eastern Christendom since antiquity. Granted their examinaation of ecclesiastical government was to be more exhaustive than the somewhat hesitant summary observations of the first millennium. But then, the “state of reciprocal ignorance,” which in part explains why the issue had not been confronted directly or defined more precisely before the twelfth century, no longer existed. Besides, by 1100 the high-medieval papacy with its armory of new canonical collections had come to its own, and a more detailed refutation was unavoidable. Indeed, western ecclesiology had by then moved inflexibly and unmistakably in the direction of papal monarchy, methodically supporting its claims by a new legalistic interpretation of the so-called Petrine texts of the New Testament.
Aristides Papadakis, The Christian East & the Rise of the Papacy: The Church AD 1071-1453, volume IV of The Church in History (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994)