Pope & Patriarchs: The 1848 Letters of Pope Pius IX and the Orthodox Patriarchs

Pope Pius IX about 1865

Shortly after his ascension to the papal throne in 1846, Pope Pius IX wrote the Apostolic Letter In suprema Petri apostoli sede,  “On the Supreme Throne of Peter the Apostle” (6 January 1848). While it was primarily intended for Eastern Catholics of the various Oriental Rites it also addressed Orthodox Christians, calling them back to unity with Rome.

Fr. Aidan Nichols characterizes Pius IX’s letter as

“the first ‘unionist’ encyclical of the modern papacy” and as the first part of  “a papal concern for the Christian East of a depth and urgency not seen since Florence.” “Thousands upon thousands” of this letter were distributed in a Greek translation directly to the Orthodox faithful. (Rome and the Eastern Churches, p. 352).

Despite its historical importance as one of the first texts of the modern era relative to Catholic—Orthodox relations, English translations of Pius IX’s letter have been few and, until now, have not been available online.

Patriarch Anthimos VI of Constantinople

A translation from the French version, published in the journal Irenikon in 1929, has been prepared by Michaël de Verteuil. The French text can be found here at the Internet Archive and was supplied by the Monastery of Chevetogne, publishers of Irenikon.

The reply to Pius IX’s letter, issued by the Orthodox Patriarchs later that year, is better known and is online here and used with permission.

The Orthodox Patriarchs’ reply was signed by Anthimos VI, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, along with Hierotheus, Patriarch of Alexandria, Methodios, Patriarch of Antioch and Cyril, Patriarch of Jerusalem, along with the Holy Synods of each of the Patriarchates.

Click at the link below to download a PDF file of Pope Pius IX’s Apostolic Letter together with the reply of the Orthodox Patriarchs:

Click here to download PDF


6 Responses to Pope & Patriarchs: The 1848 Letters of Pope Pius IX and the Orthodox Patriarchs

  1. Ric Ballard says:

    “nor is there any reason why ye refuse a return to the true Church and Communion with this my holy Throne.”—— No wonder why the Orthodox Fathers said:“the Papacy has not on this account ceased to annoy the peaceful Church of God”.Im glad God is merciful. I hope we can learn from the past and try to work together today.

  2. David,

    I thanks for this post–it’s very interesting.

    I had read Pius IX’s letter to the Eastern Christians years ago–as well as the Orthodox response–I must confess (and this is NO reflection on your post much less you) I found neither to be particularly edifying. That said, it is good to know even the less edifying parts of our history

    In Christ,


  3. I’ve thought about these documents for some time. My main thought is that there is some sense of interest in unity expressed, but there is no sense of condescension in the good sense. Condescension meaning self-abasement, humility, passion for unity. May God put to life the words calling for that in our hierarchs!

  4. […] Pope & Patriarchs: The 1848 Letters of Pope Pius IX and the Orthodox Patriarchs. […]

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