AskDefine | Define pentarchy

Extensive Definition

Pentarchy is a Greek-derived word meaning "rule by five". One historical example is the Pentarchy of 1933 that briefly ruled Cuba. 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.

Ecclesiological sense

The Pentarchy of the Roman Empire

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. Formulated 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)." 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 apostolic founders, are:
Of these sees, Rome was the only one in the Western Roman Empire, of which Justinian had succeeded in recovering a small part. The others were all in the Eastern Roman Empire.
Canon 6 of the First Council of Nicaea (325) spoke of special authority already exercised by Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, the chief Christian cities of the time, and canon 7 approved the special honor given to Jerusalem, which as yet had no authority over other sees, not being even a metropolitan see. According to Eastern ecclesiology, the established order of these sees was as follows: Rome, followed by Alexandria, followed by Antioch, followed by Jerusalem - a hierarchy only of honor among four equal Apostolic Sees. The foundations of Constantinople, restructuring and enlarging the existing city of Byzantium, were laid after that Council, on 26 September 329. 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 decisions were rejected by Rome at the time.
The theory of the Pentarchy as the form of government of the Church throughout Christendom was formulated in the legislation of the sixth-century emperor Justinian I (527–565), and the theory received formal ecclesiastical sanction at the Council in Trullo (692), which is recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Church, but not by the Roman Catholic Church.
But 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.
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".
In the present day, the See of Rome is the central see of the Roman Catholic Church, the See of Constantinople is the primary see of the (less centralized) 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. For the five claimants to the patriarchate of Antioch, see Patriarch of Antioch#Current patriarchs. And for the three who claim the title of Jerusalem see Patriarch of Jerusalem.

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.

Non-ecclesiological sense

In its most general use, the word "pentarchy" can be used to refer to five rulers or powers:
  • In 19th-century Italy, the liberal pentarchy was a group of five parliamentary leaders of the Republican and Extreme Radical wings of the left in the chamber after the introduction of universal suffrage: Crispi, Cairoli, Nicotera, Zanardelli and Baccarini, all assuming an attitude of bitter hostility to Depretis, the Right.
  • The five great European powers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia), as recognized in the Congress system.
  • The five principal powers of India's Maratha Confederacy (the Peshwas of Desh, the Sindhias of Gwalior, the Bhonsles of Nagpur, the Gaekwads of Baroda, and the Holkars of Indore) in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Although not rulers, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have been called a pentarchy.


See also

External links

pentarchy in German: Pentarchie
pentarchy in Spanish: Pentarquía
pentarchy in French: Pentarchie
pentarchy in Italian: Quadruplice Alleanza (1815)
pentarchy in Hebrew: פנטרכיה
pentarchy in Macedonian: Пентархија
pentarchy in Dutch: Quadruple Alliantie (1814)
pentarchy in Polish: Pentarchia
pentarchy in Serbian: Пентархија
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