The fourth canon of the First Council of Nicaea of 325 attributed to the bishop of the capital (metropolis) of each Roman province (the "metropolitan bishop") a position of authority among the bishops of the province, without reference to the founding figure of that bishop's see. Its sixth canon recognized the wider authority, extending beyond a single province, traditionally held by Rome and Alexandria, and the prerogatives of the churches in Antioch and the other provinces. Of Aelia, the Roman city built on the site of the destroyed city of Jerusalem, the council's seventh canon reads: "Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Aelia should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour." The metropolis in question is generally taken to be Caesarea Maritima, though in the late 19th century Philip Schaff also mentioned other views.
This Council of Nicaea, being held in 325, of course made no mention of Constantinople, a city which was only officially founded five years later, at which point it became the capital of the Empire. But the First Council of Constantinople (381) decreed in a canon of disputed validity: "The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome." A century after the Council of Chalcedon (451) and the ensuing schism between those who accepted it and those who rejected it, Eastern Orthodox Christianity wove these two sources together to develop the theory of the Pentarchy: "ormulated 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), which ranked the five sees as Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem." Earlier, the Council of Ephesus decreed in 431 that the Church of Cyprus should be autocephalous, against the claims of Antioch, the capital of the Roman diocese of the East, of which Cyprus was part.
The patriarchs of these four sees consider themselves to be successors of those given special status in these canons:
Other sees who claim to be founded by an apostle and thus can claim to be apostolic sees include:
In Roman Catholic usage, "the Apostolic See" is used in the singular and capitalized to refer specifically to the See of Rome, with reference to the Pope's status as successor of the Apostle Peter. This usage existed already at the time of the third ecumenical council, held at Ephesus in 431, at which the phrase "our most holy and blessed pope Cœlestine, bishop of the Apostolic See" was used.