In Adam A. J. DeVille’s survey of various Orthodox appraisals of the Roman Primacy (in his Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy), he notes the common insistence that the Primacy cannot be exercised in such a way as to “ride roughshod over the bishops” (see my previous post). On the basis that each bishop in each diocese directly exercises the office of Christ the Head of the Church in that diocese, they argue that it is theologically impossible for there to be a “higher authority” over the diocesan bishop.
Yet DeVille offers an interesting comment on Thomas Hopko’s expressed criticism in a footnote on page 178 his book. He writes:
Hopko lists several changes he insists upon (eg., deleting the filioque; using a Palamite understanding of uncreated divine energies; and denying the existence of “Purgatory” as Catholic theology has traditionally understood it) as well as liturgical reforms (eg., mandatory baptisms by immersion only; Holy Communion always under both kinds; widespread parochial celebration of “Vespers, Compline, Matins and the Hours in the churches”; the restoration of “the practice of having the priestly celebrant in the Latin liturgy face the altar with the faithful”; and, finally, the possible “enforcing [of] the ancient ascetical and penitential practice of forbidding the celebration of the Holy Eucharist…on weekdays of Great Lent)…. It is hard to know what to make of it… Most disturbing of all is the lack of logic in Hopko’s paper: he demands the pope be stripped of almost all his powers, but equally Hopko demands that the pope use those powers…to enforce or forbid certain things that no pope has ever attempted to enforce or forbid. Is the pope to use those powers one last time to enforce and forbid everything Hopko demands and then foreswear the use of those powers ever after? Is he to use them one last time and then be stripped of them – and if so, by whom?
This seems to me to be a very insightful comment. In discussing the intersection of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the jurisdictional powers of the same bishop, interesting anomalies arise.
The one that concerns me here is the question of how the pope is to act as a agent of unity among the bishops of the world without some degree of jurisdiction over them. Interestingly, this was exactly what Pope John Paul II expressed in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, when he opened up the possibility of revisioning the way in which the Petrine Ministry is carried out, “while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission”.
The basic model put forward by our Orthodox brothers and sisters is that the primacy should be exercised as a primacy of love, of mutual encouragement – a kind of moral primacy without jurisdictional powers. This is not unlike the suggestion that Martin Luther made at the time of the Reformation in the Smalkald Articles (Part II, Article IV: Of the Papacy), when he said:
Therefore the Church can never be better governed and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops equal in office (although they be unequal in gifts), be diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, Sacraments, prayer, and works of love, etc., as St. Jerome writes that the priests at Alexandria together and in common governed the churches, as did also the apostles, and afterwards all bishops throughout all Christendom, until the Pope raised his head above all.
It is a grand hope – which seems to be predicated upon a redeemed human nature that is predominately directed to good rather than to evil. Which is surprising in a theologian who otherwise had such a dark view of human nature – even regenerated human nature – which he believed to remain under the power of original sin even after baptism.
The “primacy of love” principle sounds great in theory – but how would it work in practice? Because practically speaking, have we not seen just how such a model of “unity in love” without a co-existing “primacy of jurisdiction” would work? We see it not only in jurisdictional confusion that exists among the Orthodox (principally in North America) but also in the Anglican Communion, in which all bishops are completely independent and able to act as they wish and teach what they wish without any checks or balances. The history of the Anglican Communion in the 20th Century – as it struggled to find a way in which a church that was never intended to be a world-wide communion could maintain the ties of fellowship without a central and empowered primacy. And then even more painfully under the leadership of the current Archbishop of Canterbuy, we have seen that no amount of loving encouragement could hold together the centrifugal forces that have developed within that communion.
One of the features of the exercise of the papal primacy most regularly criticised by the Orthodox is the practice whereby the Pope appoints all bishops everywhere in the Latin Church (nb. the Pope does not appoint bishops in the Eastern Rite Churches). But is not this power of appointment – and the corollary power of dismissal of bishops when they act in such a way as to threaten the unity of the Church’s faith and communion – in some way realistically necessary for the maintenance of Universal communion?
What are the alternatives? It would be possible that the Bishop of Rome exercise his powers in other jurisdictions much the same way as he does in the Eastern Catholic Churches. But that would still require that someone – a patriarch or a metropolitan or a local synod of bishops – have the authority of appointing (at least by recognitio) bishops in their area of jurisdiction and, yes, also the authority to depose bishops when that necessity unhappily arises. To adopt a situation where every bishop in every diocese has complete independence to act and teach as he sees personally fit – would be a recipe for the dissolution of that unity which now so happily adheres in the Latin Church.
It does not seem to me that there is anyway in which we can do away with some kind of system of authority – whether exercised directly by the Pope or locally by other “higher authorities” – that provides checks and balances even over diocesan ordinaries. Primacy requires jurisdiction, even if that primacy is in some sense devolved into more local expressions.
I welcome any thoughts you may have on the matter. My only limit in this discussion will be that we will not discuss the matter of any particular case. Well, not any particular Australian case anyway. Got that? Good. Go for it.