Orthodox Theologian: The Universal Church requires a Universal Primacy

Over on Marco’s blog he puts up a quotation from Stephen Ray’s book Upon this Rock about the ecclesial necessity of a universal primate for the universal Church.

Well, don’t take a Catholic’s word for it, Marco. I have just finished reading “The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in dialogue“, the outcome of a 2003 symposium between Catholics and Orthodox held under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The final paper was given by an orthodox theologian Ioannis Zizioulas, who is Metropolitan of Pergamon, and Orthodox president of the Joint International Commission for Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as a Whole.

He cites the orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann as saying:

A local church cut from the universal koinonia is indeed a contradictio in adjecto, for this koinonia is the very essence of the church. And it has, therefore, its form and expression: primacy. Primacy is the necessary expression of the unity and faith and life of all local churches, of their living and efficient koinonia.

He cites yet another orthodox theologian, John Meyendorff:

The very idea of the primacy was very much a part of ecclesiology itself: the provisional Episcopal Synod is needed a president, without who sanction no decision was valid. …I would venture to affirm here that the universal primacy of one bishop…was not simply an historical accident, reflecting pragmatic requirements … The function of the one bishop is to serve that unity on the world scale, just as the function of a regional primate is to be agent of unity on a regional scale.

Zizioulas himself says that the 34th “Canon of the Apostles” “requires that the protos is a sine qua non conditio for the synodical institution, hence an ecclesialogical necessity, and that the Synod is equally a pre-requisite for the exercise of primacy”. He adds that “synods without primates never existed in the Orthodox Church” and “primacy in the church has never been exercised by rotation”. He concludes:

The fact that all synods have a primate as an ecclesialogical necessity means that Ecumenical synods should also have a primus. This automatically implies universal primacy. The logic of synodality leads to primacy, and the logic of the ecumenical Council to universal primacy.

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9 Responses to Orthodox Theologian: The Universal Church requires a Universal Primacy

  1. john w fenton says:

    The Orthodox have never disputed the primacy of the Roman Patriarch. What has been disputed is his supremacy–which means, among other things, his exclusive right to approve or veto the consecration of all bishops.

  2. Peregrinus says:

    I’ve never read any of the theologians you quote, and I know little about this area. But I note that the quotes you give have more to say about primacy than they do about a primate.

    Acknowledging the need for, and value of, primacy doesn’t necessarily imply acceptance of an individual primate – you can have an institutional primate, or a collective or collegial primate. And even if you have an individual primate, there is plenty of room for differing views as to how exactly his primacy is to be exercised.

    Meyendorff, in your quote, does seem to lean in favour of an individual primate, but he also seems to suggests that the essential role of the individual primate is to preside over the Synod. As I read it, the president can endorse and validate the acts of the Synod, or he can decline to do so, in which case they have no force. But I think he cannot act independently of the Synod – i.e. he does not necessarily have the authority to affirm something which the Synod has denied, or to affirm something which the Synod has not considered.

    If this is his view, then it might be more accurate to say that the primacy (in the authoritative sense in which Catholics generally understand the Petrine primacy) belongs to the Synod-and-President, rather than to the President alone.

    Some years ago the last pope called for expressions from non-Catholics of who the Petrine office migh be adapted so as to present less of a barrier to unity. At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems to me that if we are to make progress in this direction we either have to limit what we regard as the essential aspect of the petrine office (so that presiding over the college of bishops becomes the focus of the office) or we have to expand our notion of where the petrine office is to be found (e.g. from ‘the Bishop of Rome’ to ‘the Bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome’). Or, of course, a bit of both.

    John Fenton suggests that the real dividing issue is not so much primacy as supremacy, and gives as an exemple the nomination of bishops. Maybe I’m naïve, but I would have that that we have moved well beyond that point. Does anybody seriously think that any kind of reestablished communion between Rome and any of the Eastern churches not already in communion would involve Rome nominating bishops for the newly-communicant church? Rome never did so prior to the Great Schism, and I cannot imagine that it would scupper reunion now over such a matter.

  3. Lucian says:

    Think of Nestorius, who was deposed by the very Council over which he, as Patriarch of Constantinople, presided.

  4. Schütz says:

    I can’t comment on Lucian’s example of Nestorius (I need to brush up on that bit of my history), but I can comment on Fr John’s and Peregrinus’ comments.

    First of all Peregrinus is correct in saying that the appointing of bishops is really a matter for a local patriarch (who, as I understand it, are in charge of the appointments of bishops in their Patriarchates also in the Orthodox Church). It is instructive to take note that the Pope does not appoint bishops in the Catholic Eastern rite churches.

    It is of course a question of how the primacy is exercised. This was what John Paul II was asking to be considered ecumenically, in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint. This symposium was organised as a part of that process.

    Nor is John quite correct in saying that the Eastern churches never disputed the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is true that they have never disputed his “primacy of honour”, but what has been questioned, has been his ” primacy of jurisdiction”. What emerged from this collection of essays was that more theological work has to be done on the distinction the eastern theologians have generally made between honour and jurisdiction, and whether in fact, a “primacy of honour” alone is any sort of primacy at all. In the “summary of discussion” following Zizioulas’ essay, the Catholic dialogue partners, stated that “the jurisdiction basically means the necessary authority given to someone in order that he may be able to fulfil his ministry in the church.”

    It is therefore vitally important that the “ministry of primacy” the clearly defined. Zizioulas’ point is that this definition must take place not primarily on either biblical or historical grounds, but upon an ” ecclesiology of communion”, ie. upon the theological basis.

    In answer to the rest of Peregrinus’ comments regarding the minister of primacy, suffice to say two things:

    First, neither Eastern nor Western Christianity has ever conceived of primacy in anything other than the terms of a personal Ministry. Specifically, anybody exercising any sort of primacy within the church at any level must be a bishop of a local church. This is agreed upon universally. The only possible suggestion of an alteration to the traditional model comes from some Orthodox theologians who would suggest a rotation model of primacy (that is rotating between bishops within a patriarchate). This is what Zizioulas expressly states has never been the case in the history of the church.

    Secondly, the position of primate (or to use the Greek word Protos, which makes it even clearer) is the position of a single person over against the Synod as a whole. He is primate because he presides over the Synod. Nor does the role of the primate end with the closing of the Synod. In both Eastern and Western churches, the primate has always had an ongoing role in the life of the church. Apart from the actual meeting of the Synod. In a sense, the Synod is always in existence, what we in the West would call the College of bishops, and the primate always presides over them.

    Primacy is thus not the same thing as magisterium. The magisterium of the Catholic Church is the Pope with the bishops, but the Pope has primacy amongst the bishops. Of course, this raises many questions of how the primacy is exercised within episcopal collegiality, and of course, that is an issue not only in discussions between the eastern the West, but within the Western Church itself.

    The point of Zizioulas’ essay is simply that, should there ever again be an ecumenical Council of the universal Church (i.e. a gathering of all true bishops of true local churches), there would need to be one who was “protos” of the council (i.e., the universal primate). This is all he says, and as far as he goes. I think we have to agree on this point, before proceeding on to the question of how that primacy is exercised beyond the context of an ecumenical Council.

  5. Peregrinus says:

    “Think of Nestorius, who was deposed by the very Council over which he, as Patriarch of Constantinople, presided.”

    According to the online Catholic Encyclopedia – admittedly not the last word in modern scholarship – it was Cyril of Alexandria who presided over the Council of Ephesus (and its decrees were later ratified by the Pope).

  6. Pseudo-Iamblichus says:

    I have read this article by Zizoulas, and he is one of my theologians. However, primacy as envisioned by Zizoulas in this essay is not the same thing as what is on the books in the Roman Catholic Church. The early Church may have had a concept of primacy, and even of “primus inter pares”, but the idea of universal jurisdiction, infallibility, and absolute authroity to do whatever a Pope pleases is not to be found in the early Church. It’s apples and oranges, if you ask me.

  7. Schütz says:

    Pseudo-iamblichus, I grant what you say about there being a difference between primacy, jurisdiction, and teaching magisterium. It is very important not to confuse these (as Peregrinus does when he talks about the Synod-and-President having primacy–he means teaching magisterium). But before there can be any agreement on jurisdiction or teaching magisterium, we must have agreement on the matter of primacy. I think Zizioulas’ essay at least goes some way toward this.

  8. Peregrinus says:

    I appreciate that there is a difference between primacy, jurisdiction and teaching magisterium, and that I accept that I have confused them. But I am having some difficulty disentangling them; there seems to be, at the very least, a high degree of overlap.

    Meyendorff seems to illustrate the concept of primacy by saying that the “Episcopal Synod needed a president, without whose sanction no decision was valid”. But it seems to me that any decision a Synod might take must relate either to church government and administration (jurisdiction) or to faith, doctrine or morals (the magisterium). This implies that the primacy of the president consists essentially in his having a veto over decisions of jurisdiction and magisterial pronouncements.

    If we view the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in isolation from his jurisdiction and from his magisterial office, is there anything left of primacy? Or do we just have a ‘primacy of honour’? Is primancy anthing more than a label for the role played by the Bishop of Rome in matters of jurisdiction and magisterium?

  9. Schütz says:

    Yes, these are exactly the things that need to be worked out. It is of course, the Catholic position that any ministry of primacy (or any ministry for that matter) requires the “jurisdiction” to be able to exercise that ministry. My point is that the first thing we need to get clear is that such a ministry exists. Nevertheless, I think we can say that primacy is more than a “label” for jurisdiction or magisterium. It is the point from which jurisdiction and magisterium proceed.

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