On Papal Primacy and the Independence of Bishops

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.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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83 Responses to On Papal Primacy and the Independence of Bishops

  1. PM says:

    In theory, it would indeed be possible to do away with the system whereby the Pope appoints all bishops everywhere in the Latin Church. That became the universal rule only in the code of canon law promulgated in 1917 – though the elective principle had been eroded in practice long before then. (‘Traditionalists’ who are outraged by this statement should consider how St Ambrose ascended to the see of Milan by popular acclaim in the town square – before he was even baptised. Election by cathedral chapters was widespread until the late middle ages and, in some places, afterwards.)

    But you are absolutely right in identifying the recognitio from the Pope as the irreducibleminimum that would be required for Catholic unity, and with it the right to withhold the recognitio and the power of deposition if needed.

    And I don’t think bringing back election by cathedral chapters or synods, though theoretically possible, would necessarily be helpful: it would risk entrenching parochialism and factionalism that could threaten the universality of the church. Sometimes the last thing a diocese needs is a comfy old mate of its senior clergy.

    (If I can sail close the wind by mentioning a bishop from northern Australia, wasn’t Archbishop Duhigg given to brushing aside the 1917 code as ‘De Gaspari’s little book of rules’?)

  2. Tony Bartel says:

    My understanding of the Orthodox Church is that authority is exercised collegially, through the synod of bishops. It is the synod of bishop which elects bishops. Each bishop does not have complete independence to act and teach as he sees fit, but is accountable to the synod of which he is a part.

    This is a very different situation from the Anglican Church where no effective discipline is exercised against a bishop who departs from the teaching of the Church. The only way in which an Anglican bishop will be removed is if he loses the support of his diocese or if he does something really naughty. That will rarely involve doctrinal issues.

    One difficulty with your argument is that in reality, as opposed to in theory, doctrinal unity does not seem to exist within the Catholic Church. For example, if every bishop and priest in the Catholic Church in Western countries who believed in the ordination of women were removed, the priesthood in those countries would be decimated. This would not be true in the Orthodox Church. The paradox is that the Catholic Church has a unified magisterial voice and yet speaks with many languages. The Orthodox Church has a dispersed collegial magisterial voice and speaks with one language.

    That is not to say that there are not divisions in the Orthodox Church. We fight over the worst things such as power, prestige and national identity. But in practice we have a greater unity of faith and unity of worship than any other church.

    • Schütz says:

      Nah, Tony. Much too rosy a picture. You can’t tell me that the Orthodox don’t have divisions over matters of faith. Why just the other day, I had some woman telling me that the Greeks wouldn’t recognise the baptism of grandchild because it was done by the Macedonians…

      As for the division that arises over the ordination of women, you wait for it, it’s coming. To the degree that any Christian body is affected by the Western Zeitgeist, they have to find a way of dealing with this issue. It’s just that the Orthodox have been a little more sheltered thus far. I think it was Dixie who told us on this blog that she once went to an Orthodox women’s retreat and was stunned to find them talking about WO. It’ll come. And when it does, how is the Orthodox Church going to put a lid on it?

      No Church can stop its members believing heterodox things. The best that any Church can hope for is to be able to speak with a clear voice about what it’s public teaching is, that is, what the authentic tradition is.

      • Tony Bartel says:


        The Macedonians are not a good example because they are not canonical Orthodox which raises another set of problems. No Orthodox are in communion with them.

        As to the other issues you raise, anybody who lives in the Orthodox Church cannot wear rose coloured glasses. I was not saying that there are no divisions in Orthodoxy, just that the divisions do not exist to the same extent that they do in the Catholic Church. That much is true today if you look at the matter impartially.

        As to the future, that is in God’s hands. I have great confidence in the Orthodox Church to remain true to the faith. You obviously lack that confidence. Time will tell.

        • Schütz says:

          No, I am fairly confident that most Orthodox will remain faithful to the tradition – but some will not. I would expect America (rather than the more conservative homelands or even Australia) to be the fist battleground. I imagine that then the simple thing will be for the Traditional Orthodox to claim to be the only Orthodox – a position that would have my vote. But in reality it will just be a case of the Macedonians all over again. The Orthodox Church is fully united in faith because those who don’t share our faith are not Orthodox and we are not in union with them. Mind you, we have our own way of handling this: if you want to consider yourself “Catholic” you have to remain in communion with the Pope – and if you want to remain in communion with the Pope, tow the line of the Pope’s teaching… Etc.

  3. The Bishop of Rome is the pastor of two Churches: the Church of Rome and the Universal Church. In his role as the pastor of the Church of Rome, he functions in the same way all diocesan bishops function, and in each bishop in his own diocese is a true Vicar of Christ, not a vicar of the pope. However, as Pastor of the Universal Church, he has an office (which bears real authority) which the Orthodox do not acknowledge even to exist. And here’s the real problem: a Church which does not need a human pastor is not a real church; it is merely an abstraction. But Catholics maintain that the Universal Church is prior to all local or particular Churches (i.e. dioceses, eparchies, etc) logically, chronologically, and ontologically. Meaning that the Universal Church is not simply cobbled together by the bishops of all the local churches being gathered in a synod. The Universal Church is real; this is the Church confessed in the Creed, and it must have a human pastor as surely as every particular Church must have a human pastor. This, it seems to me, is where devout men like Father Hopko simply miss the boat.

    • I’ve heard this idea before, that the Pope is the bishop of Rome. However, having been to Rome on multiple occasions (and loved it!), I must ask the question: of which “roman” church is the Pope pastor of? The four papal basilicas? Other than that the churches of Roma are divided into numerous titular parishes. The end result of this is that Rome is probably the least catechized city in the world. Sure, its filled with many monks, nuns, priests and bishops. But in general, there is a severe disconnect between the clergy and monastics on one hand, and the average lay person on the other. The reason for this disconnect is that, for all intents and purposes, Rome has no bishop.

      Three examples will highlight this clearly I think. The first is that when I attended papal vespers for the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, there was a massive line to enter the church (and I do mean massive, it took roughly an hour to get situated… for vespers!). Yet there was one thing conspicuously missing in that line: Romans! There were tourists from all over the world, but no local Romans.

      The second example is when I attempted to keep the feast of a certain Roman martyr at his parish where his relics are kept. After a long train ride, and an even longer walk, I arrived to find the parish door locked with a small note in Italian: “closed today for cleaning”… WHAT!? What pastor in his right mind closes a church for cleaning on its feast day, especially when the church holds the principal relics of the martyr? (and no, there were no instructions on the sign to attend another parish for the festival)

      Finally, the monastery of Gregorius Magnus (after whom my son is named) is a rapidly degrading church of 3 Romanian Eastern Rite monks. To be fair they were quite hospitable to me when I was was there and I was given permission to venerate his abbatial throne. But the spirit of St Gregory, who desired to instill in the Roman church, and indeed its papal chair, a deep piety rooted in the monastic life, is seemingly gone.

      I give these examples only to illustrate what I found all around Rome: the only churches with any real activity are the papal basilicas, and those churches attached to a seminary or other training center. Other than that, the churches of Rome are vacant and the people of Rome uncared for.

      I’ve said all the above to say this: the claim that there is a “real” universal church which needs to be tended seems to me purely metaphysical speculation when faced with a nearly complete lack of real pastoral care for the real city of Rome. This is my personal gripe of Roman primacy (of which I am far more sympathetic than the majority of my Orthodox brethren). There seems to be a platonic ecclesiology at work where the “real” church is the (invisible) universal one and the tangible church with real people is merely a creation of some demiurge. I know I’m overstating things; I’m aware that the Pope does deal with real concerns in the lives of real people. I also that the Pope has a deep love for the people of Rome. And maybe I have judged too quickly. But it seems to me, and to many of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, that how papal primacy has unfolded is precisely a “universal” understanding at the expense of the local church.

      To close, it is my sincere hope that I merely understand incorrectly. As we march toward Pentecost, may the Holy Spirit who undid the confusion of babel drive out the confusion of our own minds.

      • adam george says:

        Wow that was a very spot on piece about the Roman Church. Having lived and worked in Rome I understand what you are saying. It is very uncatcheised. Indeed, the bulk of people who attend the papal ceremonies, Masses, Sunday Angelus, the weekly audiences are FOREIGNERS. They are tourists, they are sightseers. If you go to the parish chruches in Rome they are overwhelmingly moribund, dirty in many cases, and so empty. They have become museums of the past with all that implies. Tourists drop in and take photos, gasp at the reliefs on the walls, the paintings. But they are empty for 99% of the time. In contrast if you go to Brazil their churches are packed and you can’t move most Sundays.
        Rome is stacked high with priests, nuns and religious. It must have the greatest religious population per capita of any place on the planet. But they are really seminarians and students from around the world who come there.
        It is a ‘clerical’ city and the vatican is at its heart. But I am not sure about the depth of its spirituality. Many many times I’ve been at ceremonies in St Peter’s and now its become a venue for phone cameras, cameras of all types being used by people just wanting to snap at the Pontiff. I fear it has lost a deep spirituality in many ways and is often seen more as ‘spiritual theatre’, which plays up on a grand scale and looks very impressive on HD TV. John Paul II created much of this by the sheer force of his charismatic personality, his great gifts as a speaker and performer, but also as a deeply spiritual man and mystic. Padre Pio attracted millions to his Italian monastery when alive, but many times he had to remind the people at Masses there to be silent and reverent. Some videos I have seen of his Masses there were so noisy that it beggared belief.
        But I trail off David’s topic. Mea culpa.

      • Mr. McCallum,

        Since the Patriarch of Constantinople has fewer souls under his direct care than I do in my medium sized parish in South Carolina, I suggest caution before discussing what the Diocese of Rome really is. Having said that and having lived in Rome for five years, permit me a few observations:

        1. The Centro Storico is what most visitors to Rome see and think of as “Rome.” But the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants don’t live in or near the Centro Storico; they live in the peripheria — the sprawling suburbs that grew up after World War II.
        2. The Centro Storico is an odd mix of the ancient, medieval, baroque and modern, and the endless row of vast churches are –with the exception of the ancient basilicas — largely the creation of Papal Rome and the Renaissance. These were never parish churches in the sense that most people think of; they were shrines of one sort or another or they were home to religious congregations. Just as no one explains great throngs of the lay faithful worshipping on Mt. Athos, no one should expect to see large groups of locals praying in the churches of the Roman Centro Storico.
        3. Rome is and long has been one of the premier vacation destinations of the world, and vast numbers of holidays makers join the true pilgrims who fill up the Eternal City most of the time. These are the people you see going into the basilicas: the devout and the curious. If you want to see normal Catholics practicing the faith at their local parish, you have to go to the peripheria; and they are there in great numbers even today.
        4. Given the scope of his responsibilities, the pope governs day to day affairs in his own diocese through a vicar general, and this is not uncommon in any of our vast urban dioceses. In the case of Rome, because of its unique place in the life of the Church, the vicar general is a cardinal. But whether the pope is fulfilling his duties as a diocesan bishop personally or through the help of a vicar general, he is fulfilling them. And no one took this dimension of the papacy more seriously than Blessed John Paul, who visited nearly all of the more than 400 parishes in the Diocese of Rome.

        All of which is to say that the Bishop of Rome is a true diocesan bishop with the care of a very large, complex, and thriving local Church.

        • adam george says:

          Correction. There are never ‘great throngs of the faithful worshipping on Mt Athos’. The presence of laity is highly restricted there by the monks. No woman is ever allowed there and the laity are highly restricted, especially non-Greek Orthodox’. Just getting there is a major hassle. But the sanctity there is unique within Christendom and a centuries-old tradition that focuses on poverty, prayer and worship. An extraordinary place that has no comparison anywhere.

          • I’m afraid you missed my point entirely, Mr. George. Of course there aren’t great throngs of laymen at Mt. Athos, and no one expects them there. I was making the same observation of the huge churches in the historic center of Rome. Most of them are not and never have been parish churches, so no one should expect large congregations of people there. Therefore, to find those churches empty of the faithful is not an indication of spiritual weakness in the Diocese of Rome.

            • I don’t think your analogy holds for two reasons: First, until the exodus of people from “downtown” Rome in this last century those churches *were* filled with parishioners, if only because Rome was filled with monastics (who certainly count as parishioners). Second, Mount Athos as a very remote monastic center has a ferry filled with religious pilgrims looking to pray every single day. The main monasteries of Rome, which were once full and major attractions for religious pilgrimages are now mostly empty and unvisited. Heck, the Monastery of St Gregory (that most illustrious Latin doctor) isn’t even Latin rite anymore! Should I even point out the well known fact that Rome is where bad priests go when they refuse to die? ;) Okay, its not that bad, but I had to work that old joke in somehow.

              Second, even what tourism there was in Rome before the 20th century was generally speaking devout. You used to have to wait in line for hours at Santa Croce to venerate the relics, but today you’ll be lucky to find anyone else in the church. :( The second time I went to Santa Croce I was alone. But the first time the only other person in the room was a Protestant who warned me that the relics weren’t real and that I shouldn’t pray to saints…

              In short, aside from a few Latin Americans and Asians at St Paul’s and the throngs of people waiting to see the TV pope (I mean no disrespect) but skipping by St Peter, I saw very little traditional Christian piety. In fact, the rector at one particular church in a popular location told me I was the first person, in his seven year tenure, to ever ask about the relics of the church (and he graciously allowed me to venerate them).

        • Fr Jay, you will find no argument from me on Constantinople. Further, I’m aware of the suburb issues, having spent a bit of time there (though admittedly not enough to be an expert). I’m not sure pointing to the suburbs really solves anything though, since what you find there is largely pop-Mass anyway; the real spiritual depth is found at the papal services (if you can stomach the cameras and applause during the recession).

          Further, you have three types of churches in Rome as I see it:
          * Papal Basilicas
          * Titular Basilicas
          * Parish Churches

          The Titular Basilica is honestly a great concept. The only difficulty is that with the shear number of Cardinals, an increasingly large part of Rome is taken up by foreign Cardinals. The end result is that Rome’s actual churches (that is, those churches within the proper geographical region) are governed either by a titular cardinal, or the vicar general.

          Thus, when we consider the patristic ideal of bishop/priest/deacon standing at a single altar manifesting the Church in her Eucharistic celebration, with the exception of the Papal Basilicas, the bishop in that equation is either a titular cardinal in some foreign land or the vicar general: the pope as bishop in the Ignatian sense is entirely absent. It is this question which I wish to propose: If the pope is properly the bishop of Rome, and yet he governs Rome only through the vicar general or titular cardinals, how is Rome different than say New York, Mexico City or even Jerusalem itself? The difference seems to me one of degree, not of kind; and as such, the Orthodox fear that diocesan bishops, and their regional counterparts (Metropolitans, Archbishops, Cardinals, etc), are little more than middle managers appears justified. Again, I’m certainly overstating. But I must stretch to hyperbole to get this point across.

          I think that such would be considered a practical and theological tragedy for both Orthodox *and* Catholics, if it were not for the docetic notions of “Universal Church” floating around in Catholic circles. No one, least of all me, desires to suggest that any talk of Una Sancta is merely a composite of the local churches. But rather to recapture a proper Christological/eucharistic ecclesiology. For us Orthodox, it means some serious theological thinking on the nature of primacy; which is woefully overdue. Dare I state it so strongly as to suggest that without the president of the Eucharistic assembly there is no church? For Catholics I think it means a rephrasing of documents like VatI (which prima facie anathematizes us) to emphasize that things like the ability to speak infallibly is a manifestation of our Eucharistic assembly (which is of course “ex sese” the president, but brought into fullness by the pleroma of the church). Dare I state it so strongly as to suggest that a Eucharist celebrated by the president alone at home is invalid?

          These two poles do not seem dialectical at all to me when the Holy Mass is the primary icon.

  4. melxiopp says:

    Orthodox Fr. Stephen Freeman (OCA, in TN) discuss some aspects of this in what he refers to as the Church’s ‘ecclesiology of the Cross’ in his two-part post on “The Pillar and Ground of the Truth”:

    Part I, http://fwd4.me/00h7
    Part II, http://fwd4.me/00h5

    There is also a podcast of the same from Ancient Faith Radio:


    A pertinent snippet from Part I is:

    “I would start, as an Orthodox boy, with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way. If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.

    “The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology.”

  5. melxiopp says:

    I haven’t read it yet, but DeVille’s books claims to present the various ways in which primacy and jurisdiction are excercised in the Orthodox Churches. I believe these range from highly centralized in the person and office of the Patriarch to highly decentralized in the body of the governing Synod. Even in the latter, there is jurisdiction and authority, it is simply focused on the conciliar body of bishops rather than on a bishop. Even in a highly centralized primacy (in Orthodoxy), the primate/protos can be removed from office by the Synod, which has final authority. The final ‘check’ on the episcopacy in general, even in Council, is the whole people of God. This was enunciated by the Eastern Patriarchs in their response to Vatican I, but it can be seen in the response of the Church to the various robber councils that claimed ‘ecumenical’ authority. Not only in situations between the episcopacy and the laity, but also between the brotherhood of local autocephalous churches is the ‘eccelsiology of the cross’ necessary. This is really no different than the way the churches of the East have always interacted. That is, while in the West there was but a single ancient, Apostolic see, in the East one could throw a rock and hit another Apostolic See. There ancient traditions and the testimony of their saints and their faith could not so easily be ‘overruled’ by a more authoritative center. This effected the way differences were resolved and the how-to of inter-church relations.

  6. melxiopp says:

    The other thing to keep in mind regarding the Orthodox view of the Papacy is that Orthodoxy doesn’t really care what the Pope does within his demesne. If the Pope and the Western Church are fine with a centralized system such as they have, so be it. It’s my understanding the Egyptian Church was run in my the same way with the Patriarch of Alexandria holding a radically centralized authority over all bishops in Egypt, Libya and the Pentapolis such that he could be styled the only ‘real’ bishop in the region while all others were merely his auxiliaries – a similar criticism is often leveled at the RCC and the Pope’s relations with his bishops.

    Of course, given the separation of centuries and emigration, even were an agreement reached on papal infallibility, the exercise of papal authority, et al with the Orthodox Churches, the matter of how Orthodox in Latin jurisdictions would or would not be allowed to function as Orthodox. The ban on married Uniate priests in traditionally Latin lands and the uncomprehending management of Uniate congregations by Latin bishops is in the recent memory of many Orthodox, e.g., St. Alexis Toth of Minneapolis and Wilkes-Barre and his congregation’s dealings with Abp. John Ireland of St. Paul, MN. Examples can be multiplied, rightly or wrongly.

  7. Chris Jones says:

    “This seems to me to be a very insightful comment.”

    Not so much. It’s been a long time since I read Fr Hopko’s essay, but I don’t recall that he specifically said that the Pope should make and enforce the changes that he believes are necessary for unity. Presumably any Orthodox – Catholic unity would come about because the Catholic episcopate as a whole (i.e. collegially) had come to a confession of faith and practice that the Orthodox could recognise as their own. Of course the Pope himself, as a member of the Catholic episcopate, would share that confession; but the requisite consensus need not necessarily come from the Pope in “top-down” fashion.

    “a situation where every bishop in every diocese has complete independence to act and teach as he sees personally fit”

    If this is intended as a description of what the Orthodox practice and are recommending, it is no more than a caricature. As Mr Bartel notes, Orthodox bishops are indeed accountable: to the regional Synod in the first instance, but also more generally to one another. An Orthodox bishop has great leeway to order things as he sees fit within his own diocese, but that is limited in a number of ways. Anyone over whom he exercises jurisdiction has the right of appeal to the regional Synod if the bishop acts in an uncanonical manner. And if a bishop falls into doctrinal error or allows liturgical practice within his diocese which are expressive of doctrinal error, his brother bishops have the right and duty to admonish him and hold him to account, with the ultimate sanction of deposition by the Synod if he does not repent. It is not a perfect system, but the Papal system is not perfect either.

    This system of mutual accountability has worked fairly well over the millennia. The difficulty (or rather, among the difficulties) with the Papal system is that with the Pope, the accountability is not mutual. The bishops are accountable to the Pope, but the Pope is accountable to no one. Some Traditionalist Catholics like to say “he can’t do that [whatever ‘that’ is in any given instance], he’s only the Pope” but in practice there is no recourse if the Pope should stray from the authentic Tradition. Catholics make much of the need for authority and jurisdiction, but I will be more sympathetic to their views when they admit that there needs to be a practical mechanism for ensuring that the Pope is, and remains, a man under authority.

  8. Chris Jones says:

    Fr Newman,

    “Catholics maintain that the Universal Church is prior to all local or particular Churches”

    But the “Universal Church” is an abstraction. Even when there was only one local Church (i.e. the Church of Jerusalem in the earliest days), it was a local Church: the Catholic Church manifested in a concrete Eucharistic assembly. And as soon as the Church had grown enough to require congregations in more than one place, the phenomenon arose of multiple Eucharistic assemblies, each fully manifesting the Catholic Church and all accountable to one another. You don’t find the notion of a geographically “Universal Church” with jurisdiction over other Churches in the New Testament, in the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch, or of the Apostolic Fathers generally.

    Thus it is not that the Orthodox do not recognize the office of pastor over the Universal Church; it is that they do not recognize a geographically “Universal Church” for there to be a pastor over. The only Universal Church is universal not only geographically but also through all time and in the eschaton, and she already has a Pastor.

    • Schütz says:

      But the “Universal Church” is an abstraction.

      Nope. Don’t buy that one, Chris. It is very much a reality. Just for a start, the Una Sancta is an article of faith (the Una Sancta of the Creed). We don’t believe in abstractions.

  9. Mr. Jones succinctly and beautifully states the Orthodox ecclesiology on the “non-existence” of the universal Church, but this the Catholic Church can never accept. The universal Church is not merely an assemblage of all particular Churches, must as the United States was cobbled together from the several States. Rather, the assembly which is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” was born from the side of Christ, and it is this real, existing communion which started in Jerusalem and then spread through the world.

    What was manifest to the world on the Day of Pentecost was not, to use an anachronism, the Diocese of Jerusalem. It was, rather, the universal (Catholic) Church — then present only in Jerusalem. But as the disciples were dispersed from Jerusalem and the Gospel was preached and the sacraments were celebrated elsewhere, the universal Church became present in every local or particular Church. But the universal Church gives rise to each particular Church, not vice versa. Now I grant that this distinction is not clear in the New Testament, but neither are the distinctions among apostles, bishops, and presbyters. Moreover, the New Testament provides no description or justification for bishops who are patriarchs or for autocephalous Churches based upon ritual form, language, ethnicity or national boundaries. All of these things, which the Catholic Church embraces as well as the Orthodox, come later. So, to assert that because the New Testament gives no warrant for the relationship I have described between the universal and all particular Churches there is therefore no basis for the Catholic claim that there is a real universal Church and the Bishop of Rome is its pastor threatens to undermine every ecclesiology except that of congregationalists.

    • Schütz says:

      Ecclesiology is theology and Catholic and Eastern theology is reflected in their respective ecclesiologies.

      As it turns out, Catholic ecclesiology emphasises 1) the Local Church and 2) the Universal Church, as you have said, Father, putting the priorty with the latter.

      On the other hand, Eastern ecclesiology emphasises 1) the Local Church and 2) the Synod (envisaged on various levels from local up to Patriarchal), with priority given to the former.

      Ecumenical discussion between East and West has largely concerned how the East will bring synodality to the West and how the West will bring universality to the East…

  10. melxiopp says:

    The Church is less an assemblage of local churches as it is new candles lit by the Church of Jerusalem on Pentecost. These other candles don’t in any way take away from the flame in Jerusalem.

    The problem with the claims of ‘development’ in ecclesiology is that the ‘proof’ for such a “Universal Bishop” is the universal bishop claiming such a role for himself. That’s like me proving my kingship over all Chicago by showing you my handwritten claim to be the King of Chicago. The fact that the West agreed with such claims proves only that Rome was held in preeminent regard in the West, in a large region with but a single Apostolic foundation. That’s like my family acclaiming me King regardless of acknowledgment by the Mayor, Governor, or anyone else. In the various Easts where there were a profusion of Apostolic sees, it never even occurred to them that one see would claim a preeminence of kind over and above all others, by divine right.

    The common tradition clarified the difference in roles between deacon, presbyter and bishop. This common tradition even crosses the Nestorian and Non-Chalcedonian boundaries – churches that would gladly have pointed to any error of the Chalcedonian camp. The common tradition, the consensus fidei outside of Rome itself and the West beholden to it simply do not recognize the Rome’s claims for the rights of Rome.

    The fact that Rome became more powerful and evangelized via colonialism does not prove she is correct anymore than did the power and wealth of the eastern Roman Empire and her Patriarchates prove their own preeminence over Old Rome and her Patriarch.

  11. Tony says:

    David, can you explain what your problem is in discussing ‘that’ issue? Surely it is relevant here?

    • Schütz says:

      More than happy to do so.

      1) I find that little is gained by the acrimonious championing of one or the other side of “the issue”.

      2) I am “a man under authority”, as the Centurion said, and I have accepted certain constraints about what this blog will and will not discuss.

      Now drop it, Tony.

  12. Stephen K says:

    If I read Chris Jones correctly, he did not disavow the existence of a “Universal” Church, but merely its geographical dimension; he expressly affirmed the idea of the Universal Church in the eschaton. Without intending to read him down, he makes a distinction between talk of the universality of the Church and talk of its physical reality/existentiality. Father Newman’s response, it seems to me, makes the mistake of merging the two, one being in the ideal order – a theological abstraction – the other being in the empirical order. Hence when he says that his universal Church preceded local churches chronologically and ontologically, I think this represents something of a category error. It seems to me that to speak of the church separately from its manifestations is, for the purposes of practical issues like the one under discussion, meaningless or in the wrong mode. Jesus’ kingdom may have been in his mind a universal one – catholic if you will – but the ecclesia is not exactly identical with this kingdom, but theologically a means to it. Further, the ecclesia did not and could not exist outside of his mind until at least “two or three” gathered in his name.

    The foundation of the church is traditionally take to be the enSpirited gathering at Pentecost. Thus it did not exist while Jesus was alive on earth. Acts tell us Peter’s address was to all peoples. But we should try to be consistent here. Conversation about “Church” is often rubbery, at the best of times, especially in infra-religious disputes: sometimes it is the worldwide community of believers, sometimes an eschatological force, sometimes a strict denomination, sometimes just the bishops and priests, whatever serves the purpose of making a point etc. Here we are considering how the largest part of the organisation affiliated with the Pope – the Latin rite or Roman Church – ought to authorise its Episcopal functioning. It’s an organisational, not an eschatological, issue. And on this level, there has never been a Universal Church, in the sense Chris Jones points out, not even at the height of the middle ages, much less in apostolic times and now.

    Having a single person be the ultimate administrative authority may or may not prove to be the best model of organisational conformity and co-operation; but as someone else has said, it clearly isn’t perfect and doesn’t solve every problem. Nor is it entirely successful in having avoided all dissent or fracture in fact. So it might indeed be useful to consider Synodal or Congregational models of church scope and integrity to see whether in fact they may serve and achieve other spiritual ends, equally good and important in the pursuit of the kingdom.

    • Schütz says:

      In the opinion of at least one expert canonist, Myriam Wijlens (who is the Holy See’s representative on Faith and Order Commission of the WCC and a leading canonist, and is coming out to Melbourne later this year for various ecumenical and canonical conferences), the appointment of bishops is in fact the Bishop of Rome’s task as patriarch rather than as universal pontiff. According to DeVille (pp59-60):

      Wijlens then speculates on the reasons why the papal and patriarchal roles have not been differentiated and the fact that the latter role was totally ignored by Vatican II, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and by nearly all Latin ecclesiologists and canonists -“from an ecclesiological perspective the Patriarch of the West plays virtually no role in the structure of the Latin Church.” Nonetheless, “still today many functions ascribed to the Roman Pontiff belong to the Patriarch of the West. An example of this concerns the appointment of bishops”.

      In a comment from a new commentator yet to be approved, it is pointed out that the Patriarch of Alexandria (who also uses the title “Pope”) has by ancient custom exercised a very central control on the appointment of bishops throughout the Coptic Patriarchate. It may well be that things would be greatly clarified if the appointment of bishops (and their dismissal) were seen to be an exercise of the Patriarchal powers of the papacy.

      • Stephen K says:

        Well, David, I think conversing on this level and from this angle might be more conducive to a more consensual understanding. Really, though – just to take the thread a little further – I think a lot of obstacles to ecclesial love would be diminished or removed if more was made of the organisational role of the Bishop of Rome as a Patriarch and more awareness of the essentially fractured nature of the Christian church, each of its fractures manifesting in its modelling charisms of the “way of the Lord”. The role and position of the Pope is an evolved one. Maybe it’s time to see it in terms of its different facets and usefulness rather than of a contentious theological necessity.

      • “It may well be that things would be greatly clarified if the appointment of bishops (and their dismissal) were seen to be an exercise of the Patriarchal powers of the papacy.”

        Why? The Pope’s power to appoint and dismiss bishops isn’t merely a Patriarchal power–it is a Papal power.

        And then there are the questions raised by the present Pope’s non-use of the very title ‘Patriarch of the West’.

        • Schütz says:

          This is what DeVille’s entire book is about, Reg. He surveys a wide range of Catholic theologians – starting with Joseph Ratzinger of all people – who all agree that the real problem is the original failure to discern between the universal primacy and the patriarchal role. And yes at the very heart of this discussion is the omission of that very title that Ratzinger himself first identified as crucial to the whole question. I recommend that you at lest take a look at it.

  13. matthias says:

    Somewhere on his blog Fr Ray Blake states the differences between the Synodical style of Church Government as evidenced in the Orthodox churches,and the Petrine form as practised by the Catholic Church. Now I think fr Blake was a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism.
    However can I add what one Orthodox Metropolitan saif that today the issue was not between the Denominations as such but rathe rbetween those who believe in the infallibility of the Scriptures and in the Holy Traditions as laid down by Christ ,and those who would seek to dilute or apostasise .

  14. As pointed out by a member of the RC-Orthodox Dialogue, His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), we Orthodox are mystified by the Papacy’s recent renunciation of the title of Patriarch of the West, a title that we have always thought appropriate and to which we can “relate.” Some of the above comments regarding the appointment of bishops being related to this facet of the Bishop of Rome’s multi-faceted office have made me understand, even more clearly, why we see this renunciation (which I hear was intended as an ecumenical gesture) as confusing and problematic.

    Many of us in the Orthodox Church do believe there is need for a “first among equals” who can preside in love, summon councils as needed, and serve as a court of appeals when local Synods cannot reach resolution. The latter happened, not too long ago, when the Patriarch of Constantinople summoned a special gathering of Primates to resolve a dispute over the rightful Patriarch of Jerusalem.

    Also, as was pointed out, our diocesan bishops cannot do as they please. Following the ancient canons, the Primate should do nothing (of significance to the whole province) without the members of his Synod, and the individual bishops should do nothing (of relevance to the whole) without the Primate’s knowledge and advice (in some of the Churches, his consent is also required). Collegiality need not mean anarchy, any more than primacy requires autocracy.

    And, for what it is worth, I think Fr. Hopko (whom I respect and enjoy as a speaker) is rather too broad in his demands… some of what he lists really should be left to local custom. While restoration of the uninterpolated text of the Symbol of Faith (Creed) is non-negotiable for us, the demand for keeping the Eastern Lenten discipline seems unneccesary… and as for parishes serving the whole daily round of the Hours, well, far too many of our own parishes neglect these outside of certain penitential or festal seasons or occasions. We should get our own act together on that one before we worry about anyone else’s.

  15. Messrs. Bartel and Jones have written here about how, in Eastern Orthodoxy, authority over Local Ordinaries can be exercised by such institutions as Synods and Patriarchates. My question (to them and to anyone else knowledgeable on these matters) is: Are such institutions regarded in Orthodoxy as of Divine law, or merely of Ecclesiastical law? If they are claimed to be of Divine law, then I would be interested to see the basis for this claim in Scripture and/or Tradition. If of merely Ecclesiastical law, then how did they originate, and how might they be changed or extinguished?

    • Tony Bartel says:

      Perhaps a starting point might be:

      “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” Galatians 2:11.

    • Chris Jones says:

      The principle of mutual accountability and conciliarity is part of the deposit of faith; the specifics of how that principle is manifest historically are not. The verse cited by Mr Bartel is relevant here, as is the Apostolic council in Acts 15. The canonical tradition (e.g. Apostolic Canon 34) reflects the fact that this mutual accountability is part of the oral Apostolic Tradition as well.

  16. My fundamental point, as much a logical one as a theological one, is yet unanswered:

    Anything we call a “Church” (be it parochial, diocesan, or universal) is a communion of persons requiring a human pastor who is an instrument of grace for the Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd. But if we posit that there is something called a “Church” which has no need for a human pastor, then we are by that claim also asserting that the “Church” in question is an abstraction and not a genuine communion of persons. Catholics maintain that the Bishop of Rome, because he is the successor of Peter, is both the pastor of a diocesan Church and the pastor of the universal Church. It is this second service that makes him not merely a member of but the head of the College of Bishops.

  17. Dn John Brantley Cox says:

    I am not sure I appreciate the subtlety of Fr. Newman’s articulation of the Universal Church. I offer this as an apology if my reply seems amiss. If I understand correctly the Orthodox view of the Church (full disclosure, I am Orthodox), it is that the Universal Church is the both a quantity and a quality. As a quantity the Universal Church is the church of all time, it is the Church of those alive on earth and those alive in Christ. In the quantitative sense no one church constitutes the universal Church. As a quality however Universality is the fulness of the faith once delivered and this must be found in each particular Church. Quantitatively the Church on earth is only part of the universal Church and Christ has appointed men as his stewards and shepherds over it. Christ himself however as both God and man is the Lord of the universal Church in all its modes. If Christ were not the pastor of the Universal Church in a real sense how could he delegate that authority to men? As I understand it this is what the Orthodox Church knows as the Universal Church.

  18. melxiopp says:

    Fr. Jay, I think you rightly place the reason for a Universal Pontiff in terms of logic. The fact that the (finally singular) Bishop of Rome was seen as of a different kind in the West was “logically” extended to the entire Church as a matter of consistent structure. However, the living Tradition of the Church and all of its innumerable Apostolic sees simply did not confirm, recognize or even know of this local tradition in Rome. For the various Easts (plural), the human head of the Universal Church was Jesus Christ Himself. The Bishop of Rome was simply the “First”, the Protos of the Patriarchal “Firsts” who were themselves simply the “Firsts” of the Metropolitans who were simply the “Firsts” of the bishops in their region. While there is a difference, in some sense the bishop is very much the “First” of the presbyters in a given diocese. In fact, the core of the Tradition is really only bishop, presbyter and deacon. Beyond that is simply the usage of the Church (common across space, time and theological boundaries) and respect for the most preeminent of otherwise ‘equal’ Orders. That is, a Patriarch is still simply a bishop, sacramentally; an Archpriest or Protopresbyter is still simply a priest like any other, sacramentally. So, too, whatever logic or mere local tradition says ought to be the case universally, the Bishop of Rome was simply the protos among not primarily the other Patriarchs, but among all bishops. (The Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem were not ‘powerful’ because they controlled whole regions, they were powerful because they were the most preeminent of local dioceses within a region – there was no ‘ranking’ of bishops beyond that of the ranks of the city/diocese they were bishop of).

    Now, how that primacy is exercised between Patriarchs, between Metropolitans, and between bishops has and does take many forms. Suffice it to say, there is quite definitely authority and jurisdiction in and between the Orthodox churches and her bishops. It may not be to one’s liking, but it is the common, continuous tradition of the Church – apart from the dissent by a single Apostolic see and her local, unconfirmed (by any other Apostolic see) tradition regarding herself.

    The unity of these local churches – members of the Body of Christ – is found in the Head, Jesus Christ, and not in any one of her churches or bishops.

    • Once again my point is reinforced: if a body we call a “Church” does not need a HUMAN pastor who stands in persona Christi, then that thing is not a real communion of human persons but an abstraction that exists only in our heads. Of course Christ is the Head and Shepherd of the Church, but He continues his presence and activity in the Church, among other ways, through the sacraments. And the apostolic succession exists precisely to provide shepherds sent by the Lord to teach, sanctify and govern that portion of the Church entrusted to their care. The parish priest in his parish church, the diocesan bishop in his diocesan church, and the successor of Peter in the universal Church are proper shepherds exercising this apostolic authority in the name and person of Christ. What the Orthodox fear, it seems to me, is that the authority of the pastor of the universal Church (if such an office were to exist:) would in some way obliterate the authority of the diocesan bishop in his diocesan church. Except that the office of pastor of the universal Church does not obliterate the office of pastor of the diocesan Church; rather, the office of universal pastor reinforces the office of diocesan pastor, relates it to the ministry of all other diocesan bishops, and serves as the visible principle of unity of all diocesan bishops. What the world observed on Sunday in Rome was a beautiful illustration of this principle embodied in real human pastors, and that is something the Orthodox are simply lacking because in denying the very existence of the office of pastor of the universal Church, they make that sort of unity all but impossible.

      • melxiopp says:

        Yikes, this betrays a different christology. Jesus Christ is truly and completely the human head of the Church, His Body. Just because he is also God does not make him not human or a different kind of human.

        • Since only God the Father can say everything in one Word, I hope you will grant that my intent was obvious. In drawing a distinction between the Lord Jesus and His Apostles and their successors, I had no thought of denying His sacred humanity. The point is actually very simple: He sends His apostles (and their successors) as He was sent by the Father, and the pastoral office of bishops and priests is none other than that of Christ Himself.

          The Orthodox claim that Christ is directly the pastor of the universal Church and that therefore the universal Church, unlike the diocesan and parochial churches, has no need of the apostolic office of pastor is — not to put too fine a point on it — a denial that the universal Church is a real human community. Imagine the parochial or diocesan Church without a pastor in the apostolic office. What have you got? Either a figment of someone’s imagination or a headless body. It is the same with the universal Church.

          • melxiopp says:

            More, it ought to have been and should be in Rome’s estimation. It simply never was. One can argue for a development of this role, but that’s not something most of the touchstone Apostolic foundations have ever seen as a necessary part of their Apostolic deposit.

            The Apostles preached around the world, no one Apostolic see has a lock on that Tradition. One Apostolic see cannot define all Tradition by its own tradition alone. Even if it makes logical sense that a human must also pastor the Universal Church since Jesus Christ isn’t the right kind of Head.

            • adam george says:

              The apostles did not preach around ‘the world’. It was primarily within the Mediterranean region to present-day Italy and Spain. And then Paul as the missionary Apostle was primarily preaching in modern day Turkey and Greece and Rome. Records of Thomas to India would seem to be the furthest. Rather, it is the then-known world which was ‘small’.

        • I agree, it is a different christology:

          1. Christ isn’t human; he has no body.
          2. There is a “Universal Church” which has a shepherd with no body.

          These are related intimately. It is impossible to join or partake of any sacrament in the “Universal Church.” There is only a particular church.

          Una Sancta is used two ways in antiquity:
          1. It is the epistemological methodology of St Irenaeus of Lyon by which we can identify false teaching by their appearance in a particular region, which identifies that a given false teaching originated from a heresiarch.
          2. It is the belief that the mystical offering in communion is a type of the offering of Christ in heaven to the Father as the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.

          The profession of Una Sancta in the creed is precisely the statement that, by adopting heresy (#1) you exclude yourself from the kingdom (#2). This is why the Church believes that heretics are in hell. #2 can have no head but Christ since Christ is the priest and the sacrifice.

          Yet, the kingdom (#2) is typified in every bishop who, standing with his presbyters and deacons, iconifies the heavenly kingdom. This is a manifestation of Christ. Thus, every bishop is the vicar of Christ in the Eucharistic act. There can be no “Universal Bishop” because there is no “Universal Eucharist.” There is only a particular Eucharist.

          The question of a “Universal Church” can only appear in any meaningful sense when communion is celebrated among bishops. This question arise in the midst of deciding who presides at such a rite. This is precisely primus inter pares. Synodal church government then is precisely mirrored after the Eucharistic act, as described by Ignatius, qua the institution of the Church in the words of institution. He who presides at the consecration, presides at the deliberation.

          Now, lest I be perceived as being overly harsh on the RCs here present, this is no democracy. Ignatius says “do nothing without the bishop.” So to as ecclesiology is not some metaphysical “universal church,” but as the appearance of the kingdom in the gathering of the bishops, the synod must the “do nothing without the primate.” Thus, one may speak of RC ecclesiology precisely in these terms.

          For instance, the authority of the primate is precisely “ex sese”, yet it is manifested within the College of Cardinals. Thus, he speaks authoritatively not because the Synod has given him permission, but precisely because he presides at the Eucharistic table. In the same sense however, it is him speaking *with* the Synod, perhaps even infallibly, that manifests his authority; since this typifies the heavenly kingdom. Yet, as when Peter was confronted by Paul in Galatians, the primate does not speak infallibly on his own merit, but “ex cathedra” as he images the heavenly banquet. One should note here that “ex cathedra” does not mean some chair in an obscure throne room, but the very throne from which he presides in the Eucharistic act.

          In short, I’m not convinced that Rome has the doctrine wrong necessarily but that the proper articulation has been lost in a flood of platonic ecclesiology, at the cost of the local and regional churches. What we truly need is a Christological ecclesiology. Nothing less will suffice.

          One last side note that few people know: the five main churches of Rome historically represented precisely this ecclesiology:
          1. St John Lateran – Rome
          2. St Peter – Constantinople
          3. St Paul – Alexandria
          4. St Mary Major – Antioch
          5. St Lawrence – Jerusalem

          It is precisely this idea that, the communion of our Patriarchs together, with indeed its proper president (Rome), that we need to recover. One can dream I guess…

      • melxiopp says:

        The primary reason it isn’t accepted is that it’s just not a known part of the apostolic deposit in any Apostolic foundation except that of Rome, and in its developed forms there and in the West. There is no protest against the papacy (as in the Reformation), it simply isn’t recognized as Apostolic, so it hasn’t been ‘received’ or confirmed.

        In addition, there are practical concerns and fears based on the problems that ‘necessary’ model has caused, but these are often overblown on both side. These aren’t the root reasons for lack of acceptance of the papacy.

    • Chris Jones says:

      Very well put, melxiopp.

  19. Chris Jones says:

    It does not seem to me that there is anyway in which we can do away with some kind of system of authority … that provides checks and balances even over diocesan ordinaries

    I don’t think there is an animus against any sort of authority, on any side of this debate. What there is, is a desire for what you call “checks and balances,” even over the Pope. Those of us who are not Catholic don’t see anything like that in the Catholic system, and in particular we don’t see the supremacy (as distinct from the primacy) of the Pope clearly taught in the Apostolic Tradition. After all, even if one could be convinced that the Papal system is precisely what is needed for the effective governance of the Church, if it is not a legitimate part of the Apostolic Tradition then it cannot be insisted upon.

    Primacy requires jurisdiction

    True; but equally true is that primacy can only exist in the context of conciliarity, and he who exercises that primacy must be subject to the jurisdiction of the synod over which he is the primate. (Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God Ep 5.21) If that is the case then the question becomes, how can the Pope exercise his primacy in a conciliar, accountable way?

    In my view, the first and most important thing that the Pope must do is to acknowledge that it is possible, in principle, for the Church of Rome and her bishop to fall into error; and that because of this possibility, it is necessary for the Pope to be accountable to his brother bishops for his orthodoxy and orthopraxis. This, of course, cuts to the heart of Unam Sanctam and Pastor Aeternus, even if it is not acknowledged that the Pope ever has, in actuality, fallen into error. Even the possibility of error undercuts the ex sese of Pastor Aeternus. But the acknowledgment of mutual accountability is a non-negotiable for the Orthodox. And I honestly cannot see any way around the requirement for mutual accountability, given that the principle goes all the way back to the New Testament (Ga 2.11).

    The Pope can have his primacy in a re-united Church only by giving up his supremacy.

    • In my view, the first and most important thing that the Pope must do is to acknowledge that it is possible, in principle, for the Church of Rome and her bishop to fall into error

      Interestingly enough, the Roman Church does admit this. Just not ex cathedra. Perhaps I am reading the documents wrong, but I think that one might be able to define “ex cathedra” as “with the college” in some sense while still professing “ex sese.” An example for those of us familiar with the Eastern Liturgical tradition might be the idea of the bishop serving the Eucharist at home alone. Such is canonically forbidden and might even be considered an invalid consecration (if we thought in such terms). And yet, when the bishop serves at the altar, no one suggests that the consecration is anything other than “ex sese.”

      The problem as I see it is the Latin Patriarchates. RCs have traditionally interpreted “ex sese” as even against the college since, after the great schism, Rome unilaterally replaced the Eastern Patriarchs.

      Thus, I think it may be possible to articulate “ex sese” in the sense of “with the college”; that infallibility is from the primate and yet with the bishops. Such a system might be able to say that the pope is infallible when speaking “ex cathedra” but that he has never in fact done so since the schism.

  20. adam george says:

    Just a couple of comments. Recently the Church in Antioch (Beirut?) elected a new head and this was done locally through their Synod and the decision was approved by Benedict. But he could have negated the choice. Also in Kiev the Eastern Catholic bishops met and elected a new 40 year old bishop to be their new Major Archbishop (not yet a Patriachate) and their decision had to be ratified by the Holy Father, which it was and then he was in Rome only a few days later after being enthroned. A very young man who could well be the senior archbishop for the next 35 years (and how many popes).
    Those two decisions show the semi-authority that resides in those ecclesiastical domains for their head bishop. I understand the Kiev has been hoping that its major archbishop will be declared Patriarch, but that has not yet happened, even though it was apparently raised with Blessed JPII.
    On a final note, no one has mentioned the Russian Orthodox Church and of course the great Orthodox Patriarch based in Istanbul. These two patriachal Churches are just a stone’s throw from full unity with the Western Church, yet centuries seem to divide still. It would be a massive breakthrough should there be full unity with the Bishop of Rome, one day. Benedict XVI has been working on that matter through his visit to Istanbul, but the Russians still hold out for a meeting between Benedict and Kiril. The pride in the Russian Church and their fear of outside interference seems to dominate the whole scenario.
    I raise this last point since there is far more hope for their eventual reunion with Rome, that there will ever be now with the Anglican and Protestant wings of Christendom.
    Would love to hear more who know more on this.

    • Adam, the relationship between Rome and Russia/Constantinople is not as simple as you suggest. No one is near unity. I think Russia’s fear is not so much outsiders as it is liberal Catholicism. I think the proposed “social work” union is a test for Russia to see how Catholics plan to deal with secularism, both outside and within the Catholic church. Russia’s skepticism has to be understood through the lens of the 20th century Christians martyrs in Russia at the hands of Communism. Russia is concerned that such might be coming in Western Europe; not communism, but rampant secularism. In short, their fear is not irrational, nor is it schismatic in its orientation.

    • William Tighe says:


      This paragraph of yours:

      “On a final note, no one has mentioned the Russian Orthodox Church and of course the great Orthodox Patriarch based in Istanbul. These two patriachal Churches are just a stone’s throw from full unity with the Western Church, yet centuries seem to divide still. It would be a massive breakthrough should there be full unity with the Bishop of Rome, one day. Benedict XVI has been working on that matter through his visit to Istanbul, but the Russians still hold out for a meeting between Benedict and Kiril. The pride in the Russian Church and their fear of outside interference seems to dominate the whole scenario.”

      is, I am afraid, a fantasy without any objective foundation, especially in its claim that Constantinople and Moscow are “just a stone’s throw from full unity with the Western Church.” As a church with a flock, Constantinople is virtually moribund, and exists in Istanbul only by grudging Turkish sufferance. Consequently, it has to “make nice” in all possible directions, to Rome and to Eurocrats, yes, but also towards ecofreaks, population controllers, and powerful lobbies of any sort. Nevertheless, though, the Ecumenical Patriarch did not hesitate to speak a decade ago of continuing “ontological differences” between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and he has not changed his tune subsequently; and so it hardly seems to me that there is only a “stone’s throw” gap between Old Rome and New Rome.

      As to Moscow, it is a strong and powerful church, and so not driven by the need to seek for friends in unlikely and (one might have thought) uncongenial quarters; and so it is able to be, and of late frequently has been, admirably forthright. The ROC has recently propsed, through Metropolitan Hilarion, whom everybody knows to stand tall in Patriarch Kirill’s esteem, a kind of socio-political alliance against secularism, liberalism, pansexualism/homosexualism and the like, in Europe and elsewhere, and at the same time to shelve for the time being unrealistic hopes of church (re)union, although not ruling out a continuing “low-key” discussion of theological differences. Far from this proposal supporting the “stone’s-throw-from-reunion” view, this proposal witnessm rather, that Moscow views the theological and ecclesiological gap between Catholicsm and Orthodoxy to be unbridgeable at the present time — and I (as a Catholic) agree with this.

      It does no good, and potentially much harm, for Catholics to keep on trumpeting the “unity is just around the corner” theme when (1) no significant Orthodox voices regard this to be the case, and (2) in the unlikely event that should any Orthodox churches or bishops choose to move towards unity with Catholicism, they would be disowned by the vast majority of Orthodox churches and bishops worldwide, and tis would lead to the revival of bitterness on the Orthodox side and the accusation that Rome means by “unity” the “poaching” or “picking off” of Orthodox churches and splinters, one-by-one.

      • adam george says:

        I appreciate William’s reply and also that of Nathaniel on the matter of the Orthodox Churches, especially re Russia. When I penned the words ‘stone’s throw away’, I meant, in that erroneous glibe phrase that theologically they are very close to Rome. Far closer than Anglicanism or the Protestant Churches. But I need to be tighter in my terminology. Indeed the Orthodox Churches have a valid Sacramentary like ours, which is is strict contrast to the CofE etc. But I take the point re Constantinople being ‘virtually moribund’. Indeed it is a remnant really of a great branch of Christianity. Re the Russian Orthodox though, I am still puzzled that the former and the new Patriarch Kiril did/has not yet met with Benedict. Kiril did go to the vatican before he became Patriarch as has Hilarion, but no meeting for the two has been set up, even though the vatican now has full diplomatic relations with Moscow.
        I have read much on this, but still no one seems to be able to give a solid reason as to why this meeting cannot take place. It seems the Russians are holding out constantly on this matter. What do they have to lose by a meeting in a neutral venue?
        Still it is fascinating and I still hold that the Catholic and Orthodox are close, far closer than to the Anglicans who have beasically gone way off the theological radar by ordaining women as ‘priests’ and have female ‘bishops’ and also having openly gay ‘bishops’ (of course we know that their ordinandi are not valid priests and bishops anyway).
        Muchos gratias.

        • Dn John Brantley Cox says:


          I think it’s based on a matrix of issues. I suspect that one of the most critical is that Orthodox laity in Russia tend to be more conservative than the clergy. Any movement toward Rome that’s perceived, rightly or not, to be a lead for reunion would, at this time, cause enormous confusion and upsetitude among the laity. So they have to be careful on that front. There is always the potential for schism with some of the most conservative bishops as well so in general they have to move slowly. I don’t think it really has much at all to do with the personalities in question, Pat. Kyrill and Pope Benedict, but what Kyrill could do as chair of the dept of external relations and what can do as patriarch are different things.

          Then there’s the question of

          • Dn John Brantley Cox says:

            I have no idea where the last line in the previous post came from. Part of me feels obligated to continue in order to justify its existence but the more sensible part of me, which I intend to follow, says merely to apologize for it and move on. Mea culpa.

          • William Tighe says:

            “Then there’s the question of”

            May I suggest that this be completed by “the Ukrainian Catholics?” I am a member of the Ukr. Catholic Ch. by choice, although not by ancestry or heredity. It has emerged in recent years that Pope John Paul II verbally and in person promised a group of Ukrainian Catholic bishops visiting Rome in 1990 that their “Major Archbishop” would be granted the title of “Patriarch” in due course, although it would be too “difficult” to do this at the time, and so he besought them to wait — and the present pope has taken the same line.

            This is a cause of some grief and annoyance on the part of many Ukrainian Catholics. Some see this as making their church the unwilling victim of Vatican “ecumenical diplomacy” — especially as some of them realize that there is no immediate, or even visible, prospect of reunion between Rome and Orthodoxy — and others wonder why “Orthodox sensibilities” (some would say, instead, “Russian chauvinism”) should have an effective veto over the internal affairs of the Catholic Church and, in particular, over the legitimate ecclesiastical aspirations of the Ukrainian Catholic Church — and some with long historical memories recall that the Metropolitanate of Kiev is much older than that of Moscow, and wonder why they should be sacrificed to the sensibilities of a see whose metropolitical, and later patriarchal, status were so closely associated with “anti-uniatism.”

            If there is to be a “diplomatic alliance” between Moscow and Rome, with a downgrading of the “ecumenical expectations” that Catholics, at least, have entertained, however unrealistically, of these “ecumenical dialogues,” then it seems to stand to reason that both the Rome and Moscow should no longer have to refrain from institutional “adaptations” merely out of fear of offending the sensibilities of “the other.”

            • Dn John Brantley Cox says:

              “…it seems to stand to reason that both the Rome and Moscow should no longer have to refrain from institutional “adaptations” merely out of fear of offending the sensibilities of ‘the other.'”

              I agree that we ought to conduct our internal affairs according to their own inner logic in general but on this issue I hesitate to concur. The reason is this: If we hold even a distant hope for reunion shouldn’t we consider how the ecclesial choices we make now will help or hinder that reunion. For instance, in the past the Ecumenical Patriarchate has refrained from giving bishops in the west local geographical titles. Instead they are given the titles of some area in the east. In theory this makes it easier, in the event of reunion, to restore the canonical principle of one bishop in one city. The further multiplication of ecclesial structures that would have to be undone or redone were our Churches to be one could create more problems than it solves. You can observe this phenomenon in Orthodoxy in America where one of the difficulties on uniting the Orthodox jurisdictions is the overlap of dioceses. I suppose on this issue I would want to understand the real need for a patriarchate in a predominantly Orthodox country.

        • Still it is fascinating and I still hold that the Catholic and Orthodox are close, far closer than to the Anglicans who have beasically gone way off the theological radar by ordaining women as ‘priests’ and have female ‘bishops’ and also having openly gay ‘bishops’ (of course we know that their ordinandi are not valid priests and bishops anyway).

          An Anglican might say it like this:
          “Still it is fascinating and I still hold that the Anglicans and Roman Catholics are close, far closer than to the Baptists who have basically gone way off the theological radar by denying the order of the episcopacy, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the authoritative nature of the creeds.”

          An Eastern Orthodox might say it like this:
          “Still it is fascinating and I still hold that the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox are close, far closer than to the Catholics who have basically gone way off the theological radar by declaring Mary to be born without original sin and elevating the Pope to a level of universal fiat and denying children communion, then communing them before confirmation.”

          Your statement isn’t meaningless, but I find such descriptions little more than the depiction of the aspirations of the author. Put in a positive way, I am glad you feel kinship to the Orthodox. There are many Catholics who would feel otherwise. In modernity however, I’ll take any friends I can get. :)

          • adam george says:

            Touche Natehaniel. But I don’t think there’s a requirement to take just any theological friends that you can get. Since, seriously, we had a major schism in 1054 then the horrendous Reformation in the 16th century. The latter was a major scourge and has been far worse theologically than the Orthodox break 5 centuries earlier. Better to be arguying about the ‘filioque’ clause than women priests, women bishops, the magisterium, papal infallibilty etc which Anglicans and protestants have major disagreement with. Besides, I feel far more ‘at home’ walking into an Orthodox church anywhere than so many empty, cold Protstant churches, so many of which within Anglicanism have turned into museum pieces.
            So I would be far more picky with my theological friends. At least you can pick them, not like relatives :)

            • adam george says:

              oops, sorry – Nathaniel.

            • I guess to personalize my point, walking into the average RC church in the USA feels essentially no different than walking into a Protestant church (with a few notable exceptions of course; particularly the statue of the BVM or St Francis).

              For instance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ5it20gKqw

              Is that not anthropocentric worship rather than theocentric?

              The great tragedy is that, in spite of an infallible apostolic see, it is the protestant reformation that has set the theological agenda for modern catholicism. I think we would both mourn this… It is only the apostolic faith that will save us, not the rampant ideologies of this world dressed up in religious garb.

  21. melxiopp says:

    The ruling paradigm in Orthodox ecclesiology regarding primacy and the relationship between bishops (including various levels of who is “first”) can be found in Apostolic Canon 34:

    “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent but neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity.”

    Regardless of their literal origin, the Apostolic Canons were accepted as representing the ‘ecumenical’ Tradition by the primarily eastern Council in Trullo (accepted as part of the Fifth and Sixth ECs by the East, but not by the West), which in turn was accepted as ‘universally ecumenical’ by the 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicea II; accepted also by Rome).

    Note the two parts: the bishops must do noting of consequence with the consent of the “first” among the otherwise sacramentally identical bishops, but neither must the “first” do anything without the consent of the other bishops.

    It’s probably worth noting that there are no ecumenical canons regarding primacy at the universal/ecumenical level. There are canons regarding primacy within the diocese and within a region, but not beyond that.

    Met. Kallistos (Ware) among others has also noted that the Orthodox are very clear about what primacy is NOT, especially at the universal level, but they are unclear about what it IS, SHOULD or COULD BE. Dr. DeVille’s book seems to present the ways in which primacy is exercised within the Orthodox churches (before then going on to present ways in which the Roman and Orthodox churches could be united).

    • melxiopp says:

      …there are no ecumenical canons regarding primacy at the universal/ecumenical level.

      To clarify a little, Canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Council (342; “Constantinople I”) would seem to set a limit on any episcopal/synodal actions beyond regional boundaries:

      “The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; but let the Bishop of Alexandria, according to the canons, alone administer the affairs of Egypt; and let the bishops of the East manage the East alone, the privileges of the Church in Antioch, which are mentioned in the canons of Nice, being preserved; and let the bishops of the Asian Diocese administer the Asian affairs only; and the Pontic bishops only Pontic matters; and the Thracian bishops only Thracian affairs. And let not bishops go beyond their dioceses for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited. And the aforesaid canon concerning dioceses being observed, it is evident that the 177synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province as was decreed at [Nicea].”

      Canon 3 deals with ‘universal’ issues only insofar as the order of the most preeminent of sees is concerned: “The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.”

      The aforementioned Council of Trullo (only later receiving ecumenical standing) also touches on the subject of the always more theoretical than practical ‘universal’ level of the order of sees as a pentarchy:

      “Renewing the enactments by the 150 Fathers assembled at the God-protected and imperial city, and those of the 630 who met at Chalcedon; we decree that the see of Constantinople shall have equal privileges with the see of Old Rome, and shall be highly regarded in ecclesiastical matters as that is, and shall be second after it. After Constantinople shall be ranked the See of Alexandria, then that of Antioch, and afterwards the See of Jerusalem.” (Canon 36)

      • It should be noted that, although I agree fully with Apostolic Canon 34 (not that my opinion matters), the Apostolic constitutions (and by association the Canons) have a checkered history in the West from ancient times.

        Further, at least the Trullo canon (and I’m pretty sure the 3rd canon of the 2nd Ecc. Council) have always been contested by Rome. It seems to me that passing such a canon without Rome’s approval is precisely the “don’t do anything without the protos” that the Apostolic Canon rejects.

        • melxiopp says:

          Except that the East has also always understood the protos to be, at the end of the day, secondary to the conciliar authority of the bishops in Synod. Thus, Nestorius was protos up to the very moment he was deposed – and the Council had no need of his concurrence to anathematize him.

          No such disclaimers regarding past canonical caveats were made when the West finally accepted Nicea II, which acknowledged as ecumenical the canons of the previous councils mentioned.

          • For Nestorious the issue was heresy. With Trullo, the issue is church order. Big difference. Synodality trumps the protos in issues of church doctrine due to the catholicity principle of Irenaeus. I’m not sure that church order gets the same pass…

            • melxiopp says:

              I believe church order is at issue here, and it’s definitely considered heresy from the Roman side if one does not acknowledge the rights of the Pope of Rome. I think much the same can be said of the Orthodox view of ecclesiology. Such things are not adiaphora (matters of indifference) or mere differences in Rites and local traditions.

          • Chris Jones says:

            … the West finally accepted Nicea II, which acknowledged as ecumenical the canons of the previous councils mentioned.

            To be fair (and accurate), the Papal acceptance of Nicaea II extends only to its doctrinal definition, not its canonical legislation. Rome has always been selective in its reception of the canons of the ecumenical councils. They just do not have the same view of the canonical authority of the ecumenical councils that the Orthodox have.

            At the end of the day, the value of Apostolic Canon 34 is not its authority granted by Trullo and Nicaea II, but the authenticity of its witness to the Apostolic Tradition. If Rome recognizes that, then ultimately something can be worked out on the basis of the Tradition witnessed to by Apostolic Canon 34. If not, then there really is no common Tradition between Rome and the Orthodox, and no amount of appealing to the “authority” of Nicaea II will change that.

  22. John Nolan says:

    “Papal primacy and the independence of bishops”. I’m surprised that none of your commentators has referred to Lumen Gentium, the apostolic constitution promulgated by Vatican II.

  23. Jim Ryland says:


    There are so many valid and well thought-out comments on this particular issue. The very roots of the many problems are succinctly stated.

    I have no particular love of Constantine but it appears that he realized that if Christendom was to be a unifying force within the empire, the church itself must be unified. To this end he established a theocratic monarchy that has blessed and confounded us to this day.

    The parliamentary or congressional model is a miserable failure and the Helenic empire fell under that same structure. The point has been made throughout history that the only effective form of rule is the absolute, benevolent monarchy; ergo, there must be a singular “head” where the proverbial “buck” stops.

    We have a dilemma when addressing terms; Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and “Church Universal” are terms and phrases that defy a common understanding. The “Universal Church” is both a real and virtual term. It lies somewhere between actuality and very real substance. Indeed, Christ is the undeniable head of the church but it seems that he passed that physical and governal position to Peter. Synods are the real substance of governance but when they dissolve into shouting matches there must be an elder statesman who calms the seas (sees) and invokes reason.

    I read, with great empathy, Dr. Tighe’s post. The dilemma of inserting a Western-Uniate Patriarchy into an Orthodox see is a diplomatic conundrum to end all. I see both the Vatican side and the Ukrainian Catholic side to the issue.

    The wheels of unity, however we see that virtue, turn slowly… but they turn! We are, indeed, one in Christ. Working out the particulars and the biases is another issue.

  24. Schütz says:

    Hi, guys (and it is mostly the guys having this conversation, although I know we have a couple of the girls at the other end of the table with views on this matter who are just keeping quiet and sipping their port). The discussion has been fascinating, and demonstrative of many of the problems we face in finding unity of Church government and polity.

    I personally remain a convinced Papist, of course. Neverthelees, I ardently pray that we can (together) identify a way in which the rightful authority of the pope can be exercised that serves, rather than detracts, from the prime purpose of the Petrine Ministry: Unity.

    Please feel welcome to carry on the discussion.

    • Thanks for your hospitality! Oh, and pass the port!

    • Dn John Brantley Cox says:

      There are two reasons I don’t think we will see any development on this front now. First, stemming from anti-western reaction, especially following the regrettable synod of Brest, Orthodox began defining themselves by what they weren’t. We have developed a rhetoric that says “we are different because we don’t have anything like the pope. We don’t have any boss bishop.” This is not entirely true as I will discuss below. The second point stems from the first. Anti-western polemics instilled in many otherwise reasonable and intelligent Orthodox people a conviction that the Pope is the devil and Catholics the devil’s children. To these, any movement that is perceived as a acceptance of the doctrine of those devilish RC’s, such as primacy outright, is right out because it’s an RC innovation. For the time, I think these convictions would inhibit any agreement we might reach on primacy from being perceived as actually enabling unity.

      On the question of primacy I think it is possible for Orthodox to accept the idea of a primus, as more than primus inter pares. The fact is that whatever the canons say, in practice the Patriarch of Constantinople has functioned as such since the evolution of the patriarchal system beginning in the 4th century. Not in quite the same way as the Pope but he has exercised a primacy nonetheless. For instance, the patriarch appoints all the bishops under him and removes them at his will. He is also the only bishop in history who has been given, explicitly by the canons, extra-territorial jurisdiction (Chalcedon 28). There is debate on the extent of that jurisdiction but that isn’t really the important issue. The important thing is that he was given it at all; an unprecedented event in Orthodox canon law. The patriarch has also through many centuries appointed or ratified the appointment of the patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria, and for a time, Antioch. Anecdotally, when the EP was here in New York in 2009 he met with the bishops of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. It was styled an “audience” because he came and spoke but was not spoken to. I asked someone who had been with the patriarch through his visit why it was framed this way, as an audience, as though they weren’t all bishops, and he looked at me as if I had grown a third head. “You don’t dialogue with the EP.” He said. “They aren’t his equals.”

      All that to say that the idea of synodality that we in America think of as the Orthodox understanding of church government is really a 19th century idea based on a reading of ecclesial literature, canons, epistles, and etc., that never obtained in day to day life, not even in Russia where it was worked out (1917 council). Certainly the synods of ecumenical councils were capable of overthrowing patriarchs but these were extraordinary circumstances, not usual church life. Such circumstances do not necessarily operate within the confines of Orthodox canonography (I just made that word up) in which a degree of normativity is assumed. I believe RC’s have employed their own expedient ways of getting shot of problematic Popes in the past but that hasn’t destroyed the principle of primacy.

      I am simply saying that we Orthodox ought not get hung up on the issue of primacy as more than inter pares because I don’t think our history or much of our current practice suggests that we must live without such a thing. The quality of that primacy is another matter, but in general I think there are other more substantive issues that separate us which we ought to discuss.

      • Two other points bear mentioning here:

        1. The EP has, at least twice, unilaterally deposed another patriarch and replaced him. You hinted at this above, but I thought it needed to be stated explicitly.

        2. The MP is quite centrally structured. I’m quite sure the “you don’t talk to the EP” sentiment applies equally to the MP in Russian structure.

      • melxiopp says:

        …a conviction that the Pope is the devil and Catholics the devil’s children.

        Hey, I’m married to one of the devil’s children.

        • Dn John Brantley Cox says:


          My apologies to you and your spouse if my description seemed proscriptive or unnecessarily colorful.

      • melxiopp says:

        DeVille’s book claims to have done the first survey of how primacy is understood and exercised within the various Orthodox churches. If so, this would be very helpful in educating the Orthodox about the diversity within Orthodoxy on this very question. The Orthodox tend to assume we all agree on what primacy means, when we don’t.

        (Unfortunately, DeVille then argues for a view of reconciliation between Rome and the Orthodox in the same book. Personally, it seems as if seperating the two books would have been better. The first presenting the objective facts, and the second then arguing for a certain use or interpretation based on those facts.)

  25. I’m really quite curious, for both those Orthodox and Catholic among us, what do you take of my reading of Catholic/Orthodox doctrine which would permit, even infallibility, as “ex sese” the chair of Peter and yet manifested within the synaxis? Is this an expression that could have authentic Catholic and Orthodox articulation?

    • Chris Jones says:

      Well, I am neither Orthodox nor Catholic (being a crypto-Orthodox Lutheran), but I will weigh in here: I think your reading is a non-starter, given the history of the thing. ISTM that the ex sese clause was included in the decree on infallibility precisely to exclude a collegial understanding of the exercise of infallibility, in order to drive a stake through the heart of “conciliarism” in the RC Church.

      Even if that were not the case, I think infallibility will always be unacceptable to the Orthodox, no matter how hedged or nuanced the understanding of ex cathedra becomes and no matter how much ex sese can be de-emphasized or “contextualized.” Having the locus of the Church’s infallibility in one particular See is simply not clearly taught in the Apostolic Tradition and can’t come into being without a very robust notion of the development of doctrine. But the “development of doctrine” is fatal to the Orthodox understanding of Holy Tradition — Fr John Behr is quite right about this.

      Finally it seems to me that from the Catholic point of view, your “collegial” version of ex cathedra weakens ex sese to the point of robbing it of its meaning. Catholics can no more accept a “collegialized” version of ex cathedra than Orthodox can accept a “development-of-doctrine” version of Holy Tradition. On both sides, it opens a loophole in each Church’s doctrine that you could drive a truck through.

      • melxiopp says:

        Any tap-dancing done to maintain Vatican I while ‘nuancing’ it for acceptance simply underlines the fact that the RCC cannot admit either a Pope or one of his later Ecumenical Councils erred. That is, the more ‘jesuitical’ the reading, the more Rome’s absolute commitment to infallibility and a final, unquestionable authority is magnified. That is simply not an part of the consensus fidei of the entire eastern Church and its countless apostolic sees, both ancient and modern; such is simply an innovation and unnecessary. (Cf. Fr. Freeman’s ‘ecclesiology of the cross’)

        • I hate to criticize Fr Freeman, but the ‘ecclesiology of the cross’ while noble has a certain egalitarian bent that is not part of the Eastern tradition. Where in his ecclesiology does he consider the numerous canons that deal with the restrictions of authority of the various bishops? For instance, the demographic scope of bishops and metropolitans, or the rankings of the primates, or the roles of the chorepiscopoi. He seems to want to create a dialectic between normative canons of authority and a ‘mystical’ authority of submission. I’m not saying his point is wrong in essence, but in emphasis. There is no dialectic between our normal canons which create a real pecking order and the ‘ecclesiology of the cross.’

          I think my point is best examined by way of analogy. In Ephesians 5, St Paul writes the oft debated passage “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. … Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” It has become popular today to read this passage in an egalitarian sense, that is “Husbands and wives submit to each other.” Yet, St Paul clearly does not mean this.

          I dare say that much American (and I do truly believe it to be a uniquely American expression) Orthodox reflection on the canons to be similar to the egalitarianizing force of interpreters on Ephesians 5. The primate is not a lone gun. But neither is he “primus inter pares” in its most minimal sense (ie is the emphasis on pares or primus?). Further, I think the proper emphasis of Apostolic Canon 34 is precisely that of Ephesians 5. The canon forms a poetic mirror structure in the original language, which lends itself to an egalitarian reading. However, its pretty clear from the *rest* of the Apostolic Canons, and indeed the deep breadth of our entire canonical tradition, that interpreting it in its most minimal sense is a foreign interpretation.

          Lastly, both Orthodox and Catholics on the ground are struggling with a tendency to interpret our ecclesiology with the “consent of the governed” philosophy that drives our own countries. This ideology is absolutely foreign to church government, but nonetheless, all one has to do is read a newspaper article on “Catholics who believe in abortion” to see that the majority of people don’t “get it.” Even our most astute scholars and theologians are swayed by these forces.

      • I stayed clear from DoD precisely for that reason.

        I think the main weakness of my mental exorcise is that it reduces infallibility to a tautology. That is, my opponents might say that I have said very little more than “when there is no controversy, the church is infallible.”

        I agree that “ex sese” was used precisely as you have indicated, making any reconciliation between East and West pretty much impossible so long as VatI stands. However, there is a sense in which we use “ex sese” as well. In particular, the Eucharist isn’t consecrated by the consent of the governed, but “ex sese” from the president, that is the bishop. Even the priest doesn’t consecrate of his own will, but of that of the bishop: this is precisely what the antimension indicates.

        My frustration, as an Orthodox Christian, with what passes as typical Orthodox ecclosiolgy these days is that we seem to cite the Eucharistic order as relates to the primacy when it suits us and ignore it when it doesn’t. I merely wish our thinkers would be consistent. I don’t however think that being consistent lands us precisely at VatI, but some of its emphases are certainly present.

        Going back to DoD, you are precisely right. The way infallibility has played out in the Catholic church is that the bishops no longer maintain the apostolic faith, but push whatever ideological fantasy that comes their way, offloading their own authority to the pope to synthesize (in a neat hegelian fashion) a new theological agenda. Thank God Pope Benedict seems to be resisting this.

        • melxiopp says:

          There is a sense in which Orthodox understand infallibility, but it’s personal and not objective.

          Based on our experience of God as good, loving, long-suffering, etc. as well as on the promise “that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom 8:28), we know that anything that happens is “infallibly” for our good. This includes sins and problems in the Church.

          The most obvious, personal way in which “infallibility” is exercised in Orthodoxy is in the relationship between monastic Elder and his spiritual son. For the one under obedience and guidance, the Elder is “infallible”, but there are still checks on this person’s “infallibility” external to that relationship. The Elder is under the obedience of his Abbot, Bishop and the Synod of his local Church, not to mention the Universal Church including the laos tou Theou.

          While this tradition of Eldership is abused (and maybe it always has been in the great laboratories of salvation), this kind of unquestioning obedience to one deeply steeped in the Tradition of the Church is quite definitely an aspect of the common Tradition.

          One could see the “infallibility” of the Pope of Rome in such a way. To his children in Rome and the West, he is the infallible Papa and should be obeyed. The problem is in taking his standing within his own church and projecting that across the world. The “First” of any Synod was not a “Father” to all of the other bishops and archbishops in his territory, he was more like an older brother, an uncle, or the pater familias of a clan. He wasn’t an equal, but neither was he of a wholly different sort.

          While this is an avenue to muse about, it is in no way the kind of view Rome herself would accept – even if in practice it’s how the Pope is treated.

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