"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday, 23 March 2015


Where the Eucharist is, there is the Catholic Church
«Catholics must take seriously the notion of the full Catholicity of the local Church promoted by Vatican Council II, and must apply it to their ecclesiology»

 Ioannis Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamum, takes stock of the debate between Catholics and Orthodox regarding the primacy. Interview

by Gianni Valente

If there’s a son of the Eastern Church who in the past years has given proof of confronting the thorny question of the primacy that still divides Catholics and Orthodox with a view free of old prejudices, this is Ioannis Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamum, member of the Synod of the Ecumenic Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was he who led the Constantinople delegation that came to Rome at the end of June to pay homage to the new bishop of the Eternal City on the occasion of the patronal festival of Saints Peter and Paul. It will be he, recognized by all as one of the most authoritative Orthodox theologians living, who will be co-president of the Orthodox part of the International Commission of dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that, after years of troubled existence should resume meeting next autumn, to place the very discussion of the primacy itself on the agenda. Given these premises, it doesn’t take much to imagine that in this coming discussion the historical analyses and the reflections themselves, matured over the years, by this gentle and hieratic metropolitan, – the same that he outlines in detailed fashion to 30Days in this interview – will constitute a more than authoritative point of reference. 

Eminence, the question of primacy undoubtedly lies at the very heart of Roman Catholic-Orthodox relations. Orthodox theology, with regard to this issue, is not monolithic. Could you describe for us some of the basic criteria of distinctions between Orthodox theologians?
JOANNIS ZIZIOULAS. There are some Orthodox theologians, - in the past they were the majority - who attach primacy, every level of primacy, to the organization of Church, and say that what the Pope has asked regarding his primacy does not have a dogmatic content, so therefore it can be relativized. For them primacy is a canonical question not involving the faith. They don’t see any link between primacy and the nature of the Church. For them the office of primate is a matter of the bene esse and not of the esse of the Church.
And the other group?
ZIZIOULAS: Some other Orthodox theologians regard primacy in the Church as belonging to the Church’s esse, and not simply a matter of canonical order. They realise we cannot renounce the primacy without losing something essential to our faith. This shows that the subject of primacy is a question not only concerning the claims of the bishop of Rome, but also within the Orthodox Church itself.
Could you give an example of the arguments of the first group? 
ZIZIOULAS: One of the leading Orthodox theologians, the late Professor Ioannis Karmiris, wrote: «Because of the political importance of Rome and the apostolicity of this Church, as well as the martyrdom in it of the Apostles Peter and Paul and its distinction in works of love, service and mission, the bishop of Rome received from the Councils, the Fathers and the pious emperors – therefore by human and not divine order – a simple primacy of honor and order, as first among the equal presidents of the particular Churches». According to this view, the actual structure of primacies, the primacy of the Roman See included, is due simply to human and transitory factors. This means that the Church could exist without primacy, although she could not exist without bishops or synods, the latter being a reality of iure divino and part of the Church’s esse.
Orthodox theologians very often use the formula «primacy of honor and order». What does it mean? 
ZIZIOULAS: When someone speaks of “primacy of honor” he wants to exclude the right of the primate to exercise jurisdiction over the rest of the bishops. But it seems to be a rather ambiguous formula. There seems, in fact, not to exist, even in the Orthodox Church, “a simple primacy of honor”…
ZIZIOULAS: In the Orthodox Church, for example, in the absence of the Patriarch or during the vacancy of his throne there can be no episcopal elections or the performance of any “canonical acts”. Can you then describe the primacy of the patriarch as “a simple honorr”?
Has this formula other contents? 
ZIZIOULAS: The expression “simple primacy of honour” is used to stress the fact that all bishops, from the Pope and the patriarchs down to the least of bishops are equal from the point of view of priesthood (hieratikós). 
But this is a traditional principle for both Orthodox and Roman Catholics too…
ZIZIOULAS: With a fundamental difference between them however, namely that the Roman Catholics would apply this equality only to the level of sacramental grace which does not involve automatically the exercise of jurisdiction (the missio canonica), while the Orthodox would make no such distinction.
Do you judge these ideas to be correct?
ZIZIOULAS: These positions seem to overlook certain facts present in the Orthodox tradition and faith too: the simple and obvious fact that synodality cannot exist without primacy. In Orthodox tradition there has never been and there can never be a synod or a council without a protos, or primus. If, therefore, synodality exists jure divino, primacy also must exist by the same right.
Synodality cannot exist without primacy. In Orthodox tradition there has never been and there can never be a synod or a council without a protos, or primus. If, therefore, synodality exists jure divino, primacy also must exist by the same right. Have any Orthodox theologians tried to resolve this contradiction? 
ZIZIOULAS: Alivisatos, for example, maintains that it is not necessary to have a permanent protos; primacy can be exercised by rotation. I think this position is very weak: primacy in the Church has never been exercised by rotation. It is attached to a particular office or ministry and to a particular person. Moreover, if we logically extend the application of rotation also within each autocephalous Church, this would mean the abolishment of the offices of patriarchs and metropolitans as permanent personal ministries… 
Other Orthodox theologians appeal to democracy in their theological objections to the primacy
ZIZIOULAS. Karmiris, for example, appeals to democracy as a characteristic of the Orthodox Church. But he explicitly identifies the Orthodox position with that of western Konziliarismus in his opposition to the primacy of the Pope: there can be no primacy in the Church because the highest authority, the real primus in the Church is the Council.
In order to find an exit from the current impasse, you said that new perspectives came during the period before and after Vatican Council II. Why? 
ZIZIOULAS: The question that already dominated the discussions during the long period before the Council, when the leading figures of Congar, Rahner, Ratzinger, de Lubac and others paved the way to the theology of Vatican II, was whether the fullness of the Church, her catholicity, coincided with her universal structure or not. 
And on this issue, they looked to Orthodoxy….
ZIZIOULAS: Mainly to the so-called “eucharistic ecclesiology” of the Russian theologian Nicolai Afanassieff, who formulated the axiom “wherever the Eucharist is, there is the Church”. This meant that each local Church in which the Eucharist is celebrated should be regarded as the full and Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic theologians were influenced by this approach and, as a result, a theology of the local Church entered the documents of the Council. 
Reverberating also on the debate regarding primacy …
ZIZIOULAS: The debate was led from the Orthodox side mainly by theologians of Russian origin who lived originally in Paris and some of whom later moved to America. Four of them - Afanassieff, Meyendorff, Schmemann and Koulomzine - produced a collective volume with the title The Primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church (English edition, 1973). They started with the question: if each local Church is a “catholic” Church, what need is there to speak of a universal primacy or even of a “universal Church”? 
Did they give the same answer to this question?
ZIZIOULAS: No. Afanassieff, for example, insists that universal ecclesiology is unknown in the ancient Church until Saint Cyprian. Following him, some Orthodox theologians argue that the universal Church is only an occasional phenomenon, happening when bishops and heads of local Churches meet together in councils. If there were no councils there would be no universal Church. There would only be communion in faith and sacramental communion, without any effect on structure.
And the others?
ZIZIOULAS: Schmemann, for example, takes a different view. For him, the Church had also known a universal primacy of a jure divino character. «Primacy» he wrote, «is the necessary expression of the unity in faith and life of all local Churches». 
And Meyendorff ?
ZIZIOULAS: For him Primacy was an inevitable requirement of the very existence of the Church in the world. «There has never been a time», he wrote, «when the Church did not recognise a certain order first of all among the apostles, then the bishops, and that in this order one apostle, Saint Peter, and later one bishop, heading a particular Church occupied the place of primate». He ventured to affirm that «the function of that one Bishop is to serve that unity on the world scale, just as the function of a regional primate is to be the agent of unity on a regional scale». 
And what is your own view on the subject?
ZIZIOULAS: The Orthodox rejected universal primacy in the Church for non-theological as well as for theological reasons. After the great Schism, the Orthodox interpreted papal primacy as ecclesiastical imperialism. In modern times, Orthodox theologians oppose primacy in general as incompatible with the democratic ideas of modern society, thus allowing for non-theological arguments to decide a theological issue. But now, we have to ask if this is a correct opinion, from the point of view of Orthodox ecclesiology.
And for the future? 
ZIZIOULAS: First of all, we must look to our tradition. As I said before, synods without primates have never existed in the Orthodox Church, and this indicates clearly that if synodality is a dogmatic necessity, so must primacy be also. This is precisely what the well-known 34th Canon of the Apostles explicitly states…
What is that?
ZIZIOULAS. This canon of the IV century can be the golden rule of the theology of primacy. It requires that the protos is a conditio sine qua non for the synodal institution, and that the synod is in its turn equally a prerequisite for the exercise of primacy.
The fact that all synods have a primate means that ecumenical synods should also have a primus. This automatically implies universal primacy. On this basis, Orthodox theology could be ready to accept primacy at all levels of Church structure, including the universal one. The problem that remains for discussion in the context of theological dialogue between Roman Catholic and Orthodox is what kind of primacy we have in mind.
Which kind of primacy must be excluded, to promote reconciliation on this crucial issue?
ZIZIOULAS: The Orthodox cannot accept a pyramidal ecclesiology, where the titular of the universal primacy, instead of serving, subdues the local Church. Universal primacy can only function in relation to those who comprise the synod, and never in isolation, that is outside a reality of communion.
Why is it so important that all primacies (universal primacy included) should be exercised by the primate as Head of a local Church?
ZIZIOULAS: Primacy is not a legalistic notion implying the investment of a certain individual with power, but a form of diakonia. It implies also that this ministry reaches the entire community though the communion of the local Churches manifested through the bishops that constitute the council or synod. It is for this reason that the primate himself should be the head of a local Church, that is a bishop. As head of a local Church and not as an individual, this will serve the unity of the Church as a koinonia of full Churches and not as a “collage” of incomplete parts of a universal Church. Primacy in this way will not undermine the integrity of any local Church.
Why don’t you consider the role of exegetical arguments related to the debate on primacy?
ZIZIOULAS: Biblical exegesis and history are an unsafe ground of rapprochement. Although Peter’s leading position among the Twelve is recognised more and more also by the Orthodox, the particular importance attached to him by the Roman Catholics is strongly disputed by them. The late Cardinal Yves Congar saw this very well. He wrote: «In the East, the authority of the See of Rome was never that of a monarchical prince […]. The Body of Christ has no Head other than Christ himself […]. Byzantine theologians very rarely relate the primacy of the See of Rome to the Apostle Peter, although authors of prestige like Maximus the Confessor or Theodor the Studite do, at times, say something to this effect...».
So, in that direction, the way is closed…
ZIZIOULAS: If we wait until Biblical scholars come to an agreement on the relationship between the role of Peter in the New Testament and the primacy exercised by the See of Rome, we may have to postpone the unity of the Church for another millennium, if not infinitely…
How do you judge the proposal of coming back to the model of relationships followed during the first millennium?
ZIZIOULAS: This way seems to me unrealistic, mainly because the Roman Catholic Church would not be prepared to eliminate her second millennium from history in order to unite with the Orthodox.
So, in your opinion what is a realistic common ground for common answers to such open questions?
ZIZIOULAS: For the future development of dialogue on this issue, it is of crucial importance that the Orthodox accept that primacy is part of the essence of the Church and not a matter of organization. They must also accept that there must be a Primacy on a universal level. This is difficult at the moment, but it would become easier if we thought more deeply about the nature of the Church. The Church cannot be local without being universal and cannot be universal if is not local. 

And on Catholic side, what can help the dialogue?
ZIZIOULAS: Catholics must take seriously the notion of full catholicity of the local Church promoted at Vatican Council II, and must apply it to their ecclesiology. This means that every form of primacy at the universal level must reflect the local Church and must not intervene in the local Church without her consent. Every local Church, must have the possibility to affirm its own catholicity, in relation to the primacy. For this reason, I repeat, the golden rule for a correct exercise of primacy is the 34th Apostolic Canon.

But how is it possible that a real rapprochement can happen on the basis of a new theological thesis? 
ZIZIOULAS: Acceptance of the Roman primacy would depend on whether we agree that the Church consists of full local Churches united into one Church without losing their ecclesial fullness. But this is not a theological “innovation”. Father Congar believed that the papal primacy, in spite of monarchical tendencies prevailing at that time, was exercised within an ecclesiology of communion also in the West until about the sixteenth century, when the papacy succeeded in imposing monarchical primacy on the whole of the West. If that is the case, the return to such an ecclesiology of communion may not be such an unrealistic proposition.

One last question. You knew Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. What do you think the approach and contribution of the new Pope to these issues could be?
ZIZIOULAS: I had the honor and privilege of meeting the then Cardinal Ratzinger in the early eighties when we were members of the International Commission on the official Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. He is a great theologian and an expert in ecclesiology, both Western and Eastern. In his new capacity as Pope he can certainly contribute decisively to the convergence between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox understanding of primacy. In the past he made some important suggestions for the solution of this problem. It may prove to be providential that he is Pope at this crucial moment of the discussion of this matter

(full argument here)
This Eucharist is of eschatological nature and it is the Eucharist celebrated in the eschatological assembly of the saints surrounding Christ in the Heavenly Kingdom. Zizioulas believes that “this unique Eucharist is at the same time many Eucharists”.  [Christ entering the presence of his Father through his death - resurrection - ascension is the eschatological, eternal heavenly liturgy as described in the Letter to the Hebrews.  It is the heavenly content of every earthly Eucharist.]

 It is impossible to say which is primary, as “the one” and “the many” exist simultaneously and are interrelated. In ecclesiology Zizioulas applies “the one and the many” principle to both the local and the universal Church. For Zizioulas, primacy at the universal level is the utmost case of the regional one. He writes, “The logic of synodality leads to primacy, and the logic of the ecumenical council leads to universal primacy”.

 Zizioulas believes that recent primacy of honour of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the whole Orthodox Church should be understood “in the spirit of 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 each may do those things only which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

 It should be noted however that in Metropolitan John’s logic described above, for such primacy to exist it is necessary that there should be a permanent synodal institution uniting all the bishops (of the entire Orthodox Church in this case). Yet there were no such councils in the past (Ecumenical Councils were not permanent bodies), and the possibility for their existence remains a matter of the future. Zizioulas applies this understanding of universal primacy (as the utmost case of regional primacy) to the primacy of the bishop of the Church of Rome.
Metropolitan John has attached a considerable role to universal primacy. He writes, “Universal primus is not only ‘useful’ to the Church but an ecclesiological necessity in a unified Church”.  He is the expression of “unity and oneness of the Church in the world”

McPartlan has pointed out that the phrase "universal church" has two meanings.  On the one hand, the universal Church is the assembly of all the saints, the eschatological heavenly Church of all times. On the other hand, it is the Church spread today (and in every particular moment of time) worldwide. To describe the Church in this second sense, the Orthodox theology often uses the term “oecumenical” (from the Greek
oikoumene, the inhabited world).When Zizioulas refers to the Eucharistic nature of the universal Church, he uses this term in its first meaning as the eschatological heavenly Church. The universal Church in this sense is constituted by the unique Eucharist celebrated in the eschatological assembly of the saints gathered around Christ in the Heavenly Kingdom. It should be noted that the universal Church in the other sense (as worldwide), on the contrary, is not constituted by the Eucharist since there is no worldwide Eucharist of this world. The Eucharist is always an assembly for “one and the same” which always has its topos.
Metropolitan John has attached a considerable role to universal prima-cy. He writes, “Universal
is not only ‘useful’ to the Church but anecclesiological necessity in a unified Church”.
 He is the expression of“unity and oneness of the Church in the world”

Vatican I saw the unity of the universal Church on earth as being bound together by a legal system which has its centre of jursidiction in the Pope.   In other words, it is by Jesus' delegation to Peter of supreme jurisdiction and the acceptance of this by all that ensures church unity. The sacraments must operate within this system, but it is jurisdiction that really unites the Church, because sacraments can be celebrated "outside" it. The Orthodox Churches have their own equivalent in that each patriarchate and autocephalous church has its "canonical territory" which forms the legal context for the valid celebration of the sacraments. Some would say that sacraments cannot be validly celebrated outside "canonical" communion; and there are Russian Orthodox who re-baptise members of the uncanonical Kyvan patriarchate - in this type of ecclesiology, law, not sacraments have the last word about membership of the Church.  "Eucharistic Ecclesiology", on the other hand, does not contest the importance of "universal jurisdiction" among Catholics or "canonical territory" among Orthodox.  However, it acknowledges the sacramental structure of the Church, centred on the Eucharist, as that which gives a basis and shape to any system of law and indicates the way it is to be exercised.  As Pope Benedict wrote, "The Mass is the Church's constitution."

Hence, the author of this paper writes:
 It should be noted that the universal Church in the other sense (as worldwide), on the contrary, is not constituted by the Eucharist since there is no worldwide Eucharist of this world.
On the contrary, every Eucharist is worldwide and even cosmic by its nature.   The local church is the tip of the iceberg; at each local celebration, the Holy Spirit breaks down local barriers to embrace the whole world, past and present, and even future, and heaven too (read Khomiakov).   In this explosion of grace, the body of Christ, formed in every local Eucharist is far greater than the local community because it is an act of the whole Church and not just of the local Church. The local eucharistic assemblies turn the worldwide Church into an organism, Christ throughout the world.  By the power of the Spirit, each part is a manifestation of the whole, while the whole realises itself within each local church and in the relationship between them, united by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Hence, schism is a lie, because it is a denial of what is happening in the Mass and which happens anyway, an act of God, whether we like it or not. 

 As St Cyprian of Carthage and many fathers of the Church have taught, there is only one bishop's throne, because it is Christ who acts in each, and only one sacrifice, one communion, and Christ in the Spirit is all in all.   At Mass we pray:
In your compassion, heavenly Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.  (EP III)
The Eucharist in each place cements the unity of the church throughout the world and presents it to the Father.  The question is, how is this unity a reality outside the liturgy?   How do we live this organic unity?  I don't think the present set-up of autocephalous churches provides an answer.  As a worldwide ecclesial organism Orthodoxy does not function.  We await the results of the Pan-Orthodox Synod to see if there is any improvement   These churches need a centre of unity.  On the other hand, the great weakness of the Catholic Church has been its lack of synodality.  Is it not strange that Orthodox weakness is Catholic strength, and Catholic weakness is Orthodox strength?   We need each other.  This will be resisted by many Orthodox and many Catholics who believe that their respective churches are perfect when most people know they are not.   Meanwhile, European civilization is going to the dogs because of the complacency of both sides.

If there is only one bishop's throne, there is nothing untoward for one bishop to speak for all, without the other bishops losing their position as shepherds of their flocks. Each can speak for the rest, and the protos can speak for all.  All that it requires is the action of the Holy Spirit and openness on all sides in love. That is what happened with the papal definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.   The Vatican conducted an investigation into what Catholics believe throughout the world, all the bishops were consulted, there were even votes in religious house, and then the pope defined the doctrine.   Pope and the college of bishops are a reality, even when they are not gathered together in council.

This takes care of the objection in the following passage from Andrej Shishkov's paper:
"It should be noted however that in Metropolitan John’s logic described above, for such primacy to exist it is necessary that there should be a permanent synodal institution uniting all the bishops (of the entire Orthodox Church in this case)."
No.  All that is needed is that the organic unity of the episcopate that springs from its source in the one Eucharist and is permanent in the Church be allowed to function by interaction with the protos.  

The only alternative that the Russians can offer is the continuation  of patriarchal rivalries, and a grave confusion between Christianity and nationalism.  Such an identification of religion with the nation would have made Christianity acceptable in pagan Rome, but would have completely flummoxed the author of the Letter to Diognetus, Origen and St Irenaeus or any of the post-apostolic fathers.

We all know that the ecumenical councils were an invention of the Christian emperors and bishops were summoned to them by the emperor's authority.  The "Nestorian" bishops of the Persian Empire were not invited to Ephesus because they were not subjects of the Byzantine Emperor but  they were then ordered to accept its conclusions As emperors were not part of the apostolic church structure, the authority which the Church recognised in councils must have come from another source in the very nature of the Church, an authority which must have been in existence before there was ever a council.    We know from St Cyprian that the idea of the organic unity of the episcopate long pre-dates general councils and does not depend on them, and we know from St Irenaeus that the universal teaching authority of the Church and the universal witness to Catholic Truth by the church of Rome were alive and well in the 2nd century.  That seems to indicate that the Church can and does operate as a worldwide organism, formed by the same Eucharist in all its parts, with the same basic help from the Holy Spirit as petitioned in the epiclesis all over the world, even when there is no universal synod in session. 

I  believe that the eucharistic ecclesiology of people like Metropolitan John Zizioulas forms the theological context for Pope Francis' understanding of the Church.   However, for Pope Francis, the local bishop, as a member of a regional synod that reflects a certain culture and history, and hence certain points of view and practical attitudes towards our common, world-wide faith, stands for the God-given variety that exists within the Catholic Church, while the petrine ministry represents the equally God-given unity.  There will always be a certain tension between the two, but the presence of the Holy Spirit is expressed, not just in the unity brought about by the petrine ministry and obedience to it by all, nor in the variety of views held by Christians throughout the world and reflected in the views of the bishops, but in the whole, pope and bishops, held together by an all-embracing ecclesial love, the fruit of communion, which is the special mark of the Spirit's presence.   No other recent pope has used "primacy" and "synodality" so often within the same context.   

The last three popes seemed to have believed that the only way to rein in the potential variety that would inevitably have shown itself if the bishops really had their say, was to manipulate the synods from the top, just as the Vatican officials tried to do in Vatican II.   However, what made Vatican II become a truly great council, was the intervention of Cardinal Frings (with the help of Fr Joseph Ratzinger, his secretary) which caused the bishops to reject this manipulation from the top that the Vatican took for granted.  Pope Francis seems to believe that the only way to make synods work is to do the same.  Like the Fathers of Vatican II, for whom the council was a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit, he is expecting the same thing to happen in the synods.  If Yves Congar and John Zizioulas are right, and the papacy "in spite of monarchical tendencies prevailing at that time, was exercised within an ecclesiology of communion also in the West until about the sixteenth century," then Pope Francis is returning to a more wholesome exercise of the petrine ministry.

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