"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

Thursday 31 August 2017


Perhaps this could have only happened in the Middle East where, on the whole, the ordinary lay people and the lower clergy haven't taken seriously the various schisms that have happened in the region in its long Christian history.   Perhaps because Christians have been a minority religion for a long time and the various Christian churches have had to face the same problems with Islam and other conditions.  Only lately we have seen what Pope Francis has called the "ecumenism of blood" where Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants have died for Christ.

It has been argued that, among the laity and lower clergy, the schisms never really happened.  What we call communicatio in sacris, sacramental hospitality, is quite normal and any attempts to stop it on behalf of higher authority have been ignored down the ages.   The Orthodox Church of Antioch, when our story opens at the beginning of the 18th century is very keen on education and learning, and the Jesuits were very much appreciated for this, as well as for confessions.   On the whole, relations between the Orthodox bishops and the Jesuits were good, and there was no effort on the part of the Latins to create any sort of parallel church.  However, there was a movement among the Orthodox to restore communion with the see of Peter without in any way breaking with the rest of Orthodoxy.  They did not think of Rome as an alternative to Constantinople, but as a logical step towards Christian integration.

In 1724, the bishops of the Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch elected Cyril VI Tamas as their patriarch.  Patriarch Cyril was very friendly to the Catholics which caused Patriarch Jeremias III of Constantinople to declare the election invalid, to excommunicate Cyril and to appoint a deacon Silvester as the new patriarch.  Any Orthodox reading this will appreciate how complicated the issue was.   What would happen now, we may ask, if Patriarch Barholomew were to declare invalid the election of another patriarch and appoint his man, unelected,to that office. 

The deposed patriarch appealed to Rome and the pope supported Patriarch Cyril, and thus, sadly, the schism happened.  However, this Melkite Catholic Church -as they came to be called - was very different from other "uniate" churches that were the result of Catholiv missionary activity in that it had its own Orthodox tradition, Orthodox polity, institutions, spirituality, culture and way of doing things, and they still identified with the Orthodox Church from which they had become separated and never claimed to be an alternative.    The next crisis for them was the First Vatican council.

Vatican I

Patriarch Gregory II Youssef (1864–1897) worked to restore peace within the community, successfully healing the lingering schism. He also focused on improving church institutions. During his reign Gregory founded both the Patriarchal College in Beirut in 1865 and the Patriarchal College in Damascus in 1875 and re-opened the Melkite seminary of Ain Traz in 1866. He also promoted the establishment of Saint Ann's Seminary, Jerusalem, in 1882 by the White Fathers for the training of the Melkite clergy.
Following the Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856, decreed by Sultan Abdülmecid I, the situation of Christians in the Near East improved. This allowed Gregory to successfully encourage greater participation by the Melkite laity in both church administration as well as public affairs.
 Gregory also took an interest in ministering to the growing number of Melkites who had emigrated to the Americas. In 1889 he dispatched Father Ibrahim Beshawate of the Basilian Salvatorian Order in Saida, Lebanon to New York in order to minister to the growing Syrian community there. According to historian Philip Hitte, Beshawate was the first permanent priest in the United States from the Near East from among the Melkite, Maronite, and Antiochian Orthodox Churches.

Gregory was also a prominent proponent of Eastern ecclesiology at the First Vatican Council. In the two discourses he gave at the Council on May 19 and June 14, 1870 he insisted on the importance of conforming to the decisions of the Council of Florence, of not creating innovations such as papal infallibility, but accepting what had been decided by common agreement between the Greeks and the Latins at the Council of Florence, especially with regard to the issue of papal primacy. He was keenly aware of the disastrous impact that the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility would have on relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church and emerged as a prominent opponent of the dogma at the Council.

 He also defended the rights and privileges of the patriarchs according to the canons promulgated by earlier ecumenical councils. Speaking at the Council on May 19, 1870, Patriarch Gregory asserted:
The Eastern Church attributes to the pope the most complete and highest power, however in a manner where the fullness and primacy are in harmony with the rights of the patriarchal sees. This is why, in virtue of and ancient right founded on customs, the Roman Pontiffs did not, except in very significant cases, exercise over these sees the ordinary an immediate jurisdiction that we are asked now to define without any exception. This definition would completely destroy the constitution of the entire Greek church. That is why my conscience as a pastor refuses to accept this constitution.
Patriarch Gregory refused to sign the Council's dogmatic declaration on papal infallibility. He and the seven other Melkite bishops present voted non placet at the general congregation and left Rome prior to the adoption of the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus on papal infallibility.[23] Other members of the anti-infallibilist minority, both from the Latin church and from other Eastern Catholic churches, also left the city.

After the First Vatican Council concluded an emissary of the Roman Curia was dispatched to secure the signatures of the patriarch and the Melkite delegation. Patriarch Gregory and the Melkite bishops subscribed to it, but with the qualifying clause of the used at the Council of Florence attached: "except the rights and privileges of Eastern patriarchs.".

 He earned the enmity of Pius IX for this; during his next visit to the pontiff Gregory was cast to the floor at Pius' feet by the papal guard while the pope placed his foot on the patriarch's head. Despite this, Patriarch Gregory and the Melkite Catholic Church remained committed to their union with the Church of Rome.

For me, this is a wonderful scene, with Pope Pius IX showing us what can happen when ecclesial jurisdiction, which is an exercise of ecclesial love, is confused with civil jurisdiction which is an exercise - perfectly justified within its proper context - of force.   On the other hand, Patriarch Gregory, forced on his knees in this humiliating scene, by his very humility in not breaking communion with Pope Pius, was heralding the end of this kind of misuse of papal power and the pivotal role played by his successor, Patriarch Maximos IV in Vatican II.

Relations with the Vatican improved following the death of Pius IX and the subsequent election of Leo XIII as pontiff. Leo's encyclical Orientalium Dignitas addressed some of the Eastern Catholic Churches' concerns on latinization and the centralizing tendencies of Rome.

However, there now existed a sui juris church in full communion with Rome whose bishops had voted non placet against two dogmas of the council and whose later acceptance of them was allowed to remain vague.  Later, at Vatican II, it became accepted that Tradition is local and regional before it becomes universal, and that culture, geography and schism can interrupt the full acceptance of Tradition as a whole by all. Bishops of regional churches can only give witness to the apostolic Tradition as they receive it.  We have to practice patience with one another, even with our own communion.

Patriarch Maximos IV and Vatican II

.But when all is said and done, our basic point of reference will always remain the great figure of Patriarch Maximos IV and the role he played in his own and the broader Church during the twenty critical years (October 30, 1947-November 5, 1967) of his historic patriarchate. Among the dozen or so most quoted Council Fathers in the published histories of Vatican II, he gave from the start a hitherto unimaginable importance to the Eastern Catholic minority at the Council by the content and elan of his interventions. The legendary Xavier Rynne first brought him to the attention of Americans in his gripping account of Session I serialized in The New Yorker, awakening the Western mass-media to the importance of this hitherto ignored minority. Rynne described Maximos as “the colorful and outspoken Melchite patriarch, His Beatitude Maximus IV Saigh, of Antioch,” and spoke of His Beatitude’s conciliar interventions as “laying the cards squarely on the table as was his custom, and speaking in French, as was also his habit.”

At Session I of the Council, Maximos’ electrifying opening speech on October 23, 1962, set the tone for the Melkite onslaught on the one-sided, Latin vision of the Church. He refused to speak in Latin, the language of the Latin Church, but not, he insisted, of the Catholic Church nor of his. He refused to follow protocol and address “Their Eminences,” the cardinals, before “Their Beatitudes,” the Eastern patriarchs, for in his ecclesiology patriarchs, the heads of local Churches, did not take second place to cardinals, who were but second-rank dignitaries of one such communion, the Latin Church. He also urged the West to allow the vernacular in the liturgy, following the lead of the East, “where every language is, in effect, liturgical.” And he concluded, in true Eastern fashion, that the matter at any rate should be left to the local Churches to decide. All this in his first intervention at the first session! No wonder numerous Council Fathers, overcoming their initial surprise, hastened to congratulate him for his speech. And no wonder it hit the news. That was a language even journalists impervious to the torturous periods of “clericalese” could understand. Maximos spoke simply, clearly, directly—and he spoke in French.

Patriarch Gregorios III

The Melkite Church owes its character to its triple loyalty to:
- first Seven Ecumenical Councils
- the Byzantine traditions
- communion with Rome

my source: ByzCath.org

From a Melkite Greek Catholic press release (September 1996):

"The holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church met in Rabweh, Lebanon, July 22-27, 1996 and, after studying the question of unity within the Patriarchate of Antioch, declared that communicatio in sacris = worship in common is possible today and that the ways and means of its application would be left to the joint decisions of the two Antiochian Church Synods - Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox. The Synod of thirty-four bishops and four general superiors under the presidency of Patriarch Maximos V (Hakim) deliberated extensively on the topic of church unity particularly within the Antiochian Patriarchate which has been divided since 1724, and issued a document titled, Reunification of the Antiochian Patriarchate. This document is part of the official minutes of the Synod and was made public on August 15, 1996 in the Middle East.... 

"The Melkite Synod sees that the church of the first millennium could be the model for unity today. The Synod strongly affirms its full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome and that this communion would not be ruptured. The Fathers offered their thanks to the International Theological Commission as well as the Joint Synodal Commissions recently reestablished by Patriarch Maximos V and Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV."

Key to this initiative was the profession of faith made by the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias Zogby:

"They offer special thanks to Archbishop Elias Zoghby whose 1995 Profession of Faith was the major force for reopening dialogue with the Orthodox brothers. Zoghby, the former archbishop of Baalbek and a long-time leader among the Melkite bishops, offered this brief statement in 1995 and it was subscribed to by 24 of the 26 bishops present at the 1995 Holy Synod:

1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches. 2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation."

In October, 1996 the Holy Synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate issued a statement which included these concerns on the Melkite proposal:

"In this regard, our Church questions the unity of faith which the Melkite Catholics think has become possible. Our Church believes that the discussion of this unity with Rome is still in its primitive stage.  The first step toward unity on the doctrinal level, is not to consider as ecumenical, the Western local councils which the Church of Rome, convened, separately, including the First Vatican Council. 

"And second the Melkite Catholics should not be obligated to accept such councils.  Regarding inter-communion now, our Synod believes that inter-communion cannot be separated from the unity of faith.  Moreover, inter-communion is the last step in the quest for unity and not the first."

In a letter to the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, Metropolitan Philip also said:

"Please be advised that, while we pray for unity among all Christians, we cannot and will not enter into communion with non-Orthodox until we first achieve the unity of faith.  As long as this unity of faith is not realized, there cannot be intercommunion.  We ask you to adhere to the instructions which you receive from our office and hierarchs." 

Next is the text of the letter with Rome's commentary on the Melkite Initiative. It has been translated from the French by Ken Guindon. It was reviewed by His Grace Bishop Nicholas Samra (who made a few corrections) and permission was given to publish this in English:

Congregation for the Eastern Churches 
Prot. No. 251/75 
June 11, 1997 

His Beatitude 
Maximos V HAKIM 
Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and of all the East, 
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem. 

Your Beatitude, 

The news of the project for "rapprochement" between the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch has given rise to various echoes and comments in the public opinion. 

The Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity have made an effort to study and closely examine the areas which fall within their competence in this domain; and the heads of these Dicasteries have been charged by the Holy Father to express some considerations to Your Beatitude. 

The Holy See is greatly interested in and encourages initiatives which favor the road to a complete reconciliation of the Christian Churches. She appreciates the motivation behind the efforts undertaken for several decades by the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate, which is trying to hasten the coming of this full communion so greatly desired. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches recognizes the duty for every Christian (Can. 902), which becomes for the Eastern Catholic Churches a special duty (munus) (Can. 903), whose exercise will be governed "through special norms of particular law while the Roman Apostolic Church functions as the moderator for the universal church" (Can. 904). 

This is all the more true for two communities which see themselves as being closely united because of the ties of common origin and common ecclesiastical tradition, as well as by a long experience of common initiatives which no doubt place them into a privileged situation of proximity. 

The Church's desire is to find adequate ways and means to progress further along the road of brotherly understanding and, to encourage new structures which further such progress towards full communion. 

Pursuing such goals, Your Patriarchate is motivated by a sensibility and a knowledge of the situation and an experience which are peculiarly its own. The Holy See desires to contribute to this process by expressing some considerations which she believes will eventually help the future progress of this initiative.

The Dicasteries involved appreciate very much that common pastoral initiatives are undertaken by Catholics and Orthodox, according to the instructions found in the Directory for the application of the principles and norms for Ecumenism, especially in the areas of Christian formation, of education, a common effort in charity, and for the sharing of prayer when this is possible. 

As to experiences of a theological nature, it is necessary to labor patiently and prudently, without precipitation, in order to help both parties to travel along the same road. 

The first level in this sharing concerns the language and the categories employed in the dialogue: one must be very careful that the use of the same word or the same concept is not used to express different points of view and interpretations of a historical and doctrinal nature, nor lends itself to some kind of oversimplification. 

A second level of involvement necessitates that the sharing of the content of the dialogue not be limited only to the two direct participants: the Patriarchates of the Catholic Greek-Melkites and the Orthodox of Antioch, but that it involve the Confessions with whom the two Patriarchates are in full communion: the Catholic communion for the former and the Orthodox for the latter. Even the Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities of the Patriarchate of Antioch have brought forth a similar preoccupation. This global implication also will permit averting the risk that some initiatives, meant to promote the full communion at the local level, might give rise to a lack of understanding or suspicions beyond the generosity of the intentions. 

Now we consider the elements contained in the profession of faith of his Excellency Kyr Elias Zoghby, Greek-Melkite Catholic Archbishop emeritus of Baalbek, signed in February 1995, and to which numerous hierarchs of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Synod have adhered. 

It is clear that this Patriarchate is an integral part of the Christian East whose patrimony it shares. As to the Greek-Melkite Catholics declaring their complete adhesion to the teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy, it is necessary to take into account the fact that the Orthodox Churches today are not in full communion with the Church of Rome, and that this adhesion is therefore not possible as long as there is not a full correspondence in the profession and exercise of the faith by the two parties. Besides, a correct formulation of the faith necessitates a reference not only to a particular Church, but to the whole Church of Christ, which knows no frontiers, neither in space nor in time. 

On the question of communion with the Bishops of Rome, we know that the doctrine concerning the primacy of the Roman Pontiff has experienced a development over time within the framework of the explanation of the Church's faith, and it has to be retained in its entirety, which means from its origins to our day. One only has to think about what the first Vatican Council affirmed and what Vatican Council II declared, particularly in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium Num. 22 and 23, and in the Decree on ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio Number 2. 

As to the modalities for exercising the Petrine ministry in our time, a question which is distinct from the doctrinal aspect, it is true that the Holy Father has recently desired to remind us how "we may seek--together, of course--the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned" (Ut unum sint, 95); however, if it is legitimate to also deal with this on a local level, it is also a duty to do this always in harmony with a vision of the universal Church. Touching this matter, it is appropriate to be reminded that in any case, "The Catholic Church, both in her praxis and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is--in God's plan--an essential requisite of full and visible communion" (Ut unum sint, 97). 

As to the various aspects of communicatio in sacris, it is necessary to maintain a constant dialogue in order to understand the meaning of the current regulation in force, in the light of underlying theological presuppositions; premature, unilateral initiatives are to be avoided, where the eventual results may not have been sufficiently considered, they could produce serious consequences for other Eastern Catholics, especially for those living in the same region. 

In summary, the fraternal dialogue undertaken by the Greek-Melkite Catholic Partriarchate will be better able to serve the ecumenical dialogue to the degree that it strives to involve the entire Catholic Church to which it belongs in the maturing of new sensitivities. There is good reason to believe that the Orthodox in general so share the same worry, due also to the obligations of communion within their own body. 

The Dicasteries involved are ready to collaborate in order to further the exchange of verifications and echoes; they express their satisfaction for these meetings which have been held on this subject with the representatives of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church, and they hope and wish that these meetings continue and intensify in the future. 

Not doubting at all that Your Beatitude would want to share these ideas, we beg you to accept the expression of our fraternal and cordial greetings. 

Joseph Card. Ratzinger,  Achille Card. Silvestrini,  Edward Card. Cassidy 
For more information about this topic please contact the Melkite Church in America

Copyright © 1998 http://www.byzcath.org - Last modified 1/18/98 16:30


Full regard for the Official Relatio as well as a contextual reading of the Vatican 1 Decrees demonstrates that, contrary to the Absolutist Petrine excesses:1) "Papal infallibility" cannot be separated from the infallibility of the Church, but is actually merely a unique exercise of the infallibility of the Church itself (explicitly stated in the definition itself).2) "Papal infallibility" cannot be exercised at merely the Pope's discretion, but always in response to the needs of the Church through the solicitude of the bishops of the Church (explicitly stated in the historic Proem).3) "Papal infallibility" does not permit the Pope to proclaim new doctrine (explicitly stated in the historic Proem).4) The Rule of Faith which is Apostolic Canon 34 applies even to the definitions of the Pope ex cathedra (explicitly stated in the Official Relatio).5) Papal primacy does not impede the authority of the local bishop (explicitly stated in the Decree itself).6) The Pope is not above an Ecumenical Council (affirmed by the Official Relatio).

Sunday 27 August 2017


Papal Primacy


Rev. Emmanuel Clapsis
Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

The decision to study the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the universal Church of Christ indicates that the Orthodox‑Roman Catholic consultation is moving towards the centre of the issues that have separated our respective communions. In this process, our deliberations must take seriously into account the theological statements of the bilateral dialogues between Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Lutherans and others. It must also take into consideration the reflection of Roman Catholic theologians who are seeking to reform ‑ but not to reject ‑ the primacy of the Roman church.[1] Orthodox‑Roman theological reflection of the primacy of the Roman church in the universal Church of Christ must proceed, however, from the theological convergence that we have reached, based on the doctrine of the Trinity and the eucharist, concerning the nature of the Church as koinonia.[2] This will help us to transcend, not ignore, some divisive and inconclusive references to historical events.[3] In my view, the primacy of the bishop of Rome thus needs to be debated, reinterpreted, and justified from the developing ecclesiology of communion; this view of the Church is becoming the meeting point of our respective ecclesiologies.[4]

The ecumenical discussions

It has become increasingly apparent in ecumenical circles that many non‑Roman theologians and churches are actually coming to regard some exercising of primacy by the Roman see as "normal", "desirable", ..useful", or (to some degree) "required". There is, however, a considerable difference between the official Roman Catholic view of primacy and the type of primacy that non‑Roman theologians, churches and communions would be ready to accept for the well‑being of the Church![5]

In the bilateral dialogues of Roman Catholics with Anglicans, Lutherans and Reformed, the primacy of the bishop of Rome is discussed in the context of communion ecclesiology. The eucharist is seen

* First printed in the Greek Orthodox Theological Review vol. 32, no. 2, 1987.

as the effectual sign of koinonia, episkope as serving the koinonia, and primacy properly understood and exercised as a visible and possibly necessary link between all those exercising episkope within the koinonia. The local church (a diocese) manifests the fullness of the Church. The communion of faith, love and order of all local churches reveals the unity of God's Church that subsists in fullness in each local church.[6] The communion of the local churches, attributed to bishops of prominent sees, views the function of overseer of their regions as one of the ways of maintaining the faithfulness and the unity of the local churches to Christ's gospel.[7]

Partly as a result of this development, the see of Rome, whose prominence was associated with the deaths of Peter and Paul, became the principle centre in matters concerning the universal Church.[8] The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) statement of Venice (1976) states that the ministry of the bishop of Rome among his brother bishops was "interpreted" as Christ's will for his Church; its Importance was compared "by analogy" to the position of Peter among the apostles.[9] Classic Roman Catholic tradition maintained that the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome was divinely instituted by Jesus Christ. This was derived from the Petrine texts, and from the gospel accounts of Matthew (16:17‑19), Luke (22:32)and John (21:15‑17) according to the Roman tradition, they all refer not simply to the historical Peter, but to his successors to the end of time.[10]

Today, scriptural scholars of all traditions agree that we can discern in the New Testament an early tradition which attributes a special position to Peter among Christ's twelve apostles. The Church built its identity on them as witnesses, and responsibility for pastoral leadership was not restricted to Peter.[11] In Matthew 16:19, Peter is explicitly commissioned to "bind and loose"; later, in Matthew 18:18, Christ directly promises all the disciples that they will do the same. Similarly, the foundation upon which the Church is built is related to Peter in Matthew 16:16, and to the whole apostolic body elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Eph. 2:10). It is thus possible to conclude that, although the distinctive features of Peter's ministry are stressed, his ministry is that of an apostle and does not distinguish him from the ministry of the other apostles. In addition, the New Testament does not contain an explicit record of the transmission of Peter's leadership, nor is the transmission of apostolic authority in general, very clear. As a result, the Petrine texts of the New Testament have been subjected to differing interpretations from the time of the Church Fathers on. Many theologians regard Roman "primacy" as having developed gradually in the West due to the convergence of a number of factors, e.g., the dignity of Rome as the only apostolic Church in the West; the tradition that both Peter and Paul had been martyred there; Rome's long history as a capital of the Roman empire; and its continuing position as the chief centre of commerce and communication.[12] This view, however, does not necessarily consider the primacy of the bishop of Rome as contrary to the New Testament. It is possible to accept the primacy of Rome in a qualified way as part of God's purpose regarding the Church's unity and catholicity even while admitting that New Testament texts offer no sufficient basis for it.[13] Whether or not Peter's role can be transmitted in its totality, it would not exclude the analogical continuation of his ministry of unity, guided by the Spirit, among those who continue the apostolic mission. This "Petrine function" is necessary for the unity and catholicity of the Church. It may be executed by the pope, as Vatican I suggests, in consultation with but not independently from the bishops of God's Church.

For Roman Catholics, the relationship of the bishop of Rome with the ecumenical synods is not clearly defined, as Avery Dulles points out:

Vatican I, which placed supreme authority in the pope, left some uncertainty regarding the relations between the papacy, the universal episcopate, and ecumenical synods (which are not necessarily mere meetings of bishops). Since this uncertainty was not fully cleared up by Vatican II, the question of the supreme directive power in the Church still requires further discussion within the Roman Catholic communion.[14]

Lumen Gentium located the ministry of both the pope and the episcopal college within the one people of God; its statements on the local church's full ecclesial reality lead us to believe that Vatican II opted for an ecclesiology of communion in defining the nature of the Church. The real theological problem lies in specifying the exact relationship between the episcopal college and the pope, who can act without juridical dependence on the college of which he is the head or on the communion of the local churches whose unity and truth he safeguards by being the central member of it.[15] Karl Rahner proposed that there can only be one organ possessing supreme potestas in the universal Church: the universal episcopal college with the bishop of Rome as its head. The episcopal college can only exercise its supreme potestas in union with its head: neither can the pope ever exercise supreme potestas in the universal Church except as head of the episcopal college (there are 110 juridical limitations on the exercise of this primatial power and no juridical response from the decisions of the legitimate pope ).[16] It is a truism that Vatican II, through its doctrine of episcopal collegiality, placed the primacy of the bishop of Rome in a new and much needed conciliar interpretative framework, but it simultaneously maintained (without synthesizing) the supreme and, to a certain degree, uncontrollable authority that Vatican I had attributed to the bishop of Rome. [17]

The ambiguity of this theological advance of Vatican II led the ARCIC participants to note: "Communion with the bishop of Rome does not imply submission to an authority which would stifle the distinctive features of the local churches. The purpose of the episcopal function of the bishop of Rome is to promote Christian fellowship in faithfulness to the teaching of the apostles."[18] The critical question here is whether this kind of ministry has been truly exercised by the bishop of Rome in a consistent manner that justifies its claims of importance. The ARCIC statement NOTES:

The theological interpretation of this primacy and the administrative structures through which it has been exercised have varied considerably through the centuries. Neither theory nor practice, however, has ever fully reflected these ideals. Sometimes functions assumed by the see of Rome were not necessarily linked to the primacy. Sometimes the conduct of the occupants of this see has been unworthy of his office. Sometimes the image of this office has been obscured by interpretations placed upon it, and sometimes external pressures have made its proper exercise almost impossible.[19]

I wonder whether, in moments of divisive theological or ecclesiastical quarrels, it would be possible for the bishop of Rome to exercise his primacy with the approval of all Christians in order to safeguard the unity, the truth and the catholicity of Christ's Church. By the same token, it is difficult to justify ecclesiologically the juridical independence of the bishop of Rome from the college of bishops of which he is head. Does this juridical independence not lead to authoritarian abuses of the pope's ecclesiastical power if and when he chooses? What administrative structure is necessary for the proper function of the primacy in the life of the Church? More significantly, what are the ecumenically accepted rights (of diakonia) and limits (of authority) of the bishop of Rome within a Communion of local churches who have been judged to be fully catholic? One of the most effective and normative means which the Church has for resolving the conflicts and debates which endanger its unity or threaten to distort its gospel is to appeal to the Tradition embodied in scripture, conciliar creeds, canons and patristic writings. Bishops in such situations have a special responsibility to safeguard the unity and the truth of the Church: it is their collective as well as individual responsibility to defend and interpret the apostolic faith in unity with all God's people.[20]

It is possible, however, for the bishops to be intolerant, fallible in judgment, and distorting of the truth. But since Christ will never desert his Church, we remain confident that ultimately the Holy Spirit will lead Christ's Church to all truths and unity.[21] By the grace of the Holy Spirit the Church is infallible when it meets in synods to clarify the Church's understanding of the central truths of salvation once these synods have been recognized by the people of God as true and catholic expressions of the apostolic faith. [22] In such a context the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome would have him be the president as well as the spokesman of the Church and, in times of need, he would be the Church's unitary voice, reflecting and expressing its conscience.

"A primate exercises his ministry not in isolation but in collegial association with his brother bishops."[23] Thus primacy fulfills its purpose by helping the churches to listen to one another, to grow in love and unity, and to strive together towards the fullness of Christian life and witness; it respects and promotes Christian freedom and spontaneity; it does not seek uniformity where diversity is legitimate, or centralized administration to the detriment of the local churches.[24]

As for the Roman claim that the pope possesses universal immediate jurisdiction over the life of the local churches (the limits of which are not clearly specified), many Christians fear that this jurisdiction may be subject to an illegitimate and uncontrolled use.[25] The ARCIC statement of Windsor defines jurisdiction as "the authority of power (potestas) necessary for the exercise of an office"[26] and it proceeds to accept the "universal immediate jurisdiction" of the bishop of Rome as inherent to his office due to his call to serve the unity of the koinonia "as whole and in each of its parts".[27] This "universal immediate jurisdiction" should be exercised, however, not in isolation, but in collegial association with his brother bishops, who are equally concerned for the unity and truth of the universal Church (the result of their office and not of their association with the bishop of Rome).

Yet the bishop of Rome, the Windsor statement declares, has the right in special cases to intervene in the affairs of a diocese and to receive appeals from the decision of a diocesan bishop. It is because the universal primate, in collegial association with his fellow bishops, has the task of safeguarding the faith and the unity of the universal Church that the diocesan bishop is subject to his authority.[28]

However this kind of authority, although it is defined not as autocratic power over the Church, but as a service in and to the Church, which is a communion in faith and charity of local churches, needs in its practical application to be safeguarded against any abuses which may lead to suppression of theological and liturgical traditions of which the bishop of Rome does not approve.

The Orthodox position

What is the Orthodox view on the bishop of Rome's primacy, especially as reinterpreted by Roman Catholicism in its dialogue with other Western Christian churches? One may rejoice that Western Christians have begun to recover his importance for the unity of Western Christendom, but from an Orthodox perspective it is imperative to study the primacy of Rome in the context of the primacies of the patriarchs of the East and their role in the universal Church .[29]

It would be impossible for us to reach any convergence on the significance of the bishop of Rome if our consultation were to begin with a comparison of classic Roman Catholic and Orthodox views of the papacy. Our common reflection on this issue must be situated in the common ecclesiology of communion that our respective churches have begun to share, especially after Vatican II.[30] In 1974 our consultation stated:
 "The Church is the communion of believers living in Jesus Christ with the Father. It has its origins and prototype in the Trinity in which there is both distinction of persons and unity based on love, not subordination."[31]
 It also affirmed that the eucharistic celebration 
"both proclaims the most profound realization of the Church and realizes what it proclaims in the measure that the community opens itself to the Spirit".[32]
 This kind of ecclesiology leads to an affirmation of the full catholicity of the local church ‑ provided it lives by the Spirit of God which makes it the living body of Christ in communion of love with other local churches that share the same faith and life pattern. Within the unity of the local churches, "a real hierarchy of churches was recognized in response to the demands of the mission of the Church"[33] without, however, the fundamental equality of all churches being destroyed. How should we understand the churches as having a hierarchy if they are fundamentally and irreversibly equal to each other as a result of God's full presence in them? What is the qualitative theological difference between a local church which exercises primacy and another local one over which this primacy is exercised? If a local church is fully catholic, how is it enriched by its relation with a primatial church? In 1974, the Roman Catholic members of this consultation vindicated the primacy of the bishop of Rome (as defined by Vatican 1) with no reference to the advances of the Second Vatican Council through which a more communitarian image of the papacy could be advanced.[34] Although the institution of primacy (regional or universal) from an Orthodox perspective is taken for granted by the very fact of its existence, I will agree with Father Alexander Schmemann, who noted that we badly need the clarification of the nature and function of all the primacies, and especially the very concept of primacy.[35] It is imperative that Orthodox ecumenical witness develop an ecclesiologically sound interpretation of primacy.

If primacy is defined as a form of power, then we encounter the question of whether in the Orthodox church there is a power superior to that of a bishop, i.e., a power over the bishop, and hence the church of which he is head. Theologically and ecclesiologically the answer must be an unconditional no: there is no power over the bishop and his church. In the canonical and historical life of the Church, however, such supreme power not only exists but is conceived as the foundation of the Church; it is the basis of its canonical system. According to Father Schmemann, this reflects the alienation of canonical tradition from ecclesiology and its reduction to canon law in the context of which the life of the Church came to be expressed in juridical terms.[36]

Our theological statement on the nature of the Church (1974) and the Munich statement of the international Orthodox‑Roman Catholic dialogue have indirectly rejected the idea of a universal ecclesiology in which the Church is the sum of all local churches, which all together constitute the body of Christ. This kind of ecclesiology means that each local church is only a part, a member of the universal Church that participates in the Church only through belonging to the whole.[37] Thus, if the Church is a universal organism, it must have as its head a universal bishop as the focus of its unity and as the organ of supreme power. Consequently, the model of ecclesiology makes imperative the necessity of universal primacy as divinely instituted for the essential being of the Church. This is the kind of ecclesiology which, together with other historical causes, gave birth to the image of papacy defined by Vatican I in 1870.

Eucharistic ecclesiology affirms the catholicity of the local church, and allows no room for the categories of "parts" or "whole". It is the very essence of this ecclesiology that the universal Church subsists in toto in the local church.[38] This kind of ecclesiology excludes the idea of primacy, understood as power over the local church and its bishop. The local churches, however, are not self‑sufficient monads but are united with each other, not in terms of "parts" and "whole", but with regard to their identity of order, faith and gifts of the Holy Spirit which make each one and all of them together the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Trinitarian ecclesiology also develops the insight that there is one Church just as there is one nature in God; the best way to express the oneness of the Church, however, is the communion of the many local churches. It is very important, on the other hand, to emphasize that the multiplicity of the Church should not be subjected to its oneness; in eucharistic and Trinitarian ecclesiology, communion and oneness coincide and, therefore, the multiplicity of the Church is constitutive of its oneness. In the life of the local church this means that the "one", the bishop, cannot exist without the "many", the community, and the many cannot exist without the one. This implies that all pyramidal notions disappear in ecclesiology: the "one" and the "many" coexist as two aspects of the same being. There is no ministry, which does not need the other ministries. On the universal level this means that the Church manifests its oneness through a ministry which comprises simultaneously a primus and the synod of which he is a primus. From this perspective, it is thus possible to accept the universal primacy of a bishop, which cannot, however, be conceived apart from the synod or over it.[39]

The communion of local churches, ontologically identical in faith, order and charisms of the Holy Spirit, bear witness to their unity when they gather themselves together through their bishops, in synods.

The synod is not "power" in the juridical sense of the word, for there can exist no power over the Church, the Body of Christ. The synod is, rather, a witness to the identity of all churches as the Church of God in faith, life and "agape". If in his own church the bishop is priest, teacher and pastor, the divinely appointed witness and keeper of the Catholic faith, it is through the agreement of all bishops, as revealed in the synod that all churches both manifest and maintain the ontological unity of tradition.[40]

As a result of church life and mission in the context of history, moreover, in times of discord the synod becomes the common voice, the common testimony of the ontological unity of several (or all) churches. For Orthodoxy the truth that a synod affirms thus makes the synod an authority in the life of the Church; the basis of its primacy is derived from this as binding for the historical life of God's Church. The primacy of the synod cannot, however, be conceived as power over the local church but rather as a charismatic instrument through which the churches of God witness and express their ontological unity in the truth of the gospel. The primacy of the synod, through which the local churches witness and express their unity in the salvific truths of Christ, does not exclude the primacy of the first bishop or the metropolitan. In regional synods, in which all the bishops of the area must participate, the primacy of the first bishop must be acknowledged and respected as the famous 34 Apostolic Canon states: 
"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..." 
From this canon, it is thus evident that the regional primacy can be conceived not as power or jurisdiction but only as an expression of the unity and unanimity of all the bishops, and consequently of all the churches, of an area.

We must understand the universal primacy of the Roman Church similarly. Based on Christian Tradition, it is possible to affirm the validity of the church of Rome's claims of universal primacy. Orthodox theology, however, objects to the identification of this primacy as "supreme power" transforming Rome into the principium radix et origio of the unity of the Church and of the Church itself.[41] The Church from the first days of its existence undeniably possessed an ecumenical centre of unity and agreement. In the apostolic and Judaeo‑Christian period this centre was first the church of Jerusalem and later the church of Rome ‑ "presiding in agape" according to St Ignatios of Antioch.[42] For the Orthodox, the essence and the purpose of this primacy is to express and preserve the unity of the Church in faith and life; to express and preserve the unanimity of all churches; to keep them from isolating themselves into ecclesiastical provincialism, losing the catholicity, separating themselves from the unity of life. It means ultimately to assume the care, the sollicitudo of the churches so that each one of them can abide in that fullness which is always the whole of the Catholic tradition and not any one "part" of it. The idea of primacy thus excludes the idea of jurisdiction but implies that of an "order" of Church which does not subordinate one church to another, but which makes it possible for all churches to live together this life of all in each and of each in all.[43]

In summary, Orthodoxy does not reject Roman primacy as such, but simply a particular way of understanding that primacy. Within a reintegrated Christendom the bishop of Rome will be considered primus inter pares serving the unity of God's Church in love. He cannot be accepted as set up over the Church as a ruler whose diakonia is conceived through legalistic categories of power of jurisdiction. His authority must be understood, not according to standards of earthly authority and domination, but according to terms of loving ministry and humble service (Matt. 20:25‑27).[44]

Before the schism, in times of ecclesiastical discord and theological controversies, appeals for peaceful resolutions and mediation were made to the pope from all parts of the Christian world. For instance, in the course of the iconoclast controversy, St Theodore the Studite (759‑829) urged the emperor to consult the pope: "If there is anything in the patriarch's reply about which you feel doubt or disbelief... you may ask the chief elder in Rome for clarification, as has been the practice from the beginning according to inherited tradition."[45] From an Orthodox perspective, however, it is important to emphasize that these appeals to the bishop of Rome are not to be understood in juridical terms. The case was not closed when Rome had spoken, and the Byzantines felt free on occasion to reject a Roman ruling.[46]

In a reintegrated Christendom, when the pope takes his place once more as primus inter pares within the Orthodox Catholic communion, the bishop of Rome will have the initiative to summon a synod of the whole Church. The bishop of Rome will, of course, preside over such a synod and his office may coordinate the life and the witness of the Orthodox Catholic church and in times of need be its spokesman. The role of acting as the voice of the Church is not, however, to be restricted to any hierarchical order within the Church, still less to a single see. In principle, any bishop, priest or layman may be called by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the true faith.


[1] Anglican‑Roman Catholic International Commission, The Final Report, London, SPCK, 1982; hereafter referred to as The ARCIC Statement;

Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue, V.‑ Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Paul C. Empie and T. Austin Murphy, eds., Minneapolis,

Augsburg, 1974; Patrick Granfield, The Papacy in Transition, Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1980; Hans Kung The Church, New York, Sheed

& Ward, 1968, pp.444‑48; Hans Kung ed., Papal Ministry in the Church: Concilium 64, New York, Herder & Herder, 1971; Karl‑Heinz

Ohlig, Why We Need the Pope: The Necessity and Limits of Papal Primacy, St. Meinrad, Abbey Press, 1975; J. Meyendorff et al. eds., The

Primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church, London, Faith Press, 1963; J.M.R. Tillard, The Bishop of Rome, Wilmington, DE, M. Glazier, 1983;

Raymond Brown et al. eds, Peter in the New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars, Minneapolis, NY, Augsburg, 1973.

[2] It is the basic assumption of this paper that no progress can be accomplished in our discussions of the Roman claims of primacy of the bishop of Rome in the universal Church unless it is seen as an instrinsic ecclesiological issue which needs to be refuted or justified on theological rather than on historical grounds.

[3] This view is based upon the ecumenical findings of biblical scholars that "the papacy in its developed form cannot be read back into the New Testament", Brown, Peter in the New Testament, p.8. It is therefore anachronistic to apply terms such as "pope" or "primacy" to the place, which Peter held within the New Testament. From an historical perspective, there is no conclusive documentary evidence from the first century or the early decades of the second of the exercise of, or even the claim to, a primacy of the Roman bishop or to a connection with Peter, although documents from this period accord the church at Rome some kind of pre‑eminence. However, by the time of Pope Leo I (440‑61), the bishops of Rome "have developed a self‑image which represents them as the heirs and successors and, in a sense, the continuing embodiment of Peter", but "this view is tolerated in the Christian East when it is in the interest of the East to do so, otherwise it tends to be rejected in practice". See the article of Arthur Carl Peipkorn, "The Roman Primacy in the Patristic Era: IL from Nicaea to Leo the Great", in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue, V : Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, p.97. See also G. Larentzakis, "I ekklisia Romis kai o episkopos avtis", Thessaloniki, 1983; Megas Pharamos, "To papikon proteion, Dogmatiki Theorisis, eks epopseos Orthodoxou," Dogmatika kai ithika, Athens, 1983, pp.149‑91; Emilianos Timiadis, "Tu Es Petrus: An Orthodox Approach", in Byzantine and Patristic Review, vol. 2, 1983, pp.5‑26; Vlassios Pheidas, "I Thesis tou protou ton episkopon episkopon eis tin xoinonian ton topikon ekklision," in Eglise locale et Eglise universelle, Chambesy, Centre Orthodoxe du Patriarcat oecoumenique, 1981, pp.151‑75.

[4] Olivier Clement. "Orthodox Ecclesiology as an Ecclesiology of Communion", in One in Christ, vol. 6, 1970, pp. 10 1‑22; John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, Crestwood, NY, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985; J. Hamer, The Church is a Communion, London, New York, Geoffrey Chapman, 1964; Michael A. Fahey, "Ecclesial Commmunity as a Communion", in The Jurist, vol. 36, 1976, pp.4‑23; Robert Kress, "The Church as Communion: Trinity and Incarnation as the Foundation of Ecclesiology", ibid. pp. 127‑57.

[5] Tillard, The Bishop of Rome p. 10.

[6] John D. Zizioulas, "The Local Church in a Eucharistic Perspective: An Orthodox Contribution", in In Each Place: Towards a Fellowship of Local Churches Truly United, Geneva, WCC, 1977, pp.50‑61; idem, "The Eucharistic Community and the Catholicity of the Church", in The New Man: An Orthodox and Reformed Dialogue, J. Meyendorff and J. McLelland, eds, New Brunswick, NJ, Agora Books, 1973, pp. 103‑3 1; E. Lanne, "The Local Church: Its Catholicity and Apostolicity", in One in Christ, vol. 6, 1970, pp. 288‑313; H. de Lubac, Les Eglises particulieries dons I'Eglise universelle, Paris, Aubier Montaigne, 197 1; S.J. Killian, "The Meaning and Nature of the Local Church", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 35, 1980, pp.244‑55; P. Granfield, "The Local Church as a Center of Communication and Control", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 35, 1980, pp.256‑63; J. Komonchak, "The Church Universal as the Communion of Churches", in Where Does the Church Stand?: Concilium 146, G. Alberigo and G. Gutierrez eds, New York, Seabury, 198 1, pp.30‑35. For the biblical and patristic documentation of the theology of the local church see: Raymond E. Brown, "New Testament Background for the Concept of Local Church", in CTSA Proceedings vol. 36, 198 1, pp. 1‑ 14; Michael Fahey, "Ecclesiae Sorores Ac Fratres: Sibling Communion in the Pre‑Nicene Christian Era", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 36, 198 1, pp. 15‑38

[7] Vlassios Pheidas, "'I Thesis", p.155.

[8] On the patristic development of the primacy of the bishop of Rome see: Gregorios Larentzakis, Ekklisia Romis; James F. McCue, "The Roman Primacy in the Patristic Era: The Beginnings Through Nicea", in Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, pp. 44‑72; Piepkorn, "The Roman Primacy", pp.73‑97; Michael Miller, "The Divine Right of the Papacy in Recent Ecumenical Theology", Analecta Gregoriana, vol. 218, Rome, Universita Gregoriana Editrice, 1980; J. Meyendorff, "St. Peter in Byzantine Theology", in The Primacy of Peter, pp.7‑29.

[9] The Venice Statement of ARCIC no. 12.

[10] Denzinger‑Sch6nmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, Freiburg, Herder, 1963, no. 3055; hereafter cited DS.

[11] Brown, Peter; G. Kretschmar, "St. Peter's Place in the Apostolic Church", in The Ecumenical Review vol. 9, 1956‑57, pp.85‑90; R. Pesch, "The Position and Significance of Peter in the Church of the New Testament: A Survey of Current Research", in Papal Ministry in the Church: Concilium 64, Hans Kung, ed., New York, Herder & Herder, 1971, pp.21‑35; B. Rigauz, "St. Peter in Contemporary Exegesis", in Progress and Decline in the History of Church Renewal: Concilium 27, Roger Aubert, ed., New York, Paulist Press, 1967, pp. 147‑79; J. Blank, "The Person and Office of Peter in the New Testament", in Truth and Certainty: Concilium 83, Edward Schillebeeckx and Bas van lersel, eds, New York, Herder & Herder, 1973, pp.42‑55; 0. Cullman, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr: A Historical and Theological Essay, Philadelphia, Westminster, 1962; C. Journet, The Primacy of Peter from the Protestant and from the Catholic Point of View, Westminster, MD, Newman, 1954; R. Schnackenburg, "The Petrine Office. Peter's Relationship to the Other Apostles", in Theology Digest, vol. 20, 1972, pp. 148‑52; Burgess, Joseph Anders, A History of the Exegesis of Matthew 16:17‑19 from 1781 to 1965, Dissertation, Basel 1966, Ann Arbor, MI, Edwards Brother, 1976; S. Agourides, "The Purpose of John 21", in Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament in Honor of Kenneth Willis Clark, Boyd L. Daniels and M. Jack Suggs, eds, Salt Lake City, Univ. of Utah Press, 1967, pp. 127‑32; Veselin Kesich, "The Problem of Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Christian Exegesis", in St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, vol. 4, 1960, pp.35‑46; Nicolas Koulornzine, "Peter's Place in the Early Church", in The Primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church, pp. 111‑34.

[12] Avery Dulles, "Papal Authority in Roman Catholicism", in A Pope for All Christians: An Inquiry into the Role of Peter in the Modern Church, Peter J. MacCord, ed., New York, Paulist Press. p.53; Kilian McDonnell, "Papal Primacy: Development, Centralization, and Changing Styles", in Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, p.174.

[13] The Windsor Statement of ARCIC no. 7. This view, however, has been repudiated by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 29 March 1982 in its comments on the Final Report of ARCIC.

[14] "Papal Authority", p.55; Tillard, The Bishop of Rome, p.41.

[15] This position can be found in Lumen Gentium no. 25: "... And this is, the infallibility which the Roman pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith and morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment... The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter..."

[16] Commentary on Lumen Gentium nos. 18‑27; Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, H. Vorgrimler, ed., New York, Herder & Herder, 1967, 1, pp. 196‑218.

[17] For the reactions of the Orthodox see: John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity, New York, Sheed & Ward, 1966, pp. 15‑165; idem, "Rome and Orthodoxy: Authority or Truth?" in A Pope for All Christians, p.144.

[18] ARCIC, Authority in the Church, 1, para. 3.12.

[19] Ibid. For Lutheran reservations see: Joseph A. Burgess, "Luther and the Papacy: A Review of Some Basic Issues", in A Pope forAll Christians, p.37. For an Orthodox criticism of papacy see: Megas Pharantos, To papikon proteon kai i Orthodoxos Ekklisia, Athens, 1983, pp.193‑217.

[20] For an ecumenical evaluation and study of episkope see: Episkope and Episcopate in Ecumenical Perspective, Faith and Order Paper no. 102, Geneva, WCC, 1979. For an Orthodox view see: John Zizioulas, Enotis tis ekklisias en ti Theia efvharisita kai to episkopo kata tous treis protous aionas, Athens, 1965.

[21] The ARCIC Statement of Venice no. 18.

[22] For an ecumenical study of the councils see: "Councils and the Ecumenical Movement", in World Council Studies, no. 5, 1968; Peter Huizing and Knut Wolf, eds, The Ecumenical Council ‑ Its Significance in the Constitution of the Church: Concilium 167, New York, Seabury, 1983; Kallistos Ware, "The Ecumenical Councils and the Conscience of the Church", in Kanon: Jahrhuch der Gesellschaft fur das Recht der Ostkirchen, 1974, pp.217‑33.

[23] The ARCIC Statement of Venice no. 2 1.

[24] Ibid.

[25] The ARCIC Statement of Venice no. 24d. It is important to note that Roman Catholicism relies primarily on Christian prophetic protest to compensate for the lack of juridical limitations on the exercise of papal primacy. For ecumenical purposes a more official acknowledgment of the moral limitations on the exercise of papal authority is needed.

[26] No. 16.

[27] Ibid. no. 18.

[28] Ibid. no. 20. This unlimited papal primacy of jurisdiction is predicated, of course, only to a certainly legitimate pope. The emergency procedures which would have to be invoked in the case of an insane or heretical pope are not discussed in any official Catholic document.

[29] Vlassios Pheidas, Proupotheseis diamorphoseos tou Thesmou tis Pentarchias, Athens, 1969.

[30] For the evaluation of Vatican II's conciliar texts which favour an ecclesiology of communion see: Lanne, "The Local Church", pp.288‑312; de Lubac, Les Eglises particulieres pp.29‑56; Kilian, "The Meaning and Nature of the Local Church", pp.244‑55; H. Legrand, "The Revaluation of Local Churches: Some Theological Implications", in The Unifying Role of the Bishop: Concilium 71, Edward Schillebeeckx, ed., New York, Herder & Herder, 1972, pp.53‑54. J. Komonchak calls this kind of ecclesiology a Copernican revolution in ecclesiology and he states: "The Church is not universal in the sense of a transnational corporation which from a central office establishes branches in major cities around the world. The universal, catholic Church arises, if you will, from below, because in every local church the full reality of what is called 'the Church' is realized: the communion of believers in the holy things won for us by Christ. The Church universal comes to be out of the mutual reception and communion of the local church"; pp.58‑59 of his article: "Ministry and the Local Church", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 36, 1981.

[31] Edward J. Kilmartin, Toward Reunion: The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, New York, Ramsey, NJ, Paulist Press, 1979, p.77.

[32] Ibid., p.78.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., p.79.

[35] "The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology", in The Primacy of Peter, p.31.

[36] Ibid., p.34.

[37] This was done through the affirmation of the catholicity of the local church. For a Roman Catholic refutation of the universalistic ecclesiology see Komonchak, "The Church Universal", pp.30‑35.

[38] Nicolas Afanassieff, "The Church Which Presides in Love", in The Primacv of Peter pp.57‑ 111; J. D. Zizioulas, "The Eucharistic Community and the Catholicity of the Church", in The New Man: An Orthodox and Reformed Dialogue, pp. 107‑31; idem, "The Local Church in a Eucharistic Perspective", pp.50‑61.

[39] J. D. Zizioulas, "Christology, Pneumatology and Ecclesial Institutions", in Being as Communion.

[40] Alexander Schmemann, "The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology", p. 44; J. Zizioulas, "The Development of Conciliar Structures to the Time of the First Ecumenical Council", in World Council Studies, no. 5, 1968, pp.34‑51.

[41]Schmemann, "The Idea of Primacy", p.48; Kallistos Ware, "Primacy, Collegiality and the People of God", in Orthodoxy: Life and Freedom: Essays in Honour of Archbishop lakovos, A.J. Philippou, ed., Oxford, Studion Publications, 1973, p.120.

[42] 12 Pheidas, I Thesis; E. Timiadis, Tu es Petrus, pp. 12‑16.

[43] Schmemann, "The Idea of Primacy", p.50; Roman Catholic theologians have digested the Orthodox position and beginning with J. Ratzinger, Karl Rahner and Heinrich Fries believe that there is one solution on this issue. Ratzinger, before his elevation to the present position, stated: "Rome must not require more of a primacy doctrine from the East than was formulated and experienced in the first millenium. In Phanar, on 25 July 1976, when Patriarch Athenegoras addressed the visiting pope as Peter's successor, the first in honour among us, and the presider over charity, this great church leader was expressing the essential content of the declarations of the primacy of the first millennium. And Rome cannot ask for more. Unification could occur if the East abandons its attack on the Western development of the second millenium as being heretical, and accepts the Catholic church as legitimate and orthodox in the form which it experienced in its own development. Conversely, unification could occur if the West recognized the Eastern Church as orthodox and legitimate in the form in which it has maintained itself"; see J. Ratzinger, "Die okumenishe Situation ‑ Orthodoxic, Katholizismus und Reformation", in Theologische Prinzipienlehre: Bausteine zur Fundamentaltheologie, Munich, E. Wewel, 1982, p.209. This makes the pope a patriarch of the West and instantly limits his claim of universal jurisdictional primacy over the universal Church. Orthodox theologians must reflect whether this view can be accepted within the boundaries of legitimate diversity and uniqueness characteristic of the Western Church.

[44] Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p.223. Letters, 2, 86 (PG 99.1332A).

[45] Letters, 2, 86 (PG 99.1332A).

[46] Larentzakis, I Ekklisia Romis

Copyright: 2000
Source: Orthodoxy in Conversation
Editor: WCC Publications 


In my view, the primacy of the bishop of Rome thus needs to be debated, reinterpreted, and justified from the developing ecclesiology of communion; this view of the Church is becoming the meeting point of our respective ecclesiologies.[4]

Vatican II placed the two paradigms of the Church, that of Vatican I and that of Vatican II, side by side, leaving it to future generations to square the circle and to solve the problem of the relationship between the two.  I believe that Father Clapsis formulates the task very well.  When we use the paradigm of the Church as communion we are looking at our respective traditions according to the theological principals of of N. Afanassiev and other Russian Orthodox theologians as well as those of J. Zizioulas and others, while being also faithful to the insights of Henri de Lubac, Joseph Ratzinger and Vatican II. For the first time in centuries, we are singing from the same hymn sheet.

 "The Church is the communion of believers living in Jesus Christ with the Father. It has its origins and prototype in the Trinity in which there is both distinction of persons and unity based on love, not subordination."[31]

This quotation, I believe, holds the key to the whole problem.  It implies that there is a fundamental difference between civil law and law exercised in the Church because there is a fundamental difference between the authority by which the civil power enacts and administers the law and the authority at work in the Church.

When St Gregory the Great took over a large part of Italy to defend it against invasion, to administer it and to save the people from the chaos brought about because the Byzantine Emperor was too weak to function in Italy, he did so in the name of the emperor. While the emperor did not have the troops nor a proper administration to govern in Italy or defend it, Pope Gregory was able to supply these things.   On the other hand, he did not need either troops or system of administration to be "Servant of the servants of God."   Any authority he had in his petrine ministry needed neither a system to administer the Church nor troops to back his claim.  It did not even need universal acceptance of his claim: it is clear from the writings of Pope Leo the Great and others that his claim to petrine authority was part of the Roman tradition; but it is also clear from the fact that it did not become a dogma until 1870 that such universal recognition was not essential. The only essential thing was the universal recognition that the universal Church is a communion of local churches that are identical to one another in that each is body of Christ; and in the Eucharistic celebration, which is the same sacrifice of Christ wherever it is celebrated, each local church embraces all Christians throughout the world as its own members, as co-participants in the same Eucharist.  From this unity of identity as body of Christ, in which each local church reflects in itself the identity of all other local churches, there flows the ability of all churches to act as one in a single organic unity, as a single body of Christ , so that "he who occupies the See of Rome knows the people of India as his members." (St John Chrysostom). If a local church cannot transcend itself in organic communion with other local churches it cannot take part in the world-wide Church's vocation   as sacrament of the unity of the human race that has become divided by sin and united by Christ's salvation to the Father in the Holy Spirit.  There must be centres of communion, a first among equals, at a regional and a universal level, to enable each and all local churches to fulfil their nature as the Catholic Church in a given place.

Since the time of Constantine, there were two different types of authority, one civil and based on power and one ecclesial and based on enabling, on service motivated by love; and there were to forms of "universal", one civil and based on conquest, and the other ecclesial based on making visible the universal love of God.  Schism happened when the two types of authority and the two types of "universal" became confused and were interpreted simply as different dimensions of the same reality.

We see the confusion at the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon which were "ecumenical".   They were called by the Emperor; and the bishops of the Persian Empire were not invited, and those who supported Chalcedon against the See of Alexandria were called "Melkites" (king's men).   Here the word "ecumenical" in "ecumenical council" meant "imperial".  However, when the Church insisted that the Persian bishops should accept the conciliar definitions, they were claiming a truly universal Christian authority for them, way beyond the civil authority of the Emperor.

Pope Gregory the Great was well aware that authority in the Empire was radically different from authority in the Church.   Thus, when Patriarch John the Faster of Constantinople accepted the title "Ecumenical Patriarch"from the Emperor, Pope Gregory, in line with the policy of his predecessors, rejected the title.   For him, the ecclesial title of "patriarch" which denoted a service to the churches could not be joined to the adjective "ecumenical" which belonged to an authority based on conquest and exercised with force.  He wrote to Patriarch John IV:

"I say it without the least hesitation, whoever calls himself the universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, the precursor of Antichrist, because he thus attempts to raise himself above the others. The error into which he falls springs from pride equal to that of Antichrist; for as that Wicked One wished to be regarded as exalted above other men, like a god, so likewise whoever would be called sole bishop exalteth himself above others....You know it, my brother; hath not the venerable Council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of 'universal' upon the bishops of this Apostolic See [Rome], whereof I am, by God's will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given to him; none hath assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren." (Orthodoxwiki)

Both Pope Leo and Pope Gregory showed clearly that they believed in the petrine ministry, but this was a different kind of authority based on the need for each  local church to fulfil its nature as Christ's body to embrace the whole world in a universal communion.  Popes and patriarchs fulfil their role by enabling bishops and local churches to live their Christian lives in a truly Catholic context as is implied by the Eucharist they celebrate: it is a service.

All this has been expressed by Pope Francis who has said that the only authority that exists in the Church is service, and that the only power that the Church has is the Cross.   This was being obscured by attaching the adjective "ecumenical", an imperial title, to the title "bishop" or "patriarch"; and, all too often, it has been obscured throughout history both by Orthodoxy and Catholicism alike.  

 The ecumenical discussions between Orthodox and Catholics is calling us all back to our origins and  to the basic structure of the Church as Communion, in the spirit of Pope St Gregory the Great.   Thus we should reject any idea of the papacy as a spiritual version of an emperor, modelled on the Roman Empire.   Also to be rejected is all disunity: the Church must transcend natural barriers of nationality, race and culture without doing away with them and discovers within all the diversity its true unity in Christ. This is the  service of the "servant of the servants of God."

Eucharistic ecclesiology affirms the catholicity of the local church, and allows no room for the categories of "parts" or "whole". It is the very essence of this ecclesiology that the universal Church subsists in toto in the local church.[38] This kind of ecclesiology excludes the idea of primacy, understood as power over the local church and its bishop. The local churches, however, are not self‑sufficient monads but are united with each other, not in terms of "parts" and "whole", but with regard to their identity of order, faith and gifts of the Holy Spirit which make each one and all of them together the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

It is the very essence of this ecclesiology that the universal Church subsists in toto in the local church.

This means that when the local bishop presides at the Eucharist of his local community the Holy Spirit unites the universal Church to the local church in its eucharistic act so that the Eucharist becomes an activity of the universal Church and not just the local one.  It follows that when the local bishop presides at the Eucharist of his local church, he presides implicitly over the universal Church.

If it is true, as I have argued above, that law and jurisdiction as exercised in the Church is different in kind from that exercised by the state, in that the latter only functions when the state can physically enforce it and is an exercise of power, ecclesial law and jurisdiction are an expression of communion and are an exercise in charity

Thus, the jurisdiction of the Byzantine emperor only extended to those lands conquered and held by the Roman army, while the authority of an ecumenical council, if the word "ecumenical" has any theological significance at all, extends across all political borders that are simply irrelevant to the universal Church.

If the bishop implicitly presides over the universal Church when he presides at the Eucharist, and if jurisdiction in the Church is not based on power and the ability to enforce but is based on the universal, even cosmic, love of God revealed on the Cross and celebrated in the Eucharist, then a local bishop, the bishop of Rome for example, may exercise his petrine ministry for all, without being ordained to a new order, since his Eucharist in which he presides, by its very nature, embraces the universal Church with its love.

At the same time, as ecclesial power is the power of love and not of force, authority exercised in the Church must, by the very nature of the power being exercised, leave room for, respect, when necessary enable or help, honour and in every way support the roles of other people and ministries in the Church.   Failure to do so would go against the very nature of the kind of authority that exists within the context of the Church.

If primacy is defined as a form of power, then we encounter the question of whether in the Orthodox church there is a power superior to that of a bishop, i.e., a power over the bishop, and hence the church of which he is head. Theologically and ecclesiologically the answer must be an unconditional no: there is no power over the bishop and his church. In the canonical and historical life of the Church, however, such supreme power not only exists but is conceived as the foundation of the Church; it is the basis of its canonical system.

Father Clapsis says that, according to the principles of eucharistic ecclesiology, no authority can exercise power over the local bishop, though canonical practice contradicts this principle by putting the patriarch and his synod "above" him.

We have already suggested that this is only an apparent contradiction because there has been a failure to distinguish between the state's power that can be enforced by some kind of physical punishment, and ecclesial power in which he who commands and he who obeys are motivated by the ecclesial love that springs from the gift of the Holy Spirit that is an essential result of their participation in the Eucharist.  As this gift of the Holy Spirit that comes down at the epiclesis in co-extensive with the universal Church, the jurisdiction can extend as far as the Church needs.

Father Clapsis is following the teaching of N. Afanassiev who contrasted the "eucharistic" ecclesiology of St Ignatius of Antioch with the "universal" ecclesiology of St Cyprian of Carthage.  However, N. Afanasssiev never demonstrated the incompatibility of these two ecclesiologies.  Indeed, St Cyprian said both that the bishop is in the church and the church in the bishop, and that there is only one episcopal chair, that of St Peter, over the universal Church.  This is completely in accordance with St Ignatius where each local church is body of Christ and all churches together are body of Christ: the unity of each church with one another is a unity tof identity, and all the churches together are also identified with Christ.  

N. Afanassiev's  universal Church, made up of churches which share the same identity in that each is Christ's body, would remain a conglomeration of separate churches, unable to act as one, unless  this unity , this common mind, can be discovered and expressed in a synod of bishops and can be spoken through the voice of a single church through its single bishop, called traditionally a "protos".  Eucharistic ecclesiology demands, not an authority imposed from the top, but a synod to discover the common mind where it exists and this implies a "protos" to express it.


10. This conciliar dimension of the Church’s life belongs to its deep-seated nature. That is to say, it is founded in the will of Christ for his people (cfr. Mt 18, 15-20), even if its canonical realizations are of necessity also determined by history and by the social, political and cultural context. Defined thus, the conciliar dimension of the Church is to be found at the three levels of ecclesial communion, the local, the regional and the universal: at the local level of the diocese entrusted to the bishop; at the regional level of a group of local Churches with their bishops who “recognize who is the first amongst themselves” (Apostolic Canon 34); and at the universal level, where those who are first (protoi) in the various regions, together with all the bishops, cooperate in that which concerns the totality of the Church. At this level also, the protoi must recognize who is the first amongst themselves.
 22. Since the Church reveals itself to be catholic in the synaxis of the local Church, this catholicity must truly manifest itself in communion with the other Churches which confess the same apostolic faith and share the same basic ecclesial structure, beginning with those close at hand in virtue of their common responsibility for mission in that region which is theirs (cfr. Munich Document, III, 3, and Valamo Document, nn.52 and 53). Communion among Churches is expressed in the ordination of bishops. This ordination is conferred according to canonical order by three or more bishops, or at least two (cfr. Nicaea I, Canon 4), who act in the name of the episcopal body and of the people of God, having themselves received their ministry from the Holy Spirit by the imposition of hands in the apostolic succession. When this is accomplished in conformity with the canons, communion among Churches in the true faith, sacraments and ecclesial life is ensured, as well as living communion with previous generations.
 24. A canon accepted in the East as in the West, expresses the relationship between the local Churches of a region: “The bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome); each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories. But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all. For in this way concord (homonoia) will prevail, and God will be praised through the Lord in the Holy Spirit” (Apostolic Canon 34).
 35. In the course of history, when serious problems arose affecting the universal communion and concord between Churches – in regard either to the authentic interpretation of the faith, or to ministries and their relationship to the whole Church, or to the common discipline which fidelity to the Gospel requires - recourse was made to Ecumenical Councils. These councils were ecumenical not just because they assembled together bishops from all regions and particularly those of the five major sees, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, according to the ancient order (taxis). It was also because their solemn doctrinal decisions and their common faith formulations, especially on crucial points, are binding for all the Churches and all the faithful, for all times and all places. This is why the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils remain normative.

There is much more, including disagreements between Catholics and Orthodox.   It was even recognised in Chieti in 2016 that, in the first thousand years, when Orthodoxy and Catholicism were one, there was disagreement about the reasons for the pope's authority, some accepting the Roman tradition that it was due to what Christ gave to St Peter, and others putting it down to historical factors.   In fact, it didn't matter because, when a pope gave a teaching as Christian teaching, the very identity between all the churches as body of Christ meant that the other churches would agree simply by looking at their own local traditions.   As Cardinal J.H. Newman said at the time, the Vatican dogmas of Vatican I were  unnecessary!!  When the Church was true practising primacy within the context of conciliarity, the pope could function without them.  The Holy Spirit was seen as working in pope and council, whatever the origin of the pope's authority.


In our dialogue with the Orthodox, we go into the first principles, the common basis for our respective traditions, and once we understand these principles sufficiently and the different ways we approach them, then we look at our differences within the context of this common basis.  

Pope Francis used the same method in the Synods on the family.   Unlike previous synods, these did not arrive at a simulated common mind by avoiding awkward questions and strictly monitoring the answers.  He encouraged the bishops to speak their minds.  He allowed it to become apparent that the bishops of Germany differed from those in Africa.  Both groups accepted the teaching of Jesus that Christian marriage is for life, but totally different cultures, conditions of the Church and pastoral problems led to different ways of applying the teaching to concrete situations.  Pope Francis did not invent the differences of thought and practice: he acknowledged them.  He was opposed by the likes of Cardinal Burke who confused moral teaching and canon law, and by those who believe that Catholic Tradition is universal before it is local; when, in fact it is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the concrete spiritual lives of those who celebrate the liturgy wherever Mass is celebrated.  This implies a unity in Christ expressed in diverse ways.  It is the task of Pope Francis to have the synods express the diverse ways at looking at the problems of family in such a way at to reveal the underlying unity.

You can see by these words how much the papacy is being changed by the dialogue with our Orthodox brethren:

 The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium
A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”.(12) It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
The Synod of Bishops is the point of convergence of this listening process conducted at every level of the Church’s life. The Synod process begins by listening to the people of God, which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office”,(13) according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium: “Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet”. The Synod process then continues by listening to the pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, the bishops act as authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which they need to discern carefully from the changing currents of public opinion. On the eve of last year’s Synod I stated: “For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, so that with him we may hear the cry of his people; to listen to his people until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us”.(14) The Synod process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak as “pastor and teacher of all Christians”,(15) not on the basis of his personal convictions but as the supreme witness to the fides totius Ecclesiae, “the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church”.(16)
TSynodality, as a constitutive element of the Church, offers us the most appropriate interpretive framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself. If we understand, as Saint John Chrysostom says, that “Church and Synod are synonymous”,(19) inasmuch as the Church is nothing other than the “journeying together” of God’s flock along the paths of history towards the encounter with Christ the Lord, then we understand too that, within the Church, no one can be “raised up” higher than others. On the contrary, in the Church, it is necessary that each person “lower” himself or herself, so as to serve our brothers and sisters along the way.
In a synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the most evident manifestation of a dynamism of communion which inspires all ecclesial decisions.
The first level of the exercise of synodality is had in the particular Churches. After mentioning the noble institution of the Diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to cooperate with the bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community,(22) the Code of Canon Law devotes ample space to what are usually called “organs of communion” in the local Church: the presbyteral council, the college of consultors, chapters of canons and the pastoral council.(23) Only to the extent that these organizations keep connected to the “base” and start from people and their daily problems, can a synodal Church begin to take shape: these means, even when they prove wearisome, must be valued as an opportunity for listening and sharing.
The second level is that of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Ecclesiastical Regions, Particular Councils and, in a special way, Conferences of Bishops.(24) We need to reflect on how better to bring about, through these bodies, intermediary instances of collegiality, perhaps by integrating and updating certain aspects of the ancient ecclesiastical organization. The hope expressed by the Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized. We are still on the way, part-way there. In a synodal Church, as I have said, “it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’”.(25)
The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality within an entirely synodal Church.(26) Two different phrases: “episcopal collegiality” and an “entirely synodal Church”. This level manifests the collegialitas affectiva, which can also become in certain circumstances “effective”, joining the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in solicitude for the People God.(27)

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