7 May 2017

Metropolitan Hilarion on Episcopal Conferences

Metropolitan Hilarion, the 'Foreign Minister' of the Russian Patriarchate delivered (8 November 2014) an important paper on Primacy and Synodality to the great American, Orthodox, seminary of S Vladimir.

Of course, a Catholic ecclesiologist might have, at many points, very different things to say. He might wish to suggest that too much is made in this paper of a normativeness discerned in a 'Conciliar' period supervised by the imperial power in New Rome; and too little of the function of the Petrine Primacy in the centuries before Caesaropapism was even invented. Journalists might dismiss Hilarion's masterly exegesis as being merely the establishment of political 'position' as between Moskow and Constantinople. And the Metropolitan has been, to put it mildly, tactless in what he says about the Ukrainian Catholic Church ... a martyred community by which all Catholics will loyally stand. But in each case, to use these judgements as an easy excuse to dismiss his detailed, lucid, and scholarly exposition would be unfortunate.

I will simply pick out two of his points which bear upon matters which are relevant to Catholic Church life at this particular moment.

(1) We sometimes read about 'intermediate primacies' and about the importance of local gatherings of bishops in particular regions. Metropolitan Hilarion makes absolutely clear that the local particular church, in communion with its bishop, is theologically fundamental; while regional primacies are merely a matter of convenience, without being rooted in an essential doctrine of the Church. "The primacy of the diocesan bishop is clearly based on fundamental theological principles, such as the one famously emphasised by S Cyprian: 'The bishop is in the church and the church is in the bishop and ... if somebody is not with the bishop, he is not in the church.' Primacy at the regional level, a matter of canonical convenience, is based on church canons ...".

Absolutely. This is why the Holy See, during the ascendancy of S John Paul II and Benedict XVI, was concerned that Episcopal Conferences should not usurp the primacy of the Bishop in his Particular Church, either theologically or practically.

(2) Synodality implies consensus, not majority voting. Indeed, Hilarion goes further: Conciliar decisions are to be agreed "by consensus, not by vote; they will be approved by the entire assembly of bishops".

This is important; it is one reason for deploring the proceedings of the Synods in Rome, after which paragraphs which had failed even to reach a two-thirds majority were, nevertheless, circulated with an indication of the number of votes cast for and against. In this, the Holy Father showed appallingly bad judgement. This action had an unfortunate appearance of the arbitrary. Catholics have always expected that Ecumenical Councils should 'morally unanimous'. It is well known that, after Vatican I, B John Henry Newman was concerned that "an aggressive insolent faction" might have "so practised on" the Fathers that "there will be the gravest reasons for determining that the Definition is not valid".

If, at some future time, there were to be Synodical or even Conciliar proceedings dominated by a particular will or faction determined to impose heterodoxy or heteropraxy, and if that faction secured a majority vote for their aims without securing the consensus of moral unanimity, and if they were to attempt forcefully to impose their 'majority decisions' upon the Church; such 'imposition' would be vis sine iure.


√Čamonn said...

For those who might not have found his text, it is available at http://mospatusa.com/files/Metropolitan-Hilarion-Lecture---November-2014.pdf

David O'Neill said...

May I ask for your thoughts on bishops who seem to act unilaterally as it is often said that a bishop is the pope of his own diocese?