I have seen discussions on the Internet about the role of episcopal conferences. I thought it might be of interest to a few to air again this post, written when I was still an Anglican, in August 2010.
Recently, a fashionable Orthodox hierarch, commenting on the dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox Churches, expressed the view that, while Orthodoxy may have things to learn from Rome about a Universal Primacy, Rome had things to learn from Orthodoxy about Intermediate Primacies. How very reasonable. Everybody learns from everybody else's insights and we end up with Wholeness. The essence of Ecumenism.
Except that it's rubbish. The New Testament - well, I mean the Pauline Letters - knows two usages of the term ekklesia. There is the local Church - the Church, let us say, in Corinth. That is how S Paul uses the term in his earlier correspondence. But, without abandoning that usage, in Colossians and Ephesians (yes, he did write them both; Anthony Kenny proved that, even though the NT establishment ignored his scrupulous scholarship) he writes also of the Church as a universal body. In later ecclesiology, that gives us the Local, 'Particular', Church; which means, not the Church in some country or region, but a Christian community with Bishop, Presbyterium, Diaconate, and Laos. Then there is the Universal Church; and the late, great, Dom Gregory 'Patrimony' Dix showed that the role played in the Local Church by the Bishop is closely paralleled by the role played in the Universal Church by the Church of Rome (among other evidence, he illustrated this by examining the language used in the epistles of S Ignatius of Antioch about the bishop in relation to the Local Church, in comparison with that used about the Roman Church in relation to the Universal Church).
The Local and the Universal Church exist as entities jure divino. Indeed, they are in a sense the same entity, because in the Local Church the Universal Church subsists in its entirety (this was explained by Ratzinger in the two CDF documents Communionis notio and Dominus Jesus; this ecclesiology of communion is one of the points of contacts between Ratzinger and the justly celebrated Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas). Intermediate Primacies - such as Patriarchates - do not exist by divine right. They may be given a theological rationale in terms of Incarnational Theology: that is to say, an association of local churches may laudably express forms of spirituality adapted to the instincts of particular cultural groupings (one thinks of the Eastern Churches of particular rites). And Patriarchates and Major Archbishoprics may make organisational good sense. I do not deny that and I do not refuse respect to the Patriarchates of Byzantine and Oriental Christianity. But an Archbishopric or a Patriarchate does not exist in the primary ecclesiological sense in which Universal Church and Local Church exist.
Dom Gregory Dix then went on to show that the belief in the Primacy of the Roman Church existed at a very early date and, when described, was seen in terms of the Petrine status of the Roman Church. He pointed out that there is no evidence in the early centuries of the notion that the Roman Church acquired its status from its location in the Imperial City. This would have been improbable; as Dix says, no other cult (not even that of Dea Roma) assigned primacy to its group in the city of Rome; and early Christianity, far from respecting the city of Rome, loathed it as the Whore of Babylon which slaughtered the Saints. The idea that the Roman Church owes its status to its Imperial position first arose in the Constantinian period, when the New Rome had to find some rationale for claiming first place after Rome. Although (Dix's rather unforgiving term) it 'forged' the pedigree of its bishops from S Andrew the Protoclete, it knew that it needed more than that cheerful implausibility to justify its new claims to take precedence over the venerable and apostolic sees of Antioch and Alexandria.
The Roman Primacy is not the institution of Patriarch written larger. It is something sui generis or it is nothing. Now: you may not agree that Rome does have a universal Primacy. You may prove this negative to your own entire satisfaction. But you will not thereby have proved that 'Intermediate Primacies' - Patriarchates and the like - do have status jure divino. You'll have to come up with another set of arguments to establish that.
I for one applauded the move of John Paul II to explain that Episcopal Conferences, unlike the Universal Roman Primacy and unlike the Local Primacy of the Bishop in his own Church, do not have any existence by divine right. And I very much doubt if the papal title 'Patriarch of the West' is any older than the Byzantinising of Pope Gregory I. And so when Benedict XVI, as one of his first moves, divested himself in the Annuario Pontificio of the title 'Patriarch of the West', "Goodie", I cried, "at last we have pope who knows what he isn't".
We Anglican Catholics know what Intermediate Primacies can lead to if left without a check or a balance. They can lead to the mess that the Anglican Communion finds itself in. They lead to the concept of the Infallible Local Synod whose heretical decisions are irreformable.
They can lead to self-righteous schism.
3 December 2013
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Spot on as usual, Father, and admirably clear. By the way, have you finished your series on Apostolicae curae?
This is so true. An important example of the principle at work was the Patriarchal 'schism' that almost happened in the Ukrainian Catholic Church during the second half of the twentieth century.
Many Ukrainians wanted Joseph Cardinal Slypyj to be named patriarch. This led to two factions within the Ukrainian Catholic Church, dividing communities, clergy, people and property. Nowhere was this division more bitter than in the UK.
Pope John Paul II wisely explained that a Patriarchate must be linked to a geographical territory over which the Patriarch has jurisdiction and in which he is resident. At the time, it was not possible for such a situation to pertain in relation to the Ukraine.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, Metropolitan Archbishops have much less power of governance over their suffragan sees than I imagine is the case in the Church of England. Likewise, the modern notion of Episcopal Conferences is a matter of organisation rather than jusridiction.
Fr Hunwicke, I agree with most of what you say except about the drop of ''patriarch of the west'' - how is this Byzantinising on St Gregory the Great's part? I would say that the adoption of servus servorum Dei was a way of countering the ambition of Constantinople...
The drop of the title Patriarch of the West (and the retaining of such titles as Vicar of Christ and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church) was a mistake in my view, precisely because it rendered the special relationship Latin Rite Catholics have with their Pope void - to us English Catholics he is (or was) Pope and Patriarch. To Roman Catholics he is local bishop, archbishop, metropolitan etc all at once. To the ''Uniates'' he is merely pope. Is there a Western patriarchate anymore?
You may be interested in this comment from an Orthodox poster on Fr Zuhlsdorf's blog:
The first pope to adopt for himself the title of Patriarch (in this case "Patriarch of Rome") was Pope Theodore I (642-649), a Greek or at least an Easterner -- but one who struggled manfully in his pontificate against the imperial "Ecthesis" and its promotion of Monothelitism. Earlier popes may have had the title applied to them by earnest (or flattering) correspondents, but down to 642 they paid no heed to it, and for some centuries thereafter their use of it was occasional and sporadic.
I wonder if it was because "The West" is not the title of a See, as are Antioch, Alexandria etc. And was the creation of (titular) Patriarchates of Venice and Lisbon a hint that the West, like the East, might one day have several Patriarchates (the Americas, the Indies?). The Orthodox have created new Patriarchates (Moscow and others) to meet new historical situations. I do not think that Rome has ceased to be a Patriarchal See, or am I wrong?
I respectfully disagree, on two grounds.
First, no Orthodox that I know of claim that "intermediate primacies" are de jure divino, so to that extent you are labouring to demolish a straw man. One might plausibly argue that the idea that intermediate primacy should exist is de jure divino, but no one could argue (on Orthodox grounds, anyway) that the specific arrangement of intermediate primacies -- who holds them and what their jurisdictions are -- is of divine right. The Church has always been free to re-arrange such matters.
Your more fundamental error, however, is in mischaracterizing the "universal Church." It is certainly true that St Paul speaks both of the local Church and of the universal Church; but the universal Church is not the Church Militant spread over the earth at a particular time, but the Church Militant and Triumphant, in all times and in all places, in this age and in the Eschaton. When St Paul speaks of "the fulness of him who fills all in all," he can hardly be speaking of the Church Militant only, and still less of the Church Militant at a particular time only.
And the head of the universal Church, properly understood as encompassing all times and places and both this age and the age to come, is and can only be our Lord Jesus Christ. Even if all the Papal claims were true (which I deny) and the Pope's jurisdiction were universal and immediate over the whole world, he would nevertheless remain an "intermediate primate": intermediate not in space but in time.
You cannot use St Paul's notion of the universal Church in defense of a universal Papal primacy, because the universality St Paul speaks of does not correspond to the scope (spatial and temporal) of the jurisdiction the Pope claims.
Very valuable observations, Father! I am one of the ignorant who do fear a tyrannical monolith. I admit everything you write, but know from personal and painful experience that, although the "Papacy does make possible an institution which might be capable of protecting the weak from bullies nearer home", it actually made possible the bullying of Bugnini and his Liturgical totalitarian allies on a universal scale. This would indicate that the Divine Purpose of Roman Primacy lies elsewhere than in what you have said so far. That is no criticism of you. You have much more to tell us, I am sure.
I think I am right in saying that the consistent use of the title Patriarch of the West only goes back to the early nineteenth century - possibly Gregory XVI. It is a title which does not have the continuing pedigree of Vicar of Christ or Servus servorum Dei.
I think Chris Jones makes a good point about S. Paul including the church triumphant in his view of the universal church, but I would ask if it really matters.
In our day when 70% (figures are total guesses) of the church is dead, is talking about just the church militant all that different from when only 2% of the church was dead when S. Paul wrote his letters?
It seems that the author misunderstands the point of what the Metropolitan was saying. Kallistos wasn't claiming the lack of strong regional 'churches' possed some kind of ecclesiological gap in western theology. Its easy to see how it could come have come accross that way since he referred to the regional synods as churches. However, in my understanding, these regional 'churches' are more appropriately called synods and dont have their own special ecclesiology in the way the Local and Universal Church does.
Kallistos was speaking of the need for the roman church to further develop effective regional 'churches' for administrative purposes. The regional synods are an ancient tradition which had much use in the early Church east and west. The patriarchal Churches have a certain ranking in the dyptics which ended up making their bishops the leader of the synods which formed around them. They act in a similar fashion to the first among equals in the Universal Church, yet these regional synods do not have a special ecclesiological theology related to them.
Where is the "sensus fidelium" in all of this? Gone, it would seem, a result of decoupling the liturgy from the people and the eucharistic center of each local church, namely the ordinary. This fusion of local and liturgy is the bottom up, which in my view has been completely eviscerated by the second millenium trajectory of the Papacy towards hyper centralization.
In its wake, you have no conscious memory left of attachment to "as we pray, so we believe" in the West, as evidenced by the speed with which liturgical reforms, which are foisted top-down via Papal ukase onto the Latin rite, as accepted by bishops, priests and lay made passive by a thousand years of this power play.
And if you get some pastor or bishop who wants to experiment more, no problem! Who's going to stop them? So long as its done with the perceived blessing of the Papacy, you don't stand a chance. But who did Pope Paul VI take to the woodshed for saying there where limits to Papal authority to change the liturgy? Arch Lefebrve. There's the proof of the paradym.
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