Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Patriarch of the West

It has been spreading around for a while now that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has apparently decided to drop his papal title Patriarch of the West. Some have suggested that this is being done in an effort to bring into focus what is proper to the pope's role as Patriarch and bishop of Rome, rather than of the West. This would then allow us to focus on what is absolutely essential to our understanding of papal primacy with respect to the Petrine ministry and rest of the universal church, both East and West.

As whapster Andrew discusses, the pope doesn't have to concern himself with the administrative jurisdiction of other regions in, for example, appointing bishops and establishing liturgical laws and rites for certain regions. This move could make easier the construction of separate patriarchates in regions such as Asia and Africa that would be detached from the Latin church, while still in union with her and recognizing the Petrine primacy that truly belongs to the pope.

What this will exactly mean for the Eastern Orthodox remains to be seen. There are still many issues to consider, most certainly. Eastern Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement, in his book, You Are Peter: An Orthodox Reflection on the Exercise of Papal Primacy (written as a response to John Paul II's encyclical, Ut Unum Sint), puts forth very fair challenges to both the Eastern and Western churches with regard to the proper understanding of papal primacy in a potential unified church. He puts forth a very good argument, but among many things he brings up, one of Clement's primary concerns for the West is that its notions of primacy and jurisdiction have gotten too wrapped up in notions of power and administrative authority over that of individual bishops. Clement notes, however, that this may eventually be largely a thing of the past, as he praises efforts on the part of the Latin church in recent decades to refocus its understanding of papal primacy with respect to its understanding of collegiality among bishops and their true and proper authority -- efforts that stem, in particular, from the Second Vatican Council.

Prior to the council, it was not uncommon to speak of the pope alone as the true Vicar of Christ. Nevertheless, the council took great steps to broaden this focus by noting that every bishop is also, in a sense, a vicar of Christ for his local church and has an authority that is properly invested in him by Christ. Note paragraph 27 from Lumen Gentium:
Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness... This power, which they personally exercise in Christ's name, is proper, ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately regulated by the supreme authority of the Church...
Several years ago, I mentioned this fact in a Catholic mailing list once, and it just about incited a riot. I was surprised at how many Catholics simply refused to accept it. Lumen Gentium continues:
The pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted to [the bishops] completely; nor are they to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called "prelates," heads of the people whom they govern. Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it, since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church.
Note this fact: The bishops are not to be thought of as vicars of the pope. They have an authority that belongs to them individually that is affirmed by the supreme authority of the Church by virtue of their unity with the See of Rome, not annulled by it. Pope John Paul II was also very keen to latch on and develop the importance of collegial ministry. In paragraph 95 of his encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, he underscores the Second Vatican Council's teaching:
When the Catholic Church affirms that the office of the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who are also "vicars and ambassadors of Christ". The Bishop of Rome is a member of the "College", and the Bishops are his brothers in the ministry.
It is well that he should have had this in mind, for the encyclical does concern itself with the question of reunion with the East and the proper understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. All of this begins to make more sense when we consider these words of our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, from an essay written several years ago entitled Primacy and Episcopacy:
Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope's visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one also presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had... Finally, in the not too distant future one could consider whether the churches of Asia and Africa, like those of the East, should not present their own forms as autonomous 'patriarchates' or 'great churches' or whatever such ecclesiae in the Ecclesia might be called in the future.
So gradually things are coming into focus. There are still many issues to hammer out with our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, but one day, we will be one.

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