Papal primacy key to Eastern, Western Church unity

 — Oct. 18, 201318 oct. 2013
By Michael Swan,

The only route to reuniting Eastern and Western Christianity is to strengthen the primacy of the pope, according to Orthodox theologians.

And in Pope Francis they detect signs that a window to unity may be opening.

For Catholics used to Orthodox objections to the pomp and presumptions of the Catholic papacy, talk of beefing up Roman primacy — the doctrine that gives the Successor of St. Peter authority over the entire Church — may come as a surprise. But that’s exactly what Orthodox theologians will be discussing with their Catholic counterparts when the North American Catholic-Orthodox Theological Consultation meets Oct. 24 to 26 in Mississauga, Ont.

“Both the North American and the international dialogues have been dealing with issues of primacy and synodality. They are two sides of the same coin,” said Paul Meyendorff, Orthodox delegate to the North American dialogue. “From the Orthodox perspective, synodality is absolutely essential for a proper primacy to function.”

Ecumenical theologians on both sides regard the consultative style and emphasis on synods and synodality coming from Pope Francis as hopeful signs that the greatest bar to Church unity may soon disappear. For Orthodox, synodality that places authority in meetings of bishops is already the primary form of Church governance. They prefer to see the pope as a patriarch and primate, first among equals.

“It’s a very hopeful sign to me as an ecclesiologist,” said Saint Paul University theologian Cathy Clifford. “These are questions that have been raised consistently for really 50 years by ecclesiologists.”

Ecclesiology is the theological study of how the Church constitutes and structures itself.

The very fact that Pope Francis called an extraordinary synod on marriage and family for next October may be seen as an opening to more open dialogue about the relationship between papal primacy and Church synodality, said Catholic representative to the North American dialogue, Fr. Damian MacPherson of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

If the Orthodox and Catholics can make progress on the issue of synodality it would also go a long way to bridging the divide between Catholics and Anglicans, MacPherson said. The 1999 joint Anglican-Catholic document “The Gift of Authority” names real and effective synodal structures in the Catholic Church as a pre-condition for Anglicans accepting papal authority.

“It’s huge,” said Richard Schneider, director of the Orthodox and Eastern Christian Studies program at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College. “Synodality is what is perceived to be broken. The Orthodox actually were quite upset when (Pope) Benedict (XVI) renounced the title ‘Patriarch of the West.’ They think he should be the ‘Patriarch of the West.’ ”

The title had been adopted in 1870 by Pope Pius IX during the First Vatican Council. Benedict put it aside in 2006 hoping to de-emphasize papal authority and advance ecumenical dialogue. But the Orthodox interpreted it as a re-emphasis on the universal jurisdiction of the pope.

“The earliest role the pope had was precisely as patriarch of the Western Roman empire. Then there were equivalent patriarchates in Antioch, in Jerusalem, in Constantinople,” said Meyendorff. “In a sense, for him to abandon that title was for him to abandon a basic principle on which we actually agreed for a long, long time.”

Both sides of the dialogue agree that all the other theological quarrels between Catholics and Orthodox — from the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed (the words “and the Son” were added to the Latin text in the sixth century) to Church discipline on married clergy and divorce — have already been resolved or could be very easily.

“To restore synodality would be to restore the unity of the Church, basically,” said Schneider. “Who is Peter is the one divisive issue. The Orthodox will never accept the idea of papalism.”

“The issue of primacy is an issue for both our Churches,” said Meyendorff. “The Orthodox do agree there is a need for a universal primacy, and in a reunited Church that primacy would by tradition be exercised by the bishop of Rome.”

But primacy is not exercised by fiat, nor is it something that can be delegated to a curia. Pronouncements from a body like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith do not participate in the bishop of Rome’s primacy, in the Orthodox view. For primacy to function there has to be a synod that talks to the pope and a pope who listens to the synod.

At the meeting, to be held at Our Lady Queen of Apostles Retreat Centre in Mississauga, the North American dialogue will be discussing a 2010 paper which envisions what a reunited church would look like called “Steps Toward a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision For the Future.” At a reception hosted jointly by Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of Toronto Sotirios and Cardinal Thomas Collins Catholic and Orthodox theological students will present their thoughts on Church unity.

Posted: Oct. 18, 2013 • Permanent link:
Categories: Catholic RegisterIn this article: Catholic, dialogue, Orthodox
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Catégorie : Catholic RegisterDans cet article : Catholic, dialogue, Orthodox

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