Thoughts about post on CathedraUnitatis.

As may be expected, I am quite in agreement with the Archbishop on the principal of Primacy and Conciliarity. I don’t think that the East has really done a much better job of maintaining these principles than the West. The Patriarch of Constantinople basically appoints every Bishop in his Patriarch and the Metropolitan system system seems to have collapsed somewhat. The same may also apply to other Patriarchates, except perhaps Moscow, but I am not sure of the details. There is also the sense of Patriarchal imposition of will without consent in the East as well as the West; the difference perhaps being in the West that such a thing is de jure, even if somewhat a rubber-stamp of consensus, while in the East it is de facto, even if lip-service is paid to consent.

I am struggling to see how there can be a common position between the two schools of thought. I believe that the Primacy -Conciliarity model is the way to go but Rome has a long tradition of a sense of primacy transcending consensus and whether it could reconsider its function within consensus without negating its tradition is an interesting matter. This may be possible if it makes a distinction between Patriarchal and universal jurisdiction and narrows its universal jurisdiction quite markedly, such as appointing Bishops in line with ancient usage in which the Papal jurisdiction was more limited. However, this does not seem so likely considering the removal of the title Patriarch of the West.

The more I read on the matter the more I see that the differences between West and East have long roots. It is a miracle that the split did not happen 200-300 years earlier and I am struggling to understand how such divergent practices could have come from one Apostolic Tradition, although one may point to all the commonalities, which in proportion may overwhelmingly outweigh the divergences. Many Fathers noted that divergent practices could be accepted in the unity of faith but I believe in practice divergence can only be limited before rifts form, as historically happened. I think that one can only really accept substantial divergence in practice if one disincarnates the Church, i.e. Protestantism. (Note: development of practice is also another area, I believe more than that of doctrine, that is at issue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, i.e. can Apostolic practices be developed or changed over time or do we hold fast to them as we do doctrines (cf 1 Cor. 11:2).)

Rome considers its primacy as Apostolic Tradition and the East considers primacy and conciliarity as Apostolic Tradition. If union is to be achieved without need of denying ones belief of Apostolic Tradition then it would require some way of uniting these two Apostolic Traditions and accepting any divergence from the other Tradition to be a mistake of application but not in the core of the Tradition itself.

I think that the Primacy and Conciliarity model does work best for this, in that the councils cannot provide universal decrees without Papal consent, e.g. all Ecumenical Councils, nor can the Pope provide universal degrees without conciliar consent e.g. St Leo I in Chalcedon. This fits with the historical life of the Church and supports the general reliability/infallibility/permanence of the See of Rome but nevertheless allows for the odd stray Pope without damaging the structure as such. It also supports consensus and a say for everyone and the sense of brotherhood. Not that this would work perfectly but I believe the principle could be accepted in theory and a reunion made agreeably on these grounds.

Even with Primacy sorted there needs to be some unification of theological frameworks, especially the Filioque and Essence/Energies distinction, not to mention the link of indulgences to merits and the framework supporting a doctrine of purgatory. Practical matters, especially expected ascetial practices such as fasting days, Priestly celibacy etc must, in the modern world, be made uniform, otherwise they could cause resentment and church hopping to find somewhere “easier”. The ethos of Liturgical practices needs to be harmonised, such as use of instruments and the new order rite in the west, as does the ethos of monasticism. I guess that is what all the dialogues are trying to sort out.

Rome’s missions, I believe, were mostly post-“Schism” so it can hardly be expected that they would have then cared for the Patriarchal jurisdictions of Alexandria or Antioch, not that the Orthodox seem really honour these things either at present, although they will complain if such jurisdictions are infringed to their loss. Even, if Alexandria did recover Patriarchal jurisdiction of Africa, even admitting Rome’s historical connection with western North Africa, it would still have to respect Roman rites and customs (if of course these are acceptable within a reunion) as Rome would of present Orthodox parishes within its proper jurisdiction. Can such trust be made of other Patriarchs? There are early models for this in Constantinople but also early counter-examples.

Finally, I see the differences between Roman Catholics and Orthodox with high probability pointing to an underlying difference of Faith and as such I am unhappy with such terms as “Sister Churches” or that two halves of one Church need to be reunited. Although, it would be great to accept such things, I think that one must seek reunion from the basis that either one or the other is substantionally “correct” and indeed the Church, while that other is in schism or heresy and not the Church as such. This is the traditional default position and I don’t think enough has been resolved other than good intentions to claim any greater connection between the two, although this is not to deny that there may be so, just that it is not appropriate to assume or state that it is so. Running ahead, I think does more harm than good because it starts to force theological hands to keep up with declarations and tends to decide beforehand that the divergences etc are of no real consequence and just matters of opinion, which goes against the opinions of centuries on both sides, which must continue to hold the default ground until shown to be utterly false. Nevertheless, if it can be proven that both are the Church, inspite of the differences, then it would be a magnificent thing and reunion should take place at once. Any reason for delay supports more initial position and confirms staying away from terms that suggest present unity, even in spirit.


4 Responses to Thoughts about post on CathedraUnitatis.

  1. Greg DeLassus says:

    Rome considers its primacy as Apostolic Tradition and the East considers primacy and conciliarity as Apostolic Tradition.

    I think that it is rather misleading to pair “Roman primacy” and “primacy and conciliarity” off like that, as if they were mutually exclusive. Rome holds to primacy and conciliarity as well, as evidenced by the fact that it was only but a few decades ago that we held a council. In other words, councils play just as important a role in the Catholic understanding of the Church as in the Orthodox understading.

  2. monkpatrick says:


    I was not trying to say that Rome does not hold to the notion and place of conciliarity. However, I believe that the Roman conception of primacy in the context of conciliarity is different from that of the Orthodox. I tried to show this with the idea the the Roman idea is that the Primacy of the Pope transcends coniliarity and as such is not dependant upon it. Thus, while Councils can be held and serve a useful function in the Church, even to the point of being needed, nevertheless, the Pope can exercise aspects his primacy without a council, on his own authority (as far as this primacy is being exercised for the whole Church/Patriarchate/Metropolis rather than his own See). The Orthodox model is that the Pope cannot exercise such aspects of his primacy without the consent of a council.

    The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

    “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.”

    This quote from the Catholic Catechism, I believe underlies my point. “a power which he can always exercise unhindered” would be replace in Orthodox theory by “but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the college or body of Bishops” in parallel to the second part of the quote. This difference means that councils can not play as important a role in Catholic understanding of the Church as in the Orthodox understanding. In Orthodox understanding nothing is done at a level above individual Sees without a council. This, as far as I can gather, is not the case in Roman Catholic thinking where the Pope can effect things beyond his own See without need of a council. Am I wrong to think this is so? Do Roman Catholics teach that Episcopal obedience to the Pope is only to the extent that it is consented by the college of the Bishops (i.e. not at the level of each individual Bishop but with concillior consent of Bishops representing/including such an individual Bishop.)? If Papal authority is so limited then there can be no problem with reunification with the primacy of Old Rome but surely this is not the historical understanding that has caused/maintained the schism on this matter.

  3. Isn’t it true that actions are taken “at the level above individual Sees without a Council” when a Metropolitan or the head of an autocephalous Church can act unilaterally, though subject to subsequent approval override by the Metropolitan Synod, the full Synod of the local Church or a Council of the Eastern Churches? This chain of ‘primacies’, starting with the leadership of the first among equals within Metropolitan regions and local Churches, is a pattern closer to what is seen in Rome than is often fully enunciated or acknowledged. However, the nub comes with the point you made: in the RCC, the Pope can unilaterally act whenever he wants regardless of this chain of primacies and authority, and he can do so actively, not just reactively (i.e., for example, the US Supreme Court only acts in reaction to cases that are brought to it and only after they have already been ajudicated by lower state and federal courts). I don’t see this limitation on unfettered activity being fettered by the RCC.
    A clarification from Rome as to when and how a Pope could interject himself into the business of an autonomous/autocephalous local Church would be helpful. For instance, could the Pope only interfere when it comes to approving a head for a local church, to call a Council of that local Church, to depose that hierarch, and would these actions be required to be subject to approval by a conciliar body of either the local or universal Church?

  4. The phrase I have often heard is: “Always Peter with the Apostles, never the Apostles apart from Peter.” That is part of the ‘spirit of Vatican II’, but not a requirement.

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