Sunday, August 8, 2010

Orthodox Primacy and Ecclesiology

I want to refer everyone to this post on Fr. Z, where an extremely fascinating discussion has developed in the comments thread, that addresses many substantive points related to ecclesiology when it comes to ecumenism with the Orthodox.

The consensus seems to be that the Pope's move to drop the title "Patriarch of the West" is baffling, and is not terribly helpful ecumenically, because that title is actually very
useful in terms of working to establish a mode of administration acceptable to the East. The Orthodox certainly never objected to that title, in fact it is one of the most acceptable to them. But the discussion gets into the broader issue of primacy and ecclesiology in the East.

I would specifically like to point out and recommend that everyone read very carefully the comment by PaterAugustinus, an Eastern Orthodox poster, whose comments on the Orthodox notion of Primacy are level-headed and amazing enlightening (and potentially show a path acceptable to both sides, or at least with a lot of common ground):

I think there are probably a few issues here.

When it comes to the Orthodox, I think the hostile reaction to the titular change has been mostly irrational. I myself am Orthodox, so I hope nobody will think I am polemicizing against “the enemy.” Modern-day Orthodox Christians think of the Pope primarily as “Patriarch of the West,” and so the rejection of the title is interpreted by some as a rejection of the Orthodox position vis-a-vis the Papacy. This view of the Papacy, I think, comes from a modern Orthodox tendency to over-emphasize conciliarity, largely as an over-reaction to Primacy, even where Primacy is legitimate.

But when push comes to shove, pure Orthodox theology does not only think of the Pope as “one Patriarch amongst Patriarchs.” We see in Rome the highest and most complete manifestation of Petrine Primacy. What is “Petrine Primacy” in Orthodox Ecclesiology?

Following St. Cyprian of Carthage, and what we believe to be the consensus of Tradition, we do not hold that each bishop is a successor primarily to the bishop who founded his see, but rather, that each bishop is a successor to the unity of the Apostolic Choir, and to the one Throne of Peter. If bishops are sometimes spoken of as successors to their see’s founder, we do not take this to be a description of the ontological nature or genesis of their Apostolic succession.

From there, we acknowledge how the Fathers repeatedly state that all the Apostles were what Peter himself was… but, that Peter was singled out so as to show forth the unity of the manifold Apostolic Choir. We therefore conceive of Petrine Primacy as the re-presentation of this Petrine function of leadership and coordination (“re-present” in the sense of recapitulation, manifestation, incarnation – just as the Mass “re-presents” the Sacrifice on Calvary), wherever it occurs, in a spectrum of Primatial offices. We do not think of Petrine Primacy as a direct succession from Peter, for the reasons I stated above.

Yet, many Orthodox have resorted to emphasizing the unity of the Apostolic Choir (and the bishops’ succession thereto) with such force, that even legitimate primacy is surpressed. They affirm that all bishops are equals. They are right, but only to a point. Orthodoxy recognizes the equality of all bishops in terms of the ontological nature of the episcopacy. Yet, primacy is not therefore a purely “accidental” (as in “the opposite of ontological”) matter of Church discipline and canons, as some Orthodox are inclined to see it. Many elements of the exercise of primacy may be accidental and variable matters of practice – i.e., must every archbishop receive the Pallium/Patriarchal approval to exercise his office? Does the archbishop’s vote break a tie when the synod is split? etc. – but the presence of these accidental elements of Primacy, does not discard the ontological place of Primacy in the Church. Orthodoxy sees Primacy as an admixture of ontological and accidental elements. What is ontological, is that the Church is a communion of Churches, and that each Church is headed by a bishop whose episcopacy is, ontologically, the same episcopacy as every other bishop’s (hence, the Church is not a juridical hierarchy of episcopal administration, but a communion of equal sister-Churches). Yet, also ontological, is the fact that this communion of Churches should be manifestly united, and that this unity is manifested in the primacy of one bishop/Church amongst others. This happens on every level, from the local, to the regional, to the universal. Just as Peter was not “more Apostolic” than other Apostles, these hierarchs are not “more episcopal” than their brother bishops, and their Churches are not “more Catholic” than other Churches, let alone are they the predicators of Catholicity for other Churches (just as Peter was not the predicate of the other Apostles’ apostolicity). Catholicity subsists in the proper relation of Churches to the Primacy, and the Primacy’s possession of Catholicity in harmony with the sister-Churches.

In fact, we almost have to reject Orthodox Bishop John Zizioulas’ staunch affirmation that every local Church is Catholic in and of herself, by the sole virtue of a valid episcopate in her one bishop. This could only be true if it were impossible for that bishop to be in communion with sister Churches (either because he was the last bishop left, or he was unable to coordinate with them in times of persecution, etc.). A Church without some manifestation of Primacy would utterly fail to be truly Catholic, because the Catholic Church is Apostolic and the Apostolic Choir had a Primacy in Peter, the Apostolic Prince. The Apostles are the Churches fundament (with Christ as the Headstone of the Corner).

So, since we see Petrine Primacy in the Church as the exercising of that kind of Primacy, which Peter had (and NOT as the personal primacy of Peter himself received by some kind of direct succession), we see the Petrine Primacy as existing in an archbishop, a metropolitan archbishop, a patriarch… and, indeed, as culminating in the Pope – whom we would reckon, in normal circumstances, as veritably the highest and most complete “icon” of the Petrine Primacy (remember what an icon is for the Orthodox). In the Pope of Rome, historically, all primacy is crowned and consummated (in terms of the Church’s episcopacy). He is not just one bishop amongst equal bishops (though he is that, too).

The reason the Orthodox do not feel bound by the Papal Primacy at the present time, is because we do not, as I said, view the Primacy as one of juridical authority first and foremost (though we do admit that the Church may accord many juridical prerogatives to Primacy as a matter of changeable praxis). Any juridical prerogatives, however, are understood in the context of the ontological, and not the accidental, elements of Primacy. I.e., they are to be honored with all deference, except when grave circumstances call for opposition or protest – currently, Orthodox Christianity feels that such circumstances exist, and while we are sad to see that communion with Rome is broken, we do not see ourselves as bereft of Primacy, since we see the Primacy as subsisting on so many levels.

For the time being, the Patriarch of Constantinople holds the supreme Primacy in the Orthodox Church… though, it should be pointed out that this does not mean that all the canonical and practical prerogatives of the erstwhile Roman Primacy have simply devolved upon the Constantinopolitan See for Orthodox Christianity. The current Constantinopolitan Primacy is subject to the already extant, customary prerogatives of Constantinople, and any others the Orthodox Church should care to accord it. Which, so far, have been non-existent. Constantinople’s primacy is expressed almost entirely in an honorific way, without juridical prerogatives amongst the other Patriarchates (beyond having the seat of honour in Council). He has not been accorded even the most basic privilege of the Roman Primacy – that of “last court of appeal” in super-Patriarchal-level disputes.

Obviously, Catholicism and Orthodoxy disagree with each other on the nature of these matters at the present time – both the nature of Primacy and the nature of the schism dividing us. I don’t want to discuss all that here, obviously; I’m simply trying to give the Orthodox perspective, so that the Orthodox reaction to the Pope’s titular change can be understood.

To bring things to the point, then: I think the Orthodox reaction to the title-change comes from two fountainheads. 1) The fact that many Orthodox Christians are perhaps not as clear on our theology of Primacy as they should be, and so they think that the only title (beyond “Bishop of Rome”) which we are happy to grant the Pope, is precisely “Patriarch of the West” (by which they mean “the Pope is the boss of his own Patriarchate, but otherwise equal in every respect to the other Patriarchs”). For these Orthodox Christians, the rejection of the title seems to be a break from the only role the Papacy could play in a reunified East and West. 2) Even amongst Orthodox who do know that the Pope is more than the Western Patriarch, who confess that he does have pre-eminence amongst the Patriarchs and should hold some sway over them, the title is still seen as an accurate description of one element of his office (he is Bishop of Rome, Primate of Italy, Patriarch of the West, and Pope of the Universal Church) – and so, the rejection of the title seems to be a rejection of what the Orthodox consider a legitimate element of the Papacy… which makes them hesitant about reunion with a Papacy, that seems not to understand itself.

Believe it or not, the Orthodox hesitancy about reunion with the West is just as much about the aggregate perception of “lesser issues,” as it is about the big doctrines of the Papal Infallability, the Filioque, Immaculate Conception, etc. Especially since Vatican II, but going all the way back to Scholasticism and the Counter-Reformation, Orthodoxy observes what seems to us like a radical and widespread alteration of Christian piety and identity within Catholicism. We are reticent to reunite with a Catholicism experiencing widespread breakdowns in liturgical sensibilities, radical feminist nuns and even disbelief in fundamental doctrines (like the Real Presence). And, we know that many Catholics are trying to combat those things, and we are rooting for you all! But, even beyond these very modern problems, we are also concerned about things like the spirituality of the Spiritual Excercises (of Ignatius Loyola), the genesis and nature of the “Sacred Heart” devotion, even kneeling on Sundays and the celebration of “Low” masses, etc. – things, which even traditional Catholics would support, but which seem to us to indicate necessarily fundamental shifts in historic, Christian piety… not individually, of course, but in aggregate. Reunion for us wouldn’t involve merely clearing up the issue of the Pope’s authority, but the much more difficult matter of trying to figure out what makes the Catholicism “tick,” that could develop these devotions and attitudes. Do we simply misunderstand the spirit of Catholicism? Or, has there been a genuine breakdown in matters of historic, Apostolic piety? Can we unite with the spirituality of modern Catholicism, over and above mere agreement in dogmatic formulae? In this context, the Pope’s omission of what we consider to be a very legitimate and historically important title, simply enhances our feeling that Catholicism is struggling with a major identity crisis, in the long process of forgetting herself. If that’s the case, this is not a good time for reunion – though, it is always a good time for honest, sober and well-intentioned dialogue.

I hope y’all can understand this as the expression of (one) Orthodox opinion, and know that it is not meant in an hostile or polemical spirit. In point of fact, modern-day Orthodoxy is also forgetting herself, fairly frequently. So, there is ground for concern, all-around. And our God is good, so there is also ample ground for hope!

For my part, I don’t think the Pope was trying to push a message of subjugation to the other Patriarchs. I know that conciliarity and reconciliation is dear to this Pope’s heart, above all with the Orthodox Churches. It seems to me that this was more a fraternal gesture to the bishops of Catholicism – an attempt to affirm the confidence in the local churches’ episcopal conferences, by downplaying the Pope’s role as “Patriarch of the West.” Perhaps he even wanted to distance the Papacy from a term, which in modernist circles is especially vilified (who hasn’t hear radicals rant against “the Patriarchy?”). Probably much of the Orthodox reaction was not anticipated, and I don’t think he even had us in mind when he made the decision.

Of course, I could be wrong; I haven’t followed the politics well, nor the Pope’s own expressions of the rationale for the change. Mostly, I just hope I illustrated the context, of how his decision has been perceived by the Orthodox… most of whom are similarly unaware of any personal statement of the Pope, regarding the rationale for the change in title.

PaterAugustinus -- 8 August 2010 @ 2:21 AM


Peter said...

I'm currently reading "His Broken Body: Understanding
and Healing the Schism ..." written by Laurent Cleenewerck, an Orthodox priest. It is excellent, it covers the above and much much more. If you are interested in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue this book is a must read.


Anonymous said...

PaterA has written well. However, any discussion of primacy and counciliarity must include a reference to Canon 34/35 of the so-called Apostolic Canons:

"The bishops of every "ethnos" must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things only which concern his own parish [sic], and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit."

In other words, the guiding principle is what the Russians call "sobornost" or synodality. We find it in action in Acts 15 (and yes, it includes the laity). What is required is consensus, not just among the bishops, but from the entire Church. This is why an ecumenical council cannot be considered ecumenical until it is "received" by the whole Church.

Obviously this principle applies from the bottom of the Church to the top. Thus, I argue that a straight line can be drawn from the Eleventh Century to Vatican II via Vatican I. The problem? "Magisterial positivism" centered on the Pope, which, despite all protestations to the contrary, makes the magisterium the master, instead of the servant, of "the Word of God". Traditionalist Roman Catholicism, then, offers a major service by raising the question of the Tradition over against the magisterium.

"Peter, when you are converted, strengthen your brethren."

Avva Greg (who is currently not signing into anything on this computer - long story).