Archive for the ‘Papacy’ Category

RAVENNA, Italy, NOV. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the final document of the plenary assembly of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held Oct. 8-14 in Ravenna. The statement, which was released today, is titled “Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority.”


1. “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17, 21). We give thanks to the triune God who has gathered us — members of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church — so that we might respond together in obedience to this prayer of Jesus. We are conscious that our dialogue is restarting in a world that has changed profoundly in recent times. The processes of secularization and globalization, and the challenge posed by new encounters between Christians and believers of other religions, require that the disciples of Christ give witness to their faith, love and hope with a new urgency. May the Spirit of the risen Lord empower our hearts and minds to bear the fruits of unity in the relationship between our Churches, so that together we may serve the unity and peace of the whole human family. May the same Spirit lead us to the full expression of the mystery of ecclesial communion, that we gratefully acknowledge as a wonderful gift of God to the world, a mystery whose beauty radiates especially in the holiness of the saints, to which all are called.



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Rome, Nov. 15, 2007 (CWNews.com) – The final document produced by a joint Catholic-Orthodox theological commission is a “modest first step,” Cardinal Walter Kasper told reporters. The 46-paragraph statement approved by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue at an October meeting in Ravenna, Italy, was released in Rome on November 15. While saying that the document shows progress in relations with the Eastern churches, Cardinal Kasper — the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and the head of the Vatican delegation to the Ravenna conference — cautioned that “we must not exaggerate its importance.”

The Ravenna meeting concentrated on the nature of authority within the Church. The final statement explored the relationships between individual bishops, synods, and patriarchs. In that context, the final document acknowledges that the Bishop of Rome enjoys primacy as the first among patriarchs.

However, the joint theological commission did not explore the nature of the authority that the Pope derives from that primacy. Cardinal Kasper explained that the Ravenna meeting “did not talk of the privileges of the Bishop of Rome; we merely indicated the praxis for future debate.”

The next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox commission will explore the question of papal authority, concentrating on the ways in which that authority was exercised during the first millennium of Christian history, before the schism that separated the Orthodox from Rome. Beyond that discussion, Cardinal Kasper noted, lie questions about the centuries since that schism, and the teachings of Vatican I and Vatican II regarding authority in the Church. “The road is very long and difficult,” the German cardinal said.

Neverthless, the Ravenna document is an important one, Cardinal Kasper said, because “for the first time the Orthodox churches have said: Yes, this universal level of the Church exists.” He continued: “This means that there is also a primate; according to the practice of the ancient Church, the first bishop is the Bishop of Rome.”

In discussing the work of the Ravenna meeting, Cardinal Kasper observed with regret that the Russian Orthodox Church had not been involved in the deliberations. Delegates from the Moscow patriarchate walked out of the October meeting in a dispute about the inclusion of representatives from the Estonian Orthodox Church, which Moscow has refused to recognize.

Cardinal Kasper noted that the dispute over the Estonian delegation– which was supported by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople– is an “inter-Orthodox question,” in which the Vatican will not interfere. However, he said, the Holy See is anxious to see the problem resolved.

The Russian Orthodox Church is by far the largest of the Eastern churches, and Vatican officials see the relationship with Moscow as a key to future ecumenical advances. As Cardinal Kasper put it, “we do not want to dialogue without the Russians.”

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Professor Eamon Duffy, the Catholic historian who many know as the author of the brilliant study The Stripping of the Altars, is doing a series of talks for BBC Radio 4 called “Ten Popes Who Shook the World”.  He will be looking at Peter the Apostle, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Gregory VII, Innocent III, Paul III, Pius IX, Pius XII, John XXIII and John Paul II. You can listen here.

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Part I | Part II | Part III

Canon XXXIV of the Holy Apostles prescribes that the primate shall not “do anything without the advice and consent and approval of all.” But in the “Code of Canons” which John Paul II promulgated in 1990, we find the amazing claim that “Romanus Pontifex a nemine iudicatur” – the Roman Pontiff is judged by no one. This is not merely an historical inaccuracy. The Sixth Ecumenical Council, as is well known, considered itself competent to judge and anathematize Honorius of Rome, and no Pope since has ever dared attempt to overturn that decision.

The same “Code of Canons” also announces that “contra sententiam vel decretum Romani Pontificis non datur appellatio neque recursus” – there is neither appeal nor recourse against a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff. What should we Orthodox think about these very strong statements?


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Part I | Part II

A perfect harmony between primacy and conciliarity may be an ideal that is unattainable in this world. But it remains true that each of these true attributes is essential for the Church. Even in our present condition, we must continue to strive to keep both of these attributes, primacy and conciliarity in balance. The schism between East and West allows us to see clearly – perhaps too clearly – what can happen when either of these attributes goes to extremes at the expense of the other.


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Part I

My English colleague, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, remarks (perhaps with a degree of frustration) that each time he attempts to explain what an Orthodox understanding of the universal primacy should be, the Catholics in the conversation invariably respond by expressing their complete agreement and affirming that what Bishop Kallistos has said is exactly what they teach! Bishop Kallistos might be pardoned if he were to suspect that this ready agreement from the Catholics might represent at least a small degree of wishful thinking.

However, there is also the matter of conciliarity. For rather more than a century, the Orthodox have been extolling the merits of sobornost‘ to such an extent as to give the impression that this is some sort of cure-all. One reason, perhaps, for this is the belief among some Orthodox, that ever since the Protestant Reformation the Roman Catholic Church has been nervous about “conciliarism.” We shall come to that problem as well.

For the moment, I wish only to note that there is a considerable distance between the lofty theory of the universal primacy as Bishop Kallistos describes it, and the day-to-day functioning of the Roman Catholic Church. So too, there is a considerable distance between the love-feast of sobornost‘ and the sometimes disreputable reality of Orthodox administrative chaos with seemingly irreconcilable quarrels. It sometimes comes to the point that merely attempting to determine who is an Orthodox bishop in good standing and who is not can lead to lengthy and expensive litigation in the secular courts for want of any other arbiter.


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“It behoves the Bishops of every nation to know the one among them who is the first or chief, and to recognize him as their head, and to refrain from doing anything superfluous without his advice and approval: but, instead, each of them should do only what is necessitated by his own parish and by the territories under him. But let not even such a one [the primate] do anything without the advice and consent and approval of all. For this will there be concord, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

These are the words of Canon XXXIV of the Holy Apostles. This canon is frequently quoted in the discussion of primacy and conciliarity in the Church; it is an early witness to the need to balance both of these functions in order for the Church to function well. I offer it to us here, quite frankly, in the hope that this early patristic text will provide both the Orthodox and the Catholics some food for thought.

It is no secret that I believe that the positions of the East and West are complimentary, and can be reconciled without either a facile “compromise” or a surrender of one side to the other. I am also convinced that authentic ecumenism does not have as its goal the mutual ratification of each other’s abuses. Nor does a worth-while ecumenical process lie in contrasting the highest ideals of one side with the most deplorable practices of the other side.


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The recent break of communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the “Estonian issue” may seem to many, both inside and outside the Orthodox Church, like a momentary tiff between two brothers over a seemingly insignificant issue. There is more to this unseemly altercation than meets the eye. . . .

This spat between Moscow and Constantinople illustrates a basic ecclesiological problem which has not been adequately dealt with in the Orthodox world for over nine hundred years – the question of communion and an effective universal primacy. The Byzantine imperial government, the Turkish empire, and Communist political power successively and largely successfully kept the lid on the problem. They ensured, ironically, that on the surface peace within the Orthodox world was somehow maintained, while local Churches simultaneously became more and more national and/or ethnic in character. The emergence of political nationalism and the various wars of independence in the nineteenth century only exacerbated the underlying problem.

The situation created by the schism with the See of Rome in the eleventh century left the Orthodox East without an adequate ecclesiological and theological basis for dealing with the immense problem of how to ensure the unity and communion of the local Churches without the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome.

Now the Byzantine emperors, Turkish sultans, and Communist politburos are gone. Our Orthodox Churches are free. We are faced squarely with a problem hidden for centuries-how can we, the various local Churches, live, act, and think like the Church, which we claim that we are, rather than like, as Vladimir Soloviev said, a mere conglomerate of national Churches, formally constituting a single communion, but characterized by discord, hostility, jealousy, and hatred?

On the day when the Russian and Greek Churches formally break communion with each other, Soloviev argued, it will be seen that the “Oecumenical Eastern Church is a mere fiction and that there exists in the East nothing but isolated national Churches”!

The present tiff between Constantinople and Moscow might well compel one to take more seriously the logic of Soloviev’s argument. Perhaps even more compelling, however, is the realization of both the need, and the freedom we now have, to face directly the problem created by the Schism of 1054 . . . .

Perhaps now is the time, the kairos, to do something which is simultaneously terribly radical and terribly conservative -to call on the Bishop of Rome to act as arbiter in this squabble between Moscow and Constantinople. Perhaps now is the time to recognize the folly and foolishness of our ecclesiastical structure which has produced national Churches which seem interminably locked into their own self-interest and which often lack any discernible catholic spirit and mind. Perhaps now is the time to look deeply at our need for the Petrine ministry, which was so profoundly recognized by Eastern saints such as Theodore the Studite and Maximus the Confessor and which we still sing about in our liturgical celebrations (e.g., texts for the commemoration of St. Gregory the Great).

Perhaps this tiff between Moscow and Constantinople is the God-given occasion to reconsider all the polemical argumentation that we have used to justify and to maintain the Schism of 1054. Perhaps now is the time to realize that where all of us – on all sides of the disputes – have stood and continue to stand is not entirely on the fullness of catholic truth.

Perhaps now is the time to fall down on our knees and mutually ask forgiveness of each other – Romans, Greeks, Slavs, Arabs, Muscovites, Constantinopolitans, “converts,” all of us! And maybe when we rise up again we will find ourselves at a most peculiar place – at the same Eucharistic Chalice.

Father Chrysostom Frank (This Rock, January 1996)*

* Father Chrysostom, an Orthodox priest at the time he wrote this, has since entered into communion with the See of Rome. He now serves a bi-ritual (Roman Rite and Russian Rite) church in the Archdiocese of Denver.

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Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

The interpretation we have sketched is, as it were, a key which unlocks the mind of the council and of Leo. The proof that it is the true key is that it can be turned, and than an intelligible meaning is thereby opened. The rival interpretations are as keys that will not turn: they meet with obstacles which they cannot pass – they do not fit the lock. But the former possesses over them these not inconsiderable advantages, that it contradicts no utterance of the council and they do; this is not irreconcilable with the immemorial tradition of the Church, and they are; it accounts for the absence of any objection on St. Leo’s part to these particular words; it gives a good reason why he should entertain no objection to the words in themselves; it is inconsistent with no established fact of history; and no other interpretation will harmonise with the language used towards the Pope in the letters in which his assent is entreated.

It is a most certain fact of history that Peter and Paul did give Rome the primacy – “the place in which the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul continually sit in judgment,” says the Council of Arles eleven years before Nicaea – and also that they gave it to Rome “because it was the Imperial City,” and that St. Leo himself devoted an entire sermon on the great Festival of these Apostles to the reassertion of this immemorial and unquestioned tradition, and that no one had ever said otherwise. These things being so, we are unable to see how any reasonable critic can draw any other conclusion than ours, unless he is driven to do so by the unkind necessities of his position. The attitude of the Pope towards the canon as a whole, not only in what he does not say, but also in what he does, appears to confirm the validity of our argument. He does not deny the assertion regarding the reasons which actuated “the Fathers,” but in respect to Alexandria and Antioch he denies the application. Whatever were the reasons which caused St. Peter to grant special distinction to these two sees – and the reasons, no doubt, were they secular greatness and geographical position – still, the distinction having been thus granted, their subsequent ecclesiastical greatness was due to their connection with St. Peter, and not to the reasons which actuated him.

It only remains to be said that the Pope finally annulled the canon by virtue of the authority of St. Peter, which the canon is supposed by opponents implicity, if not explicitly, to deny to him. His words in his letter to Pulcheria are as follows: “Those things agreed on by the bishops contrary to the rules of the holy canons drawn up at Nicaea, in union with the piety of your faith, we do annul, and by the authority of the Blessed Apostle Peter do, by a general definition, make utterly void” – “Consensiones vero episcoporum sanctorum Canonum apud Nicaeam conditorum repungnantes, unita nobiscum vestrae fidei pietate, in irritum mittimus, et, per auctoritatem Beati Petri Apostoli, generali prorsus definitione cassimus.” The Emperor Marcian accepts the refusal and praises the Pope because he stands out as the one who, “by guarding the ecclesiastical canons, has suffered no innovation upon ancient custom and the order agreed upon of old.” And finally Anatolius himself writes to submit to the Pope’s decision, “in order that, by obeying you, I might fulfil those things which have seemed good to your mind. For be it far from me to oppose whatsoever was commanded me in those letters.” And the letter concludes with the words previously quoted: “Gestorum vis omnis et confirmatio auctoritati vestrae beatitudinis reservata est.” The final word, therefore, of the Patriarch of Constantinople himself upon the question is a humble acknowledgement that not even a General Council could give him the precedency he desired for his See without the assent and confirmation of the Sovereign Pontiff.

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Part I | Part II | Part III

We must, therefore, interpret the hoi pateres, Patres, of the canon to mean the Apostles and their successors; the Apostles as the original donors, their successors as bearing witness to what was handed down. This is no forced interpretation, for the expression is often used in this sense, and has a right to be considered on its own merits, apart from the important fact that an interpretation of the words of the canon which does not include the Apostles is impossible on independent grounds. St. Leo himself very frequently uses the word in the sense we have indicated. “The rule observed carefully by our Fathers,” he writes to Dioscorus, meaning, as he explains, the rule made by Peter and handed down by his successors. “The authority of custom which we know comes down from the Apostles’ teaching,” he says in the same letter. “The traditions of the Fathers,” paternal traditions, he calls them in his letter to the bishops of the Council of Chalcedon; “what has become fixed in our custom as derived from the form of paternal tradition;” “the rules of the Fathers” (regulae, or, constituta Patrum); all these expressions mean one thing to the Pope, namely, that which was deposited in the Church by the Apostles and has been handed down by those who took their place. But this is a quite common usage.


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