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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