Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Serious Answers to Serious Questions About Christian Unity

Here is a fascinating interview with Ioannis Zizioulas, the Bishop of Pergamum (a church to whose angel, it may be recalled, one of the letters in Revelation was addressed) on the possibilities and difficulties on the ground regarding reunion between the Western and Eastern churches. In particular, he talks about papal primacy.

There is some pretty heady theology here, but it has very practical implications. I particularly like this:

Primacy is not a legalistic notion implying the investment of a certain individual with power, but a form of diakonia. It implies also that this ministry reaches the entire community through the communion of the local Churches manifested through the bishops that constitute the council or synod. It is for this reason that the primate himself should be the head of a local Church, that is, a bishop. As head of a local Church and not as an individual, this will serve the unity of the Church as a koinonia of full Churches and not as a “collage” of incomplete parts of a universal Church. Primacy in this way will not undermine the integrity of any local Church.

If only all Popes had approached the exercise of their office with that in mind.

I'm not entirely convinced that biblical exegesis is such a dead-end as the Metropolitan claims (although presumably he knows the ecclesiastical terrain better). It was, after all, on such grounds that Pope Damasus defended, not simply the primacy of Rome (which actually wasn't under discussion at the time- Constantinople wanted to be counted as second most primal patriarchate) but the position of Alexandria and Antioch as holding second and third place after Rome respectively, based on Scripture and the biblical primacy of Peter, and on the subsequent association of those two cities' bishoprics with Peter (Antioch having been Peter's initial see before he moved to Rome, and because Alexandria's first patriarch was Mark, Peter's disciple). Thus Damasus answered precisely the argument of the first group of Orthodox theologians the Metropolitan mentions - that the primacy is a result of ecclesiastical politics and not of the essence of the Church as Christ instituted it. And that was in the fourth century. Surely the same argument could be offered now?

Anyway, there is great food for thought here, and reason for hope. The Metropolitan even speaks of putting off reunion for another thousand years as though it were something at once unthinkable and unlikely. What with this and the overtures the Pope has made to the Anglicans, the next couple of centuries could be very interesting indeed (a pity I won't be around to see the whole show)! May we continue to pray that our divisions may be healed and the vision of John 17 become a reality.


Matt said...

"This means that every form of primacy at the universal level must reflect the local Church and must not intervene in the local Church without her consent."

Does his eminence mean to suggest that the Pope has no authority with respect to a particular diocese without the consent of the diocesan bishop? How would rogue bishops be dealt with? How would this work in the Catholic Church generally, where the Vatican’s official line is so important in determining not just theology, but also liturgy, discipline, and practice?

Or perhaps I read too much into this focus on the “local” church. Perhaps the primus’ inability to interfere in the local church is conditioned on the bishop’s general orthodoxy and good conduct.

Of course, his eminence is not a Catholic, so perhaps that is the answer, but there is so much promise in this acknowledgement of the primacy of Rome that I don’t want to dismiss the argument prematurely. I would love your thoughts.

GAB said...

I can see why there might be possible causes for concern, as you say. Hence why the discussions will be ongoing. I don't expect any genuine changes in respective positions for at least several decades, if not longer.

I think the focus of the Metropolitan here, though, is primarily on the idea of collegiality, which was a particular focus of Vatican II (though perhaps that is not generally appreciated at the popular level). On this view, the Church, or at least the visible Church, does not operate in exactly the same way as a monarchy or feudal hierarchy, with the Pope at the top, then bishops, then priests, then laity. Rather, each priest shares in the ministry (and derives his own ministry) from that of his bishop. And each bishop represents Christ within his diocese. The bishops together, including the Pope, form a college, and as a college guard the deposit of faith. The Pope is to them, not as a feudal lord handing down to them the privilege of governing their own pasture for him, but as the hub of a wheel holding the spokes in place.

Much of our present customs don't really mesh with that approach (although it now has the authority of an Ecumenical Council behind it); for example, for most of its history, the Pope has not been the one to choose bishops throughout the entire Church. There was the custom of the pallium, of course, but the modern expectation that new bishops of no-matter-where should be chosen by the Pope, and he is somehow responsible if they're no good, is a very recent development. Collegiality is, of course, thoroughly biblical (eg. 1 Pet 5:1) and is the reason behind why, for example, the Pope has said strictly nothing about something like Medjugorje, leaving it to the local bishop to make a decision.

Of course, that doesn't impinge on the Pope's responsibilities as universal pastor and guarantor of orthodoxy. He can and should intervene when a bishop gets out of line doctrine-wise. In that, he would be little different from Clement when he told off the Corinthians (whose bishop was AWOL at the time because the Corinthians had chucked him out) though Corinth is nowhere near Rome.

One would assume that, as you say, interference would be conditioned on the bishop's orthodoxy and conduct. To be honest, I'm not sure how such things work in the Orthodox churches (presumably something at the synodal level?). The tricky bits, I imagine, would centre around the phrase 'without her consent' and, more particularly, in the realm of liturgy, practice and discipline.

For example, given that the Pope is de facto Patriarch of the West, how would things work when suddenly there was more than one Patriarch in the Catholic Church? How much authority would the other Patriarchs have? How much authority (and what sort of authority) would the Pope have over them? Also, with liturgy, things could get interesting, although I think this move with the Anglicans, and also the ongoing influence of Summorum Pontificum (with its concept of multiple usages within the one Rite) may show ways forward, where the Catholic Church could be much more diverse liturgically than it presently is (and of course one should not forget the use of Eastern liturgies already in the Eastern Catholic rites).

We have time to sort all these things out. Here in the West, I think we're far from having digested the practical implications of collegiality. In the East, of course- well, there are a lot of things to deal with for them too. But clearly the cogs are beginning to turn or, if not turn, at least be greased.

Kiran said...

Well, the papacy of the first millenium is a place to begin. Cardinal Ratzinger once said that such a model could be the basis of reunion. I think such a reunion is urgent for both parties involved.

Actually, the Pope has abandoned the title Patriarch of the West. Glenn, You get the doctrine exactly right in your comment above in the first three and you should move it to the post itself.

The big sticking point before Vatican II was whether the Bishops derive their authority from Peter, or they come together under Peter. I think the post-Vatican II thought is the latter, which you have put so well.

That said, however, the Ratzinger proposal itself is not that easy to implement. There's centuries of mistrust and suspicion involved, and several moves on both sides against unity.

Recent moves by the Orthodox (a) to "ordain" women to the diaconate without clarifying their status (which is not as serious as it sounds since there were deaconesses, understood purely as a service and not partaking of the priesthood, in the first millenium, and the orthodox are opposed strictly to women priests but the question of their not being ministerial would have to be firmly settled) and (b) the endorsement by some Orthodox theologians and Bishops of contraception, and IVF for married couples (which is serious)

That is before we get to the issue of Filioque and Hesychasm, Original Sin, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, Deification, and the essence-energy distinction, and so on, all of which are capable of resolution, I think, because ultimately, what we (the Catholics and the Orthodox) hold on these points is either not dogmatic, or on analysis the same, but about which there is much distrust.

And on the Catholic side, the liturgical reforms of the last century would need to be looked into.

But Zizoulas is, I believe, a great sign of hope, as is Pope Benedict.