Apostle Peter Preaching by Lorenzo Veneziano, 1370 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)
Recently, I reviewed perspectives on the office of the papacy from both the Catholic Church and a current Orthodox view. I'll begin with the Orthodox view, as articulated by Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in early 2011 (all of his quotes herein come from between 28:00-47:00 of this recording). He believes the matter of the papacy to be the critical foundation toward unity on all divergent views of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches:
I truly believe that if we Orthodox and Catholics can make genuine progress on the way we understand primacy, then most of the other issues that arise between us could be solved.Praying for the Church, it was Christ to the Father petitioning "that they may be one, even as we are one." (John 17:12) At the heart of all the councils and documents, which can sometimes give the appearance of imprudent bureaucracy, the goal here is one of love. This is the ultimate goal of every action of any Christian from the highest hierarchical level to the lowest lay level in every aspect of life. These two Churches have so much in common and recognize the validity of each others' priesthood and the sacrament of unity, the Eucharist. (cf. Joint International Commission, #13, 1993) Like Metropolitan Ware and all of the recent Popes, I have a certain optimism toward reconcilement of the two Churches. (See also comments on Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis I on Orthodox relations in prior post.)
CATHOLIC-ORTHODOX AGREEMENT ON THE PAPACY
Metropolitan Ware begins with a reference to The Ravenna Statement, a 2007 joint document between officials of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches regarding the primacy of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome:
In the Ravenna Statement it is stated unambiguously, "The fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West." And that statement was endorsed by all the delegates, the Orthodox as well as the Catholics. … Now, this statement stressing the existence of universal primacy is the first time, at any rate in recent history, that the Orthodox Church at a high official level, has affirmed in principle, the universal primacy of the Bishop of Rome. … But the question then arises, what kind of universal primacy is meant? How is it to be interpreted?We begin with this common point: the Bishop of Rome exercises a "universal primacy." Both the "East" (Orthodox) and "West" (Catholics) hold to this basic statement. The extent of what that means remains in negotiation. Metropolitan Ware nevertheless believes The Ravenna Statement is a crucial document in reconciling the Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the papacy because it cites an ancient canon especially revered by the Orthodox:
[T]he statement of Ravenna offers us a precious guideline. It appeals to the 34th apostolic canon. Now, I don't think the apostolic canons, which are 4th century in date, are particularly well known in the western canonical tradition. But for the Christian East, the apostolic canons have always been held in very high regard, especially the 34th apostolic canon, which is seen as the touchstone for primacy. … Now, the canon says, "The bishops of each province must recognize the one who is first––" protos is the Greek word "––the one who is first among them, and consider him to be their head. And they must not do anything important without his consent. But the first, the protos, cannot do anything without the consent of all."
In other words, Metropolitan Ware believes reconcilement on the papacy can be achieved if this mutual dependence of sorts, as articulated in Apostolic Canon 34, be harmonious with any view of papal primacy.
Consider a final, lengthier quote from the Metropolitan on what remains unresolved regarding this canon and Catholic teaching:
The 34th apostolic canon suggests a relation, a mutual relation, between the one who is first and the other bishops. The protos, the head, the first, is not to do anything without consulting the others. But the others are not to do anything without consulting him. So the pattern here is mutuality, reciprocal concord, co-responsibility, interdependence. So if we apply this to papal primacy, it means that the members of the episcopal college and equally the patriarchs of the East cannot act without their head, the Pope. But equally, the Pope cannot act without the members of the episcopal college and the Eastern patriarchs. Now, I wonder how far such an understanding of papal primacy can be reconciled with the decrees of the first Vatican council, or, for that matter, of its successor Vatican II. In the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the document of Vatican II, it is clearly said that the college of bishops cannot act without its head the Pope, whereas the Pope can very well act without the college, section 22. In the words of the nota explicativa praevia [an appendix to Lumen Gentium], section 4, "As supreme pastor of the Church, the sovereign pontiff can always exercise his authority as he chooses while the college of bishops acts only at intervals and only at the consent of its head." Now that doesn't seem to correspond to the kind of reciprocal relationship that the Ravenna statement envisages when it invokes apostolic canon 34. If it proves possible to reinterpret the authority of the Pope in the perspective of this canon, here is certainly an understanding of papal primacy that may well prove acceptable to the Orthodox Church. For this reason, I regard the Ravenna statement as a document full of hope.
The bottom line from this Orthodox perspective is thus: The Orthodox can embrace a Catholic view of the papacy if it is in accord with apostolic canon 34. Yet Vatican I and Vatican II contain statements that seem unfaithful to canon 34. How can this be resolved?
At the first Vatican council was articulated the definition of papal infallibility. This dogma is at the heart of the Roman bishop making other dogmatic statements on faith or morals by virtue of his office. Elsewhere in Metropolitan Ware's talk, he expressed disapproving concern at the idea that of a member of the Church could be able to so act as an island. Mutuality was his repeated concern.
BACK TO VATICAN I
I think it is helpful if we rewind even before the final decrees of Vatican I, and examine what led up to the decree on papal infallibility. Recently I finished reading through The Gift of Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser at Vatican Council I. This text is basically a behind-the-scenes look at Vatican I, as the bishops came to understand what was meant by the concept of infallibility as it related to the office of the papacy. Bishop Gasser oversaw a committee clarifying the defining paragraph on infallibility at Vatican I as well as reviewing suggestions submitted by other bishops. The value of this document is that it clarifies the intent of the final definition and perhaps dispels misinterpretations of the definition that were not intended by the bishops.
One thing I derived from reading this text is how papal infallibility is a gift of a singular office, yet intertwined in little-known ways with the Church itself and the Church's corporate infallibility.
Following are some observations of the text. References in parentheses are ebook locations.
THE INFALLIBILITY EXERCISED BY THE POPE DEMONSTRATES THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE WHOLE CHURCH
Bishop Gasser described an interesting theological perspective on papal infallibility as put forth by Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, a sixteenth century theologian:
[T]o use the words of Cardinal Cajetan––from the fact that when the Pope makes a judicial and definitive decision determining that it must be held as such by the Church then it is clear that we are all bound to accept his decision and that whoever pertinaciously clings to the opposite view is considered a heretic. Therefore the whole Church is able to err, following the decision of a Pope, if the Pope in such a definition is able to err. Therefore it must be believed that the promise of Christ made to the Church, viz., "The Holy Spirit will teach you all truth" (Jn 16:13), is fulfilled through one person with no more difficulty than through a multitude, thus preserving the divine order which governs the lower through the higher and the higher through the uppermost. (278-284)It is understood in the Catholic Church that the Church, due to the operation of the Holy Spirit, corporately has the gift of infallibility (i.e. to teach without error in defining for the whole Church matters of faith or morals, cf. Jn 16:13, et al). It is also understood in the Church to accept as infallible similar definitions of the Pope. Thus, in simple terms, the above paragraph means the following: If the Pope has the protection of infallibility, and the Church accepts his teaching, then the Church will remain infallible in doing so. However, if the Pope does not have the protection of infallibility, the Church could therefore accept an erroneous teaching of the Church, and thus the Church corporately would not have the gift of infallibility. This would violate the promise of the Spirit given to the Apostles. The Catholic Church is arranged such that the entire Church believes an infallible statement of the Pope, because it is ultimately an errorless statement of the Holy Spirit. And since the Orthodox have expressed certain agreement to papal primacy, this analogy by Cajetan may prove helpful since it ties the Pope to the other bishops.
Whether or not one accepts the Catholic concept of infallibility in the first place, I think there's an important point here not to be missed: The idea of papal infallibility rises or falls with the infallibility of the corporate Church.
THE POPE'S OBLIGATION IN MAKING A DEFINITION
In speaking to the bishops prior to the vote, Gasser describes this nuance:
[T]here belongs to the Roman Pontiff a separate infallibility. But in saying this we do not separate the Pontiff from his ordained union with the Church. For the Pope is only infallible when, exercising his function as teacher of all Christians and therefore representing the whole Church, he judges and defines what must be believed or rejected by all. He is no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support. (loc 492-496)And:
[W]e do not separate the Pope, defining, from the cooperation and consent of the Church, at least in the sense that we do not exclude this cooperation and this consent of the Church. ... Therefore the Pope, by reason of his office and the gravity of the matter, is held to use the means suitable for properly discerning and aptly enunciating the truth. These means are councils, or the advice of the bishops, cardinals, theologians, et cetera. Indeed, the means are diverse according to the diversity of situations, and we should piously believe that, in the divine assistance promised to Peter and his successors by Christ, there is simultaneously contained a promise about the means which are necessary and suitable to make an infallible pontifical judgment. ... [W]e do not separate the Pope, even minimally, from the consent of the Church, as long as that consent is not laid down as a condition that is either antecedent or consequent. We are not able to separate the Pope from the consent of the Church because this consent is never able to be lacking to him. (loc 496-508)In brief, what Gasser is saying here is that the Pope remains united to the Church and is "held to use" means necessary to formulate a definition (such as councils, bishop advice, etc.), but that this cannot be an absolutely mandatory aspect of the charism of papal infallibility. He subsequently explains why.
He says when we consider whether or not there necessarily must be formal consent of the Magisterium when making a definition, we reach the matter's "extreme point." By this, he means it is possible to discern the Church's teaching via existing sources of the faith, such as Scripture, antiquity, etc... In his own words, Gasser explains:
It is true that the Pope in his definitions ex cathedra has the same sources (fontes) that the Church has, viz., Scripture and tradition. It is true that the consent of the present preaching of the whole Magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions. But from all that it can in no way be deduced that there is a strict and absolute necessity of seeking that consent from the rulers of the Churches or from the bishops. I say this because this consent is very frequently able to be deduced from the clear and manifest testimonies of Sacred Scripture, from the consent of antiquity, that is, of the holy Fathers, from the opinion of theologians and from other private means, all of which suffice for full information about the fact of the Church's consent. (loc 591-596)In saying there is not a "strict and absolute necessity" of formal consent, Gasser's above caveat seems to be a stereotypical view of the papacy – that the Pope can and will operate in a rogue manner, as if alien to the Church, and could, in theory, violate a united voice from the Church. Yet what is the context of this statement? It is immediately preceded by the idea that consent of other bishops is a "rule" for papal definitions. And we know from other statements in Gasser's presentation, that Magisterial consent is a rule because Magisterial consent is a means by which the Holy Spirit speaks to the Church. Recall how he quoted Cajetan saying "'The Holy Spirit will teach you all truth,' is fulfilled through one person with no more difficulty than through a multitude..."
In my assessment of Gasser's argument, he does not wish to impose a formal consent from the Magisterium when the Pope is able to clearly deduce the will of the Church from pre-existing Church teaching. If the Pope ever exercised his office in this way, I would submit that consultation of Scripture and pre-existing Church teaching remains faithful to Metropolitan Ware's belief that the Pope must not make decisions by himself, in accord with Apostolic Canon 34. If a matter is "clear" in the teaching of "antiquity" or "Scripture," the Pope would remain faithful to his peers in consulting sources they also deem authoritative. And, in consulting Scripture and other Tradition, the Pope would indeed be consulting the word of God in writing and through the words of bishops preceding him. In neither case, be it acquiring formal consent or informal consent via antiquity, the Pope does not act alone.
Fr. James T. O'Connor, translator of the Relatio, summarizes this aspect of Gasser's presentation:
Although the Pope is morally bound to do everything prudently necessary to prepare for a definition of faith, there is no juridical necessity for him to prepare the definition in any specific way, nor is his definition once proclaimed subject to review or approval by the other bishops or the faithful.If there is to be reunion with the Orthodox Church on the matter of the Papacy, could this "moral" obligation of the Pope to consult the other bishops on a definition be a means? In other words, when the Church voted on papal infallibility in the context of Gasser's presentation, those at Vatican I passed on including a "formal" or "juridical" imposition on the Pope to consult other bishops while at the same time understanding him to have a moral obligation and service to that which the Spirit has revealed through the corporate Church. Could a non-juridical obligation of some sort be that which satisfies the requirements in Apostolic Canon 34 as described by Metropolitan Ware?
Since the Pope has a moral obligation to consult the Church, even though not a "mandatory" one, could the comparison be made to God not being required to come incarnate, mandatorily, but we can be assured that He will because it is most fitting? Can we be assured that the Holy Spirit would likewise teach through the Church and papal office by ensuring due diligence?
Let's take one more look at some of the statements above that at least lean toward Apostolic Canon 34:
- The Pope is "no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support" when exercising his "function as teacher."
- The Pope "is held to use the means suitable for properly discerning and aptly enunciating the truth."
- "[T]he consent of the present preaching of the whole Magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions."
- "[T]the Pope is morally bound to do everything prudently necessary to prepare for a definition of faith."
Could this obligation to which the Pope is "held," this responsibility to consult the Church to which the Pope is "morally bound," be the key to reconcilement with the Orthodox Church? If not the solution, I would submit that these seeds underlying the definitions of Vatican I and of Apostolic Constitution 34 may be those that germinate into united maturity.
A CONCRETE EXAMPLE
In closing, it might be worth noting that the Pope has explicitly exercised this obligation in writing. In 1995, Pope John Paul II made a definitive statement about the grave immorality of abortion. In his statement, which cites the authority of the office from whence he spoke, he specifically cites having consulting the voice of his peers:
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine–I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 62, 1995)You see the Pope articulating that what he is asserting is something already unanimously voiced by the Magisterium. His statement, according to his own declaration, is not made in isolation from the bishops. It is a statement communicating what those bishops had previously and then articulated.