Friday, October 25, 2013

Could this lead to Orthodox-Catholic unity on the papacy and beyond?

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.)

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 a member of the Church could be able to so act as an island. Mutuality was his repeated concern.

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.

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.

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)
[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.

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.


  1. This is a most wonderful topic: the unity of the Church. As you indicate, it is extremely complicated historically and theologically. Could we not do one concrete thing that is not so complicated? Why can we not all at least agree to celebrate the Feast of Easter on the same day! That would be something concrete and not so complicated.

  2. Since when has it been taught that the pope can go rogue? That certainly is not what either of the two Councils of the Vatican have said. There's nothing new or unique here.

  3. Metropolitan Kallistos says that Catholic sacraments are accepted by all the Orthodox. Unfortunately, a number of Orthodox Metropolitans and theologians have clearly issued statements declaring Catholic sacraments are without grace. So who speaks for pan-Orthodoxy. Moreover, various Orthodox declare certain Catholic doctrines heretical, while other Orthodox refrain from such declarations. More attention should be paid to the question as to whether the Orthodox today even retain Unity of Faith.

  4. I believe I know why most Orthodox get it wrong. I myself often have the same problem and it comes from having mystical experiences which others do not have.I can only thank the Lord that these experiences have led me to know that the Catholic Church is the True Church of Christ. I found that a lot of(Catholics) and even most at times, get their own faith wrong. If I had listen to most deacons and priests or even bishops in the Holy Catholic Church instead of the Holy Spirit which guided me then I myself would have never even recognized the Bride of Christ and even in fact would have hated the very word Catholic. I find it quiet amazing that they have not completely destroyed themselves, for instance, here in the United States they have been the biggest promoters of birth control (Melinda Gates--anyone?), Gay rights (Archbishop Timothy Dolan, etc., etc.). I can only say: Thank God it is the Holy Spirit which led me to believe in the Catholic faith and not psychology or the members of the Church, for I would be in Hell.

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  6. This article certainly is thought-provoking. Sorry for the double post but it reminds me of one of those experiences. It is a stranger then fiction type of story about a really nice fellow who was kind enough to take his time and not only tell me but to show me why he also did not like the ideal of one person being in charge. Please, bear with me while I bear witness to the Holy Spirit, do not do as the Protestants do and turn your back and walk away. Here is that hard to believe story:
    I was in a bar in Harvey, La downing some beers(which years later thanks to the fellow in this story counterpart--I no longer do). Anyways, this nice young fellow came up to me while I was telling about another one of my experiences to one of my fellow drunkards. He ask a question and then we were both in the sky but more like space rather then what you see when you look up, and in front of us was this great light which gave off so much power and authority that I felt as though I would shake into a billion pieces(If you ever read of the Church Saints, you would recognize this experience also happen to someone else in a different event--this is how I know that the Catholic Church is the true Church, from this and other experiences). Then this fellow said, "Now you know why I turned against Him".
    What I am trying to say here in relationship to this article is simply this, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do not rebel. Just as there is One Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all things was put in proper order by Our Lord Jesus himself and that is One Holy Catholic Church and One Pope.

  7. Hi,

    It would be a most wonderful day if the various apostolic branches of the Church were reunited. One can only hope and pray but it seems things are moving in that direction, praise be to God. As Burke said, darkness and thunder rest upon the future. Who would have thought 20 years ago that the USA would have an anti-Christian at its helm?

    I have a couple of comments: 1) I have been told by a rather important and very well-educated Greek Orthodox priest that they don't view our sacraments as valid, same from a priest in Tacoma. Catholics view the Orthodox sacraments as both legal and valid.

    2) I know that the Orthodox view is that dogmatic decisions should be made in association with other bishops. This could certainly lead to theological differences if one brings in the Armenian Orthodox Church and others. What is to prevent one of the Orthodox bishops to fall into blatant heresy. In the 16th century, the Patriarch Lucaris of Constantinople pretty fell into full blow heresy when he adopted the Calvinist creed, even sending some of his priests to Europe to be educated by hard-core Protestant teachers. Why couldn't that happen again in the Orthodox Church?

    Thank you

  8. Let me first state that I'm an Orthodox Christian. Your point about Patriarch Cyril I being a Calvinist is not accurate. After a Calvinist Confession of Faith was published in Cyril I's name, the Patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheus II called a Council in 1672 that was attended by representatives of all Orthodox churches to address the matter. The Council of 1672 is today considered the most important Orthodox Church council since the Fall of Constantinople. Among the items on it's agenda included:

    - Condemning Calvinism and Lutheranism
    - Condemning the Filioque
    - Defining the Old Testament canon for the Orthodox Church
    - Upholding transubstantiation
    - Condemning the confession published in the name of Cyril I
    - Proclaiming that confession a forgery. (The evidence which supports it being a forgery is overwhelming!)

    As to you point about falling into heresy, there is nothing to prevent anyone from falling into heresy. I can ask, if a Catholic priest like Martin Luther can fall into heresy, what is to prevent other Catholic clergy from doing the same? I can also point to Pope Honorius I who was anathematized by the 6th Ecumenical Council for heresy and also Pope John XXII who was removed from office for heresy etc..When things like this happen the church gets together in council and addresses the matter as it has always done. In the end the Holy Spirit will never allow heresy to prevail. Orthodox doctrine, the faith of the Apostles, always triumphs.

    Let me just close by saying I think Apostolic Canon 34 is a very promising way forward for Orthodox/Catholic unity in the future, but it has to be well defined and articulated on both sides.

    1. Hi Anonymous (Orthodox Christian).

      I appreciate your response to my concern about the possibility of the Patriarch of Constantinople becoming a heretic. I certainly don't want to engage in a tit-for-tat, which will only result in furthering the gap between the two great (and only valid) apostolic Christian traditions, which we all hope will one day be one.

      Martin Luther was a heretic and the fact that he became one after being an Augustinian monk is not shocking and in no way reflects on the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. There have always been heretics in the Church, both in the Western and Eastern branches. Indeed, there are many now, the Jesuits harboring a goodly number, who have not been reprimanded by the Vatican.

      Regarding Cyril Lucaris, I will not go over the historical data. Correct me if I am wrong but wasn't he condemned by The Council of Constantinople in 1638, along with the Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith, supposedly written by him. The Council of 1672 acquitted him of all charges and said that he had been condemned earlier because he had not written a refutation of the book.

      This is very similar to the case of Pope Honorius. He too was condemned because he had not written an ex-cathedra condemnation of the view of Sergius of Constantinople. Equally Byzantine is the case of Pope John XXII, a rather cantankerous person who believed in the absolute power of the Church. One of his main foes was Louis of Bavaria who tried to usurp not only papal temporal authority but also spiritual authority. John XXII ex-communicated Louis, who then "deposed" the pope and set up an anti-pope. Eventually, the offending parties sought reconciliation and pardon from John XXII. So, in no sense was John XXII removed for "Heresy" unless one were to assume that Louis had the authority to declare anyone heretical. It would be analogous to having the Turkish sultan or John Calvin depose a pope or an orthodox patriarch for heresy. Well, so much for those clarifications.

      As regards the other pronouncements of the Council of 1672, I would agree with the Orthodox that Lutheranism and Calvinism do not encompass the true teaching of the Church, either Orthodox or Latin. I can understand the filioque dispute but I believe that can be massaged to make it acceptable to both parties. When one tries to define the indefinable, namely the Trinity, one can easily end up in fruitless squabbles. I am glad to read that the Orthodox Church accepts Transubstantiation. Here too the Church has tried to find a way to elucidate an ineffable truth, using the philosophical and theological tools of the time.

      I have, on more than one occasion, tried to find a list of the books of the Old Testament approved for Orthodox believers but have been unable. If you could point me to a source, I would appreciate it.

      In closing, we must always keep in mind that the Bible promises us that the Holy Spirit will be with the Church to the end of time and, as such, the Church is immune to false teaching. Contrary to Protestant and Mormon teaching the Church has not and cannot fall into apostasy. The Orthodox Church has suffered terribly for the Faith, especially the Armenians, the first Christian race, and the Greeks -and are today being savaged in many states in the Middle East. We in the Latin Church appreciate their fidelity and believe that the Gates of Hell shall not prevail even over our Eastern brethren.

      Pax Christi.

  9. I'm an Orthodox Christian and can attest that we all want this unification. Having a Pope isn't a big issue with us as my Coptic brothers have a Pope. The difference is that our Pope is a patriarch and doesn't claim the sole translation of the scriptures. This is done through a council of patriarchs. Pardon me if this is an over-simplification.

  10. Hello Anonymous (November 20),

    I agree that the Eastern and Western Churches have had more than enough squabbling and finger pointing, so please do not take my posts as anything other than polite dialogue and an opportunity for both sides to learn about each other.

    As for the case of Cyril I (please refrain from using the earthly names of Orthodox bishops like "Lukaris" and "Cerularius", etc..It comes across as a sign of disrespect. It would be equivalent to an Orthodox Christian referring to Pope Benedict XVI as "Ratzinger") there is no doubt that the 1672 Council of Jerusalem is universally accepted by the Orthodox Church as representing it's voice and it's position on the Cyril I controversy. As for Popes Honorius I and John XXII, suffice it to say that I agree with you that "there have always been heretics in the Church, both in the Western and Eastern branches" and leave it at that.

    As long as both the Eastern and Western Churches both agree that the Nicene Creed of 381, as promulgated in Greek, defines the faith of the Universal Church, then the filioque issue can be solved. In my opinion all that needs to happen is the Latin Church must state unequivocally that it condemns any interpretation of the Nicene Creed that disagrees with the original Greek text, and that the use of the words "and the Son" does not in any way imply that the Holy Spirit "originates" from anyone other than the Father alone.

    The Old Testament canon approved by the Orthodox Church is the Septuagint version, the original Greek translation from the 2nd century BC. It includes all the books of the Roman Catholic canon as well as the following:
    - 3 Maccabees
    - 4 Maccabees
    - Esdras
    - The Prayer of Manasses
    - Psalm 151

    I agree with you that the Church has not and cannot fall into apostasy, the history of the Church, East and West is the ultimate proof of this. Just look at what has happened in Russia in the last 20 years, a brutal atheistic dictatorship that tried to destroy the Church and martyred thousands in the process, in the end was itself destroyed and the Church in Russia today is thriving. Despite all the storms and enemies the Church has faced over the centuries, in the East and in the West, it has overcome them all and has preserved the faith of the Apostles intact without any compromise or alteration.

    Glory be to God!

  11. Not sure that's quite right. The Confession of Dositheus appears to follow the Tridentine canon.

    For reference, the Laodicean canon (probably spurious) is given here. Notably, it omits Revelation in the New Testament.