Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Papacy - The Patriarchy of the West- and Orthodox Ecclesiology

I draw the reader's attention to a fascinating com-box discussion going on over at Fr. Z's blog (see this post) on the Papal decision to drop the title Patriarch of the West and its implications in ecumenical relations. It also moves into an interesting discussion of Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology and approaches to Primacy.

Long time readers of this blog will recall that while I staunchly reject the ultra-montanist (and IMO heretical) claims of the First Vatican Council, I have also repeatedly opined that Orthodoxy has a somewhat underdeveloped concept of primacy. It is a subject that too many Orthodox get nervous about because anytime someone suggests that there is more to it (primacy) than sitting at the head of the table or being the first bishop in the procession, one is instantly accused of being a crypto-papist. Such knee jerk fears aside however, clearly primacy does indeed amount to more than the eccelsiological equivalent to the status of the Queen of Denmark. The Patriarch of Constantinople should be, and IMO is, more than just the head we would put on Orthodox postage stamps. (And I say this as someone who has occasionally been sharply critical of H.A.H.)

I particularly commend this comment by PaterAugustinus as one worth serious attention. It contains a host of interesting points, some of which I am not altogether comfortable with. But that comment alone could be the subject of a really fascinating debate. In any event a serious discussion about primacy and its role in Orthodox ecclesiology is long overdue. I wonder if perhaps that is not something that should be added to the agenda of a certain Great and Holy Synod that has been much rumored and imminently forthcoming for nigh on a century.


Anonymous said...

I think many Orthodox would agree that there is a seriously deficient understanding of "primacy", but since the bishop of Rome is a heretic and outside the Church, why does would it be relevant to discuss primacy with Roman Catholics - isn't it simply an anachronism to talk about primacy and Rome? If the bishop of Rome were to repent, repudiate Latin heresies and miraculously become Orthodox, would anyone seriously imagine that he would be able to reclaim the primacy long ago forfeited - in a fall we include alongside Adam and Lucifer?

123 said...

The place to start such a discussion within Orthodoxy is a study of the way primacy is understood within each of the local churches. My understanding is that the Serbian church is highly decentralized with the Patriarch holding no real power over either the Synod or any of the bishops while the Russian church is highly centralized with the Patriarch enjoying a great deal of authority over the Synod and any given bishop. This may help paint a picture (or pictures) of the ways in which primacy is understood and expressed within unquestionably Orthodox environs. Then, these findings can be discussed relative to primacy between the local churches and between the Orthodox churches and either Rome or the Non-Chalcedonians should realistic steps be taken towards communion.

Should the recommendations be accepted concerning autocephaly and autonomy, this would go a long way towards clarifying what Orthodoxy believes the role of the Archbishop of New Rome to be in the communion of local churches.

Anonymous said...

It's not just about the titles and 'who's the boss'. Catholicism has developed some truly troubling doctrine that would have to be undone. I doubt that will happen.

Anonymous said...

I believe that he "Patriarch of the West" (the Western part of the Roman empire at the time of the Seven Ecumenical Councils) has given up that title simply because he finds it too restrictive, since he sees himself as the "Vicar of Christ" and the "head of the Universal Church." Why claim the "West" only when he can and does claim the whole world?

Anonymous said...

In any event a serious discussion about primacy and its role in Orthodox ecclesiology is long overdue.

Yeah -- you know, it's too bad there hasn't been a conference or something like it with exactly that topic in the last couple of years... Oh, wait...

All gentle ribbing aside, particularly after what some parties said at that conference, I think perhaps it's okay we aren't dropping everything to try to define primacy further. The more we try to define it I think the more perhaps certain parties will feel empowered to exercise it. I think its very ambiguity is what allows local churches to be local churches while staying Orthodox and in communion with other Orthodox churches.

But that's me. I could be wrong.


Adam DeVille said...

Orrologion said, rightly, that "The place to start such a discussion within Orthodoxy is a study of the way primacy is understood within each of the local churches." I have done precisely that--a survey of how all the patriarchates of the pentarchy, and most of the modern ones, are governed--along with much more in a new book: *Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity*, forthcoming at the end of this year by the University of Notre Dame Press.
--Adam DeVille, Ph.D.