From June 20-23, 2011, the Society of St. John Chrysostom, Eastern Churches Journal, Eastern Christian Publications, and the Orientale Lumen Foundation held a popular and scholarly conference for lay men, lay women, and clergy entitled Orientale Lumen XV. The theme for the conference, held at the Washington Retreat House in Washington, D.C., was “Rome and the Communion of Churches: Bishop, Patriarch or Pope?” and speakers included Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Professor Emeritus of Oxford University, Archimandrite Robert Taft, Professor Emeritus of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
The conference provided an opportunity for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholics, and Oriental Orthodox to gather, discuss, and learn about their respective traditions. It included presentations by scholars and theologians, liturgical celebrations of many varieties, and opportunities for everyone to learn from each other and participate in a “dialogue of love and understanding.” To purchase CDs or DVDs of this event, please visit the conference’s online catalogue located here.
Please note that while Ancient Faith Radio is extremely pleased to make these recordings available to our listeners, we do not necessarily endorse all of the conference speakers and/or their talks.
Let me start with some words from a generous yet not uncritical Orthodox spokesman who wrote under the name “The Monk of the Eastern Church,” Fr. Lev Gillet, who, like Fr. Robert Taft, was an archimandrite. I remember at a meeting in Oxford, one of the audience—they were non-Orthodox—said, “Do tell us, please, Father: what is an archimandrite?” And he provide an ostensive definition which I don’t think helped the audience very much. He said, “An archimandrite?”—he spoke with a strong French accent—“Zat is me!” I can recall another occasion when the title led to puzzlement. I was invited to speak to a group of Methodists, and the chairman introduced me not as an archimandrite, which is what I then was, but he said, “We are very pleased to have with us this evening—the hermaphrodite.”
So I return to Fr. Lev Gillet. Let me quote some words that he wrote as long ago as 1947, in a letter to Dom Olivier Rousseau of Chevetogne, the then-editor of Irénikon. Referring to the place of Rome in the communion of the churches, Fr. Lev speaks in this letter of “this primacy of humility, service, and love.” He continues, “Not simply a primacy of honor or a nebulous sort of leadership, but a unique pastoral mission.”
Then he says there are three elements of crucial significance for us Orthodox. The Orthodox, he says, “could not consider complete any ecclesiology where freedom in the Holy Spirit, the catholic and apostolic tradition, and the charism of Peter were not in harmony.”
The first of those three factors, freedom in the Spirit, I take him to mean the voice of the Paraclete speaking in the conscience of every member of the people of God. What, in Roman Catholic teaching, is usually termed the sensus fidelium, and in Orthodox teaching is often described as the general conscience of the Church.
Then he appeals to catholic and apostolic tradition, and tradition would mean for the Orthodox, above all though not exclusively, the seven Ecumenical Councils. Then he mentions the unique position of Rome as par excellence the see of Peter. I say par excellence because many Orthodox take the view that all bishops are successors of Peter, and that’s an idea you can find in Cyprian’s day, Unitate, but most Orthodox would concede that the bishop of Rome is successor to Peter in a special sense.
Fr. Lev, in his letter, then goes on to mention two phrases which have been applied to the papacy and which appeal particularly to the Orthodox. The first is the phrase “care of all the churches—sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum.” That is used by St. Paul of himself in II Corinthians 11:28. Then it is applied more specifically to the papal office by Pope Siricius, who was pope from 384 to 399, and by Pope Innocent I (402-17), and then by many other popes. The second title that Fr. Lev mentions as appealing particularly to the Orthodox is “servus servorum Dei—the servant of the servants of God,” a title first used of himself by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) in a letter where he criticizes the patriarch of Constantinople for calling himself ecumenical.
Now, there you have a carefully considered statement by an Orthodox of how we envisage the papacy by function in a reunited Christendom: a unique pastoral mission. And I want to ask you this evening: Is that sufficient from the viewpoint of Roman Catholics and, more particularly, of Eastern Catholics?
In seeking an answer I suggest that we look at the first millennium, when, say, for certain specific periods, Rome and the Christian East were in full communion. Here I call to mind what has sometimes been described as the “Ratzinger formula,” put forward by the pope in 1976, I think, in his lecture in Grätz. There he suggested that Rome cannot demand of the Orthodox more than they ascribe to the papacy in the first millennium, but the Orthodox should not offer less. Actually, he develops the point rather differently, but we have then an appeal to the first millennium.
Now, as we all know, Vatican I in its constitution, Pastor Aeternus, said that the Roman pontiff is “endowed with power of jurisdiction,” I quote, “over the universal Church, a power that is full and supreme, ordinary and immediate.” And it also said that the statements of the Roman pontiff, when made ex cathedra are infallible ex sese non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae—of themselves but not from the consent of the Church. Now, Vatican I claimed that this teaching is in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, and, later on in the course of its definition, the Council says, “Faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, now is the teaching of Vatican I in fact the constant faith of the universal Church from the earliest period.” Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical, Satis Cognitum, 1896, says, “As to the nature and authority of the Roman pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age.”
So there in the definitions of Vatican I and in the statement of Pope Leo XIII, there is an appeal to history. It is said that this is the ancient and universal faith of the Church. In other words, the First Vatican Council is applying the Vincentian canon. You remember, St. Vincent of Lérins says, “Let us hold firmly to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all—Quod ubique quod semper quod ab ominbus creditum est.” So that’s my question for tonight.
I’d like to call to mind, then, the state of play in the current Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, for short: JICTDOCRCC. The Ravenna Agreed Statement in 2007—and I’ve already mentioned this earlier in this conference—states, section 43, “The fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West.” Note the phrasing: “the fact of primacy.” And then it also states:
Both sides (that’s both the Orthodox and the Catholics) agreed there was a canonical taxis (a canonical order) recognized by all in the era of the undivided Church. Further, they agree that Rome, as the church that presides in love according to the phrase of St. Ignatius of Antioch, occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore protos (first) among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era (that’s the era of the undivided Church) regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.
Let us pause for a moment; I want to note that last phrase. What the Ravenna Statement is affirming is that in the first millennium there was no total agreement, no monolithic consensus. The question therefore arises: How far can differences of viewpoint on papal primacy co-exist in the Church without causing a breach of communion? What are the limits of diversity? So, then, that’s the view taken by the Ravenna Statement. There is agreement on the fact of primacy, but no agreement as yet on the manner of its exercise.
The Ravenna Statement says, “How should the teaching of the First and Second Vatican Councils on the universal primacy be understood and lived in the light of the ecclesial practice of the first millennium?” In fact, the Joint International Commission between the Catholics and the Orthodox has not yet given direct consideration to Vatican I and Vatican II. That’s to come later. Since Ravenna, 2007, the Joint International Commission has been concerned to draw up a paper outlining the situation up to the year 1000. In 2008, committees drew up a draft that was discussed at Paphos in 2009 and at Vienna in 2010. Progress was slow and painful. Indeed, at the end of the discussion at Vienna in 2010, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon openly expressed his disappointment. He’s the Orthodox co-chairman. He said, “I feel that I as co-chairman have failed.”
But now, this year, 2011, in the light of those discussions at Paphos and Vienna, they are trying to produce a document that can be finally endorsed. In fact, I think the drafting committee is meeting at this very moment on the island of Cyprus, and that’s why Monsignor McPartlan is not there, but I had already accepted to come to this conference when I was informed of the dates of the drafting committee to which I belong, and I considered that you should not break promises. So here I am.
I must say, I don’t regret that decision. Drafting committees are not always charismatic occasions. I suspect that what will be produced will be regarded by the Commission as a working paper rather than an agreed statement, because there seems to be general disappointment in the document that was emerging. Since the start of the dialogue in 1980, there have been five agreed statements, but probably this will not be a sixth. We’ll see.
So then, let’s come back to our key question. In the first millennium, did the pope claim to exercise direct power of jurisdiction in the Christian East? If so, on what occasions, and was this claim accepted by the Eastern churches? Now let’s come back to the words of the French archimandrite.
First, let’s consider what Fr. Lev excludes. He says, “Not simply a primacy of honor.” Now, this language of a primacy of honor goes back at least to the Second Ecumenical Council, the Council of Constantinople in 381. In its third canon, the Council said, “Because it is the New Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy primacy of honor after the bishop of Rome.” The Greek there is: “ta presveia tēs timēs.” Instead of “primacy,” presveia could be translated “seniority.” Rome was deeply reluctant to accept this canon, so we notice that as regards the See of Constantinople, the criterion for its position in the taxis within the universal Church is not apostolic foundation but the status of the city in the civil organization of the empire.
Orthodox writers speaking of Rome often use similar language. Take, for example, the Greek academic theologian of the last generation, Ioannis Karmiris, in a large book called, Orthodox Ecclesiology, published in 1973. Here he says, “The bishop of Rome enjoys by human and not divine order a simple primacy of honor and order as the first among equal presidents of the particular churches.” It seems to me that the Ravenna Statement of 2007 has already rejected that viewpoint, because the Ravenna Statement says that the bishop of Rome enjoys a universal primacy, and this is different from his position as patriarch of the West. So Karmiris wants to exclude any idea of universal primacy; he wants to treat the pope simply as the first among the patriarchs, but Ravenna doesn’t go along with him on that.
[Metropolitan] John (Zizioulas), a co-chairman in the current Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, takes specific issue with Karmiris. First of all, he objects to Karmiris’s statement, “by human and not divine order.” He says that “the synod (or council) is part of the Church iure divino (by divine right).” It is part of the divinely appointed constitution of the Church. Then he goes on to say, “Synodality cannot exist without primacy.” His argument is that always, when the bishops met, one bishop was regarded as having the first place, and so synodality so far from excluding primacy, on the contrary implies it. John (Zizioulas), as you well know, likes to think of the Church in Eucharistic terms, and we might note that in every celebration of the Liturgy, when there are many priests concelebrating, there is always one who is the president. That is part of the Eucharistic life of the Church, and should it not be applied also to councils?
Then John (Zizioulas) goes on to make an important point, and here he agrees with Fr. Lev: “Primacy,” he says, “is not a legalistic notion implying the investment of a certain individual with power, but it is a form of diakonia.” So if primacy means diakonia, service, then the whole known notion of a primacy of honor or an honorary primacy becomes problematic. Surely we are not in the structure of the Church concerned with honor; we are concerned with service. That is underlined by Fr. Lev, but it is, of course, a point to which the late Pope John Paul II constantly returned, hence the appeal of the title, “servus servorum Dei, the servant of the servants of God.”
So, despite the use of such language by the Second Ecumenical Council, I agree with Fr. Lev that if we’re thinking of the Roman primacy, let us not talk about a primacy of honor. That is not the point at issue.
So let’s go on to a second matter: appellate jurisdiction. There is, I think, no problem here. On a number of notable occasions, appeals were made to Rome from the Christian East. Let me just mention a few of the examples. First of all, 339-340: Athanasius of Alexandria appealed to Pope Julius, and the pope said with reference to this appeal, very significantly, “Athanasius came (that’s came to Rome) not of his own accord, but he was summoned by a letter from us.” Now, Athanasius himself quotes those very words, so presumably he agreed with what Julius was saying. Actually here we have more than a merely appellate jurisdiction. The pope is taking the initiative to summon Athanasius, and Athanasius comes.
Another notable occasion of appeal is that of St. John Chrysostom when he was deposed in 404. He appealed for help to the pope, but—and this just shows you have to be careful in interpreting the evidence—he also appealed to the bishops of Milan and Aquila. So his appeal does not by itself signify the legal recognition of an appellate jurisdiction vested exclusively in the papacy. I think John Chrysostom appealed to anybody who he thought could help him.
Then you have a further appeal to Rome by Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople in 449, when he was deposed by the so-called Robber Synod of Ephesus.
To take a fourth example from the later period, this is what Theodore the Studite said to the emperor Michael II concerning certain statements made by Patriarch Nikiphoros. This is about the year 820. “If,” said Theodore, “there is anything in the patriarch’s reply about which you feel doubt or disbelief, you may ask the older Rome for clarification, as has been the practice from the beginning, according to inherited tradition.” Notice there the appeal to inherited tradition, to the past.
The possibility of appealing to Rome is incorporated into Byzantine canon law, and here the relevant canons are from the Council of Sardica in 342-3, canons 3-5—Sardica is the modern Sofia in Bulgaria— and we have the canons both in Latin and in Greek. Unfortunately the Latin and Greek texts differ. As is said by the Hindus, “The gods love what is obscure and hate what is obvious.”
Anyway, Sardica does allow appeals to Rome from the universal Church, but, significantly, the manner of these appeals is restricted. It says that the condemned bishop, a bishop condemned, may appeal to the pope. The pope, if he deems it appropriate, can order a re-trial of the bishop, but this second trial is not to be conducted by the pope himself in Rome; it is to be conducted by the bishops of the dioceses adjoining that of the particular bishop who has been condemned. The canons add that if the condemned bishop so requests, the pope may send representatives to assist the bishops of the neighboring dioceses. So you see, yes, an appeal to Rome is allowed, but only under quite specific circumstances, under definite restrictions.
Now let’s consider a key example from the early tenth century, and this is the affair of the fourth marriage of the emperor Leo VI, also known as Leo the Wise, though you might doubt whether he was so wise if he got married four times. Anyway, the situation was that the first three wives of Leo had died without leaving him a male heir. Then his mistress, Zoe, bore him a male child, and he was very concerned that the succession to the imperial throne should be firmly established, that there should not be disputes. So he persuaded his court chaplain to conduct a marriage between himself and his mistress.
The patriarch of Constantinople, Nicholas Mysticus, refused to recognize this marriage, and when the emperor came up for communion in St. Sophia, he publicly refused communion to the emperor. Those who think that the patriarchs of Constantinople were merely subservient to the emperor should take a closer look at history. By the way, don’t think too severely of the emperor Leo VI because he had a mistress. Throughout history in East and West, Christian monarchs almost invariably had mistresses, so that’s a perfectly normal situation. It may not apply to the present queen of England. After all, royalty were married for reasons of state, not because of mutual love, though the story of the emperor Nicholas II, St. Nicholas the Passion-bearer of Russia, is different; he really did love his wife.
I recall, at the risk of offending you, the dying words of King George I. Not the words of the dying King George I, but the words of King George I to his dying wife. That was the way round. His wife was dying; the king was very deeply distressed, because he loved her. She said to him, “When I am dead, you must marry again.” “No, no!” said King George. “I love you too much. I will have mistresses.”
To return to Leo VI, the emperor Leo, having been condemned and refused communion in this way by the patriarch, appealed to the pope, and he would have known that at Rome fourth marriages were not forbidden in the way that they were forbidden in the Orthodox East. Provided the fourth marriage occurred after the death of the first three partners, such a fourth marriage was allowed. And, not surprisingly, the pope granted Leo’s request.
Immediately there was uproar at Constantinople. The patriarch and the holy synod removed the pope’s name from the diptychs. This was in 912, and it was not restored until 923. The final solution, which I think shows the good sense that was often shown in Byzantium, was that Leo’s fourth marriage should be recognized, but it was decreed this must never happen again.
I just quote that story to show how the whole question of appeals to Rome is not as simple as it looks. How far did Leo really recognize a higher papal authority? May he not have been acting simply from expediency? Here I would like to quote some words of George Every, Byzantinist of merit, in his work The Byzantine Patriarchate: “Rome was a convenient court of reference, an empire at a distance from Constantinople, but in no serious sense a juridical superior of the patriarchate.” I think that the story of Leo VI illustrates that. When the pope recognized his marriage, this was disputed at Byzantium. They did not... though appeals were allowed to Rome, the decision of Rome was not always accepted automatically.
But the fact, from the early centuries of the Church, that appeals could be made to Rome, that stands firm. We have no reason to call that in question, but we need to look at the evidence rather closely.
So let’s come to a third type of jurisdiction: “supreme, ordinary, and immediate,” in the language of Vatican I. Some people, incidentally, don’t like the word “jurisdiction” very much. Solzhenitsyn said, “This is a word not to be found in the gospels.” Well, he is, in fact, wrong there, at any rate, so far as the King James Bible or authorized version is concerned, but the one reference there to “jurisdiction” is not very helpful. It said, “Herod heard that Christ was of the jurisdiction of Pontius Pilate,” so that’s the context in which “jurisdiction” is used in the New Testament.
However, in the discussion that followed the article of John (Zizioulas) that I quoted, “Recent Discussions on Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology,” an interesting definition of jurisdiction was offered by one of the participants, and I think accepted by most of the others present. He said, “Jurisdiction signifies the power that is needed by someone in the Church in order to exercise their ministry.” So those who draw a contrast between jurisdiction as a hard and nasty juridical word and ministry as an attractive pastoral word are probably making a false contrast. Jurisdiction is simply endowing a person with the necessary ability to carry out their diakonia.
Now, what evidence is there in the first millennium for the bishop of Rome exercising supreme, ordinary, and immediate jurisdiction over the Christian East? To me, that is the crucial question that confronts the Joint Commission. The working paper on which the Joint Commission has been laboring at Paphos and Vienna comes up with very little evidence on this point. In the decrees and canons of the seven Ecumenical Councils—correct me if I’m wrong—it is nowhere said that the pope has direct jurisdiction in the Christian East, and there, for us Orthodox, is the primary basis to which we appeal.
What about other occasions? I’ve already mentioned Athanasius and Pope Julius. Another crucial example would be Pope St. Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon. Now, Pope Leo undoubtedly claimed an all-embracing pastoral care, sollicitudo, for the total Church. “Individual pastors,” he said, “each watch over their flocks with a particular care, but to us (that’s the pope) is given a common care. The administration of each of the bishops is part of our labor.” And elsewhere, Leo sees himself as “guardian of the catholic faith and of the constitution of the Fathers.” He emphasizes that the pope possesses plenitudo potestatis, “fullness of power,” a phrase that has a long history. He says that Peter (and then he would also apply that to himself) rules over all priests and pastors, and he claims to be the primate of all bishops.
I’m sure Leo, in making these claims, was speaking with full sincerity. Having issued his tome, his dogmatic statement, dealing with the Christological debates going on in the Christian East, Leo seems to have taken the view that there was no need for a council. It was enough for the emperor and the patriarch of Constantinople to enforce the tome. However, a council was held at Chalcedon. The emperor clearly thought that a papal statement was not sufficient.
As we all know, when the tome was read at the Council of Chalcedon, the bishops shouted out, “Peter has spoken through Leo!” So often is that phrase quoted. Leo XIII, in Satis Cognitum, calls this “the pronouncement of the council,” but I think we should be careful. It was simply a more-or-less spontaneous acclamation; it was not part of a formal definition. What happened when some of the bishops present objected to particular phrases in Leo’s tome which they held to be doctrinally unsound? Were they told, “Roma locuta est; causa finita est—Rome has spoken; that’s an end to the matter”? No, they were not told that. It was decided instead that they should go into committee to examine this question. The practice of, whenever a difficult point arises, assigning it to a committee is ancient as well as modern.
At the committee, what the objecting bishops were told was, “If you look at the writings of Cyril of Alexandria, you will find he’s saying exactly the same as Leo.” So you notice there that Leo’s tome as a papal statement is not being treated as the final criterion. The council accepted Leo’s tome because it agreed with the teaching that they already held. For them, the authority of Cyril of Alexandria, for the Eastern bishops, was almost certainly greater than that of the pope.
So the tome was accepted only after it had been examined, and having accepted the tome, the Council of Chalcedon then went on to draw up its own definition of faith. On a strictly papalist view, this was unnecessary.
So we have perhaps two different ways of regarding Leo and Chalcedon. We could say the council merely carried out the duty of ratifying what Leo had already decided, but to me the evidence clearly contradicts that. The second view is that the council arrived at its own decision after independent inquiry and debate. There in the mid-fifth century, you have already a clear difference of opinion between the pope and the Eastern bishops, but it did not lead to a breach of communion.
But let’s move on to the mid-ninth century, Pope Nicholas I, and Patriarch Photius. Nicholas clearly claimed, and I quote his letter from 865, that he had authority “over all the earth,” that is, over every church: “Supra omnem terram, id est supra omnem ecclesiam.” So there is certainly a clear claim to universal jurisdiction, but it was not accepted in the Christian East.
And it’s very interesting to note what happened in 861. The point at issue was whether Photius had been legitimately elected as patriarch, whether his predecessor, Ignatius, had been uncanonically deposed. The pope sent legates to Constantinople to look into this, and Photius, who was no fool, submitted his case to the papal legates. They examined the case in court with other bishops at Constantinople, and they thought this was a marvelous opportunity for Rome to assert its authority over Constantinople. So, not surprisingly, they confirmed Photius in office. What happened then was roughly in accordance with the procedures laid down by the Council of Sardica.
When the legates returned to Rome, Nicholas was not at all pleased. He realized that Photius had submitted to the decision of the legates voluntarily, and so he canceled the decision of his legates and he himself re-tried the case at Rome. There he was going far beyond anything allowed to the pope by the Council of Sardica. So I think we can say, looking at the Photian incident, that, yes, there’s a clear assertion of universal jurisdiction by Nicholas, but this was not accepted in Constantinople.
What are we to make of all this? Let’s return to Fr. Lev. “A unique pastoral mission,” that is his key phrase. I take this to signify an all-embracing pastoral care, not only the right to hear appeals, but even to take the initiative in seeking out ways of healing when crises and conflicts arise anywhere within the Christian world. Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, care for all the churches—that, as an Orthodox, I willingly grant to Rome, but I appeal to the Catholics here present, and especially the Eastern Catholics: Is that enough? Thank you.