Saturday, April 08, 2006

More on Peter and the Church

While I must admit, I am flattered to be described as "an Orthodox priest with Origen at his fingertips," I'm afraid I must disavow the compliment. (Hmm... Come to think of it, he did say "Origen at his fingertips..." Perhaps it wasn't meant as a compliment! :-) ) I merely spent a few hours last night using Google and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library - it was actually astonishingly easy to find patristic exegesis that corresponded with what I was at first inclined to concede was a relatively recent Protestant innovation. I guess if you hear something often enough, you are inclined to believe it is true!

In fact, without intending any disrespect to Gabriel - who did, after all, say a bunch of nice things about us in his original post! - I am continually astonished at the logical gaps in the traditional Catholic defence of the papacy. Orthodox Christians have never (or a least rarely!) denied that the bishop of Rome was worthy of a primacy of honour - although the basis for this primacy was not understood to be merely Rome's antiquity or her connection to Sts. Peter and Paul, both of which Rome shares (as has been noted) with the patriarchate of Antioch, but also a function of the conservatism (i.e., fidelity to the apostolic teaching) and influence of the Roman church. It was by virtue of the combination of these factors that Rome was also commonly referred to as an arbiter in difficult canonical disputes.

That being said, it is a long logical leap from a primacy of honour - or even from the role of referee - to the relatively recent claims of absolute supremacy and infallibility made by the modern Roman papacy. It is certainly true that the Apostle Peter took the leading role in the early Church, but this was by no means an absolutely authoritative or infallible role, as can be seen in the part Peter played in precipitating the Jew-Gentile controversy in Antioch and in the leading role that St. James played in pronouncing the collegial judgement of the council of Jerusalem. Nor is there any evidence that the early Church understood the role of the bishops of Rome or their connection to Peter (indeed, most early references are to the connection with Sts. Peter and Paul) as granting them anything like the authority and infallibility that is claimed by the modern papacy. This is the point of the long (probably over-long!) patristic quotes I cited below from Augustine and Origen - unlike as they were, and authoritative as Augustine is (in the West, at least), both explicitly make the point in their exegesis of Matthew 16:18 that our Lord was not saying that Peter himself is the source of the unity and infallibility of the Church.

It is all well and good to talk about needing to "breathe with both lungs, East & West" - and in fact we do appreciate the many overtures and gestures of good faith made by Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI; no one wants to return to the bad old days of high-tension East-West relations! - but to portray the Petrine office as the ultimate source of unity in the Church is ultimately non-Scriptural, not Patristic, and untrue! I hope and pray one day for a real reunion with Rome - a reunion of equals in which the Roman primacy of honour is something given freely and willingly, based on the fidelity of the Roman Church to the teachings and the practice of the apostles. In short, our only hope for ultimate unity lies in our mutual submission and fidelity to one another, to the apostolic tradition, and, above all, to Him who is alone our supreme and infallible Head, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Way, the Life, and the Truth!


Harrison said...

Because I'm busy studying for a philosophy final, I will simply refer to various quotes done already by others who had searched. I'm not a big fan of quoting from sites, but has never been inaccurate with regards to anything to my knowledge. This is indeed a most stimulating debate and would love to take part if I weren't so busy with exams.

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

As I mentioned, Orthodox Christians do not deny the primacy of the Roman see (although her being in schism from the rest of the Church rather nullifies the effect of that primacy), nor do they deny that Peter was given a leading role amongst the apostles, nor do they deny that Peter and his confession served as a symbolic "litmus test" and thus locus of unity - it is the Roman papacy's unilateral preemption of all of this (and more in addition to this) to herself alone with which we have a problem. As a symbol and locus of unity, St. Peter, like the Creed, and like Rome herself, is the property of the Church as a whole, not the bishop of Rome.

cathedral dweller said...

Furthermore, what does the Catholic Church do with the fact that the Third Council of Constantinople accused Pope Honorius of heresy? If the papacy if infallible then how can the Pope have given in to the heresy of monothelitism?

I know some of the arguments that try to skirt around the issue but none of them are very good. You could say that the Pope is infallible when he speaks "ex cathedra." And the classic defense is essentially to say that he did not speak on behalf of the Church and was ill-informed and a bit confused regarding the theological debates raging in the east.

Well, if you're a bit confused and ill-informed and agree to promulgate a teaching that is incorrect, as Honorius did when he sent a letter to Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople in which he agreed to some shakey teaching, then you are still teaching heresy and are therefore fallible. Whether intentionally or accidentally incorrect, it is still incorrect.

That said - I really hope we can get it together with Catholic Church. This Pope seems to want it more than most. But why then remove the title of "Patriarch of the West?" I like that one!

These conversations make a far too convenient distraction from essays I should be writing.

gabriel said...

Again, I'll have to respond at greater length- but I will say that there is an aspect of being squeezed from both sides- Fr. Justin characterizes the Catholic view of the Papacy in the strongest possible terms. Cathedral Dweller, on the other hand, rejects the nuances and limitations advanced by Catholics as unconvincing.

I'm sorry I haven't gotten around to discussing the doctrine & role of the Pope, and will try to do so eventually- I'm afraid, like cathedral, I've end of term to worry about as well.

With regard to the disappearance of the title "Patriarch of the West"- there are two principal theories- one accepts the public explanation of the Holy See as the whole story- that the title is not a terribly ancient one, nor commonly used until recent centuries (when the formal titles of the Pope multiplied). A more intriguing speculation is that there is thought of reforming the Latin Church (there are, of course, Eastern rites in communion with Rome) by spinning off Patriachates.

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

I am tempted to say that if one wants to have it both ways (the papacy is both infallible and fallible, one can expect to find oneself "squeezed from both sides"! Oops. Gave into temptation again. Debating tends to be so bad for one's sanctification! :-)

On a more positive note, I was actually quite favourably impressed with the official Vatican explanation of their omission of the papal title, "Patriarch of the West":

'[The Vatican office] said the title was first used in 642 by Pope Theodore I, but that its exact meaning had always been vague and, over time, had become "obsolete
and practically speaking unusable."

'Abandoning the title changed nothing about the Vatican's recognition of the ancient patriarchal churches, and could not be interpreted as suggesting any new claim to them, it said.

'"The renunciation of the title seeks to express a historic and theological reality, and at the same time seeks to be a renunciation of a claim -- a renunciation that could be of benefit to ecumenical dialogue," the statement said.' [Nicole Winfield, Associated Press]

The official reason given for the omission of the papal title actually reminds me of why I prefer to describe our church as simply "the Orthodox Church", as opposed to the "Eastern Orthodox Church" - the latter represents an historical reality, but one that has not been strictly applicable (at least not in geographic terms) for quite some time now.

Plus, it's usually best to accept people's explanations of their own motives at face value. They may not always be spot-on (we don't always fully understand our own hearts), but, if offered in good faith (usually the best assumption to make), others usually have a better claim to understanding their own motivations than we do!

Peter T Chattaway said...

Debating tends to be so bad for one's sanctification! :-)

And yet without it, we wouldn't have the ecumenical councils and the ecumenical creeds thereof! At least no punches have been thrown -- yet. :)

gabriel said...

My frustration was bourne from my perception that Fr. Justin has characterized papal infallibility in a extremely strong manner, with no hint of limitation, while Cathedral characterizes the doctrine as too modest to be coherent. Who is having it both ways?

If you think the doctrine is incoherent, make the case by all means- but don't polemically use two characterizations for two separate purposes.

And Father, you're absolutely right- debating is hazardous for one's sanctification. I'd go further and suggest that the medium makes it more difficult- it's a great deal easier to communicate disagreement, dismissal, irony, and sarcasm through these fleeting photons than warmth, sympathy, humility & love.

Marshall McLuhan, ora pro nobis

(a Catholic convert, by the way)

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

Peter on debating:

And yet without it, we wouldn't have the ecumenical councils and the ecumenical creeds thereof! At least no punches have been thrown -- yet. :)

Indeed, without it - debating, that is, even debating via this limited medium! - neither I nor my wife would be Orthodox! The trick is to value Truth more than winning...

Lord, have mercy!

cathedral dweller said...

I think I was misunderstood or did not express myself clearly.

I don't think the Pope is infallible. I don't think anybody is infallible.

What I meant to point out in my previous post is an actual historical event in which the Pope espoused a teaching that later Popes would deem heretical - ie. monothelistism or the belief that Christ had only one natural and divine will.

This verifiable historical example was only pointed out to show that the Pope is subject to the same possiblity of fallibility as any other person and that it has indeed occurred in the course of history.

I also have a hard time with the way certain apologists massage the issue of infallibility. If somebody holds an incorrect belief, whether accidentally or purposfully, it is still incorrect. Most people who have been condemned of bad teaching did not teach incorrect doctrines out of maliciousness and may have even believed these things precisely because they were ill-informed, ignorant of certain facts, etc. But that does not change the fact of being incorrect.

Fr. Justin - I read the statement from the Vatican regarding the dropping of the title. Just because the title came only later in history doesn't mean it is incorrect. Perhaps the title needs to be changed to something like "Patriarch of the Catholic Church" but to remove the idea of patriarch from the Pope's list of titles only serves to reinforce the notions of papal supremacy.

I fail to see how dropping the title could improve ecumenical relations especially with the Orthodox Church but it could improve Catholic relations with other Churches that essentially come of the Catholic tradition ie. Protestant Churches. One of the main issues that divides us from the Catholic Church is the issue of ecclesiology and by dropping the title from the Patriarch will only further confirm and strengthen Rome's claims to supremacy. Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev had some fairly pointed things to say about this. Here's the link to his article.

thanks for an engaging discussion.

By the way, I to think we should get ride of the word "Eastern" from our vocabularies. Besides inheriting the traditions of the eastern Churches, there is nothing Eastern about us. I'm Canadian darn it!

Simply Victoria said...

Tolkien, God bless his soul, was also a Catholic, but as Aslan says, it is your story that I am here to tell.

gabriel said...

Isn't it horrible I can't place that Aslan reference? But I think I get the point.

Sorry if Marshall McLuhan came off as a sectarian boast- but I wasnted to indicate a degree of seriousness as well as levity. I did ask him to intercede for us. I hope that didn't come off as horribly inappropriate (What is the view about praying to those not canonized in the Orthodox tradition?)

One of the nice things about this conversation is that while we are debating Papal primacy, we have much more in common than even when we speak to our Protestant brothers & sisters.

gabriel said...

Finally, I've written more here. And I've put up an index post for the discussionhere.

I'm looking forward to your thoughts. God be with you this Holy Week.