Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Question of Papal Primacy


[A very interesting take from Archbishop Keshishian of the Armenian Apostolic Church on the ecumenical obstacles of papal primacy. Enjoy!]

By establishing a church in Rome, Peter naturally exercised his personal prerogatives, and the spirit of Petrine privilege remained attached to the local church of Rome. But this never implies a divinely instituted universal jurisdiction for the Bishop of Rome. In the position of the Roman Catholic church I see three problematic elements:
  • First, the very concept of individual succession carries with it, ecclesiologically speaking, a fundamental contradiction: how can the Bishop of Rome embody, either potentially or actually, two episcopal authorities, namely local and universal? One is led to think that the office of Rome is absorbed in the universal trans-apostolic office. If it is so, then the claim of Vatican I for universal jurisdictional power lacks any ecclesiological foundation.
  • Secondly, the bishops, individually or collectively, are not successors of individual apostles but the apostolic college as a whole, and they receive their ministerial power directly from Christ. Therefore, the chair of an apostle or apostolic succession, that is the sedes (the chair), and the sedens (its occupant), must be differentiated. This is very important. For example, the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria is the chair of St. Mark; but the Patriarch of the Coptic Church is not the successor of St. Mark. Again, St. Thaddaeus and St. Bartholomew are the founders of the Armenian Church; but the head of the Armenian Church does not claim to be a successor of these apostles. This is true of all the churches which are founded by the apostles.
  • Thirdly, there are Catholic theologians who still firmly maintain that the pope claims universal jurisdiction not only as the successor of Peter, but also the Vicar of Christ. This further complicates the problem.

--Orthodox Perspectives on Mission, p. 70.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Interesting comments.

Abp. Keshishian's distinction between sedes and sedens is especially telling. Unless I have completely misunderstood his point, the fact that apostolic bishops are made succesors to the "apostolic college as a whole", rather than to the individuals which orginally made up the twelve, implies that every legitimate consecration, in a sense, increases the apostolate by one.

Eric Mascall puts it like this- my apologies for the lengthiness of this quotation.

"When we recall that one of the central themes-we might say indeed the central theme-of the NT is that of the restoration and revivification and reinauguration of Israel, the people of God, by Jesus who is Israel's Messiah, the declaration that the Twelve shall "sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" is clearly seen as establishing the twelve Apostles as patriarchs of the New Israel, as the twelve sons of Jacob were the patriarchs of the Old."

"It is true that the type of patriarchate, like all the other OT types which our Lord fulfills, is transformed in its fulfillment; it is not always sufficiently remembered that typology is an analogical and not a univocal mode of communicating information...And the fact that in the NT we see the apostolic name and office spreading out beyond the original twelve to others such as James and Paul and Barnabas, shows that, whereas the Old Israel was something essentially limited and, as it were, frozen and sterilized by its limitation to the Jewish people, the New Israel is pontentially universal in its extension to all mankind."

"The tribes of the New Israel are not twelve in number but virtually infinite; so are its patriarchs. This does not alter the fact that the Apostles are the patriarchs of the New Israel, and that they have therefore a theological and not merely utillitarian significance in the structure of the Church".

Based on the above, Mascall briefly sketches a sociology of the Church, where the "focal position" of the apostolic episcopate in Catholic Christendom is the bishop as "the link between the universal and the local Church, between the whole body of Christ's people, dispersed throughout the world, and the diocese, which is not just part of the Church of God, but is the Church of God manifested in a particular place".

Now if Mascall ( and Abp. Keshishian ) are correct, wouldn't this mean that the traditional Roman pretensions to universal jurisdiction are, in fact, rather subversive of genuine catholicity?

-Mark