Saturday, June 03, 2006

Papal Primacy and Jurisdictional Conditioning


I've been enjoying the beaches and warm Gulf waters here on South Padre Island since the weekend, and plan to finish out my vacation in relative intellectual inactivity. But naturally my thoughts do turn from time to time to theology, and specifically to the discussion of papal primacy that began before my vacation. I'd like to share a few observations with you now.

First, the formal dogmatic definitions relating to the extent and nature of the universal primacy of the Papacy were made since 1054, that is to say, not only within the context of a divided church but one in which the Western delimitations of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church were virtually reckoned as coterminus with the jurisdictional bounds of the Western Patriarchate, i.e., the Latin Church (setting aside for the moment the question of the Eastern Catholic, a.k.a. Uniate churches).

This is not to say that Rome did not make such claims before the Great Schism, but that the particular dogmas that have presented such seemingly insurmountable obstacles to reunion with the East (e.g., Vatican 1) were defined subsequent to the East/West divide. The importance of this observation I trust will become apparent in light of my second observation.

Second, such controversial definitions as Pastor Aeternus are historically and jurisdictionally conditioned. The waning temporal power of the Papacy in the 19th century combined with the Church's struggle against modernity in both the political and theological realms are apparent to any astute reader of the history leading up to the First Vatican Council. However, the jurisdictional conditions are not readily appreciated, and I think this is where more work on the ecumenical front needs to be done. (This is no doubt due primarily to the Roman Catholic claim of ecclesiastical ultimacy -- i.e., that the Roman Communion, in and of itself and all by itself, is the Catholic Church in its fullness.)

Among the many titles that have been ascribed to the Pope in history, three stand out for attention: (1) Bishop of Rome, (2) Patriarch of the West, and (3) Universal Pastor. In the papacy's own self-consciousness all other titles, rights, and authority stem from the first of these, i.e. "Bishop of Rome." The Roman Church's apostolic pedigree afforded it a prestige that was unrivaled by any other church, and its special role as the guardian of the apostolic faith was unquestioned among the ancients. With regards to the third title -- Universal Pastor -- I would contend that this was originally exercised (i.e., during the first millennium) as a primus inter pares role amongst the five great Patriarchates (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) -- much like the ecumenical patriarchal role that Constantinople enjoys today in the East.

It is in the capacity of the second role -- Patriarch of the West -- that Rome has over time, and especially in the post-schism era, extended its jurisdictional authority more or less successfully. This is where I believe the jurisdictional conditioning of Rome's dogma of papal supremacy, particularly Pastor Aeternus, is relevant. Since 1054 the Western Patriarchate has become not only worldwide in its scope but virtually universal in its self-perception. I suggest that what has happened in the wake of the Great Schism is the blurring and confusion of the roles of "Patriarch of the West" and "Universal Pastor," and that Rome's present stance on primacy, which ascribes a universal, immediate and ordinary jurisdiction to the Pope, should be read as applying only to the Western Patriarchate and her subsidiary Eastern satellites (i.e., the Eastern Catholics), and NOT to the other four Patriachates (in which case a primacy of honor, rather than jurisdiction, would be not only more acceptable but more in line with the Pope's role in the first millennium).

Anyway, these thoughts are still seminal. I appreciate any suggestions or comments.

Until next time.

1 comment:

Marshall said...

I would agree about the thought that "Pastor Aeternus" and "Patriarch of the West" became blurred, although I think it happened all too shortly after the Great Schism. Wasn't it Boniface VIII who extended the tradition of "no salvation outside the Church" to mean "no salvation outside this Church?" That makes a great deal of sense, then, of the Fourth Crusade, which was really against Byzantium, whether publicized that way or not.

What, then, of the more famous title, "Pontifex Maximus?"

In any case, on both sides of the Great Schism someone is claiming that all others have lost their prestige. Moscow's claim to be "the New Rome" in an entirely ecclesial sense reflected the tradition that Constantinople had already become the New Rome, replacing Old Rome (Heavens! shades of today's political rhetoric of New Europe and Old Europe!).