"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Petrine Ministry and Christian Unity

Earlier I had mentioned a forthcoming Eerdmans publication on the papacy. I have now just received and read 

James Puglisi, ed., How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church? (Grand Rapids, MI, 2010), x+369pp.

James Puglisi is director of the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, and editor of a previous collection on the same topic. Fully one-third of that earlier (1999) collection (4 chapters out of 12) was written by Byzantine and Oriental Orthodox theologians who gathered in Rome with other theologians in a symposium in response to Ut Unum Sint, about which you will all want to read my book.

This present book, by contrast, has only one Eastern contribution from Met. John Zizioulas, whose article repeats, in many places verbatim, his earlier essay in Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church. Zizioulas would make many of the same points again in an article at another symposium in Rome in 2003 whose articles were published in 2005 under Walter Cardinal Kasper's editorship.

In both those places, and again here, Zizioulas makes his ringing declaration, with which I have always wholeheartedly agreed, that "the primacy of the bishop of Rome has to be theologically justified or else can be ignored altogether" (177).

Earlier in the present article, Zizioulas does, however, go a bit beyond his previous two articles on the topic, here introducing a newly self-critical note in at least two places. First, he gently chides some of his fellow Orthodox (he names Afanassieff and Meyendorff) for claiming that

the local church comes first, both historically and theologically, and it is only in a secondary way, if at all (Afanassieff would not allow even for that, at least until the time of St. Cyprian), that we can speak of the church universal. My own personal view has always been different, and it was so because I have always believed that the nature of the Eucharist points to the simultaneity of locality and universality in ecclesiology (172).
Second, while reiterating his belief that synodality and primacy can only ever exist together, and neither can function, nor even be coherent, without the other, he notes that "there can be no church without a synod--this is a principle followed carefully by the Orthodox Church, albeit not always in a satisfactory way" (173). A little later he cautions Orthodox against having too great an enthusiasm for the 15th-century Western conciliarist movement. Such Orthodox, Zizioulas suggests, "think that synodality is an alternative to the papal primacy. Such views would imply that there is an incompatibility between primacy and conciliarity, which, as we shall see, is by no means true" (173).

Moving beyond Zizioulas to look at the rest of the book, one notes that this present collection incorporates the proceedings of two ecumenical conferences in 2003 and 2004 at the International Bridgettine Centre of Farfa in Serbia.  The book differs from the earlier two collections in several ways. First, its clear focus, as just noted, is not on the East but on the West, and on Lutheranism in particular. I'd estimate that more than half of the articles in here are written by and for Lutherans. (I say "estimate" because there are several minor irritants with this book, including the fact that none of the many chapters are numbered; there is no index, which is inexcusable in the computer age; and we have no notes whatsoever on the many contributors, most of whose names are not well known at all.)

Second, many (but not all) the articles are more substantial than earlier articles insofar as we have clearly moved beyond generalities and pleasantries. Now instead of airily putting forth a list of fantasies of the "Wouldn't it be nice if the pope immolated himself after restoring Christian unity, ending poverty, and ensuring world peace with free fuzzy bunnies for all the children thrown in?" variety, we have articles looking at very particular aspects of the papacy, in its history, theology, and current practice. These articles do not shy away from very particular issues which are discussed with very great, and critical, detail in some cases.

There are several familiar arguments made here by several familiar figures, including Walter Kasper, who résumés his four hermeneutical principles he has previously outlined in several places.

Hervé Legrand, whose importantly critical arguments here have been made elsewhere,  goes farther than he has done previously. One of the many commendable things about Legrand is the fact he consistently begins with self-criticism, noting what the Catholic Church must do to gain or strengthen its ecumenical credibility with other Christians. In this article he zeroes in on the bloated eminence of the Roman Curia in the last several decades, arguing that

Vatican II's intention, as everyone knows, had been to highlight the role of the episcopate and to reduce the weight of the Roman Curia. Not only has this objective not been reached, but on the contrary, the Roman Curia has experienced unprecedented expansion: the number of bishops in a position of responsibility has quadrupled, growing from fewer than twenty (cardinals included, under Pius XII) to more than eighty today....Its staff has more than doubled. It is no wonder that the Curia has turned into some kind of universal decision-maker and that at the same time collegiality, subsidiarity, and legitimate diversities regress (319).
A little later, Legrand offers a startling statistic, based on the 2004 Annuario Pontificio, that "43 percent of Catholic bishops (17 percent of whom only are bishops emeritus) are not actually at the head of a diocese" (322) but instead running curial offices or doing other things. If, Legrand concludes, Catholics are serious about reforming the papacy for it to again be an instrument of unity, then the Curia's "reorganization is the most urgent contribution that we, Catholics, can make. Vatican II had foreseen the task. But it is currently neglected" (330).

Joseph Komonchak's "What Ecclesiology for the Petrine Ministry" begins by asking how it is that the overwhelming majority of people today have the image of the Catholic Church "as a vast multinational religious corporation with central headquarters in Rome, branch offices in large cities, and retail shops, called parishes, dispensing spiritual goods. On this view, the pope is seen as the CEO of the firm" (145). Like Legrand, and like Congar before them both, Komonchak also questions "the great growth of central Roman authority....what Yves Congar callled 'the incredible inflation' of the papal teaching office" (146).

Both Legrand and Komonchak illustrate a long-standing fear of the East, summed up in that old line "It's not the pope we fear but the pope's helpers!" These remain critical issues, already addressed more than a decade ago by Archbishop John Quinn and, before him, by the late Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk, often called the "father of collegiality."

Two other important chapters here bear mentioning. Both are by the historian Hermann Pottmeyer. He treats the papacy, especially since Vatican I, with his usual fairness and balance, noting how many of its developments, which we today might regard as problematic, were laudable attempts, in their context, to meet real crises in the Church of their day: "What was rational in certain situations, because it served the good of the church effectively, became counterproductive" (106). Today we need to see what aspects of the papacy are in fact counterproductive, and so "it is incumbent on the Catholic Church itself to give its Petrine ministry a convincing form to make it possible for other Christians to share this experience" of unity (106). Later on Pottmeyer rebukes those anti-Catholic apologists and polemicists who treat Vatican I as some kind of grandiose papal power-grab, arguing that "it was not a lust for power on the part of the popes that led to the two dogmas of the primacy and the infallibility of the pope, but the very real threat to the church, its unity, and its autonomy vis-à-vis the state, and the fact that the faith was in danger" (115). Pottmeyer rightly and hopefully concludes that, understood properly, Vatican I "is not the insuperable obstacle to the unity of Christians that it has long been considered to be" (123).

In sum, this is an important collection, especially for Western Christians, and we are once more in the debt of Puglisi, and Eerdmans for continuing to make these crucial issues available to us and thereby helping us to continue to ask questions whose answers are necessary if Christians are to have a united future. For, as Francis Oakley plaintively asked at the end of his book on conciliarism, how “can one hope to erect a future capable of enduring, if one persists in trying to do so on the foundation of a past that never truly was?”

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