Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Pope according to the Orthodox Church

The Orthodox, especially since the schism and the introduction of new doctrines by the Roman Catholic Church, finds many themes within Roman Catholicism alien, not being able to accept them. One of the major issues dividing the two ancient churches is the Pope’s supremacy, i.e. his role within the Christian world. In order to give an Orthodox explanation of this topic I quote from Metropolitan Kallistos’ book, The Orthodox Church, who in many respects tries to give a very balanced and diplomatic explanation. I point this topic here not to emphasise our differences, but merely to understand the various interpretations within the Christian world.

“…Orthodox believe that among the five Patriarchs[1] a special place belongs to the Pope. The Orthodox Church does not accept the doctrine of Papal authority set forth in the decrees of the Vatican Council of 1870, and taught today in the Roman Catholic Church; but at the same time Orthodoxy does not deny to the Holy and Apostolic See of Rome a primacy of honour, together with the right (under certain conditions) to hear appeals from all parts of Christendom. Not that we have used the word ‘primacy’, not ‘supremacy’. Orthodox regard the Pope as the bishop ‘who presides in love’, to adapt a phrase of St Ignatius: Rome’s mistake – so Orthodox believe – has been to turn this primacy or ‘presidency of love’ into a supremacy of external power and jurisdiction.
This primacy which Rome enjoys takes its origin from three factors. First, Rome was the city where St Peter and St Paul were martyred, and where Peter was bishop. The Orthodox Church acknowledges Peter as the first among the Apostles: it does not forget the celebrated ‘Petrine texts’ in the Gospels (Matthew xvi, 18-19; Luke xxii, 32; John xxi, 15-17) – although Orthodox theologians do not understand these texts in quite the same way as modern Roman Catholic commentators. And while Orthodox theologians would say that not only the Bishop of Rome but all bishops are successors of Peter, yet most of them at the same time admit that the Bishop of Rome is Peter’s successor in a special sense. Secondly, the see of Rome also owed its primacy to the position, occupied by the city of Rome in the Empire; she was the capital, the chief city of the ancient world, and such in some measure she continued to be even after the foundation of Constantinople. Thirdly, although there were occasions when Popes fell into heresy, on the whole during the first eight centuries of the Church’s history the Roman see was noted for the purity of its faith: other Patriarchates wavered during the great doctrinal disputes, but Rome for the most part stood firm. When hard pressed in the struggle against heretics, people felt that they could turn with confidence to the Pope. Not only the Bishop of Rome, but every bishop, is appointed by God to be a teacher of the faith; yet because the see of Rome had in practice taught the faith with an outstanding loyalty to the truth, it was above all to Rome that everyone appealed for guidance in the early centuries of the Church.
But as with Patriarchs, so with the Pope: the primacy assigned to Rome does not overthrow the essential equality of all bishops. The Pope is the first bishop in the Church – but he is the first among equals”[2].

[1] The five Patriarchates being Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
[2] Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church, (London, Penguin Books, 1997), p. 27-28

No comments:

Post a Comment