Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ut Unum Sint: Did the Great Schism End Today?

Pope Francis spoke today at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops. 

I am an Orthodox Christian. And the things he said today, if they were to come to fruition, imply that the Church of Rome would become institutionally aligned with the Orthodox Churches in such a way that, in my opinion, we Orthodox would be sinning against the unity of the Church were we not to restore intercommunion with Rome. 

The Pope is saying that the Roman Catholic Church should decentralize by adopting a Synodal Model, which is how the Eastern Orthodox Churches govern themselves. Catholic or Protestant readers may not understand what exactly this means. Let me explain how it functions in the Orthodox Church.

My wife is a Romanian-American. So I will use the Romanian Orthodox Church as my example.

The Romanian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Church. This means that it is independent and self-governing. It is in communion with the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Romanian Orthodox Church is comprised of a number of dioceses, each with a bishop. The bishop of the largest diocese, Bucharest, holds the title of Patriarch of Romania. 

But the Patriarch of Romania is far from being the "Pope" of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The supreme governing body of the Romanian Orthodox Church is not the Patriarch, but rather the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The Synod is all the bishops when they meet as a college. The Patriarch is the presiding bishop, the chair, so to speak, of that meeting. And that role certainly gives him a degree of control over the proceedings. But he has no veto over the votes. If the Synod votes in a direction he disagrees with, the Synod wins.

Pope Francis today seems to have redefined Papal primacy as having two aspects. 

Firstly, Papal primacy is primacy over the Synod of Bishops in precisely the same way that the Patriarch of Romania has primacy over the Romanian Synod. He states, quoting Vatican II, that the Bishops of the Holy Synod are "united with the Bishop of Rome by episcopal communion (cum Petro)." 

But in the context of stressing collegiality, he quotes Vatican II as implying that Papal primacy can be understood as only implying the act of presiding over the Synod, "[the Bishops] are at the same time hierarchically subjected to him as head of the college (sub Petro)." If we understand the primacy of the Pope as head of the college of Bishops (the Synod) in the Eastern Orthodox sense, it is a quantum leap away from the Ultra-Montane Vatican I formulation.

It is the second way he defines Papal primacy that is most controversial. He stated the following today:

"The Pope is not, by himself, above the Church, but he is inside it, as one baptized among those baptized."

This flies in the face of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that:

882: "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."

He goes on to say that the the Pope, "is within the College of Bishops as a Bishop among Bishops."

The traditional claim of the Popes was that the Pope was at least "Primus Inter Pares," First among Equals. Pope Francis is now saying that the Pope is "Unus Inter Pares," One among Equals.

But he goes on to point out that the Bishop of Rome does indeed have a critical role to play for the unity of the Church. He states that the Bishop of Rome is "called at the same time to guide the Church of Rome, which presides in the Love of all the Churches."

He is quoting here the Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who described the Roman Church as "presiding in love." Pope Francis quoted this the first evening he came out on that balcony as Pope.

And Pope Francis is hereby stating that it is not the Pope who has primacy. It is the Church of Rome itself. 

And its mission is the unity of the Church.

The Pope also clearly points to the fact that orienting the Church toward Collegiality is intended to result in the possibility of unity with the East. He states that he told the delegation from the Church of Constantinople that "the principle of collegiality and the service of the one who presides offer a significant contribution to the advancement of relations between our Churches."

And I'll close by saying, if he actually implements the vision he stated today, we will look back on this day as the end of the Schism.

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