Thursday, March 2
Nine months ago, a friend of mine reported that a mid-eastern historian he knew had it on good authority that most all the Eastern Orthodox Churches, save the Greeks and the Russians, were ready to enter into full communion with the Holy See.
That is very second-hand information. But, it's also interesting: what would a unified Church look like?
The answer is very easy, in one respect. The papacy's influence on local churches derives from two soures:
(1) The Petrine Ministry: the pope's role as successor of Peter, by virtue of which he "strengthens his brothers in faith" and is the personal exemplar of the infallibilty of the Church.
(2) Patriarch of the West: The ability to appoint bishops to the Western Church, to dictate its liturgy and give its laws, to supervise the works of its local synods, etc., do not proceed from the Petrine ministry. The pope doesn't "have" to do these things, and in fact it was only over the gradual course of history that he came to do these things. I am glad that he does, but it is not intrinsic to his office. In the east, the bishops invested with this authority are known as "Patriachs," and so, since AD 450, we have explained to the East that the Pope has this authority over the West because he is the Patriarch of the West.
These are the two primary sources of the pope's heavy jurisdictional influence in the Catholic Church.
Interestingly, Pope Benedict appears to have removed the title "Patriarch of the West" from the official listing of the papacy's titles.
Why? Rocco, to whom I link above, suggests that Benedict is showing respect for the East by not usurping a title which is appropriate to the Eastern tradition and not the Western one. I think that critically misreads the situation: the title "Patriarch of the West" is as old as many of the Eastern patriarchal titles, and therefore has equal claim to valid, non usurporous use. Further, removing the distinction between the Petrine Office and his status as Patriarch would be very damaging to ecumenical relations: the only way any meaningful unity between the Eastern Orthodox and the West could possibly come to pass is with a very clear and distinct demarcation of the pope's inherent Petrine responsibilities and his accidental authority as Patriarch of the West.
The answer to this question comes to us from Ratzinger himself, in a passage identified by VaticanWatcher:
"The image of a centralized state which the Catholic church presented right up to the council does not flow only from the Petrine office, but from its strict amalgamation with the patriarchal function which grew ever stronger in the course of history and which fell to the bishop of Rome for the whole of Latin Christendom... For that reason, the task to consider for the future will be to distinguish again and more clearly between the proper function of the successor of Peter and the patriarchal office and, where necessary, to create new patriarchates and to detach them from the Latin church."
Rocco has it wrong thinking that the Pope is renouncing the title "Patriarch": Benedict says he consider the distinction between "patriarch" and "Peter" to be essential. Rather, if the reports are correct that the title "Patriarch of the West" has been dropped, he has dropped the title "...of the West."
Benedict, like he said he would do, is laying the foundation for the creation of new patriarchates in the Western Church, which only makes sense: the Latin Rite Church of Asia, or even of Africa, are "Western" in name only. This will have important implications:
(1) It will make the structure of the current Latin Church much more like that of the Eastern Church, with various regional centers of authority. This will ease Eastern Orthodox concerns that the Papacy, by nature, desires to usurp those functions proper to patriarchs, promoting the possibility for East-West unity. (It also indicates a change of attitude which would ease the creation of an Anglican Rite.)
(2) It will enable further inculturation of the Liturgy within Asia and Africa, as their new local patriarchs take over control of the liturgy there.
(3) It will enable reforms of the Roman Missal that return to more traditional European practices, or the liberal return of the Tridentine indult to those places were the traditional liturgy is culturally important (Europe, America, Australia, etc.).
Very exciting, say I.