No more “Patriarch of the West”

No more “Patriarch of the West”

Reports out of Rome today indicate that Pope Benedict has officially decided to suppress one of the traditional nine titles for the Pope.

The Pope’s nine traditional titles are: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Sovereign Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Rome province, Sovereign of the Vatican City-State, Patriarch of the West, and Servant of the Servants of God.

According to press reports, in the 2006 Annuario Pontificio, the official statistical yearbook of the Church, the title of Patriarch of the West has been suppressed. It has rarely been used since the Great Western Schism of 1054. In the past it has been argued that it is not properly a title of popes.

The Eastern Orthodox recognize 5 original patriarchs: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; but the title of patriarch wasn’t used by the pope until the First Vatican Council in 1870.

Update: Catholic World News has a more extensive article on the change, the history of the title, and speculation why Pope Benedict is doing this now.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • I think this move will actually set back ecumenism.  It could be seen as recognition of the disunification in the Latin-Rite Church that came about after Vatican II under the Novus Ordo Missae.  I also worry that some wag in the Orthodox Church (or among the Traditionalists) will claim that the patriarchy is thus vacant, and try to fill it.

  • I agree with seamole, and I don’t understand this move. I know a number of Eastern Catholics, and they attach a lot of importance to this specific title, as it harkens back to the 1st millenium situation of the Pentarchy, and is a bridge to the Eastern conception of the hierarchy. Considering Benedict’s statements in the past about seeing reunion as possibly including a return to the situation of the 1st millenium, I’m even more puzzled.

    Frankly, out of the nine titles, the Patriarch of the West is the one I’d most like to see him keep, after Bishop of Rome.

  • The lack of a Western Patriarch is probably the biggest obstacle to reunification of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, because the Pope has to act as Patriarch in the West.  We view the Pope as Orthodoxy views their Patriarchs.  For the Pope to have a leadership role in the East and West, he would have to abandon this title, and that may be what he is doing.  However, the Latin Church cannot exist without the sort of leadership that a Patriarch provides.  Perhaps the office of Patriarch of the West will be reinvented as a new office in the Western hierarchy.  If that were done, we could still look to a leader for governance—the Western Patriarch, or whatever he might be called.  The pope would then be free to work for unity between all of the Patriarchs, East and West,  without having the responsibility of governance.  In fact this restructuring would turn out a Papacy that looks rather like that of John Paul II’s.  Lots of visible leadership.  Very little governance.  This sort of papacy would be much more acceptable to Orthodoxy, and might bring about the reunification of Eastern and Western Christianity.

    Of course none of that would be possible until the Roman Catholic Church gets Her act in order again.  Orthodoxy will not want to join with the kind of heresy we are suffering from.  Those church windows Dom has linked with non-Christians depicted would be a total turn-off for the Orthodox, for instance.  So the Patriarch would need to govern strictly in accord with our doctrine and laws.

    Is there any possibility this is the long-term plan?  There have been hints of restructuring the papacy going around for some time.  If no Western Patriarch (or its equivalent) is appointed, and the Pope abandons the position, we are in for a great deal more trouble than we already have.

    This decision to abandon the Patriarchy sounds like a very serious decision to me.

  • Carrie,

    That all sounds well and good, but I don’t think anyone Orthodox will except a “reinvention” of the Western Patriarch (“reinvention” is not in their vocabulary smile ). By their estimation, the Bishop of Rome IS the Patriarch of the West, and you simply can’t change that. So I don’t see how this move is anything but a blow to ecumenism.

    However, I actually have a lot of faith in Benedict in this arena, so it is quite possible I’m missing important points in this move.