Reasons for dropping “Patriarch of the West”

Reasons for dropping “Patriarch of the West”

A reader notes that perhaps we can see the roots of why Pope Benedict has decided to drop the papal title of Patriarch of the West in a document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith that he signed in 2000. It is called “Note on the Expression ‘Sister Churches’”. The relevant paragraph is number 3 after the introduction:

In Christian literature, the expression begins to be used in the East when, from the fifth century, the idea of the Pentarchy gained ground, according to which there are five Patriarchs at the head of the Church, with the Church of Rome having the first place among these patriarchal sister Churches. In this connection, however, it needs to be noted that no Roman Pontiff ever recognized this equalization of the sees or accepted that only a primacy of honour be accorded to the See of Rome. It should be noted too that this patriarchal structure typical of the East never developed in the West.

In other words, the phrase Patriarch of the West would give the appearance of the pope being the head of the Roman Catholic Church while the various patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches would be the heads of their respective regions, when in fact the primacy of the pope extends over the entire universal Church, i.e. all Christians.

Perhaps this will negatively affect ecumenical efforts with the Orthodox, but what’s more important it is the truth.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
5 comments
  • But the problem is that we already have a title that encompasses the fact that the Pope is the head of the entire church. No one in Orthodoxy believes that the Catholic Church holds any other position.
    What the East does say – and this is reflected in the existence of Eastern Catholic churches that are ‘self-governing’ yet in communion with Rome – is that some things that the Pope does should be seen as something he does by virtue of being Patriarch of the West. For example, the Pope names bishops of the western church, but the ideal for Eastern Catholics – and in a reunited church, for the Orthodox – would be that those churches name their own bishops in accord with whatever tradition they have maintained for doing so.
    Similarly, the pope carries out a host of other jurisdictional and disciplinary activities in the west which he would not necessarily do in the east since he is not an eastern patriarch. A noted Orthodox ecumenist, Archbishop Vsevolod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, has said that what the west precisely needs to do is further elaborate on the pope’s role as western patriarch, and that that could be the way out for East-West unity. After all, JPII said in Ut Unum Sint that he was willing to reconsider the form and function of the papacy so long as nothing essential were compromised.
    It is worth quoting from the Catholic Encyclopdeia:
    “[The Pope] as [Western] patriarch … rules only the West. As patriarch the Roman pontiff has from the beginning ruled all the Western lands where Latin was once the civilized, and is still the liturgical language, where the Roman Rite is now used almost exclusively and the Roman canon law (e.g. celibacy, our rules of fasting and abstinence, etc.) obtains. To Christians in the East he is supreme pontiff, not patriarch. Hence there has always been a closer relation between Western bishops and the pope than between him and their Eastern brethren, just as there is a still closer relation between him and the suburban bishops of the Roman Province of which he is metropolitan. Many laws that we obey are not universal Catholic laws, but those of the Western patriarchate.”
    (back to me):
    By eliminating the title of patriarch, I’m afraid the pope will take away a ‘safety valve’ the East could have found solace in; they will fear that the pope intends to obtain immediate jurisdiction over their churches just as in the west.
    Moreover, it is the ancient councils of the church which defined which sees were patriarchal, and little is more holy to the Orthodox than following the councils and fathers of the church. I fear this will be seen by some in east as a disruption of unbroken tradition and teaching.
    I hope I’m wrong.

  • Yes, the patriarch title emphasizes that the pope exercises authority over the Latin church in a different way than over the eastern churches. This of course is a matter of custom since by the power of his office the pope has immediate and total jurisdiction over the entire church.

  • This is enormously good news for Orthodox-Roman Catholic relations.  To better understand Papa Benedict’s rationale, please check out the following link from May 2005 at Orthodoxy Today”:

    http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/?p=925

    The key quote from Cardinal Ratzinger’s essay, “Primat und Episkopat” (Primacy and Episcopacy):

    “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. To embrace unity with the pope would then no longer mean being incorporated into a uniform administration, but only being inserted into a unity of faith and communio, in which the pope is acknowledged to have the power to give binding interpretations of the revelation given in Christ whose authority is accepted whenever it is given in definitive form. [emphasis added]”

    Part of Orthodox fears of reunion with Rome has been the experiences of “Latinization” where Uniate churches were forced to conform to Western practices.  New Patriarchies will allievate that, since the Patriarch of a church decides the form of the rite.  Cardinal Hussar of the Ukraine proposed unification under a Pariarch of the Ukraine.  I’ll bet Papa Benedict suggested that proposal.

  • I think St. Joe’s Dog hits it.  This move may well be not immediately related to reunification with the East, but rather with the organization of the West. 

    It could be de facto recognition that the Western Patriarchy exists no longer, and that the Latin Rite has effectively dissolved along national borders with the national Churches very poorly coordinated by bishops’ conferences.  We might in fact call the permanent bishops’ conferences one of the greatest failures of Vatican II. 

    This could thus be the first step to an American Patriarch.  His Beatitude, Roger I, Patriarch of the United States?  God have mercy on us.

    OTOH, it would have an interesting political effect in the rest of the world.  CELAM could presumably get its own Patriarch, and so might Europe.  Such a move would effectively give the Church a greater and more effectual voice in these transnational arenas than the political side has.  In other words, a Patriarch of Europe might be able to speak with greater authority for the Church in Europe than the head of the EU Commission could speak for the State. 

    But don’t put any weight whatsoever in this comment.  I really don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s late, I’m not knowledgeable on the subject, and I’m typing off the top of my head.

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