Thursday, November 29, 2018

Pat. Bartholomew: Catholic & Orthodox concepts of primacy

Orthodox Synaxis is republishing documents from the Patriarchates and noted theologians that are pertinent to synodality in general and the recent unpleasantness in Ukraine in particular. Recently they posted the Ecumenical Patriarch's "A Declaration by Patriarch Bartholomew on the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox concepts of primacy in the Church" from 1995. It make for interesting reading in light of recent events. The entire thing is work reading, but some selections can be read with especial attention. Here's such a a snippet:

... This system of administration of the Church’s affairs, based on the joint responsibility and decentralization that our Orthodox Church applies, fundamentally explains the fact that, as much as is humanly possible, she preserves the ancient tradition intact. Because, in the absence of centralized administration and responsibility, in order to introduce an innovation in teaching or praxis, this must be agreed upon by all the bishops or by a very large number of them, which is difficult. Otherwise, the aberration has no reach beyond the territory of the one who is in error and typically does not outlive him, whereas in a centralized system where there exists the possibility of the preponderant voice, it is enough for the one who enjoys such a voice to accept the innovation and impose it on the others for the entire teaching or ethos of the Church under his jurisdiction to be changed. Moreover, it is much easier for one innovator rather than several to put himself at the head of the Church; it is easier for only one, rather than several, to be mistaken.

Furthermore, it is the Lord Himself who guarantees the judgment of two gathered in His name, having declared that He is in their midst (Matthew 18:20) and that if they agree to ask for anything, it will be granted to them; even more so if their demand is to be preserved in the truth.

There is no similar promise of the Lord that He will be with and collaborate with just one who separates himself from the others and places himself above the others.

According to the experience of the Orthodox Church, the decentralized conciliar system has moreover the advantage of preventing someone from imposing himself upon the Church and arrogating for himself central power which, in any case, does not exist. He must apprehend all the bishops installed in their local bishoprics, a dangerous enterprise. Given that each Church enjoys a complete organization, the eventual abolition of the spiritual center to which she belongs does not influence her functioning.

The apparent inconvenience of the Orthodox Church — that, not having a central administration, she lacks power — proves in the end to be an advantage, as the Orthodox Church does not rely on secular power, which has no reality, but rather on the power of God...


  1. So do as I say not as I do? Talking about the nature of our “counciliar system” and its importance, while completely ignoring the counsel of all the other hierarchies and acting unilaterally time and time again, the latest example being Western Europe and not even consulting them.

    It sounds like Constantinople will be judged by their own words here. Don’t get me wrong, I was just discussing today that while Constantinople is out of line, it would be equally worrisome to see Moscow try to take over in their stead; this whole “first among equals” and obsession with who is the new Rome is increasingly problematic.

    “The first shall be last” we should be fighting over who gets to be at the end of the line, but “first among equals” has been the cause of strife and ruin, when all it should be about is establishing order for simplicity’s sake among total equals.

    Then again, this is all above my pay grade, thank God, what do I know?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Lot's of politics. Very little of the Gospel.