By MARK DOUGHTY
IT is some months now since Pope John XXIII revealed his intention of calling a General Council, a council which will— in the words of the • official announcement — constitute an invitation to the separated communities to seek for unity, Knowing the Holy Father's love for the Christian East, not a few have seen in the coming Ecumenical Council the first steps towards the healing of the breach between Orthodox Christianity and the See of Rome.
SOME Orthodox prelates have shown themselves favourably disposed towards the present Pope, notably the Patriarch of Constantinople who replied warmly to the appeal for unity contained in the first Christmas message of the new Pontificate. But the biggest stumbling-block to any return of the Christian East to union with Rome has already been adverted to by Orthodox theologians. The gravest. single difficulty for the Orthodox is the Catholic doctrine of the Papal primacy. It should be emphasised that the Orthodox believe in a Church which must be One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Infallible; but although the Orthodox believe in an infallible church, they do not accept an infallible Pope as defined by the Vatican Council of 1870.
TH E Greck-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Theodosius VI, would be prepared to attend the forthcoming Council under the presidency of the Pope, but only if it is made clear that the Pope presides in his capacity as "first among equals", This would not be acceptable to Catholics. since, in his capacity as Supreme Pastor, the Pope is not merely the first amongst equals, any more than St. Peter was the first amongst equals in the College of Apostles. For Catholic Christendom, St. Peter was the Prince and Chief of the Apostles to whom alone were given the keys of the Kingdom. The Pope, as successor to St. Peter, retains a primacy of jurisdiction over the Universal Church. Professor Hamilcar Alivisatos, an eminent Greek-Orthodox theologian, has underlined the fundamental difficulty even more clearly. According to the Professor. the Orthodox and the Catholic conceptions of the function and purpose of an Ecumenical Council arc very different.
FOR the Orthodox, a Council is the highest authorative body in the Church. For the Catholic, the Professor says, a Council is "simply a consultative body for the Pope" whose personal power "does not admit any authority whatsoever above his own". The theory of papal infallibility, he says, is nothing more than the crystallization of the "monarchical conception of ecclesiastical authority dominant in the West." (Vima, Feb. 1959). These allegations merit further discussion since they are in line with much Orthodox thought since 1870. Unlike some of our separated brethren nearer home, the Orthodox arc convinced believers in the Apostolic Succession, But many Orthodox suspect that, since 1870, the Catholic Church has watered down the Apostolic authority of the bishops and has accepted, in effect, government by one bishop alone—the Bishop of Rome. They altege that the Pope, in the eyes of Catholics, has become an absolute monarch of unlimited powers: that, by virtue of the definition of Papal Infallibility, the Council as a means of Church government has been rendered obsolete; and that the rights of the diocesan bishop have been seriously diminished by the pronouncements of 1870.
THE Catholic Church counters these arguments by asserting that the divine structure of the Church was entirely unaltered by the dogmatic definition of the Vatican Council. Bishops remain bishops even if the Bishop of Rome has been declared to possess supreme authority. Canon Law states unequivocably that the bishops of the Catholic Church are the successors of the Apostles. Indeed, Chapter III of the preamble of the Constitution Pastor Aeternus (which defined the infallible magisterium of the Roman Pontiff) makes it quite clear that, far from being any prejudice to the ordinary and immediate power of the bishops, the
power of the supreme Pontiff asserts, strengthens and protects it.
Is the Pope really an absolute monarch of unlimited powers? The joint pastoral letter of the Swiss bishops of 1871 should persuade some of the more extfileme Orthodox to abandon their views on the beliefs of Catholics. This pastoral letter defined the limits of Papal Infallibility and said that — to quote Dom Cuthbert Butler — the Pope "is tied up and limited to the divine revelation and to the truths which that revelation contains: he is tied up and limited by the Creeds already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church; he is tied up and limited by the divine law and by the constitution of the Church." These words were commended by Pius IX himself.
FOUR years later, the German bishops also issued joint declaration on Papal prerogative. 1 his was in reply to Chancellor Bismarck. It showed quite clearly that papal jurisdiction does not absorb the jurisdiction of diocesan hislems: that the Pope does not replace each individual bishop; and that the bishops. by the definition of 1870, have not become merely instruments of the Pope without responsibilities of their own. The whole document illuminates for us the mind of the Vatican Council. Pius IX extolled it for its clarity and exartitude. However, it is well known that the Vatican Council was suspended with muchbusiness unfinished. Important questions concerning the status of diocesan bishops were raised at the Council but they were forced out of discussion by the attention paid to the matter of infallibility. There were important intimations given that the status of bishops would be the first matter to be discussed on the resumption of the Council. It remains to be seen whether the forthcoming Council puts the matter on the agenda.
THE Orthodox would study with great attention any discussion of the "collegiate principle" in the,. strut' ture of the Church This important principle is concerned with the whole episcopal body of the Church viewed as the successor of the Apostolic College founded by Christ Himself. It is through this college of bishops that the ordinary tnagisteriutri of the Church is made manifest. That much remains to be discussed was indicated recently by Cardinal Saliege who wrote that the theology of the episcopate has yet to be worked Eastern-Rite Catholics would also welcome a full conciliar discussion on the rights and psi eileges of bishops and patriarchs The Melkile Catholics, for instance, arc accused of promoting a new sort of Gallicanism. when they are really seeking a clear demonstration to the Orthodox that Papal Infallibility in no way diminishes the status of Catholic bishops of all rites. What also has to be demonstrated to the Orthodox is not that the Church is infallible but that. in the words of the official definition. the Sovereign Pontiff, wlien he speaks ex cathedra. "is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should he endowed."
IT stands on record that those whom we now call Orthodox Christians once accepted the Roman Pontiff as "the true Vicar of Jesus Christ. the head of the whole Church. the father and doctor of all Christians." That was at the Council of Florence in 1439. It would be the answer to the prayers of many Christians if some such formula, without prejudice to the definition of 1870, could be universally accepted at the forthcoming Ecumenical Council by all those who, as Pope John puts it, "carry on their forehead the name of Christ and who read His holy and blessed Gospel."