The Petrine Ministry and Orthodox Perception

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
The Petrine Ministry
and Orthodox Perception
Prepared for the SCOBA - Roman Catholic Bishops’ Dialogue
South Boundbrook, New Jersey
5-7 October, 2004

I have been asked to present a talking-point paper on the Petrine Ministry for the sake of our dialogue. I apologise for its lack of sufficient references and cohesion, since this was written partly during a journey abroad. On the other hand, since this journey was in Czechia and Slovakia, a land where tensions in the past have been very strong between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, perhaps it adds a certain perspective and flavour. The most significant flavour might be that of the early missions there of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the mentality of whose missionary work has formed the missionary work of all the missions of the Churches born from their labours, and which is reflected in the current missions developed and sustained by our parent Churches of Constantinople and Athens.

Generally, I consider it important to begin with the usual foundational Scriptural texts regarding the rôle of the Apostle Peter :

‘And I also say to you that you are Peter [petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:18-19).

‘I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’ (Luke 22:32).

When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.' He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep’ (John 21:15-17).

In a similar vein, there are the examples of the Apostle Peter’s leadership of the Twelve in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 1:15-26, he is presiding over the choosing of Matthias. In Acts 2:14-36, he gives his Pentecost speech to Jerusalem. In Acts 5:1-11, he presides regarding Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 10:9-48, he is given the authoritative vision of the animals, which is confirmed by the immediately-following experience with Cornelius. This vision and experience confirms the mission to the Gentiles. In Acts 11:1-18, he defends the mission to the Gentiles. In Acts 12:2-19, he is released by an angel from his imprisonment. However, in Acts 15:6-29, although he speaks of the mission to the Gentiles, it is the Apostle James who decides. This is amplified in Galatians 1:18-24, when the Apostle Paul completes his stay in Jerusalem by seeing the Apostle James. He would have done so, because the Apostle James was (in our current terminology) the diocesan bishop of Jerusalem. When there is such an important concern as this conversion and its implications, the “ruling bishop” would have to be fully informed. In Galatians 2:6-21, there is also the case of the difference of opinion between the Apostles Peter and Paul.

In the case of the extract from Matthew, there is a difference of opinion as to the meaning of the rock. It was perceived by Saint Augustine that the mentioned “rock” refers to Christ. According to Origen, the rock is Peter. As Father John Meyendorff points out, the keys are given to Peter ; but the believer, in imitating Peter, may receive these keys by imitation. Father Meyendorff notes that the words of Christ "have a soteriological, but not an institutional, significance. They only affirm that the Christian faith is the faith expressed by Peter on the road to Cæsarea Philippi. [...] Thus, when He spoke to Peter, Jesus was underlining the meaning of the faith as the foundation of the Church, rather than organising the Church as guardian of the faith. The whole ecclesiological debate between East and West is thus reducible to the issue of whether the faith depends on Peter, or Peter on the faith. The issue becomes clear when one compares the two concepts of the succession of Peter.

Continuing from this, one may say that this leadership has a particular character, but not a universal character. Nor is the leadership of the sort more recently claimed by the bishops of Rome of a universal character, since there were obviously open debates and differences amongst the apostles, as clearly described by the Apostle Paul. There are other examples of the apparent contradiction between the Apostle Peter’s leadership in such cases, and that of the Apostle James, as shown in Acts 15 with the Council of Jerusalem. Although we commonly use the word “council” for this assembly, “synod” may well be more expressive and accurate. The “apostles and elders came together”, and their final decision expresses the meaning of “synod”, that they were “together on the same path”. Obviously, this “synod” is from the Greek "σύνοδος", "synodos", meaning “assembly, meeting”. Its relative word, "συνοδία", "synodia", means “a journey in company”. We Orthodox might well understand that the city of Jerusalem was under the authority of the Apostle James, while the Apostle Peter had a certain, and different authority over the Twelve and over others, which did not interfere with this. The leadership of the Apostle Peter is within a particular context. Nevertheless, the decree of this Synod (or Council) in Jerusalem affected the whole Church. Earlier, it was the Apostle Peter to whom the vision was given, and through whom the Mission to the Gentiles was confirmed, and whose activity produced this Synod (Council), and its decision ; but the decision was proclaimed by the Apostle James. Since the Apostle James was the spokesman who made the proclamation, it shows that he was the one responsible in this assembly. Jerusalem must be properly considered our Mother Church, but even it subsisted as a dependency on the provincial capital, Cæsarea, until after the fourth century.

The different manners in which the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox interpret these and other texts, are well-known, and it is not useful to repeat more than this. However, there have been contributing factors which led to these differences, not the least of these factors being political situations, and communication problems. The result of these contributing factors has been such a difference in perception between East and West that mutual comprehension (despite the best intentions) is difficult to this day. One might say with tongue in cheek that (like men and women) Roman Catholics are from Mars and Orthodox are from Venus. In the West, there has developed the very strong tendency to think linearly, and even compartmentally ; and in the East, the thinking or perception has always been more spherical or holistic. This may be said to be expressed by the very different attitudes towards canons — either as medicinal prescriptions in the East, or as law in the West. There is, I believe, some foundation to this comparison, and such a comparison can bring some hope, because men and women do manage to find a common ground and unity, despite these differences. Both Churches perceive themselves as pragmatic, but this pragmatism shows itself in very different ways. How these differences developed is treated in detail by Father John Romanides.

There has been a debate about the actual succession of the Roman bishops as being only from the Apostle Peter, or having begun even before him, but including him. Regardless of opinions about the nature of the succession, there is no doubt that the Relics of the Apostle Peter have been a focus of pilgrimage in Rome from the earliest days. The fact that Rome was the capital of the Empire lent an undisputed prestige to this city, and New Rome has inherited and continued that position since the separation became enduring.

There is an interesting discussion about the eucharistically-focussed perception of the bishop in the Early Church by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon in his book Eucharist, Bishop, Church. This fine study essentially says that, at the Holy Eucharist, each diocese, with its bishop, constitutes the catholic (that is, universal) Church in herself, and is in herself complete. The diocese is the Local Church. This completion is, however, not exclusive, but inclusive, because all the dioceses are required by their mutual communion to express visibly their mutual unity in the Body of Christ. Together, the bishops, in their mutual communion, unite their dioceses to one another and express another, general, aspect of catholicity. It is prescribed in the canons that all the diocesan bishops (led by the metropolitan or archbishop) are to do nothing without him, nor is he to do anything without them. The chief bishop exercises his leadership strictly in the context of the Apostle Paul’s teaching about the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12 ; Ephesians 1:22 ; 4:15 ; Colossians 1:18). To this day, this eucharistic unity is expressed in the custom that, after the enthronement of each new head of an autocephalous Church, this new leader journeys to each of the other Churches, and celebrates the Eucharist together with each other chief bishop. This unity has been historically maintained and balanced in part by the chief of all these leaders. Old Rome served in this way for about a millennium. After the division, New Rome, Constantinople, had to take up the responsibility of the service as the first amongst equals. This has been expressed all along in the chairing of assemblies, and in serving as a court of final appeal. The term servus servorum Dei would be a fitting expression for this responsibility.

By the twelfth century, it is obvious that the Papacy had become not so much a Petrine Ministry as a Petrine Monarchy, under the specific circumstances of the revival of the so-called Holy Roman Empire. This was accompanied by, and even driven by the rise of centralised monasticism and of scholasticism. This transformation is a clear demonstration of development far beyond the rôle of the bishop as understood by the Early Church. One of the chief paradoxes as a result of this has been that the Bishop of Rome does not live in his own city, and he also does not even live in the same country as that city. The territory around Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican, is an independent city-state not belonging any longer to Italy. Nevertheless, the historical fact is that the Bishop of Rome has had a central ministry in the life of the whole Church. From early times, he was the “court of final appeal” in disputes amongst the other Local Churches.

All these words aside, the main question to be considered now should likely be : Is the matter of Primacy in general, and Papacy in particular, necessarily a theological, medicinal and pastoral matter ? Or is it a logical, legal and administrative matter ? Either way, the need to secure and maintain the Church’s unity is addressed and must be addressed. The first presents difficulties because the environment can seem to be rather subjective. However, the second makes the consideration much more difficult for all because of the inflexibility of logic, legislation and definitive documents. I referred previously to the development of the Bishop of Rome into a monarchical ruler of the Church in the West, to which was added civil rule over earthly territory as well. Petrine Ministry in the past has meant, in fact, the severe limitation of the authority of diocesan bishops. As a result, it has been made possible to say that there is really only one bishop, that of Rome, and all others are his auxiliaries. Especially with Vatican II, there has been a great shift away from this coercion to the more traditional understanding of the diocesan bishop. But it must still be asked : What is the rôle of the document Pastor Æternus from Vatican I (1870) ? It does not seem to have been rescinded. It is this document which concretised the ideas of universal jurisdiction, based on a particular interpretation of the previously-mentioned scriptural references. According to Papadakis, this interpretation was greatly developed in the time of Pope Gregory VII and the other centralising reformers, although the seedling of this plant had existed for many centuries previous. One might suggest that the roots of this plant might be found in a desire and an attempt to establish the Kingdom of Christ visibly on this earth in the present. Such an idea propels the interference by certain persons during our times in the Middle East. Chapter 3 of Pastor Æternus reaffirms the statements of the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century, that the Bishop of Rome, as Prince of the Apostles, has full, universal, ordinary, immediate, and truly episcopal jurisdiction of governing and ruling the whole Church under obedience. The terminology of Pastor Æternus is not received as a pastoral and medicinal document by the Orthodox reader, but rather as imperial and legislative. Chapter 4 on infallible teaching authority ends with a rather different conclusion than might be drawn by the Orthodox from the same sources. The same could be said with regard to the 1896 Encyclical Satis Cognitum of Pope Leo XIII which refines the points of Pastor Æternus. All of this seems to me to be a refining work on the 21 points of Cardinal Humbert’s Dictatus Papæ.

We have two very different methods of maintaining ecclesial unity, and stability of doctrine. On the one side, we have the eastern customs of visible concelebrations, and the convening of synods to resolve problems and to correct errors, with disputes being resolved at the level of the heads. On the other side, we have the western development of achieving the same ends less by persuasion than by legislation and by coercive obedience to the head. Does a document such as Pastor Æternus still have force, or not ; and if not, how and why ?

If we are at this level of consideration, then this concern must first be addressed and resolved. Is the Petrine Ministry pastoral within the bosom of the whole Church, or is the Petrine Ministry an exercise in legislative organisation ?

I have already been addressing the administrative-pastoral side of things in previous words. If this consideration of primacy is at this practical level of consideration, then there is more room for discussion, and adjustment of perception, and even resolution. I found Patrick Granfield’s The Limits of the Papacy (written in 1987) to be an interesting self-study which, in some ways, showed a similar appreciation to that of the Orthodox about the development of matters, and our agreed purpose of unity, and court-of-appeal. However, he cannot avoid using the characteristic juridical language. Nevertheless, he demonstrates how Vatican II, for instance, moderated the interpretation of the decrees of Vatican I, and he shows how the Pope is to be considered as acting according to previous teaching, but in a more conciliar and consultative manner. He demonstrates also that, unlike in the Orthodox ecclesiology, the Pope retains “primacy of ordinary power over all particular Churches” ; he has “the sole competency to erect particular Churches”; he limits the authority of local diocesan bishops ; he is the only convener of all synods, and "the Pope alone can convoke an ecumenical council, preside over it, transfer, suspend or dissolve it, and approve its decrees. The decrees of an ecumenical council do not have obligatory force unless they are approved by the Pope together with the Fathers of the council and are confirmed by the Pope and promulgated by his order".

On the other hand, this particular last series of powers addresses the lack of an emperor to convene a general council, something lacking for over 500 years. Mr Granfield demonstrates that there have been and are adjustments and developments within the Roman Catholic household.

Returning to the words of Father John Meyendorff, it can be seen that he cites Saint Cyprian of Carthage, who says that in each Local Church, the See of Peter belongs to the bishop. This idea is repeated by Saint Gregory of Nyssa and by Saint Dionysius : "Peter’s succession is seen wherever the right faith is preserved, and, as such, it cannot be localized geographically or monopolized by a single Church or individual".

From this perspective, the East does not well comprehend the later-developed western understanding of papacy. The general perception amongst the East-Romans (Roum-Orthodox) is that the Church recognises "the fulness of catholicity in each local Church, in the sense in which the Apostolic Fathers could speak [...]. Consensus of bishops, and not the authority of one particular bishop, was for them the highest possible sign of truth. Hence their constant insistence on the authority of the councils, and their inability to understand the Roman concept of the papacy".

Primacy was understood in the West to be a matter for legislation, whereas in the East it was a matter of conciliar consensus. Based on the idea of apostolic foundation, the Orthodox understand that, because of the missionary work of the various apostles, many Churches can claim apostolic foundation, but that need not imply any jurisdictional claim. As Father Meyendorff underlines, the prestige of the ancient patriarchates (including especially Rome and New Rome) was derived from their civil importance. He cites Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon : "The Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the imperial city. And one hundred and fifty most religious bishops, actuated by the same considerations, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of new Rome, justly judging that the city, which is honoured with the presence of the emperor and the senate and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should, in ecclesiastical matters also, be magnified as she is, and rank next after her".

Father Meyendorff recognises what was lacking at the time of schism, and it is this same requirement that must guide our current considerations and deliberations : “mutual respect and trust, which alone [...] permit an authentic theological dialogue”.

Obvious is the need for primacy and an order of primacy, and the Eastern Orthodox struggle even now to find ways to make our inheritance fit the needs of the Church in these days of many changed, and rapidly changing conditions. The dialogue with Rome on this subject could be fruitful for us, even if we take a long time to resolve the problem, or even if we, God forbid, do not resolve it. At the present, the various regional, autocephalous Churches have varied ecclesiological expressions of primacy, depending, in part, on local historical, cultural and social conditions. The more decentralised form has a good example in the Church in Greece and in Romania. The more centralised form has a good example in the Church in Russia. The Coptic Church is even more centralised.

Regardless of all these observations, we Orthodox may together say that we can properly understand primacy only in one context, and that this will have to be a part of our consciousness as we proceed in this dialogue. In the context of repentance, the model for primacy in the Church must, following Christ, be the kenotic (that is self-emptying) hierarchical order of the Most Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There cannot be room for any understanding of primacy based on supremacy of power. This is so, because, in our understanding, the use of power and coercion is associated with evil. For a secular confirmation of this important understanding, one need only look at the healing methods of the Twelve-step Programme. These steps reveal the poisonous results of manipulation, and the great length of time it usually takes for a person to allow the Lord to heal the wounds.

And so, closing after too many words, I say that in the context of self-emptying and impartial Christian love, of mutual respect, and mutual repentance, we may proceed with our discussion of this important subject, praying that we be sensitive to the directing of the Holy Spirit towards an honest and Christ-given reconciliation.

Primary Sources

Granfield, P, The Limits of the Papacy (New York : Crossroads, 1990).

Haugh, R, Photius and the Carolingians: The Trinitarian Controversy (Belmont, MA :
Nordland Publishing Co., 1975).

Meyendorff, J, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (New York :
Fordham University Press, 1979).
….. Rome, Constantinople, Moscow: Historical and Theological Studies (Crestwood, New
York : St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996).

The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Thomas
Nelson, Inc., 2008. “Scripture taken from the New King James Version ®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint™. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Papadakis, A, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy (Crestwood, New York : St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007).

Romanides, J, Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine: An Interplay between Theology and Society (Patriarch Athenagoras Memorial Lectures) (Brookline, MA : Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1981).

Zizioulas, John, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop during the first Three Centuries (Brookline, MA : Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001).