Patriarchate vs Papal Primacy – Fr. Joseph Ratzinger

Something which I have observed constitutes a cause for confusion in the dialogue between East and West is the notion of Patriarch. The Eastern Orthodox are wont to be thinking of the primacy of the Roman see by the concept of this term. But this isn’t how Catholics see it, and it would serve the purpose of both our communions if we were to clarify the root and origin of that authority that we call Papal, and explain how it differs from Patriarch. Though, by this, I do not intend a force being applied to the Eastern side which would compel agreement. Having said that, this clarification aids in shining more light on what the Catholic position is, given her dogmatic teaching laid down at the councils of Lyons, Florence, and both councils of the Vatican.

Now, the fact that we have interpreters who descend from the Greco-Byzantine patrimony who think Patriarch when considering the primacy of Rome is not difficult to believe in light of the fact that the Christian church under and with the Byzantine Empire had accommodated much of its external structuring to suit the geographic and Ecclesio-political operations. Moreover, the 6th canon of one of our shared Concils, Nicaea AD 325, seems to indicate that the Roman bishopric had a sort of quasi-Patriarchal (whose full form sees flowering more than a few centuries after the founding of the church), but more akin to Metropolitical, oversight of a wider region of churches. Some have argued that this canon bears no hint in this direction. But even if it did, it would only be a referent to the growing mode of Metropolia for the church of Rome, which encompassed churches close to the Italian territories. This had already been called “ancient custom” by the early 4th century. Since the churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and then Rome, held certain greater than average prominence, it was appropriate for administrative centralization to occur, bringing together many nearby churches, which were most likely daughter churches from the Mother-church.  This basic application is serves to reflect the practical rationale, and would  do the same for the upcoming 3rd canon of the Council of Constantinople held in 381 , as well as that of the 28th canon of Chalcedon held in 451. Now, Rome had never ratified these canons, and even when there is a final concession to  the inevitable Constantinopolitan primacy, it was not accepted on the logic of those two canons. In fact, n the year 381, no one could say that it is on the basis of “ancient custom” that Constantinople should rise in primacy. Rather, it proffered by the Byzantines that since her city was the new home of the Empire’s capital, it was due for elevation.  Further, it was said that since Rome had received her primacy from the same principle, it would only naturally follow that Constantinople is now Rome, though new. The Pope of Rome at the time, St. Leo I, had disallowed the canonization of that attempt, and emphasized the irreformability of the Nicaean canon which put the order at Alexandria first,  then Antioch, and after that, Jerusalem.

It helps to emphasize now that this level of primacy, that of Metropolitical, and which would turn into Patriarchs for the 5 greater Sees, is a creature of the Church. It was the “ancient custom” of the Fathers. This may or may not include a custom laid down by the Apostles, but I’m unaware of any positive or negative evidence. These Metropolitical centers only grew in light of circumstance, and not divine law. Secondly, they originated on the basis of a strategy to better manage the unity of nearby churches. The prerogatives were recognized by the Church, and originated by her.

On the other hand, Rome’s primacy was never stated to have been based off some conciliar or episcopal decision, but was rather something to have begun with the investiture of Jesus Christ in the Apostle Peter. Rome inherited the throne of Peter, and thus she receives, like a depository, his primatial authority for the universal Church. This is not extensive with Italy, or the West, but is universal. This was even held by the Eastern churches at Chalcedon. Their letter to Pope Leo represents the Eastern consensus just as much as the Council does. The novelty was, quite probably, the logic of the 3rd canon of Constantinople I and the 28th of Chalcedon. It is even more of a cause to wonder how the Easterners could say the things which they did about Leo in their epistle, and at the same time conceive of Rome’s primacy as entirely built off her being home of the elder Imperial capital. Some have argued that the Eastern bishops intended by  “fathers” in “the fathers gave Rome her primacy” (canon 28) on the basis of her being the home of the Imperial capital as the Apostles themselves. It seems like a fair explanation, though it leaves one still wondering.

Anyhow, I think it serves both sides best to realize that the Papal primacy is actually one and the same thing with Petrine primacy, and the latter was created by Christ in the Apostles, and was universal in scope. This is not just a matter of a distinction in the area of jurisdiction, but a whole different category of primacy than was conceived for Alexandria and the rest of the Patriarchs, especially Constantinople.

As a wrap, I give you hear the words of the younger Fr Joseph Ratzinger, who wrote an interesting article (now published in book form)  and which speaks directly to the inner logic of what I’ve tried to show:

“It is clear that the duality, set up by the earliest theology of succession with its emphasis on apostolic sees, has nothing to do with the later patriarchal theory. Confusion between the primitive claim of the apostolic see and the administrative claim of the patriarchal city characterizes the tragic beginning of conflict between Constantinople and Rome. The theory of patriarchal constitution, which especially since the council of Chalcedon, has been held up against the Roman claim and which has tried to force the latter into its own mould, mistakes the whole character of the Roman claim, which is based on an entirely different principle. The patriarchal principle is post-Constantinian, its instinct administrative, its application thus closely tied up with political and geographic data. The Roman claim, by contrast, must be understood in the light of the originally theological notion of the apostolic sees. The more new Rome (which could not dream of calling itself ‘apostolic’) obscured the old idea of the apostolic see in favor of the patriarchal concept, the more; the more Old Rome emphasized the completely different origin and nature of its authority. Indeed, this is something entirely different from a primacy of honor among patriarchs, since it exists on quite a different plane, wholly independent of such administrative schemes. The overshadowing of the old theological notion of the apostolic see – an original part, after all, of the Church’s understanding of her own nature – by the theory of five patriarchs must be understood as the real harm done in the quarrel between East and West. The mischief has had its effect on the West to the extent that, though the notion of apostolic authority has remained unharmed, nevertheless a far-reaching administrative-patriarchal conception of the importance of the Roman see has necessarily developed, making it no easier for those outside the fold to grasp the real hart of the Roman claim in contrast to other claims”
 (Fr Joseph Ratzinger, Primacy, Episcopate, and Apostolic Succession in The Episcopate and the Primacy , pg. 58-59)

The Rationale for Papal Infallibility in 4 Points


Above is a drawing of Pope Pius IX, the Pope who presided over the 1st Council of Vatican in 1870. Below is my attempt to give, very succinctly, the rationale or dialectical thought from where the idea of Papal infallibility comes from.

Christ promised us that the gates of hell should never prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18); likewise, that He would “be with” the Church “unto the end of the age” (ibid 28:18), and that the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

(1) Thus, we have immediate grounds for inferring the *indefectibility* of the Church. In other words, she cannot defect from this function since it is rendered necessary (by way of supposition) in our Lord’s promise.

But, since the Church is a doctrinal missionary society *by nature* (i.e. go and preach the gospel to all creatures), her *indefectibility* must imply her *infallibility*, or more thoroughly put, the inability to teach something which would forfeit the soul’s ability to reach the destiny of salvation (i.e. a heresy so great to impugn the process of salvation)

(2) Thus, the 2nd inference would be that the society of the Church is *infallible*.

In addition, we know that the Church is, in principle, a visible society, not least because the holy fathers of the 4th century added into the Creed that the Church has four marks, one of which is Apostolicity. This does not merely mean her doctrine is the same as that of the Apostles, but also that her very being is an “Apostle”, which means her successive growth in the world is done by way of “sending”, a prior “sender” that is. This is kept by what the New Testament called the “laying on of hands by the presbyerate” , and what was later understood as the sacramental succession from the Apostles;  hand-to-body.

But since this visible Church, as doctrinal missionary society, is also hierarchically ordered with a Papal head as holding supreme authority (see here – here – and here ) in all matters pertaining to that very doctrine which she is entrusted to preach to all men, both her *indefectibility* and her *infallibility*, as well as her *visibility*,  must imply Papal infallibility – – – at least in some sense, and under some condition.

(3) Thus, the 3rd inference is Papal infallibility.

But since the tradition has never posited that a Pope is generally immune from making an error, or even negating a dogma in his ordinary teaching, it must be implied that his infallibility has special and extraordinary conditions.

(4) Thus, the 4th inference is a conditional Papal infallibility.

But since a conditional Papal infallibility would be defined by an  intention on teaching the whole church, since it is she who cannot be destroyed, it is implied by that fact that Papal infallibility is invoked and operative only under this specific condition.

Thus, you have the rationale for the teaching of Vatican I – An indefectible & infallible Church whose doctrinal voice is concentrated in the person of the Pope when she defines the Apostolic faith to be held by the whole Church.

3 Eastern Saints & Byzantine Liturgy say “Purgatory” ?


Though, on the ground, the Eastern Orthodox might sound as if they are not of one mind on the subject of post-mortam purgation , it can’t be easily dismissed that there lies in their Patrimony a great deal of evidence for its reality. We have here no less than 4 of the Greats who bear pristine mentioning of the basic concept. Now, we aren’t going to tease out the inevitable question that might arise from St. Gregeory of Nyssa, since he may have held to some sort of universal salvation post-purgatorial process (apokatastasis), thereby discrediting whatever commentary on it. Suffice it to say that it was still confessed in his writing. And likewise, I don’t intend on fleshing out the distinction between post-mortam sanctifying process which is devoid of juridicial satisfaction or the forensic aquitting from temporal punishment and the Latin satispassio. I think the goal here is to show evidence for what could be either one.
(1) St. John Chrysostom (+409) wrote: “It is not in vain that we have received this tradition from the apostles, that we pray for the deceased during the revered and awe-inspiring mysteries.

Will not God be appeased for them, when all the people and priests raise their hands in supplication in this tremendous sacrifice“? (PG 62, 203)

(2) St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386) in his 23rd Catechetical lecture describes the various prayers offered during the sacred liturgy. He comments on that which is for the dead: ” If a King sent a subject into exile for his offence and then friends of the exile came with a beautiful diadem to placate the king, wouldn’t his displeasure disappear? So, too, we pray to God for the dead, not offering Him a diadem, but Christ himself slain for our sins [on the altar]” (PG 33, 1116)

(3) St. Gregory of Nyssa (+394) wrote “Man will not be able to be a partaker of divinity Gregor-Chora (1)until a purgatorian fire will have cleansed away any stain found on his soul” (PG 46, 525).

(4) The Eastern rite Catholics , also used by the Orthodox, have revealing purgatorial prayers on behalf of the dead in heir панvхида Vigil  (in Greek παννυχίς and μνημόσυνον for Vigil or memorial) services wherein it is petitioned: “Again let us pray for the repose of the soul of the departed servant of God X…and that every transgression both willful and involuntary be forgiven him…that the Lord God may establish his soul in the place where the just find rest . Let us ask for him the peace of God, the kingdom of heaven, and the forgiveness of his sins from Christ, our deathless King and God…Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison…” 

St. Theodore of Canterbury says Filioque (A.D. 680)

The most remarkable instance of the continuance of the formula, ‘of the Son’, at this period is our great Archbishop Theodore, himself a native of Tarsus, well versed, as is shown in his Penitential, in the usages of the Greek church, with which he parallels or contrasts those of the West. He shows himself also familiar with the Greek fathers, and the East of his own day had such confidence in him, that the 6th General Council waited for him. On Sept. 17 A.D. 680 , not quite two months before the opening of the 6th General Council, Nov. 7, A.D. 680, he presided over the Council of Hatfield, in which the Confession of faith was drawn up, which embodied the Filioque:

In it, it is declared:

We have expounded the right and orthodox faith, as our Lord Jesus Christ, Incarnate, delivered to His Apostles who saw Him in bodily presence, and heard His discourses, and delivered the Creed of the holy fathers: and in general all the sacred and universal synods and the whole choir of the Catholic approved doctors of the church [have delivered it]

And then after a brief confession of faith in the Holy Trinity in Unity, and of the Lateran Council of A.D. 649, it thus concludes : —

And we glorify our Lord Jesus Christ as they glorified Him, adding nothing, taking away nothing: and we anathematize in heart and word whom they anathematized: we receive whom they received: glorifying God the Father without beginning, and His Only-begotten Son, Begotten of the Father before all ages: and the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, ineffably; as those holy Apostles, and prophets, and doctors, whom we above commemorated, have preached

On the Filioque: In Regard to the Eastern Church, Edward Bouverie Pusey – Page 125-26

Picture from –