Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
The problem of primacy. From 'Papal Power' by Paul Collins

The problem of primacy

Chapter 6
From Papal Power by Paul Collins
published by Harper Collins 1997, pp 159-196

Published with the necessary permissions on our website

An ecumenical problem: the pope as "owner" of the Church

Primacy, rather than infallibility, is the real ecumenical problem facing the Church today. The idea of primacy, as spelled out at Vatican 1, is simply unacceptable to the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches. The Council gave the pope the tota plenitudo potestatis, the utter fullness of supreme power, not only in governing the Church but also in faith and morals, without any limitation from bishops, synods, or local communities. For the Orthodox this notion of primacy is heresy, and for Protestants, with their emphasis on the local community, it is meaningless. This was recognized by Cuthbert Butler in his 1930 history of Vatican I:

I cannot help thinking that the matter of primacy ... in reality presents much greater difficulties to non-Catholics of all kinds, much greater obstacles to that united Christendom ... that is ... the dream and object of prayers and strivings of countless men of good will.(1)

There is a sense in which Hans Küng led the discussion of papalism astray in 1970, when he focused on infallibility as the key issue affecting the question of authority in the Church. Despite the apparent conflation of the ordinary and infallible magisteria by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, and even by Pope John Paul II himself, Vatican I hedged in infallibility with severe restrictions. The pope can define infallibly only after he has ascertained that what he teaches is already held by the vast majority of bishops and the faithful, and that it is clearly part of the traditional belief of the Church. Certainly Pastor Aeternus says that the definitions of the pope do not require 'the consent of the Church' (non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae}. However, this does not mean that the pope does not need to check the belief of the Church, or that he can make up doctrine as he goes along. The phrase was added to Pastor Aeternus at the last minute to exclude explicitly the Gallican position, which maintained that papal infallibility became operative only when the Church accepted what the pope proposed. But the phrase has been misinterpreted to mean that somehow the pope is able to define doctrines almost according to whim and without a detailed and exhaustive process of consultation. Vatican 1 makes it clear that it is not easy to exercise infallibility!

But the Council was far less exhaustive in its treatment of primacy. There was no dispute at Vatican I that the Bishop of Rome traditionally held the first place in the Church. But the problem is the way in which this reality was defined at the Council. Pastor Aeternus' treatment of primacy ignored the role of the bishops and all the other ministerial functions of the Church. This imbalance was exacerbated by the terms used by Vatican I to describe the pope's primatial power: it was said to have full, supreme, ordinary, and immediate jurisdiction. The word jurisdiction comes from the tradition of Roman law, and refers to authority to govern the Church and the ability to demand obedience. Each of the other four words has a specific meaning. The pope's power is tota—full, complete. There is no limit to it Everyone in the Church is subject to it. his judgments are final, and he cannot be judged by anyone, even by an ecumenical council. 'Ordinary' has a quite specific legal meaning; it means that his power is not delegated. By the very fact of being pope he has the fullness of power. The word immediate also has a specific canonical implication. This refers to the fact that the pope does not have to go through an intermediary—such as a bishop—but can deal with everything and everyone directly. He can ignore the local episcopate.

The minority bishops at Vatican I pointed to the danger of using these canonical terms in the definition.(2) They warned that such legalistic words implied that bishops were mere vicars or delegates of the pope. As a consequence of this, their own immediate and ordinary jurisdiction to govern their dioceses was overshadowed and lost in the emphasis on papal power. What has happened subsequently is exactly as they predicted.

This emphasis on papal power was an extraordinary inversion of the Church's long tradition of a balance existing between the authority of the pope, the bishops, and ecumenical councils. It was also symptomatic of the distorted ecclesiology promoted by ultramontanism. This disjunction with tradition needs to be stressed because the present, emphasis in Catholicism on papalism is the direct result of the definition of primacy in Pastor Aeternus. A disjunction was introduced by Vatican I into the tradition of ecclesiological governance that was to have practical results throughout the twentieth century. Certainly the medieval popes had made extraordinary claims, but it is only in the modern world that these claims have been realized.

Primus inter pares—primacy in the first millennium

I have mentioned the traditional balance of ecclesial governance between pope, bishops, and councils. The original position of the Bishop of Rome was that he was 'the first among equals' {primus inter pares]. The 'equals' were, of course, the other bishops who share with the pope succession from the apostles and the right to govern the Church. In the early Church, bishops had a strong sense not just of governing their own dioceses, but also of caring for the rest of the Church. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch are full of this concern for the good of the whole community. Cyprian of Carthage's somewhat convoluted notion of the cathedra Petri contains a similar idea: all bishops sit in the chair of Peter, and it is their sharing in this that constitutes the unity of the Church. He certainly recognizes that the Bishop of Rome, above all, sits in this cathedra, but he never places Rome over and against the rest of the Church. Rome, for him, was the ecclesia principalis unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est—"the principal church from which the priestly [episcopal] unity arose.'(3) In other words, Rome is the core of the unity that constitutes the whole Church. The Roman bishop is primus—president—of the communion of the Church; he does not stand in isolated splendor.

As we have seen, even in the first three centuries there was an ebb and flow in the claims made by the Roman bishops. The papacy entered the fourth century with the unfortunate apostasy of Pope Marcellinus (296-304) in the persecution of Diocletian. Kelly argues that there is no doubt about his failure, despite the claim of the Liber Pontificalis (a series of contemporary biographies of the early popes) that Marcellinus repented a few days later and was martyred.(4) After the grant of toleration to the Church by Constantine in 312, things still did not go well for the Roman bishops. The Emperor's conviction of a divine mission, reinforced by the sheer force of his personality, meant that the pope was pushed into the background. This was reinforced by the fact that Pope Silvester 1 (314-335) was not a strong personality and did not attend the councils called by Constantine.

The first of these was the Council of Arles (314), which accepted Roman decisions about both the Donatists and the date of Easter. The pope was not consulted, but there was a recognition at Arles that the Roman date was normative. Pope Silvester was asked to inform all the bishops of the West about the decisions. Pierre Batiffol writes that:

The council justified its recourse [to the pope] by saying that the Bishop of Rome majores dioceses tenet, an obscure expression that seemed to indicate that it was the task of the pope to keep in touch with the entire Western Church and to ensure its unity of discipline.(5)

This is a recognition of primacy, even if in a somewhat backhanded way. At the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), the pope's two priest-representatives signed the acts of the Council immediately after the imperial representative, Hosius of Cordova, in recognition of Silvester's position.(6)

By the end of the fourth century things had changed radically and the popes had attained considerable influence in Italy, and, to a lesser extent, in the Western Church. In this period the claims made by the bishops of Rome were considerable. But it remained to be seen to what extent these claims were accepted by the wider Church. This ecclesiastical centralization reflected increasing political centralization in the fourth century. Despite appearances, the Roman Empire prior to Diocletian's reforms was very decentralized. For the first three centuries the Church followed this localized model. However, Diocletian achieved a real centralization of administrative power, and this was reinforced by Constantine. The acceptance of papal claims varied from region to region. This variation in acceptance was based on the pre-existing zones of influence that had been gradually developing for several centuries. These zones were based on major churches of apostolic origin. Pierre Batiffol drew attention to this fact in his book Cathedra Petri. Hia notion of varying grades of papal power in different zones helps us to make sense out of the complex situation that evolved in the fourth and fifth centuries.(7) Batiffol himself cites canon six of the Council of Nicaea, which dis-tinguishes three zones of influence, centering on three apostolic churches—Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch. This canon states:

The ancient custoins of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis shall be maintained. according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places, since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome. Similarly in Antioch and the other provinces the prerogatives of the churches are to be preserved ... If anyone is made a bishop without the consent of the rnetropolitan, this great synod determines that such a one shall not be a bishop.(8)

Added to the churches of apostolic foundation is, of course. the see of Constantinople. whose patriarch became increasingly important as the bishop of the new capital.

In the Italian zone the Bishop of Rome had a role of special supervision, and hè exercised considerable influence over the bishops of the regiones suburbicariae (the suburbicarian region— the dioceses immediately around Rome). The influence of the papacy also extended to whole of the present-day Italian peninsula south and east of the northern borders of Tuscany and Umbria, as well as Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily. There were many small dioceses in this area with bishops either consecrated or confirmed by the pope, There was a Roman council once a year.

The second zone comprised the West. This was made up of the whole of the Western empire—northern Italy, Gaul, Spain, Germany, Britain, western North Africa, and Illyricum (present-day Croatia. Bosnia, Serbia, and Slovenia).

Christianity was very much an urban religion and only slowly spread to the countryside. In the West, papal influence and power gradually increased and there was a clear recognition in the Western Church that Rome was the only apostolic see in that part of the empire. As a result, with the almost complete collapse of Roman civil power in the early fifth century, the popes gradually became independent in the West. In contrast, in the Eastern empire the activities of the Bishop of Constantinople were constantly scrutinized and limited by the imperial palace.

Damasus I (366-384) to Gelasius I (492-496)

Papal primatial claims escalated from the time of Damasus I (366-384). He gained the papacy in a disputed election, by using a gang of thugs to beat up and kill the supporters of his opponent, Ursinus. According to the pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus. one hundred and thirty-seven people were killed in or near the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. He then called in the city prefect to support him, thus setting a precedent that was to become an unfortunate characteristic of many papal elections over the centuries.(9)The entry in the Liber Pontificalis on Damasus is rather brief, even though the first of the compilers of the. Liber incorrectly attributed the composition of the chronicle to Damasus, probably because he was the reorganizer of the papal archives.(10) The Liber says that, as pope, he was maliciously accused of adultery, but that he was exonerated.(11) Before his election he had been seen as something of a 'ladies' man'; he was called a matronarum auriscalpius, "a ladies' ear-scratcher'! No doubt his confrontational style earned him a lot of enemies. Throughout his episcopate, Damasus was challenged by the supporters of Ursinus, who waged a continuous guerilla war against him. This led the pagan prefect of Rome. Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, to comment that Christians had an odd way of showing charity to each other!

From Damasus onwards the claims of the papacy to primacy, especially with regard to the Western Church, increased. Damasus was the first to appeal directly to the Petrine text in Matthew to support his position, and he claimed that his power came not from the Church, but from the fact that he was Saint Peter's successor. His letter Ad Gallos Episcopos (To the Bishops of Gaul}., is a reply to a series of questions about ecclesiastical discipline. It is clear from the letter that Damasus claims a primacy that was, in fact, recognized by many of the other Western bishops.

Two important figures of the later fourth century, Ambrose and Jerome, were cautious supporters of the primacy of Rome. Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (374-397), is one of the great figures of the century. A civil administrator and a layman when elected to the bishopric, he quickly emerged as the greatest Western bishop of the century. During his episcopate, Milan was the capital of the Western empire and it became a metropolitan see. There is a real sense in which Ambrose overshadowed both Damasus arid his successor, Pope Siricius (384-399). Ambrose argued for the independence of the spiritual power from the temporal, a theory that was taken up strongly in the Middle Ages. He says clearly in his Sermon against Auxentius; "The emperor is part of the Church, not someone above it.'(12) His excommunication of the emperor Theodosius I (379-395). over the massacre of several thousand people in the circus at Thessalonica in 390, showed Ambrose's willingness to speak out against the civil power. Theodosius' repentance speaks well for the power of the Milanese bishop.

There is a sense in which Ambrose is the ideal Western bishop of the fourth century: he was cultured, intelligent, level-headed, and quite able to deal with the imperial court. Unlike Damasus, who wrote unfortunate jingles about dead popes and inscribed them on tombs in the catacombs, Ambrose was a poet who wrote fine Latin verse. He was also well versed in theological literature and was famous as a preacher. His influence on the conversion of Augustine was pivotal. It is clear that he honored the Roman see and saw it as the center of the communion of the Church and the touchstone of its belief. But he maintained his independence from Rome and differed with its bishop on occasions. He may well be a good example of the type of attitude that the Church needs to take to the pope at the present time.

With Saint Jerome we have a different approach to the position of the Bishop of Rome. As well as being a consummate biblical translator, much admired by Erasmus, Jerome was an unstable, violent character, a trait which was demonstrated especially in his vicious intellectual attacks on opponents, and in the grossness of his comments on marriage and sexuality. But in his excellent biography, Jean Steinmann denies that Jerome was a sexual masochist.(13) For a brief time Jerome was in Rome (382-385), and while there he acted as a kind of 'secretary' to Pope Damasus. He was probably the only Christian man in Rome who could actually read Hebrew: 'In those days, anyone who knew Hebrew was regarded with the awe which is reserved today for the authority on Sanskrit or Tibetan.(14) The pope encouraged Jerome with his translation of Origen into Latin, and asked him to revise the defective Latin translation of the Gospels in use in Rome; the liturgical language in the city was now Latin rather than Greek. In his spare time Jerome taught a group of rich Roman women biblical exegesis, and introduced them to the monastic and virginal life.

Prior to his coming to Rome, Jerome fawned on the Roman bishop.(15) He was a strong supporter of the primacy, and he saw the Roman church as the center of the Church's universal communion and the possessor of the orthodox faith. At the time of the death of Damasus (11 December 384), Jerome even thought he might be elected pope. He was bitterly disappointed, and after three years in Rome he was forced to leave due to vicious recriminations with some of the Roman clergy. After that he wrote little more on the Roman see's prestige or importance. This is not to suggest that he changed his views on the primacy of Rome. It is simply to say that ultimately he would come down somewhere close to Ambrose in his understanding of the role of the Roman bishop.

Pope Siricius (394-399) was deeply conscious of his dignity as a successor of Saint Peter. He never hesitated to give directions to Western bishops; in fact, he was the first pope to issue decretals, or papal letters responding to specific questions., and it was his view that these responses had the force of law. Responding to a series of questions from Bishop Himerius of Tarragona (Spain), Siricius identified himself with Saint Peter: 'We carry the burdens of all who are oppressed; also, the apostle Peter carries them in us, he who protects and guards us as the heir of his office.'(16) There are a number of surviving letters from this pope, both to the entire Gallic episcopate and to individual bishops. It is hard to assess the influence of these papal letters. Siricius goes further than Damasus, in that he makes new laws; Damasus had satisfied himself with proclaiming and interpreting the existing Church law. But the influence of Siricius was overshadowed to a large extent by that of Ambrose, and the much more powerful and attractive personality of the Milanese bishop meant that the extent of the pope's influence has to be assessed within this context.

The year of Jerome's arrival in Rome saw the Emperor Gratian (367-383) take the momentous step of finally separating the Roman state from paganism; he disestablished the vestal virgins and removed the altar of victory from the senate. The toleration granted by Constantine was fast disappearing and the last stronghold of paganism in Rome, the conservative senatorial class, represented by the aristocrat Symmachus. had lost the long battle against Christianity. There is a sense in which the Petrine ideology of the papacy was a response to the pagan argument that Roma aeterna was safe as long as the gods were worshiped properly. The pagan aristocrats saw Christianity as an upstart and radical religion that endangered the state. The sack of Rome by Alaric in 410 seemed to confirm their worst fears.

The next pope of significance was Leo 1 (440—461). He is one of two popes accorded the title 'the great.' According to the Liber Pontificalis., Leo I was bom in Tuscany.(17)He was a deacon in Rome from about 422 onwards, and he gained both theological and curial experience working for the Church. Leo's life and papacy spans some of the worst years of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. The barbarian tribal alliance of Vandals. Suebi, and Alans had crossed the frozen Rhine near Mainz on the last day of 406.(18) Northern Gaul was quickly overrun. The Vandals speedily pushed on through Gaul and Spain, crossing the Straits of Gibraltar in 429, eventually reaching Carthage in North Africa. Britain was abandoned by Roman troops in 407, and the Emperor Honorius bluntly told the Britons that they were on their own in 410. This was not the first time the Roman frontiers had collapsed, but the crossing of the Rhine led to a general invasion of the northern and eastern Rhine and Danube frontiers. The break in the defense line in 406 was clearly permanent. In response to the invasions, most Christians tended to identify strongly with he idea of imperial Rome. By now there was a conviction among Christians that the empire was a providential vehicle for the spread of the Catholic faith. It was thought that if Rome fell, the end of the world would follow.

The unthinkable happened when Rome was sacked by Alaric's Visigoths in 410. He had actually laid siege to the city on and off from the end of 408. He gained entry to the impregnable fortress only through someone opening the Salerian Gates on 24 August 410. The city was sacked for three days. The event shocked the whole Roman world; it seemed like the arrival of the apocalypse.

We do not know if Leo was in the city at the time of the Visigothic sacking, but he was present in Rome as pope in 452, when he confronted Attila and the Huns who had invaded Italy. They had moved across Europe from the steppes north of the Caspian, invaded the Eastern empire, and crossed the Rhine in 451. As the representative of the city, Leo went out to meet them and persuaded them to withdraw with a bribe and promises of an imperial grant. He was seen by the thankful inhabitants as the papa—the father of the city. He had been elected Bishop of Rome in September 440 by the Roman clergy and people while he was in Gaul. In outlook and attitude he was conservatively Roman and did not really understand the new barbarian world that was emerging around him. But he did see the papacy as a stabilizing element in the chaos facing the Western Church, and he certainly had a high view of its role in the wider Church. Clearly, stability was needed: Rome was again sacked, this time by the Vandals under Gaiseric, who invaded the city from their stronghold in North Africa in 455. But Pope Leo's leadership of the delegation to pacify and deflect Attila indicates that the papacy was playing an increasingly important role in the government of the city. This role inevitably increased with the complete collapse of the Western empire and the defeat of the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus (475-476), in Ravenna by Odoacer (476-493), and with the later establishment of the Ostrogothic kingdom by Theodoric (493-526).

Leo envisaged the Bishop of Rome as having authority over, and responsibility for, the whole Church. He argued that it was through the presence of Peter and Paul that Rome had truly become the caput mundi, the 'head of the world.'' He held that the fidelity of Christ's commitment to Peter is eternal, and that this found its contemporary realization in the actions of the Bishop of Rome. Peter lived on in the Roman bishop.(19)

This notion, of Peter living on in his diocese, highlights the importance of papal succession. Succession gave the papacy a stability that had major practical consequences in a world that was falling apart. Leo also made important decisions regarding the Eastern Church; we will look at these in detail later, when we consider the relationship of Rome to the East.

Celasius I (492-496) was probably the first pope to be called the 'vicar of Christ.' Like Leo, he had to deal with all the consequences of another barbarian incursion into Italy led by the Ostrogoth Theodoric, who had conquered Odoacer in Ravenna. He was successful in dealing with Theodoric, who went on to establish a cultured and civilized kingdom in Italy. Gelasius is important in two areas in the Church: firstly, his high pretensions regarding the papacy, and secondly, his theory of the relationship between Church and state.

Gelasius was determined to make the Church independent of both the Eastern emperor and the new leaders of the Western barbarian kingdoms. He taught that there are two separate spheres, Church and state. The Church is superior to the state and the bishop to the emperor, because the Church is responsible for the emperor's eternal salvation. Celasius enunciates his position bluntly in his letter Duo quippe sunt to the Eastern emperor, Anastasius I, in 494:

For there are two powers, august emperor, by which this world is principally ruled: the sacred authority of the pontiff and the regal power. Of these, the power of the priests is more important for they have to answer for the kings of men in the divine tribunal.(20)

Contained in this passage are the seeds of later conflict, for the papacy is clearly claiming to be responsible for the behavior of kings. The claim is based on the premise that the spiritual is superior to the temporal. Gelasius uses his 'Gelasian theory' to reinforce papal supremacy even in the Eastern empire. He asserts the superiority of the priesthood over the faithful, and emphasizes the particular power granted by God to the Roman see. This is the most far-reaching claim that any pope had made to this point: Gelasius claimed that he held the same position in the Church as the emperor in the state, and that the Church was superior to the state.

The popes had come a long way in the one hundred and eighty years since Constantine. By the time of Gelasius, popes had defeated the powerful conservatives who supported paganism and they had achieved the Christianization of Rome. They had expelled the heretical communities and their bishops from the city. They had imposed the Latin language to standardize Church worship. They had won considerable influence over the civil administration of Rome.

But outside Rome there were real limits to the acceptance of papal jurisdiction. The popes had considerable influence in suburbicarian Italy, especially through the Roman synod. In the wider regions of the West, real papal influence is hard to assess and was probably rather limited. Most historians have concluded that by the time of Gelasius I, the papacy as we know it was more or less established. The popes certainly did make claims, but the evidence is that the Church did not, in practice, generally accept those claims. Often enough the reason for this is very mundane: external circumstances, such as the gradual collapse of centralized power in the West after 406, meant that Rome was out of contact—or could only make sporadic contact with difficulty—with many parts of the empire, even in the West. But what the popes had achieved was the creation of a theoretical basis for later claims.

In an interesting analysis of papal letters and decretals for the period of Gelasius 1, Bernhard Schimmelpfenning shows that the pope's main area of influence was suburbicarian Italy. Beyond that there was only intermittent correspondence.(21) Schimmelpfenning also points out that 'the mental horizon [of the Roman bishops] was extremely limited.'

This is revealed in that product of the papal curia, the Liber Pontiftcalis, where papal acts are usually described in terms of ordinations of deacons and priests, consecrations of local bishops, church construction, and the acquisition of pious objects for worship. It is a parochial focus, and it gives a clue to the attitudes prevalent in the papal curia. In a sense, the writers of the Liber Pontificalis were right; the popes were primarily bishops of Rome and it was in the city that their energy should have been focused. With the exception of popes like Damasus, Siricius, Leo, and Gelasius, who had sketched out the theoretical basis of papal claims, most of the other bishops of Rome in these two centuries seem to have been more circumscribed in their activities. But by claiming the same power in the East as they claimed in the West, the popes were laying the foundation for the schism that would divide the Church permanently.

Roman primacy and the churches of the East

In this section 1 want to review the relationship between the bishops of Rome and the Eastern Church during the fourth and fifth centuries. This was the great period of Christological controversy. The geopolitical context of these disputes is of pivotal importance. Constantine shifted the center of the empire from Rome to Byzantium, which, as a result of his massive building program, quickly emerged as the 'new Rome'—Constantinople. A gradual politico-cultural separation began to emerge between the two parts of the empire. The Church reflected this division, but the gradual drift toward ecclesiastical separation between East and West went deeper. There were clear differences of language and attitude (Greek versus Latin). The genius of the Eastern Church was mainly speculative, while the West tended to be more practical. As a result, the East was late in developing an ecclesiology. and it tended to accept the prevailing '"caesaro-papism' (that is, a Church controlled by and subsumed to the priorities of the state). The Roman Church, at the same time, was developing an ecclesiology and laying the foundations for a kind of 'papo-caesarism' that would emerge in the medieval period. The relatively quick collapse of the empire in the West created something of a cultural vacuum into which the Church was able to move; the Church in the East became increasingly tied to Byzantine culture and power structures. The separation between East and West was also deepened by the growing claims of the bishops of Constantinople. With the exception of Leo I, none of the popes of this period were prominent theologians and the papacy was not strongly represented at any of the ecumenical councils of the period, except Chalcedon (451).

When Constantine established the new imperial capital at Constantinople in 330, the bishop of the "New Rome' had a significant role, although Ins position was constantly challenged by the older sees of apostolic origin. Gradually, Constantinople came to be seen as second after Rome. This was made clear at the First Council of Constantinople (381): 'Because it is the new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome.'(22) However, the upstart see did not have an easy ride, and there was a long struggle for supremacy, and for theological dominance, between Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. The Council of Chalcedon (451) attempted to deal with the doctrinal and disciplinary issues that arose as part of this rivalry.(23) The immediate cause of Chalcedon was the confused teaching of the monk Eutyches. His monophysite teaching conflated the divine and human natures of Christ. This was the only ancient council at which the papacy played a major role, for Pope Leo I had a good knowledge of both Eastern and Western theology.

Leo was actually opposed to the holding of the Council. Louis Duschesne says that the bishops of the West 'were more disturbed about Attila than about Eutyches [and] had every possible reason for staying at home.'(24) However, the pope was prepared to fall in with the imperial government and the leader of Leo's legates at the council was Paschasinus, Bishop of Lilybaeum on the, west coast of Sicily (the present day Marsala). The papal legates did not preside, but they were given a place of honor to the right of the imperial delegates.(25)

Having declared that the 'orthodox doctrines' had come down to the Council through the ''Blessed Cyril' (of Alexandria), as well as from "the Letter [Tome] of the primate of greatest and older Rome, the most blessed and most saintly Archbishop Leo ... because it is in agreement with great Peter's confession," the Council substantially accepted Leo's Tome with respectful approval and used it as the basis for the statement of its faith.(26) Leo's teaching clearly emerges in the Council's Definitio. Chalcedon was also concerned with disciplinary measures regulating ecclesiastical order, monastic life, and the laity. One of the most important canons, number 28, reaffirmed the granting of patriarchal and metropolitan rights to the see of Constantinople, on the grounds that it, like Rome, was an imperial city. Pope Leo at first refused to sign the Council's proceedings, and even when he did in March 453, he declared Canon 28 invalid because he claimed that it was a contradiction of the teaching of the Council of Nicaea on patriarchal sees.

Chalcedon did not settle the dispute about the relationship of nature and person in Christ and the monophysite influence continued. The protests of Pope Simplicius (468-483) were ignored by the Eastern Church and Pope Felix III (483—492) excommunicated Acacius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, because of his support for pro-monophysite bishops. This was the beginning of a schism between Rome and Constantinople that lasted until 519. It was an ominous sign of what was eventually to become a permanent reality. With the exception of Leo I and Gelasius I most of the Roman bishops of the period were not theologians in the Eastern sense. Given the seemingly never-ending Eastern theological disputes, one is tempted to say 'Thank goodness"! The Western genius was much more practical. The bishops of Rome were forced to be realistic in the face of the almost complete disintegration of ordered political life around them. However, one can exaggerate their influence in cultural and civic life in the period up to the eighth century. They were certainly important, but their remit was not necessarily normative; they were respected but not always obeyed. It was really only in the late-eleventh century that they successfully and consistently projected their authority beyond Italy into the rest of Western Europe. By then the schism with the Eastern Church was complete.

What conclusions for the Church can we draw from the first millennium?

What ecclesiological sense can we make out of the first millennium for our own time? There is no doubt that the pope has always had a leadership role in Christian history. The one thing that is clear from the earliest period onwards is that the recognizable symbol of leadership in the Church has always been somehow linked to the Roman church and its bishop. The nature of the relationship between the Roman bishop and the wider Church takes different forms in different periods. The actual influence of Rome in the Church also varies from period to period. History does not throw up one normative model of the papacy. It has had a variegated relationship with the Church over the centuries. The Bishop of Rome's leadership is founded in the fact that he is the bishop of Rome. His leadership is not a personal charismatic gift, but it is essentially linked to the church and diocese of that city and to succession from Saint Peter. The two cannot be divorced; they are interdependent.

From fairly early on in Church history, the primacy of Rome was accepted by the Church. Here we must be careful, for the word primacy conies to us loaded with the specific theological content injected into the word by Vatican I. The word is originally derived from primus, meaning first, and this implies that there are others. Traditionally., the Bishop of Rome was primus inter pares, the first among equal local bishops. During the first millennium, this is how the Roman church and its bishop were viewed. Despite all the tensions, especially with the Eastern Church, Rome was seen as the touchstone of orthodoxy and the center of the Church's communion. It was not until the fourth and fifth centuries that a Petrine theology was applied by the popes themselves to the papacy. But in the first millennium this was not developed in terms of direct doctrinal authority, or coercive power over the other local churches, except in the immediate sphere of Roman influence in the dioceses immediately around Rome. Certainly the pope was seen as patriarch of the West and it was accepted that this was his sphere of influence.

However this patriarchal role did not mean dominance over the churches of the West, nor did it imply direct authority over local decisions. Even in central Italy itself, papal power was exercised synodally—through the Roman synod. If Rome had wanted direct control over the other Western churches, the conditions of Europe in the long period of chaos after the fall of the Western empire would have made it impossible. The simple fact is that local synods were the most characteristic form of Church government in the first millennium. Most bishops were elected locally, approved by their metropolitan, and acted largely independently of Rome. In other words, the Church was decentralized and the principle of subsidiarity was respected.

But. at the same time, it was always recognized that, communion with the Bishop of Rome was the touchstone of orthodox, apostolic faith. And Rome itself recognized that it should interfere only in major issues and that the nature of its remit differed in different parts of the Church.(26) This could well provide a model for a more collegial Church of the future. Typical of the attitude to the papacy in the first millennium was that of Ambrose of Milan. While he held a high view of Rome's primatial role and viewed the Roman bishop as the touchstone of the Church's orthodoxy, he maintained his episcopal independence and did not hesitate to differ with the papacy when he saw fit. And. theologically and personally, Ambrose overshadowed the popes of his time.

Those historians and theologians who have argued for the emergence of a clear articulation of papal primacy and doctrinal authority in the period between Damascus I and Leo I see strong evidence to support their view in the claims made by the popes of the period. In this, pro-papal historians are probably right: the popes certainly claimed a doctrinal and disciplinary jurisdiction based on their sharing in the Petrine office. But there are two elements that are generally neglected by such historians. First, there is the doctrinal principle of reception. This involves the acceptance, by bishops and the faithful, of doctrinal and ethical teaching and of disciplinary decrees. In the final analysis, a papal teaching must be received by the Church. It is in this area of reception that care must be taken regarding the claims of the popes from the fourth century onward. Bishops, councils, synods, theologians, and even the imperial authority all had major parts to play in discerning Christian belief and the Church's teaching. The popes could make claims but their claims had to be accepted and received. This was particularly true in the Eastern Church. Rome's remit in the judgment of disciplinary matters was limited largely to suburbicarian Italy and, to a much lesser extent, the West. The authority and influence of the Eastern patriarchates—Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and even Jerusalem—were prettymuch normative in their own areas. It is significant that on as important a theological point as the date of Easter, the East simply did not accept Rome's position.

So we can safely say that in the first millennium Rome claimed a theoretical primacy based on the Petrine texts, but that often the pope's real power was limited to central Italy. A strong, influential pope may have been able to influence the Church in the West, but Roman primacy was increasingly severely restricted in the East. The theoretical leadership of Rome was never questioned, but the real, practical decisions were almost always taken at a local or regional level.

From the Middle Ages to the present day

A major shift occurred in the understanding of papal primacy after the much-needed reform of the Church at the turn of the first Christian millennium. From about the time of Gregory VII (1073-1085) onwards, the emphasis shifted in the Western Church from the Bishop of Rome providing a service of leadership in the Church and a focus for its unity, to an increasing emphasis on papal power. If, in general terms, the Greek word diaconia (service) characterized papal leadership in the first millennium, the Latin word potestas (power) characterized the papacy in the second. There is a significant shift from a Petrine theology of leadership to a papal ideology of power.

Further, the medieval emphasis on the hierarchy of being created an intellectual ambience in which everything was arranged in an ascending/descending order of importance. Thus in ecclesiology there was a shift from an emphasis on community leadership to a focus on hierarchical office. The Church had been slowly developing in a hierarchical direction throughout the first millennium, but this is not where the emphasis was laid. The primary focus was on leadership as service. But a change occurs around the beginning of the second millennium as feudal concepts begin to permeate the European cultural ambience. The medieval emphasis on a hierarchically structured set of interrelationships became more exaggerated as the Middle Ages progressed. But in the medieval Church and feudalism there was also a corresponding stress on the mutual responsibilities inherent in hierarchical relationships,

Medieval society had a sense of the need to balance power relationships, local autonomy was emphasized, and there was a firm notion of the role of the commune or local corporation to counterbalance excessive centralization. Thus the power of the popes was balanced by synods, councils, bishops, the college of cardinals, universities, and the politico-religious power of the Holy Roman Emperor.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the final breakdown of feudalism and the emergence of absolute monarchies, the sense of mutual interdependence and co-responsibility was lost and a more dictatorial approach to government emerged. This is reflected in the monarchical model of papacy developed by Saint Robert Bellarmine and those who followed him. At the same time there was a decline in the idea of synodal government in the Catholic Church. The authority of the bishops and the wider community was weakened, and by the nineteenth century the episcopalism inherent in Gallicanism and Febronianism had been swept away. The centralized power of the papacy stood alone. This was a new phenomenon.

Another striking characteristic of medieval thought about the Church is that it is dominated by legalistic rather than theological categories. The whole medieval debate about the Church centers on the origin and legal scope of papal power. The Middle Ages were characterized by a very weak ecclesiology. Without a developed theology of the Church, primacy eventually became coterminous with the extent of papal power and its ability to impact on events in both the civil and ecclesiastical spheres. This led to the long and ultimately destructive struggles between the German emperors and the papacy. The papacy finally achieved a pyrrhic victory over the Holy Roman Empire, but only at the price of a loss of prestige and the secularization of the office of pope. Theories of papal power reached ludicrous lengths in the claims of Boniface VIII (1294-1303), as we shall see later in this chapter (pp. 182-6).

Throughout the struggle with the Empire, arid in the period following, canonical theories of papal power continued to develop in an extreme direction. This was highlighted by the claims of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216). and continued under Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241), when papal decretals were collected from the previous century. These decretals had been influenced, in turn, by earlier canonists. This collection of papal decretals now became the source for further commentary. So the modern habit of popes commenting on their predecessors, and even their own encyclicals and letters, has a long history. The problem is that this methodology has an inbuilt intellectual incestuousness that leads ultimately not to development, but to stultification. This is precisely what happened to medieval canonical thought.

Until the thirteenth century, there was a clear recognition by canonists that both papal and imperial power was bestowed by God; the struggle was about which of the two was superior within the context of Christian society. But in the thirteenth century, a new school of canonists arose: the decretalists. The-greatest of them was Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254). He was more of a hierocrat than Innocent III, but he did leave some room for legitimate political power. His younger decretalist successor was Cardinal Henri de Suse (d. 1271)—known as Hostiensis. He conceded that there were two authorities on earth, but that the temporal was completely subject to the spiritual:

Therefore, in the order of greatness, mere is only one head, namely the pope. There ought to be only one as our head, one lord of spiritualities and temporalities, because 'the earth and the fullness therefore' [sic] belong to him who committed all things to Peter.(28)

It was Boniface VIII who attempted to apply this idea to the reality of political life.

Innocent III (and some of his predecessors) had claimed for the pope the plenitudo potestatis—the fullness of authority and power. In the thirteenth century, the fullness of authority became synonymous in canonical thought with primacy. As J. A. Watt has pointed out, two historical sources come together to inject meaning into the term plenitudo potestatis.(29) The canonists tied together the authority granted by Christ to Peter in the Petrine text, with the notion of imperial power that had corne into canon law from Roman law. the study of which had been revived in this period. So increasingly, in practice, the popes imitated imperial power.(30) By the time of Innocent III, the term plenitudo potestatis denoted papal sovereignty.(31) Thus sovereignty and primacy came to denote the same thing. As this developed, the papacy claimed that it was the source of all power—spiritual and temporal.

The problem is that this development lacks any theological content. In it the primacy is described in Legal terms. It is split off from the theological definition of the Church and it has no sense of other ministries. Papo-centrisrn dominated the high Middle Ages (and nineteenth and twentieth centuries), because of an underdeveloped, even primitive ecclesiology. The power and role of the leader was defined before there was a rounded and evolved notion of the body that was being led. Certainly, this was the result of historical circumstances, but it was also the result of a papal bid for power. The consequence is that we still have to deal with an exaggerated notion of papalism in the Church.

This same tendency is also seen in the growth of the legal notion that Papa est iudex ordinarius omnium (the pope is the ordinary judge of everyone in the Church). The term iudex ordinarius again comes from Roman law. It was argued that if the pope was the iudex ordinarius, and held the plenitudo potestatis, then there was no limit to his jurisdiction.

The ... formula iudex ordinarius omnium had its birth in the general context of the jurisdictional omnicompetence of the pope over the whole hierarchy, [and] was therefore associated with the plenitude of power and had particular reference to the principle that appeals might be made immediately to the pope, with intervening, subordinate jurisdictions by-passed.

(32) But, while the theory of plenitudo potestatis has survived in the Church, the days of the medieval universal papal monarchy were quickly drawing to a close in the fourteenth century.

In the forty years between the death of Innocent IV in 1254 and the election of Boniface VIII, there were twelve popes, often with long delays between elections. These delays were caused by political pressure on the cardinals and deep divisions among themselves. The Second Council of Lyons tried to bring stability by passing a detailed decree on papal elections.(33) The decree gave the cardinals ten days to come together for the conclave. If they had not elected a pope within three days, a graduated fast was to be imposed on them. This was not immediately successful, for the longest breaks between popes occurred immediately after the Council!

These long breaks, and the resulting instability, eventually led to the incident of Celestine V (1294). He is the only pope who certainly resigned, although., as Patrick Granfield points out, there are debates about nine possible papal resignations.(34) Pope Celestine is instructive on several scores: he shows that saints—he had been a hermit before election—are not necessarily the best popes., and, in the light of the suggestion of modern popes resigning at a predetermined age, it poses the question of what to do with a resigned pope. The whole period highlights the fact that the Church still does not have a mechanism to deal with heretical, unsuitable, or insane popes.

Celestine V was elected in July 1294 after a vacancy in the papacy of two years and three months. He quickly fell under the influence of his royal protector, Charles 11, who insisted that he live in Naples. As pope, Celestine was incompetent, and was easily influenced by both the king and the ambitious Cardinal Benedetto Caetani. Under royal influence he appointed twelve new cardinals, seven of whom were Frenchmen. By November it was clear even to Celestine himself that resignation was the only way out, and, advised by Caetani, he abdicated.

Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and Unam sanctam

A. fortnight later Caetani himself was elected as Boniface VIII. (Celestine was arrested, escaped back to the mountains, was recaptured, and died in confinement in 1296.) Boniface had came to the papacy in circumstances that were at the very least dubious. There was no clear precedent for a resignation, and Boniface's enemies were later to say the election was invalid. Because he made such extreme claims, Boniface is worth studying in some detail. He takes papalism to its logical conclusion.

After his election, Boniface quickly got down to work. He seemed to thrive on conflict, and his years as pope were characterized by impulsive interference in international affairs, with an obvious lack of success. Centralized national monarchy was on the rise in Europe. This was not to occur without enormous opposition from feudal barons and urban and communal movements jealously guarding their hard-won liberties against the kings. We should not overestimate the centralization of these medieval kingdoms, but the lineaments of the modern state could be discerned in them. Kings, especially in England and France, struggled to maintain their positions and to fight each other. To achieve this they needed two things: a doctrine to support the legitimacy and independence of their emerging states, and money through taxation to make this a reality. It was Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who provided them with their ideology. And the kings saw the Church as a source of money through taxation.

Following Aristotle and natural law theory. Aquinas argued that the state was rooted in the social nature of humankind. This is the opposite of what the popes were claiming. Aquinas suggested that authority arises from the very nature of the state itself.(35) Therefore God intended government and human society; the common good demands that someone must give this process a sense of direction 'because human beings are naturally social animals ... The social life of the many would not be possible unless someone presided over it to look after the common good.'(36) Aquinas considered that the best form of government was limited monarchy. This clearly stands in contrast to the hierarchical, papal view whereby potestas descends from God through Peter to Peter's successor, and thus down the hierarchical ladder, just like the great chain of being itself.(37) Aquinas held that Church and state should work together, but he is clear that secular power is not derived from the pope or the Church, but from the natural law itself. This explains why on this and a number of other questions he was considered suspect by his contemporaries.

The most extreme pro-papalist of the period was Aegidius Romanus (Giles of Rome), one of Aquinas' teachers. His De Summi Pontiftcis potentate provides the foundation for the bull Unam sanctam. Giles argued from the intrinsic superiority of the spiritual over the material. For Giles, the lordship of the pope was beyond anyone's judgment, and he held that it was implicit in the order of the universe. He argued that theoretically the pope was the owner of all material goods in the world: because souls were spiritual, they were governed by the pope; bodies were subject to souls; material goods existed to serve the needs of the body; ergo., all material goods were subject to the pope!

The aggressive Boniface VIII held these extreme hierocratic views and this led to his conflict with Philip IV (1268-1314) of France. At one stage the pope boasted that he was as much emperor as pope! In the bull Asculta fili (December 1301). Boniface referred to himself as he 'who holds the place on earth of Him who alone is lord and master.'(38) This was followed by the bull Unam sanctam (18 November 1302). The bull states the most extreme hierocratic position: the pope argued categorically that the temporal is completely subject to the spiritual. In the Church., Boniface argued, "there is one body and one head, not two heads as if it were a monster.'(39) That head is firstly identified with Christ, then with Peter, and then his successor. Basing himself on the text 'Feed my sheep' (John 21:17). Boniface maintained that everyone is subject to the papacy because Christ 'committed to [Peter] all his sheep.' The pope writes that whoever resists the spiritual power 'resists the ordination of God. Thus the concept of plenitudo potestatis in Unam sanctam is stated in the extreme form. He concludes the bull with the extraordinary claim: "Consequently we declare, state, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff'.(40)

Philip's reply was a personal attack on Boniface, including denunciation for homosexual misconduct. The pope was also called a heretic and usurper. A demand was raised for a general council to depose him. Boniface was seized at Anagni on 7 September 1303. by Philip's minister, Guillaume de Nogaret, and Sciarra, head of the powerful Colonna family, who demanded that he resign.(41) He refused to accept their demands and was rescued by the citizens of the town. It is said that one of the Colonna thugs bashed him. but he does not seem to have been injured. But Boniface was deeply shaken and he died in Rome on 12 October. He was succeeded ten days later by Benedict XI (1303-1304). His successor, Clement V (1305-1314), took the papacy to Avignon.

What are we to make today of Boniface's papacy, and of the extreme papal claims that he enunciated? As pope, he was a disaster. His arrogance and lack of judgment led directly to the Avignon papacy, which, in turn, led straight to the great Western schism. His total failure to read what was happening in the contemporary political life of Europe, and his extreme clericalism enhanced the secularizing tendencies already operative in the French {and later the English) monarchy. But it was his theology that was most outrageous. The extreme teaching of Unam sanctam cannot be justified by any biblical or traditional standard. So what is the doctrinal significance and binding force of Unam sanctam? Given that parts of it are clearly time-conditioned, how is it to be reconciled with modern papal teaching authority? Is it, for instance, infallible? Or is it only 'ordinary magisterium'? If it is neither of these, what is it?

The Catholic ecumenist George Tavard argues that most late-medieval theologians considered that 'the doctrines of Unam sanctam were not received by the Church as authoritative.'(42) Reception is one of the necessary norms for the truth of a doctrine. Some other modem theologians, such as Yves Congar and M. D. Chenu, seem to suggest that what is of permanent value in Unam sanctam is that all political action is subject to the ethical demands of the gospel. However, this generalizing tendency hardly does justice to the precise specifics of Boniface VIII. Other theologians hold that only the final sentence is a dogmatic definition. The rest is merely the odd papal claims of the thirteenth century. But, as Tavard correctly asks, how can this last sentence of Unam sanctam be divorced from the body of the text?(48) The whole text has a specific meaning of which the last sentence is merely a pointed summary.

Clearly it: is not an 'infallible definition' in the modern meaning of the term, but if it is not infallible what is its doctrinal status? If. as Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) says, Boniface VIII's teaching was a 'medieval conception ... conditioned by its time,' surely the same norm can be applied to the teaching of Pius XII himself?'(44) This is the nub of the problem: When and how does doctrinal teaching, clearly intended by the enunciating pope to be universally binding, become 'conditioned by its time'? What are we to make doctrinally of Boniface's claims, even if they come from the fourteenth century? The simple fact is that this problem has never really been dealt with either by Vatican I or by modern ecclesiology. But by bypassing these historical problems the Church renders suspect all of today's papal claims.

In the early Middle Ages, a distinction was made between the earthly, militant Church and the triumphant, heavenly Church, with an emphasis on the latter as the truest realization of the Church. Because of this distinction, early medieval theologians did not stress the Church's institutional aspect, which was seen as imperfect. But in the later Middle Ages the theological emphasis shifted in an institutional direction. As Yves Congar wrote, the Church became:

machinery of hierarchical mediation, of the powers and primacy of the Roman see, in a word, a 'hierarchology.' On the other hand, the two terms between which that mediation comes, the Holy Spirit on the one side, the faithful people ... on the other, were kept out of ecclesiological consideration."(45)

In different modalities, this emphasis has continued right through until our own time. It is not an oversimplification to say that in the second millennium of the Christian era, the primacy of service has gradually become the primacy of power to control and mediate.

Papal control through appeals and faculties

Part of the reason why Rome gained so much power from the medieval period onwards was because litigants in local disputes often appealed over the heads of their bishops to the pope. The highest and final court of appeal is always the most powerful. As a result of these appeals and the process of centralization, a whole series of specific and extraordinary permissions were gradually reserved to Rome. Having lost the power to deal with these issues, local bishops were given dispensations and faculties to operate in these matters via papal letters that were issued through the apostolic chancery. As time went on. Roman bureaucrats further constricted the power of bishops to govern their dioceses by forcing them to refer more and more issues to Rome. As the Church expanded into the New World. Urban VIII (1623-1644) had the Inquisition and the Congregation of Propaganda draw up lists of the most frequently requested dispensations. Various lists were prepared according to local needs and distance from Rome. Faculties covering these issues were granted to bishops at the time of their appointment, and they were renewed on a five- or ten-yearly basis. These lists were revised again by Benedict XV in 1920. and were issued to bishops as either quinquennial or decennial faculties through either the Consistorial Congregation or Propaganda. There was a further reform in 1963 by Paul VI.

Originally these permissions were to do with major pastoral issues, such as marriage or the rights of bishops over exempt religious orders. But by the nineteenth century, they became more and more specific and dealt with trivial matters such as dispensations from the Lenten fast, or allowing nuns to wash altar linen. Thus bishops lost the power to govern their own dioceses in a whole range of issues both important and trivial. These faculties suggested that they were merely papal delegates, granted power by the papal curia to operate.

But the question has to be asked: Why do bishops need 'faculties' at all? The notion of Rome as a final court of appeal is both traditional and reasonable, but there seem to be no theological grounds to justify bishops being in such dependence on the Roman curia that they need permission to operate in their own dioceses. Most of the important pastoral issues covered by such faculties should be in the hands of national and regional episcopal conferences. Paul VI. in Pastorale munus (30 November 1963). did try to break down the previously absurd centralization, and many petty restrictions were swept away, but the granting of faculties is still part of the Roman system. Subsidiarity surely demands that decisions that can be taken at a local level ought not to be referred upward. The whole thing is part of the seemingly endless centralization that has characterized the papacy over the last eight hundred years. This centralization needs to be radically rethought.

Vatican II and the rediscovery of episcopal collegiality

In some ways that rethinking began at Vatican II. If the role of bishops had been simply ignored at Vatican I, it became one of the most fought-over issues at Vatican II. In theory, at least, Vatican II rediscovered the episcopal pares (equals) among whom the pope was primus. There was considerable drama over this issue at the Council. The first text on collegiality is contained in chapter three of Lumen Gentium. There had been ongoing and. at times, devious opposition throughout the Council to the idea of collegiality from a determined minority of bishops, including many in the Roman curia.(46) The core of the problem was that collegiality was seen as impinging on papal primacy, even though there was already a heavy emphasis on the Vatican I doctrine in the text of Lumen Gentium. The minority correctly foresaw that if the office of bishop was taken seriously, the influence of the Roman curia would be seriously threatened.

Paul VI tried to bring the opponents of collegiality onside by extraordinary concessions, including issuing on 1.6 November 1964 an Explanatory Note (Nota explicativia praevia)setting out the sense in which collegiality was to be understood in Lumen Gentium(47)The key issue emphasized by the pope was that the exercise of collegiality depended completely on the permission of the pope. The Nota. which is written in extraordinarily convoluted language, fundamentally relativizes the power of the bishops 'so that the full power of the Roman Pontiff will not be placed in contention'(48) The Nota perpetuates the distinction, which originates in the medieval period, between the ministerial authority that a bishop receives in his ordination and the exercise of that authority that can come about only through juridical permission from Rome.

The word "collegiality' is never actually used in the documents of Vatican II, but the idea is certainly contained in both Lumen Gentium and the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops (Christus Dominus}. The view of the Council is the traditional one: the bishops form a college with the pope, and assume with him responsibility for the whole Church. But. as in so many of the documents of Vatican II, the teaching is compromised by an extraordinary emphasis in the texts on the papal primacy. It reflects the papalist fear of anything that remotely questioned the plenitudo potentate. There is a sense in which Christus Dominus is a far more open document than Lumen Gentium. It refers to the long tradition of bishops getting together in synods and councils to confront common problems and to promote the proclamation of the gospel. It goes on to recommend the re-establishment of local and national episcopal conferences, and it states (n. 36) that the Council:

expresses its earnest hope that these admirable institutions— synods and councils—may flourish with renewed vigor so that the growth of religion and the maintenance of discipline ... may increasingly be more effectively provided for in accordance with the needs of the times.(49).

As I have already mentioned, a number of these episcopal conferences—such as the Dutch, Italian, United States, and Brazilian Bishops' Conferences, as well as the pan-continental Latin-American Bishops' Conference (CELAM)—were, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, very creative bodies in developing common ecclesial approaches to issues that concerned their own regions. This is because they had a sufficient number of pastorally minded bishops able to take these conferences along with them. But this has now collapsed to a considerable extent, especially in the important conferences, as the bishops appointed by John Paul II develop a critical mass within local episcopates. Several hierarchies—such as those in Austria and the Netherlands, and, to a lesser extent, the United States— have been subverted by the appointments of reactionary bishops, many of them seemingly lacking any pastoral sense. A couple of these appointments have been disastrous.

In terms of sheer numbers, the establishment of bishops' conferences since Vatican II has been successful. In 1992. as well as the Synod of Bishops, there were just over one hundred episcopal conferences in the Western Church, fourteen synods or episcopal conferences in the Eastern Catholic Church, several pan-African bishops' conferences, the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. CELAM, and the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America and Panama.(50) While these conferences and synods have varied widely in their success in assuming responsibility for the local church, their very existence has led to major concerns in Rome.

We have already mentioned the nobbling of the Synod of Bishops by its complete dependence on Roman fiat. Its secretariat is at present presided over by Cardinal Jan Schotte. Established by Paul VI in 1965 to try to involve the bishops of the world—in the words of the Code of Canon Law (can. 342)— in fostering 'a closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops.' and assisting him 'with their counsel in safeguarding and increasing faith and morals,' the Synod has become a complete fiasco in terms of collegiality. especially since the advent of John Paul II. Paul VI intermittently tried to encourage the Synod, but he was always ambivalent about it. The canons governing the Synod in the Code of Canon Law tie it up hand and foot, and it has absolutely no independence. This is clear from Canon 343; it says that while the bishops can discuss a predetermined agenda, they are unable to resolve or determine issues unless the pope grants them deliberate power and, even then, he has to ratify their decisions. In other words, it is a completely nobbled gathering. It is even left to the pope to write and distribute the conclusions reached in the process.

For instance, the so-called 'Extraordinary Synod' summoned by John Paul II in 1985, despite a lot of good work by many bishops, ended up simply reflecting the papal line on issues such as liberation theology and the status of local bishops' conferences.(51)Peter Hebblethwaite commented that wise bishops at the 1985 Synod knew that:

While one may be allowed to make fine speeches about collegiality and the Church as a mystery, the gritty reality of Church life depends upon who has control of the institutions—the nomination of bishops, the license to teach theology, the proposal of models of holiness. The Synod of Bishops has been caught up in this process of institutional control which is concerned with who may speak, who is allowed to have a voice. Quite simply, this Synod lost its voice.(52)

This is the essence of the problem: it is clear that those who do not toe the official line will simply be given no voice.

Clearly, the world Synod of Bishops has already been subverted by Rome and is now largely a rubber stamp for the curial line. In fact. Hebblethwaite claims that the final text for the 1985 Synod had been prepared in advance!(53) This may or may not be true, but there is no doubt that the pope and Cardinal Ratzinger knew exactly where they wanted the Synod to go, and controlled proceedings from beginning to end.

No one with real knowledge of the Church now takes these synods seriously; they probably never did. But if the Synod of Bishops actually set its own agenda and freely reached and published its own conclusions, it might become a useful balance to papalism. It still exists as a recoverable entity, but in the Wojtyla papacy it exists merely as a rubber stamp and a clear symptom of the disease of absolutism.

Similar attempts have been made to reign in episcopal conferences. In a comprehensive essay, Joseph Komonchak has outlined the theological debate concerning the teaching and ministerial authority of bishops' conferences.(54) he notes that two world Synods of Bishops were devoted to episcopal conferences—1969 and 1985. The key issues that emerged were the threat that such conferences pose to the authority of the individual bishop, on the one hand, and to the authority of the pope, on the other. There have been warnings also that episcopal conferences would lead to the revival of nationalism in the Church. Several major theologians—Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jerome Hamer, and Josef Ratzinger— have attacked the teaching role of such conferences. Ratzinger was quite blunt in 1985: 'We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the indispensable structure of the Church as willed by Christ; they have only a practical, concrete function.'(55) I have always been intrigued by people who thought that they knew exactly what Christ 'willed' for the Church! The notion that Jesus had the Church all worked out in his head, down to the distinction between the papacy, national episcopal conferences, the curia, and general councils, and even the distinction between the ordinary rnagisterium and the infallible magisterium, has always struck me as nonsense. The theologians who talk like this seem to inhabit a world that has no relationship to either history or contemporary reality. All of these things are so obviously the result of development over many centuries that it hardly needs mentioning; that is unless your reality is predetermined by your ideology.

This was, of course, not always Ratzinger's view. In 1965 he was a strong supporter of episcopal conferences(56) He later referred to such conferences as a fundamental part of the Church's structure and as a 'normal pattern of orderly life in the Church.(57) But by the time of the 1985 Ratzinger Report, it was the role of the individual bishop that he stressed as he downgraded the importance and significance of the episcopal conference. Komonchak points out that Ratzinger has also left behind his early ideas about the development of new patriarchical regions, each embracing a number of episcopal conferences, with their own legislative power and structural forms.(58) This earlier vision has much in common with the notion of the presidency of charity, a eucharistic communion that makes up the Body of Christ. Ratzinger now sees this as a romantic vision of the Church, and the only legitimate exercise of collegiality that he recognizes is the universal collegiality given expression through a general council. Otherwise episcopal conferences have only a very limited role.

Clearly a national conference does not have the same authority as a general council, but it might well be better equipped to make practical and theological decisions that impinge on the local scene than pope, curia, or council. For this is the primary role of a national episcopal conference: to assume responsibility for the local scene, and to encourage local leadership so that a genuine sense of the local church will begin to emerge. The national bishops' conference should take primary responsibility for the development of local liturgy and catechetics. and the appointment and ordination of bishops. It should also address regional ethical and social issues and the function of local marriage customs in relationship to the sacrament of matrimony, and determine the lifestyle and trainingof the local clergy, as well as assessing who should be ordained and the nature of clerical commitment. It is the responsibility of the local bishops to interact with national governments. This role should be assumed only in extraordinary circumstances by papal nuncios or Rome. All other issues should be dealt with on the local level in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. It is hard to see any reason why Rome should even be consulted on these issues; at most, the papacy should simply function as a court of appeal, and as a way of measuring the customs of the local church against the universal Church.

The habit of the local episcopal conference making decisions about the local church is, as we have seen, a very traditional way of operating. This was the way Western Church operated for the first thousand years of its history. So the shift in emphasis from a universalist to a local ecclcsiology would not be an innovation, but a return to an older tradition.

But to achieve this the bishops will have to find more courage in their dealings with Rome than they have hitherto shown. This is the bind that contemporary Catholicism is in: it badly needs strong leadership, but as long as the pope appoints bishops it is unlikely that anyone who would assume real responsibility for the local church will be appointed. Of course, there are exceptions, and there will always be unusual bishops, such as Archbishop Oscar Romero, who change radically after appointment. But generally only safe, cautious types will be appointed. So there is a need to find another way to appoint bishops. Again, tradition does not fail us: we can do what they did for the first thousand years—the local church needs to take back the right to elect them! This can be done via a local consultative process, and election by a synod representing clergy and people. The Proposed Constitution of the Catholic Church., which I will examine a little later, sets out in detail how this could be achieved.

A democratic Catholic Church

One of the most tiresome repetitions of those who want to retain the papal monarchy is the phrase 'the Church is not a democracy.' Most people surrender defeated as soon as this is said, because they think that it is a fact. But the phrase is actually incorrect: there is a true sense in which the Church is a democracy, a rule of the people. In fact, a democratic model is much closer to New Testament forms of the Church, and even to later traditions of ecclesiology. than is the bureaucratic, absolute, divine-right papal monarchy. The historical fact is that absolute monarchy only saw the light of day in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, although much earlier popes, such as Innocent III and Boniface VIII, claimed a universal jurisdiction and power. No one is suggesting that the full panoply of representative democracy, replete with political parties, be imported into the Church. But a democratic approach has strong connections with a communitarian model of Church government. There is also a close relationship between democracy and the theological notion of the consensus fidelium(59)

There are many historical examples of this democratic approach to Church government. The early Church emphasized the equality of all disciples of Jesus and the word church(ekklesia) connoted an assembly of equal and fully participating citizens.(60) Eugene G. Bianchi and John Beal have argued that the ecclesiological and canonical traditions of the Western Church contain democratic elements that have been, in Karl Rahner's sense, 'forgotten'.(61) We need to recover these traditions in order to develop alternative structures of Church government. Bianchi refers to a number of examples in the Church's tradition where what we would call democratic structures were developed. The early Church is a clear example: the Pauline communities have been characterized by Wayne Meeks as 'intense spiritual families' and the Lucan communities were characterized by 'communal rules of village solidarity.'(62) Both these approaches implied strong egalitarian and democratic tendencies. Another example is fourth-century Arianism: this movement is seen increasingly by scholars as a democratic, egalitarian approach to Church government(63)The Gallic church in the fifth century generally recognized Roman leadership, but it looked to its own councils to decide disputed questions. The authority of the pope in fifth-century Gaul seems to have been minimal. The community life of Pachomian monasticisrn in Egypt stressed a kind of democratic brotherhood., rather than the vertical authority of the Benedictine abbot (who was nevertheless elected by the community), and a similar democratic and elective structure operated among the medieval Franciscans and Dominicans. While Thomas Aquinas supported the papal-episcopal model of Church government, for him the congregatio fidelium {the whole people of God) is the theological essence of the Church on earth. Conciliarism offers a developed model of Church government that draws inspiration especially from Italian notions of the commune, a form of municipal government in which the people's power was vested in elected officials.

In the nineteenth century, it was significant that Catholicism flourished especially in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia, where democratic forms of government influenced the way in which the Church operated. Here the Church did not lose the migrant working clas(64) Democratic notions such as collegiality, freedom of conscience, the recognition of churches with more synodal structures, and an emphasis on human rights were all part of the teaching of Vatican II. But all these emphases still remain in the domain of theory: when is the Catholic Church going to make these a reality in her own government and structure? When is the Church going to take her own teaching seriously?

A constitution for the Church?

Democracy needs a constitution. There have been several attempts to develop a constitution for the Church in the past, the most recent of which was the proposal put forward by Paul VI in 1965 for a lex ecclesiae fundamentalis. There was widespread concern from both liberals and conservatives about the nature of this constitution, and the proposal was finally dropped. But, elements of it did go into the revision of the Code of Canon Law. Recently, a group of Catholics in. the United States, associated with Professor Leonard Swidler of Temple University in Philadelphia, and sponsored by the Association of the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC). have actually drawn up A Proposed Constitution of the Catholic Church.(63)This is a very useful foundation for discussion about an ecclesial constitution.

The proposed Constitution can be divided into two parts: the first deals with the rights of Catholics and it generally follows the ARCC Charter of Rights.(64)But the most interesting part of the Constitution concerns structures of governance. It reiterates the principle of subsidiarity, now well established in Catholic social thought, that all decisions be made at the lowest possible level. The Constitution calls for the establishment of representative councils at every level of the Church—parish, diocese, national, and international—each with its own body of governing regulations. On the national and international levels, the Constitution calls for two 'Houses': a House of Bishops, and a House of Clergy and Laity. The national councils would elect delegates who would meet every ten years for a general council. This council would 'function as the main decision-making body of the Universal Church.' and it would 'bear ultimate responsibility for passing the laws governing the Universal Church and setting policy concerning worship, education, social outreach, administration, finances.'

All Church leaders must be elected 'in a manner which will give a serious representative voice to all those who are to be led by them.' This is an echo of Pope Leo the Great. Clergy and laity should be involved in the election of the parish pastor, the bishop, and the pope. Pastors would be electable for five years (renewable once), and the pope and bishops would be electable for a ten-year non-renewable term. In this proposal, the pope would be elected by delegates selected by national councils in proportion to the number of registered Catholics in each nation. One-third of these papal electors would be bishops, one-third priests, and one-third laity. The Constitution emphasizes the need for a separation of powers, and it says that 'a system of diocesan, provincial, national, and international tribunals shall be established which shall serve as courts of first instance, each with designated courts of appeal.' These courts will deal with disputes, contentions, and crimes against the rights of Catholics. The first process is that of conciliation and arbitration, but where this fails the Church tribunals can adjudicate.

The Constitution outlined by Swidler and the ARCC is comprehensive and radical. Its great strength is that it gives expression to the notion of the Church as a communion, and in the process it sidesteps some of the complex problems involved in the relationships of pope and bishops. As an exercise in imagining the possible future structure of the Church it is very useful, for we need to develop new models of ecclesiastical governance. It could well serve as a basis for the development of a genuine constitution for the Church, in keeping with the needs of the coming decades. It will appeal especially to Catholics from a democratic tradition. It is difficult to know how those who experience other forms of government would react, but cross-cultural perspectives are becoming increasingly important in Church life.

The Constitution models what has to happen for change to occur. We need to imagine what the Church could be like, to think through in practical terms how a more communal Church might operate. If this is not done, the danger is despair: there is no model toward which we can move. We need to activate the potential of the tradition to plan for the future.

It is very useful to have a democratically oriented Constitution already prepared for the Church. But how would this Constitution be discussed and implemented? How would it be applied to the Church? The best way would be through a general council. This leads us to that final vexed question.

1 Butler, Council, p. 330.

2 Ibid., pp. 332-4.

3 Cyprian, Epistola, LIX, 16. My translation.

4 Kelly, pp. 24—5. For an English Trans. of the Liber Pontificalis see Raymond Davis, The Book of Pontiffs, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2 vols, 1989 and 1992.

5 Pierre Batiffol, Cathedra Petri: Etudes d'Histoire ancienne de I'Eglise, Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1938. p. 51. My translation. The Latin phrase literally means 'holds the major dioceses.'

6 Tanner, vol. 1, p. 2.

7 Batiffol, pp. 41-59.

8 Tanner, vol. 1, pp. 8—9.

9 Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, XXV11, 3.

10 Liber Pontificalis, trans. by Davis, vol. 1, p. 1.

11 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 29.

12 Jacques Paul Migne. Patrologicae. cursus completus: Series Latina., Paris: Gamier, 1844-1891, vol. 16, p. 1018. My translation.

13 Jean Steinmann, Saint Jerome, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1959, pp. 355—6.

14 Ibid., p. 114.

15 Jerome, Letter XV, 2.

16 Siricius, Directa ad decessorem (10 February 385), author's translation.

17 Liber Pontificalis 47, trans. by Davis, vol. 1, p. 37.

18 See Arther Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire: The. Military Explanation, London: Thames and Hudson, 1983, pp. 83-116. For the barbarian tribes see Hans-Joachim Diesner, The Great Migration: The Movement of Peoples Across Europe, AD 300-700, London: Orbis Publishing, 1982.

19 Leo, Third Sermon on the Anniversary of his Consecration.

20 Quoted in C. Kirch and L. Ueding, Enchiridion fontium historiae. ecclesiasticae antiquae. 8th ed., Fribourg; Herder, 1960, p. 959. My translation.

21 Bernhard Schimmelpfenning, The Papacy. New York: Columbia University Press. 1992, p. 50.

22 Tanner, vol. 1, p. 32.

23 Aloys Grillmeier. Christ in Christian Tradition: From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), London: A. R. Mowbray, 1965, pp. 453-95. R. V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey., London: SPCK, 1961.

24 Louis Duchesne, vol. 3, p. 297.

25 Sellers, pp. 103-4.

26 Tanner, vol. 1, p. 85. Fundamentally, the Tome was the letter sent hy Leo I to Flavian of Constantinople in 449. For its text see Barry, vol. 1, pp. 97-102.

27 Thomas J. Reese (ed.), Episcopal Conferences: Historical, Canonical, and Theological Studies, Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1989. See especially pp. 25-58.

28 Hostiensis, On Decretals., 4.17.13, quoted in Brian Tierney. The Crisis of Church and State 1050-1300, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1964, p. 156.

29 J. A. Watt, The Theory of Papal Monarchy in the Thirteenth Century: The Contribution of the Canonists, London: Burns & Oates, 1965, p. 79.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid, p. 81.

32 Ibid, p. 95.

33 Tanner, vol. 1, pp. 314-18.

34 Granfield Papacy in Transition, pp. 152-7

35 Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, New York: Doubleday/Image. 1983. vol. 2, pp. 412-22. See also Tierney, Church and. State, pp. 165-71.

36 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Q 96, A 4. My translation.

37 Francis Oakley, 'Celestial Hierarchies Revisited: Walter Ullmann's Vision of Medieval Politics,' Past and Present., 60 (1973), pp. 6-10.

38 Quoted in Tierney, Church and State, pp. 185-6.

39 Boniface VIII, Unam sanctam. in Barry, vol. 1. p. 466,

40 Unam sanctam, quoted in ibid., p. 467.

41 T. S. R. Boase., Boniface VIII. London: Constable and Company, 1933. pp. 341-351.

42 George Tavard in Paul C, Empie and T. Austin Murphy (cds), Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974, p. 113. See also pp. 105-19.

43 Ibid., pp. 116-17.

44 Pius XII (7 September 19-55) quoted in ibid., p. 115.

45 Yves Congar, Lay People in the Church. London: Geoffrey Chapman. 1957. p. 39.

46 Rynne, Third Session, p. 52.

47 Ibid., pp. 240-54. For the text of the Nota see pp. 347-50.

48 Nota, quoted in ibid., p. 349.

49 Flannery. Documents of Vatican II p. 586.

50Annuario Pontificio, 1992, pp. 1061-82.

51 For a positive assessment see Xavier Rynne. John Paul's Extraordinary Synod: A Collegial Achievement., Wilmington: Michael Glazier. 1986. For a less sanguine approach see Peter Hebblethwaite, Synod Extraordinary: The Inside Story of the Rome Synod, November—December 1955, London: Darton. Longman and Todd. 1986.

52 Hebblethwaite, Synod, p. 140. My emphasis.

53 Ibid., pp. 136-9.

54 Joseph A. Komonchak. 'Introduction: Episcopal Conferences Under Criticism.' in Reese, pp. 1-22.

55 Josef Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori. The Ratziniger Report.- An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985, p. 59.

56 Josef Ratzinger, 'The Pastoral Implications of Episcopal Collegiality." Concilium. 1. Glenrock: Paulist Press, 1965.

57 Quoted by Komonchak in Reese, p. 14.

58 Komonchak in Reese, p. 15.

59 Leonard Swidler, ''Demo-kratia. the Rule of the People of God, or Consensus fidelium in Swidler and Fransen, pp. 226—43.

60 Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. 'A Discipleship of Equals,' in Eugene C. Bianchi and Rosemary Radford Ruether (eds), A Democratic Catholic Church: The Reconstruction of Roman Catholicism, New York: Crossroad, 1992, p. 19.

61 Eugene C. Bianchi, 'A Democratic Church,' in ibid., pp. 34—51, and John Beal, Toward a Democratic Church.' in ibid, pp. 52-79. Karl Rahner, "Forgotten Truths Concerning the Sacrament of Penance.' Theological Investigations, Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1963, vol. 2, pp. 135-6.

62 Wayne D. Meeks, The First Urban Christians, New Haven: Yale University Press. 1983, p. 89. Bianchi in Bianchi and Ruether, p. 37.

63 Bianchi in Bianchi and Ruether, p. 38.

64 Ibid., p. 47.

65 I have worked from a version dated 6 November 1995.

66 Leonard Swidler and Herbert O'Brien (eds), A Catholic Bill of Rights, Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1988, pp. 1-6.

Contents page of Papal Power Support our campaign Sitemap Contemporary theologians Go back to home page

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.