So, it turns out the Pope is Roman Catholic, huh. What a shock. I suppose the next thing we’ll learn is that the earth is a sphere and not flat.
The media must think that Rome has never declared itself the one, and only, true Church. And, of course, they are playing up the notion of how offensive this declaration must be to everyone else. ‘Cuz, gosh, we all know that the primary thing of utmost importance is to never, ever, for even a teensy weensy moment, hurt someone’s feelings.
It does, of course, seem odd that HH Benedict XVI would state it so starkly given the late John Paul II’s penchant for the use of the term “sister churches” and the “two lungs” analogy (both of which, of course, implicitly call into question Rome’s claim to be the one true, visible Church). But, that is, nonetheless, what Rome has been claiming for centuries: she and she alone is the one true visible Body of Christ.
It is interesting, given recent exchanges between myself and the blogger at Cathedra Unitatis–and my post linking the discussion at Perry’s blog–that this declaration would come out into the media when it did. But it illustrates an important point.
That point is made by the Pope himself. Orthodoxy is not the one true visible Church, because it is defective. And in what is it defective? It has apostolic succession. It has the sacraments. It teaches the Gospel. What’s missing? That’s right: allegiance to the Pope as supreme bishop of the Church.
One call talk all one wants in flowery ecumenical language. One can form and support and maintain “fraternal relations.” One can lift anathemas, and so forth. But it comes down to this one point: the Orthodox Church teaches and has always maintained that the Roman see has a place of primacy (honor, respect, some authority), but it does not have a place of supremacy. The episcopacy, for Orthodox, must be collegial, in which no single bishop rules the others, but that all come together in mutual accord. Orthodox believe that this models the relations of the Trinity, the historical and biblical evidence, and is, in fact, the life of the Church. To make one bishop supreme among all others is to distort this collegiality, with ramifications for other aspects of Christian belief.
I have found it to be the case often in the online world that Orthodox are denigrated and judged for being so abominably stubborn. Roman Catholics will say something like, “Come on! We call you sister churches. We call you the other lung. We admit you have grace. We admit you have apostolic succession. We admit you teach the Gospel. Isn’t that enough? Why hold out on this pope thing? After all, you admit to a primacy of honor. How is that different from what we ask you to join us in believing about the Pope?”
Well, is the Father supreme over the Son? Doesn’t that teach essential subordinationism? Isn’t subordinationism a heresy? Then how is it that one bishop, who partakes of the life of the Trinity along with all the other bishops, elevate himself above his brother bishops such that all must subordinate themselves to him? How is that all the bishops have one head, who is Christ, but all the bishops save Rome also have another earthly head, the occupant of the Roman See?
No, Orthodox resist on just this point precisely of the distortions it brings into the common life in Christ of us all.
For a few Ortho-blogger reactions:
Clay, over at All Saints Forum, guesses that he was wrong.
Fr Stephen, is glad that we cleared that all up.
Reader Christopher gives three cheers for clarity.
James implicitly asks, does a bear wear a funny hat? (No, wait, I’ve got the joke wrong.)