An emerging ecumenical consensus on papal primacy?
The net was cast more widely than I usually experience in dialogue. I am accustomed to operating in a context where at least something approaching the ecclesiology of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry is taken for granted and where it is assumed both that the church is a gift from God and that grace is a robus reality that we experience in and through the church. I have difficulty in looking at church structures and talking about them as if they were merely political arrangements that could change or human constructs to be manipulated as we wish. Also, I have assumed that, unless we have some kind of common understanding of episcope, talk of primacy is a bit confusing to say the least. At such a gathering as this not everyone shares my ecclesiological assumptions. What I have enjoyed hearing was that primacy might have an attraction, perhaps a fascination, even for people who apparently have not accepted what I consider a necessary precondition for discussing primacy. I have to think more about this. Primacy out of the context of episcopacy looks pretty dangerous to me.
This conference began with Jean Tillard's splendid paper, "The Mission of the Bishop of Rome: What Is Essential? What Can Be Changed?" My question about the ecumenical consensus is related to his paper. What in the mission of the bishop of Rome can we recognize as a gift from God for the church? What we recognize as the gift of God we have to receive. In the realities of church life, as things unfold over the centuries, what we receive as gift from God is constantly being re-received in different shapes and forms that change. As things unfold, as new situations come about, as the Living Word confronts different cultures and different historical situations, these changes come about. What I believe is important for us to do in our age is to look and ask if we discern in the ministry of the bishop of Rome a gift from God that is to be re-received. Is there a gift here for the good of the church, for the sake of the gospel, and for the salvation of the world? Of course, as we receive this gift and re-receive it, it will obviously be exercised differently from what was the way 1,000 years ago or 500 years ago or even fifty years ago. I was asked to talk about whether there is an emerging ecumenical consensus on papal primacy. I would prefer in some way to talk instead about the universal mission and ministry of the bishop of Rome. However, this is not to deny that there is a primacy exercised by the bishop of Rome that is part of the mission and ministry. We must ask whether there is a consensus about this primacy.
Over the years I have moved along in my thinking, which is now quite different from what it was when I was ordained forty-two years ago. I have now come to the position where I truly believe that, within the bishop of Rome's ministry, there is a gift not only for the diocese of Rome but also for every other local church in the world. It is a gift that I believe is necessary. I no longer believe that the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome is merely a possible option, desirable but not necessary. I have come to the position that, if it is not necessary, then it is neither possible nor desirable. Papal primacy is not something that is an optional extra, perhaps a nice way of doing it, but a gift from God. I do not believe that I have been alone in my shifting opinions over recent decades.
The word "consensus" is important. It is related to the sensus fidelium. The important question about it is not whether we are reaching agreements but whether we are recognizing that the Petrine ministry of the bishop of Rome is a gift and truth from God. It is not good enough to say that, since the church is a bit under threat and in some disarray, we think we may, therefore, need a bit more central authority - and the bishop of Rome might help. For there to be an ecumenical consensus, the matter must have to do with faith and truth received from God.
Already in 1974 I came to realize that it was not only myself and a few like-minded Anglicans who were opening their minds to a new assessment of papal primacy. You may remember a marvellous series of books published by the American Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. In 1974, this dialogue published a document, "Papal Primacy and the Universal Church." Here was a serious ecumenical discussion of the papacy. The direction of the argument was that there could be no universal reconciliation and unity without the bishop of Rome. I think there was already a widespread consensus among us. We were thinking something like this: "If you are going to enter into reconciliation with Roman Catholics, then you have got to take the bishop of Rome as part of the package. You are not going to enter into reconciliation without that." However, this document went beyond that and spoke of "a growing awareness among Lutherans of the necessity of a specific Ministry to serve the church's unity and universal mission."(1) Note that this was in 1974. The sentence went on to acknowledge that
Catholics increasingly see the need for a more nuanced understanding of the role of the papacy within the universal church. Lutherans and Catholics can now begin to envision possibilities of concord, and to hope for solutions to problems that have previously seemed insoluble. We believe that God is calling our churches to draw closer together, and it is our prayer that this joint statement on papal primacy may make some contribution to that end.(2)
Already, then, an openness has been declared, but note that it is a two-way openness. It is clear that both churches are being called forward in this. It is not only Lutherans who see a need to change in order to accept this, but both churches are saying together as an agreed statement that they need to grow and change.
ARCIC was discussing the same kind of things at this time. In Authority in the Church I, ARCIC published its first agreement on authority in 1976. They had reached this level of agreement at this point: "If God's will for the unity in love and truth of the whole Christian community is to be fulfilled, this general pattern of the complementary primatial and conciliar aspects of episcope serving the koinonia of the churchs needs to be realized at the universal level."(3) One has to read the previous twenty-two sections of the document in order to see how they got to the point where the primatial and conciliar are held together absolutely and inseparably. It is like trying to unscramble eggs.
Paragraph 23 of Authority I is an extremely important indication of the emerging consensus. Primacy does not float free. Like conciliarity, it is an aspect of episcope. The two aspects are complementary and inseparable and serve the koinonia of the churches. Once it is accepted that the primatial aspect of episcope "needs to be realized at the universal level," the observation that "[t]he only see which makes any claim to universal primacy and which has exercised and still exercises such episcope is the see of Rome, the city where Peter and Paul died" is obvious and incontestable. Therefore, they concluded, "It seems appropriate that in any future union a universal primacy such as has been described should be held by that see."(4)
This was as far as they could go at that stage, because they had to be honest and declare that there were four remaining difficulties surrounding this agreement. One was Petrine texts. The second was "divine right" - as Margaret O'Gara pointed out to me earlier, it would be a lot better if we talked about jus divinum, not divine right - but I think it is "divine right" that creates a neuralgic reaction among Anglicans. The affirmation that the pope can be infallible in his teaching was the third of the difficulties. The final difficulty surrounded "universal immediate jurisdiction." By 1981, when Authority in the Church II(5) was published, these four problems were almost solved. For example, I remember Eugene Fairweather describing this as something like a very fat man trying to stretch a belt around his middle; the belt would not stretch quite far enough, and his gut could not be sucked in quite far enough; you could not be sure whether or not the ends of the belt would ever meet. He said that it was like that with jure divina and divina providentia. So, by 1981, progress was being made.
In 1988 the Lambeth Conference met. This conference welcomed the progress made in Authority in the Church (I and II). They welcomed this as a firm basis for the direction and agenda of the continuing dialogue on authority. The conference encouraged ARCIC to explore the basis in scripture and tradition of the concept of universal primacy in conjunction with collegiality, as an instrument of unity. They were to explore the character of primacy in practice and to draw upon the experience of other churches in exercising primacy, collegiality, and conciliarity. So, a growing acceptance of universal primacy was at that time being taken into Anglican discussions and gaining acceptance within the Anglican Church. Lambeth was saying this is the right direction: do some more work to see how we can get there. Also at the 1988 Lambeth Conference, John Zizioulas said, "The theology that justifies, or even (as an Orthodox, and perhaps an Anglican, too, would add) necessitates the ministry of episcopacy, on the level of the local church, the same theology underlies also the need for a primacy on the regional or even the universal level," so even the Orthodox are prepared under certain circumstances to say a kind word about primacy at the universal level. He may have been saying this to Anglican bishops at Lambeth so that he could be really tough on us about the ordination of women to the priesthood in the next section of his address. However, I take his remarks to indicate that primacy, in the context of the collegial, communal, and conciliar aspects of the church seen as an episcopal ministry within the body of bishops of the church, is something around which a consensus is indeed forming.
Finally, I must refer briefly to the report of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, known as "The Virginia Report" (1997). Over the past decade, this Commission has reflected on the nature of communion within the Anglican Communion and on how Anglicans belong together and hold together. One of the questions this Commission is now asking Anglicans after their time of reflection is whether our bonds of interdependence are strong enough to hold us together, embracing tension and conflict over the answers to what seem to be intractable problems. The Virginia Report, with its call for more effective structures of communion at the world level, will need to be faced at Lambeth-1998 in order to strengthen the Anglican communion and its unity.
The Virginia Report also raises questions of concern for the wider ecumenical community. It asks whether there is a need for a universal primacy, exercised collegially and respecting the role of laity in decision-making within the church. So, right now, within the Anglican Church, the question of universal primacy is being discussed among ourselves, and it is acknowledged that this is a question we cannot ask only among ourselves; it must also be asked within the context of the whole ecumenical community. This question was referred to ARCIC and is the major item on ARCIC's agenda. It was also raised by the bishop of Rome in his invitation to dialogue in Ut unum sint. I think it is clear that an Anglican approach to this question will want to agree with the Virginia Report: Primacy and collegiality are complementary elements within the exercise of episcope. One cannot be exercised without reference to the other in critical and creative balance. Further, both primacy and collegiality must be open to the whole Christian community in a way that is both transparent and accountable, for the decision-making of the church needs to uphold a reception process in which critique, affirmation, and rejection are possible. The Virginia Report asks, "Is not universal authority a necessary corollary of universal communion?" Clearly then, Anglicans are beginning to take very seriously this question of universal authority and the role of primacy, not detached from but within the episcope of the whole body of the church and within the communion of all the local churches.
My personal conviction, stated here in haste, has moved from just seeing papal primacy as something that we have to put up with, then to something that I could see had certain advantages, given the difficulties facing the church today, finally to the present point when I truly believe that we are faced here with a gift from God in the primatial ministry of the bishop of Rome for the sake of the communion of all the churches - that is, all the local churches - and I believe that very sincerely. Having declared my pastoral conviction of the necessity for the church to receive this gift from God, I now say that it is up to the theologians to find out why that opinion is really right. We bishops have a role to try to discern what we believe is a gift to be received from God. Theologians also have the responsibility to examine and discern and affirm whether or not this is truly the case. I pray for the day when the ministry and mission of the bishop of Rome will be more and more received by the whole church and all the local churches.
1 Paul C. Empie and T. Austin Murphy, eds., Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue 5 (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1974), p. 10.
3 "Authority in the Church I - Venice, 1976," para. 23, in Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, The Final Report: Windsor, September, 1981 (London: Catholic Truth Society and SPCK; Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications; Washington, DC: Office of Publishing Services, U.S. Catholic Conference, 1982), p. 64.
5 "Authority in the Church II - Windsor, 1981," in ibid., pp. 81-98.
John A. Baycroft (Anglican Church of Canada) has been the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa since 1993, following service as Suffragan Bishop, 1985-93. Ordained in 1955 in the Diocese of Ontario, he began his ministry there, then served several parishes in the Ottawa Diocese, including being Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and Canon Theologian for the Diocese. He has also been involved in prison and militia chaplaincies, was chaplain and lecturer at Carleton University, and taught on St. Paul University's theology faculty. He has been a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission since 1982 and co-chairs the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada. A theological consultant to Lambeth-1988, he coordinated the bishops' work on bilateral dialogues at Lambeth-1998. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Christ's College, Cambridge; studied at Ripon Hall, Oxford; and received a B.D. from Trinity College, Toronto. His honorary doctorates were conferred by Montreal Diocesan Theological College, Thornloe University, and Huron College. He has traveled widely, led study pilgrimages in the Middle East and Italy, and published many popular and scholarly articles, as well as newspaper columns. His The Anglican Way has been a best-seller. It is expected that in 1999 he will become the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Vatican and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
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|Title Annotation:||Special Section on the North American Academy of Ecumenists|
|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1998|
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