"Patriarch of the West"

The Pope of Old Rome seems to have dropped the title “Patriarch of the West.” It’s been done without official comment, leaving Vaticanologists – and the rest of us – reading tea-leaves to figure out what, if anything, this action means. Here is the best treatment I’ve seen so far.

The reference there to “Western ecclesiology” would be to emphasize the Universal Church (and the Pope of Old Rome’s control over it) at the expense of the Local Church. This is why when the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate opposes Latin expansion in the Eastern world, they’re talking past each other. Moscow talks about its canonical territory, but the Papacy considers the whole universe its canonical territory. Again, to Orthodox ears, surrendering “Patriarch of the West” sounds like giving up the leadership of the Latin Church; but the Latin Church doesn’t consider itself territorially limited like we do, because Old Rome never canonically accepted the old Pentarchy, asserting instead its universal “primacy,” yes, all the way back to the middle of the first millenium (the humble St. Gregory the Great, whose memory we keep today, and who rejected the title “Universal Bishop,” notwithstanding).

“Oriental ecclesiology” – we consider it “orthodox” and not particularly eastern – recognizes that the Universal Church subsists in every Local Church – primarily the local diocese or bishopric, and in practical terms the “ecclesiastical province” – today the nation or patriarchate. In upholding the Local Church we resist the imposition of a universal primacy of jurisdiction, because all Churches are theologically equal – each Church is fully “the Church” – and all Bishops are equal, though they function within their Local Synod or Council among their brother-Bishops of the same nation or patriarchate…or within a Regional or Ecumenical Council. In fact, the human embodiment of the Universal Church is not in a universal monarch of the Church like Old Rome claims, but in the fellowship of Bishops celebrating the Liturgy at an Ecumenical Council, led (‘chaired,’ if you will) by their First Among Equals.

This may seem potentially divisive; in fact, there’s no shortage of “politics” among Orthodox Churches. But in reality it places the burden of being The Church as far down ‘the food chain’ as possible, right onto the local Church. In Latin theology the bishop is the guardian of the faith, especially the Pope of Old Rome; in o/Orthodox theology we, the whole people, is. Arguably the Orthodox people ‘owns’ the Faith in a way the Catholic people doesn’t…as maybe we are now seeing in Eastern, versus Western, Europe, both today and in the whole last 500 years.

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