1. Introductory Remarks
Following the totally unexpected escalation in provocations
from the Vatican, under BENEDICT XVI, towards other
Christians (especially the Orthodox, as we shall see
below!), it is as plain as the sun that we are unfortunately
entering a period of complete uncertainty, to mention
nothing of strange 'obscurity'.
The medieval audacity of 'Papism', which we all believed was
a thing of the past - in spite of the highly controversial
dogmatism of the 'doctrine of papal infallibility' at
Vatican Council I (1870) - is making a surprising return,
and indeed in a manner that is completely incompatible with
the deeper cultivation of persons, and the sincere efforts
towards 'purification' which the Western Christian world in
general has presented during the past two centuries.
Therefore, given the general tendency of the 'Ecumenical
Movement' on the one hand towards revitalization and
reconstitution, coupled with the official decision of the
Roman Church expressed through Vatican Council II concerning
a substantial purification of 'institutions', 'functions'
and 'persons' on the basis of the genuine sources of the
common first Christian millennium, the terrible impression
may be given that all these things are not only doubted, but
in fact ridiculed.
We should then say bluntly: that it appears that the
approach of the hard-line cardinals of the Roman Curia has
prevailed, which establishes 'Papism' (not as the 'Primacy
of one Bishop', but as an unbearably totalitarian
'ideology') as the truly INSURMOUNTABLE OBSTACLE, firstly
for the 'reunification' of divided Christians, but also
simply for peaceful 'unity' among themselves. Not to mention
with non-Christians and 'atheists'.
For this reason we are obliged today to make several brief
comments and observations in simplified language (as much as
this is possible, for the benefit mainly of the everyday
Christians of East and West), in relation to the very recent
revival of Papal Primacy and Infallibility, under the most
unexpected circumstances, and at the expense of Christianity
as a whole.
The observations presented here become even more urgent in
order to prevent possibly greater problems between the
Christian Churches and Denominations, but also in terms of
the Churches' imperative creative relations with the rest of
the world, which finds itself before enormous impasses, and
for which Christianity still claims to 'maintain' unchanged
the only saving truth of Revelation for all.
2. Brief overview of the historical evolution of Papism in
Whoever has happened to study Church history seriously, i.e.
without prejudices, would no doubt have observed (sometimes
with astonishment, but on most occasions with justifiable
indignation) an almost incredible fact: Before the Roman
Emperors' frightful persecutions of Christians had ceased on
an institutional level (312-313AD), their Bishops - who were
considered to be the immediate Successors of the Apostles -
began to show signs of an unhealthy 'ambition' which was
incompatible with the teaching of Christ.
What was initially a reserved rivalry between them for
'Primacy', 'Seniority' and 'Presidency', very soon developed
almost into a war of 'fratricide', when Christianity became
the 'legal', and then 'official', religion of the State
under Constantine the Great.
The insatiable thirst of the Bishops was for Primacy and
Seniority, in cases where their 'Sees' were in large cities
and therefore acquired secular prestige and glory. First in
this regard, and without compare for a considerable time,
Just as the pagan Roman Emperor of the day was called
Augustus (= 'worthy of respect', an epithet of the gods!),
and Ancient Rome was characterized as Roma aeterna (= 'the
eternal city'!), so it happened that the Bishop of Rome did
not delay to gradually claim, first for his local Church and
then for his person, analogously impious titles, and indeed
to a superlative degree.
The Vicarius Christi (= 'representative of Christ') we could
say was the approximate translation, in Christian
vocabulary, of Pontifex Maximus (= 'Supreme Bridge-Maker').
There is perhaps no other issue which has occupied so
intensely and continually the Synods of the ancient Church
(whether Regional or Ecumenical) during the common first
millennium as the order of 'Seniority' between the Episcopal
Thrones, especially of 'Rome' and 'New Rome'
(Constantinople), before the formation of the well-known
Pentarchy of Patriarchs (of Rome Constantinople, Alexandria,
Antioch and Jerusalem).
However it must be stated that the problem is not as simple
as it may at first appear to be. It did not only arise out
of the practical need for the 'First among Equals' (Primus
inter pares) to preside, according to the spirit of the 34th
Apostolic Canon. There also intervened difficult historical
circumstances, according to which the 'more practical
solution' was a great temptation, with the price in terms of
'ethical deontology' being not only heavy, but utterly
Yet if the 34th Canon, which is relatively old and very
'Apostolic' in spirit (although its date is not in fact from
the time of the Apostles!), was respected, it is certain
that historical Christianity as a whole would have avoided
An equal number of perils, if not more, would have been
avoided also by the non-Christian populations which, for
centuries now, have undergone the colonial callousness and
invasive exploitation by so-called Christian leaders of the
West, accompanied and assisted by so-called missionaries who
equally saw material aspirations and interests (look at the
peoples of what we call the 'Third World' today!).
The concise text of the 34th Apostolic Canon must be quoted
here in full, so as to make clear to all the unimaginable
'renewal of the world' (!) that might have been achieved
over the centuries, had this golden Canon been fundamentally
applied by those considered to be 'spiritual' Fathers and
Leaders of Christianity.
This astonishing text is as follows:
"It behooves the Bishops of every nation to know the one
among them who is the premier or chief, and to recognize
them as their head, and to refrain from doing anything
superfluous without his advice and approval; but,
instead, each of them should do only whatever is
necessitated by his own eparchy and by the territories
under him. But let not even such a one do anything
without the advice and consent and approval of all. For
thus there will be concord, and God will be glorified
through the Lord in the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the
Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
("The Rudder", by Priest-Monk Agapios and
Monk Nicodemus, translated by D. Cummins, Chicago, 1957)
Already from a first glance, the careful reader of this
Canon can see where its theological weight is to be found.
The 'mutuality' of honour and confidence which is
established as an inviolable 'condition of peace' in the
Church, also safeguards a much higher good. This is the true
doxology or glorification of the Trinitarian God, which can
only be achieved through 'concord' among the Bishops.
In this way, we have vividly before us an Ecclesiology.
mystagogical vision of the “primordial Mystery of the
Church”, as described with astonishing theological
consistency in the 34th Apostolic Canon, it would
be a terribly backward step and vain endeavour to comment
here on the ‘pseudo-Clementine’
and ‘pseudo-Isidorian’ textual
claims concerning primacy, which have long ago been refuted
by objective historians and theologians.
These and other manipulations or casuistic interpretations
were employed by Rome on more than a few occasions, so as to
‘support’ the ‘primacy’ of the Apostle Peter initially, and
of the Bishop of Rome subsequently, who was considered to be
the only Successor of Peter.
exhaustive and systematic negation of what was dared by the
Papists of the West was presented in our doctoral thesis
(The Infallibility of the Church in Orthodox Theology,
Athens, 1965), the English translation of which shall, God
willing, soon be published.
will therefore restrict ourselves to presenting concisely,
and directly to the current Pope Benedict XVI, just a few
These questions should – in spite of his high office – be
answered by the Pope himself, as they concern him directly.
At any rate, in the dialogue between Christians, and
especially Bishops, avoidances are impermissible, in
accordance with Christ’s command to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
consider it just for Benedict XVI to answer personally the
questions we present below, for two main reasons:
Firstly, because they bear directly upon the whole of
Christianity, as a single body in world history.
Secondly, because a host of the current Pope’s earlier
writings, as Professor Ratzinger, had contributed greatly to
the intended ‘renewal’ and ‘purification’ of the Western
Church, through the Second Vatican Council.
he who made his mark as the Theologian Joseph Ratzinger deny
that the function of the ‘First’ in the Church – regardless
of whether it refers to the Apostle Peter, or to any other
of the sacred group of ‘The Twelve’, or even to the Bishops
who are their Successors – had from the outset an absolutely
soteriological character, with the corresponding and
consequent administrative implications upon the entire
ecclesiastical life of the ‘Church militant’ in each local
it possible for the soteriological character of the ‘First’,
in general, to be ‘bound’ and indeed ‘predetermined’ by a
particular geographic region or city?
the continually changing underlying historical and
geographical conditions, which sometimes lead to decay or
disuse, were of such decisive significance for SALVATION,
would not the Primacy of Jerusalem have from the very
beginning prevailed upon world Christianity, since this is
where the saving drama of the divine economy had unfolded
historically and geographically, with Christ at the very
in such a case, how are we to understand the radically
contrary statements of Christ to the Samaritan woman at the
well of Jacob? What is the meaning of those striking
messages: “neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem” (John
when was it possible, and with which theological arguments,
for Rome to be ‘differentiated’ so radically from the common
teaching of the Christian Church of both East and West,
concerning ‘Apostolic Succession’ (succesio Apostolica),
making the succession of the Bishop of Rome such a weighty
matter? Would it ever be possible to seriously claim that
the local Bishop is the successor of only one specific
Apostle (eg. Peter by the Bishop of Rome, Mark by the Bishop
of Alexandria, Andrew by the Bishop of New Rome, and so on)?
this was the meaning of Apostolic Succession, would it not
follow that the number of Bishops throughout the entire
Church would never be more than 12 in number? And then
should not Rome, as a result, be speaking specifically about
successio Petrina, rather than insisting on the more
comprehensive term Apostolica?
the contrary, the correct conviction and teaching of
Scripture and Tradition concerning succession is that all
Bishops succeed the eschatologically significant Group of
Twelve, and this is why the Church always essentially
included in the meaning of Apostolic Succession not only the
Bishops, but also the Presbyters, as differing very little
from them in terms of the ‘saving’ mission of the Church.
the current Pope state responsibly as a theologian that the
Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church - who as all know are
appointed directly by the Bishop of Rome without being
elected by the Synod of their local Church - are to be
considered as equal in authority to the Orthodox Bishops
‘elected’ by a canonical Synod?
the holy Father recall that, as the official Theological
Dialogue’s Co-Chair on behalf of the Orthodox delegation for
20 years, I had personally protested to him because the
Vatican had still not restored its Bishops in general to
their most sacred office, just as the undivided Church [of
the first millennium] knew it, and that the Orthodox justly
demand it so that we may consider the election of Roman
Catholic Bishops ‘valid’? Is it not then highly ‘lenient’
and ‘tolerant’ on the part of Orthodox Bishops that we still
– while officially dialoguing with Roman Catholic Bishops –
silently accept them as our ‘counterparts’?
the non-acceptance by Orthodox of the ‘primacy’ and
‘infallibility’ of the Bishop of Rome constitutes for Pope
Benedict XVI a "deficit of
Orthodoxy", in order to be
considered by Rome a complete and true Church, then what was
the point of the axiomatic common statement concerning the
official Theological Dialogue, that it is being conducted
“on equal terms”?
characterization of the Church militant as a “perfect
society” (societas perfecta), which became prevalent among
Roman Catholics through the influence of Augustine (civitas
Dei) was justly and most correctly replaced in the texts of
the Second Vatican Council by the terms “People of God” (populus
Dei), to express as a journey of pilgrimage (peregrinatio)
the dynamic and evolving character of all categories of
faithful (Clergy, Monks, Lay) in the present world. No
theologian who has studied the Second Vatican Council can
ignore that the Professor of Dogmatic Theology Joseph
Ratzinger had also contributed in no small measure to the
formulation of the mentioned renewed texts.
is it that today the same Dogmatic Theologian, now as Pope,
proclaims indirectly the reviled theory of societas perfecta
which, even if unwittingly, competes with the most secular
forms of narcissism in modern globalization?
closing with the symbolic number of seven (7) questions
arising from today’s ‘isolation’ of Pope benedict XVI (both
from his deeper self, as well as from his most sincere
friends and admirers which he had acquired by his tranquil
and ever-modest presence), we would wish to know the
position the theologizing Pope takes at this time on two of
his better known works, which also showed the broadest
horizons that the name Ratzinger represented for many
refer to the following enthusiastic and enthusing studies:
influence of the Order of Beggars in the Middle Ages upon
the development of the Worldwide Primacy of the Pope’
(Munich, 1957). Therein it is admitted that, in spite of the
invoked spirituality of the ascetic Bonaventura, artificial
means were employed to achieve the purely strategic goal of
‘Christian Brotherhood’, which was originally
delivered as a lecture in Vienna in 1958 and soon became the
first book of the young Professor Ratzinger (which was also
translated into Greek with a special prologue written by the
author), it is emphasized that, in contrast to the various
modern groupings which constitute ‘closed societies’, i.e.
‘exclusive’ clubs, Christian Brotherhood remains ‘open’ so
as to include all.
Today, unfortunately, it sounds like a tragic irony to hear
the praise offered by the Archdiocese of Freiburg, on the
occasion of the new edition of that book, and in particular
the assertion that “according precisely to this spirit the
current Pope still acts and wishes to be understood”!
only that were the case; nothing indicates that it is.