Last night I attended a talk by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware entitled “An Insider’s View: Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Today”. Metropolitan Kallistos is a member of the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which is the official committee charged with ecumenical talks between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches at the highest levels.
Kallistos gave a very informative and engaging talk. After reviewing a brief history of the Joint Committee, he then focused on its work over the past few years. He noted that the last official dialogue about reunion – the Council of Florence in the 15th century – spent months discussing the filioque and purgatory, but only 10 days on the role of the pope in the Church. Now there is a recognition by all parties that the papacy is in fact the most significant obstacle to unity, so the Committee has decided to focus on that.
Me with Metropolitan Kallistos
The most significant document that the Committee has produced is the Ravenna Document (2007), in which the Orthodox participants, for the first time, acknowledge the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome. As the Metropolitan emphasized last night, this was incredibly significant. Of course, what “universal primacy” means is still hotly debated.
(In fact, one of the most telling moments of the night was the final question. Someone ask Kallistos what the Orthodox mean, in practical terms, by “universal primacy”. How would it actually be practiced in the real world? The Metropolitan responded by noting that the Orthodox are very clear on what universal primacy is NOT, but have not really decided on what it IS.)
Another topic the Metropolitan discussed was the three levels of authority in the Church, as emphasized by the Ravenna Document: local, regional, and universal. He lamented the fact that the Western Church has practically ignored the regional level, and stated that a reclamation of that understanding in the West was necessary for a true understanding of universal authority within the Church. As a Western Christian, I admit that I have never had much appreciation for regional authority within the Church, so I’ll have to consider that more in-depth myself.
An important aspect of how authority is practiced in the Church, both in the East and the West, is the concept of “protos”, which means “first”. The Church is hierarchical, and therefore in every grouping in the Church, there must be a “protos”. For example, the bishop is the “protos” of his diocese. The Patriarch is “protos” among the bishops in his patriarchy. The pope is “protos” among all the bishops in the universal Church. Both Catholics and Orthodox accept this structure. But what does it mean to be “protos”? How is that role exercised? Metropolitan Kallistos pointed out Apostolic Canon 34 as a model for the role of “protos” in the Church. Apostolic Canon 34 states,
The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent…but neither let him (who is head) do anything without the consent of all.
It should be obvious that the problem arises from the second part of that Canon. In fact, this appears to be in direct conflict with Vatican I, which states that “definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable”. But Metropolitan Kallistos is hopeful that this Canon will be a way in which the Church can find a mutually agreeable means for the pope to practice universal primacy.
Metropolitan Kallistos also mentioned the recently leaked draft from the Committee about the papacy in the first millennium, which I analyzed here. He was very disappointed that the draft was leaked and felt strongly that the person who leaked it, thus breaking an agreement of confidentiality, should be removed from the Committee, if discovered. While respecting the need to honor a confidentiality agreement, I asked him if the very practice of confidentiality in this situation is healthy. After all, the reason the Council of Florence failed to bring about union was because the common people in the East rejected what was presented to them as a done deal. They had no involvement in the process. Would it not be better to make the Joint Committee more open to the public, thus allowing more people to be invested in it, and therefore making it more acceptable to the members of the various churches?
Kallistos agreed that it is vitally important that the leaders of the churches make these discussions a reality in the pews, and admitted that they had not done a good job of that. He asked how many people in the audience had actually read the Ravenna Document, and only about 10-15% of the audience had (and this was an audience deeply engaged in this issue). He did think it important to keep the discussions confidential during the process of creating a document, for many things in the draft might be eventually rejected and he saw no point in people getting upset about something that might eventually getting discarded. A valid point, but personally I think in today’s interconnected world more openness would be beneficial.
All in all, it was a wonderful talk, and I hope and pray that Metropolitan Kallistos is blessed with many more years of service to the Church.