The Pope decided to drop one ancient title for the Pope: Patriarch of the West. This was thought to be something that might encourage the reunification of East and West, for no longer would the Pope basically lay claim to anything and everything not covered by the Eastern Patriarchs. But, apparently, not everyone views it that way. The Russian Patriarch rightly notes that there is still that “minor detail” of the first title in the long list of titles claimed by the Pope “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.” The Orthodox churches are not the only ones that reject this claim. We Lutherans do as well. The reality is that Christ did not, and does not, ordain and establish a “universal pontiff.” That is both a theological and historical fiction.
Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
24 March 2006
Pope abandons ancient title, but ‘creates conundrum’ about unity
By Luigi Sandri
Rome, 24 March (ENI)–Pope Benedict XVI has dropped one of his
official titles – that of “Patriarch of the West” – in a move the
Vatican says may help church unity but which has been criticised
by a prominent Russian Orthodox bishop.
In a 22 March statement, the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity said the title first used by a pope in AD 642 had
been abandoned because it had become “obsolete and practically
It said, “The renouncement of this title aims to express a
historical and theological reality and at the same time … could
prove useful to ecumenical dialogue.”
The dropping of the title in the official Vatican directory, the
“Annuario pontificio”, was reported at the beginning of March but
at the time the Vatican offered no explanation for the change.
Some analysts speculated it was intended to help the Vatican’s
dialogue with Eastern Orthodox churches which is seen as one of
Pope Benedict’s priorities.
The role of the papacy is a key stumbling block in the relations
between the two Christian traditions, which are scheduled to
restart theological talks in September after a six-year break.
Cardinal Achille Silvestrini was reported saying the title had
been used in the past to provoke negative comparisons between
papal claims of universal jurisdiction by the worldwide
“Patriarchate of the West” and the more restricted size and
jurisdiction of the traditional Orthodox patriarchates.
However, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna and
Austria, warned that it was not clear “how the removal of the
title could possibly ameliorate Catholic-Orthodox relations”.
The Pope’s other titles included that of “Supreme Pontiff of the
Universal Church”, and Hilarion suggested the Pope was seeking to
confirm a claim to universal church jurisdiction also over the
patriarchates of the Eastern Orthodox church.
“With relation to the pope of Rome the title ‘Supreme Pontiff of
the Universal Church’ points to the pope’s universal jurisdiction
which is not and will never be recognised by the Orthodox
Churches,” Hilarion noted in a statement carried on the Web site
www.orthodoxeurope.org “It is precisely this title that should
have been dropped first, had the move been motivated by the *
desire for amelioration of the Catholic-Orthodox relations.” [381
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