The schism between the Eastern and Western churches resulted from ecclesiastical, not doctrinal causes. Historians usually identify this rupture with the mutual anathemas instigated in 1054 by Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople.
Subsequent developments contributed to a millennium of estrangement. Not least were: the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade; rejection in Byzantine territories of the Council of Florence’s formula of reunion prior to the fall of the eastern empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453; the effort, known disparagingly as uniatism, to incorporate communities of Orthodox Christians into the Catholic Church beginning around 1596; and the declaration of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870.
Only in the mid-20th century did Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI begin a true reversal, typified by their consigning of the mutual anathemas to oblivion on Dec. 7, 1965, as the the Second Vatican Council drew to a close. Though ongoing theological dialogue began in North America in September 1965, a joint international commission for dialogue did not convene until 1980. The North American dialogue encouraged a second commission, a bishops’ dialogue in 1981; both have produced over 30 official statements. The international commission meets less regularly and has produced six statements.
In a clarification published in English in 1988, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, suggested that “with the Orthodox, the Catholic Church need not necessarily insist on acceptance of the dogmas of the second millennium [including Vatican I]...the latter after all only unfolded what was already there in principle in the time of the undivided Church” (Church, Ecumenism and Politics [New York: Crossroad, 1988]). Complicating matters, however, in the first edition of the Vatican yearbook (Annuario Pontificio 2006) after he became pope, Pope Benedict chose to drop Patriarch of the West from the list of his official titles. It is the principal designation through which the Orthodox could relate their ecclesiastical offices to the papacy. Meeting at Georgetown University last October, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation reiterated that “the root obstacle” preventing East-West unity is “the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion.”
Enter now Adam A. J. DeVille—assistant professor of theology at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.—with a scholarly study of this obstacle, purposely focusing on the patriarchal office in the church and proposing its restoration and extension in the Western church as a step toward reunion.
DeVille seizes on the concluding paragraphs of John Paul II’s monumental encyclical on ecumenism, “That All May Be One” (“Ut Unum Sint,” 1995), to begin his work by examining in detail the papal invitation to discussion with ecumenical partners on the role of the papacy in service to the unity of the church.
The heart of DeVille’s book comes, however, in the third chapter, where he takes up the controversial dropping of the title Patriarch of the West in 2006; and after examining principal Orthodox reactions, he begins a timely proposal for “a serious and substantial reconfiguration of the papacy so that the papal and patriarchal roles are much more differentiated.”
DeVille amasses considerable theological opinion, historical information and church teaching. The notes alone account for nearly a third of the pages, and the notes and bibliography together make up 40 percent of the contents. The book’s strengths are its contemporary focus on a topic of considerable ecumenical importance and its scholarly attention to the rich diversity of views and developments with regard to the patriarchal office vis-à-vis the papacy. DeVille’s contribution is his thoroughgoing accumulation of fact and opinion in a contemporary ecumenical contex. In doing so he informs readers about the depth and breadth of efforts by so many currently dedicated to restoring East-West unity in the church. His concluding two chapters argue for his detailed proposal for restoring and extending the patriarchal office in the Catholic Church.
Though DeVille’s work provides an up-to-date resource on Orthodox Christianity and the papacy, there are a few shortcomings. While there is a helpful synthesis at the conclusion to a chapter on recent Orthodox positions on the papacy, no such synthesis comes at the conclusion of the next chapter about Catholic positions regarding a renewed Roman patriarchate. Even so, readers must decide the weight of each of the multitude of opinions, in both chapters, a task that DeVille could have made easier by putting the contributors in some helpful order. The survey of Eastern patriarchates concludes with a summary but could have included suggestions of strengths and weaknesses with the patriarchal office. The author gives insufficient attention to official dialogues, which have carefully reached agreement according to plan so as to address the papacy on the firm footing of consensus. In short, amid all this interesting information, one must ask, What is truly decisive for reconciling the papacy with the Orthodox Church?
There are imprecisions. The strength and core of “That All May Be One” are not its concluding invitation to dialogue on the papal service of unity, though this is clearly DeVille’s view, but its endorsement of the method and achievements of ecumenical dialogue and its suggestions for future tasks. It is not in keeping with the scope and substance of Vatican II to identify, as DeVille does, the “Decree on Ecumenism” as its greatest fruit.
In at least one place, DeVille reports that Benedict XVI “abolished” the title Patriarch of the West. In fact, the pope only renounced the title. Later DeVille shows from history that a pope acting alone cannot abolish this title, which has been in use for centuries, and suggests that the renunciation might be and should be only a temporary one.
Three major questions remain after DeVille’s elaborate suggestions for restoring and expanding the office of patriarch with six continental patriarchates in the West, each with full (inclusive) and with permanent (administrative) synods. Does the Catholic Church today truly need such additional layers of hierarchical structure when lay participation even in diocesan structures remains undeveloped? How will regional synods ensure better governance of the church when episcopal conferences seem weaker than ever and Paul VI’s vision for the permanent synod of bishops remains unrealized? Finally, even if these proposals were enacted and met with significant accommodation in the Orthodox Church after a successful great and holy synod similar to Vatican II, would longstanding objections by the Orthodox to the exercise of universal juridical authority by the pope be any closer to resolution.