A. Edward Siecienski | The Papacy and the Orthodox
12:35PM Jul 21, 2021
Jonathan J. Armstrong
A. Edward Siecienski
Welcome to In Unitatem Fidei that phrase comes from the Latin text of Ephesians 4:13, where Paul says that the church is to be built up into the unity of the faith. We are delighted today to be speaking with Professor Edward Siecienski. Professor Siecienski has written a number of pieces of exceptional importance to modern ecumenical discussions. And in 2017, released from Oxford University Press, the text, the papacy and the Orthodox. Professor Siecienski comes to us from Stockton University as Professor of religion. Dr. Siecienski We're extremely grateful to be speaking with you today.
Thank you, Jonathan. It's a pleasure to be here.
Dr Siecienski this question of the role of the Pope has been an age old question between the Orthodox and between Roman Catholics. That's one extremely point important point of theology that the Orthodox and the Catholics do not share in common. But that question sometimes is become a more or less significance. What's the current state of this question between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics about the Office of Peter the pope?
I think most people involved in ecumenical discussion would say right now, it's the only seriously debated issue between the Catholics and the Orthodox obviously, the filioque way, is still out there. That does not seem to be the central issue as it once was. But right now, the idea of especially the definition of the Pope's universal jurisdiction and infallibility at Vatican one, seems to be for the Orthodox the Gordian knot that just can't be untied or cut. So for the, the idea for the Orthodox is, as long as Vatican one remains in force, how can we be part of the same church?
That's amazingly encouraging. So what about Mary? What about understandings of the canon of Scripture, no major obstacles between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, as you see that,
as I see it, no, but not all orthodox would agree with me. The Marion can dogmas course, refer Some are big issues. However, I would make the argument that at least in content, if not in their promulgation the the Orthodox are not necessarily opposed to those doctrines. Obviously, we do orthodox do not have the same understanding of original sin, as the West did. So to make the claim that Mary is free from it doesn't make as much sense in the eastern context, as it did in the West. As for the bodily assumption, the the idea of Mary's falling asleep and being brought to God is part of the Eastern liturgical tradition, there's a feast on the door mission marry on August 15. So there's not an issue there. The fact that both were promulgated by the pope is a bigger issue without especially without any kind of Eastern participation. So in terms of kind of Scripture, or some of the other issues of the purgatory, for example, those aren't necessarily deal breakers, the way the papacy is. And I think this is why when you look at the work that's being done in the official international dialogues in the national dialogues, it all concerns the idea of primacy in the church, is there a primacy in the church on a universal level? And if so, what kind of authority does that Prime have? I think, when you look at the, you know, the Ravenna document and the key document, this is what they're kind of focused on. Let's look at the first millennium. Let's see what kind of primacy is existed in the church then? Perhaps these can help guide us and how primacy can be exercised today.
Was there a moment of turning in of ecumenical dialogues, specifically to look at the question of the pope? I'm asking because you publish this book in 2017. And this is a very heavily researched book, surely it would have taken you several years to prepare the research for this text. When did you beginning begin focusing your own efforts on this question of the papacy?
Well, as I was going through the filioque way book, and you start reading all of these medieval and later texts, on between Catholics and Orthodox, a whole host of issues comes up. So the filioque way is one, but as you're going through these texts, they're also talking about the power of the Pope. They're also talking about purgatory and azimuth. beards and fasting and clerical celibacy. And so these all come up. Now, the papacy is more intimately involved with the filioque way dispute, because as I even noted in the filioque way book itself, the the theological legitimacy of the dogma was always tied up with the Pope's right to decree it, that it was part of the creed. So for the first millennium, Rome did not profess the filioque way liturgically. But the minute it did, then, to question the filioque way was also to question the Pope's right, to make those kinds of additions to the creed. And the issue of the Pope's authority and the theological legitimacy of the filioque way, we're now bound up in this very intimate way. So yeah, it's really it's, it's a book, you know, many at the time, you would say, 10 years in the making.
This is a super piece of research and interest will have a very broad usefulness to Christians as we look at these core issues between the oldest churches, right, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. Alright, let's dive in. So the Roman Catholics hold St. Peter to be the first pope, and you spend the opening part of your book examining that claim from a historical point of view. What's your view? Is it historically responsible to see Peter is the first pope?
No. And I think I make that clear that to call Peter the first pope would be historically speaking, inaccurate, right, Peter? There's this whole debate and I that scholars are, go back and forth on whether Peter even went to Rome. And so our mutual friend, for example, George dem, accomplice of Fordham, has made the claim that Peter never went to Rome. And you know, he's he's following the works of atmosphere line and others. But I would make the claim that Peter did, in fact, go to Rome, but whether or not he exercised any kind of Episcopal authority there, that's that's a different claim. And I think that
it's much harder. He probably did not found the church there. There are probably Christians in Rome before he showed up. And he probably never exercised any kind of Episcopal authority there. Now that said, Did Peter and Paul pass on their Episcopal esque authority to Linus, who would be historically speaking probably the first person now the there's a side debate on whether or not there's a Menaka monarchical episcopate in Rome, for the during the first century, but the first person we kind of probably has a better claim to be the first pope is Linus, having been ordained for that task by Peter and Paul.
Excellent. And I don't want to give our viewers the impression that the tradition that Peter went to Rome is completely unfounded. Sometimes in church history. We have a very thin evidence it from tradition, sometimes we have a much thicker evidence and in my view, the the the historical understanding that Peter did go to Rome has some credibility to it right. In second century, he guess this is already recording the martyrdom of Peter in Nero circus, maybe 100 years prior to his own writing 100 years prior to his own writing. The Vatican archaeologists claimed to have found a first century grave underneath the ultra peace of St. Peter's Basilica, perhaps even own having the bones of St. Peter, what is your evaluation of some of those claims?
I mean, the claim for the tomb, right, so we have evidence of the tomb, probably around 181 90. People, you know, mentioned this trophies of the apostles. In terms of some of the, you know, other evidence, I mean, there's nothing conclusive. I mean, the first mention of Peters visit, there is a letter from the Bishop of Corinth, who talks about, you know, Peter planting in my church and yours, you know, the church of the Romans. But the, you know, that Well, I think what others have made the claim is that the first evidence of Peter visiting Rome shows up right around the time that Pope's begin making petrifying claims, and they find that a little bit too convenient. Now, like I said, I agree with you that, though, the evidence is rather thin for making the claim that Peter went to Rome, I think there's enough evidence to say it's the more probable Because the other thing is that nobody else makes the claim that Peter died there or is buried there. I mean, which seems to have been the thing someone would do if Peter did not die and was buried in Rome, some other church would have said, No, no, he's over here, but nobody does. So it makes Rome probably the more likely spot and of course, it's not only Peter, but Paul. And very early on, the Pope's claims are not necessarily completely petrides. They're they're built on this, these twin pillars, right. This is the church that was founded not by one great apostle, but by the two greatest. And Paul sometimes gets the short end of the stick in that regard, but it should be remembered, for example, that the patronal feast of Rome is the feast of Peter and Paul. Right, they have a joint feast on June 29.
In your view, Dr. stuczynski, who is the first pope, if we mean by the word Pope, the first Bishop of Rome to have this universal sense of responsibility for the entire church?
You know, by the time you get there are examples prior to Leo the great Leo the first. But I think you see in Leo, especially this kind of belief in a universal solicitude. And it comes from this understanding of being Peters air, right. So the the idea is legally as Peters air you inherit, you become Peter legally. And if Christ gave to Peter, this kind of universal mission, and universal care of the church, as you know, Feed my sheep. You know, that passage from john 21. Then what was given to Peter is also given to his heirs who have to exercise that responsibility, as Peter himself would have. And so you start seeing folks talk about themselves as Peter, and exercising a ministry not simply for the city of Rome as its Bishop, but having this more kind of universal ministry for the church, a petrine ministry.
Dr. satinsky, in your text, you move through the seventh century on from antiquity and you land us in the Middle Ages? And how is it that this Great Schism of 1054, which was the formal cause of the separation between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church? How is it that the Great Schism affected the perception and real spiritual authority of the people office?
I think you actually have to go back a little bit earlier. So if you go back a century or so, the papacy was in what some have called the pornography, or the secular mob score of the Dark Ages. The idea that you had a series of Pope's who were notably unworthy men, and then you had these Roman noble women who were either the lovers or the mothers of these Pope's and the papacy was in very low esteem. And finally, you start seeing an effort to change the situation. And it's the reform effort. And although we associate it with Gregory the seventh, and we call it the Gregorian reformed, really, you see that begin with Pope Leo the ninth. And Pope Leo, and the cognacs begin to see the mission of the papacy to reform the church. The problem, of course, is to reform the church, you need the authority to do that. And so you start seeing Leo and his allies begin to proclaim the the Pope's authority over all other competing powers, whether they be ecclesiastical or secular. And it's not an accident that the Great Schism occurs under Neal denied and or at least right after he dies, because the Humbert excommunicate Michael's earliest, when he finds out Leo's dead. And Humbert himself was a great advocate of this reform. And so when the constantinopolitan start challenging the orthodoxy of Rome by saying that, you know, you're using unleavened bread in the Eucharist, and that's a heresy. Humbert feels the need to respond, how dare and he says, How dare they teach the sea of Peter how to perform the sacrifices. And so with this kind of reinvigorated papacy, that's whose goal is to reform I mean, that's the other thing. They're, they're not seeking power for power sake. They're really trying to reform the church and they need the authority, the freedom of the church to do that. So when these Easterners seem to be challenging the orthodoxy and the authority of Rome, you see this response. And obviously, this is where the tension begins. So, although I wouldn't say that, you know, 1054 is usually considered a bad day to date the schism, I mean, most would say, 1204, the Fourth Crusade, much closer to like the real separation between East and West. But even by 1054, you start to see diverse understandings of how the papacy should be set an office should be understood, to mean there was a period where east and west recognized the primacy of Rome. And you would even say there's a there's a period where the East recognizes a special authority in Rome. But it was always the limits of that jurisdiction, the limits of that authority that they debated, did the Pope, for example, have a right to interfere in the internal affairs of, of Eastern churches in the East always said, No. But when the pope begins to say, Well, I have the right to interfere anywhere, as this kind of universal bishop. This is where you start seeing some real Eastern opposition to people claims.
take us into the infamous date of 1204. So of course, this is the time when Crusaders operating in the Fourth Crusade come through Constantinople. These are Western Crusaders and sack the city. This is a an atrocity which we remember to this day. But few of us understand exactly how this can be the final separation between Eastern and Western churches. There's no ecclesiastical pronouncement, church men are not coming and anathematized one another. These are hooligans running through the city of Constantinople. How is it that this infamous, happening in 1204, becomes the final separation between the churches?
Well, innocent the third was appalled when he found out what had happened to Constantinople and we have his letters to the Emperor Baldwin, you know, kind of telling the Crusaders, what you have done is terrible. But innocent was a practical man. And he knew that the imposition of a Latin hierarchy in the East essentially meant the end to the system. And so what he pressed for, was the obedience of the Eastern Church to this new situation. And he, I think, more than anyone else uses the language of obedience. And he uses very familial language to express that right and so no longer our bishops brothers No longer are churches, sisters, Rome is the Mother Church, Constantinople is the child, the prodigal son, if you will, who has been disobedient, and now must return to the parent, beg its forgiveness and be received with all joy. And this paradigm of it becomes kind of the way innocent envisions the reunion or union of the churches, only when the East obeys only when the East submits and the words submission and obedience just pepper innocence letters to the to the east. And now the reality is, the more he pressed these claims, the more they were resistant and so this is when you start seeing more and more Easterners not simply rejecting innocence authority, but any idea of a Roman primacy mean up to this point, very few Easterners rejected Rome's primacy in the church. But now that Rome is making its primacy this jurisdictional and authoritarian primacy, here is where you begin to see Eastern writers say, Well, no, Rome is not first because it was only first because it was capital, the Empire and now it isn't, it was only first because Constantine made it so or it was only first because the council's pronounced it. But the idea of primacy based on the Pope's kind of lineage from Peter and Paul, that you begin to see the East reject outright.
Dr. Siecienski you have studied the Council of Ferrara Florence, that's a council that lasts between 1431 and 1449. You've studied this council in quite a bit of detail. And this is a really significant Council for the history of ecumenical relations, because as far as I understand, this is the first council where there is a full effort to try to reunify the churches of the East and the churches of the West.
What happens at this council it fails obviously, the churches are not reunited, what what is the what is the point at which there that unity cannot be achieved in the context of the Council of Ferrara, Florence
Though, just going back a little bit, there wasn't another Council, the second council Leone, which of course, wasn't really an Ecumenical Council, it was simply the receiving of the Emperor Michael's confession of faith. It was never really a genuine attempt to heal the system. But Florence was the East had been asking for close to 200 years, let's have a council where we all sit down all the bishops and talk about the issues that divide us. So finally, the West agrees to this. And so the East goes to Ferrara, thinking that this is going to be this kind of fraternal discussion, it naively believes that the West will realize its error, and mediately recant the filioque way and recant the use of Unleavened Bread, which is remarkably naive of the East. But even this hope for a fraternal gathering is quickly dashed. Rome has this idea that it's simply going to impose its beliefs on the Eastern Church. Now, there are discussions they begin, interestingly enough with purgatory. And they spent quite some time debating the doctrine of purgatory. But then the bulk of the Council, which is moved to Florence, debates, the filioque way, both the addition to the creed and the theology behind it. And it's kind of this last attempt to come to some sort of common understanding. Eventually, a few of the Greek delegates bizzarri on and George gennadius, glorious, they decide to reunite with the West, and they kind of with the Emperor drag the rest of the East with them. What's interesting is that at this point, they've been there for a year and a half, the East one, you know, the Easterners want to get home, they have heard rumors about Turkish attacks. And so the other issues are kind of dealt with almost by way of footnote, including this power of the Pope. Right. So the the power of the Pope, which has today we would regard as the primary issue dividing Eastern West, and Florence was treated almost as an afterthought, which is, which is really interesting. And because the East at this point, was willing to kind of sign anything to get out of there. The statement they signed up for our Florence is one of the strongest statements of people power ever made. There are some concessions made to the status of the patriarchs. But in the end, when you look at the Florentine decree, on on the powers of the Pope, it's a remarkable strong statement of people power.
And how do the resolutions there that increase from Ferrara Florence affect ecumenical dialogue today? Are there groups going back and saying, Hey, we this has settled the pope is the universal Bishop of the church, or how are things moved on in the last 600 years now?
Well, I think you could say, For centuries, and even into the 21st Catholic apologists have made exactly the claim. You're saying like, Oh, well, you signed you agreed to this at Florence. So therefore, you must have thought it was the right thing to do. Why are you rejecting it now. And I think Florence just as a very bad model for what we would regard as ecumenical dialogue. I mean, if you study the council, and interestingly enough, the the last great work on the council was done by a Roman Catholic Joseph Guild, and he dispelled some of the myths of the Council. But at the same time, I think there there is still in Gil's work a certain bias. I think a new history of the Council of Florence needs to be written. I'm not sure I'm the guy who's going to write it, but I hope somebody does. And because I think, to find out what needs to be done next, you really do need to go and look at quite critically what the last attempt looked like. Why, I mean, why did it fail? I mean, there's been two views of the council Florida, Catholics have regarded it as a success that failed. And the Orthodox have looked at it as a failure that almost succeeded. And that, you know, until we can kind of come to a real consensus on what went wrong, the possibility of trying to get it right, I think it's just not there.
Even that is an amazing statement. Is it? Is it true that the Council of Ferrara Florence is the last credible attempt to reunite the church more than any of the ecumenical dialogues that have come out in the post Vatican two era? That's the last major milestone.
Well, the the beginning of the International theological dialogue in 1980, a formal dialogue, you know, this is actually There is this between, for our florens and 1980. There's a huge gap. But, you know, in the last 40 years, there are attempts at sitting down across the table and debating these issues in a way that's not polemical, it's not simply getting the other two are sent to your views, but to kind of come to a mutual understanding. And I think the fruits of that dialogue have been fantastic. I mean, we have made more progress in the last 40 years than in the last 400. But I think the the, the idea of trying to solve the system at a council, like floor, I don't think that's possible today. I mean, the fact that the Orthodox themselves find it impossible to hold their own council makes holding something like a new for Florence, just incredibly impossible.
Please inform us more about this international ecumenical dialogue. Is that is that the correct name? And is that run out of the secretary for the promotion of Christian unity at the Vatican? Or where's that housed? who's involved in what's happening now with that dialogue?
So, yes, it is the the secretary runs the dialogue. And they, you know, it started off with some statements about baptism and marriage and, and things of this sort. There are also dialogues on the national level, the United States bishops, and the what used to be known as Koba the standing conference of canonical orthodox bishops. They, they had their own dialogues going on as well. The most recent dialogues decided to tackle the issue of primacy. And so the statements at Ravenna and kiedy on primacy and what it means are incredibly helpful. Again, you could not imagine a statement like this coming out 100 years ago. The problem, of course, is the worth of x themselves. So the Ravenna statement came out. And immediately the Russian church, the largest Orthodox churches, came out with a statement saying that the repentance statement did not essentially sum up their faith, or their understanding of primacy. And so they immediately dissented, and this has made it very difficult. tensions in the Orthodox world, especially between the patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, have made it very hard to get any kind of consensus. So, the Catholics kind of have to stand back. Because especially the issue of primacy. So although Catholics are trying to talk about primacy in terms of the primacy of Rome, primacy within Orthodoxy is a much debated topic, because the Russian understanding of what a prymatt is, and what Constantinople is understanding of its own primacy are very, very different. So it's a loaded word. And it's going to be very difficult, I think, for there to be real progress in the Catholic orthodox dialogue on primacy, until the Orthodox can kind of come up with a understanding of their own, that they can all buy into.
This very insightful, and Dr. stuczynski so one of the milestones to in the understanding of the Office of Peter is, of course, Vatican one that is in 1869, the beginning of the council there and that's the Ecumenical Council where papal infallibility is defined when the pope speaks ex cathedra. He cannot be correct in his theological pronouncements. As you look at that, that's a huge, huge problem for ecumenical dialogue from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. How do you envision a pathway forward beyond Vatican one?
Yeah, it's interesting, because, you know, the Orthodox and Protestants disagree on a lot, but the one thing they have agreed on the last 150 years is that Vatican one is a very bad Council. In terms of it's a pastor returnest, and it's standing of the room primacy. There are two issues right. So the obviously the infallibility issue and the universal jurisdiction infallibility. orthodoxy accepts, on some level the infallibility of the church, and has always understood the invalidate infallibility of the church to be best expressed in Council. In this idea of sober Norse, right of constantly arity this is where the Holy Spirit speaks. The idea that one Bishop should possess that which belongs to the bishops collectively, is not something the Orthodox can accept. So it's not necessarily the idea of infallibility, but the origins of infallibility that we disagree on In terms of the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the idea that the Pope has immediate Episcopal jurisdiction anywhere in the world is something the Orthodox have said, we've never accepted this. And we could never accept this. So if it's just a matter of saying yes, to Vatican one, I don't think that's coming anytime soon. That said, I think there still are concrete ways that Rome could frame its own primacy, that would help the Orthodox make it more acceptable. So for example, today, the Bishop of Rome and the Vatican bureaucracy, pick bishops throughout the world, and bishops are appointed. And they, they're kind of appointed for different different diocese throughout the world. Does that have to be there's nothing in kind of the ecclesiastical ecclesiological system of Rome that says this necessarily has to be the case. And we know historically that bishops were chosen a variety of ways throughout Catholic history. So could we get back to a place where local communities and metropolitans had more say, in the election of Bishops, whereas Rome's centralizing tendencies, would kind of take a step back, and the principle of subsidiarity would take over where the local church would handle affairs and metropolitans would handle affairs until they cooked. And then when the system breaks down, there would be this office, the petrine office that would come in and be a guarantor of unity. And this is kind of I think, what the started can appeal was supposed to be right when when local churches could not deal with problems anymore. sarka said, well, then you could appeal to the Pope. Well, perhaps that's if we did something like that. The, you know, the, perhaps the Orthodox could find that kind of exercise of primacy, more acceptable. And I think it's so it's not necessary. While Roman Catholics can't change, Vatican one, I think that on a concrete level, they can change how the primacy is exercised. To make it clear to the Orthodox that Vatican one does not necessarily mean a papal monarchy.
Dr. satinsky you're writing these books, that are fabulously useful for ecumenical dialogue, written several years back your piece on the filioque way available from Oxford University Press. Now, this piece in 2017, on the history of the papacy. We hope that you do write this book on on the Council of Ferrara, Florence and setting that history. Correct. That would be Mac magnificently useful as well. What are the pieces of ecumenical dialogue unfolding today that give you the most hope that you're following the most closely?
Well, I think one of the things that you're you're seeing as we live in an increasingly secular world, you know, one of the fastest growing groups within America is the unaffiliated. I think more and more people of faith are coming to realize that the, the, the people they need to convince aren't other Christians, right? So if I'm, if I'm an apologist, I'm not, I shouldn't really be aiming my, my kind of work at other Christians who aren't the right kinds of Christians, perhaps I should be aiming my, my apologetic energy at a world that is increasingly indifferent to religion. And, you know, I see more and more that online, obviously, you still see the old Catholic orthodox polemics, the Catholic Protestant polemics, and you know, they're there. But more and more, I think, you see Christians who are going to feel more united, you know, realize that we have more in common than what separates us. And I'm not saying that what separates us is inconsequential or unimportant, hardly. But at the same time, you know, if we agree on 90%, of, of belief, should we rejoice in the 90% and bring that to the world? Or should we spend our energy and time arguing about the other 10 I would hope that it's going to be the former rather than the ladder. And I think you see more of that. Christians united, someone was was talking about this idea of humanism in blood right? That When the you had ISIS, in their heyday going around beheading Christians, they didn't necessarily ask whether or not you confess to filioque way before they beheaded them, right? They, they, we were these were cops and Orthodox and Catholics and Protestants, you know, suffering for the faith. And it didn't matter to, to them whether or not he had these differences. When we celebrated Easter or, or whether or not we accepted the Pope's infallibility. And so perhaps we need to focus more on what we share than what divides us. And
Dr. stuczynski, if I can ask you one final question. We are asking theologians across a spectrum of historic Christian orthodox traditions, to help us envision what the unity of the church would look like, what would a reunified Christian church look like? We're calling lay people everywhere to pray for the unity of the church. And we'll pose that question to you to what would a reunified Christian church look like?
Well, obviously, to say that we would be in communion, and not just a spiritual communion, but a real communion and be able to see in each other brothers and sisters in Christ who share the same faith, obviously, that's the goal. And, and because we do have these issues that divide us, we need to talk about them, we need to, to figure out a way that we can decide which of these differences are truly church dividing in which art. But I think at the same time, increasingly, a unit reunited church is one where I can look at a fellow believer and seeing them, not the other, the religious other, but my brother or sister. I think that's exactly what I'm hoping for. And when I you know, I go to these many ecumenical events and you see Catholics and Orthodox, and despite the fact that we are not in full Eucharistic communion, you really do get a sense that we all do recognize each other as part of the inner sanctum, right, the one holy, catholic and apostolic church. And I think that's the hope, right, that we can all sit down and recognize each other as part of that one church, the church of Christ, the church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and kind of in that fellowship in that communion truly rejoice as brothers and sisters in Christ.
It's been our honor today to be spot speaking with Dr. Edward Siecienski, author of the papacy and the Orthodox available from Oxford University Press for professor of religion at Stockton University. Dr. Siecienski, thank you so much for spending your morning with us today. Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.