The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Dialogue by Adriano Garuti, O.F.M.
edited and translated by Michael J. Miller
reviewed by ADAM A. J. DEVILLE
With The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Dialogue, the Franciscan theologian Adriano Garuti examines the one issue universally acknowledged as the most significant stumbling block to all ecumenical progress, especially with Orthodoxy: the papacy and its claims. Garuti, who teaches ecumenical theology in Rome and since 1975 has worked for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), offers a detailed summary and analysis of the topic of the papacy in the official Orthodox-Catholic, Anglican-Catholic, and Lutheran-Catholic international dialogues, giving about a third of the book to each.
The seventeen-page bibliography and copious footnotes are themselves worth the price of the book. It does provide some analysis—this, however, is the weakest part of the book—but it should be read primarily as an ecumenically useful reference work and as such belongs on every ecumenist’s shelf. It begins with a thin introductory chapter, “The Primacy as an Ecumenical Problem,” and ends with an appendix that contains a previously published article criticizing what the writer believes is excessive use of the phrase “sister Church” in ecumenical discussions.
In the second chapter, he presents an overview of Orthodox ecclesiology before turning to the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, in which, he concludes, “insufficient attention has been paid . . . to the problem of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.”
The topic of papal primacy was to have been next on the agenda of the international dialogue, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the re-emergence of the Eastern Catholic Churches (known pejoratively as the Uniate Churches), it nearly collapsed under the strain of the many and complex issues, long suppressed, which have poisoned Orthodox-Catholic relations in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, for many decades. The dialogue has not held a proper meeting since 1993.
The chapter on the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue begins with an overview of Lutheran ecclesiology before turning to the question of primacy and the papacy in the theology of Luther and Melanchthon and in the modern ecumenical dialogues. Garuti concludes once more that “on the official level, the theme of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome has not been directly addressed.” Part of the reason for this is that the dialogue—unlike the Catholic-Orthodox and even the Catholic-Anglican dialogue—is still grappling with more foundational issues such as sacraments, ordained ministry, episcopacy, and apostolic succession.
The chapter on the Catholic-Anglican dialogue is, like the dialogue itself, the most hopeful. “No other commission in all of the worldwide bilateral theological dialogue,” Garuti argues, “gave more complete and explicit attention to the questions of primacy and the papacy,” leading to that remarkable document, The Gift of Authority (1999), which presents an encomium for the papacy—at least in theory.
Some Anglicans are quite prepared to accept the papacy as a gift to the Church, but very few are prepared to accept—and in this the Anglican concern parallels the Orthodox—the Roman claim to universal jurisdiction. So, while much progress has been made, much remains to be seen.
Indeed, that is the conclusion Garuti comes to after careful review of each of the dialogues: Much remains to be seen. Hence his laconic and sobering conclusion: It is “evident that up to now great progress has not been made. . . . The common denominator, in all these dialogues, continues to be the problem of the concrete exercise of the primacy” of the bishop of Rome.
Zero Sum Ecumenism
Notwithstanding the author’s painstaking review of the dialogues, this book is flawed by sloppiness in two ways. First, rare is the page that is not overwhelmed with quotes and therefore footnotes, which makes for very disjointed reading, not least because more than a few are tangential. The editor should have pruned more rigorously.
Second, the line is never clear between objective presentation of documents (as in a reference manual) and a more tendentious presentation (as in an argumentative treatise). While ostensibly describing the dialogues, Garuti sometimes slyly intersperses criticisms and gratuitous disapproval, the provenance of which is unclear: Whose position is this? his? the CDF’s? the Catholic Church’s? (Walter Cardinal Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, rebuked Garuti’s earlier book, Il Papa Patriarca D’Occidente?, by saying that Garuti spoke for nobody and was merely advancing a “personal historical thesis, one which is vigorously disputed by reputable historians.”)
The final criticism of the book is that Garuti is far too defensive of the Catholic Church. He often chides the Catholic members of the various dialogues for being insufficiently rigorous in upholding the Catholic side of things. He declares, for example, that the documents of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue “seem to be composed predominantly—if not exclusively—in an Orthodox key, or, to put it more precisely, they reflect the theses of several present-day Orthodox theologians, who are joined by some Catholic theologians as well.”
In the end, however, that should not be a criticism: As one member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic dialogue to whom I spoke put it, everything that is good in Orthodoxy can find a home within a genuinely Catholic Church—and vice versa. Garuti at times operates from the idea that if “Orthodox” ideas are advanced, they advance at the expense of “Catholic” ones. Such an approach to ecumenism as a zero-sum game needs to be abandoned forever.
As Garuti’s otherwise very substantial achievement shows, we have—and nowhere more clearly than on the papacy—a great deal of work ahead of us in abandoning old ideas, dealing directly with a new situation and its difficult issues, and in all things seeking that unity which Christ wills for his Church. This book shows us, sometimes in spite of itself, where we have come from and how much more work we have to do.
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