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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Church which Presides in Love: Primacy, Can it Exist?


Nicholas Afanassieff

Orthodox polemics against the primacy of Rome depend, broadly speaking, on Roman Catholic theology.[1] This is not surprising, since the actual aim of Orthodox theology is to refute arguments put forth in favor of Roman primacy. Now the Catholic doctrine of primacy is founded on their doctrine of the primacy of the Apostle Peter: and therefore Orthodox theologians concentrate their attention on this subject. Exegesis of New Testament texts on the position of Peter results in a discussion between Orthodox and Catholic theologians. Meanwhile, a similar discussion has arisen concerning the oldest Patristic evidence about the Church of Rome. Rome’s role in history is also under dispute, and so far no agreement has been reached on the matter. No one denies, today, that she has held a leading position, but we have still to ask what position it was and what was its nature. In other words, we started discussing the primacy of Rome before we raised the question: what is primacy itself? Can primacy—whether of Rome or of any other church— really exist in the Church? This is the really important question, and the answer, whether positive or negative, will help us to work out our own views of the Church of Rome. If we are to solve the problem of primacy within the Church, our starting point must be ecclesiology; i.e., we must ask, does the doctrine of the Church contain the idea of primacy (in its present or any other form), or exclude it altogether? This method can be used to solve problems of exegesis and of history too; it is really the most natural approach, for the problem of primacy is inherent in the doctrine of the Church. We can thus pose the problem of primacy in general, for Orthodox and Catholics alike. But we must not think of such a method as involving any renunciation (even provisional) of our confessional allegiances. That sort of thing would only be possible for a bad Orthodox or a bad Catholic. As we study the problem of primacy in general, and especially the primacy of Rome, we must not be ruled by polemical motives: the problem is to be solved to satisfy ourselves and Orthodox theology. The solution of the problem is urgent, since Orthodox theology has not yet built up any systematic doctrine on Church government. And although we have a doctrine concerning Ecumenical Councils as organs of government in the Church, we shall see presently that our doctrine is not enough to refute the Catholic doctrine of primacy.

1 Comments:

Blogger Joel said...

I've read a bit of Afanassieff in the past and always found him challenging and helpful.

2:50 am  

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