Wednesday 24 April 2024

Orthodox theologian finds papal title in need of explanation

Pontifical Yearbook, the title of "Patriarch of the West": Pope claims  honorary title again - Φως Φαναρίου

The Viennese Orthodox theologian Ioan Moga is rather sceptical about Pope Francis' resumption of the title "Patriarch of the West". 

"A historic title is being reintroduced - but without a declaration of intent, without interpretation," the professor of Orthodox theology at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Vienna told the Kathpress press agency (Tuesday). 

"A late, undeclared renunciation of the undeclared renunciation," said Moga, who believes: "Ecumenism deserves more."

The ecumenically-minded Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) had the title "Patriarch of the West" removed from the list of papal titles in 2006, his first year in office, causing irritation among the churches of the East.  

Francis reinstated it around a fortnight ago. 

Moga explained that the problem with the renunciation in 2006 was not the renunciation itself, but the lack of an explanation: "Above all, it was irritating. Everyone could interpret it differently because the renunciation left a vacuum of interpretation."  

Benedict XVI had no reason to snub the Orthodox then or later. 

According to Moga, the same problem exists today with the silent resumption of the title.

The Transylvanian-born theologian pointed out that the title "Patriarch of the West" had hardly played a role in the Orthodox-Catholic discussion even before that; and: "The problem was and is the primacy of jurisdiction. That remains open, with or without symbolic titles." 

He did not understand the excitement among some Orthodox theologians in 2006, said Moga, because: "A relic from the past that no longer has any relevance in Roman Catholic ecclesiology must not be overestimated in a serious ecumenical discussion."

Title is a shell

The ancient model of the pentarchy ["five reigns" of the patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem; editor's note] that has been brought into the discussion "no longer corresponds to a reality even in the Orthodox Church, but is merely a reference point for the church community in the first millennium", said Moga. 

"Merely renouncing or resuming titles will not bring us any closer to this early church model. We know that from the dialogue so far. It's always about what the respective church understands by it," the theologian continued. While the current patriarchal titles in the Orthodox Church correspond to a canonical reality, the title "Patriarch of the Occident" is ultimately an empty shell, Moga believes: "What does 'Occident' mean from a canonical or ecclesiological perspective? Who belongs to this Occident? Does it refer to Roman Catholic Christians in Africa and Asia? If not, then to which 'patriarchate' do they belong? What do we do with 'South America' then?"

Moga also considers it problematic to refer to the Roman rite as the "Patriarch of the West". 

To summarise, he does not see the resumption of the title by Pope Francis as an ecumenical sign in the direction of Orthodoxy or the Eastern churches. 

For him, a much stronger signal came from 2020, when the title "Vicar of Jesus Christ" - according to Moga, an "ecclesiologically and theologically very problematic title that Orthodoxy has traditionally criticised" - was listed for the first time in the papal yearbook ("Annuario Pontificio") under the new category of "historical titles". 

The inclusion of the category "historical titles" shows the distance of the current Pope Francis from this title, said Moga: "That was and is to be welcomed."