The Dominican Order has always been in the forefront of defending Papal Primacy in the historic controversies with medieval Eastern dissidents, Western Conciliarists and Gallicans, and the 16th c. Protestant followers of Martin Luther who decried a visible Church contaminated by Popery and Papalism. Those with a special interest in the current Catholic-Orthodox dialogues taking place concerning the role of the Pope in any possible Reunion could not do better than examining the views of a remarkable phalanx of 14th c. Dominican theologians engaged in dialogue and controversy with Byzantine Greek polemicists intent on maintaining the break in communion with Rome that had become formalized with the rejection of the Council of Lyons (1274).
Recent issues of the “Newsletter of the Dominican Laity : Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus” (superbly edited by Mr. Mark Gross, o.p. - email@example.com) have carried a brief series of articles by this writer on this remarkable group of Friars Preachers who lived in the Dominican house in Constantinople's Genoese quarter of Pera-Galata across the Golden Horn.There such Dominicans as Fr. Guillaume Bernard de Gaillac (founder of the house in 1299), Fr. John de Fontibus, Fr. Philip De Bindo Incontri, the Spaniard Fr. Garcia, the Greek born Fr. Simon, Fr. Bonaccursius of Bologna and others, labored on behalf of the visible Unity of the Church.
Their studium was a center for theological exchanges with Byzantine intellectuals and for receiving and lodging pontifical legates and introducing them to officials of the Imperial Court with whom the Friars were in contact. As the result of discussions with the Friars, various Byzantines became impressed with the intellectual riches of the West flowing from the Aristotelian revival which appeared to them as continuing their own Hellenic cultural legacy. The Friars did much to acquaint the curious and proud Byzantines who often betrayed an attitude of superiority towards the Latins with the thought of the greatest of Scholastic philosophers and theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas. His writings translated into Greek sent shock waves through the Byzantine intellectual establishment for the clarity and precision of his exposition of the Christian Mysteries, and firm defense of Catholic doctrines, especially that which the Byzantines regarded as the Latin's “crowning heresy”: the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and (or through) the Son.
At first the Friars of Pera-Galata were welcomed by Greek monks in their monasteries to discuss doctrinal differences. There resulted a number of important conversions, such as the hiero-monk Sophonios who would consequently suffer persecution. Especially important was the conversion of the renowned lay theologian and Imperial official Demetrios Kydones whose “Apologia for Unity with Rome” is one of the most important documents testifying to Byzantine-Latin relations in the 14th century; it appears in my 1992 book “Ending the Byzantine-Greek Schism”. A group of Catholic converts and pro-unionists soon developed around Kydones to the consternation of the anti-unionists.
Kydones' Dominican friends specialized in polemical writings in the “Contra Graecos” genre, and pursued research in the writings of Greek Fathers and Councils to provide them with important patristic documentation on controversial issues. While Philip De Bindo Incontri encouraged Demetrios Kydones to translate various works of the Angelic Doctor, the Greek born Simon the Constantinopolitan studied patristic testimonies and the Liturgy regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit. It was clear to the Dominicans of Galata that the doctrinal grievances of the Greeks had to be fought on their terrain, i.e., the authentic Byzantine tradition. Their theological works worthy of translation into English reveal not only original historical research lacking to their Western brethren but also a searching and original analysis of the nature of the Byzantine Schism. Their treatises are remarkable for a superior knowledge of the history of the Byzantine Church, their reliance on the Greek Fathers for the confirmation of Catholic doctrines, and their emphasis on the role of the Roman Pontiff in preserving the Church's doctrinal orthodoxy.
The Letter of Fr. John de Fontibus (John of the Springs) written in 1350 A.D. in Greek to a Greek Abbot of a monastery in Constantinople whom he admired for his ascetic life may be said to have expressed the Dominican's effort to rally the dissenting Byzantines to unity with the See of Peter. The Greek Abbot had:
“served Christ night and day in work and discipline, in many fasts, in cold and nakedness, and voluntary poverty, in prayers and on the hardest of mats and with many other inconveniences (cf. 2 Cor. 11:27).” Yet, he has fallen short of “true obedience” to the Successor of Peter “whom by divine right all are bound to obey.”
The Dominican theologian proceeded to expound with eloquence drawing upon both Scripture and Tradition the Primacy of Peter and the preeminence of the Roman Pontiff in the Church:
“Since, therefore, the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Blessed Peter, both in his dignity and office, it follows that he is the supreme bishop in the Church, and has authority over your Patriarch and all other Christians... Hence, if you wish to remain in this schism unto death itself, do not trust in your fasts and prayers and upright good works. They will certainly profit you nothing while you remain in this division and sedition against the Roman Church, to which you owe every obedience and honor, because that Church obtains its excellence not from human right, not from civil law nor from any decree of a universal Council, but by divine right and on the authority of Christ.”
The theological and polemical writings of the Dominicans of Pera-Galata were available to a later group of prominent Dominican theologians who played a leading role in the famous Ecumenical Council of Florence (1439). In the Conciliar discussions as well as in the final decree of Union restoring full communion between the Byzantine Greek Church with its four patriarchates and the Roman Pontiff, the rights and prerogatives of the Petrine Office were presented with the utmost clarity and without embarrassment, trimming, or equivocation. Nor would Vatican I and Vatican II fudge the dogmatic aspects of the Petrine Primacy in reaffirming the dogmas of Papal supremacy and infallibility.
Interestingly, a 2008 draft study from the International Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue entitled “The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium” and one entitled “Steps Toward a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future” issued on October 10, 2010, at Georgetown University by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, may be said to witness to a marked degree of progress in the Orthodox understanding of the Roman Primacy as, at least, essential to the “bene esse” of the Church, if not to its “esse”.
However, the understanding by the Orthodox seeking to harmonize a desired Primacy and conciliarity/synodality in the life of the Church falls far short of the doctrine defended by the Dominicans of Pera-Galata who stressed the universal jurisdiction of Peter's successor by divine right over every local Church and every patriarch and bishop, and the infallibility of the Roman Church, “Head of all the Churches of God”.
The above article appeared in "Social Justice Review", Vol. 103, No. 1-2, January-February, 2012.
James Likoudis is the author of "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church", the most comprehensive work in English dealing with Eastern Orthodox objections to Catholic doctrines. It is available from the author, P.O. 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865, for $27.95 (covers S&H). For other articles of interest visit:
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