More than Patriarch

The Successor of Blessed Peter is more than a Patriarch


The following letter written by Mr. James Likoudis to the editor of "Homiletic & Pastoral Review", a Catholic periodical, seeking to clarify some misunderstandings regarding the Roman Pontiff's title of "Patriarch of the Western Church", and published by that magazine in its issue of March 2001.

To the Editor,

Bro. John M. Samaha, S.M., has written a fine article (November 2000) on the Eastern Catholic Churches and the ecumenical necessity to safeguard and respect the spiritual and cultural heritage of the ancient Eastern patriarchal churches. However, his and other recent theologians’ sharp distinction between the role of the Pope as Supreme Pontiff with a universal jurisdiction over the entire episcopate of the Church (East and West) and his role as "Patriarch of the Western Church" is questionable.

In perhaps the best historical and doctrinal study of the thesis of the Pope as a Patriarch in the Church, "Il Papa Patriarca d’Occidente?: Studio storico dottrinale" (Collectio Antoniana, 1990), Fr. Adriano Garuti notes that the title of "Patriarch" was of Eastern origin (influenced by the perspective of Byzantine Emperors), largely honorific, and in the first Millennium never presumed any juridical or canonical exercise of a patriarchal jurisdiction over the entire Western Church. In fact, when the Pope intervened outside his own bishopric in other Western dioceses, he did so, not as a Patriarch but as the Pastor and Primate of the Universal Church. The Latin Church was never a patriarchate. To this day, the Canon Law of the Latin Church does not acknowledge the exercise of a patriarchal jurisdiction by the Pope over the Church in the West.

The ecclesiastical institution and organization of patriarchates was peculiar to the Eastern tradition and though certainly acknowledged by the Roman See in the first Millennium as a modality of collegiality, the Roman Pontiffs would never accept the reduction of their Universal Primacy to a mere "patriarchate" as did later medieval Byzantine dissidents who were to regard the Pope as the "first of equals" in a Pentarchy governing the Church.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
—  James Likoudis
Montour Falls, N.Y.

Reprinted from "Homiletic & Pastoral Review", issue of March 2001
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