José Pereira
Professor Emeritus of Theology
Fordham University

The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome
and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy:

Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church

By James Likoudis

THE DIVINE PRIMACY OF THE BISHOP OF ROME AND MODERN EASTERN ORTHODOXY: LETTERS TO A GREEK ORTHODOX ON THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH by James Likoudis. Also containing: "The Infallible Teaching Authority of the Pope According to the Definition of the Vatican Council" by Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (New Hope, Kentucky: St. Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, 2002) xvi + 312 pp., $27.95.

In the field of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, James Likoudis figures as one of the most prominent Catholic apologists. Born in a Greek Orthodox family, he was converted to Catholicism at the early age of 24 - inspired by the Baroque magnificence of a Catholic church, and by his reading of Catholic books and periodicals. He was persuaded that the doctrine of the primacy of Peter and the pope (the Petrine office) was an essential characteristic of the Church in the first Millennium, and that the Byzantine schism resulted from the rejection of the previously acknowledged papal authority. In consequence, Likoudis felt that he could no longer continue to adhere to an irrational, incoherent and tragic schism from Peter's See.

This conviction is expressed with deep passion in two books, each in two editions. The first was "Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism" (1st ed. 1983, 2nd ed. 1992); and the second, "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.." 1st ed. 1999. Subtitle: "Reply to a Former Catholic" [Michael Welton: "Two Paths: Papal Monarchy - Collegial Tradition", 1998]. The present volume is the second edition of this book.

"The Divine Primacy.." written in the form of 52 letters to a number of Eastern Orthodox correspondents subsumed under the name of "Euthymios," is divisible into three parts. The first part deals with the theme Schism and Reunion (letters 1-5), which discusses how the Schism came about, what its main causes were, and how there was an effort to heal it in the Council of Florence (1437-1439).

The second part treats of the Filioque (letters 6-12), the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son." The original Nicene Creed did not have that phrase, which was added later in the West, and declared to be legitimate by the Council of Florence. This addition is alleged to be the dogmatic ground for the separation of the churches. Likoudis contends that the common Creed of the Church is not corrupted by the addition. Modem Orthodoxy, on the other hand, takes the view that the Holy Spirit proceeds "from the Father alone," a view first articulated by the 9th century theologian Photius. Some modern Orthodox theologians hold that the Filioque doctrine is a heresy; others do not.

The third, the longest part of the book, discusses Papal Primacy (letters 13-52). Among the topics examined are the following:

  • that the Petrine office is the foundation of Church unity, necessary to preserve orthodoxy;
  • that the office enjoys not only a primacy of honor but also one of jurisdiction;
  • that such primacy was proclaimed by the undivided Church of the first Millennium;
  • that it was so confessed by Doctors of the Church, like Augustine and Theodore of Studium;
  • that it was so understood by the popes themselves, popes of the sanctity and stature of Leo, Gelasius, Hormisdas and Nicholas I;
  • that these testimonies are suppressed by modern Orthodox theologians;
  • and that two popes, Vigilius and Honorius, alleged to be heretics, are entirely orthodox.

One of Likoudis's polemical strategies is to point out the contradictions in the modern Orthodox position. One such clear contradiction consists, on the one hand, of the claim that only the first seven ecumenical councils accepted by the Orthodox churches can authoritatively pronounce on orthodox doctrines; and on the other, the fact that none of these councils appears to support positions emphatically favored by the Orthodox in opposition to those held by Catholics. For instance, none of the seven ecumenical councils declares the following Catholic doctrines to be heresies, while many modern Orthodox do:

  1. the Filioque,
  2. papal primacy of jurisdiction,
  3. Purgatory,
  4. the Immaculate Conception,
  5. and the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist.

In addition none of the seven ecumenical councils teaches the following doctrines, asserted by many modern Orthodox:

  1. the invalidity of the Catholic sacraments,
  2. the Palamite distinction between the divine essence and energies,
  3. the repeatable and communicable character of Christ's Transfiguration,
  4. the impossibility of created grace,
  5. the prerogative of the ecumenical councils alone (and not also of the Pope) to define dogma,
  6. and the validity of ecumenical councils' decrees independently of papal approval.

More positively, Likoudis's thought seems to be based on a triple dialectic (which echoes the triple division of the book), though it is not presented in that precise form.

  • The first part of the dialectic is to postulate an undivided Church. Undivided unity was what Christ willed for His Church, and this wish was partly fulfilled in the first Millennium by the union between East and West.
  • The second part is to determine that undividedness can only be maintained by a fixed and indefectible center of unity, a center that preserves the integrity of doctrine and the very social identity of the Church as one visible society.
  • The third part is the conclusion that an indefectible center of unity is possible only if it is impregnable to formal heresy; in other words, that it is infallible in its teaching. And the Church cannot be infallible without an infallible teaching episcopate, and the infallibility of such a body of bishops necessarily entails the infallibility of its chief bishop, the Pope.

This triple dialectic is supported by clear reasoning and ample documentation, making the book a welcome addition to the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

— José Pereira
Professor Emeritus of Theology
Fordham University
It is available directly from the author:
James Likoudis,
PO Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865
($27.95 post-paid includes S&H)

"Ending the Byzantine-Greek Schism" is also available from the same address ($17.95 post-paid includes S&H).

Reprinted from "Social Justice Review" May/June 2003
Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage