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
PO Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865, USA
Published by author, 2002   Pp. XVI+312   $27.95 (includes S&H in USA)

There are five, universally recognized, ancient patriarchates in the Church. They are Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. These patriarchates and every subsequent one – every bishop and every diocese thereafter – were established in succession to the original twelve Apostles commissioned by Jesus. Just as the other eleven Apostles were not mere legates of Peter, neither are the other successors of the Apostles legates of the successor of St. Peter, the Pope. However, just as Peter was the head of the College of Apostles and was entrusted with preserving the unity of the apostolic college, so must the successors of the Apostles maintain visible communion with the successor of St. Peter.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons said of the Church of Rome:

"For with this church, by reason of its preeminence, the whole Church, that is the faithful everywhere, must necessarily be in accord" (Catechism, no. 834).

What is the nature of this visible communion? Eastern Orthodox theology has traditionally recognized a special dignity of the great patriarchate of Rome. The Bishop of Rome is considered to have a "primacy of honor" and to be a "chief among equals." The single greatest point of division between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy is the nature of Peter's primacy. Is it a primacy of jurisdiction or one of mere honor?

As one who almost became Eastern Orthodox myself, I have often been puzzled by a few questions. If the primacy is one of honor, what is the reason for Rome having it? Did it derive from the geo-political position of Rome at the time? If so, Rome's primacy can't in any sense be permanent, as it is too connected to temporal affairs which are subject to change. If this is so, then it makes no sense for Eastern Orthodox theologians to continue to maintain that Rome has a primacy of honor. Is there a theological basis for a mere primacy of honor? If so, we can ask once more – why Rome? Why the See of Peter? What exactly is a primacy of honor? Does it mean getting to sit at the head of the table at official meetings? Though the power of genuine honor shouldn't be underestimated, what is the reason for acknowledging Peter's primacy of honor?

The real issue is the ongoing tension between Peter's primacy of jurisdiction and the collegiality of all the bishops. The "fatal error" of the Eastern Churches separated from Rome, Likoudis quite rightly points out, is to "consider Primacy and Collegiality... to be antithetical to one another" (xiv). The truth is that primacy without collegiality is a form of ecclesiastical totalitarianism and a collegiality without primacy is doomed to become a collegiality in name only. Is it possible to say that there exists a true collegiality among the Orthodox Churches today? There is a much more concrete collegiality between the current Bishop of Rome and many ecumenically minded Orthodox patriarchs than there is among many Orthodox bishops among themselves!

James Likoudis, in The Divine Primacy, looks perceptively into the primacy of jurisdiction enjoyed by the Bishop of Rome by means of 52 letters exchanged between himself and "Euthymios." These letters actually involved a number of correspondents, of which Euthymios was one, but are representative of the key issues separating Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

Likoudis writes from the perspective of a convert to Catholicism from Orthodoxy and, in particular, as one who has a deep love and respect for the Eastern Orthodox Churches and earnestly desires unity. The book is also marked by many years of experience in the study and teaching of history (Likoudis was a professional educator in history and other fields for over 20 years). There are plenty of books on shelves today in which the author argues using a list of proof-texts in support of a position, but these authors generally have very little consciousness of history. The Divine Primacy offers numerous quotes from Fathers and bishops, to be sure, but not as mere proof-texts. This book brings to the reader a vast compendium of history as well as a sweeping apologetic for the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

An added bonus in this book is Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler's "The Infallible Teaching Authority of the Pope According to the Definition of the Vatican Council." Ketteler was the Bishop of Mainz in the late 19th century. This work is a helpful treatise for understanding the situation and theological issues regarding papal primacy at Vatican I.

Pope John Paul II has tirelessly dedicated himself throughout his pontificate to Christian unity, especially with the Churches of the East. The Pope expressed his openness by:

"heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation" (Ut Unum Sint, no. 95).

Many bishops and patriarchs of the East must also be honored for their humble openness to the Pope and their own intense desire for unity. "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy" is an important contribution at the service of the vision of Christian unity shared by the Pope and these bishops of the East. It is a must read for those interested in understanding how the visible unity of the Church is predicated upon the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

To order a copy of this book, send a check for $27.95 to James Likoudis, P.O. Box 852-C, Montour Falls, NY 14865 or visit the book's Page

Reprinted from "LAY WITNESS" issue of Sept./Oct. 2003
Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage