You Are Peter is a straightforward response to the invitation made by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One) in which he called upon modern theologians to discuss the papal office of primacy. In this encyclical Pope John Paul II encouraged ecumenical scholars to engage in constructive discussions regarding the papal office. The pope indicated that the Church might seek to find a new "form of exercise of the primacy," which could resolve current conflicts with the Eastern churches without sacrificing any essential element of the Petrine ministry. Retired Archbishop John R. Quinn responded with his book, The Reform of the Papacy. Archbishop Vsevolod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church wrote We Are All Brothers making a number of extremely constructive suggestions concerning steps that could be taken to both improve relations between the East and West, such as suggesting the reinstitution of patriarchates.
In 1996, at the Pope's urging, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger chaired a symposium at which Catholic scholars discussed the papal office from both doctrinal and historical perspectives. The conference ended with a conclusion that the primacy of the pope is an essential point of Catholic doctrine. However, the scholars observed that there is no doctrinal statement indicating how that primacy should be exercised.
The question of papal authority has been one of the main obstacles to ecumenical dialogue, but has been made particularly more significant since the First Vatican Council, which in 1870 proclaimed papal infallibility as doctrine. While Catholic theologians and officials are quick to note that the doctrine of papal infallibility cannot be opened to question, ecumenical discussions can raise questions about the manner in which infallibility is understood and invoked.
Olivier Clément is a French Orthodox historian and theologian who was awarded the Logos-Eikon Prize by the Ezio Aletti Centre of Rome on his 80th birthday in honor of the whole corpus of his work. Since the Aletti Centre's foundation in 1993, it has worked to promote the dialogue between Eastern and Western Christians. Clément was a student of Vladimir Lossky and has since written some excellent books on Christian mysticism. The Pope seems to greatly appreciate Clément and trust him. Pope John Paul II asked Clément to compose the Stations of the Cross a few years ago, which the pope used on Good Friday, in the annual Way of the Cross around the Coliseum in Rome.
In this small book of 112 pages, measuring a mere 4 x 9 inches, Clément reflects on the sizeable issue of the papacy, the issues and events that produced the Great Schism, the evolution of the office of the papacy in the past millennium, Christ's command to his followers to seek unity and the obstacles which need to be overcome for unity to be regained. The author, Olivier Clément, who teaches at the well-known St. Sergius Institute in Paris and has played an active role in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, opens his response You Are Peter with a chapter on "An Ecclesiology of Communion," presenting the church as the "dispensation of trinitarian love at the heart of humanity," and referring to the Pentarchy of the early church: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Summarizing the history and experience of an undivided church, Clément reflects on the contrasting developments of Eastern and Western Christianity.
Clément contends that the Roman primacy became contaminated by the problem of imperial power. After the 1870 definition of papal infallibility Pius IX declared, "I am Tradition." A key question from the Orthodox perspective is whether the Pope's primacy should be understood as a primacy of honor or a primacy of jurisdiction. Clément points out that the two possibilities cannot be entirely separated. He observes: "The primacy of honor— which, we should note, is granted to the Pope by all the Orthodox churches—must inevitably convey to the Patriarch of Rome some measure of power as well, even if it is only the power of presiding." The problem with the Orthodox churches, the theologian says, "is that they refuse to take into account the role of Peter in the Scriptures." Clement suggests returning to an original conception of primacy by emphasizing communion over jurisdiction. He concludes You Are Peter with a dual challenge in his tenth and eleventh chapters, "Hope against Hope: The Challenge to Rome," and "Hope against Hope: The Challenge to Orthodoxy," ending with a postscript "For a Common Future" on behalf of a united body of Christ's disciples.