The title and subtitle of the book express exactly what the book is about. It concerns the papal office as seen by contemporary Catholic and Orthodox theologians. The book is a collection of papers presented at the academic symposium convened by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in Rome, May 21-21, 2003. The symposium was organized in response to Pope John Paul II’s request, expressed in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, to seek together “the forms in which this ministry [the papacy] may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned.” At the symposium there were eight speakers, whose papers are reproduced here, and five Catholic experts and eleven Orthodox delegates.
The symposium is introduced by Kasper’s elaboration of four principles for a “re-reading” and “re-reception” of Vatican I’s teaching on the papacy: integration of the concept of primacy in the whole context of ecclesiology, re-reading of Vatican I in the light of the whole tradition and integration of that council within this tradition as a whole, historical interpretation, and interpretation of the Petrine ministry in the light of the gospel.
Others papers are by Joachim Gnilka (the ministry of Peter in the New Testament), Theodore Stylianopoulos (on the same theme, from the Orthodox perspective), Vlassios Phidas (papal primacy and patriarchal pentarchy in the Orthodox tradition), Vittorino Grossi (patristic testimonies on Peter), Vittorio Peri (the role of the bishop of Rome in ecumenical councils), V. Nicolae Dura (the Petrine ministry in canon law of the first millennium), Jean-Claude Larchet (Roman primacy in Saint Maximus the Confessor), Hermann Pottmeyer (recent discussions of the primacy in Catholic theology), and Ioannis Zizioulas (recent discussions of the primacy in Orthodox theology).
What should one think after plowing through these 250 learned pages? One cynical reaction, perhaps justified in light of the way in which the papacy has been exercised in recent years within the Catholic Church (especially with respect to women and theologians), may be: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! On the other hand, Christian hope compels one to envisage a brighter future for the papacy if it is to have a transformative role in the daily life of the average Catholic, let alone Orthodox. Perhaps, the most important thing about the papacy today is that a great majority of Christians would very probably have no objection to its existence. What matters is how it is exercised, that is, how its power is handled. Sadly, in this respect, there is still a long way to go to make the papacy relevant for all Christians. It would have been helpful if the volume under review had given more consideration to this central aspect of the papacy.