The twenty-one essays in this work were originally prepared for presentation at the 2003 and 2004 Farfa conferences held by the International Bridgettine Centre in Farfa Sabina in the hope of furthering the realization of Christian unity. Bibliographic information has not been updated, as the essays reflect work associated with those conferences, yet the information is valuable for those not familiar with the subject or its many related topics. While not the final word from the Centre, the Centre hopes that the essays included in the book will serve as an “appetizer” and backdrop for a final, forthcoming statement from the Farfa group. The twenty authors whose papers are published in this book generally reflect in their papers the longing of many people for ecclesial communion but they do so with an astute awareness of the issues still dividing the Christian communities. The theologians, canonists, ecumenists, sociologists, and biblical scholars who author these essays come from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed traditions and they know only too well the issues they face, especially as it concerns the Roman Catholic teachings on papal primacy and papal infallibility.
The authors of the essays in this book raise and address many challenging issues when considering the possibility of a “Petrine ministry” as a unifying factor for what have been historically points of contention – papal primacy and papal infallibility - between Catholic and non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities. The questions they raise are fundamental ones that must be addressed with great care if there is to be any real progress and unity in the faith. Standard apologetics will not suffice as these authors well know when they ask questions akin to these: What does papal primacy exactly mean, theologically and practically? And, allowing for a moment a certain imprecision of terminology before Vatican I, what has it meant historically, that is, in the Tradition itself, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican especially but certainly now a matter of interest to traditions specifically born from the reformation? Has the papacy enjoyed a divine right of primacy “from above” in the Tradition or has this office developed from historical necessity and influence? Or is it both?
The authors have a number of epistemological and hermeneutical questions naturally following from these which also challenge certain traditional arguments and strike at the heart of many theological controversies. For example, do the historical facts support the case for Rome and either a primacy from above or below and must they form a claim to be received as such? Indeed, what are the sources of such authorities? Are the claims scripturally sound and/or are they based on Tradition (or traditions) or both, and how can the various Christian denominations support teachings that come from an authority or sources and interpretations they call into question? Relatedly, and somewhat hopefully, a few ask what modern biblical scholarship has to say on the matter. What are some sound interpretive principles that could help move Catholics and non-Catholics beyond the impasse of yesteryear in a collegial effort at “re-reception” of the Vatican I dogmas on papal primacy and papal infallibility?
There are also questions relative to the Vatican II teachings on the rights and responsibilities of the episcopacy, e.g., the council’s teachings on collegiality, as well as traditional teachings on the sensus fidelium. What might these teachings offer in terms of an understanding and reception of the dogmas of primacy and infallibility?
By asking questions akin to these, the authors are asking how non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities might accept a Petrine Ministry and see their way clear to a unity with the Roman Catholic Church. They are asking what teachings relative to a Petrine Ministry if any would have to be updated or re-interpreted for a new day; that is, what new forms, theologically and practically speaking, could the teachings take in terms of the actual exercise of papal primacy and infallibility for non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities to “receive” the teachings? This is especially challenging in a diverse ecclesial context that must attend to both the universal and local realities of each tradition and the ontological and historical priorities (e.g., universal or local) assumed by the different traditions. How to do so without compromising the defined dogmas of papal primacy and infallibility the Roman Catholic Church believes faithfully interpret and serve divine revelation is an overarching question.
These then are some of the many questions and concerns raised by these scholars who by no means whitewash the task at hand but who nevertheless offer food for thought based on the fruits of their own work on behalf of ecumenism. Far from being staunch antagonists, some of the non-Catholic essayists esteem papal primacy in principle and only question the actual practice of it. Many of the Catholic and non-Catholic essayists see the value of a Petrine ministry as a service to Christian unity and to ultimately a Church whose essential being they believe is not monarchical but communion. Hence, they have an appreciation for the reinterpretation of dogmatic teachings, for the exploration of new forms for defined teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and the roadblocks to be expected. For quite a few of the essayists, a communion ecclesiology that respects the work of councils, synods and shared ministry represents well the apostolic tradition. It also more closely aligns with the traditions of many of the non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities. Consequently, many believe it offers a better framework around which Christians can discuss “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,” whose indefectibility is generally agreed upon by the mainstream Christian denominations as the divine guarantee of the Church’s apostolic origins and the promise and gift of God’s presence in the Church until the Church comes to the end of her journey. As for the Church’s infallibility, judgments varied with respect to the principle of it; for example, what the grounds for it are, whether it is of primary or secondary import, and to what Church it refers, an especially vexing problem given the varying definitions for “Church” in the Christian traditions. Judgments varied also with respect to the form and sign through which and in which the Church manifests its teaching and moral authority under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; for example, papal infallibility versus the status confessionis in the Lutheran tradition.
Overall, this is a great source for anyone thinking about the meaning of Church, the Christian faith as a sign of unity, and the value of dialogue as a means to that unity. It reflects honest responses to Pope John Paul II’s challenge to Christians of all denominations to “engage with [him] in a patient and fraternal dialogue” as he expressed so ardently in his 1995 encyclical Ut unum sint. Toward that end, it would serve as a great supplemental text in a course on Ecclesiology, especially if ecumenism is given the attention it deserves. It would also serve as appropriate preparatory reading for the forthcoming final statement from the Farfa group whose members have continued to work faithfully on questions relative to papal primacy, jurisdiction and infallibility since the close of the 2004 Farfa conference. Every one of the twenty-one essays in the book offers rich material upon which to reflect. Presented under one of four sections in the book, Scripture and Patristics (three essays), Post-Reformation Development (four essays), Systematics (five essays) or Ecumenics (nine essays), they follow a brief preface by the editor and an introduction by one of the essayists.