Is the Pope no longer Patriarch of the West?

Pope John Paul II and Bartholomew IAn article by Luigi Accattoli in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reports a change in the Holy See’s official year book for 2006 the Annuario Pontificio.  Among the various titles attributed to the Pope, one has been dropped: Patriarch of the West.  It would have been a decision of this Pope to allow the publication of the Annuario without that title.

In the Annuario we would read for the Pope’s titles by his photo:

Bishop of Rome
Vicar of Jesus Christ
Successor of the Prince of the Apostles
Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church
(Patriarch of the West)
Primate of Italy
Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Province of Rome
Sovereign of the Vatican City State
Servant of the Servants of God

People I am talking with are divided about what this means.  Some think that there was not much of a theological basis for the title Patriarch of the West.  Others think that it is simply strange to drop a title which the Pope had for so long and was not really doing much harm.  Still others, who are more ecumenically attuned are alarmed by the change.  Dropping this title might have negative impact on relations with the Orthodox and even Eastern Catholics.  Here is why.

First, the Eastern Christian world is very attached, to say the least, to the title "Patriarch".  For the Pope to drop an ancient title, however he came by it, sends a bad signal.   Futhermore, the title "Patriarch of the WEST" in a sense delimited the scope of the patriarchal claims of the Bishop of Rome.  Dropping this title suggests that it is now desirable to underscore that the Pope of Rome is the "universal patriarch", without any ecclesial-geographical
 limits.  

The title "Patriarch of the West" was probably first attributed to Pope St. Leo I "the Great" (+461) in a letter of 450 from the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II.

There were five great patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and, later, Jerusalem.  Each of these had a corresponding Patriarchal Basilica in Rome (just as Cardinals had their Minor Basilicas as Roman clergy for the orders of deacons and priests, cardinal bishops having Roman dioceses).  There Cathdra of the Patriarchal Basilica St. John Lateranare five patriarchal Basilicas in Rome, four major and one minor.  St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, was associated with the "Patriarch of the West".  St. Peter’s in the Vatican was assigned to Constantinople, St. Paul’s outside the walls to Alexandria, St. Mary "Major" to Antioch and the Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence outside the walls to the last (chronologically) of the patriarchates, Jerusalem.  So, the Patriarch of each of those sees had a basilica in Rome.  

I wonder if now the Major Patriarchal Basilica of St. John Lateran will now be stripped of the title.   Or, does this mean pretty much nothing?  The Pope remains Patriarch of the West, but it has been decided not to talk about the fact anymore?  Was the title, given by Theodosius, simply a political issues without theological importance?  Stay tuned!  This is not the last we have heard of this issue, to be sure.

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7 Responses to Is the Pope no longer Patriarch of the West?

  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    Is the article from Corriere online? I wasn’t able to find it. If indeed this is the case, and the title has been authoritatively dropped, this would have tremendous effects on both ecumenism and ecclesiology (and canon law). Many canonists, after the publication of the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (the Oriental Code) have attempted to determine what powers of the Pope derive from his papal authority and what comes from his patriarchal authority.

    In light of the fact that the pope appoints (most) bishops in the West, and assents to the appointment or election of bishops in the territory of the Eastern patriarchs, it’s been said that the appointment of bishops of the Latin Church sui iuris is an exercise, not of his papal authority, but of his patriarchal authority. Wow. This could be big. The one I’d be most anxious to hear thoughts about this on would be Robert Taft, a Jesuit and Ukrainian Archimandrite, who teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. He’s a fine canonist and liturgist with some very expansive ideas about patriarchal authority.

  2. I read the article in the hard copy and did not seek for it online. I suppose I could shoot a photo of the page. Surely some other news agency will pick this up.

  3. Az says:

    I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem will be the next to go, perhaps on the retirement of Mgr Sabah. The other Latin patriarchates, Constantinope, Alexandria and Antioch were suppressed by pope Montini in 1964.

  4. Tim Ferguson says:

    I’d be surprised if the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is let go, it has an important role to play in the maintenance of the Christian communities in the Holy Land. I’ll be scrutinizing my copy of the Annuario when it arrives to see if the Patriarchates of the East and West Indies are officially scrapped, or if they’re still listed as “vacant”.

  5. Not really a different take, no. I made the point above: “Futhermore, the title “Patriarch of the WEST” in a sense delimited the scope of the patriarchal claims of the Bishop of Rome. Dropping this title suggests that it is now desirable to underscore that the Pope of Rome is the “universal patriarch”, without any ecclesial-geographical
    limits.”