Four Major Basilicas of Rome no longer called “Patriarchal”

I attended the press conference today about the excavations of the tomb of St. Paul in the Basilica St. Paul’s outside the walls.

The presser was interesting, but there was nothing really earth shattering about the excavation.

What was interesting was the announcement on the part of His Eminence Card. Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest of the Basilica, that the four Major Roman Basilicas will no longer be called "Patriarchal" but rather "Papal".

Remember that Pope Benedict dropped his title "Patriarch of the West". This had an ecumenical twist to it and the decision caused a lot of controversy. Read here and here.

I think the newest move also has ecumenical meaning. This Pope is not doing things at random. He has thought a lot and is now taking careful steps.

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21 Responses to Four Major Basilicas of Rome no longer called “Patriarchal”

  1. Geoffrey says:

    Thank you for this breaking news! I wonder if the Eastern Orthodox will be as upset with this as they were with the dropping of the title “Patriarch of the West”?

  2. At first, I thought of a non-ecumenical explanation – namely, that all things “patriarchal” are politically quite incorrect. However, I suppose “papal” is just as bad.

  3. Matthew says:

    My thoughts are that perhaps Benedict is seeking to elevate the papacy – making it clear that it stands above the partriarchal titles. I know there has been some conjecture for years about dividing the Western Church into patriarchates as exist in the East. This would mean that the pope is the overseer of ALL the patriarchates, not one patriarch among many.

  4. Geoffrey says:

    At first, I was saddened by the loss of the title “Patriarch of the West,” but it does makes sense. I agree with Matthew. The Holy Father seems to be making it clear that the Pope is the visible head of the whole Church, not just the west.

  5. Geoffrey: That is what the Pope said to Bartholomew: Peter was in Rome so he could preside over the universal Church and Andrew guided the Church of the Greeks. Still, remember that these “patriarchal” basilicas were for Catholic patriarchs, not Orthodox. I wonder if be deemphasizing the Catholic patriarchal dimension, the Holy Father is reaching out to the Patriarchs of the Orthodox. I don’t know yet.

  6. Geoffrey says:

    Father: Do you happen to know anything about the rumor that Patriarch Bartholomew suggested that both he
    and the Holy Father take part in the next meeting of the Catholic/Orthodox theological commission?

  7. Jeff says:

    “I wonder if be deemphasizing the Catholic patriarchal dimension, the Holy Father is reaching out to the Patriarchs of the Orthodox. I don’t know yet.”

    I don’t understand this and I don’t understand the Pope’s “careful thinking.”

    At least, I can understand the “careful thinking” only in a sort of “anti-ecumenical” sense: “I’m your Pope, too; get used to it!”

    Because in terms of traditional “dialogue” ecumenism, this just doesn’t seem to play. The Orthodox had a universally and strongly negative reactin to the dropping of the Patriarchal title and all of the Greek Catholics I know had reactions ranging from strongly negative to puzzled. The actions just don’t seem to “speak” to their intended audience, if that’s who they are for.

    If it’s not an “I am Peter: hear me roar!” kind of ecumenical Tough Love, I think the Pope ought to be more forthcoming about his way of looking at things. He just doesn’t seem to be making himself understood. I at least don’t get it. I’m perfectly willing to concede that everybody may be out of step except Petie, but I still don’t GET IT.

  8. dcs says:

    In calling these four basilicas “Papal” rather than “Patriarchal,” doesn’t that break their association with the Pentarchy? (St. Lawrence Outside the Walls also is, or was, a patriarchal basilica.)

  9. Jeff: “but I still don’t GET IT.”

    That’s okay, you know. It is perfectly okay that you, or I, or anyone else out here, doesn’t “get” what the Vicar of Christ, the Sovereign Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter is thinking and doing. What matters is that those whom he is addressing “get it”. Anecdote: I used to say Mass every day at the Basilica of St. Peter, early in the morning. We would go to the small side altars or into the crypt. Early visitors and tourists will sometimes see you are going to say Mass and follow you to the altar or simply stop on their way by to participate. My normal routine was to say Mass in Latin, with readings in Latin if there were no people participating or, after asking before Mass where people were from, in vernacular languages if I had the appropriate texts there. I would also use a low voice, so as not to disturb other priests saying Mass, and only use a stronger voice when responses were called for. One day, after Mass, a supremely irritated American tourist who had come after the beginning and who received Holy Communion, angrily rebuked me saying, “I couldn’t hear what you were saying except at the end!!” “Ma’am”, quoth I, “We mustn’t interfere with these other priests saying Mass. Also, most of the time I wasn’t talking to you.”

    The point? The Holy Father isn’t always talking to us.

  10. flabellum says:

    Has there been a change of title for the Patriarchal Basilica of St Francis of Assisi and the
    Patriarchal Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Portiuncola?

  11. flabellum says:

    Does this also mean that the traditional patriarchal assignment of the four major basilicas, (and of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem) has been dropped?

  12. Jeff says:

    Very funny anecdote, Father! :p

    Sure, I quite see that the Holy Father needn’t always be talking to us. And we should have an attitude of trust about what he does…especially with a Pope who is as marvellous as this one!

    Still, I somehow get the impression that the “message” here is getting across to no one at all. I haven’t met anyone who claims to understand what the Pope is doing with this or can give a coherent explanation of it.

    And, as with the traditional liturgy or other traditions in the Church, our patrimony is at issue. Traditional titles like “Patriarch of the West” are not of course equal in importance to liturgical matters. But they are part of the heritage of the Church, not simply personal or official perquisites. One would hope that the Holy Father would WANT us to understand why he would abolish something like that. And there was an official explanation issued seemingly with that in mind. The problem was that though it was addressed “to us”, it didn’t seem to explain much.

    And no one seems to be able to “read between the lines” and come up with anything very coherent. That’s life, I guess!

  13. Jeff: I am all for defending traditions. At the same time, I think there are some ways in which traditions can be triaged according to the needs of the times.

  14. Joseph says:

    “I think there are some ways in which traditions can be triaged according to the needs of the times”

    Can you explain this father?

  15. I would rather that the Pope changed the title to “Patriarch of the Latins” rather than just dropping the title altogether.

  16. Sidney says:

    I prefer “Universal Patriarch” :-)

  17. Jordan Potter says:

    “Does this also mean that the traditional patriarchal assignment of the four major basilicas, (and of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem) has been dropped?”

    I don’t know about St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, but as I understand it, the four patriarchal basilicas used to be assigned to four Latin Patriarchs (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria), but I think it has been 40 years since we’ve had any Latin Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, or Alexandria, and now that the Pope has dropped the title of “Patriarch of the West,” there is no longer a Patriarch of Rome. Consequently those four basilicas need no longer be called “patriarchal.” Perhaps in dropping the “patriarchal” designations of those churches, the Pope is signaling that we aren’t going to turn around and impose any Latin Patriarchs on the ancient churches of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria. It could be a signal to the Eastern Orthodox that the Church is irrevocably set on healing the Eastern Schism, without intruding any Latin prelates into territories that historically and canonically have been non-Latin. (We still have the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, of course, but Jerusalem is a unique location anyway, since it is claimed as a holy site by all Christians as well as by Jews and Muslims.)

    Just speculating . . . .

  18. Joshua says:

    As I understood it they were never “4 Latin Patriarchs”. What would that even mean? The Patriarch of Constantinople was assigned St. Peter. This was simply the Greek Patriarch…what other is there? Grant it a Greek Catholic Patriarch whilst the Orthodox remain in schism, but not Latin. Same with the others

    Perhaps that is why the titles are dropped. We have decided to let there just be one patriarch in those cities for ecumenical reasons. Of course seeing as the Patriarchates were Eastern anyways, we could just leave the Bascilicas alone until the East reunites at which time the Greek Patriarchate would be filled again for the Catholic Church and so on with the rest

  19. Jordan Potter says:

    “The Patriarch of Constantinople was assigned St. Peter. This was simply the Greek Patriarch…what other is there? Grant it a Greek Catholic Patriarch whilst the Orthodox remain in schism, but not Latin. Same with the others”

    No, there used to be a Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. Don’t forget what happened during the so-called Fourth Crusade.

    Interestingly enough, if I’m not mistaken, we have at least two Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch, one Maronite and the other Melkite (are there more than that?). As I understand it, there used to be a Latin Patriarch of Antioch too, besides the others.

  20. flabellum says:

    The Melkite Patriarch is ‘Patriarch of Antioch, Jerusalem and all the East’.

    So far as I kinow the only current Latin bishops styled Patriarch are the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Patriarchs of Venice and Lisbon.

  21. Gordo says:

    I think Jordan has hit the nail on the proverbial head with his analysis of the change to the basilica titles. It was not a rationale I had heard before. Well done!

    As a Greek-Catholic, I had grave concerns about what signal the Holy Father might inadvertently be sending by dropping the patriarchal title (and still do). I have no doubt whatsoever of the ecumenical good will and theological intelligence of the Pope, but I do worry about how it will be (and has been) received by the other Orthodox hierarchs. “Patriarch of the West” has great symbolic value, as much as “Patriarch of Constantinople”. One could argue that Constantinople no longer exists, so should the Patriarch now change his title to “Patriarch of Istanbul”? Hardly! The value in retaining both titles in the very least would be as a symbol of the unity of the 1st millennium and the latent hope for its restoration.

    If the Pope was committed to dropping titles, “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church” would be my first choice due to its potential misinterpretation as an example of papo-caesarism, not to mention Pope Gregory the Great’s refusal to accept the title of “universal pope”. I understand and appreciate its etymological roots ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Pontiff ). The Church of Rome, standing on the twin pillars of Sts. Peter and Paul and inseperable from its episcopal head, is the matrix of Christian unity – the unity of the churches in the one Church of Christ. The Pope of Rome’s ministry is to “build bridges” of unity and as the head of the college of bishops, to speak (even infallibly) in the name of the Church on specific occasions. But “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church” still smacks of ecclesistical monarchism IMHO.

    God bless,

    Gordo