Patriarchal News

Annuario PontificoThere was another crumb tossed our way today about the decision to drop the title "Patriarch of the West" from the Annuario Pontificio.  (My emohasis added)

Cathedral of the Patriarchal Basilica St. John LateranCLARIFICATION ON PAPAL TITLE OF "PATRIARCH OF THE WEST"


VATICAN CITY, MAR 22, 2006 (VIS) – In the wake of media comments concerning one of the Pope’s titles – that of "Patriarch of the West" – which did not appear among the list of papal titles at the beginning of this year’s edition of the "Annuario Pontificio" (pontifical yearbook), the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has issued a communique clarifying the reasons for the omission.


  "From a historical perspective," the communique reads, "the ancient Patriarchates of the East, defined by the Councils of Constantinople (381) and of Chalcedon (451), covered a fairly clearly demarcated territory. At the same time, the territory of the see of the Bishop of Rome remained somewhat vague. In the East, under the ecclesiastical imperial system of Justinian (527-565), alongside the four Eastern Patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), the Pope was included as the Patriarch of the West. Rome, on the other hand, favored the idea of the three Petrine episcopal sees: Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Without using the title ‘Patriarch of the West,’ the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870), the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Florence (1439), listed the Pope as the first of the then five Patriarchs.


  "The title ‘Patriarch of the West’ was adopted in the year 642 by Pope Theodore. Thereafter it appeared only occasionally and did not have a clear meaning. It flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the context of a general increase in the Pope’s titles, and appeared for the first time in the ‘Annuario Pontificio’ in 1863."


  The term ‘West’ currently refers to a cultural context not limited only to Western Europe but including North America, Australia and New Zealand, thus differentiating itself from other cultural contexts, says the communique. "If we wished to give the term ‘West’ a meaning applicable to ecclesiastical juridical language, it could be understood only in reference to the Latin Church." In this way, the title "Patriarch of the West," would describe the Bishop of Rome’s special relationship with the Latin Church, and his special jurisdiction over her.


  "The title ‘Patriarch of the West,’ never very clear, over history has become obsolete and practically unusable. It seems pointless, then, to insist on maintaining it. Even more so now that the Catholic Church, with Vatican Council II, has found, in the form of episcopal conferences and their international meetings, the canonical structure best suited to the needs of the Latin Church today."


  The communique concludes: "Abandoning the title of ‘Patriarch of the West’ clearly does not alter in any way the recognition of the ancient patriarchal Churches, so solemnly declared by Vatican Council II. … The renouncement of this title aims to express a historical and theological reality, and at the same time, … could prove useful to ecumenical dialogue."

Okay, everyone, I am now waiting for the day when they take the title "Patriarchal" away from the Lateran Basilica, the Pope’s Cathedral as Bishop of Roma and, once upon a time, Patriarch of the West.


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  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    I just really don’t understand why, if “Patriarch of the West” was troubling, it wasn’t simply altered to “Patriarch of Rome” – since all of the other patriarchs are referenced by their see. The question also arisies, if the pope is not a patriarch, by what authority does he appoint bishops to Latin sees? If he does so out of his Petrine authority, why does he not do so with Eastern sees within their proper patriarchal territory? I just have a gnawing sense that there’s more to this than we’re yet aware – it seems like too momentous of a decision to cast off a title used for over 14 centuries. The fact that this communication came from the PCCU, rather than from the papal household, or the Secretariat of State, or the CDF, is significant, I think. What the significance is, I can only speculate, but I am mightily curious.

  2. Robert Thornton says:

    Why wasn’t the title changed to “Patriarch of Rome?” I would suppose that because, conventionally, the only papal title placed before “of Rome” is “Bishop”: Bishop of Rome. Thus we have “Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province,” whereas other metropolitan archbishops are styled differently; for example, “Archbishop of Boston and Metropolitan of the Province of Boston.” There is certainly no doctrinal reason why this must be so. I think it’s because the title “Bishop of Rome” achieved its very great prestige long before the terms “archbishop” and “metropolitan” came into use.

    It is indeed the Pope’s Petrine authority which enables him to elect or confirm or even depose bishops in the Latin Church, and the same authority enables him to do so in the Eastern Churches should it seem good for him to do so. As it is, he only confirms.

  3. Robert Thornton says:

    The suppression of the use of the title of patriarch does not necessarily imply that the pope is not one. To make an analogy, since Camilla is in English law the wife of the Prince of Wales, she is in fact the Princess of Wales, although she refrains from making use of that title and uses instead the title of Duchess of Cornwall. A moderately close examination of the communications from Clarence House and Buckingham Palace regarding here titles will make this clear.

  4. Tim Ferguson says:

    I agree that the Pope’s Petrine authority gives him supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power (CIC, c. 331, CCEO, c. 43), yet distinctions can be made in the authority with which he acts – e.g., he’s not using his full, universal power when he names a pastor of a Church in Rome, though he certainly could do so, he’s using his authority as bishop of Rome to do so. Similarly, it seems that, as the Eastern Patriarchs moderate the election of bishops within their patriarchal territory by virtue of their patriarchal authority, the Roman Pontiff would handle the election of bishops within his patriarchal territory by virtue of his patriarchal authority. It may seem like splitting hairs, but words mean things, and I’m still not convinced (with all due deference to the Pope – and I mean that seriously) that dropping this title was a good thing.

  5. Seamas O Dalaigh says:


    The reasoning is sound. But for all that, still somehow
    dissapointing. Ah, well…

    James Daly

  6. raa says:

    As there was only one early patriarchate in the western part of the Roman empire, patriarch of Rome and of the west are basically synonymous.( Patriarchates in Aquileia, Lisbon and Venice come later) Patriarchates of the apostolic church are territorial and have nothing to do with rite.The patriarch or pope of Rome always had faithful of the Byzantine rite in his territory( Sicily, Calabria). Greece was also for a time in the west Roman patriarchate( not in New Rome or Constantinople). Places like Ireland and Scotland were not in the west Roman patriarchate because they were not in the Roman empire. Roman chistianity eventually moves into these places because it was geographically neighbouring.

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