The authority of the Chair of Peter* is one of the main issues that divides the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church.
After careful consideration, I've come to the conclusion that both Churches are flawed in their understanding of this issue. I have come to
this conclusion after considering the way in which Peter exercised his authority as recorded in scripture and how his successors
exercised their authority in the early Church, when the Eastern and Western Churches were in union.
I believe that God always intended for the Church to have a strong leader in the persons of the Apostle Peter and his successors. One of
the main reasons for this is the need to establish a unified and independent Church within this world, a world where secular power
dominates and can overwhelm and undermine the influence of the Church. That the Church of Rome is international in scope and has
independence from secular authority is a testament to it's successful achievement of this goal. I also believe, though, that the Bishop of
Rome is still vulnerable to human corruptions, most notably the abuse of power in regards to teaching and jurisdictional authority.
In my view, the Chair of Peter has the right to limited universal jurisdictional authority. This view lays between the Roman Church's belief
that the Universal Patriarch has the right of absolute universal juridical authority and the Orthodox view that he has none. I feel this limited
universal juridical authority is what existed in the early Church in the practice of allowing the Pope the right of approval in regards to
Church teachings and allowing to others in the Church the right of appeal to the Pope. The problem is that these practices have been
abused and transformed by Rome into the concept of absolute universal juridical authority.
My view still allows the Pope full teaching authority. He has the right to review the teachings of the other bishops of the Church,
determining whether their teachings are within the parameters of accepted Church teachings. However, he does not have the right to
unilaterally impose his judgments. He must seek a consensus among the bishops of the Church to support his position. This is
actually true for any bishop of the Church, but the difference is any proper consensus must include the Pope. This then effectively gives
the Pope veto power over any consensus of opinion with which he does not agree.
In reviewing the teachings of other bishops, the criteria of judgment that a pope must use is not one of exact agreement with the Chair of
Peter, but instead, should be determined by the parameters as defined by common agreement of the whole Church. The teachings of
the Church through the first seven Ecumenical Councils is a proper basis for criteria of judgment, since, as of now, they are the only truly
ecumenical councils, including the East and the West. They should be approached as a source of essential guidelines of the Faith, with
an emphasis on spirit of intent. As long as the teachings of a bishop, or synod of bishops, fall within the parameters as set by these
teachings, they should have the right to accept to or dissent from the teachings of the Chair of Peter. The goal in time though, is still a
completely unified view.
An example of this approach to the authority of Peter is depicted in Scripture in the manner by which God led the first pope, Peter, to the
realization of how He intended to use the Church to bring salvation to the Gentiles, and how this eventually became the doctrine of the
whole Church. God first revealed His intentions to Paul. According to the Acts, it seems that this must have then been brought to the
attention of Peter and the other Apostles when Paul first visited Jerusalem after his conversion. After a period of consideration and
prayer, God's intent became clear to Peter, and he was soon baptizing Cornelius, a gentile. God planted the seed into Peter's mind
through Paul, and the seed blossomed into a revelation. This then became the doctrine of at least Peter and Paul. However, it is clear
that their view did not immediately become completely accepted by the whole Church, as the issue of requiring the circumcision of
converts arose, and it became necessary to hold a Council of Elders in Jerusalem to decide the issue. It was there that Peter and Paul's
understanding of the issue finally became accepted as the doctrine of the whole Church. Here is a good example of what I mean when I
claim that Peter must seek a consensus among the bishops before his teachings be declared those of the whole Church.
The reasons for this need for a degree of freedom for assent and dissent are the authority given by God to each Apostle of the Church,
and, the right of freedom of choice and conscious that is given by God to all beings. This right of choice does not imply that all choices
are equally good, nor does it abrogate one's responsibility to make the right choice. In fact, it compels people to take responsibility for
their choices. This right and responsibility does not disappear when one becomes a member, or a priest or a bishop of the Church.
Without a doubt there are fundamental teachings that must be accepted in order for one to claim to have an intimate knowledge of and
relationship with God and to be a teacher of the True Faith. One must freely choose and sincerely accept these teachings in order to
claim to be a faithful member of the True Church. However, these teachings must be clearly differentiated from those teachings which,
while very possibly being exactly correct and beneficial to the good of the Church and the brethren, are not essential to the purpose of
maintaining God's grace. These might well be teachings that when understood and accepted will expand one's perception of God, but
one must have patience and faith that the Spirit will eventually lead all to the correct conclusions in these matters. This approach also
applies to the exercising of the authority of particular bishop's synods and to bishops themselves. Every effort should be made to allow
as much freedom of conscience as possible while maintaining the integrity of the essential teachings of the Church.
In the same vein of discerning our Lord's desires, I'd like to now comment on the nature of Church infallibility. The concept of infallibility is
based upon the belief that God guides the Church and will not allow it to deviate in a serious way from His essential teachings, and this
is true. In my view, though, neither the Orthodox nor the Catholic Church have deviated in an extremely serious way from His teaching.
However, they don't teach exactly the same thing on some matters, and, in my view, each has deviated in a less serious way on some
matters. Of course, neither Church believes that they themselves have deviated in any way from any truths. I think that both Churches
have conveniently ignored Paul's statement in Corinthians about how, in looking at God and His truth, we now see only partially, like
seeing a distorted reflection in a mirror, and it is only when we see God face to face that we will see in a complete way. I do believe that
our sight is meant to become more clear with our growth as a people and as a Church, but it can only become more clear if we
acknowledge a need for it to become more clear. We must realize that infallibility means that God assures to us that we will gain an exact
knowledge of what we need to know exactly when we need to know it exactly, and in all other instances He will give us sufficient
knowledge. This view then allows on some issues for there to be a range of possible teachings, without compromising the authority of
the Church. While this approach might mean that some might slightly deviate from what God intends on some issues, true faith requires
us to have confidence that the Spirit will eventually guide them back to the more correct understanding. The benefits of this approach are
that it can open up new avenues to a clearer sight of God and it encourages the development of each individual's direct relationship with
One of the weaknesses of the Roman Church's approach to authority is that it's emphasis on unquestionably accepting every utterance of
Rome on every issue undermines God's attempt to develop each individual's capacity to understand and embrace the spirit of God's law,
as opposed to just the letter. To embrace the spirit of the law one must learn to be open to the Holy Spirit, and to do this one must
recognize that the authority of the Holy Spirit takes precedence over that of the earthly Church, since the Church, even though it has
excellent sight on most issues, does not yet have perfect sight on every issue. The leaders of the Church sometimes seem to believe
that only they can first come to know a truth, as if God only speaks to them, when in fact He may well be trying to speak to them through
others. The Church can also act like an overbearing parent who, while well intentioned, insists upon controlling and micromanaging
every aspect of their children's lives and thought, ultimately undermining what should be their goal, which is to guide their children to an
understanding of how to make good decisions on their own. This ability is the empowerment that God seeks to give to all, an
empowerment rooted in unity with the Holy Spirit.
When the Church overstates it's claim to infallibility it inevitably weakens it's credibility, and thus it's capacity to do the job that God
commissions it to do. This job is to reveal to people what is essential to their growth in their awareness of God. An overbearing Church
also undermines God's goal of leading people to understand that they have the capacity, and are required to develop this capacity, to
come to understand God's ways to such a degree that their faith is confirmed through their experiencing of God's Holy Spirit. This growth
in knowing the Spirit will then also ultimately confirm faith in His Church. The Roman Church's concept of a Church and a pope that
demands assent to every detail of their supposedly perfect teachings reveals a lack of faith that the Holy Spirit is working to enlighten all
people and not just them. True faith means having faith that the Spirit will confirm to individuals the truth of what the Church teaches, and
thus on some issues the Church should have humility and patience.
On the other hand, the Orthodox Church, in my mind, underestimates the validity and value of the Roman Church's teachings. The Holy
Spirit does call on us to work together as human beings in this world to help awaken this world to God. To deny that the Roman Catholic
Church has done much to achieve this goal is to deny the truth.
The views expressed thus far still allow for a form of papal infallibility, one that acknowledges that the person who sits in the Chair of
Peter has a unique duty to guide the Church in it's mission on earth and will be assisted in an extraordinary way by God in performing this
duty. This infallibility must be seen, though, in a similar light to that of Church infallibility in general, and that is, as a promise not of an
immediate and perfect understanding of every issue, but of a sufficient understanding to achieve God's purposes. As presented here,
this also means that general Church infallibility is stronger than papal infallibility, because papal infallibility is dependent upon Church
In order to exercise his authority properly, a pope, and this also applies to all with authority within the Church, is required to be willing to at
least listen to what the other apostles, members of the Church, and people in general have to say. He does not necessarily have to
accept what they say, for the final decisions, in the appropriate matters, are his, but he must be willing to listen, especially to those to
whom God has given status within the Church. The danger of the notion that papal infallibility has no dependence whatsoever upon
church counsel is that it can isolate a pope to his own counsel, thinking that it's God's. Nobody, not even a pope, should presume that
God speaks only to and through them. This can make it difficult for God to give counsel to a pope in the manner which He'd prefer when
He prefers to speak to him through others. God has consistently shown us that at times He prefers to speak to us through other people,
as well as directly to us. An example of this within the Church, cited earlier, is the manner by which God led the first pope, Peter, to the
realization that He intended to use the Church to bring salvation to the Gentiles. God first revealed His intentions to Paul, and it was then
presented to Peter. After consideration and prayer, God's intent became clear to Peter. God planted the seed in Peter's mind through
Paul, and the seed became a revelation. It was still Peter's task to decide on and work on implementing the new teaching by first trying to
convince the other Apostles of the truth of the new teaching, but God led him to this truth through Paul.
That this is how God would lead Peter to correct decisions is foreshadowed in the Gospel. Peter is constantly showing His lack of ability
to think in the wider terms of God, and Jesus repeatedly reprimands him for this. Here Jesus is teaching Peter the humility to open His
mind to possibilities that he himself doesn't easily see. To me, Peter simply reflects how we as human beings tend to be, and so we
need to use every means available to us to grow in our understanding of God's truth. It is too big for any one of us, including a pope, to
embrace on our own.
The right of appeal to the Pope is another issue that, when approached properly can greatly benefit the Church, preserving unity and
cooperation, but when abused, can truly undermine God's intentions. Improperly interpreting this role leads straight to the concept of
absolute juridical authority, and this is what seems to have happened with Rome. In order to not abuse it, a pope must understand his
role as one of arbitrator, seeking to make judgments that are consistent with the already agreed upon parameters as set by common
agreement of the whole Church, similar to the role that the U.S. Supreme Court plays in preserving the integrity of the U.S. Constitution.
The problem is, when abused, this authority can easily become a tool to promote a pope's, or Rome's, own interests, at the expense of
the legitimate interests of others in the Church, and the interests of God Himself. Since Rome has shown that it can't be trusted to use
this privilege properly, it might be best that this authority be given over to a council of elders, chosen by the various regional synods.
In regards to ordinal authority, it is clear in the Gospel that when a replacement is chosen for Jesus' betrayer, all of the remaining eleven
were in on the decision. While I doubt that they would have decided upon someone who didn't meet with Peter's approval, this does
indicate that Peter did not presume to make this decision while disregarding the others. It seems Rome's practice of giving the pope
complete authority here is simply another method devised by Rome in order to maintain an inordinate degree of control over the Church.
While it is understandable why the Catholic Church would want to guard against the possibility of disunity resulting from conflicts in this
area, it should also be concerned with the possibility that a pope and the See of Rome, with it's appointments to positions within the
Church, might attempt to shape the future of the Church according to their own vision of the future, when this vision doesn't quite match
God's. One of the greatest weaknesses of mortal men is the tendency to presume that they see the future clearly. I think that many times
God chooses a pope to be pope for his time, and not to be pope after his time. While in the end God will always have His way, there are
better or worse roads to that end, and it is up to the Church to use all it's resources to find the best road.
The present method of Rome in choosing bishops also shows a lack of trust in those to whom God has granted apostolic office, again
implying that the Holy Spirit will not guide them in their choices. The fact is, they may very well be in a much better position to make the
best choices for these positions since they themselves are the ones working most intimately with the prospective candidates.
Those who are chosen as bishops have a responsibility not to undermine the legitimate authority of the Chair of St. Peter, and to
cooperate in good faith with other bishops. They must consider their role within the context of the whole Church, and not as independent
agents. They should also have a good faith intent toward the unity of the Church, not allowing personal ambition, or ego, or pride, to cloud
Presently the Orthodox Churches' view of the Papacy is that if the Roman Church were not erroneous in it's teaching on certain issues,
especially in regards to the filioque and Papal authority, the Pope would be considered to be a bishop who is what is termed "first among
equals". This is a primacy of honor, with no actual universal authority, and is presently afforded to the Patriarch of Constantinople. I feel
this view is not consistent with both scripture and the practices of the early Church. As mentioned earlier, Peter had a particular role at
the Council at Jerusalem as described in "Acts of the Apostles", and this, combined with our Lord's statements to Peter in the Gospels
pertaining to the authority He bestows upon Peter and the other Apostles reveals to me that the Lords intent was to give Peter and his
successors a certain degree of universal authority over the Church. For me this is confirmed by the history of the Church through it's first
700 or so years, and is also confirmed through proper reasoning, a reasoning that recognizes the value of having an effective leader to
guide the Church in this world. As I''ve addressed in other writings, it is my opinion that the Orthodox Church has a tendency to
undervalue both enlightened human reasoning and proper action within the world when defining the Church's role in God's plan of
salvation, and their rejection of any form of universal authority for the Bishop of Rome is an example of this limitation.
Using the definition of the Chair of Peter's authority just presented in examining the original split between the two Churches it can be
seen that the true cause was the West's insistence upon the filioque and it's belief that it had the authority to impose it universally. The
East had every right to question Rome's adoption of the filioque because it is a significant error, thus heretical, as is the concept of
absolute Papal authority.
To sum up my view on the overall authority of the Pope, as leader of the Church his basic functions are to provide guidance, approval,
arbitration, unity, and representation for the Church and it's teachings. The office should be as authoritative as possible without infringing
upon the rights and privileges granted by God to His other Bishops, and the rights granted to all human beings. This authority is
necessary in order for the Church to carry out it's mandate from God in the most effective manner possible and is especially important in
maintaining the Church's unity and independence from secular authority and corruptions. One of the grave sins of the Protestants was to
give unto Caesar what is God's when they deemed that secular authorities have authority over the church. Secular authorities are
preoccupied with the concerns of the physical world and almost always put these before the concerns of the spiritual world, leading to the
neglect of God. The Church of Christ must always put the spiritual before the physical, while not ignoring the fact that we live in the
physical world. And while it is true that in the past the Roman Church has handled this problem inappropriately, trying to maintain it's
independence by attempting to grab at what is Caesar's due, the Eastern Churches have sometimes ignored the political corruptions
and failures within their societies, allowing short term political and national interests to influence their attitudes and decisions, ultimately
diminishing their ability to fulfill God's commission to them, one that does include helping to precipitate the development of just and
productive societies. After all, Jesus did say that "man does not live on bread alone, but by every word of God", not, man does not live on
bread, but only by every word of God. He did not eliminate bread from the equation of life. While we may wish it were not so, God has
made us physically dependent upon bread and requires us to live in the physical world. We should not make the mistake of the Gnostics
in thinking that anything physical is ungodly. Again, this would diminish the importance of Christ in the Godhead, since it's been His role
to set an example for us as to how to live as a human being within the physical world.
One of the serious consequences that results from a lack of unity within the Church is it's vulnerability to the forces vying for power within
this world. As Jesus said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Satan knows this too, so while Jesus works for unity within His
Church, Satan works for division, trying to make it more vulnerable to his influence. Also, unity is important in protecting the Church and
the world from the influence of seriously flawed versions of Christian teachings, and, when based upon the right precepts, unity gives the
Church the strength to develop and guide people to a deeper and clearer understanding of God's will.
Both the Church and individuals need to learn to properly synthesis the spiritual and physical aspects of life. Though this world has been
deemed the realm of Satan, we as Christians should believe that Christ's death and resurrection have planted the seeds for God's victory
not only in Heaven but on Earth too. While this victory won't be completed until Jesus returns, we are called to use every blessing and tool
that God makes available to us to win the battles against evil which we are called to fight in this world right now. One of these battles is to
learn to use the gifts of material prosperity that we have available to us today without being corrupted away from our spiritual
development. We should realize that proper spiritual development will eventually lead to enhanced material prosperity, but that this will
be taken away from us if we are corrupted by it by making it, instead of God, the center of our lives. What's worse, this corruption can even
lead to the loss of one's soul. No one should ever believe, though, that God does not want His people to have all the material gifts that
are made possible through our work and growth in understanding of how this physical world works. The problem is that physical needs
and desires can draw people away from their spiritual development and their obligations to God, who is the one who makes all good
things, both spiritual and physical, possible. It is Satan's goal to try to make us believe that material prosperity is all important, and that
following his ways of deceit and corruption produce for us the most material wealth. To defeat him we are not called to pretend that we
don't have physical needs and desires, but to learn to fulfill these needs through following God's ways, which means always putting the
Spirit first. This is the real point of an ascetic lifestyle, to learn not to let one's physical needs and desires interfere with one's spiritual
growth, by keeping them in proper perspective. One must remember, though, that God created us as and intends for us to be both
spiritual and physical beings.
This need for a synthesis of the spiritual and physical reveals another reason why unity in the Church is important. In unity the Church
can be an effective tool for promoting God's just ways in all aspects of earthly life, and for guiding us and the world in the proper ways to
use the material gifts that He makes available to us. We as Christians must realize that we are called to reveal our spiritual growth to the
world through our physical actions within the world. This world is the stage which God gives to us so that we can demonstrate to the
world that we are truly following the One and only God of all creation. It is the Churches' duty to guide people in how best to fulfill the
responsibilities that accompany this opportunity. The Roman Church has become exemplary in this regards. One only has to read Pope
John Paul II's encyclical on human work or appreciate his tireless call for respect for human rights for all in the world to see how the Spirit
had guided him to an understanding of social justice as God desires it for this world.
In conclusion, Rome, must recognize it's error in adopting the filioque, and in doing so accept that it has overstepped it's authority. It can
do this without undermining the concept that the Orthodox Catholic Church as a whole, including East and West, is infallible, by
acknowledging that the Orthodox Churches have always been legitimate component of the Catholic Church, and that their objection to the
filioque reflects the proper mechanism by which the Church maintains correct teaching. The Orthodox Church on the other hand, must
come to admit that their lack of respect for the importance of enlightened human reason has led them to underestimate the value of a
unifying leading office such as the Papacy.
* The Chair of Saint Peter (or Universal Patriarchy) does not necessarily rest with the See of Rome. It rests with the highest authority in
the Church that follows correct doctrine.