Friday, September 5, 2014

Primacy in the Church from Vatican I to Vatican II (NIU Press)

Primacy in the Church from Vatican I to Vatican II is a book written by the Very Reverend Maximos Vgenopoulos, who is the Grand Archdeacon of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. In this book, the author examines the concept of papal primacy from an Orthodox perspective using the two most recent "ecumenical" councils as a guideline. Vatican I issued the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, which defined the doctrine and affirmed papal infallibility. Vatican II issued the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, which reaffirmed Vatican I and also reaffirmed the doctrine of collegiality of bishops.

The book spans four chapters, two on Vatican I and two on Vatican II. Two of the chapters go into great detail on each of the councils, including what led to the councils being called and key declarations on papal primacy. The heart of the book, however, is the other two chapters, which include Orthodox reactions to each council. To my great surprise, there was disagreement among the Orthodox reactions. Each chapter begins with several figures arguing against Catholicism and primacy and then concludes with several other figures, not necessarily arguing for primacy, but presenting a more balanced view. The arguments in this book basically boiled down to several Greek Orthodox people against primacy and several Russian Orthodox people against the Greek Orthodox arguments.

John Zizoulas is the name you will see repeatedly in this book, as he has a unique theology on primacy. He starts by saying that Catholics and Orthodox do not agree on the role of Peter in the New Testament, so using history as an argument for or against primacy is futile. For him, it is the principle of "the one and the many" that will prove to be the most fruitful for discussion and dialogue. He then compares the ordering of local churches to the Trinity, because even though the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal, there still exists a hierarchical order with the Father being the first. Zizoulas also agrees with Alexander Schmemann in the belief that primacy is necessary to "express and manifest the unity of the Church at the regional and universal levels."

As a convert to Roman Catholicism, it's easy to see why the doctrine of papal primacy has been a cause of disagreement and discord. I found myself pleasantly surprised reading this book, as it was thought out, balanced, and unbiased. Granted, it was a challenging read and an academic read, but I expected nothing less. For that reason, it took me a bit longer to read this book than I anticipated. I found myself reading and re-reading sections to try and fully grasp what was being said. The general conclusions section in the end proved extremely helpful in making things clearer for me. The real beauty of this book is that Orthodox and Catholics alike can benefit from reading this work.

This book was provided to me for free by Northern Illinois University Press. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

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