An honorary Doctorate in Philosophy degree was conferred on Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I by the Pontifical Antonianum University on Wednesday, October 21, 2020.
At the ceremony presenting the degree, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, observed that “the harmony with the Petrine magisterium which demonstrates the ecumenical union between the Churches of East and West”.
Organized by the Franciscan pontifical university in Central Rome, the private event took place, without public, in a large auditorium in full compliance with anti-COVID 19 rules and provisions. Also giving interventions at the event moderated by TV2000 journalist Fabio Bolzetta, were the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson; President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch; the Rector of the Antonianum, Br. Agustín Hernández Vidales, OFM, and Fr. Michael Anthony Perry, the General Minister of the Order of Friars Minor. ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent was present and spoke with Cardinal Parolin.
In his introduction of the Patriarch, Cardinal Parolin said:
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople is among the first figures the reader meets in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ Encyclical. Inserted immediately after references to recent Pontiffs (nos. 3-6), the Ecumenical Patriarch’s reflection demonstrates profound harmony with the Petrine Magisterium, confirming an intense sorority between the two Churches of the East and the West. On the occasion of their journey to the Holy Land in 2014, Bartholomew and Francis signed together a double heartfelt appeal to ecclesial reconciliation and loving protection of Creation: “The future of the human family also depends on how we are able to protect, in a wise and loving way, with justice and equity, the gift of Creation entrusted to us by God.”The same harmony also characterizes the Letter of Proclamation of the World Day for Creation, of August 7, 2015, which Francis states that he instituted in fact from a suggestion of Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamum (Zizioulas), thus enabling one to intuit the identity of the true inspirer of the initiative, namely, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Moreover, Pope Francis’ Magisterium on integral ecology could not find a better and more certain reference than in the Patriarch of Constantinople. In fact, since 1991 he has been lavish in his commitment to the subject of Creation, through a rich series of initiatives, among which are remembered the annual messages of the 1st of September, beginning of the Liturgical Year, dedicated to the Day of Prayer in Favour of the Protection of the Environment. Therefore, it’s not surprising that in Laudato Si’ itself, for instance, particularly significant (praestans exemplum) in fact is that the figure of the Ecumenical Patriarch is added given his heartfelt concern for the environmental crisis and, even more so, for his profound reflection on the ecological subject. In fact, Pope Francis gives ample references to his thought, with explicit references to different interventions of his and indicating him especially as a true and proper source of inspiration.
 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Francis, Joint Declaration, May 25, 2014.
 Message for the Day of Prayer for the Safeguarding of Creation, September 1, 2012; Address in Santa Barbara, California, on November 8, 1997; Conference in the Monastery of Utstein, Norway, June 23, 2003; Address in Global Responsibility and Ecological Sustainability: Closing Remarks, I Halki Summit, Istanbul, June 20, 2012.
Following is the Patriarch’s reflection upon receiving the degree:
The Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Contemporary World:
Vision and Social Testimony
Illustrious Rector, Professor Agustin Hernandez Vidales,
Your Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State,
Very Reverend Fr. Michael Anthony Perry, Minister General of the
Order of Friars Minor and Chancellor,
Illustrious Members of the Academic Corps,
Brothers and Sisters, Beloved Children in the Lord,
We received with great enthusiasm the invitation of the Rector and of the Academic Senate to deliver the Prolusion for the opening of the Academic Year and we accept with gratitude and supreme honor the attribution of the Doctorate Honoris Causa in Philosophy of this historic and illustrious Pontifical University Antonianum, which took place almost concomitantly with the prayer for Fraternity and Peace, which we held yesterday afternoon here in Rome, with the presence of our beloved Brother, Pope Francis and the Representatives of the great Faiths of the world. They are intense moments, which are absolutely necessary and of great spiritual value in as much as they enable us to know one another, recognize ourselves in our specific religious, social and cultural peculiarities, which dispel sentiments of fundamentalism and hostility and create new bridges, to be able to collaborate together in face of the many challenges facing humanity. In its two-thousand-year history, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has always been the center of the meeting of various cultures and nations, synthesis of evangelical values, expressed in the writings of the Holy Fathers and of the Great Ecumenical Councils, farsighted beacon also in dark times and up to our days, place of conciliation and reconciliation, faithful to the duties that the ecclesiastical history has entrusted to it, not embracing the world’s powers, but — although poor in strengths — persevering in the truth, without yielding, even when unjustly slandered or condemned.
We are gathered in Ancient Rome, the first See of Christianity, See of the Bishop of Rome, from the shores of the Bosphorus, from the city of Constantine, Constantinople, from the Holy and Great Martyr Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the First Throne between the symphony of the Holy Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and we wish to make reference to the social testimony of the Constantinopolitan Church and to its theological foundation, in face of the world’s great contemporary problems.
His Eminence the Metropolitan John of Pergamum affirmed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an institution that “has left and continues to leave an indelible mark on the history of humanity” and “remains a hope for the present and future of man.” It’s an institution that “if it did not exist, would certainly be in need of being invented.”
The function of the Church of Constantinople, as vital center of the life of the whole Orthodox world, stems from its constant ministry in the testimony, in the protection, and in the spread of the Christian faith. Thus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has a supra-national and supra-regional character. And it was from this lofty awareness and responsibility for the people of Christ — regardless of race, language, and culture — that the new regional Churches of the East were born, from the Caspian to the Baltics, from the Balkans to Central Europe. This activity is extended today to the Americas, to Asia, and to Oceania.
Among all these Churches, in the course of history and up to today, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the primacy of responsibility, of service, and of honor among the Christian Orthodox Churches of the world, thus exercising a unique role for the sacred and sensitive ministry of unity and collaboration. Exercising this important duty, after a vacuum of nearly 1,000 years, the Ecumenical Patriarchate convoked the Holy and Great Council in Crete (on the Feast of Pentecost in June 2016).
With this same spirit, our Church has pioneered initiatives on these critical global questions, such as the care of Creation and social justice. In the last decades, the world has witnessed an alarming environmental degradation — with climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the pollution of natural resources — together with a growing gap between the rich and poor. Therefore, Christ’s Holy Church has perceived the signs of the times and has called people’s attention to ecological and social problems, underscoring the urgency of targeted interventions.
The environmental initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate go back to the middle of the 80s, while in 1989 our Predecessor (Patriarch Dimitrios of blessed memory) issued the first Encyclical Letter to encourage Orthodox Christians to conserve the planet’s resources, with the object of leaving a better world for our children, dedicating September 1 every year as a Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Natural Environment. Subsequently, all the Orthodox Churches embraced this practice, while the World Council of Churches approved it officially for the communities that are part of it. More recently, Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby also instituted the same Day, as a Day of Prayer for Creation, in the Roman Catholic Church and in the whole Anglican Communion, respectively. At this point, we would like to express our gratitude to our beloved Brother Francis, for having mentioned in his most recent Encyclical Fratelli Tutti that, in the preparation of his Laudato Si’, he found “a source of inspiration” in our humble ministry and commitment to the care of Creation (5).
For us, to take care of the natural resources of our planet is a question of truthfulness towards God and the created order. Behold why we have repeatedly condemned environmental abuse as nothing other than a sin. We must remind ourselves, that taking care of the environment is not primarily a political or technological question; it is, first of all, a religious and ethical question. In this connection, we have the responsibility to consider carefully the way in which we inhabit the world. We cannot live as isolated individuals, indifferent to the events that surround us, because we are social beings and we share this world. We were created for personal encounter, we are judged as persons, societies, and nations on the basis of such interaction.
From the beginning, our Modesty has shown the importance of environmental and social problems. It’s inconceivable to be concerned with man and to destroy his home, and vice versa. As we are used to repeat: “For us, the protection of the natural environment and real respect of our neighbor are two faces of the same medal,” they are connected and indivisible attitudes. The close relation between social and ecological problems was stressed in the Joint Message for the World Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation, together with Pope Francis of Rome (01.09.2017). Noted in this Message is what follows: “The human and natural environments are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs on the most vulnerable people. The impact of climate change has repercussions first of all on those that live poorly in every corner of the globe.” It’s evident that the reason <given> of progress is false and inopportune when man’s home is destroyed and the human person is trampled.
With this spirit, we bless every initiative, which contributes to awareness of the gravity of the present ecological crisis and the correlated social problems, as well as the necessity for a radical change of mentality and an evaluative orientation of contemporary man. We are all culpable in so many things! It’s inconceivable that politics supports choices that function at the expense of the natural environment and of social cohesion. Nor is the economy legitimized to remain in its own law and in the principle of the maximization of profitability, when this is destructive for the environment and for society. Moreover, the Promethean “technological imperative” that imposes the production of what is technically possible, without being concerned about the effects for man and for Creation, promotes destructive behavior in dealing with the environment.
Beyond its pioneering role in international awareness-raising on ecological and social questions, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was on the front line in the inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue, as well as with the secularized world in which we live today. In the course of our many years of patriarchal ministry, we made an effort to promote dialogue, which we consider the most effective means to address the problems. Dialogue is a gesture and a source of solidarity; it succeeds in overcoming prejudices and mistrust; it promotes mutual familiarity and appreciation, and builds respect for diversities. In fact, as Pope Francis stresses in his Fratelli Tutti, it’s a halfway between “egoistic indifference” and “violent protest (paragraph 199).
One of the main areas of interest and involvement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the dialogue with believers of all faiths and even with people without religious involvement. Today there is talk of a “return to God,” expressed as the presence of religion in the public space and of the definitive annulment of the theory on the imminent “post-religious era” and on the total secularization of culture. In general, the following four functions of religion are stressed: a) Religion provides answers to man’s profound existential questions, to the meaning of life, to pain and death, to our origin and final destination; b) Religion has created and preserved the highest achievements of culture, man’s most precious spiritual values, and profound anthropological knowledge; c) Religion is intrinsically bound to the identity of peoples and of cultures; d) Religion is a mission and a responsibility for peace. The credibility of religions of the whole world is linked to their contribution to reconciliation and the promotion of peace, incapable of having success without inter-religious dialogue and concord among the religions. The famous German philosopher and sociologist Jurgen Habermas, who described contemporary Western societies as “post-secular,” stated that political decisions in these societies must not offend the fundamental values and convictions of the religious communities, which in their interest are obliged to respect the civil law and human rights, as well as to cultivate understanding and inter-religious dialogue.
However, we learn almost every day of violence in the name of religion. The tendency to identify religion with its negative aspects is reinforced, unfortunately, by ideological misrepresentations of religion. Today we are aware of the profundity of the error of all those that have characterized religion — and insist on doing so –, as a “neurosis,” as an “illusion,” or as “opium of the people,” of all those that have underestimated the power of religion, its social contribution and the culture it has created. How can one affirm that a “neurosis: created the Parthenon in Athens, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, all the other unsurpassed monuments of religious art and inspiration, as well as the admirable explosion of charity and love in the name of the Merciful God? Ignorance, intolerance, and violence are the failure and not the essence of religion. True religion is always based on freedom and respect for human dignity and human values.
It’s excessively utopian to expect that solidarity and social cohesion can be established through globalization, economic progress, the improvement of the tenor of life, science and technology, digital communication, and the Internet. It’s impossible that a world of peace and justice can exist without the contribution of humanity’s great spiritual powers, namely of the religions. Hence, we work tirelessly to inspire religious leaders and religious institutions to commit themselves to a dialogue of peace at the local and international level, in order to ensure peaceful coexistence and collaboration among people. In this connection, we have constantly stressed that to understand the beliefs and values of others is an indispensable condition to establish dialogue and to coexist peacefully. Religion is a vital factor in the process of the construction of bridges and of reconciliation. True faith does not free human beings from being responsible or the world.
For this reason, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was a pioneer in ecumenical organizations, such as the World Council of Churches, and has supported and promoted bilateral dialogues with Non-Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Middle East and at the international level. In this process, our objective is to have religions understand one another, serving as instruments of peaceful coexistence and motivating their faithful to respect one another, as well as to work together for a better present and future.
Beloved Brothers and Children of the Lord,
We are in need of one another; we are in need of common objectives; we are in need of collaborative efforts. We are called to build bridges based on love and understanding, and not build walls of exclusion, based on fear and ignorance. We must be critical in addressing all the tendencies that undermine solidarity and are opposed to all that which reduces human beings to insatiable consumers at the expense of their neighbor. We are called to find a way to avoid any conflict of race or clashes of civilizations — in respect of the differences, in defending the rights, and in promoting dialogue — for the good of a better and more luminous world.
At the inter-religious level, in the closing session of the precious “Document for Human Fraternity for World Peace and Common Coexistence,” signed at Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019, by Pope Francis and by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmad al-Tayyeb, we find the common compass that guides our way to universal peace and to a culture of solidarity: “Reconciliation and fraternity among all believers, rather between believers and non-believers, and among all people of goodwill,” repudiation of “blind violence and extremism”: affinity and cooperation “between East and West, between North and South”; “faith in God, which unites divided hearts and elevates the human soul.” In fact, we have the destination; we know the way. What we need is common action and determination to go forward.
This determination is demonstrated, at the inter-Christian level, in the recently published Document: ”For the Life of the World — Towards a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church,” written by a Special Committee of Theologians, appointed by our Modesty, in order to develop, cultivate and spread the teaching of the Holy and Great Council of Crete on social questions. This significant Document, whose formal publication was approved by the Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate “as fruit of a collective theological result,” although not being conceived as a dogmatic decree or normative doctrine, projects a vision that could provide a way mainly for an open conversation but, in the final analysis, for a transformation, as realization of a way of being in the world, towards models of a relational nature that would render the cosmos — be it human or non-human life — irreducibly unique, to become what God intended creation to be.
Likewise, Pope Francis’ Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, for which he found a source of encouragement in the “Human Fraternity” Document, is an overwhelming challenge for our ecological, political, economic, and social life, but it is especially the proclamation of an ineradicable and joyful truth for a world that is spiritually exhausted. Through this Encyclical, which is a “cornerstone” of his social theology, my beloved Brother Francis asks us all, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, to stop looking at the world with the eyes of indifference or cynicism and to begin to dream and act as “only one human family,” in which we are “all brothers and sisters.” (Paragraph 8).
Society lives of powers, which it cannot create alone. We believe that the whole of humanity is in need of a foundation such as in Plato’s declaration that “God is the measure of all things” (Laws, 716 c, «πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον Θεός»). The future does not belong to the self-consecrated “man-god” («ἀνθρωποθεός»), a new Prometheus, who ignores and abolishes the undeniable limits and measures. All attempts to establish a just society are in need of a reference to an “Absolute.”
For us, this “Absolute” is Jesus Christ, the “God-Man” («Θεάνθρωπος»), the “God with us,” «Θεός μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν» (Matthew. 21, 23) and God “for us,” «ὑπέρ ἡμῶν» (Romans. 8, 32), the Saviour that “came down from Heaven,” «ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς» (John 3, 13), He who opened the doors of Paradise, “our hope,” «ἡ ἐλπίς ἡμῶν» (1 Timothy, 1, 11). Faith in Christ is an inexhaustible source of creativity, freedom “that is made true in love” in the world. It inspires and reinforces in all dimensions of life the human effort, also when it is faced with problems of a difficult solution and without a way out.
In the end, man cannot remain in truth a “believer on earth,” as the philosopher wished, with Heaven closed. The intervention of the Church in “human things” is not simply “horizontal sociability” and “additional action,” but an important manifestation of spirituality, of the Eucharistic, communitarian and eschatological nature and of the identity of his life. The fact that “our citizenship is in Heaven” (Philippians 3:20), is an invitation to contribute to the transformation of the world, to give a good account “of the hope that is in us” (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), of Christ, the incarnate Logos, the crucified and risen, the King of glory.
Thank you for your attention and the great privilege offered to our humble Person.