VATICAN CITY, MARCH 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a communiqué issued today by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to explain Benedict XVI’s decision to omit the papal title “Patriarch of the West” in the 2006 Pontifical Yearbook.
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Absent from the list of the Pope’s titles in the 2006 Pontifical Yearbook is the title “Patriarch of the West.” This absence has been commented on in different ways and calls for clarification.
Without attempting to consider the complex historical question of the title of patriarch in all its aspects, from the historical perspective it can be affirmed that the ancient patriarchs of the East, defined by the Councils of Constantinople (381) and of Chalcedon (451), covered a fairly 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 16th and 17th 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. Obviously, this meaning of the term “West” does not try to describe an ecclesiastical territory, and cannot be used as the definition of a patriarchal territory.
If we wish 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.
Therefore, 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 the Second Vatican Council, 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.
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 the Second Vatican Council (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 23). The renouncement of this title aims to express a historical and theological reality, and at the same time could prove useful to ecumenical dialogue.
[Translation by VIS; adapted]