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Thursday, 23 May 2013


Here follows an abstract of an article in La Civilta Cattolica (in Italian), by Fr Gianfranco Ghirlanda SJ (former rector of the Gregorian University and, incidentally, the architect of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus).

Il ministero petrino - La Civilta Cattolica -  quaderno 3906, 23 March 2013, pp. 549-563

The office of the Roman Pontiff must always be considered within the Church and the episcopal college, and therefore always in strict relation with the Church and the bishops, taken as a whole as a college and as individual pastors of the Churches entrusted to them.

In fact, just as the primacy of the Roman Pontiff is of divine institution, so also are the episcopal college and the headship of the bishops in the particular Churches.

The office of the Roman Pontiff is a ministry because, being the instrument through which Christ by the action of the Spirit keeps together and undivided the college of bishops, it guarantees the unity of the whole people of God in the one apostolic faith and in the sacraments, the efficacious means of salvation.

John Paul II, in the encyclical “Ut Unum Sint," after recalling that what concerns the unity of all the Christian Communities falls within the domain of the concerns of primacy, stated that he felt called upon to “find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation," and then, reusing the words addressed to Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrius I on December 6, 1987, invoked: “I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned" (no. 95).

The problem of the relationship between the essential and the historical forms that every ecclesial institution takes on involves the problem of the relationship between the essence of the Church, as mystical revealed reality, and its historical form, as a contingent reality, expressed precisely in the canonical configuration of the institutions.

With this problem is connected that of the relationship between revealed divine law and positive ecclesiastical law, aimed at the regulation of the concrete relationships among subjects.

The essence of the Church is always realized in an historical form, by reason of which the essence can never be separated from the institutional form and vice versa. In spite of all that is relative in this latter, it must never be considered irrelevant with regard to the mystery of the Church, if one does not wish to risk falling into the vision of an unreal Church.

Nonetheless, essence and form cannot be identified with each other, and one must make a distinction between them, otherwise one could not have any criterion of judgment on the historical forms that the Church assumes.

Moreover, one must keep in mind the fact that there is no historical form that would reflect perfectly and exhaustively the essence of the Church, in that the contingent can never express the mystery in a perfect manner.

When we speak of the essence of the Petrine ministry and of the historical forms that it assumes, we are referring to the necessary positive juridical configuration of the relationships that spring from the exercise of this ministry.

We must however keep in mind the difficulty of tracing a clear border between that which is of revealed divine law, and therefore essential in this ministry, and that which is of human law, the fruit of historical contingencies, and to what extent that which is of human law may express divine law in a more or less immediate manner.

Thus it is not easy to determine what may be the historical forms in which must be actualized the exercise of the Petrine ministry, which otherwise would be emptied of content.

In fact, the Church cannot arbitrarily dispose of the determination of the exercise of the Petrine ministry, because this is to be considered "regulated by an objectivity of its own,” which is given “in reference, on the one hand, to the will of Jesus Christ, and on the other, to the historical conjuncture” (cf. G. Colombo, "Tesi per la revisione dell’esercizio del ministero petrino," in "Teologia" 21, 1996, p. 325).

The datum of faith is antecedent to every discussion on the form of exercise of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, and therefore it is the premise that must guide the discussion itself, and on the Catholic side predetermines it, even if it must be said that the solution to the problem is not necessarily univocal, in that "if the faith must be one, theology is instead pluralistic, that is with the faculty of proposing various solutions to the problems posed by faith” (ivi, p. 322).?

The ecumenical preoccupation of John Paul II was revisited in the apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte" of January 6, 2001, distinguishing the journey to be made with the Church of the East, on the one hand, and with the Anglican Communion and the ecclesial Communities born from the Reformation on the other (no. 48), because in these latter is required a more complex journey that would lead to a preliminary communion in the faith and in the sacraments.

The 10th plenary session of the mixed international commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (Ravenna, October 8-15, 2007), in the undersigned document entitled “Ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the Church. Ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority,” presents the reciprocal interdependence between primacy and conciliarity on the local, regional, and universal level, according to which “primacy must always be considered in the context of conciliarity, and conciliarity likewise in the context of primacy" (no. 43).

This vision of the “document of Ravenna” gives a dynamism to the manner of conceiving the pontifical ministry in a projection toward a future that every believer would like to see realized.

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