Ecclesiology and Ideology

When I wrote for my old Pontifications, I often blogged on ecclesiological topics. Ecclesiology had been a strong interest of mine for several years, especially after being introduced to the eucharistic ecclesiology of Met John Zizioulas. Back in the 90s I even dared to write an inconsequential article commending a kind of eucharistic ecclesiology for Anglicanism (“Being Church: Theological Theses on Parish and Diocese,” Sewanee Theological Review 37 [1994]: 54-69). Oh the arrogance of middle age!

When I started Eclectic Orthodoxy, I made a provisional decision to avoid ecclesiology, except when occasions invited reflection on eucharistic ecclesiology, which I still strongly affirm. Why the avoidance of ecclesiology? Because of all theological topics ecclesiology is the most susceptible to ideological construction. We tend to invent our understandings of Church in order to defend, advance, and secure our institutional and political agendas.

I thought of this when the Russian Orthodox Church released its position paper on the problem of primacy in the Universal Church. Is the Russian Church’s position driven by authentic ecclesiological conviction or the desire for power and autonomy (or both)? I don’t know, nor do I know how to resolve the issues in an honest, theologically conscientious way.

The Russian paper generated an immediate response from Greek theologian Met Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, with the internet support of the patriarch of Constantinople. Constantinople is clearly concerned to assert itself as possessing prerogatives previously enjoyed by the see of Rome: “In the long history of the Church, the presiding hierarch of the universal Church was the bishop of Rome. After Eucharistic communion with Rome was broken, canonically the presiding hierarch of the Orthodox Church is the archbishop of Constantinople.” Is this true? Again, I do not know how to resolve the issues in an honest way.

Read the two documents and compare for yourselves. Which is more biblical, more patristic, more attune to what you think the Church is and should be? Why do you think so?

Also read Dr Adam DeVille’s analysis: “The Russian Orthodox Church and the Papacy.” You might also want to take a look at the Ravenna document, which has never been formally approved by appropriate ecclesiastical authorities.

How do we avoid ideology when doing ecclesiology? Can we?

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5 Responses to Ecclesiology and Ideology

  1. From my own understanding of the early patristic traditions, I would say that the primacy on an ecclesiastical level was definitively oligarchical.

    I also know that one of my professors described the Catholic Church as being oligarchical. So I think that both the documents referenced should concentrate on discussing the primacy of Rome and the limitations on the Pope as opposed to the power he does have.

    I would say the Pope’s main duty is to make sure that Catholics are fed the right information and are shepherded properly but other than that, his power is severely limited by the Cardinals placing him in that position so I think I would have to agree with my professor on that issue.

    As to whether Rome is the proper place where the Church should guide in terms of government and theology, Raymond Brown and John Meier wrote a book together titled “Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity” where they make the claim that Rome did hold primacy in the early Church but I think the argument could go back and forth.

    Personally, I would agree with the Eastern Orthodox on a lot of things with respect to the Ecclesiastical structure being what they say it should it be. But I would say that Elpidophoros Lambriniadis has some areas to define. Precisely what he means by “hierarch” and “long history of the church”. This long history of the church cannot be pre-Nicaea.


  2. Nelson says:

    Reblogged this on Byzantium on Brew and commented:
    There is an internal debate going on in the Orthodox Church on the role of primacy in the universal Church. The two major players are the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For me, the arguments from the Ecumenical Patriarch make more sense but then again, I’m a Catholic and I believe in a strong universal primacy.


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