Reflections on Ravenna - by Nick Katich
February 25, 2008
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”
-- Dante, Divine Comedy
If I had thought of Ravenna before 13 October 2007, I would have thought of Dante. Ravenna: the place where he lived; the place where he wrote the Divine Comedy; the place where his allegoric descent into Hell began, where he saw the words inscribed over Hell’s gate, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.
When thinking of Ravenna after 13 October 2007, I think of the so-called Ravenna Document. A product of the “Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church”. A document entitled “Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church”. A document subtitled “Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority”.
When reflecting on the Ravenna Document over the past several months, I have come to appreciate the inherent necessity of its composition occurring in Ravenna. For truly it could aptly be renamed, in the lexicon of the current vernacular, as the Divine Comedy, or on a higher level, in the ancient poetic lexicon, as the Divine Tragedy, for in the ancient lexicon a “comedy” had a happy ending while a “tragedy” did not, and the Ravenna Document will, I dare say, to us Orthodox, become “a thorn in the flesh”. (2 Cor. 12:7).
To many Orthodox, the Ravenna Document is probably viewed as nothing more than tautological. Doesn’t it merely reiterate what we have always been taught: that the Church is catholic; that it is hierarchical; that each bishop is equal; that, within each regional Church the patriarch, metropolitan, archbishop or first hierarch, as the case may be, is the “first among equals” within the regional Church; and that the Bishop of Rome, in the early Church, was always considered the “first among equals” in the universal Church and will be so again once communion is restored? Such may well be suggested within the context of a superficial reading of the Ravenna Document. But closer scrutiny reveals the utter tragedy (or sheer comedy, in the current lexicon) of what “our representatives” signed on to.
At the heart of the Ravenna Document, and its problematic nature, is the focus on Apostolic Canon 34. That canon, as quoted in the Ravenna Document, reads as follows:
The bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome); each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories. But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all. For in this way concord (homonoia) will prevail, and God will be praised through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.
What does this canon mean? First, the phrase “each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories” can only mean, what we always have understood, i.e. that the bishop is supreme in his dioceses and that he “runs it”. Second, the phrase “the bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome)” can only mean, if he is restricted to supremacy in his own diocese, that a bishop may do nothing without the consent of the protos if his decision or action is going to affect other diocese. Third, the phrase “But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all” clearly means that the first among equals” has no authority at all, without the consent of all of the bishops over which he is protos.
Properly understood, this canon forms the basis for the long held Orthodox view of conciliarity as the operative authoritative principle of both the regional Church as well as the universal Church. It is for this reason that all dogmatic pronouncements and formulations have emanated from councils, whether they be so-called regional councils or so-called ecumenical councils (even in the West until Vatican I). It is this operative authoritative principle that makes all bishops equal. It is this operative authoritative principle that has led the Orthodox for two millennia to resist the pretentious Roman bishops from turning God’s new Israel into a type of monarchical old Israel with the bishop of Rome being the new Saul lording over the tribes. (Cf. 1 Samuel 8:6-7 [“But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.’”]).
Simply stated, there is nothing in Canon 34, nor in the other Apostolic Canons of which it forms a part, nor in the Apostolic Constitutions to which they are appended, that restricts the application of this canon to the regional level. Yet, without any canonical-legal, canonical-textual or canonical-historical basis, the authors of the Ravenna Document introduce the canon with the following words: “A canon accepted in the East as in the West, expresses the relationship between the local Churches of a region: [text of Apostolic Canon 34]”.
The authors then boldly relegate the canon to a parochial graveyard with the following post-script: “This norm, which re-emerges in several forms in canonical tradition, applies to all the relations between bishops of a region, whether those of a province, a metropolitanate, or a patriarchate. Its practical application may be found in the synods or the councils of a province, region or patriarchate”. No evidence is presented nor is any explanation given as to why this canon does not apply to the universal Church.
However, its application to the universal church would present an obvious impediment to the pretensions of Rome. For, if the bishop of Rome is indeed the universal protos then the application of this canon would mean that he as the “first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all”. Which has been the precise Orthodox position for the first two millennia, but apparently not now early on into the third millennia.
But, as expected, the most nefarious aspect of the Ravenna Document is found in the section dealing with the universal Church. In that section, the authors penned the following:
During the first millennium, the universal communion of the Churches in the ordinary course of events was maintained through fraternal relations between the bishops. These relations, among the bishops themselves, between the bishops and their respective protoi, and also among the protoi themselves in the canonical order (taxis) witnessed by the ancient Church, nourished and consolidated ecclesial communion….Both sides agree that this canonical taxis was recognized by all in the era of the undivided Church. Further, they agree that Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St. Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs.
Further on, the authors refer to “the bishop of Rome, as the protos of the bishops of the major sees…” and “for the bishop of Rome as protos among the patriarchs”.
One would have thought that the authors would have referred to Canon 3 of the Constantinople I Council and Canon 28 of the Chalcedon Council as support for their agreement that the bishop of Rome occupied the “first place in the taxis”. However, those canons are problematic for Rome because the text clearly gives the honor to Rome at that time solely because it was the then imperial capital. Since it is no longer the imperial capital, those canons are problematic for Rome today. Certainly the authors could not base Rome’s protoi-ness on the scripturely and historically baseless Petrine Doctrine because the Orthodox representatives at Ravenna would have met the same fate as those who signed on to the shameful Florentine prostration. So, they reached back nearly three hundred years prior to Constantinople I to St. Ignatius who sat on the Lord’s lap as a youngster.
The disingenuousness of the authors’ efforts in best revealed in the very text, upon which they rely, once placed in its proper context. There are three extant versions of Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans. In the so-called shorter Greek version, Ignatius writes to “to the Church…which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans…and which presides over love….” The text of the so-called longer Greek version is identical. The text of the Syriac version is nearly identical: “To her who presides in the place of the region of the Romans…and presides in love”. I may well be missing something, but the only textual conclusion is that the Church in Rome presides in love over the region where the Romans live, as opposed to the region where the Greeks live. It may well support the notion that the bishop of Rome is the patriarch of the West, a title held by Rome from ancient times but recently dropped on the eve of the forefeast of the Ravenna prostration. But it does not support the Ravenna authors’ intended purposes.
In many ways, I see not so much the hand of Rome penning the Ravenna Document for Rome surprisingly concedes much in the document. It appears to concede that the “royal priesthood” (the laity) “exercises a form of authority in the Body of Christ” and that “the whole community and each person in it bears the ‘conscience of the Church’.” It appears to concede, with respect to the so-called ecumenical councils, that “their solemn doctrinal decisions and their common faith formulations, especially on crucial points, are binding for all Churches and all the faithful, for all times and all places”. It appears to concede that “the ecumenicity of the decisions of a council is recognized through a process of reception” according to which “the people of God as a whole – by means of reflection, discernment, discussion and prayer – acknowledge in these decisions the one apostolic faith”. Never has Rome taken such a Khomiakov-esque position.
But the trade-off comes with a price. And the price is high. Apostolic Canon 34 loses its universal application and has been relegated to the regional level only. That being the case, “the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all” loses its application to Rome. Now, Rome has been given “authority”. To be sure, the extent of that authority has not been defined and, at first blush, it appears subject to further negotiation. Or does it? In a curious passage, the authors write: “While the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West, there are differences of understanding with regard to the manner in which it is to be exercised”. That is tantamount to saying that total authority is vested in the bishop of Rome but its exercise sola papa may not always be helpful (Cf. 1 Corin. 10:23 [“All things are lawful for me; but all things are not helpful.”]).
The authors also add that there are differences in understanding “with regard to its [the authority’s] scriptural and theological foundations”. This is certainly meant to be seductive. Upon first and non-critical reading, a not uncommon reaction would be: “Finally! Our Orthodox representatives have not conceded that the protos papa’s authority has scriptural or theological support”. However, critical examination of the whole Ravenna Document reveals that the existence of the protos papa’s authority has been conceded. It is now only a matter of coming to agreement on whether it is based on Rome’s erroneous interpretation of Matthew 16:17-19 or on some other basis, such as, the Father’s monarchy within the Holy Trinity must inherently be emulated in a monarchical taxis (order) to be artificially imposed on the Bride of Christ.
To those who might suggest that I am reading too much into the Ravenna Document, let me quote the last sentence of the section dealing with the universal level within the Church: “This distinction of levels does not diminish the sacramental equality of every bishop or the catholicity of each local Church”. My understanding of history of the early Church, of the teachings of the Holy Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, of 99 the Holy Apostolic Tradition, and of the Scriptures (Cf. John 20:22-23) is that all bishops are equal in all respects. However, the Ravenna Document represents an intolerable and uncanonical departure from this ancient normative rule. Reducing the “essence” of the equality of the episcopal office to the sacramental level alone is tantamount to ecclesial Arianism.
In many ways, however, I do see the hand of the Phanar penning the Ravenna Document. Even a cursory visit to its website reveals, not so subliminally, a two-pope message. Its meddling in the Sourozh diocese, in the Ukraine, in Estonia and in the North American Greek Archdiocese, to name a few, evidences the lust for power which resides there. Its out-of-control reaction to the Ligonier conference reflects an intolerance that does not “preside in love”. It is obsessed with holding on to a patently erroneous interpretation of Chalcedonian Canon 28. And when Patriarch Alexei attempts to correct its error, it shamelessly boasts that the universality of its jurisdiction has been confirmed by the most august arbiter of such matters, the World Council of Churches, which, for all Orthodox according the Phanar, should forever end the debate!
It has been known for some time that there is an urgent need for the assembling of the Great and Holy Council. The pre-conciliar commission, under the control of the Phanar, has dragged its feet for a long time. One of the impediments has been the lack of agreement on its composition. The Phanar insists that each local Church (autocephalous is meant) send only a representative or some representatives. This is contrary to the historical concept of an ecumenical council. However, it is certainly consistent with the spirit of the Ravenna Document.
Ravenna reflects an outline of a universal Church where all bishops are only sacramentaly equal. It is only the regional protoi that are somewhat and superficially relevant at the universal level. In the East, which has regional Churches, the Phanar insists that it is the protos among the protoi. In the West, which does not have regional Churches, this is not an issue since there are no protoi in need of a protos. They have their pontifex maximus. What this all boils down to is, in the world of Ravenna, there are only two protoi at the universal level, one of the East and the other of the West, with Rome as the protos and the Phanar as the vice-protos. This duality of structure, far from reflecting or manifesting a Trinitarian ethos, is missing the Third Person.
In anticipation of all of this, there has emerged from Rome in the last half of the last century a Codex for a united universal Church. Not surprisingly, the Eastern Question has been resolved in precisely this manner. The Phanar is supreme in the East as the protos of the East with Rome as pontifus maximus. The Ravenna Document is nothing more than the footings upon which to build the Codex’s foundation.
Before we enter into the Church outlined in the Ravenna Document, let us all pause at the door, look above and make sure that there is not inscribed above the door the words that Dante foresaw: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”.
© Nick Katich, Esq.
On the week preceding the Sunday of the Last Judgment, 2008
Nick Katich is a parishioner of the St. Elizabeth The New Martyr Orthodox Church (OCA) in Chesterton, Indiana. He received his A.B. Magna Cum Laude degree from Wabash College in political science and economics. He received his Doctor of Law Degree from the University of Chicago. He was a member of the Diocesan Council (Vice President) of the American-Canadian Diocese of the New Gracanica Metropolitanate (Serbian Orthodox Church) from 1984 to 2000. He served as both legal adviser and canonical adviser to the late Metropolitan Irinej. He spearheaded the negotiating team that brought about an end to the 1963-1991 schism in the Serbian Orthodox Church and was the principal negotiator for the New Gracanica Metropolitanate for the drafting of the new constitution for the unified Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada. Mr. Katich’s interests focus on canon law, early Church history and ante-Nicene patristics.