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fronticonI am glad that Geoffrey has found my posts on Pope Leo the Great and the background to Papal primacy useful, and it may surprise him that I am not disposed to argue much with his presentation of the information. But there are problems with the case he espouses.

We have common ground in admiring the Orthodox Churches. They certainly maintain the tradition of their church and, of course, that of the universal church until they were cut off from it, partly by the rivalry between the West and Constantinople, and then by the falling of the Islamic curtain. Are we to suppose that at that moment the developing understanding of doctrine stopped? Just because in the Eastern churches the priority became survival, the Holy Spirit did not stop working in the Church. We shall never know what might have happened had the Turks not taken Constantinople and if Moscow had not become the centre of Orthodoxy; that last ensured that relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics would become bound up with Russian feelings of inferiority and resentment towards the West; something one still catches in some of the more extreme exponents of Orthodoxy.

Be that as it may, where, once, the church of Alexandria had been the intellectual power house of Christian theology, that position passed into the West, to the schools of Paris and Oxford, and giants such as Aquinas and Duns Scotus, Abelard and Anselm came to be the progenitors of theological thinking which has an enduring influence on the Church. In the West, Rome had always been the patriarchal See, and amidst the disorder and the threat to the Church posed by strong medieval and early modern monarchs, it needed both its own State and to emphasise its powers; the alternative would have been either a theocratic model as in Constantinople, which in effect would have been more on the Russian model where the emperor was the dominant partner; or something on the model of the Church of the East, where, bereft of power, the CHurch became the subject of persecution.

Geoffrey is right, across history the model of the Papacy has changed as it has needed to do what was necessary to preserve the deposit of faith and the independence of the Church vis a vis secular authorities; there is no reason to suppose that has ended.  Pope Benedict, like his predecessor, spoke more about collegiality of the bishops, and was open to discussions about how the Papacy could be managed in a world where the churches came together. But that cannot be done by ignoring the last six hundred years, or the last thousand years of history. We can no more return to 1053 than we can to the supposed purity of the Apostolic Church.

The East, and western Protestants with an interest in reunion, will have to wrestle with the question of the place of the Papacy quite as much as Benedict XVI was doing. The question of authority is, as Geoffrey has shown most eloquently, trickier than simplistic presentations of it assume. There is, indeed, something problematic about a situation where most Catholics in the West ignore large elements of the teaching on the Church on sexuality and marriage, but call me a dogmatist, but I am even more worried when I read that there are many Catholics who don’t believe in the Trinity and the Incarnation. How God will deal with those who take contraception I don’t know; but how He is likely to deal with those who don’t believe in Him is a bit more obvious.