Patriarch Bartholomew on Pope Benedict XVI

The Patriarch of Constantinople’s official communiqué on the abdication of Pope Benedict is now available in full. It is a warm and glowing tribute to his fellow worker in the vineyard, and testimony to the great leap forward in relations with the Orthodox churches. It is reproduced in full below:

It is with regret that we have learned of the decision by His Holiness Pope Benedict to retire from his Throne, because with his wisdom and experience he could have provided much more to the Church and the world.

Pope Benedict leaves an indelible mark on the life and history of the Roman Catholic Church, sealed not only by his brief papacy, but also by his broad and longstanding contribution as a theologian and hierarch of his Church, as well as his universally acknowledged prestige.

His writings will long speak of his deep theological understanding, through his knowledge of the Fathers of the undivided Church, his familiarity with contemporary reality, and his keen interest in the problems of humankind.

We Orthodox will always honor him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all. Moreover, we shall rejoice upon learning of his sound health and the productivity of his theological work.

Personally, we remember with emotion his visit to the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate over six years ago, together with the numerous encounters and excellent cooperation, which we enjoyed throughout the duration of his primatial ministry.

From the Phanar, we pray that the Lord will manifest his worthy successor as the head of the sister Church of Rome, and that we may also continue with this successor on our common journey toward the unity of all unto the glory of God.

The wording of this statement seems very significant, for its naunces are very positive indeed.  There is the clear appreciation of Benedict personally: his “wisdom”, his “theological understanding”, “friend of our Church”, etc. But there is also some subtle acknowledgment of a renewed understanding of the papacy for the Orthodox. His mention of Benedict’s “primatial ministry” could of course be construed as referring merely to him as primate of the western, or Roman, Church, and those Churches in communion with it. But that is not a wholly satisfying explanation; in this context there is no real need to mention it. So it could, perhaps, signal a willingness of the Orthodox to renew its understanding of the primatial role of the papacy, which the Orthodox accept already, though in a more restricted sense. On paper, the Orthodox would accept the Pope, all things being equal, as first among equals, and probably as a court of final appeal in matters doctrinal and (maybe) even jurisdictional. In light of the concluding paragraph, one could justifiably conclude that Patriarch Bartholomew is signalling that they wish to continue the progress towards the restoration of communion that has prospered under Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict is ecumenical in the best and truest sense of the word. May God allow us to build further on these newly-strengthened foundations.

Some ecumenical reactions to Pope Benedict’s abdication

This morning I made the mistake of reading the latest issue of The Tablet at breakfast. It has given me indigestion. The antagonistic attitude it promotes to all things papal is disgraceful. It is all the more disgraceful when contrasted with its fawning tone towards the Anglican communion; indeed, the overriding impression is of insecure Catholics, of a sort, ingratiating themselves with the (dying) establishment. The journal should be outed for what it is: an Anglican journal.

Anyway to restore peace of mind and digestive harmony I made a quick Google search and with no effort found some far more balanced and positive reactions from non-Catholic Christians.

The Lutheran pastor in Rome was able to say that,

I wish to recall three actions by Pope Benedict XVI because, as a Lutheran pastor in Rome I perceive and consider these gestures to have a lasting ecumenical importance, capable of showing the way.

Pope+Visits+Evangelic+Lutheran+Church+Rome+uvmKNqZH0Z_lHe lists three ecumenical encounters with the Pope in which he sees the Pope’s “closeness and communion” with Lutherans, and the expression of an “ecumenical bond”. To be sure, Pastor Kruse’s statement comes across as a tad self-serving for the Lutheran cause, but it reveals the Lutherans’ perception of the openness of Pope Benedict to healing the breaches of the Reformation.



Vatican Pope ConcertMetropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church, traditionally one of the eastern churches more hostile to Rome, spoke of his discussion with the newly-appointed Russian ambassador to the Vatican:

“I talked about Pope Ratzinger just a few days ago during a meeting with the new Russian ambassador to the Vatican, Aleksandr Avdeyev,” said Hilarion. “He emphasized the positive direction that the relationship between the Russian Church and the Vatican has taken since the arrival of Benedict XVI. He is a highly respected theologian, an expert on orthodox traditions. I was struck by his calm and his meditated answers, as well as his acumen in trying to solve problems.”

Hilarion moves on from an analysis of ecumenical relations to an appreciation of Pope Benedict himself, and it is a strikingly generous one for the Russian Orthodox.

BenedictBartholomewThe Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, the primus inter  pares (“first among equals”) of the Orthodox churches, likewise spoke highly of Pope Benedict’s ecumenical endeavours. Moreover, he too was able to speak warm personal praise for Pope Benedict in another sign of the ecumenical thaw under this pope:

Bartholomew praised Benedict, describing him as “a highly influential figure in the Church, not only as a Pope but also as a theologian.”

“He was a person who could solve problems not only in religion, but also in the problems that we are facing today,” Bartholomew said, adding that he believed the pontiff would continue to be a prominent figure even after stepping down as pope. “He was an important reference to everyone. Thus, I believe he will continue to add value to the world with his research and articles,” he said.

Bartholomew confirms the impression that has long since emerged that Pope Benedict was someone the Orthodox felt they could deal with constructively, fruitfully and positively.

jcaratzLastly, there was a statement from the leading pastor of the Bruderhof, a type of modern anabaptist Christian community noted for its commitment to peace and simplicity, founded in the wake of World War I in Germany and persecuted by the Nazis, and now found throughout the world. Pastor Johann Arnold expressed exactly the sort of sentiments one would have hoped from The Tablet, and not expected so readily from one in the anabaptist tradition:

…we ought to praise God for the eight years that Pope Benedict has been able to serve and lead the Catholic Church.

Still, even though I am not Catholic, I was saddened to read today of his resignation. I have known this humble man personally for the last 18 years, and through personal encounters and correspondence, I have developed a deep respect for him. Already as a cardinal, and then as pope, he has been a tireless advocate for the true values of Christianity—values which are sadly being lost, and attacked, all over the world.

Pope Benedict is one of the few voices that have had the courage to speak out for true Christ-like discipleship and for traditional family values. With his resignation, we are losing a voice of conscience that we can ill afford to lose, even as it has been rejected and criticized.

I am going to miss Brother Benedict very much and will have him on my prayers.

As Fr Z would say, Pope Benedict XVI is the pope of Christian unity. Peace upon him.