Newsletter of the District
Message of Pope John Paul II
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
following message which appeared in L’Osservatore Romano dated December
2 & 3, 1996, page 8, should be read in conjunction with Bishop
Fellay’s subsequent letter regarding the“Primacy of Peter”.
our Venerable Brother
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
Prefect of the Congregation for
Doctrine of the Faith
is my ardent wish, Your Eminence, to express to you my gratitude
for the initiative the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, of
which you are the president, has taken to organize a Symposium on
the theme “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter” – with the collaboration
of many distinguished experts and researchers. Allow me to hereby
extend and express sentiments of gratitude to all these illustrious
participants for their availability and their zeal.
the Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, I acknowledged that “It
is significant and encouraging that the question of the Primacy
of the Bishop of Rome has already, or will become, a subject of
study. It is equally significant and encouraging that this question
is an essential theme, not only in the theological discussions that
the Catholic Church holds with the other Churches and Ecclesial
Communities, but also more generally in the whole of the ecumenical
movement.” (Ut Unum Sint, no. 89)
The Catholic Church is aware of having retained, with fidelity to
apostolic tradition and to the faith of the Fathers, the ministry
of the Successor of Peter, whom God constituted as the “perpetual
and visible principle of unity, and its foundation” (Lumen Gentium,
no.23). Such a service of unity, founded upon the work of divine
mercy, is a gift which is conferred, within the college of Bishops,
to the Apostle Peter in his role as Bishop of Rome. The power itself,
and the proper authority of this ministry, without which such a
function would be illusory, must always be seen in the perspective
of serving God’s merciful designs, Who wills that we all be “one”
In this regard, the primacy is exercised at different levels, such
as in the service of the unity of Faith, or in vigilance over sacramental
and liturgical celebrations, missions, Christian life and discipline.
However, one must realize that all this must always be done in communion.
At the same time, one must stress that this service of the unity
of Faith and of the Church, inasmuch as this comes forth from the
Petrine ministry, is a means and an instrument of evangelization:
in such a way that the new evangelization is linked to the testimony
of the Church’s unity, of which the Successor of Peter is a visible
sign and a guarantee.
On the other hand, as I stated on the occasion of the meeting with
the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Geneva, in June of
1984, this conviction of the Catholic Church “constitutes a difficulty
for most other Christians, whose memories are marked by certain
Thus, for the sake of our preoccupation with unity, which plays
an essential part in the role of the Primacy, I have expressed in
the Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, the conviction that “I have
a particular responsibility in this regard, especially when I observe
the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of Christian Communities
and when I hearken to the request addressed to me, to find a form
of exercising the Primacy, open to new situations, but without renouncing
anything essential to its mission” (Ut Unum Sint, no.
At your Symposium, the zeal of the researchers, who are experts
in various branches of theology – biblical, historico-theological,
systematic – testifies to the rigor and competence of the research
in the various spheres of theological knowledge, which, according
to the doctrinal basis at which the researchers meet, intends to
offer an important contribution to the service of theological dialogue;
namely by indicating the essential doctrinal elements of the Catholic
Faith on this aspect of ecclesiology, and distinguishing them from
legitimately disputed questions, or those not definitively settled.
This particular characteristic, far from constituting a difficulty
for this ecumenical dialogue, represents a necessary condition for
it, because it is an instrument to recognize divine truth. (…)
from Cardinal Ratzinger’s Opening Address at the Symposium, a few
days after the above Papal Message, on December 2, 1996.
(…) Our symposium's purpose is ‘to explain and clarify the indispensable
elements of the doctrine on the primacy of the Successor of Peter,’
taking into account the principle, also mentioned in the Letter
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Communionis
notio, to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects
of the Church understood as communion, that it is necessary to distinguish
in the Petrine ministry the substance of the divine institution
from the concrete forms or expressions of its exercise as historically
practiced in the past two millenniums (cf. n. 17).
the nature of the symposium is also evident. It does not wish to
be merely theological-academic, in the sense that it does not intend
to settle beforehand the goal of analytically exploring the whole
status quaestionis of the matter, nor does it intend fully
to compare and contrast Catholic theology and the positions of the
non-Catholic Christian confessions.
has been emphasized in the explanatory note distributed to all participants,
the symposium is characterized by its properly doctrinal
nature, aimed at extracting the essential points of the substance
of the doctrine on the Primacy, according to the Catholic Church's
conviction of faith, indicating at the same time the problems legitimately
open to theological discussion. It is not the symposium's objective
however to deal with them specifically.
(…) After attentive examination, it was decided to divide the study
meeting into three sessions:
In the first, attention will be dedicated to the dogmatic meaning
of the primacy of the Successor of Peter and its transmission.
In the second, the theme of the relationship between primacy and
In the third, the nature and aim of the primatial interventions
of the Bishop of Rome concerning the particular Churches will be
(…) it is even logical that the interpretation of faith cannot be
indisputably imposed on the historian. What is essential however
is that such an interpretation should not be excluded from the facts.
Lastly, the importance of the theme for ecumenical discussion
cannot be ignored. It is true that the symposium does not intend
to make a theological comparison of the different viewpoints of
the Christian confessions, as would be the case with an ecumenical
colloquium. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that the question
of the Primacy of Peter and its continuation in the Bishops of Rome
is one of the most burning issues in ecumenical dialogue. And it
is precisely the awareness that at the center of theology lies the
question of truth, which obliges us to place the service of truth
as the basis and goal of the search for Christian unity itself,
without prejudice and in obedience to the Lord.
invitation extended to Prof. Pannenberg and Prof. Chadwick to come
to our symposium as representatives of the Lutheran and Anglican
confessions (unfortunately Prof. Clement was unable to take part
due to unexpected illness) attest to the interest with which the
Catholic Church looks to a greater and ever deeper knowledge of
the positions of non-Catholic Christians even on this particularly
difficult topic. For Catholics, criticism of the papal primacy by
other Christian brothers and sisters is like an earnest request
to carry out the Petrine service in a way which is more and more
in conformity with Christ. In turn, for non-Catholic Christians,
the Roman primacy is a permanent and visible challenge to concrete
unity, which is a task of the Church and must be her distinguishing
mark before the world. (…)
Romano, Jan. 1, 1997)
Notice, in No.3, the division between the ‘substance of the Divine
Institution’ and the ‘concrete forms or expressions of its exercise
as historically practiced in the past two millenniums’.
Also, the separation between Faith and History, in No.5. We could
apply St Pius X’ s condemnation of the modernistic distinction of
“the Christ of Faith and the Christ of History” to the Church –
the Church of Faith, and the Church of History.
Finally, in No.6, the primacy is indeed ‘one of the most burning
issues in ecumenical dialogue’. So, the Cardinal tells us after
the Pope himself, let us see how much we can change of it for the
sake of ecumenism, rather than invite the non-Catholics to accept
the Catholic teaching so clearly defined in Vatican I.