The Pope as ground of Church unity

Roman Catholic apologists commonly make the argument, usually in discussions with Orthodox, that the Bishop of Rome fulfills the essential function of being the ground of Church unity. While not disputing that at times before the East-West schism the Bishop of Rome did perform that function, and that in a reunited Church he could certainly function as a force for unity, I think the claim that the Papacy is the essential instrument for Church unity meets at least one insuperable historical obstacle: the “Great” Schism which took place in the West in the 14th century. This schism occurred in the western church because there first two, then three, rival claimants to the papacy, each of which could claim a significant part of the western church. This schism was only settled by the western Council of Constance (1414-1418) which succeeded in resolving the claims in favor of one Bishop of Rome. Of this crisis, a Roman Catholic historian says the following: “A Council was the only viable means of restoring unity to the Church”. Johann Baptist Villager, “Western Schism” a subpart of the article on “Schism” in the theological encyclopedia Sacramentum Mundi, vol. 6, Herder and Herder, ed. Jean Cardinal Danielou et al.
In light of this episode, I don’t see how it can be maintained that the Bishop of Rome functions as the essential ground of unity.

Then what is the essential ground for visible unity?

What I suspect Expatreprocedit is getting at (and I freely admit that I am perhaps influenced by that anti-Filioque username) is an Ecumenical Council, those being what the Greeks held to be the primary basis of Church unity before the Schism.

That Council idea holds considerable merit, but I wonder how it could function given the numbers and types of parties possibly concerned. Would Catholic bishops vote alongside Orthodox ones, given that mere numerical superiority would lend weight to the Catholic side in disputes? Would the many and various Protestant groups, some of whom do not even have the office of “bishop”, be included?

Well, the Eastern part of the Church, that is not in full union with Rome, hasn’t had an Ecumenical Council since the 9th century. This is, in part, because they never could agree on anything. There was no one there to settle the matter, once and for all. No Pope, no unity, no Ecumenical Council.

The reason the council was the only way to solve the schism was because the primary source of unity , the papacy, had been compromised by two anti-popes. So now that the primary source of unity was not available as we were disputing who the source of unity is, the second alternative must do… An ecumenical council

Look around and see what has happened to many of those who are no longer in union with the Pope. Without authority there is disunity. God Bless, Memaw.

I’ve had similar thoughts.


Well…if not the Bishop of Rome…what is the alternative? And look at what was settled at the council of Constance, it settled on one bishop who should be the bishop of Rome…so do you think the Council that settled the Great Schism was not guided by the HS?

Well…as it has happened in the previoius councils, even the final findings of the ECs needed papal confirmation, so it does not matter what the result of the vote is…isn’t it?

According to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches - the Holy Eucharist.

The Pope can also be looked upon as spokesman and mouthpiece of United Church, but not the essential ground of Unity Itself. The Pope as Ecumenical Father, emanates from the common unifier of the Eucharist, who is Christ. This is coming from an Eastern Catholic, by the way, not Orthodox.

The Syriac Orthodox Church states of their Patriarch, he is : “chief shepherd and supreme head, the Patriarch by virtue of his position upholds the unity of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church”, let’s extrapolate this to the Pope of Rome: “Chief shepherd and Supreme Pontiff, the Pope by virtue of his position upholds the unity of the Catholic Church”

What they needed in the West was not what they needed in the East, hence the Great Schism.

Unquestionably there is a danger, for us Catholics, to exaggerate or even absolutize the role of the Pope with respect to unity. Your post serve to remind us of that danger, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the underlying idea of the Pope having a role with respect to unity.

Nevemind that the idea that the Pope of Rome: “Chief shepherd and Supreme Pontiff, the Pope by virtue of his position upholds the unity of the Catholic Church” is a patristic idea taught by fathers like Cyprian, Jerome, Optatus, Irenaeus etc…

Should we have a Council of ALL Apostolic Bishops to vote wheather or not to carry on the office of Primacy among Bishops? :wink:

Oh, Sorry Pablope. I saw your post after :smiley:

Perhaps, although I think you’d have to exclude the Anglican bishops since they aren’t recognized by Rome as having valid orders.

A reflection I’ve had myself, when cogitating on this very subject over the years. Who decides who is a bishop in apostolic succession, for the purpose of such a council.



Yet, I’d even venture to say let them all come who actually preside over a community of churches and are given the title of Apostolic Bishop, and still the Catholic Bishops in Communion with Papa will still out vote them.

The point was made, though, that the council of Constantine did Confirm the Supreme office of Peter, and this is not accepted

Likely you are correct that there would not be much of a difference, at the end, if they did. Numbers are numbers. But I like the thought experiment of “what if”.


One might be forced to ask, then, how exclusion adds to the cause of unity.


Because Unity is not just getting together physically, but submitting to a Universal faith among the brotherhood.

I think it would be very interested to hear what all parties claiming Apostolic succession would say about a council vote. Would Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc. all be willing to settle the matter in the form of one council vote?

Maybe the Church Bishops in Communion with Rome would find it outside the faith? Or maybe they would have faith that the Lord would Confirm His Church as He always has.

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