Rorate Caeli

"Patriarch of the West" - The Pontifical Council for Christian Unity explains

You can find the explanation here, in Italian. In this case, we will wait for the official translation by the Vatican Information Service, to be released in a few hours. The main point is that the term was "obsolete" and did not properly reflect the structure of the Latin Church or the current meaning of "West".

Update - Vatican report:

VATICAN CITY, MAR 22, 2006 (VIS) - In the wake of media comments concerning one of the Pope's titles - that of "Patriarch of the West" - which did not appear among the list of papal titles at the beginning of this year's edition of the "Annuario Pontificio" (pontifical yearbook), the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has issued a communique clarifying the reasons for the omission.
"From a historical perspective," the communique reads, "the ancient Patriarchates of the East, defined by the Councils of Constantinople (381) and of Chalcedon (451), covered a fairly clearly demarcated territory. At the same time, the territory of the see of the Bishop of Rome remained somewhat vague. In the East, under the ecclesiastical imperial system of Justinian (527-565), alongside the four Eastern Patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), the Pope was included as the Patriarch of the West. Rome, on the other hand, favored the idea of the three Petrine episcopal sees: Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Without using the title 'Patriarch of the West,' the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870), the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Florence (1439), listed the Pope as the first of the then five Patriarchs.
"The title 'Patriarch of the West' was adopted in the year 642 by Pope Theodore. Thereafter it appeared only occasionally and did not have a clear meaning. It flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the context of a general increase in the Pope's titles, and appeared for the first time in the 'Annuario Pontificio' in 1863."
The term 'West' currently refers to a cultural context not limited only to Western Europe but including North America, Australia and New Zealand, thus differentiating itself from other cultural contexts, says the communique. "If we wished to give the term 'West' a meaning applicable to ecclesiastical juridical language, it could be understood only in reference to the Latin Church." In this way, the title "Patriarch of the West," would describe the Bishop of Rome's special relationship with the Latin Church, and his special jurisdiction over her.
"The title 'Patriarch of the West,' never very clear, over history has become obsolete and practically unusable. It seems pointless, then, to insist on maintaining it. Even more so now that the Catholic Church, with Vatican Council II, has found, in the form of episcopal conferences and their international meetings, the canonical structure best suited to the needs of the Latin Church today."
The communique concludes: "Abandoning the title of 'Patriarch of the West' clearly does not alter in any way the recognition of the ancient patriarchal Churches, so solemnly declared by Vatican Council II. ... The renouncement of this title aims to express a historical and theological reality, and at the same time, ... could prove useful to ecumenical dialogue."


  1. "The term 'West' currently refers to a cultural context not limited only to Western Europe but including North America, Australia and New Zealand, thus differentiating itself from other cultural contexts,"

    This is meaningless blather: the Patriarchs of the East, not longer represent one cultural or national identiy, but extend their jurisdiction to all who pertain to their traditional rites. Because jurisdiction has always been understood as mediated by the lower ranks of the clergy. Hence the Bishop of Rome as patriarch of the west holds jurisdiction over all the latin rite catholics in all parts of the world. And thus the title is just as much, if not more valid today, that it has a more proper ecclesiological meaning.

    If the title Patriarch of the West is not longer meaningful, according to this rationale, presented by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, then the same rationale argues that the other Patriarchal Sees, are also equally meaningly less; which is a contradiction to the decrees of several Ecumenical Councils. (oops -- I guess no one notices)

    It also seems from this communique, that the non use of the title in the Annuario, is a formal declaration of the rejection of the title.

    My question is: is anyone in the Curia, in the name of being sensitive to the Orthodox, have any idea what being sensitive to the Orthodox means in any sense, or are they just merrily doing what suits their fancy, whether it offends easterners or westerners.

    Oh, the voluntarism of it all!

  2. In the Orthodox Church, the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Moscow certainly do have territorially defined jurisdiction. And there are jurisdictions, such as Greece and Bulgaria that are not under the jurisdiction of any Patriarch.

    Similarly, Romanian and Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics are not under the jurisdiction of any Patriarch, though some Byzantine Catholics HAVE a Patriarch: the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria.

    And the Bishop of Rome is the head of the Latin Rite whether or not he has the honorific title of Patriarch of the West.

    Don't get me wrong: it's not my favorite Papal decision of all time. But it's certainly defensible. And I'm willing to defer to the Pope's judgment.

    It seems that some have become so atavistic in their shouted rejection of any papal decisions they don't approve of that they feel free to make public hay and use terms like "meaningless blather" sort of out of habit. It's not REALLY a matter of being respectful except when defined doctrine or something deeply connected with the life of the Church is involved. If you don't like the decision, slang the Pope! We live in a democracy and it's the "Conciliar Church" after all; why not?

  3. As I've said before, removing a nearly 1,500-year-old tradition seems a Bad Thing and in this case is offensive to the Christian East as this is one of the Pope's titles that they can accept!

    'Patriarch of the West' means he is directly in charge of all Roman Rite Catholics.

    The Bulgarian Orthodox Church does have its own patriarch.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Jeff, you confuse the Ecumenical Office with the Pope.

    But even that office said the change "may" help ecumenical affairs.

    If the Pope as you argue is free to jettison ecclesiastical tradition, then why not accord me the freedom to criticize him for it; because if he won't stick to Tradition, then you certainly cannot demand that I too reject tradition, of criticizing the Pope when he is in error.

    St. Alphonsus said, "who can be ignorant that the Pope can be obnoxious by his errors?".

    St. Bernard, by the way, at a local council in the Kingdom of Arles, convinced the assembled Bishops to write the Pope and threaten him with excommunication if he failed to resist the Emperor on the question of lay investiture.

    Try to wrap that around a thesis of papolatry.

    So, we catholics are not atavistic. You show you rejection of Catholicism by your name calling of what Catholics Saints and Doctors of the Church have always done and taught.

    I guess St. Paul was atavistic for confronting St. Peter at Antioch?


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