Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic World News News Feature

Benedict XVI drops a traditional papal title March 02, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI has dropped one of the traditional titles of the Roman Pontiff.

Evidently hoping to eliminate one possible obstacle to ecumenical progress with the Orthodox world, the Holy Father has renounced the title "Patriarch of the West."

The new 2006 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the official Vatican yearbook, carries 8 other traditional titles for the Pope, but does not include the "Patriarch of the West" designation that appeared in previous editions. The first ceremonial copy of the Annuario was presented to Pope Benedict on February 18; the volume will not go on sale to the public until mid-March.

The Pope is now identified in the Annuario as: "Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God."

Pope Benedict, who reportedly made the decision himself to drop the title, evidently wished to eliminate any notion that the Holy See represents the Church of "the West," and is therefore separate from the Eastern tradition.

The designation "Patriarch of the West," which traditionally appeared in that list of titles just before "Primate of Italy," has rarely been employed since the Great Schism of 1054, which separated the Orthodox churches from the Holy See. From the Orthodox perspective, authority in the Church could be traced to the five original patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. But some Catholic theologians-- notably the late Cardinal Yves Congar-- have argued that the term "Patriarch of the West" has no clear historical or theological basis. It was introduced into papal nomenclature in 1870, at the time of the First Vatican Council. Pope Benedict chose to remove the title at a time when discussions with the Orthodox churches have centered on the issue of papal primacy. The Holy Father wishes to emphasize the service that the Bishop of Rome performs for the entire Christian community, as the focus of unity in the universal Church. Pope John Paul II-- who reportedly considered dropping the "Patriarch of the West" title during his own pontificate-- had also emphasizes this service to the universal Church. And Pope Paul VI made the same point by signing the documents of Vatican II as Episcopus Catholicae Ecclesiae, confirming that the Bishop of Rome is the pastor of the universal Church.

The titles accorded to the Roman Pontiff have developed over the centuries, with the different designations reflecting the shifts in perception of the Pope's power and apostolic authority. The very term "pope" was not always used exclusively in reference to the Bishop of Rome. It was applied to other bishops until the 11th century, when Pope Gregory VII issued an order that the title Pope should be reserved for the successor to St. Peter.

The first title listed for the Pontiff, "Bishop of Rome," sets out the primary function of the Pope, who is elected by the clergy of Rome (represented by the College of Cardinals in a conclave). The richest of his titles is "Vicar of Christ," which refers not to his temporal power but to his divine commission. This title came into use in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Beginning in the 12th century, as Roman Pontiffs claimed greater authority over diocesan bishops, new titles were introduced. Pope Innocent IV (1234-1254) claimed the title "Vicar of God"-- a term that is no longer used. The First Vatican Council definitively established the authority of the Pope, as the primacy conferred by Christ upon Peter and his successors. Vatican II confirmed the titles "Vicar of Christ" and "Successor of Peter."

The term "Sovereign Pontiff" can be traced back to the close of the 5th century. The title, which has its origins in the title for the Roman emperors of an earlier era, was initially applied to all metropolitan archbishops. Again it was in the 11th century that the title came to be applied exclusively to the Bishop of Rome. The addition of the phrase "of the Universal Church" is a more recent alteration of this title.

The final title attached to the Pope, "Servant of the Servants of God," was used by Church leaders including Sts. Augustine and Benedict. It was not reserved for the Pope until the 13th century. The documents of Vatican II reinforce the understanding of this title as a reference to the Pope's role as a function of collegial authority, in which the Bishop of Rome serves the world's bishops.

The titles "Primate of Italy," "Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman province," and "Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City" are references to the legal and canonical authority of the Pope as defined by the laws of the Church and the Lateran Accords of 1929.