Vatican II - Voice of The Church
Vatican II - Voice of The Church

Antioch and the Church of the Third Millennium

By Arthur Wells


The concept for this brief series was prompted by a proclamation by Pope Benedict XVI of a 'Year of Paul'. The posting of the first part of the essay was timed to mark the joint feast of the two major Apostles Peter and Paul on 29 June 2009. The meeting of the two men at Antioch recorded in Galatians 2 is a neglected New Testament text and some of the implications were thought to be worth further study. The text is marked by plain speaking: Peter was corrected by Paul on a fundamental matter and the article asked whether this was an early exercise in apostolic collegiality.

The second instalment reviewed the varied history of the Christian Church between the apostolic period and the Second Vatican Council. It dealt hardly at all with the varied differences between the eastern and the western churches, both before and after the great schism of 1054 AD. In the eastern church, now commonly called the Orthodox, collegiality and a level of decentralisation have always been taken for granted. But overall, the relationship between the Successor of Peter and his fellow successors of the apostles - the bishops - has been variable. More of the context can be found on this website in Vatican II Basics which contains Councils through History and Vatican II - The Historical Context. These articles show that Vatican I (1869-70) left the ecclesiology of the Church unbalanced. Vatican II (1962-65) corrected the imbalance by recovering, from apostolic and earlier times, the true function of each bishop. Their election and/or their appointment has varied over the centuries, but in the opinion of Prof. Nicholas Lash, the western Church has never before been so centralised and so controlled by Rome. (See Vatican II - Of Happy Memory - and Hope? by Nicholas Lash.)

This instalment, following subsequent study and expert advice, concludes that Paul's 'confrontation' with Peter at Antioch could not be reliably linked with the doctrine of collegiality. Nevertheless, the meeting at Antioch remains an important biblical moment to be considered. In so far as an apology is needed, it is hoped that this site's readership will appreciate that the small website team continue themselves to be students.

But that meeting at Antioch was of considerable importance in highlighting a weakness in Peter's own understanding of his mission (not in the mission itself); and it highlights Paul's key role in directing the Christian mission to all the people of God's creation. Peter's inclination is recorded initially as towards the Jewish people only. In apostolic times, however, the synthesis established among the apostles and disciples was that Christ's mission is to all the 'People of God', a terminology reclaimed at Vatican II. This most recent Council of the Church is the benchmark by which many of us have tried to live our Christianity. The question asked in the first instalment about collegiality and Antioch (Galatians 2) was perhaps appropriate at the conclusion of 'The year of Paul'. But thanks to deeper study and the contemporary authorities consulted, it seems that we asked the wrong question. Reverting to the authorities of the Council, there are more important and relevant questions to ask, and answers also.

Questions arising from Vatican II in the third Millennium

Among much demanding attention after Vatican II, a few better questions and some answers (Q & A) are:

Q.Where do we find Church doctrine (teaching) on 'Collegiality'?

Most recently in the teachings of Vatican II as well as in much of the practise of the Roman Church itself up to, perhaps the last century and a half. The Eastern, or Orthodox, Churches also often of apostolic foundation, have never lost the practise of collegiality.

Q.Was there plain speaking, as in Antioch, at the Second Vatican Council?

Most certainly: see below. E.g. Cardinal Frings.

Q.Why is there now very little plain speaking in the Catholic Church today in contrast to Antioch (and Vatican II)?

Because Rome is increasingly authoritarian. E.g. Bishop Butler OSB.

Q.Do all bishops share responsibility for governing the universal Church with the Bishop of Rome? (Collegiality)

Yes. It is plainly the case from the testimony of the bishops at the Council and by the documents of the Second Vatican Council, promulgated by Pope Paul VI himself.

Q.What accounts for the failure of the institutional Church to implement this key Council teaching on collegiality?

The most probable answer is a disinclination of an over-powerful Roman Curia to give up its present undoubted power. This is also perhaps due to a false view of a near-abstract concept of 'The papacy', consisting of Pope and Curia combined. There is no biblical warrant for, or tradition of, control by the Roman Curia in the first Christian millennium. In anything like their present forms, the College of Cardinals and the Curia (court) only came into being in the twelfth century as the court of the Bishop of Rome. For a long period from the Middle Ages to the Risorgimento in 1870, the Pope was as much a temporal as a spiritual leader: he required supporting staff. But up to the Great Schism (1054), virtually no Curia existed and the pope was universally considered, simply, but importantly, as the focus of Christian Unity, however well, or badly that prime function was performed.

Q.Was there any diminution of the importance of the Pope during the Council?

Certainly not. Certain formulations of his role through tradition and from Vatican Council One were incorporated into the documents. Thirty years later, Pope John Paul II in his encyclical on Christian Unity (Ut Unum Sint 1995) made a particular point of asking Christian leaders how his role (as successor of Peter) should better be exercised.

A Fresh look at the Testimony of Council Fathers

Throughout the website, as much as possible is offered to the reader in the words of the men who debated the issues and who forged the Council documents. The documents of the Council are, of course, themselves also available to the reader via the website. Pope John XXIII said, almost obviously, a Council was not needed to restate the Catholic Faith. While no one regarded the documents as a detailed plan of action, it must be recalled—and regularly—that they were all promulgated by Pope Paul VI as the teaching of the Catholic Church. Addressing the Roman Curia, Pope Paul said they must be: 'attributed to the breath of the Holy Spirit.' (23 April 1966). Pope John Paul II, welcoming the third millennium, said that Vatican II was 'a sure compass'. (Novo Millenio Ineunte 2001). Views of senior Council fathers follow.

Cardinal Franz König, Archbishop of Vienna

Cardinal König was an important figure at the Council. He was entrusted by the then Pope with the Presidency of the Commission for Unbelievers. König 's disagreements with Cardinal Ratzinger, then President of the CDF, were controlled, but well known. (Read König at greater length in the Problems and Challenges section of this site.

Some relevant quotations from Cardinal König follow:

'Within the Catholic Church itself, no one has difficulties about the existence of the Petrine office.'

'To cope with a rapidly changing world, the Catholic Church has to preserve its unity. But it also has to develop Catholic diversity. What style of leadership will enable it to do this? From the point of view of ecumenical endeavour, the very existence and exercise of Roman primacy are the real difficulty, but within the Catholic Church itself the question has long been: how can or should the present structure of command, which in the past century has become so centralised, be amended or improved?'

'A gradual decentralisation is needed, so as to strengthen the concern and responsibility of the college of bishops for the whole Church, under and with the Petrine office. That was the direction specified at the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, the competence of individual bishops both locally and regionally needs to be strengthened too, for they are the shepherds of their local Churches, the vicars of Christ in their own dioceses. That is why Vatican II described the Church as a communion of local Churches.'

'Within the Catholic Church itself, no one has difficulties about the existence of the Petrine office, served by the necessary bureaucracy adjusted in line with the times. What is often felt to be defective is the present style of leadership practised by the authorities in the Roman Curia in dealing with the diverse and multiple dioceses throughout the world.'

Cardinal Josef Frings, Archbishop of Cologne

Cardinal Frings often spoke in the name of some sixty German Bishops. Frings' peritus (adviser) was Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, who then appeared to be a young forward-looking theologian. Addressing the Council in 1963 and addressing in particular Cardinal Michael Browne, vice-president of the Council's Theological Commission, Cardinal Frings (Council debate; Second Session,) somewhat directly in the manner of Galatians 2, said:

'... the Holy Office's methods and behaviour do not conform to the modern era and are a cause of scandal to the world. No one should be judged and condemned, without having been heard, without knowing what he is accused of, and without having the opportunity to amend what he can reasonably be reproached with.'

Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels

Cardinal Suenens was a friend of Pope John, and together with the then Cardinal G B Montini (later Pope Paul VI), Suenens was a principal architect of Council development after the first session. He wrote at length (1968) of the Co-responsibility of the Episcopal College with the Pope at its head, and more importantly (for him and for many):

'the rediscovery of the People of God as a whole, as a single reality and then by way of consequence, the co-responsibility thus implied for every member of the Church.'

Abbot, later Bishop BC Butler OSB

Dom Christopher Butler was a full member of the Council and of its Theological Commission. Abbot Butler might and (in the opinion of many) should have been appointed Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in 1963. He was by far the principal, internationally recognised, Anglophone contributor at Vatican II. More can be read of him in About Bishop Butler.

On the subject of collegiality and therefore to a substantial degree on the exercise of the papal office Butler wrote in trenchant terms, although more diplomatically than Paul to Peter at Antioch—or two centuries later—than Josef Frings to the Curia:

'the coming Extraordinary Synod (1969) serves to pinpoint the basic issue, which, it may be hoped, the Synod will face and satisfactorily resolve: the issue of the real meaning and place of Episcopal collegiality.'

[It shirked the issue]. Butler, both in his public statements, in his published work, but even more forcefully in his private correspondence is in favour of collegiality and its necessity in real terms in practice. His views appear in an article in The Tablet:

'The teaching of Vatican II on the episcopal college is not in issue today. What is in issue is, how in practice the principle of collegiality should be made something more than a dead letter.' (The Tablet 29 September 1969).

The whole of this article and other supporting material will be posted later on the website. What is important about collegiality is its obvious common sense. Whereas we began with the thought that it is the recovery of a principle from the early Church, as exemplified by the clash between Peter, Paul and the other disciples at Antioch, it raises other principles which must be considered elsewhere.


Peter's Role. While at times in the Western Churches, 'Peter's' role has been exaggerated, here is not the place to expound that point. What happened when the late John Paul II asked the world how his papal ministry should be exercised can be examined later. (Ut Unum Sint 1995). Neither in modern times, nor recently at Vatican II has the overwhelming Catholic view about the importance of the Pope's office of unity been questioned: To repeat, Cardinal Koenig has spoken for all:

'Within the Catholic Church itself, no one has difficulties about the existence of the Petrine Office.'

The need for dialogue. Jesus' instruction to his disciples was to go and teach all peoples. This instruction had implications for the disciples' interpretation of their connection with the old Law. Peter did not grasp the need for adaptation, but Paul did. Peter needed to be corrected and saw the point. Antioch was an early reported exercise of debate and discussion. It led to a better decision deriving from Paul's appreciation of the disciples' teaching mission and it resulted in a common authority. However, since Vatican II, analogous to the situation at Antioch, or not, the majority of the worlds' bishops have been failing in their mission of governing the Church and reaching decisions in communion and in community as envisaged by the teaching of Vatican II on collegiality.

A History of 'Peter' - Saints and Sinners

Duffy's narrative (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this essay) ends well before the death of John Paul II. It paints an uncertain picture of the future, with the possibility of regression and great damage to the Church. This conclusion is reinforced by the present pontificate of Benedict XVI, when a serious journalist: Madelaine Bunting 'a one-time Tablet columnist' writes in a major UK newspaper, of herself and an elderly, pious relative hanging on to the Church by their fingernails. Accompanied by a rare leading article in The Guardian on the Church Bunting wrote: 'The Catholic Church is one of the world's most enduring institutions: too often in history, that institutional survival has come at the cost of everything it purports to believe'. The editorial was equally trenchant (and accurate): 'On two of the central moral issues of the day, sexuality and scientific research, the Catholic leadership clings to an absolutist position; and it drowns out the church's other message on compassion and social justice.' (The Guardian, Friday 22 May 2009)

Similar sentiments appeared thirty years ago in a powerful book by a South African Dominican, campaigning against Apartheid and for the poor. (Jesus before Christianity, Albert Nolan OP, DLT; 1997). Another unhappy aspect is that many of these absolutist positions, when properly considered, prove to be false absolutes and cannot stand up to scrutiny.

Return to Antioch

If this essay has done nothing else, for the writer at least, it has re-affirmed from Peter and Paul at Antioch (Galatians 2) that open dialogue is essential. Biblical testimony records that error can and should be admitted. Truth is essential to the mission of the Church.

Relevant Bibliography

"Bible" - Acts of the Apostles.; St Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

"The Theology of Vatican II" (BC Butler, DLT, 1967 rev. & enlarged 1982)

"The Early Church" (Henry Chadwick, Penguin, 1967)

"Saints and Sinners '“ A History of the Popes" (Eamon Duffy, 1997, Yale University Press)

"Theology for Pilgrims" (Nicholas Lash, DLT, 2008 )

"Late Antiquity" (Peter Brown, Harvard University Press, 1998)