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Author Topic: "First Among Equals;" Title Accorded to Ecumenical Patriarch, When...  (Read 1973 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: April 26, 2012, 06:12:43 AM »

When was the title "First Among Equals" accorded to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and by which entity was it accorded or ratified?  (I've done an internet search and cannot find out when the title was assigned to him and who assigned it, even if he simply took it on, I assume the Holy and Standing Synod would have ratified it.)  (I have the information as to how and when the title "Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome; and Ecumenical Patriarch, by the Grace of God,"  was accorded to him.)
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« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2012, 09:53:44 AM »

Believe it or not, the wiki article on 'Primus inter Pares' or 'Πρῶτος μεταξὺ ἴσων' is instructive.

As a general term, 'first among equals' refers to the senior individual who shares a common rank in a group of similarly ranked people.  Here is what is said in relation to the Church:

"Eastern Orthodox Church
The phrase "first among equals" is also used to describe the role of the Patriarch of Constantinople, who, as the Ecumenical Patriarch, is the first among all the bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. He has no direct jurisdiction over the other patriarchs or the other autocephalous Orthodox churches and cannot interfere in the election of bishops in autocephalous churches but he alone enjoys the right of convening extraordinary synods consisting of them and/or their delegates to deal with ad hoc situations and has also convened well-attended Pan-Orthodox Synods in the last forty years. His title is an acknowledgement of his historic significance and of his privilege to serve as primary spokesman for the Eastern Orthodox Communion and his moral authority is highly respected.
The Eastern Orthodox Church also uses the term "first among equals" in regard to the Bishop of Rome.[3] Whereas the Patriarch of Constantinople is now considered first among the Orthodox patriarchs, the Orthodox Church considers the Bishop of Rome (regarded as the "Patriarch of the West") the "first among equals" in the Pentarchy of the Patriarchal Sees according to the ancient, first millennial order (or "taxis" in Greek) of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem after Constantinople became the eastern capital of the Roman/Byzantine Empire.[4][3]

Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Churches consider the Pope to be the Vicar of Christ, successor of Saint Peter, and leader of the bishops, successors of the Apostles. Due to this, these Churches see the Pope as holding an office senior to that of other bishops, rather than merely being the most senior bishop. This jurisdictional claim was one of the main causes of the East-West Schism in the Christian church, which became formal in 1054. The Dean of the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church is generally considered to be the first among equals in the College." 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primus_inter_pares

In the Roman church the Pope holds a rank unto himself - there are no equals - at least according to their teachings.

From the Orthodox pov, upon the Bishop of Rome's entry into final schism, the Primus role fell to the next most 'senior' - the Bishop of the capital of the Eastern Empire - Constantinople - even though the other sees of the ancient Pentarchy may have older roots. By the schism they were firmly under Muslim domination, if I recall my history.

I suspect that as time passed, the honorific title passed gradually to the EP - perhaps someone with a more scholarly background has more information?

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« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2012, 09:56:39 AM »

Have you researched the title as first belonging to the Pope of Rome? IIRC, Constantinople just assumed it after the schism (I'm pretty certain that is the Russians' perspective).

The post above seems to support this.
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« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2012, 05:00:31 PM »

Russians or not, it had to be after 1054, 1204 or 1453.

What is more interesting is the title "Ecumenical Patriarch," which I think is tied to the "First Among Equals." A Wiki entry on the history of the Church has it thus: "The patriarch thus came to have the title of Ecumenical, which referenced not a universal episcopacy over other bishops, but rather the position of the patriarch as at the center of the oikoumeni, the "household" of the empire." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_Patriarchate_of_Constantinople After the fall of the Western Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople was indeed the one primate who was the closest to the Emperor and thus "ecumenical" in that sense. I had read somewhere that one of the Patriarchs started to call himself that and the rest fell into that usage. Of course, after 1453, the same situation continued in the Ottoman Empire, so that the Ecumenical Patriarch was also the Etnarch (with the exception of the Armenians). However, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there is no functional reason for this title to be used. It has had no theological significance ever, and no current ecclesiastical significance (if it is used in the original sense).
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« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2012, 05:32:48 PM »

Russians or not, it had to be after 1054, 1204 or 1453.

What is more interesting is the title "Ecumenical Patriarch," which I think is tied to the "First Among Equals." A Wiki entry on the history of the Church has it thus: "The patriarch thus came to have the title of Ecumenical, which referenced not a universal episcopacy over other bishops, but rather the position of the patriarch as at the center of the oikoumeni, the "household" of the empire." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_Patriarchate_of_Constantinople After the fall of the Western Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople was indeed the one primate who was the closest to the Emperor and thus "ecumenical" in that sense. I had read somewhere that one of the Patriarchs started to call himself that and the rest fell into that usage. Of course, after 1453, the same situation continued in the Ottoman Empire, so that the Ecumenical Patriarch was also the Etnarch (with the exception of the Armenians). However, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there is no functional reason for this title to be used. It has had no theological significance ever, and no current ecclesiastical significance (if it is used in the original sense).

Actually, "Ecumenical Patriarch" was introduced in the 7th century. One of our posters, at the moment it slips my mind who, has St.Gregory the Great's (unhappy) response to Constantinople's adoption of the title as his current sig.

I can't find it at the moment--which could mean I'm misremembering--but I thought the first ecclesiastical usage of 'primus inter pares' came in reference to the Metropolitan bishops as head of their proviincial synods in the 3rd or 4th centuries (when each provincial synod was basically what we would today call an autocephalous Church, before the regional primacies were fully concentrated in the Pentarchy).
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« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2012, 06:53:03 PM »

My recollection is that "First Among Equals" was accorded to the Ecumenical Patriarch pre-Great Schism, because I recall the Pope of Rome took issue with the title, not that his opinion affected its use.

"Ecumenical Patriarch" was accorded first to Patriarch John the Faster, by the Holy Synod of Constantinople, in the late 6th century, 588 I think; "Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome; and Ecumenical Patriarch, by the Grace of God."  This title was ratified by a synod of the patriarchs of the Ancient Patriarchates, perhaps the ratification was in the (early) 7th century.  "First Among Equals" was not included in the title granted at that time, from what I know.
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« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2012, 08:21:32 PM »

My recollection is that "First Among Equals" was accorded to the Ecumenical Patriarch pre-Great Schism, because I recall the Pope of Rome took issue with the title, not that his opinion affected its use.

"Ecumenical Patriarch" was accorded first to Patriarch John the Faster, by the Holy Synod of Constantinople, in the late 6th century, 588 I think; "Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome; and Ecumenical Patriarch, by the Grace of God."  This title was ratified by a synod of the patriarchs of the Ancient Patriarchates, perhaps the ratification was in the (early) 7th century.  "First Among Equals" was not included in the title granted at that time, from what I know.

I do suspect that the definition of "ecumenical" comes into play here, that being clouded or confused by the western (and now usual) one meaning 'universal' and the actual, original eastern one meaning 'imperial'.
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« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2012, 10:43:57 PM »

I was roaming and found this fascinating entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia of all places.

"Since 518 the whole combination, ’archiepískopos kaì o‘ikoumenikòs patriárches, is not uncommonly used in addresses to the Byzantine patriarchs. But they had not called themselves so before John IV. There is a real difference between these two uses of a title. In addresses to other people, particularly superiors, one may always allow a margin for compliment—especially in Byzantine times. But when a man uses a title himself he sets up a formal claim to it."

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08493a.htm
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« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2012, 11:34:11 PM »

Does the EP ever use "first among equals"?  I know of late the term primus/protus has been bandied about as of late, without the "equals" part, but I can't recall anything but "EP" and "Archbishop of New Rome" ever being used.
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« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2012, 03:58:08 AM »

He doesn't use "First Among Equals" directly, but it is used in all of the Ecumenical Patriarchate  (and all EP eparchies) promotional information, usually coupled with "the spiritual leader of the world's 300 [though I think 270 is a closer figure] million Orthodox Christians."  PLEASE, I DIDN'T WRITE THIS TO CAUSE A DEBATE ABOUT THIS QUOTED TERMINOLOGY AND THEREBY DIVERGE FROM THE TOPIC! I'M WELL AWARE OF HOW HOTLY DISPUTED THIS TERMINOLOGY IS WITHIN THE CHURCH, ESPECIALLY ON INTERNET FORUMS.  Neither does he or the EP use "protos," or "primus," the "protos" issue came up in a conference with Roman Catholics about "primacy" in Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology.  Typically, his correspondence uses the beautiful Byzantine script letter head with an English language  translation for "Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome; and Ecumenical Patriarch, by the Grace of God."  He signs his correspondence, "+Bartholomew of Constantinople," (just like any of the "equals.")  Both of his predecessors employed the same practice.

The EP website notes that he is Orthodoxy's "First Among Equals," but does not note the origin of this title, which is what I am asking about in this topic.

"ialmisry," you were one of  "the usual suspects" I expected to come up with the answer to my inquiry.
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« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2012, 07:34:22 AM »

Is it even a title, though? I'd always seen it as being simply a description of his position in the Church (just as, at least from our point of view, it is a description of the Pope's position pre-Schism) and hence is both accurate and entirely uncontroversial. I don't believe I've seen it used as a title and, if as I suspect, it isn't a formal title but merely descriptive text then we'd have to date it's usage with reference to the EP as beginning with the Great Schism (even if one cannot find an example of its usage at that time it would have been accurate an accurate description).

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« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2012, 09:17:28 AM »

I'm positive that it was either accorded or assumed by the Ecumenical Patriarch before the Schism because I recall the Pope of Rome took issue with it, but did not persue his objection, to the best of my knowledge. Also, I'm positive that the title only encompassed the EP's responsibilities in the East, among the Eastern Patriarchs of the Ancient Patriarchates, and the Church of Cyprus, another fact that supports that it was used before the Schism.  Even though Eastern Orthodox Christians understood the Pope to function as the first among equals, he was never given that title.
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« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2012, 10:20:11 AM »

My suspicion is that derivation from the Roman Princeps is significant, though an aside from the more focused question of ecclesiastical use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princeps

St. Justin's argument that all developments of office beyond the local bishop are not divinely ordained or necessary to the Church although they are justifiably adopted for pragmatic reasons[1] is arguably applicable to questions of how they came to be regarded "structurally" as well (in quotations because details are not historically static).

St. Justin's perspective is strongly confirmed, IMO, by the picture presented by mainstream church historians as to how ecclesiastical offices and structure evolved in the first five centuries of the Church.
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« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2012, 10:50:25 AM »

I'm positive that it was either accorded or assumed by the Ecumenical Patriarch before the Schism because I recall the Pope of Rome took issue with it, but did not persue his objection, to the best of my knowledge. Also, I'm positive that the title only encompassed the EP's responsibilities in the East, among the Eastern Patriarchs of the Ancient Patriarchates, and the Church of Cyprus, another fact that supports that it was used before the Schism.  Even though Eastern Orthodox Christians understood the Pope to function as the first among equals, he was never given that title.

I think that jmbedjdl is correct and that you are confusing it with "Ecumenical Patriarch" with "first among equals.
As to the former (that 'first among equals' is not an official title), if it was, I would think that that Patriarch would use it and/or it would appear somewhere on the EP and GOA's official sites. Secondly because as you point out when it appears in GOA literature, it's often used in parallel with the 'spiritual leader of..." which is definitely not an official title--and 'first among equals' is entirely non-controversial. Even the strongest critics of the Fanar or Patriarchal centralization within Orthodoxy are fine with 'first among equals' as an acceptable definition of primacy.

As to the latter (that you are confusing it with 'Ecumenical Patriarch'), Rome *did* object to that title: see for example St. Gregory the Great's Ep. XXXIII, "I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist,". But after multiple appeals to both the EP and to the Imperial government to rescind the title fell on deaf ears, Rome didn't take the objections to the next level (of formally cutting commemoration or communion, etc) and so the title was left to stand.
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« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2012, 10:52:25 AM »

^  +1
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« Reply #15 on: April 27, 2012, 11:02:48 AM »

I can't find it at the moment--which could mean I'm misremembering--but I thought the first ecclesiastical usage of 'primus inter pares' came in reference to the Metropolitan bishops as head of their proviincial synods in the 3rd or 4th centuries (when each provincial synod was basically what we would today call an autocephalous Church, before the regional primacies were fully concentrated in the Pentarchy).

I think this is what I was thinking of
Quote
Canon XXXIV of the Apostolic Canons:
The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do
those things only which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

It is one of the earliest documented references for 'protos' being used for the head of an autocephalous Church, but it's missing the 'among equals' so obviously not relevant to your specific inquiry.
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« Reply #16 on: April 27, 2012, 11:39:04 AM »

He doesn't use "First Among Equals" directly, but it is used in all of the Ecumenical Patriarchate  (and all EP eparchies) promotional information, usually coupled with "the spiritual leader of the world's 300 [though I think 270 is a closer figure] million Orthodox Christians."  PLEASE, I DIDN'T WRITE THIS TO CAUSE A DEBATE ABOUT THIS QUOTED TERMINOLOGY AND THEREBY DIVERGE FROM THE TOPIC! I'M WELL AWARE OF HOW HOTLY DISPUTED THIS TERMINOLOGY IS WITHIN THE CHURCH, ESPECIALLY ON INTERNET FORUMS.  Neither does he or the EP use "protos," or "primus," the "protos" issue came up in a conference with Roman Catholics about "primacy" in Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology.  Typically, his correspondence uses the beautiful Byzantine script letter head with an English language  translation for "Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome; and Ecumenical Patriarch, by the Grace of God."  He signs his correspondence, "+Bartholomew of Constantinople," (just like any of the "equals.")  Both of his predecessors employed the same practice.

The EP website notes that he is Orthodoxy's "First Among Equals," but does not note the origin of this title, which is what I am asking about in this topic.

"ialmisry," you were one of  "the usual suspects" I expected to come up with the answer to my inquiry.
I have not seen any such use much more than a century ago, and it seems it was used first in Western sources to describe the EP to distingush him from the recently proclaimed Vatican I papacy, the term seemingly borrowed from Anglican polemics against the Vatican, during their days of ecumenical hopes of recognition as "the Western Orthodox Church."  It seems to have been picked up by the EP during the time that the Bolsheviks held its rival, the Patriarchate of Moscow, down, its frequency among Orthodox picking up during the 60's into the seventies.  I don't think it has ever been officially sanctioned.
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« Reply #17 on: April 27, 2012, 11:52:03 AM »

Isn't 'protus' viewed more as a concept and not as a title per se?
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« Reply #18 on: April 27, 2012, 11:33:29 PM »

Why isn't anybody ever the last among equals?

The first shall go last, and the last shall go first....
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