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I first bought this book in 1983, and put it on my shelf for reference. I never read the whole thing, till I did a series of reading in 2004 on the Catholic theology and history. I read the book in May 2004, and was pleased with the perspectives this provided on the historical development of the papacy and the gradual development of the "traditional" concept that the role of the Pope in Rome derives from the earliest era and is based on the role assigned to Peter by Jesus.
Ohlig is a good critical scholar, and his review and analysis include a good critical study of the history. He analyzes the development of the role of the Bishop of Rome and tradition related to that role. He references various historical documents, including official records of various councils, to detail the gradual development of the Papacy.
Ohlig finds the first historical roots for a claim to Papal primacy and infallibility only in the 900s. Even then, it is only in embryonic form, and a symbolic reference. Only later is the theory, as now understood, gradually developed and related to the biblical reference.
Ohlig determines basically that the tradition and official position cannot be supported by the historical evidence. He builds a body of consistent Catholic evidence that this was not an official position of the Roman Catholic Church, and appeals to the role of Peter became more insistent and took on a semi-official character only after the Protestant Reformation.
In my own study of the matter, the most lamentable aspect of the Petrine Primacy error is that it totally overlooked the ancient collegial approach of all branches of the Christian church before AD 1000. The various centres, primarily the original centres of development of the Christian faith in the first century, were recognized as equal and independent but cooperative administrative corps of the broader visible Christian church.
The Bishop of Rome gradually became more prominent and more involved in the total affairs of society after the dissolution of the Roman Empire, overrun by the Germanic invaders. After the German tribes cut off the east from the west, the west went into isolation, while the East maintained more of its former character, but was insular in its separation from the events of Europe.
Ongoing Roman Empire
Ironically, the Roman Empire died in the west, and Rome was no longer in the Roman Empire. There was a long series of German (Gothic) Emperors, over a small area of Europe, unconnected with the ongoing Roman Empire of Constantinople.
The Roman Empire continued as always in the east. The centre of weight of Rome had long been in Constantinople. The section of Turkey known from the Greek name as Anatolia is even today still called Rum, in honour of the Roman identity of that territory even through the centuries after the Turkish conquest.
The use of the term Byzantine is a derogatory reference (though originally descriptive, based on the old city of Byzantium, next to which Constantinople had been built) by the west to the "Eastern Empire," which never lost its identity as the Roman Empire. Constantinople has long been the capital of the Roman Empire, surpassing Rome in importance before the actual loss of the city of Rome to the Goths.
Though turned inward in a defence of its tenuous borders, the Roman Empire continued in clear identity there until crushed by the final Turkish capture of Constantinople in 1563, while the remnants of the Empire unravelled in the West, and Europe was reorganized into various German kingdoms and empires, one of which was finally the ludicrous Holy Roman Empire, which brought the papacy under full Frankish-German domination, from which it never recovered. Though unrelated to that historic impetus, it is interesting to note that we now once again have a German pope in Pope Benedict, who succeeded the Polish John Paul II.
In the early years of the Roman Empire, the Bishop of Rome, as one of the original "patriarchs" of the Christians, had the greatest geographical range of all the early "sees." This also gave Rome a dominance in the West, which became synonymous with the former western Roman Empire. The pope lost contact with the eastern churches, and any attention given them was communicated in terms of the universal authority and primacy experienced culturally in Western Europe.
Arrogation of Superiority
This shifted the western view into skewing the original historical role of the Bishop of Rome into an arrogant view of Rome in relation to the other early Christian patriarchates. The Metropolitan of Rome now considered himself even superior to the other patriarchal metropolitans. No wonder the Eastern churches resented the oppressive and arrogant attitude of Rome. And the Protestants had their own objections from within the western cultural history.
In his book Ohlig presents many historical documents and the views of other scholars, all of which basically confirm this gradual one-sided assumption of universal authority on the part of the medieval popes.
Ohlig then turns to the controversial question of positive possibilities for universality among Christians that might accommodate this skewed Catholic view, moderating it in light of the historical evidence, and looking for ways in which the Protestants, and to some extent, the Eastern Orthodox, could in good conscience consider physical union with the Roman Catholic Church.
He proposes the pope's role as a non-juridical symbol of unity. The pope's role in an ecumenical cooperation of further organize unity would be somewhat similar to that of a constitutional monarch, who has no administrative authority but retains a symbolic and charismatic duty.
If you can get hold of this book, it will fill you in on many historical details critical to understanding the history of western Christianity and culture. Without knowing where we have come from, we can surely not well understand where we are going.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Critical Thought Construction: Schubert Ogden
Denominations, Doctrines and Fellowship
Greek Orthodox Church
Petros the Rock and the Rock of the Church
Rahner's Dynamic and Practical Thought: Some Reflections on the Dynamic of Relationship in Modern Theology
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First reading notes written 7 May 2004
Expanded 22 August 2007
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 28 August 2007
Posted on Amazon 2 March 2009
Last edited 9 July 2011
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.