Reading the Franciscan Tea Leaves

Adam A.J. DeVille, Associate Professor of Theology at the  University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, IN and author of Orthodoxy  and the Roman Papacy, on Pope Francis.



  1. When Pope Francis descended the stairs to the tomb of Peter, he found there all the Eastern Bishops in a circle with Patriarch Bartholomew in the lead. What a different world from the one upstairs!

    What a wonderful symbol of going back to the past before the monarchical papacy and the cardinals assembled in the Church above!

    After praying kneeling at the tomb, Francis stood up and remained praying as Eastern Bishops ascended the stairs to assume their positions at the head of the procession (another symbol?).

    As the procession left the inside of Saint Peters, before he stepped outside, Francis checked his watch. Evidently he was really concerned for the length of the service. Hopefully he will also get the trains of the Curia running on time, too.

  2. Are you sure it was Eastern *Orthodox* bishops who were there and the Ecumenical Patriarch? Maybe the Eastern rite catholic bishops?

  3. As he knelt before the crypt, several leaders of both Eastern Rite Catholic and Orthodox churches joined him

    The Catholic TV coverage mentioned the Ecumenical Patriarch and the one bishop certainly looked like him and looked like the guy labeled the Ecumenical Patriach who exchanged the kiss of peace with the Pope at the Agnus Dei. But maybe all these TV commentators don’t know much more than I do.

  4. I think Professor deVille’s comments and insights are a good read – especially, his insistence that with regard to the ties Francis is forging with the East, including particular liturgical gestures, he is continuing the legacy and path of Benedict. On that point, NCR and other media outlets have overplayed the ‘Francis-is-totally-different-than-Benedict’ narrative.

    What I’d be interested in discussing is the manner in which Francis’s “liturgical revolution” plays into these on-going dialogues. On the one hand, de-mystifying the papacy is certainly needed in order to bring the pope back among his peers so to speak.
    On the other hand, the “liturgical revolution” could be seen by some among the East (and West) as a movement away from something like a common liturgical ‘ethos’ (but not necessarily form or style) between East and West that Benedict (may have) aimed at long before becoming pope and throughout his pontificate – an ethos that embrace the reformed liturgy, but always with the much of the styling of the pre-conciliar.
    Professor deVille seems to think Francis is involved in the former effort liturgically, but almost certainly not the latter. I suppose some here would accuse him of “damage control” (and maybe misrepresentation and cruelty) but I’d love for others to weigh in.

    Also, just to continue Professor deVille’s line of thinking and the discussions (arguments?) we’ve seen here. Consider the altar for Francis’ inaugural mass. N.B.: Benedict didn’t have candle-wall and crucifix at his.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #5:
      Jack, if you look at the video (!) it does not seem to me that the Patriarch or any Orthodox (Eastern or Oriental) prelates were present. See around 0:37:22, and 0:43:10. If I were to guess what might have occasioned the confusion (assuming that this observation is correct), it is that the the Coptic Catholic patriarch, Naguib, was wearing a black hat-and-veil which is visually similar to what Patriarch Bartholomew was also wearing. Also, I don’t think the position in the procession was necessarily symbolic. The Eastern Catholic hierarchs processed according to their order in the College of Cardinals (for those who were cardinals) and, in any case, processional precedence works in reverse, so the most important figures (in this case the Pope) walks at the end.

  5. The Extraordinary Historical Significance of His All-Holiness’ Presence at Pope Francis’ Installation as Bishop of Rome

    Speaking of the media getting things right, I have been wondering about this for awhile.

    The occasion is being presented in the media as something that has not happened since the ecclesiastical schism that separated Christian East and Christian West in the eleventh century. But that characterization is almost certainly wrong—this is quite likely the first time in history that a Bishop of Constantinople will attend the installation of a Bishop of Rome.

    Part of my reason for wondering about this is that the history is very complicated, and I suspect a definite answer is probably a doctoral dissertation away:

    During the sixth century, Byzantine armies conquered the Italian peninsula, returning the city of Rome to the imperial Roman government, now centered in Constantinople. In this context, which lasted from the mid-sixth century until the loss of Byzantine influence in Italy in the eighth century, the election of a new Roman bishop required the approval of the Byzantine emperor (the same, of course, was true of the election of a new Ecumenical Patriarch).

    There are a few examples from this Byzantine period, such as the election of Pope Pelagius I in 556, where the man elected to be the Roman bishop was actually in Constantinople at the time of his election. While it is possible that the sacramental ceremony to install the new pope could have occurred in Constantinople—whereby the Patriarch of Constantinople would have been present—it is far more likely that the official ceremony would have occurred in Rome and, therefore, would have been conducted without the Patriarch’s presence.

  6. Adam DeVille, the author of this article, seems to think that Benedict XVI is the first, or only pope who has cared about relations with the Orthodox. In fact, this concern goes back to Pius XI, who wrote 23 documents concerning the Orthodox.

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #7:
      I didn’t read it like that at all. deVille said Benedict single-handedly started writing about the Pope as equal to the patriarchs in the ’60s and onward through his papacy not that he alone among popes cared about the Orthodox.
      I think we can challenge him on detail (for instance, how does Benedict’s dropping ‘Patriarch of the West’ work with the picture; or, more interestingly, did Benedict actually maintain his early theological opinions on the matter or let them fall to the wayside) or tone, but I don’t see him making the kind of exclusive claim you perceived.
      At the least, Benedict is fairly well-known to have had the East-West dialogue close to his heart, leading him, most notably, to get the Joint International Dialogues going again after some large gaps under Bl. John Paul II.

      And if we’re being historically picky, why not say Benedict XV and the start the Oriental Institute? Or Clement VIII and the Union of Brest? Or maybe even Gregory X? 🙂

      1. @Brendan McInerny – comment #8:
        Point taken about there being other popes one could name. 🙂 I was thinking of the modern ecumenical movement and Catholic interactions with it during the twentieth century.

        So you are reading it that DeVille wants to make the narrow claim that Francis is following in Benedict’s footsteps precisely in asserting that the pope is equivalent to the Eastern patriarchs? Maybe you are right and that is what DeVille is saying. But do we even know that about Francis yet? Francis hasn’t spoken to this question specifically, has he?

        I took the claim to be the broad one — that Francis was following Benedict in being passionately interested in the Orthodox, and then that DeVille gave as evidence of Benedict’s interest the statement about the papacy and the patriarchs. My response was, well, he’s following more than just Benedict!

      2. @Rita Ferrone – comment #11:
        Yes. I agree wholeheartedly that Francis would be following more than just Benedict. I suppose my point was more to the effect that deVille’s only explicit claim to Benedictine exceptionalism was in Benedict’s earlier theological position that the Pope was equal to the other Patriarchs, and that since that was the only material evidence we had on deVille’s view of Benedict’s exceptionalism, it would be unfair to accuse him of suggesting no other pope in recent or remote history had an interest in relations with the East. That is all.
        For what its worth, I’m not sure Benedict has really maintained that point of view. I assume (making an ass of me alone) he’s referring to ideas expressed in The New People of God, but I’m not sure if Benedict maintained the ideas therein or dropped them around the same time he and de Lubac were arguing against a theological foundation for local bishops’ conferences. In general, Benedict seemed to slide more toward a two-tiered ecclesiology local-universal (point of unity in the pope) in these debates than sticking with a three-tiered local-patriarchal-universal.

        As for Benedict’s role in ecumenism, the sense I get from Orthodox friends (though these are definitely Orthodox in the theological/ecclesial know) they preferred Benedict’s theological/liturgical vision – tradition ressourcement *(including Eastern tradition – he used Nicholas Cabasilas in his writings) – as well as personality – far less of a center of attention than John Paul II. And again, he was instrumental in re-invigorating the Joint Commission dialogues.
        I think some Orthodox saw him as a good balance of a more humble pope that was simultaneously very traditional and interested in what I’ll grossly call “high liturgical aesthetics”. I think that’s a pairing Western Christians can’t always see together.

      3. @Brendan McInerny – comment #14:

        I think some Orthodox saw him as a good balance of a more humble pope that was simultaneously very traditional and interested in what I’ll grossly call “high liturgical aesthetics”. I think that’s a pairing Western Christians can’t always see together.

        I am convinced that the ordinary form, as it is often celebrated, is a grave stumbling block for many Orthodox as they consider some form of corporate union with Rome.

        Before I get rotten tomatoes thrown at me, let me say that the Christian East and West face different societal friction points. In turn, liturgy can either resist change or integrate change when under influence of cultural stressors. The ordinary form reflects postmodern “Western” attitudes about the aspirations of people in society and their intertwined relationships. Gone is Charlemagne’s court for most Roman Catholics. Instead laity participate in Mass in a number of liturgical roles. The postmodern liturgy serves most Catholics well, most likely because it more closely reflects the human relationships which they encounter outside of Mass.

        For example, I cannot foresee any canonical Orthodox synod approving holy communion in the hand, or certainly a permission for laypersons to administer the eucharist. If Constantinople or Moscow were to enter into a symbolic union with the Pope as the Patriarch of Rome, both sees and affiliated canonical synods would have to accept, at some level, that lay distribution of the eucharist is licit. Canonical Orthodoxy cannot pick and choose Roman rites. It’s not as if synods and patriarchs can affirm the extraordinary form as an apostolic liturgy and not affirm the ordinary form as an apostolic liturgy.

        I do not believe that the way the OF is celebrated in most places should cease. And yet, the way we Romans have chosen to express an apostolic liturgy in our age might be the sisyphean boulder which will crush reunion.

      4. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #15:
        Jordan, the Tridentine Mass forbids communion in the hand, lay administration of the eucharist, female altar servers, etc. And yet it seems to coexist with the normative Mass, even within the same parish. I don’t fully understand how this works, but it seems an undisputed fact that it can, because it does.

        Could a group of Orthodox bishops allow their faithful to attend the Tridentine Mass, but not the newer rite, not because they saw the newer rite as “invalid” (I am not sure the valid/licit distinction applies in Orthodoxy the same way it does in the Catholic Church) but as a matter of discipline?

        I would think that the tougher barriers to union would be catechetical and theological rather than liturgical, and perhaps also matters of ascetical discipline — fasting, confession, and the like. But I know little of Orthodoxy.

    2. @Rita Ferrone – comment #7:
      Without supporting the author’s argument (and his point on the pallium is wrong anyway) I think there is a difference between the approaches before and after the Second Vatican Council, despite the interest evinced by prior Popes, certainly since the late 19th century. The pre-Vatican II period was clearly more geared to a strict “ecumenism of return” position which is different from the more nuanced idea of how to approach visible unity after the Council. .

      1. @Joshua Vas – comment #9:
        Good point, Joshua.

        Those who know more about dialogue with the Orthodox can also perhaps comment on the post-Vatican II era with respect to the differences between Benedict and John Paul II. I do not know enough about it to comment, but my sense is that John Paul clashed with the Orthodox of Eastern Europe by some of his actions, despite his commitment to ecumenism with the East. How did Benedict’s pontificate compare?

  7. Well there is a lot of politics in this, and they are not just ecclesiastical (although there is a lot of that even among the Orthodox).

    The reality is that in the Mid-East all the Orthodox, Eastern Catholics, and Oriental Christians are very hard pressed and are leaving the area by droves. The Ecumenical Patriarch is recognized as only a local bishop by the Turkish government. They do not want a Vatican in Constantinople.

    Benedict put Bertone (from CDF) rather than a member of the diplomatic corp in charge of State, and ceased to meet personally with nuncios when they came to Rome. Bertone was a disaster all the way around, internally and externally, and even in Italy.

    This Pope definitely has an external agenda rather than an internal one; his campaign speech to the cardinals made that clear.

    Somewhere I saw that his speeches are all being translated into Arabic. If he manages to assemble the right people around him, look for him in the spirit of Saint Francis to have a very positive outreach to the Moslem world at the same time that he has a lot of symbolic solidarity with Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Oriental Christians, and a lot of diplomatic activity to heads of states about religious freedom.

    A Jesuit is going to be more of a JP2 than a B16. I suspect he may not get along with KIrill.

  8. The biggest objection that I have heard from an Orthodox priest was to communion from the tabernacle. “It is like cooking a beautiful meal and then serving your guests from the refrigerator.”

    He accepted the Mass as a valid liturgy that it had the essential characteristics necessary.

    Communion from the tabernacle is often found in the OF as well as the EF.

    I think Roman Catholics who go to Orthodox churches, and even interact with Orthodox, often do so with very Roman Catholic prejudices (whether liberal or traditional).

    In the USA a lot of Orthodox Church of America people (including their priests) are converts both from Catholicism and Protestantism. In his homilies, the local Orthodox priest often gently teachs his former Catholics and former Protestants the Orthodox understanding of things.

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