Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sui Juris Churches

In February, Pope Francis raised the Eritrean Catholic Church to sui juris status, and yesterday he raised the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church to Metropolitan status, so I thought it would be interesting to put something up about sui juris churches. A sui juris church, or autonomous church, in the Catholic Church is a community in communion with Rome that has a self-governing hierarchy and custody of its own customs and usages arising from legitimate apostolic succession.  They are parts of the Church, but not separate parts, because the Catholic Church is not united as a federation; every sui juris church is understood to be, fully and in itself, the one Catholic Church itself, just in one particular legal and devotional expression -- every sui juris church is the One Church and is also a part of every other sui juris church. There are 24 such churches.

The largest sui juris churches are the Latin (Roman or Western), the Ukrainian, the Syro-Malabar, the Maronite, and the Melkite, all of which have over a million members worldwide. The Albanian, Greek, Russian, Belarusian, and possibly Bulgarian churches all have less than 10,000 members worldwide.

They can be compared in a number of ways, of which the two most common are by the family of liturgical rite of which they are a part and by how the head of the church is positioned in the episcopal order of precedence. The former gives a better sense of how the church actually operates, but the kinds of elevation done by the Pope concern the latter.

Liturgical Family

These can be thought of as 'cultural units' in the Church, sharing liturgical rites and often liturgical languages. According to the Catechism (CCC 1203):

The liturgical traditions or rites presently in use in the Church are the Latin (principally the Roman rite, but also the rites of certain local churches, such as the Ambrosian rite, or those of certain religious orders) and the Byzantine, Alexandrian or Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean rites. In “faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity, and that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.”

Alexandrian
(The primary liturgical languages are Coptic and Ge'ez.)

Coptic
Ethiopian
Eritrean

Antiochene
(The primary liturgical language is Syriac. The Maronite Catholic Church is sometimes distinguished out as somewhat different from the others in the family.)

Maronite
Syrian
Syro-Malankara

Armenian
(The primary liturgical language is Armenian.)

Armenian

Byzantine
(There are multiple liturgical languages; Greek is the dominant one, followed by Church Slavonic, but they are quite diverse. What primarily unites Byzantine churches is that the basic structure of their liturgies is more or less the same, and derived from a Greek original.)

Albanian
Belarusian
Bulgarian
Croatian
Greek
Hungarian
Italo-Albanian
Macedonian
Melkite
Romanian
Russian
Ruthenian
Slovak
Ukrainian

Chaldean
(The primary liturgical language is Syriac.)

Chaldean
Syro-Malabar

Latin
(The primary liturgical language is Latin.)

Latin



Juridical Status

As all sui juris churches are equal in dignity, order of precedence does not indicate the importance of the church itself, nor of any of its members as Catholics, but only the status of the head and his authority, as recognized by the juridical authority of Rome. It thus reflects how the church is organized and governed. This difference arises from a number of reasons, such as history, size, organizational complexity, or political complications. Thus, for instance, the second largest sui juris church is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; it has the size, organization, and influence that usually raises its head to the status of Patriarch, and in practice Ukrainian Catholics even call the head of their church 'Patriarch' and treat him as such, but Rome has been reluctant to confirm this status officially due to complications in relations between Catholics and Russian Orthodox, so its head officially has the in-between status of Major Archbishop, which indicates roughly that the head of the church functions in practice with full patriarchal authority and eminence but that there are reasons for not actually saying this.

A crude analogy to secular political units can be used to get a sense of what these indicate. Eparchial status can be seen as indicating a kind of coherent 'autonomous region' within the Church ('eparchy' is the eastern version of 'diocese'), whereas full-blown Patriarchal or Major Archiepiscopal status always indicates that the status of the Church is more analogous to that of a sovereign nation -- the Pope is still a higher tribunal and can impose canon laws, but with respect to other patriarchal churches, the Pope is himself also obligated (although the extent is a bit indeterminate) to respect precedent, custom, and usage; and in practice the Pope tends to intervene only in matters arising between particular churches.

Patriarchal

Latin
Coptic
Melkite
Maronite
Armenian
Syrian
Chaldean

Major Archiepiscopal

Ukrainian
Romanian
Syro-Malabar
Syro-Malankara

Metropolitan (Archiepiscopal)

Hungarian
Ethiopian
Eritrean
Ruthenian
Slovak

Eparchial
(These often have no single head, but they do have authoritative structure, since they have bishops in charge with of their own eparchies/dioceses, and they are united by history, culture, and the protection of the Pope. Some of these, like the Albanian and the Greek, are not strictly speaking eparchies and so could be listed as 'other', but in practice function mostly as if they were. The Albanian is an Apostolic Administration and the Greek Catholic Church is an Exarchate.)

Albanian
Italo-Albanian
Bulgarian
Croatian
Greek

Other
(These often are churches with a history as sui juris churches that still technically exist but now only exist in small and scattered form, usually due to major disruption like civil wars or population collapse, or else that for one reason or other needed to be split off from another sui juris church. The head may be a deputy of a patriarch of another church or there may be no head. The Belarusian and Russian churches no longer have any bishop at all, if I understand correctly. The Macedonian Greek Catholic Church is a former part of the Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church.)

Macedonian
Belarusian
Russian

2 comments:

  1. Itinérante3:04 AM

    Thank you very much for this post! =D
    I was at a conference two weeks ago and they talked about the five patriarchs of the east and they mentioned that there was twenty-three (I believed they missed one) other churches that are independent but not patriarchal (still wondering what these need to do to become patriarchal) and I asked if they count the Slovak, Ukrainian and the lady giving the presentation did not know if those were ones separate or counted under Byzantine...
    I asked as well what is the status of the Anglo-Catholics and they did not quite know =(

    ReplyDelete
  2. branemrys2:42 PM

    Glad you liked it!

    It could be that when they gave the twenty-three number they were only counting Eastern churches. (Or it could be that they just missed the new addition of the Eritrean Catholic Church, which was only split off from the Ethiopian Catholic Church a month ago.)

    All that's ultimately required to make a sui juris church patriarchal is just the Pope officially designating the head of the church a Patriarch; but in practice, at least where there are no political complications, it's usually a matter of size or history (if the bishop who rejoined the Catholic Church was already considered a Patriarch in his own church before he became Catholic).

    ReplyDelete

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