The crises of our time compel us to look at history and in the current ecclesial crisis we can look at Christ’s foundational and therefore eternal work for perspective. The Melkite Eparchy of Newton has an excellent document, The Melkite Church at the Council, in support of the argument to be presented here, particularly Chapters 5-7. This much shorter discussion will touch on the history of the College of Cardinals after primarily presenting the case for election of the Bishop of Rome by all apostolic churches with Sacramental qualification.
That all the apostolic churches, including the Orthodox churches recognize the Primacy of the See of Peter is assumed here. This is generally the case with the definition of primacy more the subject of controversy than its existence.
“He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10,14).
John’s reference is for the Church defined by Christ in the 12 Apostles. Most would agree that the number 12 represents the entire Church He founded. His foundation is an ecclesial mystery not founded by the apostles, including the apostle Peter, rather by the mystery that is His Presence after the resurrection. This Presence is Sacramental and in the case of the present day apostles, it is the Sacrament of Holy Orders that creates the new generation of apostles. The work and collegiality of the 12 apostles including the addition of more apostles, not the least of whom is Paul, is well documented in the Acts of the Apostles. These works are both autonomous while in recognition of the Primacy of Peter, even with disagreements that are at worst temporary in the mystery of Christ’s Presence.
From Chapter 6 of the above reference:
“Holy Scripture affirms a power of primacy, on the part of Peter, over the rest of the Apostles and over the whole Church. But Scripture does not affirm in any way that no bishop can be constituted in the Church except through the intervention, “direct or indirect,” of Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome. We even explicitly see the other Apostles constituting bishops without referring in any way to Peter. The same is true of their disciples, such as Titus or Timothy. If it is necessary to understand the text as applying to bishops in the strict sense, doesn’t the Scripture say that it is the Holy Spirit who instituted the bishops to rule the Church (cf. Acts 20:28)? It is difficult, without doing violence to the text, to find in the Scripture a basis which permits affirming that no bishop obtains jurisdiction over his Church except through the “direct or indirect” intervention of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter.”
Just as the validity of the Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance are direct works of God the Holy Spirit and are operational, i.e. valid, in all the apostolic churches and as affirmed by the Latin Church, so must the priesthood and episcopal ascendancy to Patriarchs of the eastern churches be valid because the latter is also Sacramental. If the concern by the Latin Church under the See of Peter is that allowing full communion of the Eastern apostolic Churches in the Latin Church would compromise the Church instituted by Christ, then that same concern should be for any Sacramental event. A glaring witness of our time is the both doctrinal and personal perversion of priests and bishops, yet this does not compromise the efficacy of the Sacrament offered to the recipient. Christ guarantees His work and Presence in the Sacrament while waiting for the personal conversion of the administrator if necessary. He will confront the Bishop as He does with the seven Bishops in Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation, interpreted symbolically or literally. Therefore the ascendancy of the Bishop of Rome should involve the Patriarchy of the Eastern Churches. This completes the role of the Bishop of Rome as representative of the 12 apostles, which are the full Patriarchy according the Sacramental Institution. This completeness may have been wanting for over 1000 years.
This theory suggests certain degradation in those churches excluded from their Sacramental “birth right” as part of the “12”. This can be the loss of the reach commanded by Christ to Peter to “feed my sheep”. Similarly, degradation to autocracy of the role of the See of Peter becomes a risk in any exclusion of the “12”. The point is that the Primacy is fulfilled only with completeness.
“There is, in fact, among the bishops only one Church, only one soul, only one heart… There is, through the institution of Christ, one and only one Church, spread out over the whole world, one and only one episcopacy represented by a multiplicity of bishops united among themselves… The Church forms a single whole, whose bond is the union of bishops” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 66, 8,3).
As a final note, we touch on the body used to elect the Bishop of Rome in our current time and for the last 1000 years, namely the College of Cardinals. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that this was initially a closed group of individuals that included non-clergy and grew at the expense of the successors of the Apostles. Contrast this to the notion of the “12” in full effect at the time of the Acts of the Apostles and during the first few centuries of the Church Fathers.