Wednesday, November 9, 2011


The dedication of a church is usually an “internal affair” in terms of celebration: one celebrates this anniversary when actually in that particular church. But then, St John Lateran is no ordinary church. One of the great patriarchal basilicas of Rome (along with St Peter’s, St Mary Major and St Paul Outside the Walls), it is in fact THE church of Rome.

It is the oldest Christian building, given by Constantine on what was once property belonging to the Laterani family (which came to belong to the family of his wife)—thus, the church was on private (imperial) land. It is the cathedral of Rome, and it is the home-church to the pope as bishop of Rome.

It has been the site of 5 ecumenical councils (the last one, in 1510, a “reforming council” that, sadly, failed utterly).

It is the church in which Pope Innocent III first encountered St Francis of Assisi, and it was this church that featured in the pope’s famous dream of an earthquake shaking the building, its being held up by a little man in a brown robe.

It is the place where St Francis and St Dominic met.

From this church the very first “Holy Year” was proclaimed (by Pope Boniface VIII, in 1300). On a column in the left-hand aisle there is a fragment of a fresco by Giotto which depicts the event.

It is the church where, every Holy Thursday, the pope presides at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper and washes the feet of twelve people.

When a pope speaks ex cathedra to define an article of the Faith (which has happened formally only twice, actually) the "cathedra" (bishop's chair) of St John Lateran is what is referred to, even if the “chair of Peter” is preserved in the monument of the same name in the basilica of the same name.

She calls herself the mother and head of all churches in the city and the world. And so she is, for Catholics. Could she ever be more, for other Christians?
The keynote speaker for our Lutheran-Anglican-Roman Catholic Conference, Dean Thomas Ferguson, spoke very wistfully about the meeting between Pope John Paul II and President George W Bush, in which the pope spoke strongly against the 2nd Iraq war. Ferguson said, “I wish, when he was speaking, that he were speaking also for me.” Then he added, “I wonder—in Ut Unum Sint (the pope’s encyclical on church unity) John Paul asked us to help him re-imagine the office of Peter to be a source of support and unity: could we do this?” Theologian Robert Jenson has also reflected such a desire. This longing comes from Episcopalian and Lutheran voices. What a joy it would be if such a vision could become a reality, and St John Lateran would truly be a motherly voice for ALL the Christian world.

1 comment:

  1. I, a Lutheran pastor, long for the day when the pope can speak for all of Christendom. After all the bishop of Rome has always been first among equals among the patriarchs since at least the end of the first century. I know of no one else who can take the pope's place as the central figure in the leadership of the universal church. Pray for us Holy Mother that your son's body may be made whole again.