Thursday, September 06, 2007

Diablog: On Authority (Papal and otherwise)

This is my sixth post in a diablog with Weekend Fisher. She wrote (emphasis mine):
Allegorical Arguments
Japhy posts more of the pope's decree here. The decree contains Scriptural interpretations such as arguing from the spouse in Song of Songs, or from the flood and the ark to the necessity of subjection to Peter and his successor as if to Noah. From the outside looking in, the reasoning on those points is a chain of loose and fanciful interpretation and presumption of key points. I know that Song of Songs is often interpreted allegorically as love betweeen God and his people. Still, that is a long way from identifying God's one and only beloved with Rome to the exclusion of all others. There is a certain presumption on Rome's part that God does not see us as one on the basis of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" but only on the basis of submission to Peter's successor. Or again, where does Scripture compare the Ark to the church? Where does Scripture make a point of Noah being the captain? Where does Scripture compare Peter to Noah? Allegorical interpretations are not in the mind of the original author but in the mind of the interpreter. Fanciful and allegorical interpretations of Scripture could easily have been interpreted otherwise; all it would take is for someone else's fancy to envision the allegory that suited them.
It is not that the Catholic Church thinks "God does not see us as one" vis-a-vis one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:5) -- as the Pope himself quoted in the Bull -- but that it believes this "one faith" includes the establishment of actual authority found in the episcopate and par excellence in the papacy. This is why the churches being established had visible leadership (in the form of bishops and presbyters). As for comparing Noah and Peter, I don't see it as a great leap of interpretation (but perhaps because I'm on the "inside"). There was one ark which survived the flood, built by Noah at God's command; likewise, there is one Church, built on Peter at the word of Christ.

Feeding the Sheep
Again the papal bull reviews Jesus' conversation with Peter, "feed my sheep", and interprets that as if an appointment to office, as if Peter alone was given charge to feed the sheep, as if the care of the whole church were given to Peter alone by that. It is difficult to imagine that Jesus did not intend for all the disciples to feed his sheep, as the Great Commission entrusted all of them with that; the question is whether special status was intended for Peter. During Peter's life, there is no sign that Peter or any of the rest of the church took it that way. In the first church council as recorded in Acts 15, Peter is not in charge and submits his case to James, with Peter answering to James as if to his superior. Neither is there any record that the others who had studied under Christ felt the need to run their teachings past Peter, having themselves been taught by Christ. When Paul submitted to review of his teachings, he spoke with Peter, James, and John -- and makes no mention of any special status adhering to Peter alone. If Christ had meant to confer unique headship on Peter on behalf of the church, there is no sign that Peter or the rest of the church while he was alive had understood that. That alone makes a powerful case against Peter's unique status: Peter didn't seem to know he had it, and neither did those who knew him.
The Greek of John 21:15 reveals that Jesus is asking Peter if Peter loves Jesus more than the other disciples love Jesus; in other words, yes, Jesus is setting Peter apart from them. Not even "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is given such a distinction in the Gospels.

As for Paul, he first visited Peter three years after his conversion and stayed with him for two weeks; the only other Apostle he saw at that time was James (cf. Gal 1:18-19). As for what he says of James and Peter and John, regarding his second visit (cf. Gal 2:1-10), he says they were "those who were of repute", "those who were reputed to be something", and those "who were reputed to be pillars". Now, he also says it made no difference to him "because God shows no partiality" and that they "added nothing to [him]". This should not be generalized to apply to all of us, for who among us has been privileged as Paul was? The Apostles did not seek to correct Paul because he had received his mission (and the same Gospel) directly from Jesus Christ. Yet, even though Paul preached the same Gospel, he had to check up on certain churches to make sure they were not deviating. Paul oversaw several churches, then, though we don't know if he was any of their bishops -- perhaps Paul was the founding member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? ;)

Back to the matter of Peter, though. It was for his strength that Jesus prayed (cf. Luke 22:31-32). Peter initiated the replacement of Judas (cf. Acts 1:15ff), he preached on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:14ff)... indeed, the first half of Acts focuses on his ministry. At the Council of Jerusalem (where James was most likely the "bishop"), there is a period of debating after which he stands up and reminds them that God chose him to begin the conversion of the Gentiles (Cornelius, cf. Acts 10). Then he asks them why the Pharisaic Christians would wish to place a yoke upon the Gentile Christians. It is to this that James ends up responding; his judgment isn't out of the blue, but based upon what Peter has put forth.

Whatsoever you bind on earth ...
This next part of the decree is the most difficult for me to read without becoming outright angry because of the way Scripture is handled:
This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven" etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [cf. Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [cf. Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
Take careful note of what is quoted here from Matthew as the Scriptural support for Peter's uniqueness. Jesus was speaking directly to Peter on the occasion of his confession that Jesus was in fact the Christ: "Whatsoever you (singular, i.e. Peter) shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). The biggest problem I have with that argument is that it completely ignores that Jesus quickly thereafter grants the same thing to the other apostles. Jesus soon after says to all the apostles together, "Whatsoever you (plural, i.e. all of them) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matthew 18:18). What the pope quoted here as having been said to Peter -- and the pope cites it as proof of Peter's uniqueness -- is exactly what Jesus also said soon after to all of the apostles. In context, the second passage granting the same authority to all the apostles is immediately followed by the need for agreement and fellowship among them: "if two of you shall agree on earth ... if two or three are gathered in my name". Peter cannot stand alone; no disciple is placed above the other, and the greatest is to be servant of all. The pope's decree has a pointedly partial reading of Scripture, quoting the one passage as proving Peter is unique without even acknowledging the existence the other passage where the same authority is given to all the apostles. Here is why it makes me so angry: when someone makes such a one-sided case, ignores contrary evidence, and does this to his own advantage and about his own authority, it can hardly help coming across badly.
That Jesus granted unto the rest of the Apostles the same privilege given to Peter does not diminish Peter, but all the more establishes Peter's primacy among the Apostles. Jesus gives the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" to Peter alone (Matt 16:19); the binding and loosing is given first to Peter and then to the other Apostles at a later date. As to Peter not acting alone, the Council of Jerusalem is a testament to that, as are the various councils held throughout the history of the Church. Even motu proprio documents are preceded by collaboration! Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XII did not act alone in their solemn definitions of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary; on the contrary, they asked the clergy to do research on the matter (Ubi Primum in 1849 preceded Ineffabilis Deus in 1854, and Deiparae Virginis Mariae in 1946 preceded Munificentissimus Deus in 1950).
Apostolic Authority: the Roman model and the Protestant model
Japhy talking now:
If you reject the ones Jesus sent, you reject Jesus. This is why the Church is so darn stubborn about Apostolic succession. If some random preacher shows up tomorrow, how can I be sure following his teachings about Jesus will lead to my salvation?
What church rejects those who Jesus sent? He sent the apostles, and I am not aware of any church today rejecting any of them. So on to the next question: how can you be sure that someone's teachings are true? You can be sure by comparing those teachings with what Christ and the apostles taught. There was a time in church history when the main guarantee of hearing what the apostles taught was belonging to a church where the bishop was taught by the apostles. But the time came when the churches that traced back to the apostles started teaching things that the apostles had never taught. At that time there became two varieties of "apostolic authority": the Roman variety, where tracing your leadership back to the apostles was seen as a guarantee of true teaching, and the Protestant variety, where tracing the contents of your teachings back to the apostles was seen as a guarantee of true teaching. That's why Protestants are so darn stubborn about what Scripture says: those are the teachings that we are sure trace to the apostles. If I had to choose between a church that can trace its leadership to successors of the apostles but cannot trace its teachings to the apostles on the one hand, and a church that can trace its teachings to the apostles but not its leadership to successors of the apostles, I am glad to stick with the teachings I know trace back to the apostles. Of course, more than that I wish it were not an either/or kind of decision.
I should have been more specific; the matter of Apostolic succession comes into play here because our bishops trace their commission back to the Apostles. That is, we recognize the choosing of Paul by Jesus Christ as something extraordinary, not as the norm. We do not reject the Apostles, nor those whom the Apostles sent. The problem with reducing Christianity to simply what is recorded in Scripture is that you are only recognizing that which the Holy Spirit moved men to write, for various audiences and for various reasons. If there is something of the faith which they believed that was not written down, it is essentially lost and gone forever. The New Testament describes a persecuted and fledgling Church, which is why there are no God-to-Solomonesque instructions regarding the building of cathedrals and decorations of tabernacles; does this mean that the celebration of a liturgy in a grandiose church is contrary to the Tradition of the Apostles?

The Catholic Church firmly believes that it has not and will not ever "produce" or "invent" doctrines or beliefs that are not Apostolic in origin. As such, we hold that the privileges given to Mary by God are true, and our belief in them (which has matured through the ages) is certainly the same faith held by the Apostles. Just because Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle does not necessarily mean that only what was recorded as Scripture through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is the totality of Revelation. St. John admits Jesus did many other signs and wonders. Days, weeks, months of the ministry of Jesus are missing from our Bible. Those elements of the faith not consigned to Scripture were retained through the oral tradition of the Church, which the Catholic Church claims witness to. We don't claim it to be "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" as the Mormons consider their book to be; rather, the written tradition and the oral tradition come from the one deposit of faith.

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