Archive for May, 2007

According to the Athens newspaper To Vima of 8 July 2004, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew responded to the “3rd Rome” theory of the Patriarch of Moscow (which had been brought up for discussion during the 8th International Assemblage of the Russian Orthodox Church) by calling it “… foolish, hubristic, and blasphemous,” because “… it resounds with the spirit of caesarpapism and vaticanism; something totally unacceptable to the Orthodox Church.”


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[Tertullian] brought into the Church a brilliant legal mind and a gripping mastery of both Latin and Greek penmanship when in his mid-thirties, around 195, he asked for baptism and became a priest shortly afterwards. Twenty years later he was exalting the role of prophecy. In doing so he not only slighted any and all priesthood but also made light of the submission, enjoined by St. Paul, of all gifts of prophecy to the common good of the body. He kept nothing of the reverence which no less a prophetic spirit than Hermas showed toward priests in particular and authority in general. In the second decade of the third century the rise of Montanus and of his two associates, Prisca and Maximilla, was already history. No longer did crowds throng to a plain near Pepuza in Phrygia where those three promised the heavenly Jerusalem soon to appear in the clouds.

Frenzy, when not at high pitch, could appear prophetic inspiration not necessarily leading to uncontrollable convulsions and hysterical utterances. Such inspiration could but greatly appeal to a temperament like that of Tertullian (known by his contemporaries as vir ardens or burning soul) in whom an incisive legal mind was joined with a passionate commitment to the cause in which he believed. Once in the hold of Montanist prophetism the mind in question could not help carrying its logic to its very limits. Hence the most logical thing for Tertullian, the Montanist, to do was to discredit ecclesial authorit, the ever gravest obstacle to the supreme rights of “prophetic” inspiration.

Most revealingly, Tertullian took on the authority of the bishop of Rome in tacit acknowledgement of the pivotal status of his authority in the Church. In doing so Tertullian was most careful not to omit references to the keys given to Peter. As a good lawyer Tertullian knew that it would be self-defeating for him to deny everything to Pope Callistus, the target of his diatribe. He allowed the pope “the duty of maintaining the discipline” and “the headship of ministry, though not the headship of empire.” Such was a clever way of reducing the pope to the level of an administrator however exalted. Intrinsic authority the pope could not have, let alone the “vast power of the forgiveness of sins,” and certainly not on the basis of Christ’s words to Peter. Clearly, Callistus and his predecessors must have referred to those words or else Tertullian would not have stated:

Because the Lord said to Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” …  “To thee have I given the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” or “Whatsoever thou shalt bind or loose on earth shall be bound or loosed in heaven,” you therefore assume that the power of binding and loosing has descended to you or to any church related to Peter. [De pudicitia, ch. 21]

For Tertullian such an inference was arrogance incarnate. “Who and what are you to show mercy, who conduct yourself neither as prophet nor as apostle and are destitute of the virtue that is necessary for one who is merciful?” In the eyes of a Montanist, Callistus’ alleged lack of virtue settled matters. But Tertullian could not deny the lawyer in him, who would settle only with conclusive arguments. He insisted that Christ’s words were addressed to Peter’s person alone and rephrased Christ’s words with the needed emphasis: “On thee, He said, will I build my Church and unto thee will I give the keys, that is, not unto the Church.” If such was the case, not only the successors of Peter were excluded but all bishops, nay, the entire Christian community insofar as it was a Church. Conversely, all those had the power of the keys conferred on them who were as spiritual as Peter was: As this power was conferred upon Peter personally, so it belongs to spiritual men, whether apostle or prophet.” Hence Tertullian had no choice but to say: “The Church indeed will forgive sins but only the Church which is merely a collection of bishops.”

But the force of that logic threatened also the spirituals if what Tertullian added in the same breath was true:  “For justice and judgment belong to the Lord, not to a servant; to God alone, not to a priest.” The spirituals were certainly not priests, but if they claimed to be servants (had a Christian any other right than to be a servant?), then their privileged position, too, was threatened. Tertullian could not, of course, be logical to the extent of providing a criterion to distinguish true spiritual persons from Montanus, Prisca, Maximilla, and their kindred. Only those could do this who saw matters as did the anonymous author of an antimontanist tract written shortly before Tertullian became Christian. The description there of Montanus and of the two women as ones “whom the devil stirred up and filled with the spirit of lies” should seem far less important than the remark that “their manner was contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by the tradition from the beginning.”

Of that tradition few were so spirited and incisive defenders as Tertullian was in his Catholic days. Then he kept insisting that in confronting heretics was the most important thing was to deny the very supposition on the basis of which they wanted to argue their case. Such was the gist of Tertullian’s method in his De praescriptione haereticorum or “On the ruling out of court the heretics.” The word praescriptio stands for that move which in Roman legal practice aimed at dismissing the opponent out of court right at the outset. The heretics, Tertullian stated, had no right to argue against Catholics who had been legitimate heirs to the full apostolic tradition. Tertullian’s reasoning tellingly contains a reference to the keys given to Peter. To the claim of heretics that for the full grasp of truth ample time was needed so that the Spirit might reveal its richness to whomever it chose, Tertullian replied: “Was anything withheld from Peter, who was called the rock on which the church should be built, who also obtained the keys of the kingdom of heaven with the power of loosing and binding in heaven and on earth?” [De praescriptione, ch. 22].

In the context of Tertullian’s reasoning this meant the subsequent transmission of the power of the keys to the Church, and with such a fulness as to invest the bishops with intrinsic authority. Hence any effort from the ranks to set up rival bishops was tantamount to schism, and was indeed the “mother of schisms.” The Catholic unity pivoted in the bishops had its contrast in the intrinsically critical attitude of schismatics toward their own presiding officers. In Tertullian’s inimitable phrase, “schism is their very unity.” [De praescriptione, ch. 42].

– Stanley Jaki, OSB

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. And through today’s liturgy we relive the birth of the Church as it is narrated by Luke in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-13). Fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended upon the community of disciples — “persevering with one mind in prayer” — gathered together “with Mary, the mother of Jesus” and with the twelve apostles (cf. Acts 1:14; 2,1).

We can say, therefore, that the Church had its solemn beginning with the descent of the Holy Spirit. In this extraordinary event we find the essential and qualifying marks of the Church: the Church is one, like the community of Pentecost, which was united in prayer and “of one mind”: “it had but one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).

The Church is holy, not because of its own merits, but because, animated by the Holy Spirit, it keeps its gazed fixed upon Christ to become conformed to him and his love. The Church is catholic because the Gospel is destined for all people and for this reason, already at the beginning, the Holy Spirit gives the Church the ability to speak in different tongues. The Church is apostolic because, built upon the foundation of the apostles, it faithfully conserves their teaching through the uninterrupted chain of apostolic succession.

The Church, moreover, is missionary by its nature, and from the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit does not cease to move it along the roads of the world to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. This reality, which we can verify in every epoch, is already anticipated in the Book of Acts, in which the passage of the Gospel from the Jews to the pagans, from Jerusalem to Rome, is described.

Rome represents the pagan world and therefore all peoples who are outside the ancient people of God. In fact, the Acts conclude with the arrival of the Gospel in Rome. We can say, then, that Rome is the concrete name of the catholicity and missionary spirit of the Church; it expresses fidelity to the origins, to the Church of all times, to a Church that speaks in all languages and goes out to meet every culture.

Dear brothers and sisters, the first Pentecost happened when Mary Most Holy was present among the disciples in the cenacle in Jerusalem and prayed. Today also we entrust ourselves to her maternal intercession so that the Holy Spirit descend abundantly upon the Church of our time and fill the hearts of all the faithful and enkindle in them — in us — the fire of his love.

– Pope Benedict XVI
Pentecost, May 27, 2007

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From Per Christum. Something which, I hope, this blog is contributing to in some small way.

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Part I

Part II

The identification of this influence entails the adoption of the fourth and last theory as the only adequate explanation of the papal power. All the facts which have been discussed in the course of this brief study are adequately explained by attributing to Christ the origin of the peculiar status of the Bishop of Rome. The authority thus vested in St. Peter was transferred to his successors in Rome, and the subsequent history of the institution, in common with all Christian doctrines, underwent the normal process of development. Such a theory does justice to all that the Scriptures teach about St. Peter without necessitating any minimization of his position. The apparent regression which followed on St. Peter’s death is explained satisfactorily only by this theory, since alond of all the hypotheses this one takes into account the difference betwee the primary sources of Christian revelation and the subsequent studies of the writers of the early church. The ensuing development in this, as in all doctrines, owes its characteristic rapidity to the fact that it is not merely the human progress in ideas but the gradual appreciation of all that was contained in a body of truths which was already known.

Undoubtedly there are difficulties which this theory must face. The frequent opposition which was so strong might well seem to militate against the alledged institution by Christ himself. This fact could be a serious difficulty, it is true, but it depends almost entirely on the nature, not merely the fact, of the opposition in question. St. Paul had frequently to defend his authority, but no one would suggest that he was an impostor for having had to vindicate his apostleship. Similarly it is necessary to examine the nature of the opposition which faced the popes, to see whether it constituted a valid argument against the rights of their office. Setting aside the question of St. Cyprian, whose attitude is an anomaly in the early church, the first serious opposition to the papacy came from the Eusebian party in the Arian crisis. The reasons which prompted their hostility are not hard to estimate, since they represent a recurring pattern of Eastern affairs. It came as a shock to John Henry Newman to realize that the anti-papalists of the early church were at the same time the Arians, Nestorians, and Monophysites, while the champions of orthodoxy, like Athanasius or Cyril, were also the papalists. It is unlikely, to use no stronger term, that the heretics would have preserved the authentic tradition concerning the papacy any more than they had preserved it in their Trinitarian or Christological theories.

The later opposition arose out of the pretensions of the see of Constantinople. This series of incidents points more clearly than the former to the ultimate source of the difficulty. The claims to pre-eminence advanced on behalf of the see of Constantinople rested solely on the civic importance of the city. Such a principle had never been admitted in the church. Although it resulted in a real obstacle to the authority of the popes, its basis cannot be regarded as valid either in favour of the see of Constantinople or as a legitimate argument against the Roman supremacy.

The root cause of so much difficulty in church government is indicated by the nature of the claim of Constantinople. It was the defective character of the Greek ecclesiology. They did not appreciate the nature of the church as an organization. This failure is to be seen even among the saints of the Eastern episcopate.

Whether it was legally correct for St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom to occupy the see of Constantinople is not altogether certain. If, indeed, they were justified in acquiescing in their respective elections, it is a striking indication of how easily the Eastern church (and its saints) could abandon the provisions of Nicaea, which strictly forbade such translations. Worse still was the failure to appreciate the dependence which the local church owed to the universal, resulting in the secession of large sections of the East in defiance of the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. At the root of it all lay their willingness to allow the civil power to administer the affairs of the church. This was the most serious failure of the Eastern church and it was the the ultimate cause of their hostility to the papacy, as well as various other problems.

Caesaropapism, which came upon the church after the conversion of Constantine, was never eradicated from the East, even when orthodoxy had replaced Arianism and the rights of Rome had been re-established. When this Erastian tendency became firmly implanted it was obvious that the papal authority would suffer, since the system ws incompatible with a supra-national authority. In consequence every more recent division of political authority in the East had been followed by a corresponding division of ecclesiastical authority resulting in a sovereign hierarchy in each sovereign state. Under such circumstances it has not been possible for them even to envisage a general council, although they have always acknowledged the authority of those which were held in the past. The Greek schism of the eleventh century was almost inevitable because caesaropapism was never eradicated.

The two phenomena of opposition to the papacy and caesaropapism do not constitute a valid objection against the rights of the Pope, although they presented many obstacles to the exercise of his authority. Since they are explained by defects in the Eastern church, they cannot seriously weaken the authority of Christ’s institution of the papacy.

One further consequence follows, concerning the papal authority, which is frequently overlooked by Anglicans, even though they are prepared to admit a fair degree of legitimacy to the papal prerogatives in the early church. If indeed the papal authority is to be traced back to the institution by Christ of St. Peter’s special status, then it follows that it is of the unchangeable essence of the church. As a result neither the Christian church, nor any part of it, has the right to change this arrangement. In purely human affairs nations may legitimately adopt one form of government in place of some other. If, for instance, it would serve the interests of the nation to be governed by a democracy rather than an oligarchy, then such a transition would be legitimate. God has not pre-determined any specific form of government for civil society. In the church it is otherwise.

In concluding this survey of the early papacy two general principles can be isolated which are of supreme importance in the right understanding of the whole question. The first of these is the role of caesaropapism in the Eastern church. But for this, it is probable that there would have been no schism in the eleventh century. In the West the same peril could have menaced the ecclesiastical authority, but thanks to a better understanding of the nature of the institutional church, the danger was permanently averted. So much for the order of realities. In the comprehension of the early papacy another principle must be invoked – that of development, in the sense which Newman expounded. All the doctrines of the church have undergone this process of development, the papacy more than most. The authority derived from St. Peter is both a doctrine and an institution in whose development the forces of history have played a considerable role. As a result the correct understanding of this doctrine, more, perhaps, than any other, demands that it be studied in the light of the principles governing the development of Christian doctrine.

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Father Patrick, an Orthodox monk from New Zealand and a commenter on this blog, has a new blog: “Sacred Traditions: Reflections on Apostolic Tradition”. See especially his posts on ecclesiology for a balanced, learned Orthodox take on many of the issues discussed here.

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It is important that Christians not be closed off among themselves, but open, and precisely in relations with the Orthodox I see how personal relationships are fundamental. We are to a great extent united in all the fundamental matters of doctrine, but it seems very difficult to make progress through doctrine. But drawing nearer to each other in communion, in the common experience of the life of faith, is the way to recognize one another as children of God and disciples of Christ. And this is my experience of at least forty, almost fifty years: this common experience of discipleship, which we finally live in the same faith, in the same apostolic succession, with the same sacraments and therefore with the great tradition of prayer as well; this diversity and multiplicity of religious cultures, of cultures of faith, is a beautiful thing. Having this experience is fundamental, and it seems to me, perhaps, that the conviction of some, of a segment of the monks of Athos, against ecumenism, is due in part to the fact that this experience is missing in which one sees and feels that the other person also belongs to the same Christ, belongs to dthe same communion with Christ in the Eucharist. Sot this is of great importance: we must endure the separation that exists. Saint Paul says that schisms are necessary for a certain time, and the Lord knows why: to test us, to exercise us, to make us mature, to make us more humble. But at the same time, we are obliged to proceed toward unity, and moving toward unity is already a form of unity.

– Pope Benedict XVI (March 2, 2006)

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