Monday, April 20, 2009

PP. Benedictus XVI

On this day four years ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was chosen to walk in the shoes of the fisherman from Galilee and to sit on the chair of Sts. Peter & Paul. He chose the name Benedict in order to highlight his determination to re-evangelize Europe in the manner of his chosen namesake. I very much agree with and like Sharon's reflection on four years of the Benedictine papacy- The Serenity of a Simple and Humble Laborer.

Of the many things he has written and spoken that resonate so deeply within me, sharing, even transmitting, He who corresponds to my heart, Christ the Lord, I am still struck by the closing words of his first Easter Urbi et Orbi message:

"For this reason the Church repeats insistently: 'Christ is risen - Christós anésti.' Let the people of the third millennium not be afraid to open their hearts to him. His Gospel totally quenches the thirst for peace and happiness that is found in every human heart. Christ is now alive and he walks with us. What an immense mystery of love!

Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est! Alleluia!"
(emphasis mine).

Vive il Papa!

Since I spent a good portion of last November researching and writing about the papacy, especially developments over the past 140 years or so, here is an extended excerpt from my writings on the papacy and Scripture:

"In the lists of the Twelve Apostles recorded in the Gospels, Peter is always listed first (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16). It is impossible to understand the perceived relationship between Peter and the papacy without examining the scriptural text on which a lot of weight has been placed, especially as it pertains to any interpretation of Vatican I’s dogmatic definition of papal infallibility:

'And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven' (Matt 16:18-19).

"It is never enough to merely point to any given passage of Scripture as proof of a stated proposition, it is always necessary, when seeking to discern the meaning of a given passage, how that passage has been received, interpreted, and understood in Christian tradition, a tradition that is at once fixed and evolving. To that end, it is important to note that the first distinctive characteristic of the passage is that 'rock' is apparently intended, in its original Greek, as '[a] pun on Peter’s name in Greek (Petros, petra)' (Viviano 659). Just as Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and Jacob’s to Israel, in this passage, Simon becomes Peter, the rock (Gen 17:5; 32:29; Matt 16:18). Another, perhaps more important, term in this passage is the use of the Greek word ekklesia, which is translated as 'church' (659). The word ekklesia is fairly precise and is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures. It 'refers to the assembly of the people of God' (659).

"This brings us to Jesus’ giving the keys of the kingdom to the newly renamed Peter. By relating the church to the kingdom, the author of Matthew sees the ekklesia as 'an interim arrangement which mediates salvation in the time between the earthly ministry of Jesus and future coming of the kingdom' (659). The part of the passage that has the biggest implications for Vatican I’s dogmatic definition of papal infallibility is the power to loose and to bind. It is clear that Jesus, in this verse, 'gives enormous authority to Peter' (659). This prompts the question, 'What is the nature of this authority' (659)? Binding and loosing are 'rabbinic terms' that have a range of meaning, but mostly refer to authority in the form 'of definitive decision making' (659).

"It necessary here to appeal to history and to appropriate it theologically, or, more precisely, ecclesiologically, to remember that the leader of the earliest church in Jerusalem was James the Greater. James presided over the anachronistically named Council of Jerusalem, at which Peter was present (Acts 15:1-29). The Gentile Christians, whose status vis-à-vis the Mosiac Law was the subject of the church’s first so-called council, would have preferred Paul as their leader (Viviano 659-660). On this view, Peter 'represents a compromise that can hold both tendencies in the early church in an uneasy synthesis' (660). The two tendencies, were those of the almost exclusively Jewish Church in Jerusalem and the Gentile churches being established by Paul and probably others, the very churches among which the so-called Judaizers from Jerusalem were stirring up dissension and calling into question Paul’s apostolic authority. Most importantly, in this compromise the author of Matthew 'shows his ecumenical good sense' (660).

"It is also important to note that Jesus entrusts Peter with 'the keys to the kingdom of heaven' only after Peter’s two-fold confession that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord (Matt 16:16.19). Peter is able to make this two-fold confession only because the Father has revealed it to him (Matt 16:17). Nonetheless, 'Simon does not learn that Jesus is the Messiah by some mystical or intuitive mode of knowing' (Hauerwas 150). Peter 'learns that Jesus is the Messiah because he obeyed Jesus’s command to be his disciple' (150). Jesus Christ is God’s revelation. 'There is no other revelation of God than Jesus' (150). Scripture, along with tradition is the church’s way of handing on revelation. Scripture is the premiere institution for handing on apostolic tradition, but not revelation per se. Jesus is God’s revelation. Hence, there is an important distinction to be made between the Word of God (i.e., Jesus Christ) and the words of God (i.e., Scripture and tradition). Peter and the author of Matthew 'are witnesses to the revelation of Jesus,' irreplaceable ones; without Peter and the other apostles, without the witness of Scripture, especially the Gospels, 'we would not know Jesus' (150). So, while 'Peter becomes the first among the disciples,' a primacy based on nothing other than his two-fold confession, his new status does not reduce that of the other disciples (150). It becomes Peter’s 'task to serve so that none of the gifts of the church will be lost' (150). This is indicated by another key Gospel passage employed in Pastor Aeternas to support the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility: 'Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers' (Luke 22:31-32). On the basis of Scripture, proclaiming that Jesus is 'the Messiah, the Son of the living God,' and the strengthening of his brothers and sisters are what constitute the universal ministry entrusted to the Bishop of Rome, conceived of as Peter’s representative (Matt 16:16)."
While I will not go on at length, we must never forget that Rome is the See of Sts. Peter & Paul and that the papacy has a Pauline dimension as well, one that in our day is often overlooked. Whenever, the Holy Father undertakes an apostolic journey, as he did to these shores a year ago and to parts Africa recently, he is exercising the Pauline dimension of the papacy. This dimension was given a great deal of impetus by Pope Paul VI, who was the first pope to avail himself of modern means of travel and to undertake apostolic journeys throughout the world. As to the distinction between the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures, I like very much that Fr. Chauvet writes that they are the sacrament of the Word of God, as such, as pointed out in the paragraphs above, their function, as with sacraments as a whole, is to mediate, that is, to signify. After all, we are not a people of the book, we are the people of the resurrected and risen Lord! Alleluia!

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