Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tu es Petrus

In light of today's Gospel and the end of World Youth Day, over which the Holy Father presided in love (in a way symbolic as to how he presides over the ekklesia), it seems more than appropriate to bring this Sunday to a close by reflecting on the divine necessity of the Petrine office in the Church. For this I turn to Hans Urs Von Balthasar's book The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, which I quite coincidentally finished reading this afternoon.

Balthasar insists "the the structure of the office instituted by Christ in the Church is modeled... on the Cross..." It is axiomatic to Balthasar's ecclesiology that the Church is fundamentally Marian. He also discerns four apostolic dimensions of the ekklesia- the Jamesian tradition, representing tradition and law; the Johannine, "the love which 'abides;'" the Pauline, "freedom in the Holy Spirit;" Petrine, the "pastoral office."

Balthasar notes that the anti-Petrine (i.e., anti-papal) "attitude of any and all the communities under the jurisdiction of Peter and his successors" is the same as the "anti-Pauline attitude of the Corinthians," and also of the Galatians, who Paul chastises for being led astray by the Judaziers. The two attitudes, he notes, share "the same theological locus" and character:
And if the anti-Pauline and anti-Johannine attitude (3 Jn 9) is displayed toward the office of the bishops and toward the priesthood loyal to them, and if the apostles must listen to "haughty words" from "grumblers" when the "scoffers" cause "divisions" in their dioceses because they are "devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 16-19), then all this grumbling and mocking will be poured in concentrated form on the successor of Peter. Because Peter has an "impossible" task: he has to embody, in the world and in continuity of form, something that, on the Cross, smashed all forms and entered into a superform that cannot be imitated. In the fragile earthen vessels of word and concept he is obligated to guard the authenticity of that tremendous content that transcends all thought and understanding. He is to bind and loose on earth - and hence establish a law that is intelligible and defensible on earth - things that, in heaven, are bound and loosed by a law known only to God. Surely it is obvious that he will err again and again at this intercession of time and eternity? Either he will betray the eternal for the sake of the temporal by trying to imprison it (putting eternal truth in "infallible statements"!), or he will betray the temporal by clinging to illusory formulas that seem to be eternal, thus missing the ongoing reality of his own time. People mock him; his mission should rather elicit laughter or weeping (353)

Again taking the Corinthians as his starting point, Balthasar notes "that office and officeholder (no matter how much the latter annoyed them) simply could not be separated." In other words, one cannot "feign respect for the office" even as he disrespects the officeholder (352).

Therefore, each one of us should join our personal prayers to that of the daily Eucharist, asking the Lord to preserve the unity we have in Peter and to bring all Christians into unity with each other through the Petrine ministry, which, as Balthasar also notes, is at root "eccentric."


  1. Balthasar notes that the anti-Petrine (i.e., anti-papal) "attitude of any and all the communities under the jurisdiction of Peter and his successors" is the same as the "anti-Pauline attitude of the Corinthians,"

    and not just those communities which acknowledge that jurisdiction, one might add. yet another example of how very relevant the letters to the Corinthians are to us.

  2. While I appreciate where you're going, Thomas, I'm not sure where you take the logic is what Balthasar would say, as he is writing here about what he calls the Catholica. The attitudes regarding papal primacy among those who do not recognize the First Vatican Council's defined dogma of immediate and universal papal jurisdiction not only differs between Christians East and West, but also differs among Western Protestant Christians, running from the more to the less ecclesial, with some, like various Lutheran synods, still holding that the pope is the ant--Christ.

    Balthasar does note that despite all of the many differences they have with each other, non-Catholic Christians, East and West, have being anti-papal very much in common.

  3. Yes, Scott, I realize that Balthasar's focus is on authority _within_ the Catholic Church and further that has to be a Catholic's primary concern. Nor, was I intending to point a finger at one or another protestant group currently wrestling with issues of authority and having less means at their disposal.
    Rather, I was just taking the quote to commend Saint Paul's letters to the Corinthians, given the widespread issues wrt authority throughout Christendom nowadays.


A political non-rant

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