THE FOUR MARKS OF THE CHURCH
THE CHURCH IS APOSTOLIC
St. Clement of Rome, writing about 97 A.D., gives to us a statement that I think sums up the message of apostolic succession right well. "Our Apostles knew," he says, "through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be dissension over the title of Bishop. In their knowledge of this, therefore, they proceeded to appoint the ministers I spoke of and they went on to add an instruction that, if these should fall asleep, other accredited persons should succeed them in their office."
What we're dealing with, with Apostolic succession is a family fact, that is, Jesus Christ has come to us as a "New Adam," using the language of St. Paul, the founding Father of a new covenant, a new family in His own flesh and blood. The old covenant, the old earthly family established by Adam in his flesh and blood was a fallen family, degraded by sin, destined for mortality and condemnation. Jesus Christ comes as He is sent by the heavenly Father to restore the life of God's family and to reunite them to His Father. He does this in a way that proves, that confirms, that reinforces the fact that this is a family affair.
We said throughout the weekend that the master idea of the Catholic religion is the fact that we are the family of God, that this explains who the Pope is as the successor of Peter. This explains who the Blessed Virgin Mary is as the Queen Mother, as our mother. It explains the saints, it explains redemption and salvation and why we are called to be sanctified and mature, to grow up as sons and daughters of God. It explains also why the Church is truly catholic, worldwide, universal, because God is the Father of all humans. Men and women from every inhabited continent look to God as their common Father and a good father doesn't father many families, he fathers one family. And that one, holy, Catholic family is also apostolic, because it was through the Apostles that Jesus Christ went about creating His Mystical Body, His Father's family, the new covenant people of God.
So, in a sense, when we look at this principle of Apostolic succession, we see a spiritual genealogy. I don't know how many of you have tried to read the Old Testament, but if you've tried, you've probably, even undoubtedly, come across the famous sections sometimes known as "the begats," the genealogies. You might be cruising along, feeling good, getting a lot out of it, then all of a sudden you hit a chapter or two, like in Genesis 10 and 11, where you've got nothing but a series of ten, thirty, fifty, seventy names that you can't even pronounce, much less identify and who can remember them? So you think, why, Holy Spirit, if you were only going to give us one book, did you fill it with so many genealogies?
Yet, do you realize that for the ancient Hebrews that was the most exciting section of Scripture to read? Because therein was their family record, therein was their pedigree. They could identify themselves by seeing this lasting legacy that proved the fidelity of their heavenly Father in fathering an earthly family made up of sinners and scoundrels like you and me, but God's faithfulness could always override the unfaithfulness, the lapses, the failures of the earthly fathers.
Family Succession in the Old Covenant
So, the genealogies of the Old Testament are not only a sign of God's fatherly faithfulness and love, but also a principle of self- identity whereby the people of God know themselves to be God's family; and know that whatever trials they face, God will see them through those trials, just as he has taken the forefathers through. It would almost be similar to how we might recount American history by going down a line of Presidents. And what do we call George Washington? -- the Father of our country. We use that in a kind of metaphorical way because we don't really think of ourselves as a nation-family.
We have trouble thinking of Mom, Dad and the kids as a family these days! Still, it's a language. It's in our language. It's a customary expression. It's a hundred times more meaningful to ancient Hebrews and ancient Christians because it was the trademark, it was the stamp of divine approval, it was the trademark that we are God's family. It was proof positive.
Apostolic Succession in the New Covenant
Apostolic succession in the new covenant, therefore, is the one sure proof we have that God is still a faithful Father to us. We are His children and He has provided Fathers to teach us, to train us, to raise us. The Church, therefore, without the Pope and without the Bishops as successors to the Apostles, would be like a family without a father, a body without a brain. There's no way Christ would do it that way. And He didn't, thanks be to God! He saw the needs of his children before they arose and He took measures and steps to meet those needs. He commissioned Apostles, twelve of them primarily, of course you know the twelve disciples were Apostles. The term "apostolo" means to be sent, and the Apostles were sent by Jesus. But in addition to the twelve, there were also seventy others in Luke 10, or seventy-two others, and Jesus gives to these apostles unbelievable authority.
In Matthew 10, verse 20, He says to the Apostles, "It is not you that speak, but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." Not just the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of your -- master, your Lord, your employer? -- no, your Father! It's the Spirit of sonship of which Paul writes in Romans, the spirit that causes our hearts to cry out, "Papa, Abba, Father." The spirit of the Father was given to these Apostles, the twelve, so that the Holy Spirit would speak through them. Matthew 10, verse 40, therefore, states categorically, Jesus tells them, "He that receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me." And who would that be? -- the Father!
These Apostles are family ambassadors. They're family messengers. They are going out to regather God's children, the prodigals, the runaways. In Luke 10, when Jesus sent out the seventy-two, He tells them. "He who hears you hears me," and here's something new, "he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me," the Father! Notice how high the stakes are! I mean, you might say , "It's not fair; after all, these are fallible men. These are sinners like you and me. These measly mongrels we call Apostles, they're people who fell short of God's holy standard, but when they spoke, it was the Spirit of the Father speaking to the children through them. When you receive them you receive Christ and you receive the Father who sent his only Son. When you spurn them, you despise Christ and you repudiate the Father who sent his only Son, because God's omnipotent love infallibly works through fallible sinners to communicate this message of love, this Fatherly affection.
When the seventy come back from their mission, it says in Luke 10, verse 17: "The seventy return with joy saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.'" Jesus warns them, don't rejoice at that, "Rejoice, rather that your names are written in the book of life," in the family register. In that same hour, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes." That's what we have to become if we are going to be able to see through the Apostles or their successors in the Bishops and the representatives in the priests. If we are going to be able to hear the voice of Jesus, the word of our Father, we have to become like babes. We have to become children through faith to receive the truth and the love of the Father.
So Jesus thanks the Father that He has hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes: "Yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."
Notice that the language is drawn exclusively from what sphere of life? -- the family! Everything is reducible down to this Father-Son relationship. I would do anything to get across to Catholic Christians this ultimate reality that you really are God's children. Wake up! Sit up! Rise up and conquer in the name of an omnipotent Father who has given us an unspeakably precious gift. So Jesus in the next verse says, turning to the disciples He says privately, "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings desire to see what you see, but didn't see it and to hear what you hear, and didn't hear it." Unspeakable and immense privileges the Apostles are given and their successors and we who hear them.
In John, Chapter 14 we read, "Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Counselor." And Jesus says, "But the Paraclete, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring you remembrance all that I have said to you." Now, Jesus is not talking to each and every one of us. He is not talking to each and every believer back then. He was talking privately and, in some sense, exclusively to the twelve Apostles in the upper room in His last discourse, promising them the Holy Spirit which would cause them to remember all that Jesus had taught.
Then two chapters later in John 16, verse 13, he says, "When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you." The Father gave everything to the Son. The Son gives everything to the Spirit and the Spirit gives all truth and everything that Christ has given to the Apostles and through their successors to us, if we will receive it as babies through faith. And so He adds in John 17, verse 20, in His high priestly prayer, "I do not pray for these Apostles only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one."
If there is not Apostolic succession, there is no hope for success. There is no hope that God's family will endure as one, holy, Catholic Church. That's fact! But Christ has not left us orphans, He says. He has not only given us the Spirit. He has given us Apostles and successors to father us through the spirit of His Father in the wholeness, in the maturity. That's why the Epistles follow the Gospels with such clear force in telling us who the Apostles are and what they transmit and also about this principle of succession, first of all.
St. Paul makes it clear in 1st Timothy, 3:15 what we really are. He says I want to come to you but just in case I can't come to you, "I'm writing this to you so that you will know how you ought to behave in the household of God, which is the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth." I once asked a friend of mine who was a very keen theologian, "What do you regard as the pillar and foundation of truth?" Knowing that I was struggling with the Catholic Church at the time, trying to resist and avoid conversion to it, he said, "For us, Scott, the pillar and foundation of truth is the Scripture." And I said, "But why did I find the Scripture teaching that the pillar and foundation of truth is the Church, the household, the family of God?"
He said, "Where is that?" I showed him. He said, "You set me up!" I didn't... I felt more set up than he felt. In 1st Timothy, 4, verse 14, Paul describes to Timothy how through the laying on of hands, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of ministry was imparted to him by the elders. That's why he can speak of Timothy in 2nd Timothy, Chapter 1 verse 2 as "my dearly beloved son," this fatherly principle of ordination. That's why in 1st Timothy 5, verse 1, Paul admonishes Timothy not to rebuke, not to publicly scold the elders. He says, instead, "Entreat the elders as fathers." Why? Because that's what they are.
I had an interesting conversation Friday night after the debate that was held here at the parish, between Mitch Pacwa and James White. There were two other well-known anti-Catholics here in the audience. One was a man by the name of Bart Brewer and the other was a man by the name of Bill Jackson. I was talking to them afterwards and they were saying, "Show me one place in Scripture where you have any kind of priestly hierarchy established." I said, "Well, all right, but let's first understand what you mean by 'priest'. Do you realize that the Old Testament tells us what priest means, practically speaking? For instance, in the Book of Judges, Chapters 17, 18 and 19, you see a man looking for a priest to serve him. So he chooses his son and he says to his son, 'Will you be to me a priest and a father?'" Two ways of saying the same thing. He's talking to his son and he's saying, "Will you be to me a priest and a father?"
I said, "Do you realize, Bill, that priesthood is spiritual fatherhood? He said, "I have no problem with that, but where do you get this idea of hierarchy?" I said, "What does hierarchy mean?" He said, "Heiras archae, it means the rule of priests." And I said, "Well, look, if we have seen that priests are fathers, then what is a hierarchy but a family order, an order whereby the Church is governed by spiritual fathers representing God, our infinite Father?" He looked and you could see in his eyes that he was trapped and he thought, well, this is a kind of clever device that he had never heard before. I said, "But it's there!" He said, "That's not the way Catholics think."
I didn't have all these note cards at the time, but I did have a few quotes from memory that I sprung on him. I said, "On the contrary, this is how the Fathers of the Church and the Popes have always spoken. St. Augustine spoke of how the faith has been passed on from the Fathers to the Fathers through the Bishops who are our fathers. St. Jerome said, 'Be obedient to your Bishop, consider him as the father of your soul.' What does it mean to "father"? It means to communicate your own nature."
"Now I might make a statue of myself and I might have a child, but my child has been fathered; the statue hasn't, no matter how remarkably similar it may be to me and no matter how remarkably dissimilar my child may be. I didn't communicate my nature to the statue, but I did to my child."
"So, do priests father us? Well, in an earthly, natural level, when I fathered my children, Michael, Gabriel and Hannah, I communicated human nature to them in the form of their physical bodies. The Catholic Church following good philosophy has taught, though, that when we father, when we parent, we do not communicate the principle of life in the human soul; that is especially created by God. I only, in a sense, fathered the human nature and the bodily dimension. God had to specially create the psychical dimension, the soul. So, I fathered the lower form of human nature, communicated that aspect of my nature." I asked, "When priests communicate to us the flesh and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, when they communicate to us the grace and the life of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, are they communicating to us a lower form of life and nature that I did to my children or a higher form? A higher form."
"That makes them even more fathers than I am a father. Priests supernaturally father more than I naturally father. It isn't just a quaint metaphor, a cute simile that is meant to kind of stir up warm feelings. This is metaphysical, philosophical, theological truth -- certainty! This priestly hierarchy is a supernatural fatherly order whereby God loves his family, teaches them and guides them in the wholeness through truth and through grace."
You should have seen how evasive every one of his comments became at this point. But I submit to you that this is the way the Church thinks and teaches. St. Augustine says elsewhere, "The Apostles were sent as Fathers to replace those Apostles -- Sons were born to you who were constituted Bishops. The Church calls them Fathers, she who gave birth to them." Such is the Catholic Church. She has given birth to sons who through all the earth continue the work of her first fathers.
One of the greatest theologians of our generation is a man by the name of Cardinal Henry de Lubac. Cardinal de Lubac has said that this idea of spiritual order -- he says, "To suppress the fatherly type of authority in the Church would not only be to suppress in principle the character of respect and reciprocal affection in the relations between the faithful and pastors; it would be to destroy the only legitimate foundation of their authority. Spiritual fatherhood," de Lubac says, "is the only legitimate foundation of priestly and episcopal authority."
When we call our priests "Fathers," we say a lot more than we might be realizing. But that's solid, rock solid truth! And this is the Catholic faith. Pope Pius XI in "Ecclesiam Dei" says, "The Church in the wonderful plan of God was established to become in the fullness of time an immense family embracing the whole human race. Among other distinguishing signs, we know that it was to show its divine origin by its unity and its universality through the Bishops as successors to the Apostles, our founding Fathers."
This human race was created to be God's family. It ran away from home collectively in Adam, and then, through Christ, it has been reunited. So, Pope Pius XI speaks of how we have to deepen this intimate conviction that we are members of one great family and children of the same heavenly Father and further, that we are one body in Christ and everyone members of one another. Look around and behold the faces of the brothers and sisters that you will be spending eternity with. Don't you think it's about time that we learned to love each other and forgive each other and heal our differences?
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." We're one, big, happy family. This explains, I think ... I once had a friend at graduate school who was a cradle Catholic. He's in the Christian Brothers and he was asking me why I was planning to convert. I shared with him this family vision. He said, "Wow, that's exciting. I never thought of it before quite like that, but it really draws things together." And he said, "Do you know the one thing it really draws together? It's why we disagree so much and why there's so much bickering and squabbling and why we take each other for granted so much." He said, "What family do you know where everybody wakes up in the morning and kisses and hugs and says, 'We're family, let's hold hands and let's feel close and warm and tight?'" I said, "Bob, you're right!" That explains all the dissent and all the squabbling. It also explains why the Holy Father needs our prayers, so he can get all of our older brothers and sisters in line. We, ourselves, as well!
This is the kind of family that Americans can barely imagine. We have trouble enough just trying to hold our own families together, the little nuclear units that sociologists tell us about -- Mom and Dad, the kids and the cousins. I asked my students in class, "How many of you are members of what we would call an extended family?" Invariably, maybe 20 or 25% of the hands will shoot up. Then I'll say, "What do you mean by that?" People say, "Well, we get together with cousins, like practically every year or two." "How many?" "Well, thirty, forty," and in some classes I've had people say 300 or 400. One girl just this past semester said 500; every three or four years they get together,
I said, "Do you realize that wouldn't be a drop in the bucket." That wouldn't be even one tribe out of twelve in the family of Israel which was constituted by millions of people who called themselves 'brothers and sisters' and were organized by the divine covenant that God made with Moses so that they could actually be structured as a huge family?" It's almost grotesque by American standards, but it is glorious when you look at it through the eyes of our Heavenly Father. Because what father wants a disunited family? What father is pleased or glorified when he sees his sons and his daughters bitterly divided and hostile on matters of truth and love and worship and service and works of mercy?
Cardinal Ratzinger has recently stated, "Wherever human fatherhood disappears, God can no longer be expressed or thought of." Practically speaking, that's very true. God hasn't died but in human beings something has totally died, that is a necessary condition for God's existence in the world. Ratzinger says that the crisis of fatherhood which we are living through today constitutes the heart of the human crisis that is threatening us.
We don't know what it means to father or to be fathered. Pope Pius XII said, "Hold fast to this: The Church is the Church of all men. She is there for all. She wishes to gather all men into one family as brothers and sisters in Christ." And then he exhorts us to widen our hearts and enlarge and lift up our vision so that we might see this. This is the essence of apostolic succession. This is really the meaning. This is what we are talking about. And this is why Paul can say in Ephesians, Chapter 2, verses 19 and 20, that the family of God is built upon the foundation of the Apostles.
The family or the house of God is built upon the foundation of the Apostles, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone because Christ is the chief Apostle in many respects. If "apostle" comes from "apostello", which means "to send," Christ is the one who is sent above all. Then He appoints twelve Apostles and seventy. In the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 14, we read that the wall of the city "the new Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ" had twelve foundations and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The twelve Apostles were the twelve foundations of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the Church of Christ, the Bride of the Lamb. Who were the twelve? Well, we know there's Matthew, Simon Peter ... was Judas one of them? Was Judas one of the twelve names written on the twelve foundations of the Church? No, I don't think so. We could squabble, we could speculate, we could debate; but what happened to Judas after he died?
We know what happened to Judas after he died. If you have a Bible, turn with me to Acts, chapter 1. We'll see something that is most remarkable. At least it was most remarkable to me when I first saw it. In Acts, chapter 1, we have an account of how Judas hung himself because of his despair and remorse. So what happens? Peter stands up in Acts, chapter 1, verse 15, "In those days Peter stood up among the brethren and he said, 'Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled," and he talks about the prophecies that foretold Judas' betrayal. "He was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." Then he describes how he died and then he quotes the Old Testament Book of Psalms, Psalm 69, "For it is written in the Book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation become desolate and let there be no one to live in it'." But then he goes on to quote Psalm 109, "His office will another man take." In the Greek, the word for office is "episcopae," where we get the word "episcopas" or "episcopal." It literally means "overseer." It's the word for bishop.
"Let another man, his bishopric take," the King James Protestant version reads. What do we have here? Episcopal succession. The first bishop to replace the first deceased Apostle is installed by Peter without debate. Without any controversy, without any hubbub. How can this be? Because he sees in the Old Testament, the pattern, the type, the blueprint for the New Testament family, the Catholic Church.
In the Old Testament some things were different. Flesh and blood genealogies are now replaced by a kind of spiritual genealogy where spiritual fatherhood and spiritual sonship are supreme. But still we have fathers who raise up sons to be their successors, only in a spiritual and moral way. In the Old Testament we also know that you had one unified and unitary hierarchical structure, a family hierarchy. This is what Peter is plugging into and no disciples are disagreeing. Nobody is saying, "Where did he get that from? This is the New Testament. This is the Church. This isn't Israel. This isn't the Old Testament."
"We are the Israel of God," St. Paul tells us in Galatians 6. In Galatians 3 we are told that we who are in Christ are the offspring of Abraham, "heirs according to all the promise that God gave to Abraham." So we have clearly enunciated in Acts, chapter 1, not only the fact that the Apostles would be succeeded, but they would be succeeded in their "episcopae," their bishopric, their episcopal office. So Matthias is chosen and he is ordained.
So not only are Apostles sent by Christ, but the Apostles raise up their successors to carry on the ministry of the Apostles when they die. In 2nd Corinthians 5, verse 20, St. Paul tells us, "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us." In 1st Corinthians 3, verse 4, he tells us that the Apostles are God's co- workers, God's fellow workers. In 1st Corinthians 4, verse 1, he speaks of how the Apostles are stewards of the mysteries of God or oiconimas, stewards. That word oiconimas for steward literally has as the first part of its compound, that word oicas which means family or household. They are stewards of the household.
Jesus describes for us in the Gospels what this type of thing is all about. Turn with me to Matthew 24 and you can see just what Paul is thinking of. Paul is building upon the teaching model of our Lord. In Matthew 24, Jesus describes for us a typical household, an extended family. He describes in verse 45, "Who then is the faithful and wise oiconimas, steward or servant whom his master has set over his household to give them their food at the proper time?" Notice, that there is one household and one master, but what does the master do to rule his household? He sets up an oiconimas, a steward, a servant, a chief servant. He sets him over his household to give them their food at the proper time, just as Jesus our Master set up Peter to be the chief steward of his household to feed us the Bread of Life and the truth of Christ at the proper time.
"Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find him so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions." Get that? The master will set the chief steward over all of his possessions. That's why we speak of Peter and his successors, known as the Popes, as Vicars of Christ, because Christ, the Master, sets them over his entire household, entrusting to them all his possessions. "But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and he will punish him and put him with the hypocrites. There men will weep and gnash their teeth."
Notice he does not say that once the chief steward becomes wicked, then you have a divinely authorized mutiny, then all of the other household members are free to go off on their own. No, they're victimized by somebody who sits on a seat of authority to abuse that authority. But what do we do when we have a Bishop who's bad? And I dare say Church history is full of them. We shouldn't be surprised. I think Jesus not only knew it in advance, but foretold in advance, prepared us for that fact by choosing Judas and by choosing others that He knew would either betray Him or flee from Him in His hour of need.
But notice what Jesus says in a previous chapter in Matthew 23 in verse 1. It says, "Jesus said to the crowd and to His disciples, 'The Scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat. So practice and observe whatever they tell you, but don't do what they do because they don't practice what they preach.'" Have we ever met priests or Bishops who don't practice what they preach and who sometimes even stop preaching what we should practice? Yes. What should we do? We must do whatsoever they tell us. Why? Because these scribes and Pharisees sat on Moses' seat; the Greek word is cathedra. It's actually brought into the Latin so that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, we are infallibly sure that this is infallibly binding upon us.
This is nothing new. Now what does Jesus think of these scribes and Pharisees who sit on Moses' seat? The rest of Matthew 23 tells us. He goes on to scold -- scold is too kind -- rebuke, that's too kind, castigate, lambaste, slander. He says, "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," he calls them, "blind guides, he calls them, "fools," he calls them, "whitewashed tombs that look good on the outside but are full of dead men's bones and rottenness and uncleanness on the inside." That's incredible!
Reminds me of St. Anthony of Padua who from the pulpit would call Archbishops who were corrupt to account. On one occasion the Archbishop actually asked him to hear his confession. The scribes and the Pharisees I don't believe did that with Jesus. But the principle was established, nonetheless.
There is in the Old Testament what there is in the New Testament, a seat of authority. The seat was Moses' in the Old; the seat is Jesus' seat, it's Peter's cathedra in the New Testament. Because there's a greater fullness of truth, there's a greater completeness to what God has revealed. There's a greater outpouring of God's power in the new covenant, compared to the old covenant. Are we less bound or more bound to obey the truth that is proclaimed to us from the seat of Peter? More bound, of course.
So we have ample Biblical grounds to see who the Apostles were, constituting the foundation of God's household and how they understood and recognized the need for successors and made provisions accordingly, and so we would understand why someone like St. Irenaeus, writing in the next century, could say, "Anyone who wishes to discern the truth may see in every Church in the whole world the Apostolic succession clear and manifest. We can enumerate those who were appointed Bishops in the churches by the Apostles and their successors to our very day, but as it would be very long in a book of this kind to enumerate the successors of all the churches, I will point out the Apostolic tradition in faith announced to mankind which has been brought down to our time by the succession of Bishops in the greatest, in the most ancient and well-known church, founded and established by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, at Rome. We can confound all who in any way either for self-pleasing or vainglory or for blindness or perversity gather more than they ought. For to this church, that is the church of Rome, established by Peter, on account of her more powerful principality, it is necessary that every church should come together; that is, the faithful from all sides in which always that which is the tradition from the Apostles has been preserved by those who are from all parts."
Then he proceeds to list all the successors from Peter down to the present time. All of the first Popes were martyrs. I mean I'm talking not about ten, not fifteen, not twenty, not twenty-five, but like thirty in a row! You're not talking about power-hungry politicians. You're talking about men who loved Christ so much that they weren't ashamed to die like Peter upside down on a cross. You're talking about men who knew how to love to the death, men who were invested with a supernatural power that was given uniquely and expressly to Peter so that the Church might see one Bishop above all other Bishops, so that when Bishops disagreed, there would be a way to resolve the differences. And I've got to tell you, brothers and sisters in Christ, down through the ages of the Church, many Bishops have disagreed with other Bishops.
Many Bishops have been deposed or excommunicated as heretics. But not one Bishop of Rome has ever been accused of heresy or deposed -- even when they were relatively powerless, next to the Empire which strengthened the hand of the Bishop of Constantinople, which was the imperial capitol, after Rome had fallen upon hard times. Not once was the accusation laid at the feet of the successors to Peter that they expressed heresy as truth. On the contrary, the Popes were the ones down through the centuries who called to account powerful, influential, politically supported Bishops who with their material and earthly means were propagating heresy time and again.
The more you study Church history, the more Catholic you become. Cardinal John Henry Newman once stated, "To go deep into history is to cease to be Protestant." He should know. He went deep and he ceased to be Protestant, one of the greatest converts of the last two centuries. This apostolic succession is a testimony to God's fatherly faithfulness, but the succession of the Popes from Peter is the greatest testimony of all.
The Primacy of Peter
We need to understand this a little bit better. We don't have as much time as I'd like and so I just repeat what I said from the outset. That is, there are several tapes available on the tables dealing with this, but in addition to that, I think we also need to turn briefly to the main text, Matthew 16. If you have a Bible turn with me to Matthew 16 the locus classicus for all we're talking about.
As you're turning let me share with you a quotation I just found last week. The leading evangelical magazine in the country, if not all of North America, is Christianity Today, written by Bible Christians, Protestants, Evangelicals, and some Fundamentalists. I came across a very interesting quote last week by an Evangelical scholar with a Ph.D. He said in essence that Evangelical Protestant Christians are incapable of establishing unity anywhere in the Church throughout the world today. I quote, "Nevertheless, even their efforts are doomed to limited success at best since Evangelicalism is so plagued by doctrinal variance, organizational multiplicity and mutual distrust so that no group, whatever its credentials, can effectively establish itself as the arbiter of orthodoxy."
That's sad. That's tragic. That's disastrous. That's catastrophic for a family that wants to stay together, that has trouble even praying together. Thank God that He has given us a father figure, an icon of Jesus Christ in the Holy Father, the Pope. We have in Matthew 16 the charter that Jesus gives. He asks the disciples who men are saying that Jesus is. They tell him. "Who do you say that I am?" He asks. In verse 16, Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christos, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, Simon, you are Rock, Petros, and on this Rock, Petra, I will build my Church."
Now, I make that distinction between "petros" and "petra" because many Bible Christians, many non-Catholics, many anti-Catholics will stress this, that "petros, the name given to Peter can mean small stone, whereas "petra" where Jesus says "On this rock, I will build my Church," is in the feminine form which means "big, huge, rock." The fact is, all spellers agree, Jesus, when He said this, did not speak Greek where you have a masculine form of the word which can mean "stone" and a feminine form which means "big rock."
He spoke Aramaic and in Aramaic, there is only one word for "rock." You see in the New Testament Jesus referred to as Cephas because "caipha" is the Aramaic name that Jesus gave to Simon, which means "rock." There's no possible way for Jesus, speaking Aramaic, to make a distinction between the small stone, Peter, and the big rock, Christ or Peter's faith on which the Church would be built. It's Peter who is the Rock upon which Christ would build the Church. This is something about which there is total consensus among scholars today.
I have numerous quotations from the top Bible-believing, Evangelical Protestant scholars: D. A. Carson from Trinity, R.T. France in England, Gerhardt Meyer in Germany. Over and over again they testify to the fact, William Hendrickson and others, that Peter is the Rock on which Christ said He would build His Church and it was only Protestant prejudice that led for a few centuries some Protestant scholars to deny or to dispute this. Now there is unanimity. There's consensus.
So, "you are Rock and upon this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you (singular) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This idea of the keys of the kingdom is also highly significant. We know, for instance, that this notion of the keys of the kingdom comes from the Old Testament. Once again, Protestant scholar, J.A. Emerton, tells us that Jesus was deliberately and explicitly citing Isaiah 22.
Now, we're not going to have to go back to Isaiah 22. Let me just sum it up. When Jesus gives to Peter, not only a new name, Rock, but the keys of the kingdom, this image of the kingdom keys was a well- known figure because in ancient Israel for centuries there was a divine kingdom established by God with the covenant with David. And we know that the key holder was the son of David, the King of Israel. The King of Israel, as the son of David, held what Isaiah referred to as "the keys of the House of David." He was the key holder as the King, but he would entrust to the Prime Minister, the keys for administration. Just as the master of the house would set the Chief Steward over all the household possessions, so the King, as the one who holds the keys, would give the keys to his Prime Minister.
Now there was always a royal cabinet of other ministers: Minister of Transportation, Minister of Defense, or whatever; but over the other ministers was a Prime Minister and what distinguished him as the Prime Minister was the fact that he administered the keys of the kingdom.
Now in a debate a few weeks ago, a non-Catholic was arguing that because Revelation, Chapter 3, verse 7, tells us that Jesus holds the keys, therefore we cannot say that Peter administers the keys. On the contrary, Revelation 3 tells us exactly what we would expect: that Jesus as the Son of David, Jesus as the King of the New Israel, Jesus as the builder of the new temple and the new Jerusalem, the Church, is naturally the key holder, but He will entrust those kingdom keys to His "Prime Minister." That's what we mean when we speak of the primacy being Peter's. He is the Prime Minister. He is the key holder in an administrative sense. He is the chief steward set up over the possessions of the house of Christ.
"It, therefore, seems that the whole of Matthew 16 and not merely one line is dependent on Isaiah 22," Emerton concludes, as a Protestant Scripture scholar with no desire to support Catholic conclusions. He's just being honest and sincere.
It was to Peter that Jesus gave the new name "Rock" and said, "I will build my Church upon this Rock." Notice Jesus says, "I will build my Church." It wasn't Peter building it and it wasn't Peter's Church. It is not Pope John Paul's Church now. It's Christ's Church! John Paul is the holy instrument that Christ has set apart to use, to nurture and to love us. Christ gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom. Christ gave to Peter in John 21 the commission to "shepherd the flock, to feed the sheep." And there in Acts, chapter 1, we see Peter standing up and calling for a successor to Judas without any debate.
In Acts, chapter 2, Peter is the one to deliver the first sermon. In Acts, chapter 3, he delivers another one. In Acts, chapter 4, he confronts and he accuses the Jewish Senate, the supreme governing body, of murdering their Messiah. Where does he get all this authority? Straight from the King of kings. In Acts, chapter 5, he exercises supreme jurisdiction within the Church, and it cost the lives of Ananias and Sapphira who, in lying to Peter, are said to have lied to the Holy Spirit. Even his shadow falling upon a sick person would heal the sick person, in Acts, chapter 5. The first miracle worker is Peter. The one to whom Paul goes to confirm his gospel is Peter. It goes on and on and on. Peter's primacy is established as part of the work of Christ.
So St. Clement of Rome in writing in 96 A.D., very early within the same generation as the Apostles -- he might have been writing when St. John was still alive, "But if any disobeyed the word spoken by him, Peter, through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and no small danger." St. Clement was the second or third Pope, the Bishop of Rome and one of the great martyrs. Tertullian writing in the late 100s wrote, "Was anything withheld from Peter who was called the Rock on which the Church should be built, who also obtained the keys to the kingdom of heaven with the power of loosing and binding in heaven and on earth?"
St. Cyprian, writing in the 3rd century spoke of "a primacy which is given to Peter, and it is thus made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair." St. Ephram, who lived outside of the Roman Empire -- he lived in Syria and the Syrians were hostile enemies to the Romans -- but on Holy Week he wrote a hymn that was to be sung in his churches. And by the way, St. Ephram is one of the forty or so Doctors of the Church. In his hymn he writes and they sang, "You, Simon, my disciple have I set at the foundation of Holy Church. I call thee Caipha from of old, that thou mightest bear all buildings. Thou art the overseer of those who built for me the Church on earth. If they built anything hateful, your foundation restrains them. You are the fountainhead of my teaching, and you are the head of my disciples. By them I will give drink to all nations. You have the sweetness of life which I will give. It is thee I have chosen to be the firstborn of my teaching, to be heir of my treasures. I have given thee the keys of my kingdom. Behold, thou rulest over all my possessions."
Jesus established Peter as the chief steward over all His possessions and this was recognized outside the Roman Empire by St. Ephram. Now the reason I stress that is because many Protestant scholars argue that the Church of Rome just became a mere image of imperial Rome's bureaucratic organization, its imperial hierarchy. Actually, what you discover is that the Christians outside of the Roman Empire venerated the Chair of Peter even more explicitly and emphatically than the Christians within the Roman Empire, even though that could have been misinterpreted by non-Christian Syrians as treasonous. This was not a mere image or reflection of some political bureaucracy. This was the result of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
So many commentators see this in our own day and age. Just this past week I was working through a book written by one of the top scholars in Germany, a Lutheran scholar by the name of Ernst Kasemann. Kasemann is no Catholic and he has no desire to support the Catholic Church, but I was shocked by what I read in his book, because he is a very honest interpreter of Scripture. If he disagrees with something that he finds in the Bible, he won't try to change it to fit what he already thinks. He will just say," This is what the Bible says and I am very uncomfortable with it."
He speaks, for instance, in his book on New Testament Questions of Today of how the classical document for all doctrine concerning the Church is Ephesians. He writes very uncomfortably about this. He says, "The sacramental presence of Christ in the Church for the world, that is the central motif of the early Catholic doctrine of redemption and even this view can claim a precedent in Paul. He did in fact make the sacramental incorporation into the worldwide Body of Christ the criterion for being a Christian." He goes on to talk about the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, the Lucan writings. He also speaks of the pastoral Epistles, the ones that Paul wrote to Timothy and to Titus, although Kasemann doesn't think that Paul wrote them.
"Here we find, it seems to me, the monarchical Bishop surrounded by presbyters, Deacons and others bound by vow. In the pastoral Epistles," Kasemann says, " I have to be honest with you and tell you that we find the monarchical Bishop surrounded by priests there in the Church. The office is conferred by ordination, and because it is regulated by the disciples of the Apostles, it's placed in Apostolic succession. The Lucan work, the writings of Luke as a whole, are totally incomprehensible if it is not seen that only in the stream of Apostolic tradition does one also belong to the one, holy, Catholic Church." I won't go on, it's a long quote, trying to translate complex German, but Kasemann's point is simple.
In Luke's writings, Luke in Acts and in the Pastoral Epistles, we have the Bishop as monarch. We have Apostolic succession. We have all the things that make Kasemann feel quite uncomfortable and by the time he gets to 2nd Peter in his book, Essays on New Testament Themes, he has something even more startling to say because here is one of the top Protestant non-Catholic scholars writing in Germany in the 20th Century conceding the fact that when you look at 2nd Peter, 1, verse 20, you cannot hold to 2nd Peter 1:20, and to the Protestant doctrine that the Bible alone is our sole authority. Why? Because 2nd Peter 1:20 does away with that view. Quoting Holtzman, another Protestant, he says, "Our epistle 2nd Peter already considers an authoritative Church interpretation to be essential. Even exegesis, our interpreting the Bible, is exposed to the threat of error." In other words, people interpreting the Bible can make important mistakes.
"It must, therefore," Kasemann says, "be regulated according to 2nd Peter and this is done by tying it to the Church's teaching office. Thus the churches hear the possessor of the correct interpretation of Scripture. Every unauthorized exegesis and interpretation can now be prohibited. The time," (this is the most important quote of all of Kasemann's statements,) "The time when it was possible to set up Scripture in its totality in opposition to Catholicism has gone beyond recall. Protestantism today can no longer employ the so-called formal principle, that is the Bible as our only authority without rendering itself unworthy of credence in the eyes of historical analysis." Because, there in the Pastorals and there in 2nd Peter, we have the Bishop as monarch in the family-kingdom of God. We have Apostolic succession. We have the Church invested with divine authority to interpret the Bible in the correct way.
Now how does Kasemann explain this? He says, "You've got to understand what they were trying to achieve. The object that was aimed at and no doubt the result that was widely attained was sound doctrine that was at once normative and regulative." Kasemann says, "The churches saw themselves above all as a model of God's family." That's Kasemann, not John Paul. "The churches saw themselves above all as a model of God's family with corresponding importance attached to the building up of the Christian family. The Christian family was, so to speak, the germ cell for God's family taken as a whole. Thus a patriarchal system took root."
We have a patriarchal system of family order in the Church, the family of God. I might also add a matriarchal system, too, because who reigns supreme over every Pope and every priest? -- the mother of God! There's real feminism. There's real women's liberation. Doesn't God know how to father His family well?
The Catholic Church and Sacred Scripture
We love Scripture; don't get me wrong, and the Church encourages us to study it. St. Jerome said, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." But this idea that we chained the Bible is bunk; it's nonsense. This idea that Luther made the Bible available in the vernacular is historical nonsense. I have data before me that tells of how, before Luther was born, the Roman Catholic Church was responsible for 84 separate editions of the Bible -- 62 in Hebrew, 22 in Greek, 343 editions in Latin, which was the common language of educated and literate people.
What about Germany, though? Well, there were 30 editions of the entire Bible in German published by the Church's approval before Luther was born; 20 in Italian, 26 in French, 19 in Flemish, 2 in Spanish, 6 in Bohemian, 1 in Slavonic. The Church has always longed for her children to understand the Bible so long as they understand it with fidelity and with accuracy, in keeping with the Apostolic tradition that the Bishops, and especially the Bishop of Rome, are responsible to maintain and transmit down through the ages.
This idea of the Bible alone as our sole authority is anti- scriptural. It goes contrary to Scripture. What it reduces down to is, "I pick and choose, and I interpret the Bible in accord with my own views." In a sense, it is a very inconsistent stand. It's a very incoherent stand because invariably what Christians do is they bring in all kinds of principles from their own culture, from their own experience, their own upbringing and use those to interpret the Bible. Nobody ever comes to the Bible alone. They always come with their own interpretive biases, their own experiences, their own prejudices. Anybody who thinks he comes as a blind slate -- I won't say he is a fool or an idiot, but if you said it, I wouldn't mind.
The Protestants who came to Scripture alone, they said, came up with many interpretations that are interesting. I don't want to be anti-Protestant, but I do want to oppose those who are anti-Catholic. Melancthan was sure that Pope Zozimus fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture as the anti-Christ in 420. Beza said, "No, it was Pope St. Leo the Great in 440." Cranmer's brother-in-law, Bolinger said, "No, it was 763 with Pope St. Paul 1st." John Fox, another Reformer argued that "No, it was Pope Boniface the 8th." They all agreed, of course, that one of the Popes was the anti-Christ and had then established the line of Popes as the anti-Christ, all in fulfillment of Scripture.
But Scripture teaches us that we have to hold fast not only to Scripture, but also to the tradition that Christ gave the Apostles and that they have entrusted, not only in writing but also in oral tradition. Second Thessalonians 2:15 speaks of how we have to hold fast to what Paul has transmitted not only in writing but also orally. F. F. Bruce, one of the top Evangelical scholars, speaks about how the spirit of Christian freedom and progress is by no means incompatible with loyalty to the primitive Christian heritage.
He goes on to say, "Christian stability calls for the maintenance of Christian continuity in belief and action alike in corporate and in personal life. This maintenance of continuity is encouraged by the injunction, 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 'to hold fast to the traditions.' But it is not tradition as such, but false, inadequate or outmoded tradition that is deprecated by Christ in Matthew 15." Even Evangelical scholars recognize how normative and authoritative tradition was for St. Paul.
Tradition is not some sort of burden that is added to Scripture to make it more difficult to interpret. Tradition is the vital life- giving force of the family of God that Christ entrusted to His Apostles and transmitted through them to their successors and to us through them. It is a vital energy, a life-giving force. That kind of family legacy is not reducible to writing. It is not going to be apparent to outsiders who do not have any experience of the living liturgical life of the family of God.
The liturgy of the Church is the lifestyle of God's family. We need to immerse ourselves in it. There we discover how vital and alive sacred tradition really is. It's protective of the true interpretation of scripture, but it's propulsive of Christian growth. It helps us mature as sons and daughters of God. Tradition reminds us of truth, but it renews us in that truth as it leads us in worship. Tradition can't be reduced to writing. It's beyond the grasp of our human hands, but it's planted within our hearts. It transmits life and not merely laws, and it's that which the Church, through the Bishops as the successors to the Apostles, it's that which the Church is responsible to maintain.
Oh, there's so much more, there's so much more I want to share, but there's not so much more time to share it. Let me just encourage you at the close of this series of mine to ask the Lord to give to you the family Spirit of Christ so that you will have a deeper devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I especially encourage you who might be questioning Mary, who might have dropped the habit of praying the rosary long ago to pick up that habit and ask Jesus to give to you His heart for His mother.
We don't want to venerate her more than Jesus does. We want to imitate Jesus as He honors His mother. We want to honor her with the same honor with which He honored her, no less and no more. She is a powerful mother and no family is strong without a powerful mother. She loves us in a way that we can barely imagine, with her Immaculate but Sorrowful Heart, and we can love Christ with the heart of Mary. That's why He gave her to us in the first place.
We also need to ask the Lord to deepen our devotion and loyalty to the Holy Father. I wouldn't take his job for a billion dollars. I have trouble enough being a half-decent father of three. I can't imagine what a billion would be like. He is the Father of the whole human race, because all humans alive today are the children of God at least potentially, and it's his mission and his ministry to draw them back to one shepherd and one fold. Oh, does he need our prayers! So does your Bishop as the successor to the Apostles. You've got a good one. Pray for Bishop Braum. He is a very holy man, very wise in the ways of the Catholic faith, but very immersed in all kinds of struggles and crises in the modern Church. Pray for him every day and ask our Lord and ask our Lady to pray for him and pray for the Monsignor and the parish priests that you are part of, in whatever parish family God has placed you. See in your parish your true family. See in the Church your everlasting home. See in the faces of other Catholic Christians your brothers and sisters foreverlasting time and ask Jesus to help you love them as He loves them as His younger brothers and sisters. Thank you very much.
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