So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Primacy of Peter. A few reminders.

Mindful of the absolute need to avoid blessing revisionist thinking while charitably asserting the facts of the Catholic Faith that have been handed on from the Apostles, the chit-chat between Catholics and others who claim to be Christian seems irrelevant at times given the distance between the Apostolic Faith and the theological innovations among, for example, the Reformation communities. If not for the opportunity to save souls, dialogue is irrelevant.

Dialogue between Catholics and others who claim to be followers of Christ requires that Catholics be confident in the Faith. We are blessed in this day and age with many online resources offered by individuals and groups comprised of lay and ordained Catholics who are well versed in the facts of the Faith and who are able to share the Gospel with a sense of joyful orthodoxy. Too numerous to mention in this essay, many of those resources—theological, musical, etc.—can be found in the Pages column on the left side of this blog.

Dialogue, as mentioned, requires that Catholics be confident in the Faith. One may not always have a snappy answer in reply to an inquiry or challenge. On such occasions, one need only promise to find an answer and request that the one asking the question or issuing the challenge be patient and receptive to continuing the dialogue and hearing the answer when it is offered. As Catholics, we must be confident that God acts through our honest attempts to reach others with the Truth of the Catholic Faith. We may feel we have failed to win a soul to Christ. However, it is God Who saves. All we can do is offer our best, to think with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia), pray and trust that God has matters well in hand.

One of the big areas in the dialogue between Catholics and, well, everybody else, that requires a deep sense of history is the topic of the nature of the Petrine Office. From this convert's perspective, which hopefully mirrors perfectly the official Catholic position, the Church wouldn't be the Church if the Church didn't included the Petrine ministry, i.e., the office or role established by Christ Himself to serve the authentic unity of the Church.

Events in our day confirm, once again, that there is a causal link between a loss of the Papacy and a drift from orthodoxy and/or a drift from catholicity.

Reflections of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect
Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop emeritus of Vercelli, Secretary
II. The Exercise of the Primacy and Its Forms
7. The exercise of the Petrine ministry must be understood - so that it "may lose nothing of its authenticity and transparency" - on the basis of the Gospel, that is, on its essential place in the saving mystery of Christ and the building-up of the Church. The primacy differs in its essence and in its exercise from the offices of governance found in human societies: it is not an office of coordination or management, nor can it be reduced to a primacy of honour, or be conceived as a political monarchy. (To characterize Papal Primacy as a mere honour bestowed on any one bishop is to place upon the Lord's lips language which contradicts the Lord's definition of authority (Matthew 20:20-28). To suggest that the Bishop of Rome merely occupies a place of honour among all the bishops is not consistent with the teaching of Christ which established Peter as the Supreme (earthly) governor of Christ's Church, the Servus Servorum Dei. Christ conferred real and unique or distinct authority upon Peter and his successors. It was to Peter—and no other Apostle—that Christ gave the Keys to the Kingdom (St. Matthew 16:18-19). That authoritative role, i.e., Peter's and his successors' universal oversight of the Church, has been attested to by orthodox Fathers both from the East and the West from the beginning of the Church. With regards to the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Saint Peter, the concept of primus inter pares (first among equals) does not apply: [following text is an excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedia] The promise made by Christ in Matthew 16:16-19, received its fulfilment after the Resurrection in the scene described in John 21. Here the Lord, when about to leave the earth, places the whole flock — the sheep and the lambs alike — in the charge of the Apostle (Peter). The term employed in 21:16, "Be the shepherd [poimaine] of my sheep" indicates that his task is not merely to feed but to rule. It is the same word as is used in Psalm 2:9 (Septuagint): "Thou shalt rule [poimaneis] them with a rod of iron".—Catholic Encyclopedia/New Advent. If someone has a beef with the role of Peter, that beef would be with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.)

The Roman Pontiff - like all the faithful - is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church's obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church's divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation. The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy. (The Pope is a preserver or a conserver of Tradition. When the Pope teaches ex cathedra, the Holy Spirit protects authoritative teaching from error in faith and morals.)
8. The characteristics of exercising the primacy must be understood primarily on the basis of two fundamental premises: the unity of the episcopacy and the episcopal nature of the primacy itself. Since the episcopacy is "one and undivided", the primacy of the Pope implies the authority effectively to serve the unity of all the Bishops and all the faithful, and "is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, the Church's mission, discipline and the Christian life"; on these levels, by the will of Christ, everyone in the Church - Bishops and the other faithful - owe obedience to the Successor of Peter, who is also the guarantor of the legitimate diversity of rites, disciplines and ecclesiastical structures between East and West.
Like it or not, the Church founded by Jesus Christ is hierarchical. Jesus Himself established the Sacrament of Holy Orders to make possible the continuance of the Sacrifice of Calvary throughout the ages. The institution of the Holy Eucharist and the establishment of Holy Orders happened together in the Upper Room (St. Luke 22:19-20) on Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday).

Let us turn next to the Catechism which provides seekers with a succinct overview of Papal authority:
In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.” 
The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.—
For some, perhaps even many, the teaching concerning the Papal Primacy is a "hard teaching". Many disciples left the company of Jesus when the Lord taught that the faithful must eat His flesh and drink His blood (St. John 6:52-69). The Apostles, confirmed by Peter's witness (John 6:68), remained faithful to Jesus. If we hope to be counted among the faithful, we must trust the Lord and not run from the difficult teachings.

Unity in the Truth

Contrary to the thought that Peter's (and his successors') universal authority in the Church is unjustifiably restrictive, one need only look at the fragmentation of Christians who belong in the post-Reformation communities and those belonging to the national churches for an answer that proves the divine wisdom of Christ's establishment of the "Office of Unity and Truth". Without a visible universal shepherd, i.e., one who has the responsibility of having been given the authority of Jesus to feed His sheep, heresy and schism will tear into the flesh of a community that decides it knows better than Jesus. In such "Christian" communities, the Apostolic teaching which necessarily leads to everlasting life in Christ is lost among the weeds introduced by false shepherds. The authority of the Pope ensures authentic freedom, a freedom in Christ Who is the way, the truth and the life (St. John 14:6).

Without the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium to protect Holy Scripture from abusive interpretations, unity in the truth is hindered by divisive readings of Scripture. "But, but...", replies the cheerleader for sola scriptura, "...the Bible alone is the final authority in the Church!" As Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 3:15, the Church, not the Bible, is "the pillar and bulwark of the truth". Recall that it was the Church, under the guidance and authority of popes, which defined the Canon of Holy Scripture, i.e., those books which belong in the collection we now call the Bible.

A pastor of a non-Catholic denomination can interpret Scripture and claim that his interpretation represents the authoritative interpretation. Different denominations have arisen all claiming to hold to a true interpretation (of Scripture) while, frequently, their teachings collide and contradict each other. When someone teaches something which contradicts another's teaching, or even contradicts Holy Scripture, there must by necessity—i.e., the need to protect souls from error—be an authoritative interpreter who can protect the Church from illegitimate innovations. Without the Spirit-guided Office of Peter and the Magisterium to ensure that interpretation accords with Apostolic Tradition, an individual or community will be lost to error, error such as reading into Scripture something that openly contradicts the received teaching of Christ, e.g., misguided interpretations which permit sinful relationships or behaviours that are contrary to the mind of Christ.

In other words, the universal authority of Peter protects Holy Scripture from abuse and offers Christians the protection of the Holy Spirit to aid them in a deepening communion with the Church that Christ Himself founded.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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