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Bob MacDonald

What is the meaning of Church in the context of Peter's commission? Could it be related to the great assembly of Psalm 22?

John Hobbins

Ecclesia in the sense of an individual community, as in Matthew 18:15, bears some relation to the usage in Psalm 22 and other Psalms, where a cultic assembly is in view.

But the sense of ecclesia in Matthew 16:18 is more abstract. It refers to the entire community of Jesus' disciples and those they disciple in turn (Matthew 28:16-20). There are no obvious parallels to this usage of the term ekklesia in the Septuagint, which equals qahal in Hebrew. Edah = synagoge in the sense of a circle of dependents, however, is attested (Job 16:7 [of Job]; Ps 82:1 [of El]). That is the sense in Matthew 16. The translation synagoge was avoided in the parting of the ways.

The Petrine ministry is associated with the power of the keys in Matthew 16:19 and with nurture of the sheep in John 21:15-19. Both aspects come to realization in the Peter described for us in the first half of the book of Acts.

Doug Chaplin

Good positive post. I've also blogged my own thoughts but couldn't improve on your statement of this particular point.

Iyov

While the Magisterium is certainly, well, Magestic, I don't think that it can be viewed as "continuous." There are many interruptions in succession (for example, the path from Peter to Pius I; the Avignon era; the Western Schism and the period of the antipopes) and periods of dramatic reform (for example, the Council of Trent, Vatican II, etc.). Arguably, not until Pius IX did the Vatican finally consolidate control over the Church. And, of course, there is also the sedavacantist view.

Even viewed as an intellectual force rather than a worldly one, the Vatican's position has been highly discontinuous. The greatest Doctor of the Church (who never served in the curia -- has there been a truly great theologian in the Vatican since Gregory?) was criticized on March 7, 1277 by the commission of (Paris) Bishop Stephen Tempier, who acting on the request of John XXI, and resulted in a lengthy list of condemnations. Similarly (Canterbury) Archbishop Robert Kilwardby issued a condemnation on March 18th of that year, and his successor at Canterbury, John Pecham reiterated the condemnation and excommunicated Aquinas' follower, Richard Knapwell.

Of course, by 1323, when Aquinas was canonized, things had turned around. By the time of the Council of Trent, Summa Theologiae was placed on the altar with the Bible and Decretals. Leo XIII declared in 1879 that Aquinas gave the definitive statement of Catholic doctrine. In Richardson and Bowden's New Dictionary of Christian Theology the only person cited more than Aquinas is Jesus of Nazareth. What a rehabilitation!

John Hobbins

You raise some interesting points.

Re continuity, what you say is perfectly true. It got me thinking about the extent to which rabbinic tradition is continuous. Observations analogous to those you make regarding apostolic succession might be made regarding the chain of rabbinic tradition, and the changing fortunes of aspects of that tradition over time.

Re control, what you say does not go far enough. The Vatican has never exercised more than limited control, for good and for bad, over the Church it claims to lead.
The same is true of the rabbis, in antiquity, not just modernity, as recent studies have shown.

I just returned from Italy, where 90 per cent of the population self-identifies as Catholic, and il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI is in the news headlines virtually every day. But how many Italians live according to the teachings of their church? Just a few, when it comes down to it. Most pick and choose a la carte from what the church offers, and leave an awful lot on the menu untouched.

My guess: it has often been so, both in Judaism and Christianity. In my view, true authority is moral and traditional, not one or the other. To discuss the topic further would require a separate post.

Iyov

Your observations are correct. There is no central authority in Judaism -- indeed, there are no "real" rabbis since the ceremony of laying on hands was deliberately terminated in the third century of Roman Rule on threat of death (see BT Sanhedrin 13b-14a). And, of course, there is no Sanhedrin.

There is no "chief Rabbi" in Judaism -- the title is a misnomer anywhere -- even in Israel, "chief Rabbis" (who are not accepted by a wide number of Jews -- particularly ultra-religious and liberal Jews) cannot act on any serious matter without permission of their Rabbinic Courts (beis din). Those who do not follow a particular Rabbi are not schismatics -- they retain their full identity as Jews. (There is a significant dispute among the Jewish community over the level of observance.)

Certainly Judaism has seen discontinuities since the destruction of the temple (major ones in the last millenia can be divided into internal ones: the rise of Hasidism, the rise of the Haskalah, the Sabbatai Zvi heresy -- and external ones: the severe persecutions, the continuing diaspora and expulsions, and the ultimate establishment of significant Jewish communities in the United States and other countries, and of course, the founding of the modern State of Israel.

Having a detailed legal code in the form of the Talmud gives a continuity to Judaism on issues of halacha that does not exist in Christianity.

However, on theological matters, there has never been the sort of detailed theology that Christianity enjoys -- and certainly beyond very basic points (belief in God, opposition to idolatry) there is a tremendous range of views, from the Lurianic Kabbalistic description of the Godhead using sefiros to the negative theology of Maimonides.

To illustrate my point, recall that it simply suffices for ten Jews to join together and form a regular minyan to form a congregation -- no rabbi is required -- as opposed to the notion of a special role for priests, presbyters, or other officials. (Of course, in practice, almost all Jewish communities have a rabbi; and the more learned the rabbi, the prouder the community is. If the rabbi is unsatisfactory, the congregant simply walks to the shul across the street.)

Regarding the Vatican -- my point was a bit finer than you indicate. After the revolutions of 1848, Pope Pius IX became a primarily spiritual leader, and thus developed greater control over the church (which is even more greatly consolidated today with modern communication.) It is really something to think that the position of Pope today -- with its admittedly limited power -- is at the zenith of its power within the Church.

John Hobbins

Since 1848, and especially of late, the Catholic Church has also had a string of popes more saintly than has often been the case. A greater emphasis on the magisterium is also visible, in itself an excellent thing, though I think it is fair to say that the results have been mixed.

Shawn

John,
I always enjoy the balance of your posts and your ability to see the good in other arguments and faiths (as you see it) and the bad (as you see it). As a Catholic, I would be grateful to have more informed and objective Protestant/Evangelical/Christians (whatever name we choose) such as yourself. It is often frustrating to discuss theology or Catholicism with colleagues in biblical studies, who despite their biblical training, retain a grade 2 anti-Catholic level understanding of Catholicism, let alone theology and tradition of any Christian denomination.

Bob MacDonald

I am glad I came back to this post - what interesting comments! Especially since I am currently reviewing Frymer-Kensky (thanks to your earlier post mentioning Christianity in Jewish Terms). These comments are more interesting than some of the essays :) (see http://stenagmois.blogspot.com for the first 4 chapter reviews). In the next one on liturgy - chapter 8, I will get to Hoffman and the imagery of blood in Judaism.

JohnFH

Hi Bob,

I've been reading your series with interest. I recommend it to everyone. It's hard not to want to go out and buy the book after reading your review.

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