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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Well, That's Interesting

Ahem. I'm really not equipped to get lost in the weeds of either Scriptural exegesis, or scholarly debate. I'm just not. But I feel it important to state a couple of points, as a Catholic, a budding Catholic theologian, even, and see how they strike one:

1. The Catholic Church does not concede that the basis for its authority is found solely in the Scriptures of either the Old or New Testaments. Certainly, it's fair to say she believes that authority does not and cannot contradict it. But that God-breathed witness to Jesus Christ, the living heart of it, is a product of the ecclesia, the ones called out of the world by God to bear witness to his saving intentions for humanity. Simply put, the Catholic Church is claiming that it is that community, and that the New Testament is the inspired written witness of God's establishment, upholding, and remaining with that community.

We can all see that a retreat to expert scholarly opinion can be endless, and not definitive. I note with a mild bemusement that Mr. Thompson cites a great many experts who do not share his particular interpretation of this or any other passage. I must in all frankness ask what this suggests about the plausibility of Thompson's notion of this ecclesia. We are more than willing to consider another candidate to be this community when the principled means of identifying it have been offered. In other words, tell us what or of whom this "Church" is composed, and how it came to be that this unique definition (and interpretation) was purposed by God to be conveyed through you. In Judge Judy terms, "Who sent you?"

2. There seems to be a number of false choices here, between rules and the gospel, between Peter and Christ, between us and God more generally. This is bewildering. In the first place, if Peter were not appointed by God as his spokesman in Acts 2 at Pentecost, for example, those events that led to the conversion of thousands would not have occurred. In short, they trusted him. If you want to know what God says, you go to the one God sent. Whether it continues and whether we should still listen to that guy (and his successors) is perhaps open to question. I do know that those gathered at Pentecost did not do extensive exegesis or historical study on those "texts" that they heard. The words were accompanied by the Holy Spirit's power, extraordinary authentication of the one who conveys the message. In this text here, as this author readily grants, Jesus Christ doesn't see a tension between elevating Peter, commending him, and his own glory. We can legitimately debate what that means, but let's not get it twisted at the start because we have the hermeneutical priority of human debasement that prevents us from reading the text! We are not debating whether Peter is the rock. He is. The question which precedes this much-debated one is, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter has been invited to "name" Jesus, to declare truth about Him. And he does. What's important here is that Jesus does the same thing. He noted before he did it that Peter's confession doesn't even belong to Peter; it came from God the Father. That says to me at the very least that whatever this text means for the exercise of authority in the Church, the one who does so is ever the servant, is ever bound, to the truth of that confession. No Catholic has the right to deny this, and so, it ought not be held up as though it were in dispute or tension.

I also want to know why Mr. Thompson sees a tension between the house of David (and the key to it) and Jesus Christ. In the flesh, that is to say, by human lineage, Christ is a son of David. The genealogy at the start of St. Matthew's gospel wants us to know this. In fact, the truth of the entire New Testament rests on a prior promise to David and his house! (2 Sam. 7:14) It is David's key(s); they are Christ's keys; if the Lord Jesus Christ wishes to give his keys to Peter (whatever the meaning) we are duty-bound by faith to say that it is part and parcel of God's enduring faithfulness to his people in history. Indeed, when John says, "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth," what are we to understand, but that this Jewish hope is realized here? Let no radical discontinuities be permitted between these testaments, because God is the Master of this one plan than spans the centuries.

Indeed, the Incarnation is the basis for all that the Catholic Church says and believes concerning the succeeding centuries. It is a visible Church precisely because of the Incarnation. That's why St. John says, "That which we have seen, that which we have heard, that which we have groped with our hands..." concerning Christ. Forgive me, much of this is not in dispute; but I felt it necessary to say that I cannot allow this animus toward the Catholic position to threaten that real but imperfect communion between all the brethren. If you should find the Catholic position for the time going forward unpersuasive, that is your right. But tendentious arguments that put the very heart of that communion--the Incarnate Word--in doubt are to be summarily rejected, whether by tone or substance. Therefore, if you will allow the Catholic Church to speak on her terms, whatever you believe, you honor the Lord and his saving intention in the Incarnation. The Catholic Church rests everything she teaches on the saving reality of the Word made flesh. Which part of that good news strikes you falsely?

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