Friday, February 19, 2010

The Early Church Was Catholic: Apostolic Succession and Authority

I am unaware of a single orthodox Christian theologian who conceived of the Church apart from the idea of apostolic succession prior to the Reformation in the 16th century. I consider this to be a particularly damning problem for Protestant Christians who wish to see themselves as having any continuity with historic Christianity from its very beginnings.

Apostolic Succession and Authority - what it is and why it's important
God the Father sent Jesus. Jesus chose apostles and gave them authority over the Church. These apostles conferred their authority to others by the laying on of hands, who conferred their authority to others by the laying on of hands all the way down into the present. Those in succession of the apostles have the powers to authoritatively teach and perform certain Sacraments,  among other powers as well. They also serve as visible markers for the presence of the Church. To be fully a part of the Church is to be in communion with those with apostolic authority.

Here is just a sampling of quotations bearing witness to apostolic succession and authority in the early Church:

Matthew 16.16-18, Jesus speaking to Peter:
And I tell you that you are Peter [which literally means rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

John 20.21-22, Jesus speaking to his disciples, sending them and giving them the authority to forgive sins:
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

In his letters to Timothy:
And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles. (1 Tim 2.7)

Command and teach these things.[...] Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Tim 4.11, 14)

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands... (1 Tim 5.22)

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Tim 1.13-14)

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Tim 2.2)

In his letter to Titus
These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (Titus 2.15)

Clement, Bishop of Rome, First Clement 42.1-10, 44.1-3, ~A.D. 70-100
“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. [...] So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. [...] Our apostles also knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the title of bishop.  For this cause, therefore, since they had received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have been already mentioned, and afterwards added the codicil that if they should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.”

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, ~A.D. 110
Letter to the Ephesians
"For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ." (3)

"...[you are] joined to [the bishop] as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity! [...] He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, God resists the proud. Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God." (5)

"It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you." (6)

Letter to the Magnesians
"As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters." (7)

"Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual." (13)

Letter to the Trallians
"In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church." (3)

"He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience." (7)

Letter to the Philadelphians
"For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. [...] Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.]." (3)

"For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop." (8)

Letter to the Smyrnaeans
"See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. [...] Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (8)

"It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil." (9)

HegesippusMemoirs, cited by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.22, ~A.D. 180:
“When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the law, the prophets, and the Lord”

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, Against Heresies, ~A.D. 189:
“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about.” (3:3:1)

“But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.” (3:3:2)

“[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth.” (4:26:2)

TertullianDemurrer Against the Heretics, ~A.D. 200:
“[The apostles] founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive Church, [founded] by the apostles, from which they all [spring]. In this way, all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one in unity” (20). 

“[W]hat it was which Christ revealed to them [the apostles] can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves . . . If then these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches—those molds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, [and] Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savors of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God.” (21). 

“But if there be any [heresies] which are bold enough to plant [their origin] in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” (32). 

"Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic Church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith” (32).

Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, Letters 69[75]:3 A.D. 253:
“...Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way”

Council of Constantinople, 2nd Ecumenical Council, A.D. 381:
"We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church" (Creed)

"We define 'heretics' as those who have been previously banned from the church and also those later anathematised by ourselves: and in addition those who claim to confess a faith that is sound, but who have seceded and hold assemblies in rivalry with the bishops who are in communion with us." (Canon 6)

JeromeLetters 14:8, A.D. 396:
“Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians.”

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Against the Letter of Mani Called "The Foundation" 4:5 A.D. 397:
“[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house”

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Problem of Good

A common problem with which many people struggle is what's called the Problem of Evil.
Evil exists in this world. Yet theologians tell us that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. Now, if he is all-knowing, then he of course is aware of evil. And if he's all-powerful, he's certainly capable of doing something about it. And finally, if he's all-good then it seems that he should do something about it.
And yet evil exists.

There has been much thought with regards to this very serious problem, and Scripture has a lot to say on it as well (e.g. Job, Matthew 13.31-43, James 1.2-4, John 9.1-3, Romans 8.28, Romans 9, Genesis 50.20, et. al.). But while there is much that can be said to help us better understand how to think about it, the presence of evil in our world remains in some way a real mystery.

I would like to offer another mystery for consideration which I will call the Problem of Good.

We as human beings commit great amounts of evil. There is genocide, war, slavery, oppression, corruption, and widespread injustice in our world. We hate, we murder, we lie, we steal, we cheat, we exploit, and we abuse ourselves and others. We're prideful, lustful, greedy, gluttonous, envious, slothful, and angry. We often give approval to and enable the evil that others are doing. Even taking into account that there is disagreement regarding morality, it can be safely said that nobody follows perfectly even their own moral code.

If God is just, then we assuredly deserve punishment.

And yet the sun still rises every morning! The world hasn't been destroyed! If you're reading this blog, it means you're still alive. This may sound overly dramatic, but it is a profound truth worthy of our meditation.
After teaching that we should love our enemies, Jesus points out God's own indiscriminate love and blessing: "[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5.45b)
By the grace of God, many of us still have food to eat. Many of us still have shelter. Many of us are healthy. Many of us marry and have children. Many of us have friends and families. We all have talents, gifts, and abilities that are unique to each of us. And any of these things that we might be given the privilege to have, we have in spite of our own wickedness. We do not have these things because we are so smart, but because God is so merciful.

But the Christian faith doesn't stop there. It teaches that God's incredible goodness extends far beyond even what has been mentioned thus far. We are taught that, far from destroying us or even desiring to condemn us, God himself decided to become a man in order to redeem us from all of the sin and corruption that we have brought on ourselves:

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5.6-8

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." - John 3.16-17

God is just, and God is great, and yet he cares enough for us to give us his very self. How are we to understand this? Does this make sense? It is a problem of the Christian faith.

Let us not overlook the great goodness of God but instead meditate on it and struggle with it as the profound mystery that it is.

We must live in the mystery of the problem of evil.
And we must live in the mystery of the problem of good.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ideas Matter: Contraception as True Misogyny

The most striking and obvious physical differences between men and women are their sexual organs. A man has the ability to give his semen. A woman, on the other hand, has the ability to receive it and then conceive and bear a child. This means that a woman is much more physically involved in the child bearing process than a man, at least biologically speaking.

But isn't this unfair? When a child is conceived, a man can literally run from the situation. A woman is stuck with a (possibly unwanted) child growing inside of her body. Conceiving a child does not necessarily physically disrupt anything that the man is doing. While the child is developing and growing, it is possible for him to continue to go about his life as he was. On the other hand, pregnancy can have drastic effects on a woman's life. Both the man and woman have new responsibilities, but a woman has the additional burden of the child effecting her very body - a burden that is unavoidable once it has begun (save the option of abortion).

Oral contraception levels these inequalities. It helps a woman to fully express herself sexually without the fear of an oppressive unwanted pregnancy.
Other types of contraception can do this, but oral contraception is much easier and uninvasive. In light of the social freedoms it gives women, those who are against its use must be misogynists who want women to remain oppressed.

In short, oral contraception is important and necessary to the full liberation of women.

But liberation from what? Liberation from the slavery of their own female bodies.

The slavery of the woman is that sex can lead to conceiving and bearing a child. Oral contraception is the solution to this problem of the woman's body. It is designed to cure the disease that is it's natural functioning. But in actuality, it is the oral contraception that makes the woman's body operate as though it is diseased (aka unable to conceive). And the diseased operation of the woman's body is often preferred to the natural operation of the woman's body.

Contraception is often held up as a way that women can gain equality with men. But what the use of contraception is really saying is that the woman's body is problematic and that women need to fix their bodies so that they actually function more like a man's body (aka not have to bear a child). The woman needs to deny who she is as a woman. The woman is not good as she is. Instead, the ideal is functioning as a man. This is not true equality with men. This is the degradation of women by saying that they are equal when they change their bodies to be more like that of a man.

But the woman's body is not inherently diseased. It is wonderful and beautiful and has a dignity in its own right that is equal to and distinct from men.

Our country has made desperately needed progress against sexism, especially sexism in the workplace, and still has more work to do. But such progress should not come at the expense of devaluing the woman's body. True equality is achieved when we show respect for the inherent and distinct dignity of both sexes and create a system that allows for their unhindered participation in all spheres of society as men and women.

There is another way in which contraception is bad for women. Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae:
"Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."
As I have explained in more detail in a previous post, sex has two purposes: unity of the couple and the procreation of children. These are actually two sides of the same thing. Full unity comes from full self-gift, and full self-gift occurs only when a couple is fully open to the possibility of procreation. Thus, when a couple purposely disrupts the procreative aspect, they are unwittingly also distorting the unitive aspect. When sex no longer has either aspect fully, lust often fills the space. Both persons can use the other, but most often the woman is the one who ends up being used by the man for his own sexual gratification.

Being a man is good.
And being a woman is good.

In devaluing the inherant goodness of a woman's body, the use of oral contraception is not liberation but is true misogyny.

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." - Isaiah 5.20