Sunday, November 18, 2007

Peter, Oakseed Of Papalism

Sometimes it's hard to remember why I ever got swept up in curiosity about the Apostolic Churches. The more I experience of Catholicism in practice, the more I find that makes me cringe.

But then I look back, and my memory is quickly revived. In Protestantism, all truth seems relative, made subject to individual will. Authority is tentatively placed in the hands of 66 Bible books, but no one can explain, without reaching for pluriform post hoc justifications, what the authority of the placement of the Bible as authority and the definition of its canon was.

19th-Century Orthodox writer Vladimir Soloviev has had some of his writings recompiled into the brief book "The Russian Church and the Papacy". Catholic Answers publishes the work, which gives a noteworthy critique of the Eastern Orthodox approach to church authority (especially biting is his articulated claim that secular emperors orchestrated the various heresies the Church has faced). The recent ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and certain Orthodox theologians makes his discussion of the authoritative, and not merely honorific, primacy of the Roman Bishop seem prescient. There's nothing like authority to cure malaise over individualism.

He says about the development of the doctrine of Papal Primacy:

"Scripture tells us of the primacy of Peter; his right to absolute sovereign authority in the Church is attested by Orthodox tradition [(having previously cited, inter alia, St. John Chrysostom)]; but no one possessed of any historical feeling or indeed of any ordinary common sense would expect to find legally defined powers taking effect according to fixed rules in the primitive Church, not only of the period when "the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul" but also long after. There is always the temptation to expect to find the branches of the oak in the acorn. The real and living seed of the supreme authority of the Church which we discern in the prince of the apostles could only be displayed in the primitive Church by practical leadership on the part of Peter in every matter which concerned the universal Church, and this is what we actually find int he Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles (emphasis mine; pp. 152-153)."

Studying doctrinal development has been challenging and rewarding. I recommend it to anyone hoping to learn from the practices of the early Church.

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