Friday, December 4, 2009

Ephesians 3:10 part one

. . . . so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).

One of the things that attracted me to the Catholic Church was its rule of order and its centralized ecclesial authority that interprets and defines orthodox faith and morals for God’s people.

In this passage in Ephesians, as in other places in the New Testament (for example, here, here and here) the Holy Spirit through St. Paul makes it clear that God established a central authority -- a kind of central repository -- through which, and from which, orthodox Christian doctrine (teaching) would flow. That concept helped establish order within the early earthly Body of Christ.

And order is what God likes.

We catch a glimpse of God’s preference for order from the very beginning of Creation. God built His world one day at a time, each day founded on the events occurring the day before.

Then there’s the meticulous detail, page after page through the latter half of Exodus, into Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – detail that guided and informed the nation regarding such routine activities such as what to eat and what to avoid eating, what to do when they were ill -- even the kinds of seed they could plant in the same plot of ground and the kinds of material they could use in their clothing.

And we cannot overlook the intricate detail God gave Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle.

All this near mind-numbing attention to such intricate detail is perhaps why many modern readers find sections of these early Biblical books so boring. After all, does anyone today really care how many loops each curtain was to have, or what to do with a bowl into which a dead bug fell?

As for worship and the promulgation of Truth, although God spoke initially through Moses, He later established the priesthood whose responsibility it was to offer sacrifices for the people and to teach God’s Word (see here, and here, for example).

And so, fast forward to the New Testament, the idea of a central ecclesial authority was not a foreign concept to the Jewish apostles. Indeed, the centuries-old understanding of, and expectation for, a central ecclesial authority made it a kind of “no-brainer” that the Lord Jesus established a hierarchy of Church authority when He said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

For the three decades before I became a Catholic Christian, I never understood what the Lord was really saying to Peter here in this passage. But first century Christians (and Christians in subsequent centuries) readily understood that when someone received “keys” he received authority.

To my knowledge the word "keys" is used only eight times in the Bible: Judges 3:25; Isaiah 22:20-22; Matthew 16:18-19; Luke 11:52; Revelation 1:17-18; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 9:1; and Revelation 20:1;

The passage in Judges speaks of the normal use of a key, as does Revelation 9:1 and 20:1. But in the other instances, as the context of each indicates, the key represents authority or power over something. This is why members of the Body of Christ – from as early as near the end of the first century (and probably much earlier) interpreted the passage in Matthew 16 to mean Jesus gave the authority over the earthly church to Peter (and his successors) in much the same way as the kingdom of Israel was under the authority of David and his successors.

Church history also is clear about how Christians in the early centuries understood the Lord’s comment to Peter. Here are only a few examples of people widely recognized even today among Christians as leaders of the early Church, and who acknowledged Peter’s unique role:

The Letter of Clement to James (A.D. 221) wrote: Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter.

Origen (A.D. 248) wrote: Look at [Peter], the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church.

Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 251) wrote: On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair, and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . .

So that this lesson does not become too long and laborious, I will stop here and pick up again next time with more of the Biblical roots of Church ecclesiastical authority, and how that authority relates to St. Paul's comment to the Ephesians here in chapter 3 and verse 10.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Read John 21, and then review verses 15-17. How do you understand the Lord’s comment to Peter in this context?

2. What do you think St. Paul meant when he called the Church the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15)?


Letha said...

Thank you, Rich...

In pondering more about "ecumenilism", having just come back from Columbus, OH where my dear uncle was hospitalized in the Ohio State University Medical Center's ICU (in very critical condition)... he (a lay Methodist pastor) has supported my faith journey into the Catholic Church, and the subsequent vowed life (he attended my solemn vow Mass on the West Coast), after introducing me to the Catholic Mass when I was a young student nurse (and a Methodist myself)... he and his wife also consistently prayed for me, knowing how difficult has been my walk in life. This prayer support and presence has been critical for me. There was a young girl, a former member of my aunt's church, who had just received first Holy Communion in the Catholic Church immediately following her mother's death... Aunt Diane said, "we so wanted this to be a happy occasion for her." Using my best spiritual director manner, I then was able to elucidate for her just what the "Eternal Sacrifice" means--the Communion of Saints celebrated in Holy Mass, and how this young girl received much more than "happiness" in Holy Communion, but also connection with her dead mother--and perhaps an even deeper sense of the Passion of Christ... with the Presence of Christ that was now ingested and "taken in" as "food for the journey" (not in the sense of viaticum--but the nourishment only Christ IS in dealing with such painful moments.) I made the comment, "happiness is really a shallow word when it comes to Eucharist in the Catholic Church." My own depth of feeling on the issue was quite apparent to my aunt and cousin (undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer)... Aunt Diane later told me, "your presence here was a real boot for (my cousin)". Our mutual giving to each other has been a real impetus to the depth of my love of Christ--and my continued and daily meditation on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our dear Savior. "The Church" with all its divisions and misunderstandings will only be strengthened by our ability to clarify for each other why and what we are experiencing in our faith journeys... and the teachings of Mother Church/Bible un-self-righteously shared accurately. You are doing a good job--and I thank you for your reflections on Holy Scripture, as well as presenting Church teaching!
Christ's yearning that we "all be ONE", I can visualize in a distant haze--after the kind of loving sharing I did with my family in Columbus.

Richard Maffeo said...

And so our journeys continue.