"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Apostolicity and Montanistic Gnosticism

I wrote some thoughts here on 'apostolicity' and Montanistic Gnosticism, drawing from the teaching of the fathers on the meaning of 'apostolicity', and quoting from St. Francis de Sales regarding the application of 'apostolicity' to the original Protestant ministers.


barlow said...

Hi Bryan - interesting essay - might want to check out page 30 of Carson's "Exegetical Fallacies" about the relationship between apostolos (n) and apostello (v) - they are cognates, but he uses "sent one" as an example of a root fallacy. It probably doesn't change your point because he argues that apostolos is used to mark out a messenger - one who represents another.

The one thing I can't figure out - if the unity of the church is found in organic apostolic succession, don't we really have a branching, organic tree? I mean, Paul planted churches all over the place, and the perpetuation of those congregations required subsequent ministers being ordained there locally. Even if Rome gains primacy by some kind of consent, it doesn't mean that all the 12 seed churches and the 100 other ones that the various traveling apostles planted all consented to this or even felt a need to consent to it.

I do think that it is nearly a guarantee that there is an unbroken, organic chain of Christian baptism. But with ordination, it seems like at the beginning there would be 12 or more parallel lines of ministry that would continue to perpetuate. It makes a lot of sense that this would result in Eastern and Western traditions (separated by geography and custom).

And so promoting normative Roman primacy seems like pinching of the tree back into a central trunk. The Roman church has brought a few of these parallel lines back into the trunk - Maronite, Melkite, etc. - but the Eastern church remains untameable.

Anyway, it seems like the Roman primacy is the result of an organic process, not something that existed at the inception of the gospel ministry, and even qua result - it was a localized result.

Principium unitatis said...

Thanks for your comments Jon. I don't think I'm committing an exegetical fallacy with 'apostolos' because I think 'sent one' is implicit in its NT usage. (See, for example, Matt 10:1-5.) I'm not making any claim about its extra-biblical usage.

As for branching, *yes* there is branching. But the branching is not of institutions (or denominations), for then there would be no essential difference between branching and schism. The branching is one of "tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9). And I agree with you that branching of this [proper] sort does result in various customs, but the Church remains *one* so long as the three bonds of unity [corresponding to Christ's role as prophet, priest, and king] are retained. In this way there can be diversity without division.

The Catholic position is not that Peter gained primacy by "consent" or democratic vote. The Catholic position is that the Twelve were not just Twelve; they were also one, because only one of them was the rock upon which Christ builds His Church and was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Being given the keys made Peter the chief steward [I discuss this more here.] In other words, Petrine primacy was by Christ's institution, not by a democratic vote. (And the fathers testify to this as well, as shown here.) The primacy Peter was given by Christ made *him* the visible principle of unity of the Twelve when Christ ascended (making them one, and not merely twelve). And Peter's episcopal successors carry this same primacy of authority, through apostolic succession. Through Apostolic succession Peter's episcopal successor remains the visible principle of unity of the Church. (Stephen Ray's Upon This Rock is helpful here.)

The Eastern Churches, I believe, will return. We are seeing progress in the dialogues. And there was progress in Russia recently as well. The world is becoming such that Christians *must* be united. A house divided against itself cannot stand. And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. We know from Christ Himself that when Christians are truly united, this is a powerful witness to the world that the Father sent the Son, and loves us. (John 17:23)

Thanks for your thoughtful comments Jon.

- Bryan

barlow said...

What do you make of the relationship between Paul and Peter? Paul's account of his interactions with Peter display no deference, although Peter is fairly complimentary towards Paul in the canonical writings. I think much of your reply is convincing with regard to Petrine primacy or at least leadership among the apostles, but I am troubled by the lack of corroborating evidence in Acts and the epistles. I mean can you imagine Cardinal George writing a letter where he talks about "opposing Benedict XVI to his face" about anything? And yet Paul does this, and does it as one called in a very unusual way, even emphasizing that he was not taught by the other apostles (though he does talk about confirming his gospel with them). I mean, if Petrine primacy were a given - a catholic doctrine - couldn't Paul bolster his credibility by emphasizing that agreement rather than his independence? Anyway, this is helpful interaction; thanks so much for it.

Principium unitatis said...

That's an understandable concern. But Paul's rebuke of Peter is consistent with the Catholic understanding of Peter's office, because, as Peter Kreeft says, the Pope is the head of a body, not an autocrat. Peter was fallible, and so are his successors. Sometimes they need to be rebuked. St. Catherine of Sienna (now a doctor of the Church) "severely reproved" Pope Gregory XVI, because he was staying in Avignon and away from Rome.

I don't think Paul writes about this incident in Galatians 2 to imply that he is equal to Peter in authority. I think he writes about it in part to boost his credibility [perceived ecclesial authority] to the Galatians (for the sake of the gospel that he preached). But this report (Gal 2:11ff) boosts Paul credibility only because of Peter's known greater authority.

It is because Paul became an apostle after the ascension of Christ and received his gospel "through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:12) that I think he has to defend his apostleship to some extent. How can he tell the Galatians not to follow an angel from heaven (1:8) given his own way of receiving his gospel? Because he had submitted his gospel to those "of reputation" in the Church. (2:2) So Paul was not the head; he was not even one of the Twelve. His greatness was in his learning, his revelations, his spiritual gifts, his devotion, and love. So he uses this event (Gal 2:11ff) to help the Galatians perceive and appreciate the authority of their apostle, Paul, not for his own pride or vainglory, but to help them return to the gospel that he preached.

As for evidence of Peter's leadership in Acts and the epistles, I'll simply say that there is more there than I had realized. I just hadn't really been looking for it, or seeing it from a Catholic perspective. Here's one example. Notice who takes charge in determining that Judas needed to be replaced, and in replacing him (Acts 1). Judas, of course, was one of the Twelve. If Peter has the authority to determine that someone needs to fill an Apostolic office (notice he uses the word office, showing that it is perpetual -- it didn't die with Judas), and if Peter has the authority to appoint a replacement for one of the Twelve, then Peter (and his successors) have the authority to replace bishops in other lines of apostolic succession as well.

Similarly, at the Jerusalem council (in Acts 15) Peter has more authority than I used to perceive. Peter speaks for the Church. James refers to his own judgment (vs. 19), and then offers practical implementations of Peter's teaching, in part because the matter was especially pertinent to Jerusalem, where James was the bishop.

Stephen Ray's book Upon This Rock goes through the various Petrine passages in a very helpful way, in my opinon. Another good book is Jesus, Peter, & the Keys by Butler, Dahlgren, and Hess.

Thanks again for your comments Jon.

- Bryan

barlow said...

Bryan - good stuff; I am thinking through it all.

Sophia Sadek said...

Thanks for the posting.

The issue I have with apostolic authority is that it completely ignores the authority of discipleship. In fact, in the history of apostolic succession, there appears to have been a conflict between the line of apostles and the line of disciples. (This does not include the conflict between the different lines of apostolic descent.)

The nature of an apostle is quite different than that of a disciple. It is one of officialdom with the consequent baggage of a bureau. Perhaps this is why the tradition of apostles puts more emphasis on externalities than does the tradition of disciples.

Principium unitatis said...


Thanks for your post. But I do not know what to say to you because I do not know what you mean by "the authority of discipleship". I don't know how discipleship can have authority. I know how *persons* can have authority, and how the words of persons can have authority in virtue of the authority of the person who speaks or writes those words. But I don't know what it means for *discipleship* (which is an abstract noun meaning either the quality, condition or state of being a disciple, or the process of making someone into or becoming a disciple) to have authority. What am I missing?

- Bryan

Sophia Sadek said...

According to the Gospels, the apostles were not the only disciples of Jesus. The institution of apostolic authority tends to ignore the authority of those who were disciples, but not apostles.

In your terms, the people who respect the institution of apostolic succession respect the authority of those who participate in that succession. There is also a tendency for them to disrespect the authority of those who participate in a succession of discipleship that is outside of the officialdom of the apostolic succession.

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Sophia,

Thanks for clarifying. I am not sure why you think that disciples who were non-apostles should have had (or did have) formal ecclesial authority. But let me clarify just a bit. Generally, when I use the word 'Apostles', with a capital 'A', I am referring to the Twelve. When I use the word 'apostles' (with a small 'a'), I am referring to all the persons that Jesus directly authorized and sent out in His name to preach, heal, and cast out demons. So when you are talking about disciples who were not apostles, I wonder if you are talking about those apostles who were not one of the Twelve. If so, then these apostles *did* have apostolic authority. St. Paul is a good example of an apostle who is not one of the Twelve and yet who did found apostolic churches. See especially the quotations from Tertullian and St. Irenaeus here. It seems to me that the "apostolic churches" referred to in those quotations were not merely churches founded by the Twelve.

But if you are not talking about those apostles who were not among the Twelve, then I don't see why you think that disciples who were not apostles had ecclesial authority.

Thanks again for your comments.

- Bryan