The Papacy, Part 2: Left in Charge

In my last post I said I would do the next one on what is included in the pope’s authority.  I am going to do that, but not with this post because I think there’s more explanation needed as to why Jesus would leave someone in authority.

As any Christian who has picked up a Bible knows, Genesis tells us the story of the world’s creation, man’s fall, and The Curse.  I’ll let you go find it yourself if you’re in need of a refresher, but the part I’m concerned about is The Curse.  As most know, Adam and Eve were given a test, failed it, and incurred The Curse.  Now, just to be clear, The Curse was not God’s version of a temper tantrum because He wasn’t listened to and obeyed, nor was His decision to drive Adam and Eve out of Eden a divine version of sticking out one’s tongue.  No, both were acts of love and redemption.

How can kicking them out of the Garden be an act of love?  Genesis 3:22-24,

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”–therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken…He placed cherubim, and a flaming sword…to guard the way to the tree of life.

Adam and Eve had eaten from the one tree they were forbidden to eat from and now knew, as God and all the heavenly Host knew, good and evil.  If they would then eat from the Tree of Life, they would live forever in their sin.  Since God had no desire to see us forever locked in our sin and He had already promised a Savior, He removed man from that danger and also gave man something to do to try to keep him out of trouble.  (Ever hear the saying, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop?”)  It was God’s love that caused Him to force man from the Garden.  But what about the curse?  How could that be love?

As I already said, man needed something to do, so God gave him weeds to contend with in order to grow food to survive.  But He also did something even more significant: He put someone in charge.  “To the woman He said, “…yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (v. 16)  Why would God do this?  Because He is a loving Father who knows that there will be endless squabbling and chaos if He doesn’t make it clear who is in charge.  Now, just to be clear, there is lot of excellent discussion about the whys and wherefores of this decision of His, but that’s not to my purpose in this post.  (Sometime I’ll probably get into it because it is a favorite topic of mine, especially when the feminist types start kicking up their heels in their own personal tantrum about it.)  My concern is with the fact that God knew someone had to be in charge, which anyone with more than one child knows is necessary when Mom and Dad are going to be gone for any length of time.

I am the mother of six children.  My oldest two are natural leaders, as is my fourth.  The rest like to think they are and, if nothing else, at least believe they are perfectly capable of acting in their own best interest most of the time (well, okay, all the time).  Where did they get such flagrant assumptions about their own personal wisdom and holiness?  From me, of course.

(Anyone who knows Nolan knows it isn’t from him, especially his brother Terry who finally confessed to the number of punishments Nolan took that Terry escaped, even though the escapades were his idea!  However, lest anyone get the wrong idea, if you know Nolan at all you know he doesn’t budge where he doesn’t wish–he just doesn’t say anything while not budging!)  I digress…

Now, as the kids got old enough to be left alone for short periods of time, it became quickly apparent that although Emily adores (present tense) Daniel and will do whatever he says, the rest were not so easily convinced.  So, at times I’ve had to reiterate these instructions:

“When I leave, Daniel is in charge.  If you disobey him, you’ve disobeyed me because I have given him my authority while I’m gone.  If you think he’s being unfair, you can talk to me about it when I get home and if he’s abused his authority, he’ll be in trouble with me.  However, if not, then you’re going to be in trouble for disobedience.”

End of discussion.  Problem solved.  And I’ve stuck to that because it works.  I’m not brilliant in this.  I’m doing what God did.

[Y]ou are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it…whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  (Matthew 16:18ff.)

Jesus said to [the disciples]…”As the Father has sent me, even so I send you”…He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.   (John 20:21ff.)

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “…Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.   (John 21: 15ff.)

Once sin entered, God knew we would no longer act out of love for Him first and others second.  He knew that sin is completely self-interested, no matter the cost to others.  Even after the Savior came and forgiveness of sins was made available to all who choose it; even after we’ve been washed clean, we sin again.  So, God did what He could to lessen the problems.  And the first thing He did was put Adam in charge over Eve.  There were only the two of them, but He knew the rules needed to be clear or chaos would ensue.  When Jesus prepared to leave this earth for heaven, He put Peter in charge and did so in a way that those around them knew it was to carry on in succeeding generations of Church leaders.

One of the most fascinating things I came across as I studied the Catholic faith was the writings of the Early Church Fathers.  Those men who were the disciples of the Apostles.  Those first believers who could tell us what it was like when the Church was young.  One of the most prolific writers was St. Ignatius of Antioch, the second successor to St. Peter as the bishop of Antioch.  He was bishop from 69 A.D. until his death by martyrdom in 107 A.D.  He’s also the first person to call the Church the “Catholic Church.”  (If you want a good read on the history of the term “Catholic,” check out Steve Ray’s article on it here.)  Here’s some of what he wrote to the Smyrnaeans:

You must follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God’s commandment.  Let no one do anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop…Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church…It is well to revere God and bishop.  He who honors a bishop is honored by God.  He who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop worships the devil.

About a 150 years later, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in North Africa, wrote The Unity of the Catholic Church.  Here are a few of his quotes:

(He begins by quoting what I did above from Matthew and John)   And although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single Chair, thus establishing by His own authority the source and hallmark of the (Church’s) oneness.  No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, and it is (thus) made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair.

If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith?  If he deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?

One of the things people tend to miss is that no Church leader in the early Church ever debated was whether or not Peter (or the current Bishop of Rome) was the head of the Church.  It was assumed.  There were those who argued against the Church, but no one questioned that Peter and his successors as Bishop of Rome were the final authority of the Church.  Jesus intentionally left one person in charge with the final say in all matters of faith and morals.  He even promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them in a special way,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

Remember, this is was said at the Last Supper when only the Apostles were present.  This was not given to everyone who was and is a Christian.  Why am I so sure?  Read on:

I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  (17:20-21)

The Apostles, and Peter in primacy, were given the authority to rule and govern the Church by Jesus Himself.  It was to be a visible testament to the world so that the world would believe in Christ as the Son of God, Savior of the world.  The Church must be visible or the world will not know whom to believe.

The Church remained visible and unified until 1054 when the East-West Schism happened.  Then in 1517 the Protestants broke away and it’s been chaos ever since.  Now that so many claim to be in authority, the world is confused as to who has the whole Truth and it is more obvious than ever why Christ established one Church with one leader over it.

The beauty of it is that we are not asked to follow blindly or check our brains at the Church door.  Yes, there is faith and some things can’t be explained adequately in human terms (take a shot at the Trinity!), but the Church welcomes questions and challenges.  When something is not understood, we’re told to learn why the Church has decided as she has just as I will explain the rules of the house to my own children.  But just as my kids need an appointed leader and final decision-maker when I leave, so does the Church.  Jesus is King and He left a line of Prime Ministers to rule in His stead until He returns.  I realized that someday I will stand before Him to explain why I rejected His appointed leaders.  That’s when I became Catholic.

First century bishop St. Ignatius, disciple of the apostles wrote:

See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye 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. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it.

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. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

– See more at: http://www.catholic-convert.com/blog/category/church-history/#sthash.nPqCLkKJ.dpuf

First century bishop St. Ignatius, disciple of the apostles wrote:

See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye 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. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it.

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. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

– See more at: http://www.catholic-convert.com/blog/category/church-history/#sthash.nPqCLkKJ.dpuf