[CS-FSLUG] Forward or Backward WAS: Open Source Theology

Michael Bradley, Jr. michaelsbradleyjr at gmail.com
Fri Jun 16 13:32:09 CDT 2006

On 6/16/06, dmc <edoc7 at verizon.net> wrote:
> > There are various groups, smaller and larger, that have broken
> > (sometimes formally, sometimes only materially) from the main body of
> > the Catholic Church in every century.
> The key difference between the Roman Catholic
> denomination and others is the recently reaffirmed
> claim that all of true Christendom flowed directly
> from one Apostle, Peter, to that denomination and
> every other lesser denomination is a spin-off from
> the "mother church".
> <snip>
> This is something that is not a "teachable" matter
> to devout Roman catholics because it is one of the
> non-negotiables of the denomination.  I understand
> that.

Actually, the formula you describe -- "that all of true Christendom flowed
directly from one Apostle, Peter, to that denomination and every other
lesser denomination is a spin-off from the 'mother church'" -- was not and
is not held or taught by the Catholic Church.  It is not uncommon though for
those outside the CC to ascribe that teaching to her; and sometimes from
within her, say in popular literature or webpages authored by zealous but
sloppy "researchers," this kind of oversimplification is suggested as a
model for understanding Church history.

The history of the early Church is a complicated matter, and the amount of
extant written materials (I'm not speaking about Scripture) before A.D. 300
is all too sparse.  On the one hand we have the emergence of the great Sees
in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and later Constantinople.  Even in
the Third Century (A.D. 200s), it becomes apparent in the writing of the
Fathers that the Church in the East and the (same) Church  in the West begin
to exhibit those differences in theology, liturgy, spirituality, etc. that
still characterize the Eastern (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and
Eastern Catholic) and Western ("Roman" Catholic or "Western" Catholic and
broadly speeking the Protestant communions) Church(es) today.

The Church of Rome -- or the Roman Church, that is the particular Catholic
Church in the city of Rome itself -- has never claimed that the other great
centers of orthodox Catholic Christianity spread out from it as from a
"mother ship." That would fly in the face of history! What is claimed is
that there has always been a special relationship between the Bishop of Rome
and the other episcopal sees.  In modern categories/terminology, we would
say that from the First Century A.D. and forward there is witnessed to in
the Fathers' writings the understanding that the Bishop of Rome (the "pope")
has a certain *primacy* among the other bishops.  What do I mean by
"primacy?" Here is a quote from the Catholic Answers tract The Authority of
the Pope: Part I<http://www.catholic.com/library/Authority_of_the_Pope_Part_1.asp>

"In a wide variety of ways, the Fathers attest to the fact that the church
of Rome was the central and most authoritative church. They attest to the
Church's reliance on Rome for advice, for mediation of disputes, and for
guidance on doctrinal issues. They note, as Ignatius of Antioch does, that
Rome 'holds the presidency' among the other churches, and that, as Irenaeus
explains, 'because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree' with
Rome. They are also clear on the fact that it is communion with Rome and the
bishop of Rome that causes one to be in communion with the Catholic Church.
This displays a recognition that, as Cyprian of Carthage puts it, Rome is
'the principal church, in which sacerdotal unity has its source.'"

Even in A.D. 80 (First Century!) Clement, the Bishop of Rome at the time (
i.e. Pope St. Clement I <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04012c.htm>),
exhibits a marked degree of authority in matters outside of his see, when he
writes a letter to settle a dispute in far away Corinth:

"Owing to the sudden and repeated calamities and misfortunes which have
befallen us, we must acknowledge that we have been somewhat tardy in turning
our attention to the matters in dispute among you, beloved; and especially
that abominable and unholy sedition, alien and foreign to the elect of God,
which a few rash and self-willed persons have inflamed to such madness that
your venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be loved by all men, has been
greatly defamed...Accept our counsel and you will have nothing to
regret...If anyone disobey the things which have been said by him [God]
through us [i.e., that you must reinstate your leaders], let them know that
they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger...You
will afford us joy and gladness if being obedient to the things which we
have written through the Holy Spirit, you will root out the wicked passion
of jealousy" (*Letter to the Corinthians *1, 58–59, 63 [A.D. 80]).

In the Western Church in particular this Petrine primacy also came to be
closely associated with the Pope's exercise of supreme jurisdiction, or
*supremacy*, in ecclesiastical affairs. In other words, in the West it
became commonplace for the bishops outside of Rome (e.g. in northern Africa
or Spain) to relate to the Pope as to an immediate superior, and for the
Pope's authority to have a more regular and immediate role in extra-Roman
Church life in general, even if in the days of non-rapid communication this
was more psychological than actual. One of the big disagreements that led to
the formal split between the Church in the East and the Church in the West
was over the character and exercise of the Petrine Primacy. Praised be Jesus
Christ that in this very year, this coming November, the Bishop of Rome will
travel to meet the Patriarch of Constantinople and hopefully kick-off a tide
of warmer relations that will lead to further efforts at establishing
inter-communion and one day full communion between the Eastern Orthodox and
Catholic Churches.

Reading good (that is well-written and accurate) Church history is a great
cure for all sorts of misunderstandings between present-day Christians.  For
example, I find that many Western Christians (Catholic and Protestant) are
wholly ignorant of the histories and characterisitics of the Christian East.
When one digs into such a subject, whole new vistas open up that can
dramatically re-shape one's understanding of Christianity. A good place to
start is the excellent and up-to-date The Eastern Christian Churches – A
Brief Survey (6th
use the navbar on the right to work through the text; I really think
you'll find it rewarding!

In the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

Michael Bradley, Jr.

My home on the Net ::

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