Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On the papacy

How do you feel about the pope? I was taught from childhood that God and "Man" don't need a middleman.

It's true, Candice, that we don't need a 'middleman,' as Christ is our only Mediator (First Timothy 2:5). Remember how, at the moment He gave His life as our Passover, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was ripped in half, symbolizing the opening of heaven to us and access to God for us all through Him. Catholics affirm this vigorously.

However, Jesus Himself gave authority to Peter to be the visible, human 'head' of his Church (Christ Himself is 'the Head' of His mystical Body, of course). There's just no getting around Matthew 16:18. Protestants parse and translate this in ways to avoid the plain reading, as I did for years. But it portrays the clear conferring of authority on Peter, the leader of the Church in Rome (though Peter began in Antioch, where the Gospel of Matthew was written - which affirms Peter's authority even more).

Matthew is the most "Jewish" of the gospels, where the "kingdom of God" Jesus proclaims is presented as the fulfillment and complete continuance of the Old Testament Covenant and kingdom. So there's a very interesting and important connection to the idea of 'giving the keys to the kingdom' in Isaiah 22, where these 'keys to the kingdom' are given by the Davidic king to the overseer of the Household of God. That is what is going on in Matthew 16. The Davidic king, Jesus, is giving Peter the ultimate human authority and stewardship over His Church, the visible aspect of His kingdom on Earth. And the unbroken line of apostolic succession from Peter to Benedict 16 is a testament to the authority vested in this position and the authority that resides in the Church. Have there been bad popes? Yes. But consider how there are outlaws and scoundrels in Jesus' own lineage - see the list in Matthew 1.

I happen to like this Holy Father, a gentle pastor at heart who is a fine scholar writing killer theology. The choice of "Benedict" as a name was purposeful, pointing to a saintly model of scholarship and a balanced approach to life. His first major letter, "God Is Love," blew everyone away, even his critics who meanly called him "God's Rottweiler." The media were kinder to John Paul the Great, who impressed everyone (the media focused on his political role in opposing communist rule in Europe). Maybe the fact that he was a pretty good poet and playwright made me pay more attention to him. His heroic suffering at the end of his life was - well, Christlike.

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