Saturday, November 19, 2011
The Chair of Peter
Church leaders promote the notion of Peter being the first pope. Laying aside historical and scriptural evidence that conflicts with that idea, let’s reflect upon the concept.
Church leaders call Peter the first pope to justify the primacy of the bishop of Rome over other bishops. They then say there is an unbroken chain starting from Jesus appointing Peter until today’s Pope Benedict who occupies the “chair of Peter”. This is used to increase the weight and credibility of papal utterances and writings. Papal writings are actually seen as foundational to directing theology and ecclesiology.
The curious thing is that Peter didn’t write anything. According to biblical scholars, including the ones who wrote the introductory notes contained on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ online Bible, Peter did not write even the New Testament books carrying his name, 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Yet, at the same time that Peter lived and didn’t write about theology,spirituality or ecclesiology, Paul was writing up a storm. Paul’s writings influenced Christian theology and ecclesiology, not Peter’s.
Paul wasn’t pope and wasn’t even a bishop. He actually declared himself an apostle in a most unconventional way. He wandered from community to community, traveling long distances. He didn’t stay within arbitrarily defined geographic boundaries. And despite all this, the church was and is greatly influenced by him. Why is it that people associate Peter with the concept of a pope but popes actually emulate Paul’s ministry?
If we performed time travel and had Peter and Paul in today’s world and put Peter in the Chair of Peter and Paul as a priest (apostle) who became an apostle through self-proclamation and received laying on of hands from a disciple, rather than an apostle, what do we think would happen? Forget about suffering Peter the time travel. Let’s just subject Paul to time travel. If Paul did what he did centuries ago under today’s Pope Benedict XVI, what do we think would happen?
How would Benedict deal with a lay person “ordaining” Paul as an apostle because he felt the Lord directed him to do so? That is how today’s intentional ecclesial communities operate. It is how many Christian denominations operate.
How would Benedict respond to Paul saying the Lord told him directly that he is to be ordained rather than having apostles approve his apostleship? I think today’s ordained women priests could offer some insight on Benedict’s receptiveness to these practices.
How would Benedict react to a non-bishop’s prolific writings directing the theology and ecclesiology of the faithful worldwide, more so than his? Perhaps the 90+ theologians Benedict has censured would have a good guess.
How would Benedict react to someone preaching wherever the Spirit beckoned, without regard for canine-like territorial demarcations of dioceses? Bishop Gumbleton forced into retirement for speaking truth on behalf of clergy abuse victims outside of his diocese’s boundaries likely would have an opinion.
Why do popes of today behave more like the unconventional apostle Paul than they do Peter, who let this unconventional apostle operate with impunity and his blessings?