Friday, December 23, 2011

Chrysostom and Vatican I

Back in 2007, James White posted the following quotation from John Chrysostom:

Having said to Peter, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonas, and of having promised to lay the foundation of the Church upon his confession; not long after He says, Get thee behind me, Satan. And elsewhere he said, Upon this rock. He did not say upon Peter for it is not upon the man, but upon his own faith that the church is built. And what is this faith? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (In pentecosten 52.806.75 - 52.807.1)

A blogger interested in the Roman communion, going by the handle "The Idler" has posted a response to this quotation.

The Idler writes: "It is a difficult quote for a convert investigating the Catholic Church's view of the papacy to digest, as it seems upon first glance to outright deny the [Roman] Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:18-19." (bracketed insertion mine)

It's not just on first glance.  The quotation specifically denies "upon Peter" as the meaning, but instead insists that the passage refers to his faith.  Vatican I insists that Matthew 16:18 be understood to refer to Peter himself.

The Idler continues: "If we examine what else St. John Chrysostom says in his writings and homilies, we can tell that he does not agree with James White outside of that select passage."

Before we continue, it's important to note that there are not just two options "James White" and "Rome."  Certainly Chrysostom didn't see it that way (neither James White nor modern Rome was around in his day).  Thus, it is conceivably possible for Chrysostom both to disagree with James White and modern Rome.

The Idler then provides selections from Chrysostom's Homily 52 on Matthew.  In that homily Chrysostom uses the following flowery description of Peter: "What then saith the mouth of the apostles, Peter, the ever fervent, the leader of the apostolic choir? When all are asked, he answers."

He goes on to say, later in the homily:

Seest thou how He, His own self, leads Peter on to high thoughts of Him, and reveals Himself, and implies that He is Son of God by these two promises? For those things which are peculiar to God alone, (both to absolve sins, and to make the church incapable of overthrow in such assailing waves, and to exhibit a man that is a fisher more solid than any rock, while all the world is at war with him), these He promises Himself to give; as the Father, speaking to Jeremiah, said, He would make him as “a brazen pillar, and as a wall;” but him to one nation only, this man in every part of the world.
I would fain inquire then of those who desire to lessen the dignity of the Son, which manner of gifts were greater, those which the Father gave to Peter, or those which the Son gave him? For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to a mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys; who extended the church to every part of the world, and declared it to be stronger than heaven. “For heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.” How then is He less, who hath given such gifts, hath effected such things?

(Chrysostom, Homily 52 on Matthew)

The Idler argues:
It is important to note that surrounding the above words both before and after, Chrysostom makes a reference to the Arians, a heretical movement that denied the divinity of Christ, referring to them as "those who desire to lessen the dignity of the Son", and asks them "how then is He less, who has given such gifts, has effected such things?".  Therefore, it is no surprise in my mind that Chrysostom speaks of St. Peter's faith being the rock upon which the Church is built.  Simply put, he is showing that it is the faith in Christ as the Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, that is of utmost import, and this profession of faith is why Christ placed St. Peter in the position of authority that he did.  In effect, he is countering the Arians with these passages.

There is nothing especially objectionable about this comment from the Idler.

The Idler then continues:
But see how he does not place the idea of the primacy of St. Peter aside, but rather calls him "the mouth of the apostles", "the leader of the apostlic choir", "the leader of them all, Peter", and "makes him a shepherd" that is to guide "every part of the world".  Further on, we see Chrysostom say, "For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world".
Of course, none of this contradicts the point that Chrysostom denies that Peter is the rock of Matthew 16.  It simply affirms that Peter is spokesman for the apostles in this instance, and someone who is to bring the gospel to the whole world.
In effect, Chrysostom is still holding St. Peter as the head of the apostles, but it is confession of faith that makes him this head.

He doesn't say "head of the apostles."  But even if he had said that (he does call him the "leader" after all), he can still say that without adopting Rome's view of Matthew 16:18, and certainly without adopting the papacy as a whole.  Certainly, prior to Paul's calling, Peter is one of the most prominent apostles.

Moreover, Chrysostom certainly doesn't suggest that Peter's confession of faith makes him the head.  We could discuss this in more detail, but Peter's confession makes him an example and representative of all Christians who make that same confession of faith.  But such a role is not the papacy.

Now, maybe I am blind but I simply do not see Chrysostom as somehow against the [Roman] Catholic notion of the primacy of St. Peter, his being the rock by virtue of his confession, and the like.  Obviously, Protestants will not agree with this, nor will the Eastern Orthodox.  But I cannot help but coming to the conclusion that I do. 
When Chrysostom says "He did not say upon Peter" he's denying Rome's current view of Matthew 16:18.  That does not mean that Chrysostom is adopting some other view in which he denies absolutely everything modern Rome says about Peter.  

At the same time the Idler should also be careful about getting too exuberant.  Even if Chrysostom thought that Peter was the chief apostle, or the leader of the apostles, that does not mean, imply, or suggest that Chrysostom thought that there was a perpetual office of "head of the church" to be filled by a mere man, or that the person filling such an office was the bishop of Rome.

As my friend, Pastor David King, wrote on a previous occasion:
Chrysostom was ordained by a bishop who was out of communion with Rome. In fact, for the better part of his ministerial life, Chrysostom was, technically speaking, out of communion with Rome. Therefore, he was ordained (as most Roman Catholics would argue if consistent) by someone outside the communion of Rome, also claiming to be part of the Catholic Church. Chrysostom was baptized (AD 369) and ordained to the diaconate (AD 380) by Meletius who at the time was out of communion with Rome, and Chrysostom was ordained to the priesthood (AD 386) by Flavian, whom Rome refused to recognize as bishop, and had been de facto excommunicated some years before the ordination of Chrysostom. According to the standard of Leo XIII's Satis Cognitum, both Meletius and Flavian were "outside the edifice," "separated from the fold," and "exiled from the Kingdom" inasmuch as they were not in communion with the Roman pontiff, who acknowledged only Paulinus as the rightful occupant of the Antiochene see.

By receiving baptism and ordination at their hands, Chrysostom was declaring that he recognized them as the proper bishops in succession from and under the jurisdiction of the see of Antioch. While preaching at his tomb, Chrysostom referenced Meletius as a saint, and said of Flavian that he was not only the successor of Peter, but also the rightful heir of Peter to the see of Antioch. Chrysostom could not have been clearer in his repudiation of Paulinus whom Rome had declared to be the bishop of Antioch. (See his Homily II in Migne PG 52:86).

In similar fashion, when contrary to the canons Paulinus consecrated Evagrius to be his successor upon his death in AD 389, Chrysostom actively declined to recognize him as such, and emphatically warned the people of Antioch against joining the body which recognized Evagrius as bishop.

Moreover, Chrysostom makes reference to this in a sermon delivered in AD 395...

I speak not of you that are present, but of those who are deserting from us. The act is adultery. And if ye bear not to hear these things of them, neither should ye of us. There must be breach of the law either on the one side or the other. If then thou hast these suspicions concerning me, I am ready to retire from my office, and resign it to whomsoever ye may choose. Only let the Church be one. But if I have been lawfully made and consecrated, entreat those who have contrary to the law mounted the episcopal throne to resign it.
NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on Ephesians, Homily 11, next to the last paragraph.

It wasn't until after his consecration in AD 398 to the see of Constantinople by Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, that Chrysostom entered into communion with Rome.

Now, most Roman Catholic apologists are not familiar with this information regarding the circumstances of Chrysostom's baptism and ordinations, but his "orders" as such are denied as proper according to the requirements of Leo XIII's Satis Cognitum. I think this alone proves that there were in Chrysostom's day other groups claiming to be every bit as much "Catholic," but nonetheless out of communion with Rome.
It also serves to show that Chrysostom's positive comments about Peter are not evidence of papalism in his views.


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