Last Tuesday, April 20th, Pope Benedict XVI delivered the homily at the funeral Mass for Cardinal Spidlík. As always, the words of the Holy Father are touching and practical; yet, at the same time, they are filled with great theological depth. In this particular homily, Benedict introduces themes of theology that appear consistently in his thought: hope, joy, and the significance of the heart. In this two-part post, I want to examine the homily of Benedict through the lens of these three theological subjects.
The Pope opens the homily with some of the Cardinal’s last words before his death. They are beautiful, and in themselves, a reflection could be written: “Throughout my life I have sought the Face of Jesus and I am now happy and at peace because I am about to go and see him”. In a recent post, we have already reflected—briefly—over the theological understanding of death, especially through the thought of Benedict. Not surprising, then, the Holy Father is drawing the same conclusion as before—this time, through the words of another Christian. In the person of Jesus Christ, the dark, unknown abyss has been opened, has been walked through; and not just that, but the abyss itself has been conquered. Love has defeated that sting of death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54-55 ); love has given birth to a hope, rooted in the supernatural, that grants man true life, thereby making it possible to overcome the burden of death.
In Part I of this post, we left the Holy Father’s homily at the point where he touched upon the elements of the sacraments as being elements of creation. For the rest of the homily, then, the Pope focuses primarily on olives and olive oil, for indeed the Chrism Mass is about the blessing of the oils for the sacraments. First, the Pontiff explains the early Christian meaning assocaited with olives. The olive tree and oil itself were recognized as symbols of peace; early Christians often decorated tombs with olive branches, knowing that the “Christ conquered death and that their dead were resting in the peace of Christ. They knew that they themselves were awaited by Christ, that he had promised them the peace which the world cannot give”.
Living in the Eternal City for a semester of studies has been and continues to be an incredible opportunity. Particularly, experiencing Holy Week here will always be a memory. While every event of the week—especially within Easter Triduum—is worth reflecting over in words, Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday touched me in a special way: to be precise, I was touched anew by, in the first place, Pope Benedict XVI’s love and wisdom, and secondly, by the reverence, simplicity, and power of the Catholic Liturgy.
This will be the first of a two-part post. Both posts will incorporate parts of the Mass, but their overall focus will be on the theology of Benedict XVI, in his Chrism Mass homily. Thus, the content of this post is a synthesis of reflection and theological analysis.
As I sat in my seat in the grand basilica of Saint Peter’s, I awaited the entrance of the Supreme Pontiff and the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The music began, the choir of–what sounded like–angels filled the cosmic space of the temple with heavenly sound. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI began to walk down the nave of the basilica to approach the sacred altar, the place of the feast of feasts. Before him were seminarians, some priests, and the initial object that began the procession: Christ on the Cross, the center of the Mass. As he walked down the aisle, the whole congregation experienced a sort of joyful anticipation, as they were about to experience the synthesis of the local church and the universal church headed by the Bishop of Rome.
Continuing my series of posts on the biblical roots of the papacy, we have finally come to the NT. In a book that was influential in my own conversion to Catholicism, the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (current Pope Benedict XVI), wrote that “it would be misguided to pounce immediately on the classic proof text for the primacy, Matthew 16:13-20.”1 Thus, I will not begin with Matthew 16, but will rather end this series with several posts focusing on different aspects of that passage.
That being said, please bear in mind that I am not intending any sort of deductive argument based on any of the observations I make in this present post, I am merely attempting to set the stage for the prominent role St. Peter played in the NT as a framework for showing in later posts how this prominent role is in fact an office within the Church Jesus institutes, fulfilling the Kingdom of Israel from the OT, transforming its very structure and essence.
We can begin this discussion with the list of apostles Jesus gathered around Himself. In his last publication before he died, the Romanian Orthodox (formerly Lutheran) church historian Jaroslav Pelikan makes some very interesting comments based upon the textual traditions concerning the list of apostles in the NT. Dr. Pelikan makes the following observation:
I was not sure what to entitle this post, since it does not directly deal with texts from the canonical Scriptures, hence the subtitle: “Extra-Biblical Context.” At the same time, I wanted to highlight its continuity with the previous four posts on this topic, hence the misleading title: “Papacy in Scripture V.” I hope this post serves as a sort of transition into the NT material where we will dive into the Gospels.
Why examine extra-biblical 2nd Temple Jewish literature if we don’t consider it inspired by God? For many reasons, chief among them such literature often provides insightful commentary to earlier OT texts and shows ways in which Jews living before, during and after Jesus interpreted the OT. What I hope to do in subsequent posts is show how the NT material shares some of the interpretive judgments found in the 2nd Temple texts below, and how this relates to the office of the papacy.
We’ve already taken a look at the basic structure of the Davidic Kingdom, but now I want to highlight a passage in the OT that focuses on the royal steward to the Kingdom of David (which in 1 & 2 Chronicles is called the Kingdom of YHWH, or the Kingdom of the Lord).
Isaiah 22:20-24 reads: “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots–all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars” (NIV).
In this third post on the roots of the papacy in Scripture, I want to highlight that Joseph’s high position in Egypt is actually significant for understanding the administrative structure of the Kingdom of David, and therefore of the Church which is the fulfilled Davidic Kingdom.
After the people of Israel have entered the Promised Land, they eventually ask Samuel for a king to rule over them: “appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5, NIV). And this is exactly what happened. First under King Saul, and then under King David, the people of Israel became a kingdom. The Kingdom of David became an everlasting kingdom, and in the New Testament, was transformed into the Church.
Moreover, the Davidic Kingdom was called the Kingdom of YHWH, e.g. in 1 Chronicles 28:5 and in 2 Chronicles 13:8. Thus, in a very real way, the Kingdom of David was the Kingdom of God, what is meant by the New Testament phrase, Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew’s Gospel) or Kingdom of God (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Moreover, in the Davidic Kingdom, the worshipping community of Israel was often called (in 1 and 2 Chronicles) the qahal (in Hebrew), which was translated in the Greek Septuagint as ekklesia (the word for Church in the New Testament).
In this second post on the roots of the papacy in Scripture, I simply want to examine Exodus 24:1-4. I should say at the outset that Dr. Brant Pitre first pointed out to me the connections I will discuss in this post. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Dr. Pitre present this material (which was part of a much larger and more impressive work) at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Boston this past November 2008, in his paper, “Jesus and the Messianic Priesthood,” and earlier at the 2nd annual Letter & Spirit Conference in the Fall of 2006, in his presentation, “Jesus and the New Priesthood.”
Turning to Exodus 24, the first thing I want to mention is the parallel between Moses and Jesus, which is especially emphasized in Matthew’s Gospel. If we turn to the OT narratives about the exodus and wilderness traditions, we find that Aaron plays an intermediary role between Moses and the people of Israel. Indeed, in many ways, Aaron is to Moses what Joseph was to Pharaoh. What’s more, Aaron becomes the first high priest of Israel. In the Gospels, we find that among all of Jesus’ disciples, Peter is singled out more than the rest throughout all four Gospels. I will highlight Peter’s high priestly role (and his role as Jesus’ royal steward) in later posts, but for now, I just want to emphasize that in some ways Peter is to Jesus what Aaron is to Moses.
One of the many charges leveled against Catholic teaching on the papacy has been that it runs contrary to Scripture. What I hope to do over the next several posts is show how the papacy’s roots lie deep within Scripture, and are in fact fundamental to the very concept of church in the Gospels. In this first post, I will discuss the roots of this ecclesiastical office in the Old Testament narratives about the patriarch Joseph.
The first thing to note is that when we encounter Joseph in Genesis 37, we find him shepherding his brothers’ flock. This is interesting since later in the Bible we discover that King David too was a shepherd, and in the NT, Jesus instructs Peter to shepherd His flock (John 21:15-17, where Peter is commanded to feed and tend Jesus’ flock). As we read further, we see that his father Jacob/Israel gives Joseph a special cloak which probably implied some sort of high family status, since Israel loved Joseph more than his brothers (37:3), which made his brothers jealous. Soon Joseph has dreams where he appears to be exalted above his brothers (37:6-11).