Better Catch You Up & Roman Catholicism

You’ve probably noticed that I took another week to get back to the Through the Bible blogging. I’ll start back on Monday. It’s on my radar now. I completely overwhelmed myself with a ridiculous amount of activity over the last month. I’m starting a business, helping two sons get ready for college, laying around in pain several hours most days, helping one daughter get through Algebra and another learn Spanish, and getting involved in our church’s missions program and leadership meetings.

There’s something seriously wrong with me.

Oh, wait. I think I forgot to mention I’m writing one book, marketing another, and preparing a series of lessons on the apostolic faith that was handed down to the churches.

Anyway, in preparation for one of those lessons, I was reading a history book written by a Roman Catholic. Not just any Roman Catholic, either. The author is Richard P. McBrien, and this is what the blurb on the back says about him:

Richard P. McBrien is Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Educated at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he has also served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. A leading authority on Catholicism, he is the bestselling author of Catholicism, Lives of the Popes, and Lives of the Saints, as well as the general editor of The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Most recently a consultant for ABC News, McBrien offers regular commentary on all the major television networks. He is also a prizewinning syndicated columnist in the Catholic press.

I couldn’t manufacture Roman Catholic credentials of such quality. Quoting him is like quoting N.T. Wright among the Anglicans.

His book is supportive of Roman Catholicism (and he uses that terminology but does not appear to think it’s good terminology). He believes that to be fully catholic (small letters used on purpose), you must be in good standing and fellowship with the Pope, the bishop of the church at Rome.

That said, how much arguing have I done with Roman Catholics, doing immense amounts of research in the early writings of the church, when I could simply have referred them to Father McBrien.

Here’s some of the things said in his book:

  • On the other hand, Peter’s authority was neither absolute nor monarchial. It was James, not Peter, who presided over the Council of Jerusalem. (p. 41)
  • It should be clear, therefore, that the notion of the primacy evolved over time. It was not understood in the New Testament as it came eventually to be understood and clearly taught by the First Vatican Council in the nineteenth century. (p. 42)
  • There is no evidence, however, that any one individual in the mid-80’s [my note: first century and after Peter had died] functioned in the Petrine role for the universal Church either at Antioch or anywhere else. (p. 44)
  • Indeed, it was not until the middle of the second century that Rome changed from a collegial [i.e., a group of elders with no monarchial bishop] form of leadership to a monoepiscopal [one bishop] form. (p. 44)
  • As noted above, the term "presbyter" [=elder] was used interchangeably with that of "overseer" [=bishop], both of which indicated some kind of community leadership. Only at the end of the first century did the presbyter’s role become distinct from that of the overseer, or bishop. (p. 45)
  • The title of "pope," which means "father" (It. papa), was in earlier centuries of church history applied to every bishop in the West, while in the East it seems to have been used of priests [anachronism; this should read elders for any time before the third century] as well and was a special title of the patriarch of Alexandria. In 1073, however, Pope Gregory VII formally prohibited the use of the title for all except the Bishop of Rome. (p. 93)
  • Catholic tradition regards Peter (d. ca. 64) as the first pope, but the first succession lists identified Linus (ca. 66–ca. 78), not Peter, as the first pope. Peter was not regarded as the first bishop of Rome until the late second or early third century.

Note: The brackets in the above quotes are all mine. The parentheses are all his. I also added the bolding in the bolded quote.

I have been raked over the coals by Roman Catholics, referred to as a heretic and a few worse names, for saying exactly the same things that have been said by this Catholic historian. I’ve been told I’m a fake, pretending to be a historian, and full of bias. I’ve been told I only say these things because I’m full of anger and bitterness and all sorts of other things.

To say I’m really pleased by Richard McBrien’s honesty is an understatement. I admit, it feels very good.

At some point, I’ll get these things added to my Roman Catholic pages at Christian History for Everyman, which are written to promote the truth, not to vent anger or bitterness.

One other thing he said was that there was liturgy in the first century churches, and he referenced 1 Cor. 14:26 (p. 43). Wow! If I had known that is what Catholics meant by liturgy, I would never have argued that "liturgy" didn’t exist until the third century!

I have to give one more quote I really loved:

Tradition is not a fact factory. It cannot make something into a historical fact when it is not. (p. 96)

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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