Josh: Dear John, sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I found what you said to be quite interesting (which is quoted below in case you’ve forgotten since it’s been weeks since we last corresponded). I do, however, have some questions and comments that might be of interest. I have a difficult time with the lineage argument. From the Eastern perspective, Peter was never seen as the fulfillment of what Abraham, Moses, David and Melchezidek were sent for.
J. Salza: Catholicism does not teach that Peter is the fulfillment. Peter is only the earthly representative of the fulfillment. However, just as Moses, for example, had the seat of authority, had access to God’s infallible judgments, and ruled over his people, Peter holds the same position in the Church of the New Testament (which is the Catholic Church). Peter, in that sense, is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament leaders combined (Abraham, Moses, David, etc.)
Josh: I honestly feel that most Catholics would also agree with us that Jesus was that very fulfillment. No one is questioning whether or not Catholics believe that Jesus is our King of kings, etc. but it does not work with the Eastern mindset to place Peter at the top of this Pyramid that is the Church.
J. Salza: Peter is the rock on which the Church is built because Jesus said so in Matt. 16:18-19. Jesus also gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, which was to institute his authority over the earthly Church and dynastic succession of earthly representatives. See Isaiah 22:19-22. So Jesus tells us that Peter has a unique position among the rest of the apostles. Peter is the rock, the keeper of the keys, and the chief shepherd of the Church. These distinctions, of course, belong to Jesus alone. But Jesus shares them with Peter. Peter exercises these distinctions in the name of Jesus and at His direction, until Jesus comes again.
Josh: Christ is our intercessor between Heaven and Earth; He is Jacob’s Ladder. He became Man and continues to be so to this day leading our Church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may seem simplistic to you and many other Catholics… perhaps even a cop-out, but this honestly is how we have always seen the structure Church.
J. Salza: Catholics have no disagreement here. Christ is our only mediator before the Father in heaven. There is no issue here. But this does not preclude Christ from appointing an earthly representative to serve in his stead, which he did in Matt. 16:18-19 and other verses (see my link on Peter as the rock and Petrine Primacy). There is a distinction between Christ’s mediation in heaven and Peter’s ruling and guiding the Church on earth.
Josh: As far as Bishops go, this brings up an entirely different question. It has come to my attention that the East and the West are not speaking the same language in dialogue regarding the hierarchy of the Church and even in terms of Apostolic Succession. In the West, the Bishop of Rome is seen as the Successor of Peter. But who was Peter? Was he a Bishop?
J. Salza: Yes, Peter was a bishop. But he had supreme and plenary authority over the other bishops. The other bishops draw their authority from the keys which only Peter holds. Certainly, bishops exercise their authority on the local level, but they are always subject to the authority of the bishop of Rome. Regarding apostolic succession, the east and west do have apostolic succession and are in full union with the pope as the successor of Peter.
If you are talking about the Orthodox (not the Eastern Catholic churches), then they do have apostolic succession (because their bishops all have a lineage to the apostles). But since 1054 they no longer recognize Peter as having supreme authority (they do acknowledge, however, that he had a primacy of authority in the New Testament). All the apostles and their successors were bishops through the laying on of hands (also see my link on this).
Josh: From our point of view, a Bishop oversees, delegates and ministers sacramentally.
J. Salza: Yes, agreed. That is the definition of “bishopric.”
Josh: He himself may have been a one (of Antioch, or Rome… but then what was Paul doing in Rome?), but this is beside the point. He was first and foremost an Apostle sent directly from Christ, just as Paul was (through the vision). This is what distinguished Peter and the other Apostles from other disciples; they were “sent out” directly from Christ.
J. Salza: I don’t yet see the point. Were Timothy, or Titus, or Matthias not worthy disciples because they were not sent directly by Christ? Were they lesser because they were sent by the apostles’ successors? I don’t think so. In fact, the direct lineage from the apostles to their successors demonstrates the truth and importance of apostolic succession.
Josh: Pope John Paul II (however much I admire him) was not. He is the Bishop of Rome, one of the most distinguished and important Patriarchates of the historical Church. No Orthodox would disagree with the fact that the Bishop of Rome was first among equals in the Early Church. Most Bishops at that time looked to Rome for guidance and a point of union, and why wouldn’t we have? First of all it was the center of the civilized world as we knew it. No place was more important than Rome. Everyone (regardless of religion) looked to it. Second, (but not least) we looked to Rome because it is where Sts Peter and Paul were both martyred. There is no question that St. Peter was revered among the Apostles as First among Equals… a leader so to speak.
J. Salza: Yes, I agree, but you look to Rome because Jesus Christ, through Peter and his successors, established the Church in Rome. You don’t look to Rome because Paul (or even Peter) was martyred there. This is why, in the book of Romans, Paul writes his letter but stresses that he does not want to “build on another man’s foundation.” Paul was referring to Peter, who was the bishop of Rome and the head of the Church. It has nothing to do with politics, or culture, or future martyrdoms. It has to do with Christ’s choice to build His Church upon the “rock” of Peter, in Rome. Peter is not just “the first among equals.” Peter is the “first and foremost” (which is why Scripture describes him with the Greek protos). The other bishops derive their authority from the keys which only Peter holds.
Josh: Just as we also cannot question the fact that among the Apostles, no one had as much influence on the early doctrine of the Faith than did St. Paul (through his Letters that are now part of the Bible and through the Ecumenical Council in Jerusalem – Acts 15). This is not to set Paul above Peter nor vice-versa.
J. Salza: Here, you err. It was Peter who settled the doctrinal issue on circumcision at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. When Peter settled the matter, “the whole assembly kept silent.” The other bishops who spoke after Peter relayed how Peter settled the matter, and spoke in union with him, just like bishops do today. Paul obeyed Peter’s decision without question. Your reference to the council of Jerusalem proves too much for you.
Josh: Just to digress a little, if we look at Acts 15 and assume that Peter was a Bishop, he certainly doesn’t exercise his right to universal jurisdiction. James presided over Jerusalem and it therefore makes sense when he says “It is MY judgment that…” He has the last word.
J. Salza: Wrong. James wants every one to know at the beginning that he speaks in union with Peter when he says “Simeon has described…” As far as the statement, “it is my judgment,” it is commonplace for bishops to say “it is my judgment” when they are speaking in union with the successor of Peter (just read 2,000 years of encyclicals to see what I mean). Bishops exercise full pastoral authority and can pronounce judgments, so long as it is in union with the pope who is head of the universal Church. It is only a problem when a bishop says, “it is my judgment” when he is not in union with Peter. Then we have a problem. Further, the Greek for “it is my judgment” (ego krino) really means “it is my opinion.” It does not refer to an authoritative, ecclesiastical pronouncement that James is making. This underscores that James is simply providing his opinion about how to pastorally implement Peter’s doctrinal decision.
Josh: It is evident that even Peter/Simon is afforded a special recognition within James’ statement (v. 14) despite his error, and I would admit that this is due to his place of honor among disciples. But he does not have the last word, or jurisdictional authority, at least not over Jerusalem.
J. Salza: This, as highlighted above, is incorrect. Peter spoke first. Peter resolved the doctrinal issue first. Peter was the first to speak about salvation for the Gentiles first. Peter did many things first. Peter has a primacy in the NT that cannot compare with any other disciple. Before Peter spoke, the matter was debated. After Peter spoke, the matter was settled (just like Saint Augustine said).
Josh: Now, returning to Peter and Paul, they had a very distinct mission among the Apostles and are equally revered in the Orthodox Church. To this day, one hardly ever sees icons of just Peter or Paul, but of the two together. This is both a symbol and call to unification among all Orthodox (and I would say Catholics).
J. Salza: They are both venerated in the Catholic Church. But, remember, only Peter was given the keys (not Paul). When the Orthodox realize the significance of the keys, they soon become Catholic. The keys of the kingdom cannot be overlooked in this argument, because they go to the very question of authority and dynastic succession. That is what they represent, and that is what they have effected for 2,000 years. This is why, In Galatians 1:18-19, it says Paul went to visit Peter in Jerusalem and examine (Greek, historesai) him for 15 days. Even though James was the bishop of Jerusalem, Paul chooses to examine Peter, not James. Why? Because Peter was the head of the Church.
Josh: I’m digressing though. As far as Rome goes, I’m not going to dispute its apostolic and historical importance, but the East has never seen Rome as the end-all to the Church. After the Fall of Rome, the East had no quarrel with looking towards the New Rome, Constantinople, as its “capital” so to speak. If they had once believed that Rome was the necessary, all-time, Godly inspired center and head of the Church, why would they even toy with the idea of replacing Rome?
J. Salza: This proves nothing other than a part of the apostolic Church left the seat of Peter. This fragmentation continues pitifully every week and every day. One of the earliest letters in Christendom is Pope Clement’s letter to the Corinthian Church in the first century. Even though John the Evangelist was still living on the island of Patmos, and geographically closer to the Corinthian church, the Corinthians appeal to Rome to resolve their dispute (about ordinations). Clement makes it clear in his letter that Rome is the instructor of the other churches. This is a powerful witness of the early primacy that Rome had among the churches.
Josh: The fact is that the Eastern Church, as a whole, never saw Rome in this way, saw changing their focus from the Eternal City to Constantinople was a logical step for them. Rome was no longer politically or culturally relevant to the East. Naturally the West would not look towards Constantinople for the same reasons… they were western.
J. Salza: This again proves nothing theologically. It certainly does not address the authority that Christ endowed Peter with, in giving him the keys, and exhorting him to feed his lambs, and only praying for him to strengthen his brethren (the other apostles). The orthodox have no Scriptural grounds to divest Peter from the authority that the Son of God gave him. It also doesn’t consider the many Eastern Catholic churches which have been in union with Peter for 2,000 years.
Josh: This is not to say that the Bishop of Rome was trivial to the East; all Patriarchates are vital and the fact still remained that this was where two of our greatest Apostles were martyred. That alone afforded a special honor (regardless of Rome’s political or cultural status at the time).
J. Salza: Why don’t you do research on what the Byzantine Fathers said about Peter. If you do, you will be in for a big surprise. They recognized Peter as Christ’s representative, with supreme authority over the earthly Church. Is this so hard to believe? God always appointed an earthly representative over his flock throughout salvation history. You need to dig into this history a bit more.
Josh: Even keeping this in mind, the East never saw Constantinople as the Catholic Church views Rome today. Just as Peter did not have the last say in Jerusalem, neither did Constantinople. But even here I am committing a logical fallacy for Peter and Rome are not one and the same. Peter was Peter and Pope John Paul II is not Peter.
J. Salza: You fail to see the apostolic lineage to John Paul II from the very east you attempt to separate from the Catholic Church. Your argument just doesn’t work. When you review the history, the east and west were united until the schism, when a portion of the eastern Church left the seat of Peter. But most of the east is still in union with Peter. And I pray the rest of the east will rejoin the one Body of Christ posthaste. Christ prayed for this unity, so that the world would know that He was sent by the Father.
Josh: Now, I am not going to argue Peter’s importance AMONG the Apostles.
J. Salza: No one versed in the New Testament would do such a thing.
Josh: In the Orthodox Church there are still varying views on what Jesus meant by “on the Rock” (just as there was in the Early Church). Most Orthodox will at least say that the “Rock” refers to Peter’s confession but not Peter himself. No, this is not an argument that Protestants invented for you can find it made by many Early Church Fathers. (Understandably Catholics would disagree with this and that doesn’t offend me in the least.)
J. Salza: Please provide me with the Fathers who made this argument and their quotes. And even before you do, saying its Peter’s confession is just fine with Catholics, as long as you also say it is Peter the person as well. My link on Peter the rock proves this beyond a doubt, through the use of Petros, tautee, etc. Jesus doesn’t just build His Church on “confessions” and “faith.” He builds it on people. This is why Scripture says that the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles, with Peter as the rock, and Jesus the chief cornerstone. I am completing a book called The Biblical Basis for the Papacy, and the Appendix will include quote after quote from the early Fathers from the East to the West, all claiming that Peter is indeed the rock of the Church.
Josh: The most catholic-friendly Orthodox view I have read thus far says that, while “the Rock” referred to his confession, it also referred distinctly to Peter: that he himself was the Rock upon which the Church would build itself.
J. Salza: Now you sound Catholic (which, by the way, isn’t so bad, since this position has been articulated by the Fathers and doctors and all the rest for 2,000 years).
Josh: Although his fallible doctrine (as read in Acts 15) and trials in faith (during Christ’s passion and when he walked on water with Jesus)…
J. Salza: What? Peter’s decision to dispense with the Old Covenant practice of circumcision in Acts 15 was fallible? Help me out here.
Josh: …do not argue this well, they do not disprove it either, for it proves him to be a very humble man who had the strength to admit his wrongs in both circumstances and grow from them, a quality that is necessary for any honorable leader. In this way, it can be argued that Peter offers us an example that God does exclude anyone from His Church based on how perfect or imperfect they are.
J. Salza: No argument here. God always chooses the weak to make them strong. That is why he chose Peter to lead the early Church.
Josh: I am actually quite sympathetic to this last interpretation, saying that Peter (along with his confession) is this Rock. In my mind there is no question that he was seen as First among Equals by his fellow apostle’s, because of what Jesus said to him that fateful day. I say “among Equals” because it is obvious that he did not have the last word… Christ (in the Holy Spirit) did not only speak through Peter but through all of His Apostle’s in a special way.
J. Salza: The Holy Spirit spoke through all the apostles, and speaks through Peter and his successors today. This comment does not in any way diminish Peter’s authority and the early Church. While all the bishops speak with authority, their authority is derived from the keys of Peter. Only Peter was singularly given the power to bind and loose. The apostles share in this authority collectively, not singularly like Peter. I notice how you have not chosen to address the significance of the keys of the kingdom. Protestants (and Orthodox) avoid this argument, because it doesn’t generally end well for them. The typology of the chief steward or majordomo of the Davidic kingdom who held the keys, as a prefiguring of Christ’s prime minister in the New Testament Church, is compelling.
Josh: It should also be pointed that the Orthodox Church (unlike the Catholic Church, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully, I’m only observing a difference) is conciliar. Regardless of what the Bishop of Constantinople says, he in no way has the last word. He has special honor to this day (but even this is just an honor by merit of antiquity) but is not a “Pope” so to speak. In the same way, there is nothing to say that the Bishop of Rome was seen any differently from the East. He was respected and revered, but in no means had the last word.
J. Salza: This again is a distortion. First, the Catholic Church is “conciliar.” That is why it calls its formal meetings of bishops in union with the pope to provide definitive teaching “councils.” By the way, it was these “councils” that provided you the teachings of Christ’s divinity, the trinity, the natures of Christ, the hypostatic union, the Bible canon, etc. Second, Scripture and Tradition both show that Peter and his successors always had the last word. We see this in Acts 15. We see this with Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. And the Orthodox obeyed the councils that were headed and approved by the pope until they broke away from Rome.
Josh: In the end, from the Orthodox point of view, regardless of how one views Peter, his honor and place in the Church was not somehow passed on to his successor (who is in Rome… or is that Antioch? for he presided in both). Peter is Peter.
J. Salza: Tell me why not? In fact, please find me one single quote from an early Church father during the first five centuries of the Church who believed that “Peter’s honor was not passed down to his successor.” The 264 successors to Peter would certainly disagree with you. Such a claim also ignores the Scriptural bases concerning the power and function of the “keys.” The keys not only symbolized the steward’s authority, but were also used to facilitate succession (see Isaiah 22).
Josh: Some Orthodox will say that all Bishops are the Successors of Peter, but this is meant in a very different way than when Catholics say that the Pope in Rome is the Successor of Peter.
J. Salza: Supremacy and succession in the early Church mean just that to Catholics. If you try to undermine the authority that Peter’s successors were given by virtue of their appointments, you essentially undermine the doctrine of apostolic succession, and call into question the authority of your own bishops.
Josh: We believe our Bishops are successors of Peter in that they participate in his Eternal Confession: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
J. Salza: All the apostles confessed that after Christ’s resurrection (and after Peter betrayed Christ). But only Peter received the keys of the kingdom. This proves nothing as far as Peter’s supremacy.
Josh: Through the laying on of hands (ordination) they are given special sacramental duties and the responsibility to guard Christ’s Flock, not the personhood of Peter.
J. Salza: We agree on ordination, but again, what about the keys? To whom did they pass? I’ll tell you: to Linus, Anacletus, Clement, Avaristus, etc. Why did the early Church know that the keys represented Christ’s desire for dynastic succession (and history proves this), but you don’t? Did the early Church have it all wrong? I don’t think so. That is the real issue here, and the burden remains with you to disprove what history has already proven. Why would Christ give Peter this supremacy during his life, but not pass it on to successors?
Josh: It should be noted that no bishop (Metropolitan, Archbishop, Patriarch, etc.) is, at least in theory, above any other bishop sacramentally or spiritually.
J. Salza: The bishop of Rome (the one with the keys), while a bishop like the others, has the supreme authority over the earthly Church, for Christ told him to feed His sheep, and specifically prayed that his faith may not fail, and that he should strengthen the other apostles. Jesus did not grant these distinctions to any other apostle, and neither can we.
Josh: They are all bishops, some just have more jurisdictional responsibilities than others (and because of this are especially honored). Were there to be a council today, either all bishops would have to be present, or, what is more likely, they would allow the bishop over them (jurisdictionally speaking… not doctrinally) as their representative (just as the Bishop of Rome was not present at some important councils, but he did send a delegate there to represent him).
J. Salza: Please give me an instance in Church history where a definitive teaching was rendered by the Church without the approval of the successor of Peter, and then we will have a discussion about this. A council has absolutely no authority unless and until it is approved by the pope, the bishop of Rome. Your previous bishops believed this until they decided to become schismatics. You keep referring to “honor” among the bishops, but this is really about “authority.”
Josh: Now, practically speaking, more honor often turns into more power… sometimes out of abuse. I am not trying to be disrespectful, but we as Orthodox would not hesitate to say that the Patriarch in Rome began to abuse his place of honor and usurp special powers which his bishopric had never been afforded in the past.
J. Salza: Again, please give examples. Of the 264 successors to Peter, I can think of about a half dozen scoundrels (which proves nothing other than members of the Church are not exempt from sinning). But what compels me as a Catholic is that I see 2,000 years of consistent teaching on faith and morals (notwithstanding bad popes) which tells me, in spite of our sinfulness, God is going to take care of His Church and prevent it from teaching error on faith and morals. Again, you won’t find any examples to indict Christ’s Church on the grounds that its teachings on faith and morals have erred. In fact, no church (including yours) has stood side by side with the Catholic church on certain moral issues, such as contraception (even though the apostolic church – read the Fathers – condemned contraception). Why is that?
Josh: The same may be true one day of the Patriarch of Constantinople were we to have a new council… I don’t know. Also, it may not always be an abuse of honor, but rather out of practicality’s sake. Let’s assume again that the Orthodox Church has another Ecumenical Council. Many Russian bishops (for example) may just assume to follow the advice of the Patriarch of Moscow and stand behind what he says at a Council, trusting in his years of experience and that the Holy Spirit will work through him for the good of the Church.
J. Salza: Okay, fine, but again, this does not prove anything in regard to the supremacy of the successor to Peter. Any council not in union with Peter is really no council at all, for Christ promised that He would lead His Church (one Church, one Bride, just as there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism) into all truth. This is why you see the Protestant churches all falling away into serious errors (homosexual marriage, contraception, etc.) Christ will let them go their own way. But the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church, for that is His promise (Matt. 16:18-19). As an orthodox, I would have a real problem with the recent compromises on morality in your church. This would move me to ask questions about what I really believe and why.
Josh: After all of this, you may notice that not everything is as clean and proper in the Orthodox Church as our Western mentalities would like and there is no doubt that having such a central figure as the Pope has its benefits. But I would point out that nothing in Church history or dogma (or the Bible) necessitates the Bishop of Rome as the Universal Bishop, not to mention the relatively new idea of infallibility.
J. Salza: This is a statement that has come out of left field, and undermines the credibility of your otherwise thoughtful and charitable email. There is a plethora of Scriptural evidence, not to mention a mountain of evidence from the early Church fathers, that points to the bishop of Rome as the successor of Peter. The Bible gives the “mustard seed” version. But that mustard seed has grown into an oak tree, as Christ has promised. Please provide authorities for such incredulous (and unscriptural) statements.
Josh: Practicality may necessitate this for the West, and that’s fine, but that cannot be forced upon the rest of the Church as if they are somehow “splintered” because they do not (and have never) seen the Pope of Rome as their Leader. If we were to become one again, it would have to be similar to what Pope John Paul II has offered… the Pope in Rome would have no jurisdiction in the East, he would be Bishop of the West, and the East would continue as it always had… synodically.
J. Salza: Pope John Paul II offered no such thing. He wants to bring the Orthodox back into the one fold, under His rule. Christ gave us only one Church, with one earthly shepherd, just as God has fathered his covenant family since the beginning. This usually comes down to pride. Many people don’t want to submit to a pope. But if they don’t, they inevitably become super-popes of their own. They can easily disagree with their bishops, and priests, and theologians, and this does and has caused unprecedented splintering in Christ’s Church during the past 500 years. The Orthodox church, unfortunately, is on the same splintered path, as its own teachings (particularly on sexual morality) become more and more compromised.
Josh: Our way is complicated and messy, even imperfect, but in the end, it works. We (the Greeks, Russians, Antiochians and so on) have been able to hold one doctrine this way for nearly 2000 years… not without its cultural tiffs… but we are only human. Obviously one could go on forever on both sides. I’m sorry I wrote so much. It may make it difficult for correspondence so I will try and keep them shorter in the future. Thanks so much for your patience in waiting for my response. I am looking forward to yours. I should also state that, like most things in history, this is not a black and white subject. We can use the Church Father’s writings to support almost anything, but I am simply looking at what the general mindset of the Early Church of the East was. God bless you.
J. Salza: Josh, I truly admire your sincerity and your convictions. You seem to be a man who wants to know the truth. I have read substantial materials on the Orthodox and Protestant positions before becoming completely convinced of the Catholic Church. I suggest you do the same. It is often helpful to read the Catholic position, and then try to refute it, instead of reading an orthodox position and getting fired up about it in the absence of a Catholic rebuttal. Many Catholics have traveled the rode you are on, and, with a sincere heart, fervent prayer, and an open mind, they see that Christ left us a visible, hierarchical, authoritative, and sacramental Church which has a visible head, and an earthly representative – the successor of Peter. He has the keys of the kingdom.
Josh: Greetings in Christ. I found your email intriguing. Before I respond I would like to check out your references. I’m really curious what books you’re reading. I’ve been looking at some by some major Catholic theologians (Congar, Dvornak) but haven’t been able to find the major points of difference you brought up (re: Rome having jurisdictional authority and such). Also, I’m curious what Orthodox books you are reading. But most important are the Catholic books so I can a look at them. I’ll do the same for you.
There are more things I would like to say, but I lack the time and think for now I will leave it at that in case there is anything in your references that make me re-analyze part of my view. God bless.
J. Salza: Josh, ah, I can understand the lack of time. I barely have time to check all the emails I receive each week about the Church, not to mention my other writing and speaking endeavors, my full-time job, my wife and children. I appreciate the time pinch.
My analysis is based on the plain meaning of the Scriptures, as interpreted by the early Church fathers. If you want additional (and much more valuable) analysis regarding Peter, go to my site and click on the “Church Fathers” link in my Links section. Mr. Gallegos does a very good job compiling the quotes of the early fathers regarding doctrines of the Catholic faith. Also, you may want to check out the Navarre Bible commentaries and the Haydock commentary, which are also very good. In addition, I am working on a book called The Biblical Basis for the Papacy which will address all of the pertinent issues involved. Once you get through some of these, feel free to contact me.
Those who come home (become Catholic) most often do so because they cannot reconcile the varied opinions within their own churches on questions of morality, and they look at the 2,000 year history of the Church and (while vehemently try to challenge it) discover that her teachings have been the same since Christ ascended into heaven (the doctrine has developed as our minds have become more open to it, but the basics of the faith have been the same since the apostles – e.g, Peter is the chief shepherd of the earthly Church, the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the Blessed Mother is the Ark of the New Covenant, the saints are our brothers and sisters in heaven, etc.)
The morality question is particularly difficult (all churches, including the Orthodox, have compromised their moral positions), and most Christians believe that God would not allow such a thing in His Church. He wouldn’t, and that is why He said the gates of Hades would not prevail against her. The Church is mystery, as it can only be truly understood by faith (that is why it is part of the Creed – put together by the Catholic Church). She is supernatural. But she is the vehicle God created to give us His grace and further the work of the Holy Spirit, with Jesus as the cornerstone, Peter as the rock, the apostles as the foundation, and Mary as our Mother.
I am keeping you in my daily prayers.
Josh: Dear John. Thanks you so much for you cordial responses. Regarding the Catholic Church. I do respect your Church and Pope John Paul II immensely… but in the end there are things that I just don’t agree with. It’s not necessary nor beneficial to talk about them because I have a feeling you are just as convinced of your position as I am of mine. And I respect, that. Not the same way I would respect a protestant for being Lutheran or Baptist. I mean, I would respect this as their decision and as Christians certainly but it would be hard for me to respect the logic behind their stance. As far as Catholics go, however, I respect their positions… I don’t agree with them (when they differ with Orthodoxy) and I do not wish to get into that. It’s nothing highly personal… probably not reasons any different to those of other peole that have chosen Orthodoxy over Catholicism (and we know that it happens the other way too), I’ve just been in so many of these discussions that go nowhere. I respect you for being Catholic and I see no reason for you to become Orthodox. If you were ever to feel you had to, due to certain reasons of conscience, that’s you’re choice, but usually I would just say, if you are attracted to Orthodoxy, go to an Eastern Rite parish.
I see Catholics as my true brothers and sisters in Christ. I lived in Spain for two years and although I missed dearly the Orthodox Church and could probably never settle down in Spain for that very reason, the RCC became kind of like an adoptive family for me while I was there. Obviously nothing can replace the Sacraments (I’m not questioning the validity of your Sacraments, I just do not intercommune since we… are not it full communion), but at least there was that common fellowship which I find very difficult to share with protestants. I am also very involved in a Catholic Bible Study here on campus. (here’s our website http://personal.cmich.edu/greve1jj) I don’t know what I would do without this weekly fellowship. I have grown to love Western traditions such as Eucharistic Adoration and the Rosary (two practices that in no way go against Orthodoxy but that are simply just traditions that developed in the West).
I should also mention that I became Orthodox about 5 years ago. I was Lutheran and took a hard look at Catholicism. I came across many useful resources from the RCC that helped me on my journey home, even though I did end up being lead to East. Some of these were “Any Friend of God’s is a Friend of Mine” (I think that’s what the title is.. it’s been a while) and Scott Hahn’s lecture series on the Gospel of John which was strongly based on the very Catholic Navarre Commentary.
I am not telling you this in hopes that you will think that the Pope is not such a big deal… he is for you… and should be… you’re Catholic! Just like you, there is a little hope inside of me that everyone would just come to the Orthodox Church… but 1) that’s unrealistic and 2) I know that some of that comes from my intellectual pride. I expect people to see things the way I do. So, in my realist mentality, I just hope for something more attainable: That Catholics and Orthodox would become better Cahtolics and Orthodox; that protestants would come home to be Catholic or Orthodox; and that non Christians would just come to know Christ however possible. And, my hope is that those who never know Christ, at least learn to know God the best they can through what they’ve been given.
That is my hope, however optimistic/pesimistic that may be. I should reiterate, that I do feel that the Orthodox Church is the full expression of the early Church liturgically, dogmatically and structurally; just as you feel the same about the Catholic Church. We aren’t going to change our minds on that… and that’s ok. If God really wants me to be Catholic, I will be so… if he really wants you to be Orthodox, I trust you will be so. But my guess is that we will both continue to serve God to the fullest in our respective Churches and, in some small way, contribute to mutual understanding that will one day (God willing!) give way to unity (even if not in our lifetime). Feel free to write back if you want.
Have a blessed Lenten season,
J. Salza: Dear Josh. Your response to me was passionate and charitable. You are truly a man for the Lord. I feel blessed when I receive those kinds of emails. When you think about it, not much separates us. But I also think about Jesus’ prayer in John 17, where he prayed that they may be one. There is only one true Church, one Bride, just as there is only one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Throughout salvation history, God has appointed earthly shepherds over His flock (Abraham, Moses, David, etc.). With Christ, He didn’t decide to splinter His New Covenant Kingdom into territorial bishoprics. He appointed an earthly shepherd, a representative, a royal prime minister over the Kingdom, and that was Peter and His successors. That is why He only gave Peter the keys (just as He gave the keys to the kingdom to the prime minister of the OT Davidic kingdom – Isaiah 22:19-22). The keys not only represent authority, but also dynastic succession. This ensures the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17. And Jesus’ prayer for unity was answered indeed. It is only found in the Catholic Church. I pray that someday we will be united.
Josh: Dear John. Well, it’s been a while since I’ve responded. This is mostly because I’ve been busy with classes but partly because I don’t know exactly what to say. Before I go further, I do want to tell you that I was not avoiding anything with the question of the “keys.” I didn’t get into it because I forgot (it was a pretty long letter) and I’m sure I forgot because this, from and Orthodox point of view, has little to do with the See of Rome. The Orthodox Church has no problem as seeing Peter as First among Equals. I will point out however that these keys were also given, later on, to the other Apostles. But this is still beside the point. We simply do not see any Bishop as representing any Apostle. All Bishops are successors of Peter in that they, like the other apostles, share in his Divine Confession.
J. Salza: Again, Josh, the function of the “keys” is critical to this discussion. I will leave you to study that issue in more depth. You are incorrect when saying that the “keys were also given, later on, to the other Apostles.” There is no such teaching in Scripture. This, sorry to say, is a fabrication. In fact, your statement just shows that the “keys” pose a problem for you. You have to argue that the other apostles were given the keys (even though Scripture doesn’t say this) in order to mitigate Peter’s unique authority. If Jesus gave Peter alone the keys (which is true), then you have a big problem with your view that all the bishops are on equal footing. I hope you dig more deeply into this.
Josh: Now, I will never convince you of my points, and the truth is: this really doesn’t bother me. I have no desire for you to become Orthodox. Obviously if you were to say, Josh, I am becoming Orthodox, I would be giddy beyond all belief… but what I mean is that I don’t see you as a wayward Christian cut off from Apostolicity. I recognize your sacraments as fully valid, and you recognize mine (or you should) as such. Honestly John, we will never have a hierarchy that is completely unified. Some of this is due to pride on both sides; a lot of this is due to honest beliefs (about the Papacy, the Filioque, etc) that will just never be reconciled. But there is still hope, hope that we can at least move closer to intercommunion. Fr. Robert Taft (a Jesuit priest-monk) alludes to this. He is a bit crass, but it is only because he doesn’t mince words. You can see he has no agenda. He’s not “out to prove the Papacy” or to disprove it. He is just blunt about how he sees it (God bless the Jesuits J). Here’s the link: http://ncronline.org/mainpage/taft.htm I think you will find it interesting. It doesn’t really prove anything as far as the Papacy goes, but it’s still an interesting read.
Well, I should get going. My intention was not to offend you, but I do admit I was blunt at times. I don’t really want to beat around the bush and I think this is necessary for us to get to the point. Again, my purpose is not to persuade you to be Orthodox, only to show you that the issue is not that clear cut, and that conceding that point makes you no less a Catholic. I am Orthodox and become so more every day by the Grace of God… this is who I am, this is where I have been called to be. So I will tell you right now that I honestly am not going to give in on this. It’s important that you understand this so that I don’t mislead you in anyway. I just don’t want to give you false pretenses as if I were “seeking”. I am around very faithful Catholics on a weekly if not daily basis and next year I will be living with the leader of the Catholic Bible Study I attend. If I were to be compelled to become Catholic, it would certainly not be through any e-mails. I’m not trying to be pretentious, it’s just the truth. God has ample opportunity to call me Westward if He wishes and if that is so, I will make that difficult move. But these experiences (including this one) have only further confirmed my Orthodoxy. I entered this discussion that I might learn… and believe me, I’ve learned a lot. So, I don’t mind continuing this, but if you feel this is a waste of time and is void of any real purpose, that’s fine, you won’t offend or make me think less of you. If you decide, however, to continue corresponding, even if it’s just lighter stuff (or not), I look forward to future correspondence with you.
Have a Blessed and Powerful Holy Week.
J. Salza: Dear Joshua. Thank you for your message. I enjoy the dialogue and respect your traditions. Yes, you have valid orders and valid sacraments. The only issue I would have if I were you is the inconsistency of the Orthodox position on questions of morality, specifically, sexual morality. The Orthodox church has abandoned some of the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexual morality. The Orthodox, just like the Anglican, Lutheran, and other “protestant” branches of Christianity, have not stood with the Catholic Church on these very important issues that bear upon our salvation. Only the Catholic Church has maintained her teachings. That tells me that the Orthodox church, while invested with valid orders, has not been given the special charism of teaching faith and morals without err.
We can read all the books about doctrinal disputes between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church, but this ultimately comes down to faith. I believe that God is bound by His justice to provide a mechanism that will help us discern between truth and error. There is only one Church that has demonstrated this miraculous truth throughout her history – the Catholic Church. Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom and the power to bind and loose. Jesus chose ONE shepherd for his earthly Church. This should be no surprise to you. God always had one representative over His people throughout the Old Testament. Why would He do so for 5,000 years, only to establish His New and Everlasting Covenant kingdom among many different bishops, with no longer a visible head? This simply makes no sense. I would ask you to appeal to reason and history here, and not the academic or doctrinal questions our dialogue raises. The Orthodox church is simply not unified in teaching matters on faith and morals. This cannot be God’s plan for His people. God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.