Friday, May 1, 2009

Patristics: Polycarp of Smyrna, Part I

The third Father of the Church we will examine in our study of Patristics is Polycarp of Smyrna. What we know of Polycarp comes from his own writing as well as that of Ignatius (whom we already examined) and from the writings of Irenaeus (a student of Polycarp) who became a bishop and a Father of the Church in his own right in the Second Century. We also learn about Polycarp from an account of his martyrdom written by members of his church in Smyrna shortly after his death, which we will examine in greater detail later.

Polycarp was an Apostolic Father - a man who knew and conversed with one or more of the Apostles. As with his friend and fellow bishop Ignatius, Polycarp was a pupil of the Apostle John and was converted to the faith after hearing the preaching of the Apostles. Polycarp led the church of Smyrna in Asia Minor through the first half of the Second Century, until his death around the year 155. He wrote many letters during his time as bishop, but only one survives – that which he wrote to the church in Philippi.

Polycarp was born sometime around the year A.D. 69 and was well over eighty years old when he was martyred by being burned at the stake. As with his friend Ignatius, the long life of this Christian bishop, together with his first-hand knowledge of Apostolic teaching, makes Polycarp an invaluable witness to the Church’s foundational roots. Those who were taught by Polycarp throughout his tenure as bishop received authentic doctrine which Polycarp had received straight from the mouths of the Apostles themselves. Polycarp and Ignatius bridge the gap between the Age of the Apostles and the following centuries of persecution and hardship faced by the fledgling Church.

Polycarp also bears witness to the internal struggles of the Church as cultural differences between the East and West began to come to the fore. Irenaeus tells us of the controversy surrounding the date for the celebration of Easter. Those in the East, including Polycarp and his church in Smyrna, celebrated Christ’s Resurrection annually on the fourteenth day of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar, thus following the traditional time for sacrificing the Paschal Lamb in preparation for Passover. This meant that Easter could fall on any day of the week, depending on the lunar cycle for that year. Churches in the West (including Rome) celebrated Easter every year on the following Sunday so that the precise calendar date was not fixed. They felt that it was important to recall the Resurrection on the same day of the week on which Jesus rose and the same day on which Christians observe the Eucharistic meal.

Irenaeus, recounts that Polycarp was called to Rome around the year 150 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of Rome, concerning the date of the Easter celebration. The Roman pontiff hoped that Polycarp would change to the West’s observance of the Resurrection. But Polycarp resisted, insisting that he received his tradition from the Apostle John. In the end, neither bishop agreed to change the custom held by his respective church. Nonetheless, the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Smyrna parted on good terms and agreed to disagree on this matter. And so the East and West continued to keep differing dates for their celebration of Easter. (Interestingly, Irenaeus, although he was a student of Polycarp, abandoned the East’s practice, and embraced instead the Roman custom of Sunday Easter.)

At least three important conclusions can be drawn from this event. First it can be noted that Sunday had become such a fixed point of reference for Christian worship that in the West, despite a strong tradition otherwise in the East, Sunday worship determined the date for the observance of Easter. Polycarp, a staunch supporter of Apostolic Teaching did not dispute the West’s claim to Sunday worship, nor did he condemn Rome for observing Easter on this day. The two parties went their separate ways amicably. Certainly Polycarp could have chastised Anicetus and the Western churches for rejecting the fourteenth of Nisan celebration if it had been a key component of Apostolic Teaching as he understood it from the Apostle John, but he did not. Obviously Polycarp respected the Sunday observance as Rome’s prerogative regaurdless of the Apostle John’s teaching. Polycarp did not insist that the fourteenth of Nissan teaching should overrule the Roman bishop’s decision. This gives strong support to the early tradition within Christianity of Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Sunday worship was accepted by Polycarp as justification for Rome to decide the date of Easter for churches in the West.

This transference of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and the West’s practice of a Sunday Easter both support the idea of an authoritative Church in the early centuries of Christianity. There is no specific Biblical mandate for Sunday worship except a few passing remarks that seem to suggest the beginnings of such a tradition. We do though have the words of Ignatius on the subject (which we examined earlier) in which he insists that Sunday worship was the norm in First Century Christianity. And now we see that Polycarp, another student of the Apostles, accepted Sunday as the day of Easter for the Western churches even though he had received a different tradition from John. Apparently the Church had the authority to establish and modify the days of worship and annual liturgical celebrations, and Polycarp did not dispute the Roman bishop’s authority to maintain this practice, as he left Rome on good terms.

The second lesson we can take away from this Easter dispute is the position of honor held by Rome among the churches in the mid-Second Century. Here we have Polycarp, a well respected bishop, a man who received his training in the faith from the Apostles; he was converted by John, and was the first successor to the Apostle in Smyrna. He had been a companion to Ignatius (also highly regarded as a bishop and martyr) and shared in his friend’s prestige and renown. At the time he confronted Anicetus in Rome, he was an old man - around eighty years old – and as such, he served as one of the last remaining voices in the Church who could personally attest to the Apostles’ own preaching. But despite his prominent status and despite the frailty that came with his age and in spite of the perils of travel in those days, Polycarp made the long journey to Rome…Anicetus did not go to Smyrna.

It would seem rather odd that an aged witness to Apostolic Preaching would be required to make such a long and arduous trip at a time when Christians risked life and limb for their faith. Furthermore, by going to the city of Rome itself, the capitol and center of the Empire, the risks were surely heightened. Why would Anicetus, who was further removed from the Apostles than Polycarp (being the tenth successor to Peter), not travel to Smyrna out of respect for Polycarp’s position and age? Why should an Apostolic Father be expected to travel so far to meet with what would seem to be his junior in episcopal rank?

If we call to mind Ignatius’ words of praise for Rome written a few decades prior to this event, an answer begins to suggest itself. Ignatius described the Roman church in the following terms: “…worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love…” And so too, we should recall the letter written by Clement of Rome (the third bishop after Peter) to the Corinthians, in which he intervened in a dispute among the Christians there - seeming to invoke an authority to do so. At this early date, Rome’s influence was far-reaching and her honor and prestige widely acknowledged. Polycarp’s visit to the Roman Bishop (younger in age, but influential in his office) does not then seem so out of place. We have here a picture emerging of a Roman primacy acknowledged by the First and Second Century Christians, including Polycarp of Smyrna.

Our third observation we can arrive at after carefully considering the implications of our previous two conclusions. We have seen that the early Church relied on the witness of men like Polycarp and his testimony to Apostolic Teaching to pass on the authentic faith. But we have also noted that such teachings may result in conflicts and must be weighed one against another among the various traditions (such as the two competing dates for the celebration of Easter). Thus we can see that the Church has the task of sorting out which traditions are essential to the faith and which can be safely compromised. Also we have shown that bishops play an essential role in conferring with one another (as in the case of Polycarp and Anicetus) to arrive at a conclusion on matters of faith. But among these bishops, the Roman church has a place of honor that surpasses that of the other churches.

So our third and final conclusion must be that the function of the early Church closely resembles that of the Catholic understanding of ecclesiology, in its hierarchical structure as well as its reverence for Apostolic Tradition. It is the Church’s responsibility, specifically through the bishops in communion with
Peter's successor, to preserve the faith handed on from the Apostles and ensure unity among all believers and soundness of doctrine. In this event from the life of Polycarp we see that the Church has the authority to govern the worship of the Christian faithful. Diversity can still be found within the Catholic fold, but wherever such divergent practices exist we must travel with Polycarp to Rome, we must seek the council of Peter, and preserve the fraternal bond. Unity finds its center in Rome.

9 comments:

  1. Thomas,
    Hi!
    The Roman Churches theme of places of honor and elite standing seem to be great considerations for Catholics.

    When I read about those aspects I immediately think of the apostles constantly worrying about the same worldly concerns. "Which one of us will sit at your right hand? Can my sons sit at your right and left hand when you come into your kingdom?"

    Considerations such as this cause my hair to stand up on the back of my neck. It seems like such a vain mutation of the principals Christ taught.

    I also sense the echo's of the same proplem in the tiltles of the Pope you provide. Only the last one seems in line with Christs teaching and attitudes.

    Two hundred sixty-fourth successor to Peter, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Patriarch of the West, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Servant of the Servants of God.

    Certainly the last one is the truest representing the ideals of Christ.
    The ones previous are fraught with pride and self. Perhaps the churches long use of such terms played a part in some of the less nobel Popes we discussed on the other thread?

    Can you give us a sense of how humility and this pedigreed, pecking order of humanistic position relate to one another in your estimation?

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  2. Michael,

    I appreciate your questions…very well put.
    You asked, concerning the titles given to the pope: “Perhaps the church’s long use of such terms played a part in some of the less noble Popes we discussed on the other thread?”

    You may be correct. If the man bearing these titles puffs himself up with pride and arrogance because of them, then yes, it can lead to the kind of corruption that we discussed. If he let’s it go to his head it can cause great damage. On the other hand such titles can also lead to humility if the man holding that office sees the weight of these titles as his cross to bear, a burdensome responsability. It greatly depends on the character of the man in question (a point I made earlier).
    If someone says to you, “You are to be Christ’s representative on earth, and you will lead the Church in Peter’s stead,” you may react with pride and self-righteousness, as you suggested. However you may instead see in these titles the tremendous responsibility of such a role, and view it as a call to humble service. You may hear such titles applied to you and cringe that someone so small and insignificant would be given such a task. You would be a better man for the job if such was your reaction. These titles can serve to provoke such a response under the right circumstances and with the right man.
    Some popes have chosen poorly in how they react to this tremendous call. But we would not change the titles since they correctly identify the nature of the office throughout the history of the Church. We use these titles appropriately for the pope and hope that the man in that office humbles himself at the sound of each word.

    You asked further: “Can you give us a sense of how humility and this pedigreed, pecking order of humanistic position relate to one another in your estimation?”

    The pope is the Servant of the Servants of God. Primarily he is called to “serve” the Universal Church. (I agree with you when you point to that title as most appropriate.) All of the various other titles simply describe the nature of that service.
    The fact that he bears the greatest responsibility among all the servants (and we are ALL called to be servants) makes his position a high-profile post, to say the least. He receives so much attention, not because he (the MAN) is so important, but because his office (Successor to Peter) is so important in service to the Church. This duty that he assumes might, for our purposes (and to answer your question more directly), be viewed not as the man on the TOP of the heap standing on everyone else’s shoulders, but rather at the BOTTOM, holding everyone else up. It’s not exactly a coveted position if one approaches it with the proper humility and a view to Service. The Servant at the bottom must bear the weight of it all. The titles given to the pope ought to remind him (and us) that he is in a precarious position with the weight of so many souls resting on his pastoral care.
    Now Jesus tells us that “least” shall be “first.” Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then called them to do the same. He called for us to be humbled so that we might be raised up, and he calls on those who are raised up to humble themselves. This is one of the many paradoxes of Christianity.
    We exalt Christ (as well we should – He is the Son of God), but He in turn humbled Himself and made Himself low. If the titles we give to the pope make you cringe, then perhaps that makes them all the more appropriate. Perhaps they play on this paradox of Christian servitude - the paradox of Christ Himself. The lowest of the servants is raised up and in being raised up he should be brought low in his own mind. It is an interesting topic on which to meditate.
    (Also I would not call it a “HUMANISTIC position” since God established the Church, including the Petrine office.)

    You also commented: “When I read about those aspects I immediately think of the apostles constantly worrying about the same worldly concerns. ‘Which one of us will sit at your right hand? Can my sons sit at your right and left hand when you come into your kingdom?’”

    At the time these remarks were made the Apostles thought that Jesus had come to establish an earthly, Davidic kingdom. They thought He had come as a worldly Messiah. So the point of their questioning was rather off-track (and you are right to say that it was “worldly” of them). So, Jesus rebuked them, but He did not say that they would have NO share in His true Kingdom or that they would NOT hold positions of honor in the Church. Rather, Jesus clearly stated that they would share His glory: “...As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory that you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one.” (John 17 21-22)
    The “glory” of Christ is His to give and He gives it to His Church. If the Church shares in His glory, or if the popes, bishops, and priests serve as Christ’s representatives on earth and in that role they hold a place of honor, it is Christ’s authority that makes this so. If you perceive a “glory” or “honor” that seems unfitting for a mere human, perhaps it is Christ’s glory and honor shining through His Church – it is the glory that He said He would give to her. Those who are called to this ministry ought to bear this responsibility with deepest humility and allow Christ to shine through them. It is His glory...not theirs.

    Thomas

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  3. Very well put.
    Is it reality or public perception that if one were to ask the public, "Which person represents Christ the best or provides the clearest life picture of Christ, Pope (insert name) or Mother Teresa?

    When we have seen and witnessed the personal labor, humility and selflessness of Mother Teresa and contrast that with the uber royal treatment the Pope expects with people prostrating themselves and kissing his ring etc, which life speaks to you of the life of Christ (washing his apostles feet) and the apostles themselves, or the lavish life of the Popes?
    especially in light of what you wrote here?

    "Now Jesus tells us that “least” shall be “first.” Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then called them to do the same. He called for us to be humbled so that we might be raised up, and he calls on those who are raised up to humble themselves. This is one of the many paradoxes of Christianity."

    It sounds like we believe the same things scripturally, except possibly I see Mother Teresa as superior in nearly all respects to the Popes?

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  4. Michael,

    Frankly, I would agree that Mother Theresa is a better example of Christ's service to the poor and downtrodden than the pope is. I would be willing to bet that the pope would agree as well. Pope John Paul II had a great respect for Mother Theresa and her work; while both of them were still alive he met with her many times and held her up as an example of Christian love and service. She is a fine example of how the lay people in the Church are called to service and can be great instruments of Christ’s work, just as the ordained clergy are called to their own specific ministry. In fact many of the greatest Saints – ones who did the most good for their fellow men – were lay people like Mother Theresa.

    Two things I would point out...
    1) There are many types of service. The pope is called to a special type of service for the Universal Church. There is only one Successor to Peter at a time here on earth. Only one man fills that role, and he must follow that vocation where it leads him. It is unlikely that a pope would find himself in the streets of Calcutta serving food to a dying child unless he leaves his duties and goes there. He would have to vacate the Office of Peter. If he leaves his office then another must fill his shoes. SOMEONE would have to be in that position and so SOMEONE would be going about the work of “pope” and not feeding the poor. The role of Peter cannot be neglected. Each person has his or her own calling in life. Yet they all work together to make the Church function as she does. (We are all one Body, though many parts.)
    As a "Body," we support one another. The man or woman who is feeding the starving child in India is supported by those who supply the food, and by those who transport the food, and those who take up money at local parishes, and yes, they are even supported by the pope who uses his position of influence and authority to draw attention to that child and make it a priority that the Church focuses its efforts on doing more humanitarian work.
    It is difficult for us, from our limited perspective, to judge who is doing the greater service or who is neglecting their call from God. God calls us to different tasks and one of those tasks happens to be Successor to Peter.

    2) Also I would point out that there are different aspects of Jesus’ life to be imitated. Jesus certainly cared for the poor and oppressed. He called us to do the same. Obviously I agree that Mother Theresa exemplifies that calling better than the pope. But Jesus also called us to preach the Gospel. He called the Church to baptize and to convert all nations. He was a Teacher and He preached God’s Word to all who would listen. SOMEONE must carry on this mission as well.
    I would call to mind that Jesus was anointed before his death by a woman who used costly perfume that was worth a great deal of money. His Apostles complained that the money could have been used for the poor. But Jesus said that what the woman did should be praised, for she anointed Him in anticipation of His death. Catholics believe that the Eucharist (the bread and wine consecrated at Mass) become the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is His Real Presence here on earth. One of the primary functions of the priesthood (including the pope) is to provide the Eucharist and the other Sacraments for the faithful. Many priests and bishops, as well as the pope, are unable to do the work of a Mother Theresa, but they are busy about the Lord’s work nonetheless. They are tending to His “Body” in other ways. They serve the Church in their own vocation and bring Christ to us in the Eucharist so that we can go about our work as members of His Body, the Church.
    I can promise you that Mother Theresa received the Eucharist from a priest who was not called to do the same work she was called to do. She did not question his vocation. I would imagine she thanked God for his service...as she also thanked God for the service of the Pope.

    Thomas

    Thomas

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  5. While what you say is undoubtedly true, I would however, contemplate a different faucet.
    There are different jobs and Popes cant work in the slums of Calcutta, but that only tangentially addresses my question.
    I believe it is possible to do the work in that position humbly as Mother Teresa would do it.
    That is to say, dont focus on the job, but how the job is done.
    If we used as a hypothetical how a Popes day starts out and compare it to how Mother Teresas day started out we might better grasp what I mean.
    Mother Teresa gets up early and prays, makes her own bed, washes herself, dresses herself, cooks her own breakfast, washes her own clothes etc.
    The Pope rises every morning, prays, and is waited on hand and foot in every respect as did the Kings of old. Others do everything I mentioned above, for him.
    Once ready to go to work, Mother Teresa walks to her workplace opening her own doors, greeting people as she goes.
    The Pope walks to his office with others opening the doors and prostrating themselves in a long processional greeting him.

    Both of these people have yet to actually do a thing job related but, what a difference in attitude and humility already right?

    To perceive of it as only different people do different jobs is to misunderstand what I am admittedly poorly attempting to convey.

    On another note. I guess I have always been curious about Catholics belief in the Eucharist to actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus.

    As I understand it, the Eucharist changes when you swallow it, is that correct?
    If so, a person who had recently left mass and had a car wreck needing surgery to the stomach area could find out if he actually had human flesh in his stomach, or on a more experimental level, one could simply eat it and then have their stomach pumped to prove or disprove that belief couldn't they?

    What if this was done and it was repeatedly proved that there was nothing more than crackers and wine in there? Would that cause a rethink in your belief?

    Also what about the cannibalistic aspects of the belief?

    Thanks Thomas for your time.

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  6. Michael,

    When you say: “don’t focus on the job, but how the job is done.” – I think I now get your meaning. And I would reply: “The jobs are done differently because the jobs themselves are different.”

    The pope is treated a certain way (and I admit it is very strange to someone who is not accustomed to seeing it) because he bears the office of Peter. And Peter was called to represent Christ as the Shepherd of the flock here on earth (“…tend my sheep…feed my lambs”). There is only one Successor to Peter…there can be many who do the work of a Mother Theresa…but we single out the pope because Christ singled out Peter. The pope is a central figure and his office was appointed by Christ. He bears the “keys.” When we reverence the pope we are not revering the man, but the office established by Jesus and the power bestowed by God. We recognize Christ’s glory which He Himself said He would impart to His Church.

    Admittedly, much of the pomp and ceremony surrounding the pope is a carry-over from European aristocracy - as you would see surrounding a monarch. It looks very strange to American eyes, since we have never had a king or queen. But ceremony and protocol are ways that humans have always expressed a common sense of respect and dignity in public settings. Considering the history of the papacy it is understandable how this came to be.

    You may say that this is too much focus on one man…too much attention given to the “person,” when he is not even exerting himself…he’s not even lifting a finger and people flock to him and treat him with such respect because of the office he holds. The best Scriptural parallel I can give off the top of my head is the following: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:11-13)

    Now it was not Paul himself who did anything, it was God. God called Paul to a specific mission and as his fame spread, people came just to touch him because of God’s power that was present with him. According to this passage, Paul did not even do anything in some cases – he simply allowed the people to flock to him as they offered a simple gesture of touching a cloth to his body.

    Now I am NOT claiming that a pope has the power to heal the way Paul did!!! I am not drawing a direct comparison. But the pope does have a specific call from God to fill a certain office. If the people flock to him and offer certain gestures that recognize God’s institution of that office, if people have developed a common practice or ceremony that points to God’s power that is in the Church through the office of Peter, then it has some similarity to this Biblical account of people singling out Paul as a passive instrument of God. The pope is a specific instrument of God and his office has had many customs that surround it and point to that divine purpose. Sometimes (as with Paul) we are not called to DO anything, but to simply make our presence felt among other Christians. Many times the pope’s role is simply to be the visible sign of Peter’s leadership and our ceremonies support that idea.

    (It would also help you to understand that LITURGY and liturgical ceremony are key components of Catholic faith, and much of what you see surrounding the pope reflects that very physical attitude Catholics have of expressing their faith.)

    As for whether the pope dresses himself…I’m pretty sure he puts his clothes on himself. He’s a big boy. He probably ties his own shoes and gives himself a bath too. ;)
    I am also certain that the pope rises early and attends or says Mass. He participates in the Liturgy of the Hours and frequently offers or participates in many religious retreats. He meets with many political and religious figures and preaches God’s Word every day. It’s not as though he goes to some throne room each morning, after sleeping in and having a late breakfast, and waits for people to kiss his ring all day. (So your hypothetical “day in the life of a pope” may be more than a little exaggerated. Also I am not sure that Mother Theresa cooked her own food or did her own laundry. You’ve made some big assumptions about both of these people.)

    Also I would say that Mother Theresa followed the protocol of meeting with the pope whenever she visited Rome. She bowed and kissed his ring and respected his office in every way that I mentioned above. Somehow she saw no contradiction (as you do) between her work and the work of the pope. Obviously many Catholic saints have done the same as she, without seeing a problem. There is a recognition among Catholics that the role of the pope is distinct from any other person in the Church. The ceremonies directed toward the pope point to this specific mission and allow people to publicly display their faith in God’s ministry through this man.

    Again I would stress: Different jobs (or “vocations,” to be more precise) often entail different protocol, different schedules, different responsibilities, different associations within society, and altogether different lifestyles and living arrangements.

    [Continued below...]

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  7. Now on to your questions on the Eucharist:

    “As I understand it, the Eucharist changes when you swallow it, is that correct?”

    No. The bread and the wine are transformed into the Body and Blood during the Eucharistic prayer spoken by the priest at Mass. (The precise moment of this change is a matter of theological debate. In other words, precisely WHICH “words” during the prayer actually invoke Christ’s Presence is an unsettled matter. I don’t really have the space to elaborate on that, unless you would like to take on a new topic for a different thread.)
    It will have to suffice to say that the Body and the Blood are present at Mass BEFORE the faithful receive Communion. When we approach the altar for Communion the priest (or other minister) says, “The Body of Christ” – meaning this is the true Body of Christ – even before we receive it onto our tongue. The presence of Christ is there before we receive it and He remains there even in those consecrated pieces that are left over after Communion. Those pieces of the Body are then reserved in the Tabernacle (usually a small ornate box somewhere on the altar) and can be used to give Communion to the sick or anytime Communion is received outside of Mass.

    “What if….there was nothing more than crackers and wine in there? Would that cause a rethink in your belief?”

    When Catholics say we believe in the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist we do not mean that the molecules of bread and wine are changed into the cells and tissue of human flesh and blood. That has never been the teaching of the Church. The molecular structure remains the same. In every respect the Eucharist will appear as though it is unchanged – it looks and tastes just like bread and wine and science will back that up.
    So if scientists examined the Eucharist and told me that it is still bread and wine I would not be surprised, nor would my faith in be shattered. It would only confirm what I already know. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, and that appearance is down to the very molecule.
    (Again I do not have the space to go on about the theological reasoning or the history of this belief. It is called “transubstantiation.” We can start a new thread some time when you are finished about he pope.)

    “Also what about the cannibalistic aspects of the belief?”

    If Jesus said for us to eat His Flesh and Blood, then that is good enough for me. It is not cannibalism because it is not “materialistically” flesh and blood, but is “sacramental” in nature. The Sacramental eating of Christ’s Flesh is different than the actual consuming of his human body…that would be disgusting, and against God’s law. (All of this could be discussed in greater detail on another thread.)

    Thank you for your questions,
    Thomas

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  8. That makes sense to me as well. It is a difficult line to walk to say the Eucharist is at the same time both literal and symbolic isnt it? I think you did a good job at explaining it.

    Again thanks for your insights and helpful attitude. I learned a few things I didnt know and others I didnt know quite right. Thanks.

    And you are also right that my examples of a day in the life made great assumptions, but I was hoping that you would get what I was trying to get to, and I think you did.

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  9. Thank you Michael.
    I agree that at first I kind of missed your point a little, but I see where you're coming from now.

    Just for the record, I will say that there are many ceremonies and customs surrounding the papacy that are troublesome to some non-Catholics and these could be modified or even done away with. Some of these were changed after the Second Vatican Council in a spirit of renewal in the Church, and the papacy is much more open and closer to the people than it has been in times past.

    I personally always liked the pomp and ritual that is associated with the pope because it gives a sense of history, and it allows Catholics around the world to cross language barriers by participating in a shared tradition of gestures and ceremony that gives us a common bond. The pope is a symbol of our unity and the ritual unites us further.

    It's kind of like the protocol surrounding the President of U.S. If we removed the ceremony it would be a sloppy mess to watch a State of the Union Address or any State function where no-one knows who is supposed to go where and what's supposed to come next. The ritual sets the schedule and gives the event its form. When a President meets a foreign dignitary or performs some other official act, the ritual unites us in one man. He represents all of us. And as we watch that event unfold, everybody knows what is happening because we have all seen the ritual before. The ritual draws us in and allows us to participate.

    Obviously one difference is that the U. S. has been around a little over 200 years whereas the Catholic Church has been here for nearly 2000...so you can imagine how much more ritual has built up over that time.

    Thanks again for your comments. Someday I will post something on the Eucharist. It is a fascinating topic and I love to study it. It is the "source and summit" of our Catholic Faith, as they say. I'm not sure when I will be posting that, but probably in the next month or so.

    God bless,
    Thomas

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