Saturday, May 27, 2006

Lecture 2: Apostolic Succession - First Persecution

The semester is buzzing right along. Prior to this section's readings, I was familiar with some of the material, but Daniel-Rops does an excellent job of fleshing out the details and build a coherent picture of the Church in the early second century.

What is the meant by apostolic authority at this time?

Apostolic authority was originally the authority given to the twelve apostles by Christ himself. Shortly after the Pentecost and the establishment of the Church in Jerusalem, it became an authority that could be transmitted from one apostle to other disciples of Christ, exemplified primarily by the selection of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the twelve, and secondarily by the selection of seven others (deacons) who would play roles different than the twelve. In Acts 6, we see the precursor of the Rite of Ordination, which becomes the means by which the twelve bestow authority on others to teach and lead the local churches.

As time went on and the Church spread, there needed to be more people who could represent the apostles and teach with their authority. Those who were granted authority to preside over the Eucharist and to be the local leaders were called bishops, from the Greek word episcopos (meaning overseer). These bishops exercised apostolic authority with a constraint: their authority was restricted to a locale. Roman administrative authority was to be useful here, as the regions as part of the Roman Empire already had an administrative structure. Each region controlled by a specific city was a diocese (Greek word equivalent to the Latin terms, ager or territorium. While an apostle had a certain widespread authority, bishops help authority only within their diocese. This constraint was with one notable exception, the See of Peter.

What kind of evidence is available for such authority in these first years?

The earliest example of transferring apostolic authority is in Acts 1 with the selection of Matthias. The term bishop occurs in some of Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, and in 1 Peter, depending on the translation. However, there are elders (presbyters) in these local churches, and these clearly have some authority. Paul specifically refers to bestowing this authority on Timothy by "the imposition of my hands" (2 Tim. 6) and "imposition of the hands of the priesthood" (1 Tim 4).

The problem here is that there are very few historical sources for the period between 70 AD and 90 AD, which appears to be the time in which the episcopal hierarchy develops. What can be confirmed is that by 90 AD, this hierarchy existed uniformly in all of the churches: bishops, who exercised apostolic authority over a diocese, presbyters, who were other elders or teachers in the local church, and deacons, who served ate the Eucharist next to the bishop and were responsible for some administrative functions.

How do Clement and Ignatius contribute to the development of the papal office?

Clement was the third successor of Peter, or the fourth Bishop of Rome. Aside from Peter, he's the only one of the first-century popes we know anything about, possibly due to the tumultuous conditions of the first persecution. The letter he wrote to the Corinthians has been given numerous dates, from 80 AD (according to William Jurgens) to close to the end of his life around 100 (according to Philip Scharf). What's important about this document is that it was written in response to what must've been a request from the church in Corinth to the Bishop of Rome for intervention. This point is important for several reasons:

- Corinth had its own bishop, who apparently could not satisfactorily resolve the situation.

- St. John, the last living apostle, was living in Ephesus at the time. Ephesus was considerably closer to Corinth, so it would've been easier to send to St. John for intervention, if that were St. John's authority or prerogative.

- The letter makes it clear that the writer believes that he has the right and/or obligation to intervene in matters of faith.

Clement's authority derives from his see, the See of Peter. Unlike other bishops whose authority was limited by their local, Clement's authority as the Bishop of Rome clearly extended beyond the limits of the diocese of Rome.

St. Ignatius was a contemporary of Clement's, a Bishop of Antioch, the second successor of Peter at Antioch, and is widely accepted to be a disciple of St. John, along with St. Polycarp. During the reign of Trajan, Ignatius was condemned to die in the arena in Rome. In transit, he wrote seven letters, in gratitude for the churches of the seven cities where he stopped along the way. In his epistle to the Romans, he requests that the Christians in Rome do nothing to interfere with his martyrdom, for which he is most eager. He notes that he cannot command them as Peter and Paul could, indicating that although he is a bishop, that he has no jurisdiction over Christians in Rome.

So, in Clement's case, we have a bishop who clearly asserts his authority over a diocese far away. With Ignatius, we have a bishop who does not. I think it's interesting, though, to note that both the See of Rome and the See of Antioch were founded by Peter. You argue that both bishops had equal claim to being in the See of Peter. Nonetheless, it's clear that Clement considered himself within the bounds of his authority to intervene in matters in another diocese, while Ignatius did not.

How was Christianity a threat to Rome? What does this say about the Church?

Christianity posed several threats to Rome by virtue of Its belief in a single creator God. First, as a clear outsider to the pagan religions of the Roman empire, Christianity set itself at odds with the followers of those other religions. Whereas a certain amount of syncretism could be allowed by these pagan believers, no such compromise could be allowed by the Christian, despite whatever superficial similarities might exist. Christians rejected the practices of these others and set themselves apart from the rest of the population. This, on its own, wasn't new. The Jews had lived in a similar fashion for centuries. The primary difference is that Jews didn't try to convert gentiles. Christians in the early Church believed it to be their calling to convert others, to spread the good news. By rejecting the customs of these pagan populations and actively proselytizing, they threatened to reduce the number of pagans in a local population, hence they threatened the economic base of those who made livings selling livestock for slaughter or selling graven images for worship.

Second, because they worshipped the one true God and not the pantheon of civil gods of the Romans, they denied to Rome what Rome believed was its due. Rome had a policy of tolerance toward other religions, and Eastern mystery cults were quite popular with the cosmopolitan Roman population (that is, those wealthy enough to have time for such things). Rome wasn't concerned about pagan religions because they didn't have a problem taking part in the civil festivals and the cult of worship. However, Christians were suspect because they did not hold the civil gods in esteem. They created a division in society that could be exploited by others (including internal opponents of the emperor), and they appeared to respect some other authority above Rome.

Third, this authority that Christians believed in was eternal, beyond life and death. Rome had a few useful tools for gaining compliance: death, exile, torture. However, these were all temporal means of compulsion. For those Christians who lacked faith, these means might be useful. But for those fervent believers who ran headlong rejoicing into martyrdom, these temporal compulsions meant only a quicker release to be with God. What's more, the former weren't the threat. No one is converted by weakness in faith. Ardor and passion for one's beliefs make converts. So the very means by which Rome kept its people in check was the very thing that created more converts to this new faith.

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