20 January 2008

On the Church

[I repost this comment from the Blog of Concord site in answer to some questions my brother-in-law inquired about upon reading AC V. I hope they will be helpful to others too.]

The current Bishop of Rome published these words in 1986. They have a familiar ring to them: "Luther did not have in mind founding a Lutheran Church. For him the focus of the concept of the Church was to be found in the congregation. For relationships that transcended the congregation, in view of the logic of developments at that time, one depended as far as organization was concerned on the political structure, in other words on the princes. Thus there arose the *Land* or provincial Churches in which the political structure took the place of the structure of its own which the Church lacked. Much has changed in this field sinc 1918, but the Church continues to exist in provincial Churches which are then united in Church federations. It is obvious that when the concept Church is applied to this kind of accidental historical formation the word takes on a different meaning from that which is envisaged in the case of the expression 'Catholic Church'. Provincial Churches are not 'Church' in the theological sense but organizational forms of Christian congregations which are empirically useful or even necessary but which can be swapped for other structures. Luther was only able to transfer Church structures to the princedoms because he did not regard the concept of the Church as established in these structures. But for Catholics, on the contrary, the Catholic Church, that is the community of the bishops among themselves and with the pope, is as such something established by the Lord which is irreplaceable and cannot be swapped for anything else." (*Church, Ecumenism, and Politics* p. 114, 115)

What I think the present Bishop of Rome correctly understands in this is that to Lutherans polity is not a matter divinely mandated, not a matter on which the Church's existence hangs. Lutherans now are and have in the past lived in utterly disparate polities - and this does not hinder the recognition of a shared faith. Thus, for example, right now the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is in communio in sacris with the Archbishop of Latvia and the parishes and priests and bishops that he superintends.

What I am not sure the present Bishop of Rome understands is HOW for "Luther the concept of Church was to be found in the congregation."

For Luther and for the Lutheran Church first and foremost the Church "is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd." SA III, XII:2 This is in perfect accord with the Apology's assertion: "at its core, it [the Church] is a fellowship of faith and the Holy Spirit in hearts." Ap VII/VIII:5 Thus while the marks which locate the Church are invariably bound up with local congregations, the Church so understood is "no Platonic state, as some wickedly charge. But we do say that this Church exists: truly believing and righteous people, scattered throughout the world." Ap VII/VIII:20.

The Church is not then congregations, but congregation. The singular in AC 7 is vital. The Church is NOT in the Lutheran understanding a series of unrelated congregations. The Church is rather "the congregation of saints" among whom the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. Not enough thought is given to the force of that singular: *congregatio sanctorum* in Latin, but even more explicit auf Deutsch *die Versammlung ALLER Gläubigen.* This is to look at the Church from the view afforded in the Revelation of St. John.

The Church is the one assembly of all believers. It is not many local assemblies, but ONE assembly. And the reality that is confessed behind this is that what the local congregation manifests is never merely community with a broad spectrum of similar-minded folk alive now. No. The congregation manifests the assembly of ALL believers. When we worship together, gathered in the Divine Name and receiving the saving Gospel and interceding for the world, and partaking of the Lamb's Feast, we are not present with some piece, some miniscule fraction of the Church. We are present with the whole of it. Hebrews 12 bears this out when it describes what you have come to when you gather as Church, where there is the blood that speaks a better word than Abel's. But it is also shown in numerous other ways in the Sacred Scriptures. Find Jesus the Lord, the Head of the Body, and you will invariably find not pieces, but the whole of the Body with Him.

When Paul directs the Corinthians to excommunicate a man, he assures them that he will be there with them in s[S?]pirit. When John is worshipping on Patmos, the veil is drawn back and he finds that he is not worshipping alone, but with the whole Church. When in the confiteor at Compline we confess "to almighty God before the whole company of heaven and to you my brothers and sisters" you should not be thinking that "brothers and sisters" are only those you can see in the room. The Church remains whole, one, indivisible, and entire. It is the assembly SINGULAR, the congregation SINGULAR of all believers. To come together as Church [1 Cor. 11] and partake of the Eucharist is to be manifest that we are NOT one of many, but ONE Body.

This is a reality which by its very nature must be believed and cannot be seen. But it is confessed and manifested in the Scriptures and in the liturgy. "Holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd." What this means for the ecumenical task is not resignation to the mess that now is, but it does mean that we are given the responsibility of manifesting rather than creating this churchly unity, for the churchly unity always will be and remain a gift given by God the Holy Spirit as He binds hearts to Jesus Christ and so one another and brings us into unity with the inner communion of the Blessed Trinity.

In that sense, remembering the definition of Church that Luther was working with, the congregation was indeed the locus of his thought on "church." How could it be otherwise?


Andy said...


Gregory House said...

n that sense, remembering the definition of Church that Luther was working with, the congregation was indeed the locus of his thought on "church." How could it be otherwise?

Mr. Cascione's prayers to Walther for you availeth much!


Doug said...

Ok, but how about some straight short answers to these questions:
So, this raises quite a few "Who is "us"" questions:
(1) Does this mean that confessional Lutherans cannot consider Roman Catholics or Baptists (among others) as part of the holy Christian Church?
(2) If they aren't part of the "holy Christian Church" what are they? In what sense are they "us"?
(3) Do you really have to hold (1) to be a confessional Lutheran and to be ordained in the LCMS?
(4) How does this make confessional Lutherans different from all the other Christian sects (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, fundy baptists) who claim they are the only real Christians?
(5) Where does this leave me as a baptized attender of an LCMS church who has a broader view of what Christ's church is?

orrologion said...

I repost this comment...

I read this the first time or two as "I RIPOSTE this comment...", which confused me as I kept reading. That's what armed stage combat classes with rapier and dagger will do to a man.

Joshua said...

What is said of the Church as the one congregation of believers, presumably instantiated in individual congregations, sounds to me quite what the Catholic position would also be, although it would probably be described in terms of the one ecclesia manifested as many ecclesiae.

Cardinals Ratzinger and Kasper had a famous argument over whether the one church (one congregation of all the faithful) or the many churches (local congregations) be ontologically prior, in the last years before the former was elected Pope. With due respect to the formidable argumentation of the latter, it seemed to me obvious that the Church, those called into unity out from the world (as the Greek word suggests) must of necessity be one: does not Christ the Good Shepherd have but one flock?

Consider that con-gregatio means those shepherded (gregare) together into one flock (grex); or, to use another synonym, the "convocation" is that group called together (con-vocare), and thus very close in meaning to ek-klesia, those called out together (called out from what? from the wicked world, massa damnata, kingdom of darkness, etc.) - and this of course hearkens back to the qahal YHWH. Another parallel term would be synaxis, tho' I forget its exact meaning at present.

The true crux of the different viewpoint is Ratzinger's statement about Catholics perceiving that the communion of the episcopal college throughout the world, in union with the earthly head of that college, the bishop of Rome, is an essential rather than accidental element of the true assembly of the Christian faithful.

If the Lutheran pastor be seen as having the fulness of the ordained ministry (whereas the Catholic interpretation is that priests, functionally equivalent in this sense, are of the second rank in the threefold sacrament of orders; a Catholic bishop would then appear as the equivalent of a Lutheran pastor in these terms), and further that any local congregation must have a pastor, else they are sheep without a shepherd (tho' of course even these are still shepherded by Christ, Who would nonetheless mercifully desire to give them shepherds after His own Heart), then one could consider the congregations of Lutherans in communion among themselves as parallel in structural terms to the Catholic dioceses in their communion, or indeed with Eastern Orthodox dioceses in theirs. (The parallel would be Lutheran parish with Catholic/Orthodox diocese.)

The other difference would be that, while obviously each of these parallel structures would claim to share unity in faith, the Catholic communion holds itself to be kept together by one bishop whose special task it is, according to the Catholic interpretation of Scripture, to teach and define the Faith, etc., in addition to (but professedly in the service of) a fixed doctrinal standard (the Deposit of Faith), whereas the Orthodox and Lutheran models tend to utilize a synodal model, always proclaiming adherence to some fixed doctrinal standard (the Ecumenical Councils &c. for the former, the BOC etc. for the latter).

So it comes back to the Papal claims as usual.

William Weedon said...

(1) Does this mean that confessional Lutherans cannot consider Roman Catholics or Baptists (among others) as part of the holy Christian Church?

No, confessional Lutherans recognize that the one Church subsists in many ecclesiastical structures. Wherever the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bind hearts to Christ in saving faith, there is the Church.

(2) If they aren't part of the "holy Christian Church" what are they? In what sense are they "us"?

They are parts of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church; but this one Church is, like everything else that must be believed, not seen, but declared by the Word of God to be.

(3) Do you really have to hold (1) to be a confessional Lutheran and to be ordained in the LCMS?

If you held that Lutherans alone ARE the Church, you COULDN'T be ordained in the Missouri Synod - for you'd be holding to a false teaching about the Church.

(4) How does this make confessional Lutherans different from all the other Christian sects (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, fundy baptists) who claim they are the only real Christians?

Lutherans specifically renounce the notion that they alone are the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Here's how Krauth said it so well:

"The Lutheran Church does claim that it is God's truth which she confesses and that by logical necessity regards the deviations from the doctrines of the Confession as deviations from divine truth, *but she does not claim to be the whole Church.* 'The Christian Church and Christian holiness, both name and thing, are the common possession of all churches and Christians in the world.' It is enough for her [the Lutheran Church] to know that she is a genuine part of it, and she can rejoice and does rejoice, that the Saviour she loves has his own true followers in every part of Christendom. She says: 'The Catholic Church consists of men scattered throughout the world, from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof." She unchurches none of other names, even though they may be unsound. It is not her business to do this. They have their Master, to whom they stand or fall. She protests against error; she removes it by spiritual means from her own midst; but she judges not those who are without. God is her judge and theirs, and to Him she commits herself and them."

(5) Where does this leave me as a baptized attender of an LCMS church who has a broader view of what Christ's church is?

I think the broader view of the Church you have is actually the Lutheran view. The Preface to the BOC notes: "It is by no means our will and intent, in the condemnation of false and impious doctrines, to condemn those who err from simplicity, and who do not blaspheme the truth of God's Word. Still less do we wish to condemn WHOLE CHURCHES either within the bounds of the German Empire or beyond it,... for we entertain no doubt whatever that many pious and good people are to be found in those churches also, which to this time have not thought in all respects with us; persons who walk in the simplicity of their hearts..."

This last was in response to the horrible massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day that all but destroyed the French Calvinists.

William Weedon said...


David Schütz pointed out that same parallel a bit ago to me. I think it is quite fascinating and appears to be accurate. The Lutheran parish tends to equate with the Roman/Eastern diocese in that way. Which gets to the famous quip by the Anglican Reginald Fuller in the Lutheran/Episcopal dialog: The problem with Lutherans is not that they don't have bishops; it's that they have too many of them. ;)

orrologion said...

The Lutheran parish tends to equate with the Roman/Eastern diocese...

Doesn't this comparison break down when one looks at a city with more than one congregation, e.g., Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis, etc.? In such cities, the "one city, one bishop" rule that Chris Jones has often brought up re the almost universally acknowledged uncanonical, temporary status of multiple 'jurisdictions' Orthodox jurisdictions in the West - and which is central to the traditional structuring of the episcopacy, and as part of its distinction from the presbytery - breaks down IF Lutherans really do think of the local pastor along the lines of an historically understood episkopos.

What of congregational church models in Germany and Scandinavia and how they structure authority between multiple churches, each with their own 'bishop', in the same city? Wouldn't the comparison then be more one between the District President and the bishop? But how does that square then with the understanding that the office of local pastor is the only divinely mandated office?

William Weedon said...


Certainly it's not an exact parallel, but it is striking on a number of levels. It certainly fails on the point of the "one city, one bishop" rule.

Lutherans, of course, acknowledge the divine institution of both the congregation and the office of the ministry. But no Lutheran sees in the church-established office of oversight (however it is executed) a divinely established office in its own right - but an extension of the divinely instituted pastoral office in the service of the same Gospel that that office is given to proclaim. That Jerome stuff again.

I'd argue that this whole thing ends up revolving around this core reality: it is at the altar that the Church is manifested in her fullness. The East, it seems to me, seeks to safeguard and preserve this ancient understanding by the fact that the bishop is the authority behind every Eucharistic celebration - the antimension bears witness to this upon every altar (except the bishop's own, I suppose?). The Lutheran approach, though, simply recognizes that the primary content of "bishop" in the most ancient sense was the regular celebrant of the Eucharist in the local assembly, the man who could "hunt them up by name" and summon them to the one Table. Times changes, and the Roman and Orthodox expedient was to transform the office of bishop and leave a symbolic link that testifies to what used to be; the Lutherans just recognized the fullness of the church and the office IN that local assembly.

orrologion said...

Ignatius' comment (paraphrased) that where the bishop is, there is the Eucharist presents an important point that seems to be the reverse of what you are saying. The bishop is not biship because he serves the Eucharist, the Eucharist is Eucharist only when served by (or with the permission of) the bishop. Or, the bishop makes the Eucharist not the Eucharist a bishop.

Pr. Lehmann said...


Do you really think that the bishop makes the eucharist?

orrologion said...

Well, I don't believe someone can just follow the script and blocking of the Divine Liturgy or Mass and create a valid Eucharist. I am pointing out more a point regarding Ignatius and other Fathers who say that only where the bishop is, is there a true Eucharist. So, in this sense alone does the bishop 'make' the Eucharist. Presumably, there were communities acting apart from the one, local bishop with whom alone there is "the Eucharist".

I would never mean to imply that the bishop according to his own strength and power, ability, etc. 'makes' the Body and Blood of Christ - that would be nonsense. The Orthodox Divine Liturgy is distinctively very clear on the fact that it is the Holy Spirit Who comes down on the gifts and all those present "changing" them into the Body and Blood of Christ.

orrologion said...

The obverse corollary to your question would be "Do you really think that the [words of institution alone] make the eucharist?" Of course you don't believe that: it is God Himself Who you believe 'makes' your Holy Communion through His promise and command in the Words of Institution, not the words themselves.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I'm not sure I would disagree with your obverse corollary. If they are the Lord's Words, they do what they say because the Lord is speaking them.

It's ridiculous to imagine the Lord's words apart from the Lord. I am totally comfortable with saying that the Lord's words do it.

William Weedon said...

Just to clarify: Lutherans don't believe that just anyone who "performs" the liturgy makes a Eucharist either. It is the called and ordained (and they alone) who are authorized in the Lutheran Church to celebrate the Sacrament (any practice to the contrary is simply an abuse and violation of the Symbols).

Back to the point, though, do you have Schmemann's *Church, World, Mission*? See especially the article in there on conciliarity (pp. 159ff.). I really thinks he unpacks very helpfully how the Orthodox got from where it began to where they are, and his reflections are not without import for a Lutheran pondering how we got where we are. I find especially important this: "To explain the change in the priest's status only in terms of 'delegated power', as is done by the supporters of 'episcopalism' a outrance, to reduce, in other words, the priest to the position of a bishop's delegate, is simply impossible. The priest is ordained to the priesthood and not to be a delegate and this means that he has the priesthood of the Church *in his own right.*" (emphasis mine)

Pr. Lehmann said...

When question, of course, is "When is the Lord speaking?"

orrologion said...

So, anyone, regardless of belief or proper call, that recites the Lord's words over bread and wine 'do' a proper Eucharist?

I was really just making the point that word play and over literalism in what I wrote were (obviously) not my point.

Pr. Lehmann said...

So, anyone, regardless of belief or proper call, that recites the Lord's words over bread and wine 'do' a proper Eucharist?


As I said: The question is "when is the Lord speaking?"

Though I will say without reservation that the belief of the celebrant is irrelevant to whether it's a true sacrament.

Having said all that: the words themselves do it.

orrologion said...

Fr. Schmemann is correct that a priest "has the priesthood of the Church *in his own right*", he just can't excercise it validly and efficaciously apart from his bishop. This seems similar to the requisite ordination and call required for a valid and efficacious Lutheran Eucharist - it's the same words, same bread and wine, perhaps even the same eucharistic theology, but without an ordination and call, it is no Eucharist. I'm thinking this same matrix could be applied to our differing understandings of other sacraments and the requirements of 'validity'.

Pr. Lehmann said...

The phrase "valid and efficacious" has no place in Lutheran sacramental theology. It is the Sacrament or it is not the Sacrament. If it is the Sacrament it does all that the Lord promises that the Sacrament does. If it is not the Sacrament it does not do what the Lord promises it would do if it were the Sacrament.

William Weedon said...

I was going to point out the same thing about "validity." It's colored with a freight that the Lutheran Symbols avoid (though Tappert's translation let it slip in - along with other naughties).

orrologion said...

I'm not trying to argue a point, but simply making an observation. I think you understand the points I have been making and don't want to get into word games. Pr. Weedon could likely help with any further questions you have re my meaning.

I'm not as up as I once was on Lutheran terminology (and my BOC is Tappert, so perhaps I can be forgiven), I was just getting at the line between "is the Sacrament" or "is not the Sacrament".

William Weedon said...


I think what we're dancing around here, and what it always seems to come back to, is the question of the who and the how of the authorization which "backs up" the Sacraments (and for that matter the proclamation of the Word) so that we know and rejoice that the Lord stands behind them. The authority question remains a biggy in the Orthodox / Lutheran divide. What we are both agreed on is that there MUST be authorization. What we do not agree on is how and by whom that authorization is bestowed/transmitted (whatever verb works there).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

If I can bring up a point - Ignatius states that the one "safe" Eucharist is the one that is done by the Bishop or the one whom the bishop designates. It is safe - it is done by the right person for the right reasons - and therefore where one ought to be.

The sense that I get reading Ignatius is that for him the Bishop is not the cause of anything, but rather the fixed point for order in the Church. Rather than simply drifting and trying to find where the Church is, one sees the bishop - and by ordering (submitting - which is a word of order and arraignment rather than mere obedience) oneself under the Bishop, one is turn lined up rightly with God.

The question for Ignatius isn't "do people other than the bishop have the sacrament" but rather - don't go there because you aren't going to be safely pointed to God there. Different dynamic - validition or reality of the Sacrament isn't an issue.

I'd offer the 25 page paper I wrote on Ignatius and Order - but my computer died and ate it.

William Weedon said...

And, if we assume the Didache (which I think a number of scholars hold does arise in Antioch) and Ignatius (assuming the authenticity of the letters) were acquainted. The "bishop" of whom he speaks does not come TO the congregation from elsewhere, but apparently arises from within it and is appointed BY the congregation. (Chapter 15)

Past Elder said...

When I was a kid in the 1950s, I had a Mass play set and used to dress up in it and "say Mass". (I suppose the real idea was to get a boy thinking about becoming a priest when he grows up.)

But aside from being a kid, what made what I did not a Mass in reality, or in other words, if I did the same thing now, what is it that makes this not a Mass? It is because, in RC belief, I am not ordained by a bishop in succession from the Apostles and thus do not have the indellible character imparted by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. My Mass is not a Mass, and in two senses: it is not sacramentally a Mass since I have no Orders, and even if I did while it would be sacramentally valid it would be illicit as I have no, shall we say, orders -- I do not operate under the jurisdiction of a bishop or ordinary.

In this light, our Divine Service is simply an adult version of the same thing, neither sacramentally valid nor canonically licit.

By contrast -- and I am quite willing to be corrected by pastor commentators if I mis-state -- what is different by Lutheran lights from me dressing up and saying "Mass" and one of our pastors doing so is not the lack of a sacramental mark, indeed they and I alike are quite competent on those grounds to do it, but I have no call to do so and therefore have no business doing so, I would be operating apart from that fixed point, as Pastor Brown called it, of order by which one is safe.

That is how I understand the agreement as to authorisation but disagreement as to what it is. The power comes from the power of the Lord's words, not from the bishop, but one is not free to call this office unto himself apart from the proper call of the church.

Hmm, now I'm wondering, if Lutheran pastors are not "valid" because they have no Orders, are Catholic priests not "valid" because they have no call?

As a side note, clarity on what constitutes a Divine Call and the Office of Holy Ministry is one of three reasons why I am LCMS these days rather than WELS.

Jim Huffman said...

If we are using the term "call" in the sense of vocatio, then in what way can we argue that Roman priests have no call? They have a vocation, and are sent by their bishop.

On the other hand, if we are using "call" in the LCMS sense of a congregation's "call for one to be a pastor," where do we find such a calling in scripture? Scripture speaks about those who are "sent," but there's no -- at least none I can find -- "call" in the way the LCMS speaks about it.

Past Elder said...

Where does Scripture speak of "sent" meaning put in one's position by one put in his position by Peter?

William Weedon said...


The same passage where it speaks of "sent" meaning put in one's position by the vote of a voters assembly. ;)

Christine said...

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Sent indeed.

But . . .

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

From the Patristic record:

Cyprian of Carthage

"The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . . " (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

And on these passages, of course, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox continue to disagree.

It is also noteworthy that according to Catholic scholarship in the disputes concerning the masculine "petros" versus the feminine "petra" Jesus spoke Aramaic, and, as John 1:42 tells us, in everyday life he actually referred to Peter as Kepha or Cephas (depending on how it is transliterated). It is that term which is then translated into Greek as petros. Thus, what Jesus actually said to Peter in Aramaic was: "You are Kepha and on this very kepha I will build my Church."

William Weedon said...

Note, though, how St. Hilary and St. John Chrysostom speak of the Matthew 16 passage.

And this is the rock of confession whereon the Church is built. But the perceptive faculties of flesh and blood cannot attain to the recognition and confession of this truth. It is a mystery, Divinely revealed, that Christ must be not only named, but believed, the Son of God. Was it only the Divine name; was it not rather the Divine nature that was revealed to Peter? If it were the name, he had heard it often from the Lord, proclaiming Himself the Son of God. What honour, then, did he deserve for announcing the name? No; it was not the name; it was the nature, for the name had been repeatedly proclaimed. This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven. This faith is the Father's gift by revelation; even the knowledge that we must not imagine a false Christ, a creature made out of nothing, but must confess Him the Son of God, truly possessed of the Divine nature. (St. Hilary, *De Trinitatis* VI:36,37


"And I say unto you, You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;" Matthew 16:18 that is, on the faith of his confession. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew 54)

Bede goes in the same direction, as do numerous others. Not on Peter's person, but upon Peter's CONFESSION is the Church of Christ built!

Christine said...

Well, Ambrose, Augustine, Cyprian, Jerome, Leo the Great and numerous others agree with the Catholic position.

From the fifty-fourth homily on St. Matthew:

"[When Christ has asked: 'Whom say ye that I am?] What, then, does the mouth of the apostles, Peter, everywhere fervent, the Coryphaeus of the choir of the apostles? All are asked, and he replies. When Christ asked what were the opinions of the people, all answered; but when He asked for their own, Peter leaps forward, and is the first to speak: 'Thou art the Christ.' And what does Christ answer? 'Blessed art thou,' etc....Why, then, said Christ: 'Thou art Simon, son of Jona, thou shalt be called Cephas' [John 1:42] ? Because thou hast proclaimed My Father, I name thy father, as though I said: 'As thou art son of Jona, so am I son of My Father....And I say to thee: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, that is upon the faith of this confession.'

"Hence He shows that many will believe, and raises his thoughts higher, and makes him Shepherd. 'And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' If they prevail not against it, much less against Me: so be not terrified when thou shalt hear 'I shall be betrayed and crucified.' And then he speaks of another honor: 'And I will give thee the keys of the king of heaven.' What is this: 'And I will give thee' ? 'As the Father hath given thee to know Me, so will I give thee'....Give what? The keys of heaven, in order that whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth may be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth may be loosed in heaven.' Now, then, is it not His to give to sit upon His right hand and on his left, since He says: 'I will give thee' ? Do you see how He Himself leads Peter to a high consideration of Himself, and reveals Himself and shows Himself to be the Son of God by these two promises? For what is proper to God alone, that is, to forgive sins, and to make the Church in so great an onset of waves, and to cause a fisherman to be stronger than any rock, when the whole world wars against him, this He Himself promises to give; as the Father said, speaking to Jeremias, that He would set him as a column of brass and as a wall; but Jeremias to a single nation, Peter to the whole world.

"I would willing ask those who wish to lessen the dignity of the Son: Which are the greater gifts, those which the Father gave to Peter, or those which the Son gave him? The Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son, but the Son gave to him to spread that of the Father and of Himself throughout the world, and to a mortal man He entrusted the power over all that is in heaven, in giving the keys to him who extended the Church throughout the world, and showed it stronger than the world." (Hom 54[55] in Matt VII, 531[546] seq

Chrysostom on John 21:15ff

"After that grave fall (for there is no sin equal to denial) after so great a sin, He brought him back to his former honor and entrusted him with the headship of the universal church, and, what is more than all, He showed us that he had a greater love for his master than any of the apostles, for saith he: 'Peter lovest thou Me more than these?'" (Hom 5 de Poen 2, vol II, 308[311])

It would appear that the Golden Mouth finds a natural link between Peter's "Confession" and "Headship".

But I'll post no more on this because we could all go round and round. I adhere to the authority of the Catholic Church.

Pr. Lehmann said...

Not to put to fine a point on it, but "who cares what the fathers say?" No, I'm not dismissing the fathers. My point, however, is that in this brief discussion it's already been clearly established that some of the greatest of the fathers disagree with each other and themselves on this topic.

Luther makes a great point in "These Words This Is My Body Still Stand Against The Fanatics" in his arguments against Oecolampadius. He notes that many of the fathers agree with him on the sacrament but in the end it doesn't matter even a little bit.

What matters is what the Lord says. And the Lord says that it is upon the "petra" (feminine) that He will build his church. Grammatically this cannot possibly refer to Peter. The thing it most likely refers to is the rema, or spoken word of Peter.

If we're to discuss Matthew 16, let's discuss Matthew 16.

The witness of the fathers is inconsistent. I guess we're stuck with Scripture.

orrologion said...

... or the Spirit led consensus of the Church, Christ's Body. While historically various groups have disagreed on a number of things, ecclesiology - both in and outside of the Roman Empire - have agreed on the rights and responsibilities of the bishop and presbyters. The fact that a stray comment by a Father can be found here and there doesn't undercut the consensus in practice, but simply shows that differing opinions are allowed as we/they work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

It is also true that only a full reading of a saints thought, together with evidence of his life, can truly portray what a saint 'taught' and 'believed'. None of us here have done that and much of their works are not extant and we know too little of their lives, so claiming "the Fathers said" or that "the Fathers disagreed" or "agreed" on any point is a matter of faith and opinion. We know only what we know based on tradition and surviving 'proof' and we interpret this incomplete dataset based on our a priori expectation of what is 'true'. It isn't a slam on anyone as much as a truism of fallen humanity whether Orthodox, Lutheran, RC, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist.

Christine said...

Pastor Lehmann, I'm not sure the "Petros" versus "petra" issue is so simple.

Catholic exegesis sees:

You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church: the Aramaic word kepa - meaning rock and transliterated into Greek as Kephas is the name by which Peter is called in the Pauline letters (1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:4; Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14) except in Gal 2:7-8 ("Peter"). It is translated as Petros ("Peter") in John 1:42. The presumed original Aramaic of Jesus' statement would have been, in English, "You are the Rock (Kepa) and upon this rock (kepa) I will build my church." The Greek text probably means the same, for the difference in gender between the masculine noun petros, the disciple's new name, and the feminine noun petra (rock) may be due simply to the unsuitability of using a feminine noun as the proper name of a male. Although the two words were generally used with slightly different nuances, they were also used interchangeably with the same meaning, "rock."

Church: this word (Greek ekklesia) occurs in the gospels only here and in Matthew 18:17 (twice). There are several possibilities for an Aramaic original. Jesus' church means the community that he will gather and that, like a building, will have Peter as its solid foundation. That function of Peter consists in his being witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it: the netherworld (Greek Hades, the abode of the dead) is conceived of as a walled city whose gates will not close in upon the church of Jesus, i.e., it will not be overcome by the power of death.

I find it somewhat ironic to muse that "some of the Fathers" agreed with Luther.

It seems to me that the reverse is more likely, that Luther agreed with some of the Fathers, who preceded him by quite a few centuries.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I am so sick of the Aramaic argument that I am almost not even willing to address it.

It is speculative. The words of the Lord that we have are Greek. We must stick with the words we have. Yes, Papias said that Matthew was written in the language of the Hebrews, but there are at least two possible meanings to that and both are possible.

One is that the Gospel was written in Aramaic. The other is that it was written in Hebraic Greek.

The latter is more likely because Greek was the lingua franca of 1st century Jews.

Appealing to the possible Aramaic words that Jesus may have used is simply a way to ignore the Lord's words as we have them.

Jim Huffman said...

Perhaps even more ironic is basing exegesis of the Greek text (which we have) on a purported Aramaic text (which we don't).

William Weedon said...


There is much truth in what you write. We do need to be careful, though, of simply dismissing what the Fathers say about X when we don't particularly agree with it. As to the Petrine primacy of honor, who could disagree? But even a Pope like St. Gregory the Great flat out refused to be called the "universal bishop." He said it denigrated the office of every bishop to speak so, and he was right. From what we have of the fathers, it is clear that why Rome was so valued was because it didn't engage in theological speculations, but was renowned for simply forking over the faith as it was given. It was not an apriori that Peter would speak through Leo; but Rome did indeed, time and again in the ancient world, hold to the simple faith of the fishermen.

As to the exegetical matter - it is positively silly to imagine Ur-texts and interpret the given text on the basis of our imaginings and speculations.

Christine said...

Jim, the liturgical language of the Chaldean Catholic Church is still Aramaic. It is not exactly the same as how Jesus would have spoken, but it is very close. As far as the everyday Aramaic language among the Chaldean people, it is even more developed and known as "modern Aramaic". So in the Chaldean liturgy you have both an Aramaic language in the texts that is very close to the Aramaic of Jesus as well as a modern version of it that is given in the homily to the people.

The written Old and New Testaments are the results of oral tradition, albeit under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For example, from the cross Jesus cries out in the words of Psalm 22:2, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” (Matthew 27:46), an Old Testament psalm of lament. In Mark the verse is cited entirely in Aramaic ("Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani) which Matthew partially retains but changes the invocation of God to the Hebrew Eli, possibly because that is more easily related to the statement of the following verse about Jesus' calling for Elijah.

Christine said...

Pastor Weedon, on Pope St. Gregory the Great, with all due respect, if I remember correctly Gregory rejected the title of “universal” bishop in the context that that this title implied “sole” bishop but I would have to check that out further. There are also Gregory’s repeated declarations that Petrine primacy made all churches, Constantinople included, subject to Rome.

Despite his many accomplishments and abilities, he was a humble man. He took as his official title "Servant of the Servants of God," the official title of the pope to this day. He is a Doctor of the Church and is considered the last of the Western Church Fathers

Jim Huffman said...

hi, Christine,

I'm not denying that Jesus likely spoke Aramaic around the house. But I think this is far less of a sure thing than we might think: 1st century Palestine was a polyglot area -- obvious from John 19.20: "This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin" -- and I suspect that there were lots of folks who used 2 or 3 languages throughout the course of a day. St. Paul apparently went rather comfortably from Greek to Hebrew (cf. Acts 21.40) and very likely to Aramaic as well, and I suspect he was pretty typical of educated people in that era.

What I would continue to suggest, though, is that what the Chaldean church uses liturgically is really immaterial to the discussion. We just don't know what Jesus might have theoretically been saying in Aramaic. I think it's not inconceivable that he was actually speaking in Greek. But that's not the point. The text we're discussing is only found in Greek. Tradition tells us it was written in Hebrew, but we don't have that. I think we should carefully examine the text we have, and avoid speculation about what we don't.

Christine said...

Hi Jim,

St. Paul apparently went rather comfortably from Greek to Hebrew (cf. Acts 21.40) and very likely to Aramaic as well, and I suspect he was pretty typical of educated people in that era.

St. Paul, the Roman citizen, was no doubt well educated.

Not so sure about a bunch of working class fishermen (no offense intended here at all).

You are certainly correct about the polyglot nature of first century Palestine. My point about the Chaldean Church is that for them Aramaic is still a "living language" but they worship as Catholics adhering to both Scripture and the great Tradition of the Church.

And that, of course, is the dividing line among Protestants and Catholics (and certainly albeit of a different nuance) between Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox.

Jim Huffman said...


This has nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Show me an Aramaic text of the Matthew 16 passage, and we can talk. I have no interest in speculation. Especially speculation that impinges on the text of scripture.

Christine said...

Jim, if you will go to the www.peshitta.com site you can see the parallel English/Aramaic text. I can't copy it here because it is in PDF format. The references to "Peter" and "Rock" both use the Aramaic "Keepa".

Also please note:

The Peshitta is the official Bible of the Church of the East. The name Peshitta in Aramaic means "Straight", in other words, the original and pure New Testament. The Peshitta is the only authentic and pure text which contains the books in the New Testament that were written in Aramaic, the Language of Mshikha (the Messiah) and His Disciples.

In reference to the originality of the Peshitta, the words of His Holiness Mar Eshai Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East, are summarized as follows:

"With reference to....the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision."

I understand why this is not relevant to Lutherans (I had never even heard of the Peshitta when I was Lutheran).

William Weedon said...


Lutheran pastors and well-read laity are familiar with the Peshitta - for we study the history of the transmission of the Scriptures in seminary. But the notion that the Peshitta is the original NT is untenable. You might wish to consider this article:


Pr. Lehmann said...

Nice try, but the Peshitta (which I can read) is a translation of the Greek.

The Greek is the inspired word of the Lord that has been preserved for us. Best to stick just with that.

Christine said...

Ah, but the Patriarch further states:

The Church of the East has always rejected this claim. We believe that the Books of the New Testament were originally penned in Aramaic, and later translated into Greek by first-century Gentile Christians in the West, but never in the East, where the Aramaic was the Lingua Franca of the Persian Empire. We also hold and maintain that after the books were translated into Greek, the Aramaic originals were discarded, for by now the Church in the West was almost completely Gentile and Greek-speaking. This was not the case in the East, which had a Jewish majority (especially in Babylon and Adiabene) for a much longer period. Even when the Church of the East became mostly Gentile, the Aramaic was preserved and used rather than translated into the various vernacular languages of the regions to the East of the Euphrates river.


Even to the West of the Euphrates river, in the Holy Land, the main vernacular was Aramaic. The weekly synagogue lections, called sidra or parashah, with the haphtarah, were accompanied by an oral Aramaic translation, according to fixed traditions. A number of Targumim in Aramaic were thus eventually committed to writing, some of which are of unofficial character, and of considerable antiquity. The Gemara of the Jerusalem Talmud was written in Aramaic, and received its definitive form in the 5th century. The Babylonian Talmud with its commentaries on only 36 of the Mishnah's 63 tractates, is four times as long as the Jerusalem Talmud. These Gemaroth with much other material were gathered together toward the end of the 5th century, and are in Aramaic. Since 1947, approximately 500 documents were discovered in eleven caves of Wadi Qumran near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. In addition to the scrolls and fragments in Hebrew, there are portions and fragments of scrolls in Aramaic. Hebrew and Aramaic, which are sister languages, have always remained the most distinctive features marking Jewish and Eastern Christian religious and cultural life, even to our present time.

Do I accept the Greek New Testament? Of course!!

But I find the history of early Middle Eastern Christianity fascinating. It has some very ancient roots.

Christine said...

There was a recent program -- I think it was on 60 Minutes -- featuring an Aramaic speaking Chaldean Catholic Church at worship. The program wanted to highlight the fact that many people are unaware that there ARE Christians in Iraq and how very far back their roots go.

It was most interesting.

Past Elder said...

Basing exegesis of texts we have on texts we infer must have been appears to be common to left and right alike!

When I was RC when there was an RC church, we were taught that Matthew is placed first in both the NT and the lectionary (now dumped) because it is the oldest text, not in its present form but its Aramaic, now lost, original, followed by similar arguments to those rehearsed by Christine.

In my RC Scripture classes at university we were taught that the texts we have of all three "Synoptic" gospels are redactions of the real originals that comprised a now lost source or Quelle, Q.

So more irony, that the quite contradictory positions I was taught at different times all under the name Catholic rely upon similar methodology, as Jim put it, exegesis of texts we have on the basis of inferred texts we don't.

Lost Aramaic originals, lost Sources, what the heck.

I believe it is the "consensus" of the Church that the NT consists in the texts we have.

PS and Amen about the "polity passages" Pastor!