The Fifth and Sixth Marks of the Church

The Nicene Creed fittingly noted four marks of the True Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These marks identify four essential qualities and characteristics the Church has and they distinguish the True Church from any false claimants. Now we, of course cannot add authoritatively to this venerable list. Nevertheless permit me a couple of “prayerful additions” to the four marks of the Church. These cannot join the official list but I humbly submit these “marks” for your consideration to serve in a similar way to distinguish the True Church from false claimants and to give insight into the Church’s truest identity.

The 5th Mark of the Church: Hated. Jesus consistently taught us to expect the hatred of the world if we were true disciples.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20).

Or Again: All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,how much more the members of his household! (Matt 10:22-24)

Or yet again, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

One of the more painful aspects of Church life, yet also one of the aspects of which I am most “proud” is that we are hated especially by the world. It is true that some of the Evangelicals are ridiculed but few can deny that a very special and intense hatred for the Catholic Church and is widely on display. It’s never OK in our society (nor should it be) to scorn Jews or Muslims and to mock or attack their faith traditions. Most of the other Christian denominations (except the Evangelicals) also escape much hatred. But the Catholic Church, ah the Catholic Church, now it seems open season on her. We are scorned, badly portrayed in movies, our history is misrepresented, our sins (and we do have them) are exaggerated, our teachings called bigoted, backward, unrealistic, and out of date. And no matter how ugly, bigoted and inaccurate the world’s hatred is, very few if any express any outrage at how were are treated and misrepresented. Try any of this on the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, et al. and the outrage and claims of bigotry are echoed by the media (and well they should be). Meanwhile Dan Brownet al. get to go on and on about “evil” priests and bishops, a crucifix can be submerged in urine or the Blessed Mother smeared with dung and this is praised as “art” and funded by government grants.

I am not complaining (though these things are wrong). I am actually quite hopeful that this means we are doing something right. We are a sign of contradiction to the world and we are hated for it. We speak the truth to a world gone mad and we hold on to that “old time religion.” That we are hated puts us in good company with Jesus and the prophets and martyrs who stood with him. If we are really doing what we should be doing, the Church ought to experience significant hatred from the world. So hatred by the world is an essential mark of the Church if you ask me. We do not look to be hated. Neither do we look for conflict. But in preaching Christ crucified, in preaching the whole counsel of God and not some watered down version of it we surely do find hatred and conflict comes to us. Some people and denominations try to fit in with the world. They accept its ways and comprise the clear teaching of Christ. But the True Church speaks the whole truth of God in love and does not cave to the world’s demands. The true Church, by Christ’s promise, is hated by the world and those allied and wedded to it. But no need to fear…the sixth “mark” is here!

The Sixth Mark of the Church – Perduring – To perdure means to permanently endure. Here too Christ firmly established this principle and promise to the true Church:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it(Matt 16:18).

There are no governments or nations that have lasted 2000 years. Very little else in this world can claim such antiquity and even if it does can it claim to have remained essentially unchanged in its dogma or teaching? The Catholic Church is one, even after 2000 years. An unbroken line of Popes back to Peter and an unbroken line of succession for all the Bishops back to the Apostles through the laying on of hands. Not bad. Now consider that this is a miracle! If the Church were depending on human beings to exist and stay unified how long do think she would have lasted? Probably about twenty minutes, max. Our history is not without some pretty questionable moments, in terms of the human elements of the Church. That the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church certainly suggests they would try again and again. But here we are, a miracle. Still standing after all these years. Christ is true to his promise to remain with us all days unto the consummation of the world. We, the human elements of the Church may not live teachings of Christ perfectly, but the Church has never failed to teach what Christ taught even (as now) when the world hated us for it. At times we are tepid and struggle to find our voice, but Christ still speaks and ministers even in our weakness. Yes the Catholic Church is a miracle, the Work of Jesus Christ. And thus the sixth Mark of the Church is that she perdures. By God’s grace we exhibit this sixth mark. Nations have come and gone, empires risen and fallen, eras opened and closed, but through it all we perdure.

So there it is, I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic, (and if you don’t mind me saying), hated and perduring Church.

Here’s a very interesting hip hop song by the rapper Akalyte on these two additional “marks” of the Church.

What St. Paul Can Teach Us About Respect for Church Authority

In the readings for daily Mass the past few days we have been reviewing the faith journey of St. Paul who describes his personal history and also his authority in the second chapter of the Letter to the Galatians. The story is interesting for three reasons.

  1. It can help correct notions that some have of Paul’s rapid assent to the office of apostle (Bishop) and affirm that he was not a lone-ranger apostle. He was a man who was formed in the community of the Church for some length of time, and did not go on Mission until he was sent.
  2. It spells out Paul’s relationship to authority within the Church.
  3. It shows forth an important aspect of being under authority and the prevailing need for fraternal correction in hierarchal structures.

Let’s take a look at each of these matters in turn.

1. On Paul’s conversion, formation and ascent to the office of Apostle (Bishop). Many have oversimplified notions of Paul’s conversion, and subsequent missionary activity. Many who have not carefully studied the texts of Acts, Galatians, and other references assume that Paul went right to work after his conversion as a missionary. But this was not the case.

At the time near his conversion Paul was described as “a young man” (neanias). Sometime after the death of Stephen he had his conversion, encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.  Immediately following his encounter with Christ he was blinded for three days and eventually healed by a Christian named Ananias who also baptized him (Acts 9:9-19). Hereafter, according to Galatians, Paul went into the Desert of Arabia (Gal 1:17). Why he went, and for how long is not known. It is probably not wrong to presume that he went there to reflect and possibly be further formed in the Christian faith to which he had come so suddenly and unexpectedly. Was he there for several years as some scholars propose or just a brief time as others do? It is not possible to say with certainty but it would seem that some amount of time would be necessary to pray, reflect and experience formation in the Christian way, possibly with other Christians. A period of at least a year seems tenable and perhaps as many as three years. We can only speculate.

Paul then returned to Damascus and joined the Christian community there for a period of almost three years (Gal 1:18). While there he took to debating in the synagogues and was so effective in demonstrating that Jesus was the hoped for messiah that some of the Jews there conspired to kill him. He fled the city and went to Jerusalem (Acts 9:20-25). Paul states that he went there to confer with Cephas (Peter) (Gal 1:18). Paul seems to imply that he thought it was time to confer with Peter since he had begun to teach and even now was gaining disciples. Later he would describe the purpose of another visit to Peter and the other leaders: to present the Gospel that I preach to the Gentiles…so that I might not be running, or have run in vain (Gal 2:2).  While there on this first visit he stayed for 15 days and  also met James.

After this consultation he went home to Tarsus for a period of about three years. What he did during this time is unknown. Barnabas then arrived and asked him to come to Antioch and help him evangelize there (Acts 11:25-26). He stayed there about a year. He made another brief visit to Jerusalem to deliver a collection for the poor and upon his return to Antioch we finally see his ordination as a Bishop. The leaders of the Church at Antioch were praying and received instruction from the Holy Spirit to Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them (Acts 13:3). Thus, the leaders of the Church there laid  hands on Barnabas and Saul and send them forth on Mission. Here we have an ordination and the source of Paul’s status as Apostle (bishop).

Notice however, this sending happens years after Paul’s conversion. Depending on how long we account his time in the desert we are talking about 7-10 years wherein Paul lived in community with other members of the Church and also conferred with Peter. He was not a self appointed missionary and his conversion required completion before the Church sent him forth. This going-forth he undertook only after being sent.

2. On Paul’s submission to authority – We can see therefore, that Paul was not a lone ranger. He did submit what he taught to Peter and later to others apostles and leaders (Acts 11 & 15). He states that to have preached something other than what the Church proposed would be to run “in vain” (Gal 2:2). Here was a man who was formed by the community of the Church and who submitted his teachings to scrutiny by lawful authority. Here was man who went forth on his missions only after  he was ordained and sent. Further, Paul and Barnabas, as they went through the towns and villages on their missionary journeys, also established authority in each church community they founded by appointing presbyters in each town (Acts 14:23). Upon completion of their first missionary journey they reported back to the leaders at Antioch who had sent them (Acts 14:27) and later to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15). Hence we have an accountability structure in the early Church and a line of authority. Paul was no. He both respected authority and established authority in the churches he established. He also makes it clear to the Galatians and others that he has authority and that he expects them to respect it.

3. But here is where we also see a fascinating and somewhat refreshing portrait of what true respect for authority includes. It is clear, from what we have seen, that Paul respected the authority of Peter and had both conferred with him early on and later set forth the gospel that he preached. However, there is also a description of Paul offering fraternal correction to Peter:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Gal 2:11-14)

There is something refreshing about this understanding of authority. It understands that having authority does not mean one is above reproof. Too many people shy away from speaking honestly to those in authority. There is an old saying about bishops: When a man becomes a bishop he will never again have a bad meal and he will never again hear the truth.  Too many of us flatter those who have authority. In so doing we tend to isolate them. They do not have all the information and feedback they need to make good decisions. And then we they do make questionable decisions we criticize them. Of course we seldom do this to their face. Rather we speak ill of them behind their back and continue to remain largely silent and flattering to their face. The cycle continues, and everyone suffers.

But here Paul stands face to face (κατὰ πρόσωπον αὐτῷ ἀντέστην) with Peter and accuses him of a moral fault. Peter had taught rightly of the equality of the Gentiles but drew back from keeping company with them. We as Catholics teach of the infallibility of the pope but we do not teach that he is impeccable (sinless). Even those who teach rightly (as Peter did) sometimes struggle to fully live the truth they preach (believe me, I know).

Accountability in the Church demands that we learn to speak the truth to one another in love, even if the one we must speak to has authority. People are often reticent to speak frankly to their Pastors. Bishops too are often isolated in this way. Even their priests often refrain from frank discussion of issues. In this Archdiocese I know that Archbishop Wuerl is very serious about consultation and he enjoys a vigorous airing of issues at the priest council, and other consultative bodies.

Clearly correction and/or frank discussion should be done charitably, but it should be done. Now Paul here is a little bolder than I would be but he also lived in a different culture than I. As we can see from the Gospels and other writings Jesus and the Apostles really “mixed it up” with others. The ancient Jewish setting was famous for frank and vivid discussion of issues that included a lot of hyperbole. Our own culture prefers a more gentle approach. Perhaps the modern rule is best stated: Clarity with Charity.

In the end, we show a far greater respect for authority by speaking clearly and directly to those in authority. False flattery is unhelpful, inappropriate silence does not serve, and speaking scornfully behind the backs of others is just plain sinful.

So Paul demonstrates a sort of refreshing honesty with Peter here. He acknowledges Peter’s authority as we have seen but also respects Peter enough as a man to speak with him directly and clearly, to his face, and not behind his back.

This video is a brief summary of St. Paul’s life. Most scholars don’t agree with the concluding remark that Paul made it out of Roman prison and went to Spain. But there are two traditions in this regard:

A Distinction without a Difference, Or a Distinction to Die For? Wrestling with the Subtleties of John 21:16 – Peter Do you Love Me

One of the great indoor sports of New Testament Biblical Scholarship is how to interpret the subtleties in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter in today’s Gospel. It is the classic interaction wherein Jesus asks, “Peter do you love me?” And Peter responds “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” This exchange occurs three times. But to us who read the passage in English some of the subtle distinctions in vocabulary are lost. There is an interplay between two Greek words for love, Agapas and Philo. Jesus asks of Peter’s love with one word, but Peter responds with another. There is also a subtle shift in the use of another verb meaning “to know.” Peter moves from odias  to ginoskeis. Both can be translated “you know” but again the question is why the shift and how should this be interpreted?

No one disputes these  facts about the Greek text. Allow me to reproduce the well known dialogue with the distinctions stitched in:

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapas) me more than these?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord, You know (oidas) that I love (philo) You.”
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapas) me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord, You know (oidas) that I love (philo) You.”
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileis) me?”
Peter: “Lord, You know (oidas) everything; You know (ginoskeis) that I love (philo) You.”

But there are the facts. But here is where the debate begins. The central questions are these:

  1. Is there any real distinction to be made between agapas and philo? Or is it a distinction without a difference?
  2. Although modern Christians make a sharp distinction between agape love and filial (philo) love, was such a distinction operative in ancient Greek or where these words merely synonyms that were simply interchangeable?
  3. If so, why does John and the Holy Spirit record these different words for love? Is there really no purpose at all?
  4. And why does John shift from using the verb odias (you know) to ginoskeis? the same questions would prevail.

The answers to these questions admit of many possible answers. Now if you put three Greek scholars (or three scripture scholars) in a room together you’re going to have at least 17 opinions. But for the sake of brevity let me set forth two basic opinions or interpretations:

1. The use of different words for love is highly significant. Jesus is asking Peter for agape love. Agape love being  the highest and most spiritual love wherein Peter is called to Love Jesus above all things and all people, including himself. But Peter, finally being honest says to Jesus in effect, Lord you know that I love you (only) with brotherly love (philo se).  Jesus is not disappointed for entrusts the role of chief Shepherd to Peter anyway. But again he asks for agape love and Peter answers the same. A third time Jesus asks, but this time he comes to Peter’s level and says, in effect, “OK Peter then do you love me with brotherly love (phileis me)?”

And this all makes Peter sad who now becomes more emphatic and says  Lord, You know (oidas) everything; You know (ginoskeis) that I (only) love with brotherly love (philo). Note here that Peter’s exasperation includes a shift in the verb “know.” He shifts from the verb oidas (meaning more literally “you have seen”) to the verb ginoskeis (meaning a deeper sort or perception that includes understanding).

So perhaps the final sentence translated with these distinctions in mind would read: “Lord! You have seen everything; and you understand that I (only) love you with brotherly love.”  The Lord then goes on to tell Peter that one day he will die a martyr’s death. Almost as if to say, “Peter I DO understand that you only love me now with brotherly love. But there will come a day when you will finally be willing to die for me and you will give over your life. Then you will truly be able to say that you love me with Agape love.”

This first opinion obviously takes the distinctions in the Greek text as very significant and interprets them to the max. It results in a beautifully pastoral scene wherein Jesus and Peter have a very poignant and honest conversation.

2. The second opinion or interpretation is there is no significance in the use of different Greek verbs for love or know. The main reason for this opinion is rooted in the view that among Greek speakers of the First Century there is no evidence that they used these verbs to mean significantly different things. It is claimed that Agape was not understood in the early Centuries of the Church as God-like, unconditional love. That meaning came only later and then only among Christians, not among pagans.

There seems to be a scriptural basis for the fact that the early Christians had not reserved apape and philo for the exclusive meanings they had later. For example “agapao” is sometimes used in the New Testament  for less God-like loves. Two examples are the Pharisees loving the front seats in the synagogues (Luke 11:43) and Paul’s indication that Demas had deserted him, because he loved this world (2 Tim 4:10). Further, God’s love is sometimes described using “phileo“, as when he is said to love humanity (John 16:27) or even once when the Father is said to love Jesus (John 5:20).

More evidence is also deduced from the silence of the Greek speaking Fathers of the Church who do not make mention of this distinction in the verbs for love when they comment on this passage. One would think that had the subtle distinctions been significant they would surely have dwelt upon it.

 Hence, rooting itself in historical data this second opinion and interpretation sees little significance if any in the fact that Jesus and Peter are using different words for love.

So there it is. The great indoor sport of Scripture Scholarship: understanding and interpreting the subtleties of John 21:15ff. For myself I will say that while number 2 seems a compelling argument against opinion 1, I will also say that I cannot wholly reject that,  if opinion 1 isn’t true,  it OUGHT to be. I find it strange that these different verbs are being used and that we are to conclude absolutely nothing from it. The subtle details of John’s Gospel are almost never without purpose. SOMETHING is going on here that we ought not ignore. Peter and Jesus are subtly interacting here. There is a movement in their conversation that involves a give and take that is instructive for us.

It also remains a fact that not all Greek Scholars accept that Agape and Philo were simply synonyms in the First Century.

The silence of the Greek speaking Fathers is surely significant. But it also remains true that Scriptural interpretation did not end with the death of the last Father. Further, I have found that I, who speak a little German am sometimes better able to appreciate the clever subtleties of German vocabulary than the those for whom  it is the mother tongue. At a certain point we can become rather unreflective about the subtle distinctions of the words we use and it takes an outsider to call them to our attention. I never really appreciated the more subtle meanings of English words until I studied Latin.

Hence, for me it is still helpful to see the distinctions in this text even if some historical purists find no room for them. I simply cannot avoid that a key message is available to us in the subtle shifts in vocabulary here. As always, I value your comments and additions to this post. Do we have here a distinction without a difference, a distinction to die for or something in between? Let me know what you think!

Pentecost Reading

Here is a dramatic reading of the Pentecost reading from Acts 2. Liberties are taken with the text but it is still all basically there. Enjoy and heed. God wants to set this word on fire. But you and I are meant to be the tongues of fire.