Friday, August 15, 2003

A Thought

This just occurred to me, and I don't know what to make of it. Presumably Roman Catholics will have more of a handle on it than I do.

St. James the Less was the first head of the Church after Christ died (and was resurrected). St. Peter only became the head of the Church later on, after James' death. James never occupied the "seat of Peter," as it hadn't yet become Peter's. The Roman Catholic premise of the Pope rests on the idea that the Bishop of Rome is the successor to Peter. If Peter was the most important, then why was James selected as leader?

Now, James was Bishop of Jerusalem (or perhaps rather a proto-bishop), and Peter was Bishop of Rome, but that doesn't really seem to mean as much as it might. After all, James never went to Rome, and my understanding is that it's not Rome that's important, but rather the place where Peter established his seat. Thus, if he'd established it at, say, Sparta, the Roman Catholic Church would instead be the Spartan Catholic Church (an oxymoron?). I have to admit that it looks to me as if the Bishop of Rome before the schism of AD 1054 simply decided that he was pre-eminent and dredged up some evidence, rather than looking where the evidence pointed. Essentially, my question revolves around the problem of why Peter wasn't the first head of the Church if it was he who was given authority by Christ. There is no record of Peter objecting to the selection of James, as if he thought the Church was making a terrible mistake and disobeying the will of God. If it was Peter who was given the authority, then James must not have had any, as it still rested with Peter. I don't know whether I believe the successors of Peter have the same authority he did (they might; I'm just unsure right now), but it seems to me as if it remains to be seen whether Peter had that authority in the first place. If you argue that the head of the Church, and not necessarily Peter until he became the head, has the authority, then you need to throw out all arguments about Christ giving the keys of heaven to Peter.

And yes, to throw a bone to Protestant readers: Christ is our great high priest (we need no other) and it is Christ who is the head of the Church.

Catholics: I'm not trying to antagonize you (really!). I know there are some very smart minds out there, and presumably this issue has come up before and been thoroughly discussed. I'm not enough of a genius (close, perhaps) to be the first person to see this, so if there's no official position (the RCC seems to have an official position on just about everything), then I have to wonder why. Give me a good argument why I'm wrong and you score a point towards me crossing the Tiber. If nothing comes up, then that's going to be further affirmation to me that Roman Catholicism offers no benefits not also offered by Anglicanism.

ADDENDUM: I have no wish to demonize the Roman Catholic Church. I respect it, and have several times defended it to Protestant friends who have argued against it. My argument is simply that Roman Catholicism is as valid a denomination as Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, or Orthodoxy. I argue that the Pope, being Bishop of Rome, has essentially the same relationship to the bishops of the Roman Communion as the Archbishop of Canterbury has to the bishops of the Anglican Communion: first among equals. I'm not sure of my stance on apostolic succession, but I do believe that Anglicans have the same claim, whatever it may be, to it as do Catholics and Orthodox.

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