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Peter, Paul and Women – Another look at the Early Church

Peter and Paul by El Greco via Wikipedia

Among Christians, St. Peter is often compared to St. Paul.

Peter is seen as the rule man. Paul, the innovator. Together, they are usually cited as the two most important early Christians after Jesus Christ, himself.

Women in Early Christianity

Feminists say the primacy of Peter and Paul is a male take on early Christianity. A male take in a male world—in New Testament times and, to some degree, now.

Women, in fact, performed essential work among the early Christians. Food preparation, laundry and other domestic chores were not accomplished through miracles. And there’s no New Testament record of manna falling from heaven. No, women usually took up these necessary duties.

Scholars also realize that women played key inspirational, pastoral and organizational roles within the early Church.¹

Who was Peter?

In the New Testament St. Peter was a 1st century fisherman living in the village of Capernaum. He went by the name of Simeon, Shimon or Simon bar Jonah.

This simple fisherman was chosen or, depending on your perspective, asked by Jesus Christ to follow him and ultimately to become one of the twelve Apostles.

Jesus … told Simon, “Row the boat out into the deep water and let your nets down to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon answered, “we have worked hard all night long and have not caught a thing. But if you tell me to, I will let the nets down.” They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart. Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me! I am a sinner.” Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught. His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.” The men pulled their boats up on the shore. Then they left everything and went with Jesus.²

Peter and Paul Fresco Mary Evraida Church via Wikipedia

Simon was renamed Cephas. In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Cephas means “rock.” In Greek, the language of the New Testament, Petros also translates to “rock.” Hence the modern term, petroglyphs.

Peter (from Petros) went on to do great things, but it wasn’t always a smooth ride. All four canonical gospels tell how Jesus accurately predicted Peter betraying him three times before the cock crowed.

After Christ’s resurrection, Peter is the first to enter the empty tomb but not to see the risen Christ. Women and an unknown “beloved disciple” had that honor.

Catholics

Always mentioned in the gospels as the first of the Twelve Apostles, Early Church tradition – not the Bible – says Peter was the founder of the Church in Rome, along with Paul. There he was the first bishop, wrote two epistles, and was martyred along with Paul.

For Roman Catholics, Peter is the first Pope. Catholics support their beliefs about Peter with two essential scriptural passages:

Feed my lambs… feed my lambs… feed my sheep. (John 21:15–17)

and

I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)

However, “Pope” is something of a retroactive title. In his lifetime Peter was never called “Pope” or “Vicar of Christ.” But Catholics believe their tradition and scripture are equally valid. So if Catholic authorities can retroactively discern that a marriage never existed (annulment), they also believe they understand how God saw things before mankind came to that realization.

Catholic Tradition also maintains that Peter was crucified upside down on the same day Paul was beheaded, just outside of Rome.

St Peter’s Anglican Church via Wikipedia

Protestants

Not everyone agrees with the Catholic legitimization of the Papacy. Protestants tend see the office as an example of arrogant self-aggrandizement.

For Protestants, Peter did crucial missionary work in Rome and for the Eastern Orthodox Church, he holds a “primacy of honor.” But he is not Pope as understood by Catholics.

Neither Eastern Orthodox nor Protestant Christians formally recognize any Pope. Although Catholic-Protestant relations seem to be warming among some denominations. What motivates this is hard to say.

In popular culture St. Peter guards the “pearly gates” of heaven, allowing good souls to enter while rejecting evil doers. This allusion no doubt premised on Matthew 16:19.

Muslims

Shia Muslims draw a parallel between Peter and the “Ali” of Muhammad’s time. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Ali was the fourth caliph (656-661 CE) and first Imam of the Shia (632-661 CE).³

Peter and Paul

The contrast between Peter and Paul often crops up in Catholic homilies. Paul’s Letter to the Romans breaks new ground by claiming that salvation through Christ is not just for a select few but for all—Gentiles, Jews and anyone who lives in Christ. For Paul, living by the spirit of the Mosaic law trumps outwardly following the letter of the law.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)

St. Peter’s Basilica via Wikipedia

So Paul is portrayed as the living, dynamic breath of God within humanity. Peter, on the other hand, represents Catholic Church rules, regulations and its hierarchical structure.

For me, both are important. It’s a kind of balancing act among trying to do God’s will, being respectful and yet tailoring my understanding and experience of the rules to my God-given individuality. Also, Catholic rules and regulations have morphed over the centuries. So one must keep an eye to the future and not get too fixated on current conventions.

I remember a long time ago when converting to the Catholic faith. Back then, a monsignor whom I respected once spoke in homily, “God gave us intelligence. We have to use it.”

¹ See http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-17/neglected-history-of-women-in-early-church.html Volunteer work by contemporary Catholic women seems largely unrecognized. I have never heard a word of thanks in homilies.

² https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+5%3A1-11&version=CEV 

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali

Related » Bible, Gospel of Mark, Joachim of Fiore, Rome, Thiering (Barbara)

 Pagans demand return of church buildings ‘stolen’ 1,300 years ago (telegraph.co.uk)

 Christianity is Wild (leeduigon.com)

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The Rosary – Aid or distraction?

The word rosary refers to any planned prayer recited on a string of beads. Rosaries in this sense have been prayed all over the world in different religious traditions for centuries.

Before the introduction of beads, prayers were counted on pebbles or fingers.

Some believe that the Catholic holy rosary was adapted from earlier Muslim prayer beads, introduced through the Crusades. Others say the holy rosary existed prior to the Crusades.

Probably no one really knows just how or when the Catholic rosary came into being.

According to Catholic legend, which many Catholics accept as fact, the Blessed Virgin Mary mystically appeared to St. Dominic in 1214. The story goes that Mary gave Dominic the holy rosary saying,”One day through the rosary and the Scapular I will save the world.”¹

Many other Catholic saints reportedly had subsequent visions, from the Middle Ages to modern times. These visions usually conveyed an urgency in spreading devotion through the rosary.

In October 2002 Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries to the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries.

The Catholic mysteries of the rosary are based on key moments in the life, death and afterlife of both Jesus and Mary as portrayed in the New Testament.

Crucifijos de los Rosarios

Crucifijos de los Rosarios by Nathan Gibbs via Flickr

To me, the rosary is a useful tool for quieting one’s thoughts, providing one needs that kind of help. When I first became interested in Catholicism in the early 1990s, I prayed the rosary fairly often for a while. Sometimes I would receive tangible graces that I associated with the Virgin Mary, sometimes I had slightly different types of experiences.

But over time, the rosary began to feel like so many rattling words. It became more of a distraction than a devotional aid. That’s probably because as I grew older, contemplation came more easily, and the repetitive words seemed like superficial chatter over the calm I’d already found.

However, I may still sit in church for a while if parishioners are praying a rosary. I may even join in for part of the prayer. Like other preset prayers, the holy rosary is a good backup for those stressful days when one is more distracted (from God) than usual or when, perhaps, one just feels called to pray that way.

Some Lutherans and Anglo-Catholic Anglicans pray variations of the rosary, but it remains a predominantly Catholic practice.²

¹ See these links.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary#In_non-Catholic_Christianity | For more about the Catholic holy rosary, see this.

Related » Goddess vs. goddess, Hail Mary Prayer, Virgin Mary


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Gregory the Great – Doctor of the Church, Saint and Pope

English: Gregory I became pope in 590 and effe...

Gregory I became pope in 590 and effected great changes in the Roman Catholic church. He used the office to govern and provide pastoral care to a large area during a time of little civil administration. He also reformed church liturgy, introducing Gregorian chant. Gregory’s writings about saints, including Saint Benedict, helped the growth of Benedictine monasteries in the Middle Ages. (Photo credit and text for this image: Wikipedia)

St. Gregory (540 – 604 CE) was a learned politician who became a monk, then Pope. He came from a wealthy patrician family, well connected to the Church in Rome. His father was a senator and Gregory became the Prefect of Rome at the young age of 30.

He reluctantly became Pope from 590 to 604, writing letters after his election indicating that he really didn’t want to do it, but would assume office out of divine duty.

An interesting anecdote tells us that Gregory so believed in the afterlife that he punished a dying man and even abused his dead body.

It seems to some that Gregory was not always forgiving, or pleasant for that matter, even in his monastic years. For example, a monk lying on his death bed confessed to stealing three gold pieces. Gregory forced the monk to die friendless and alone, then threw his body and coins on a manure heap to rot with a curse, “Take your money with you to perdition”. Gregory believed that punishment of sins can begin, even on one’s deathbed.[26] However, at the monk’s death Gregory offered 30 Masses in his remembrance to assist his soul before the final judgment

Today, most would see behaviour like this as indicative of a disturbed psyche, and definitely illegal.

Also interesting is that, although Gregory was learned, he came to dislike erudition in favor of what many would see as fanatical superstition.

Opinions of the writings of Gregory vary. “His character strikes us as an ambiguous and enigmatic one,” Cantor observed. “On the one hand he was an able and determined administrator, a skilled and clever diplomat, a leader of the greatest sophistication and vision; but on the other hand, he appears in his writings as a superstitious and credulous monk, hostile to learning, crudely limited as a theologian, and excessively devoted to saints, miracles, and relics“.²

Vintage colour engraving from 1864 showing Gregory and the English slaves at Rome. Pope Gregory I (c. 540 – 12 March 604), better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death. Gregory is well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

According to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Gregory was “the last good Pope.” And many see him as a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds.³

I originally mentioned Gregory in this blog mostly because he’s the one whom the term “Gregorian Chant” is named after. But like many legends, Catholic or otherwise, attributing Gregorian Chants to Pope Gregory is probably not historically accurate.

Most scholars believe that the so-called Gregorian Chant came into existence during the 9th and 10th centuries due to a blend of social, political and musical forces that mostly did not exist when Gregory was alive.4

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Gregory_I

² Ibid.

³ Ibid.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_chant

 


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Saint Pacianus – A bishop with wife and child

Saint Pacianus in the façade of the bishop’s palace in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain) – via Wikipedia

St. Pacianus (or St. Pacian) was the 4th-century Christian bishop of Barcelona. He is considered a “Father of the Church” and was canonized as a Catholic saint.

He apparently embodied chastity, education and eloquence.

In those days, a bishop could be married with children. Accordingly, St. Pacianus was married and had a son, to whom the famous (in Catholic and academic circles) scholar Saint Jerome dedicated his biographical De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men).

St. Pacianus is probably best remembered, however, for his pithy statement:

Christian is my name; Catholic is my surname.

It’s hard to know if anyone would say that today.


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The Scholastics

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym of Thomism. Picture by Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “scholastics” is what we call the leading churchmen-scholars in the Middle Ages.  These religious thinkers used the logical methods of their time to debate complex, often abstract theological issues, many of which were premised on faith. This is also known as Scholasticism.

The scholastics never asked “how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.” But this question is often cited to satirize their approach, which to critics seems arbitrary and metaphysically excessive.

The influential scholastic St. Thomas Aquinas adapted arguments from (the Greek pre-Christian) Aristotle into a Christian network of beliefs. Interestingly, Aristotle’s voluminous works were translated from the Greek into Latin by Arab scholars.

Duns-Scotus

Duns-Scotus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After some kind of direct encounter with God near the end of his life, Aquinas apparently said that his many writings were like a “house of straw.” In other words, worthless compared to direct experience. Nevertheless, his arguments, many of which seem to be couched in ancient and medieval ways of understanding, are often cited to illustrate and (apparently) legitimize Catholic teachings.

Perhaps the abstract intellectualism and intense quibbling of the scholastics lost sight of basic Christian teaching of loving God and one another. And for one person to believe he or she can definitively speak about God, no matter how cleverly, seems quite arrogant from a contemporary standpoint.

Some of the more noteworthy scholastics are St. Anselm, William of Ockham, Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus

Related » Idealism, Nominalism, Ontological Argument, Universalism

¹ Wikipedia lists several more whom I’ve encountered but not really had the time to study.


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Sister

Nuns at the beach, Cherai: Michael Foley

Michael Foley – Nuns at the beach, Cherai, Kerala, India

Sister is a word often associated with a Catholic nun, although Protestant women leading a life of institutionalized prayer are also called sisters. Wikpedia suggests that the term “nun” indicates a more contemplative path, while the term “sister” refers to a more active vocation. But this is debatable because, as Wikipedia also notes, the terms are often used interchangeably.¹

The word was commonly found in Hebrew (ahoth) and Greek (adelphe), where its meaning ranges from a family member, an extended relative or a wife, to a friendship or tribal tie.

Catholic nuns have existed from about 300 CE. The Catholic Church does not allow women to become priests, this apparently justified on the basis of the maleness of the twelve apostles.

English: Statue of the Virgin Mary Located in ...

Statue of the Virgin Mary Located in the grounds of the Roman Catholic Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This theological argument has been upheld as evidence of sexism within the ranks of the all-male Catholic hierarchy. This sexism is said to be reinforced and legitimized by cherry picking Bible verses that support a chauvinist stance while ignoring those which would refute it.

The Christian designation “brother is a rough parallel to “sister” for men. Two examples of “Mothers” (as linguistic but not organizational counterparts to priestly “Fathers”) are the late Mother Teresa and The Virgin Mary (called The Blessed Mother by Catholics).

Christian sisters are often (but not always) lampooned and unjustly stereotyped in the movies. One only has to wonder what would happen if a similar mockery of Hindu or Moslem religious women occurred in the media.² And why, we must ask, do Christians, for the most part, take it in stride? Could it be because Christians are the most secure in their faith? Or have many lost their faith and are just apathetic?

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nun

² For a list of other religious, professional and humanitarian uses of the word “sister,” see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_%28disambiguation%29

On the Web

 


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St. Teresa of Ávila

Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany

Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) was a Spanish Carmelite Catholic mystic whose frank autobiography was criticized by the American psychologist and philosopher William James. However, this work along with The Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection are widely regarded as literary and spiritual classics.

St. Teresa was a profound mystic and convent organizer. She spoke of degrees of purity, detachment from the world (to include one’s relatives) and various graces encountered by those seeking spiritual perfection and God.

For St. Teresa, God’s love was experienced as a kind of spiritual water for which she was ever thirsty.

In keeping with the general motif of the Dark Night of the Soul, in her autobiography she spoke of terrible “dry” periods where grace was lacking. During these moments she neither enjoyed this world nor a heavenly one, “as if crucified between heaven and earth, suffering and receiving no help from either.”

St. Teresa apparently levitated. This made her uncomfortable because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.

ipis

Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila, by Bernini

Perhaps her most enduring saying is “God alone suffices.”

In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV, and on 27 September 1970 was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.¹

While St. Teresa’s autobiography is inspiring for contemporary readers, it doesn’t really address some of the problems that modern (and postmodern) mystics must face.

If I remember right, there’s no mention of systemic corruption in the Church. And there’s certainly no commentary on how we are to survive amidst ever growing technologies and their potential misuse by creaminals, creeps and scallywags. So although extremely worthwhile in my younger days, I had to take heed but respectfully move past hers and several other Christian classics to pave my own road to salvation.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila

Related Posts »  St. John of the Cross, Numinous, Pollution