Friday, January 19, 2007

St. Paul - Pillar of the Catholic Church - IV

Having gone through the Pauline epistles (merely picking out certain verses of interest), we have finished up to Ephesians at this point. Although I regrettably admit, I had neglected to comment on the first chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul says:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
I had written before on unity within the Catholic Church. This was part (albeit one of the weaker points) of the evidence I observed in defense of my conversion. So needless to say, this passage is of some interest to Catholics and I see only one Church truly fulfilling such an exhortation.
Philippians 1:1
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers* and deacons:
Paul's opening remarks here are of interest because we see that a clear hierarchy has already developed in the early Church. To quote world renowned Anglican scholar N. T. Wright:
"One well-worn traditional Christian position is to say that the Jewish background is a mass of legalism and formalism, and that Jesus came to teach a different sort of religion, namely, an interior spiritual sort. This is clearly no good."(1)
It is critical for any serious look at early Christianity to realize that Jesus did not come to destroy hierarchy, legalism or tradition. He came to fulfill the Law and preach the true gospel of (to use Wright's language) "Israel's god".

It is in that light that we can appreciate the fact that St. Paul is writing to a Church which already has a significant hierarchy of some sort in place. The biblical hierarchy of the early Church is of course what the Roman Catholic Church follows to this day.

I placed an asterisk beside the word "overseer" since that word is traditionally (KJV etc...) translated as "bishop". It is the Greek word episkopos. Regardless, it is clearly talking about what we now call bishops (since they apparently operate in the same way... i.e. they're overseers). So we have in the canonical New Testament; overseers, bishops, presbyters /elders (priests) deacons and "saints". (Clearly, the word "saint" here is written in a different sense than a canonized saint of the Catholic Church).
Philippians 1:6
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Again, exactly in line with Catholic dogma: we are not saved by our works or because we are good people. God (by His grace) initiated a calling, we responded by faith out of free will, the Holy Spirit gives us perpetual grace to do His will and thereby sanctifies us.
Philippians 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Clearly Paul sees something incomplete in his life. He is working toward something. Now you can come up with whatever clever explanation you want, but in Paul's own words, he is working to "win the prize for which God has called me heavenward"... or in layman's terms: Heaven.

1) Wright 1996, Jesus And The Victory of God pg 92 (He also points to Sanders 1985 passim for a more thorough critique of this position).


Prairie Princess said...

I'm still trying to get a handle on Catholic doctrine. You said, "God (by His grace) initiated a calling, we responded by faith out of free will, the Holy Spirit gives us perpetual grace to do His will and thereby sanctifies us." What kind of calling and to whom?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Princess, thanks for stopping by. Im probably not a very good source to really get a handle on Catholic doctrine.

But the reference I made was to:

Romans 8:30
And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

So therefore He calls His predestined (or destined depending on the version) children to Himself. I see this as the urging of the Holy Spirit to become reconciled with Christ. Catholic doctrine teaches that man does not seek God but God seeks man.

Hope this of some marginal help.