Revisiting St. Paul’s Message on the Gift of Justification to Mankind

I would like some feedback here from some of my Protestant readers on a previous article wherein I offer a reading of Romans 4 which might be a reasonable alternative to the Lutheran reading. Often times, Catholics or Orthodoxy try to say that since “works” in the context refers to Jewish boundary markers, we can safely say that when St. Paul says that we are justified by faith “apart from the works o the Law,” he simply means that while man is justified by faith apart from “ceremonial rituals” he is justified by a combination of faith and moral works, such that flow from loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. However, it seems to me that when St. Paul excludes “works” from human justification, he means to exclude all human working of any kind, even if the Jewish boundary markers are his emphasis. Now, lest I trigger the physicists, chemists, and biologists reading this, I don’t mean to say that St. Paul envisions the exclusion of quite literally every single human work imaginable, such that even the process of hearing, thinking, contemplating, and the choice of commitment (which are all technically a work in ontology). Even so, their movement is still grounded in the immanent God who grounds all being and its function. To a natural and supernatural level, God always grounds the movement of even the soul’s movements.
In any case, exegetically speaking, it can’t be denied that in his letter to Rome, St. Paul clearly understands all of human sin to have disqualified everyone from being recognized as “just” or “right” in the eyes of God. Therefore, attempts at making onself “just” or “right” in God’s eyes through outward ceremony certainly won’t be successful (indeed, this is Paul’s emphasis), but neither would the soul’s attempt to strive for moral perfection since it is impossible (Rom 3:9-20; 7:1-25). A successful human justification, therefore, must be through a means which is neither a prescription for outward ceremony (for an outward effect) nor an assignment to commit one’s life to moral perfection. The Mosaic Law, seeing as it requires both (Gal 3:10-12), cannot give life because its demand can’t be met by humanity marred by the sin of Adam (Rom 5:12-21).

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Is the 8th Session of Constantinople II (553) a Golden Gun Fatality to the Papacy?

The story behind the 6th century Emperor Justinian and the Three Chapters Controversy is one of the most suspensful episodes in Church History. Elsewhere, I’ve written a lengthy commentary, but here I’d like to focus in on one part of the 5th Ecumenical Council that is much overlooked by contemporary subscribers to the Catholic doctrine of the Papacy and scarcely known by opponents to that doctrine. In particular, the Eastern Orthodox have here what they might call a Golden Gun (c.f. GoldenEye 007, N64) with which to bring to the fight against Catholics over Papal Supremacy. What I’m talking about is the Council of Constantinople (553) and its detailed commentary on the fall of Pope Vigilius (537-555), not to include the thorny issue of the two contradictory Constitua of Vigilius (that’s another Golden Gun consideration). To make a very long and dense story very short, the event of this Council has to do with the problems that arose with the Council of Chalcedon (451) and its “apparent” acceptance of Nestorianism through its embrace of Theodoret of Cyrrhus and, more importantly, Ibas of Edessa, whose “letter” to Mari of Persia may be read to have waffled on the clarity of Cyrillian Christology. In order to both vindicate the Chalcedonian legacy, as well as extend an olive branch to the Eastern Episcopates that “understandably” refused assent to Chalcedon, i.e. the Miaphysites of the East, the Emperor Justinian thought it wise to assemble the writings of Three Heads, or Three Chapters, namely, of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrus, and Ibas of Edessa, and condemn them outright. The Pope, as well as the other Chalcedonian Eastern Patriarchs, were hesitant to subscribe to this “Edict” condemning the Three Chapters, but were subsequently brought under a quick process of Imperial aggression which imposed force upon the Church’s Primates to sign on to it.

With enough pressure and persuasion (i.e. depositions, exilment, and sheer threat ), the Emperor was largely successful in gaining cooperation, with a unique exception in Pope Vigilius. The Pope proved himself indecisive and hesitant to follow through. Eventually, the Pope and the Emperor agreed that an Ecumenical Council where Bishops from both East and West should assemble to decide the matter. However, this Council was soon proven to be a gathering overly controlled by the Emperor, unsurprisingly, and the Pope decided that he would not participate. For one, the Pope’s wish of a sufficient Western representation was not provided (whether by the Emperor’s unwillingness or the unwillingness of the Western Churches that grew suspicious of the Emperor). The Pope’s uncooperation was not just an affront to the Emperor, but eventually the Emperor got the Bishops assembled at the Council to gang up against Vigilius and they all reached a point where the removed Vigilius from the diptychs under the charge of heresy (for failing to agree to condemn the Three Chapters) and pronounced a statement indicting the Pope’s actions against the Council. The Greek Bishops went ahead and completed the Council without the Pope, and 6 months afterwards the Pope eventually came around to confirm its decrees. Below is the full text of the Council’s statement on Vigilius (in Italic; emphasis in bold red), and it won’t be difficult to see how what is said therein touches upon the subject of Papal Supremacy “over and against” what Apostolic and Patristic Tradition. The following will be largely a joy ride for Orthodox readers. For Catholics, put your seat belt on.

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Saint Peter, the Rock, and the Keys: Symbolic Representations of the Catholic Church

In contemporary Catholic apologetics, there is a huge focus on the Apostle Peter as the rock upon which Christ built His Church, and many point to the fact to that to him was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven which includes the power of binding and loosing. Moreover, this Scriptural commission given to St. Peter to be the chief steward over the whole household of God is then directly applied to the Bishops of Rome in perpetual succession. The Popes of Rome, therefore, as the sole key-holders standing guard at the door of the kingdom, have exclusive rights to determine the criteria of communion or the forfeiture of that communion. And there you have the Catholic Papacy in a material nutshell. However, if this is the only methodology understood by Catholics, there is going to be some traffic with the many Patristic authors who understand the Scriptural commission given to St. Peter to have a more corporate significance rather than simply applicable to one episcopal line, i.e. the Roman episcopal line.

If one reads very closely to the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Augustine, and St. Leo the Great, one cannot escape the fact that the authors understood the figure of the Bishop, whose office is it to rule, govern, sanctify, and pastor the flock of Jesus Christ entrusted to them, as an organic outgrowth of the office of St. Peter amidst the Apostolic College (St. Ignatius is not explicit with the Petrine connection, but conceptually he must be included in the list). This means that when these authors read Matthew 16, they saw in St. Peter not merely a man standing-for-himself, nor did they see a man standing-in-for the Church of Rome (which hasn’t even existed yet). Rather, they saw in St. Peter a corporate symbol for the entire Church of Christ. Effectively, if St. Peter was given the name “Rock”, if he was given the keys of the kingdom by which to bind and loose, and if he was commissioned to pastor the lambs of Christ, then likewise the whole Church adorns these attributes and prerogatives. In other words, St. Peter was understood to be acting as a corproate personality in which the attributions given to him are all-inclusive for the Church’s priesthood. This is why St. Cyprian can see in the commission of St. Peter’s person the bedrock of the whole Church in that St. Peter’s commission is the archetypical Pastor of the Church’s ministry.

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Latin Practice of Delaying Communion not without Ancient Precedent?

Interesting Factoid

St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390), in his 40th oration, considers the early practice of the Church in baptizing infants as a matter of secondary consideration rather than primary. In other words, St. Gregory says baptism should primarily be given to a child when they reach an age where they can at least respond to the questions which require a profession of faith on the part of the catechumen. His reasoning is that by being able to exercise reason and to have knowledeable consciousness of the faith’s content, they better understand the mystery into which they enter. One could say this a milder version of Tertullian’s opposition to infant baptism (c.f. De Baptismo 18). However, we know that both Tertullian and St. Gregory held that if an infant *is* baptized, it is spiritually effective for the remission of sins (something which contemporary credobaptists almost always reject).

I will paste the text from St. Gregory below wherefrom I extract the above observation (as well as the link to New Advent), but I wanted to draw a further point from this. Sometimes we can be hard on the Latin practice which had emerged in the 12th century (perhaps earlier) of ceasing to give communion to infants, preferring to wait until the child is old enough to exercise reason and faith. I’ve been guilty of making this appear as if it were a violent break with the unanimous Patristic praxis. However, with the assistance of more research (c.f. Paul Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship), I’ve recognized that some caution is in order.
When describing the early Church’s movement to universalize infant baptism, Professofor Bradshaw (Professor of Liturgy at Notre Dame and recipient of Doctor of Divinity from Oxford) notes that this was not an immediate reality. He writes:

“What is also clear is that even after the practice of infant baptism was adopted, it did not quickly replace adult baptism as the norm everywhere. On the one hand, in North Africa it seems to have become firmly established at an early date. Thus Cyprian in the third century insisted that there was no need to wait until the eigth day after birth to baptize an infant… On the other hand, we find Gregory Nazianzus in Cappadocia in 381 advising that children should normally be baptized at about the age of three years, when they are able to answer the baptismal questions themselves and can to some extent understand the Christian faith (Or. 40.28)! There are also plenty of examples of people from Christian families in the fourth century who were not baptized until they had become adults. Indeed, as we saw in the previous chapter, there was a widespread tendency at that time to delay baptism as long as possible” (p. 33)

Bradshaw’s reference to the prior chapter simply deals with the fact that because early Christians didn’t believe that there was such a thing as restorative penance that could be employed in the case of a serious post-baptismal lapse from righteousness, they delayed baptism as long as possible. This seems to be the rationale that led some Emperors to postpone baptism (ex: Constantine), and perhaps also explains why St. Augustine (and many others) was not immediately baptized after birth. Also, St. Basil the Great, like St. Augustine, was baptized as an adult. There are other Saints who grew up in Christian families that did not get baptized until they were adults, but memory of them escapes me at the moment.

In any case, this much can be said: the much lamented reforms that took place in the early part of the 2nd millennium in the Latin West wherein holy communion and chrismation were delayed for infants after their baptism still retained something more strict than that which is reccomended by St. Gregory Nazianzus (sometimes called “the Theologian”), and certainly more so than the early Tertullian. In fact, if Bradshaw’s scholarship checks out (and I must humbly say, I think his conclusions are far too generally stated), then the Latin practice of the 2nd millennium appears to be more strict than even the parents of some prominent Saints in the ancient Church, as well as the general tendency before the 5th century. For the canons in the Latin West would excommunicate parents if they willfully did not baptize their infant children rather quickly (I forget what the length of days was that allowed for delay, truthfully). On top of this, the Tridentine consensus (16th century) employs the argument that a child should have the useful faculty of reason and knowledge before receiving the sacred body and blood of Christ, much like St. Gregory.

One might say, “Ah! But St. Gregory says an infant should be initiated on danger of death!” Well, interestingly enough, current Canon Law in the Catholic Church requires an infant who is ill, and projected to possibly pass away from this life, to be both baptized and chrismated, and the same law mandates that very small children who can at least recognize the Eucharist as something different than mere bread can receive for the sake of viaticum.
Anyway, feel free to criticize anything I’ve said above. Now, with the text of St. Gregory’s Oration:

“Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you to say about those who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we to baptize them too? Certainly, if any danger presses. For it is better that they should be unconsciously sanctified than that they should depart unsealed and uninitiated… But in respect of others I give my advice to wait till the end of the third year, or a little more or less, when they may be able to listen and to answer something about the Sacrament; that, even though they do not perfectly understand it, yet at any rate they may know the outlines; and then to sanctify them in soul and body with the great sacrament of our consecration. For this is how the matter stands; at that time they begin to be responsible for their lives, when reason is matured, and they learn the mystery of life (for of sins of ignorance owing to their tender years they have no account to give), and it is far more profitable on all accounts to be fortified by the Font, because of the sudden assaults of danger that befall us, stronger than our helpers.” (Oration 40.28)