Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm Like Paul, and You're Like Timothy...

Over at La Perruque, I was provoked a bit by this comment, which asserts that "For Paul, this irruptive even is precisely not about him: it is constitutive of ecclesia."

In Galatians 1:11-12, St. Paul writes that "the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (NAB).

In Acts 1:21-22, however, St. Peter proposes electing an Apostle to replace Judas, with the following criteria: "Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection" (NAB).

In Galatians, St. Paul claims that his office as Apostle was received through a special revelation of Jesus Christ whereas in Acts an Apostle is chosen to succeed Judas (who was never an Apostle but one of the Twelve) according to criteria set by the Church and with a reliance on God's grace to perfect this criteria. In the Catholic Church, the bishops are the successors to the Apostles (as teachers of the faith). And yet, the bishops have taken a decidedly pastoral role of local governance, while the bishop of Rome, the Pope, still bears a universal responsibility, that is, apostolic succession. Not surprisingly, the election of a new pope is reminiscent of this scene from Acts.

In congregational Protestantism especially, this Pauline apostleship is taken as normative. That is, anybody at any time can announce that they have been selected by Jesus Christ to bear responsibility for the whole Church. And so it happens that a Bible study teacher believes himself called and starts a new congregation. The group that I met in college was started in order to relive the freshness of the Church as recorded in Acts. At that time, some left to begin again since the existing group was already becoming too institutional.

In Catholicism, however, we have had many men and women who have received a special prophecy from the Holy Spirit which even as it does not add or change the tradition received from the Apostles, yet allows the central person of Jesus Christ to shine forth in a new and splendid way (just as the revelation which St. Paul received brought a distinctive perspective on the work of Christ). These prophetic charisms are inspired in the most diverse people within the Church: women and men, servants and free, of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds and educations. Some of these Christian prophets live a hundredfold paternity, with their spiritual children witnessing to the same prophetic gift for hundreds of years: like Elisha, these spiritual sons and daughters inherit the prophetic gift of their founder. And like St. Paul, these visionaries have often had blind spots which were healed by submitting to the pastoral leaders of the Church as St. Paul did to Ananias in Damascus. It is this phenomenon which accounts for much of the rich diversity and vitality of the Catholic Church — which makes it catholic instead of parochial.

The disruptive irruption of prophetic apostles is an essential characteristic of the Church and is  truly generative — reviving the love of the Baptized for Jesus Christ. St. Paul is inimitible and unique, as are the many founders of orders and movements — and yet they share a common goal: that Christ may be followed.
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