Monday, January 4, 2010

The Church as the People of God III

Here are some interesting passages from Hans Kung's The Catholic Church: A Short History that remind us of the disconnect between Jesus of Nazareth and the original Church and the Catholic Church of today.

From Chapter I "The Beginnings of the Church":

From the earliest times until the present, the church has been, and still is, the fellowship of those who believe in Christ, the fellowship of those who have committed themselves to the person and cause of Christ and who attest it as hope for all men and women....The original meaning of ekklesia, "church," was not a hyperorganization of spiritual functionaries, detached from the concrete assembly. It denoted a community gathering at a particular place at a particular time for a particular action - a local church, though with the other churches it formed a comprehensive community, the whole church. According to the New Testament, every individual local community is given what it needs for human salvation: the gospel to proclaim, baptism as a rite of initiation, the celebration of a meal in grateful remembrance, the various charisms and ministries, Thus every local church makes the whole church fully present; indeed it may understand itself - in the language of the New Testament - as people of God, body of Christ, and building of the Spirit.

In answer to the question, "Was Jesus Catholic?"

Catholics who think along traditional lines tacitly presuppose that he was. The Catholic Church has always been fundamentally what it is today, the thinking goes, and what the Catholic Church has always said and intended is what originally Jesus Christ himself said and intended....[But] we must never forget what the sources are unanimous in reporting. Through his actions this man from Nazareth became involved in a dangerous conflict with the ruling forces of his time. Not with the people, but with the official religious authorities, with the hierarchy, which handed him over to the Roman governor and thus to his death....Even in today's Catholic Church might he have become involved in dangerous conflicts if he so radically put in question the dominant religious circles and cliques and the traditional religious practices of so many pious and fundamentalist Catholics? What if he even initiated a public protest action against the way in which piety was practiced in the sanctuary of the priests and the high priest and identified himself with the concerns of a popular church movement "from below"? Jesus was anything but the representative of a patriarchal hierarchy.

From Chapter II, "The Early Catholic Church":

Kung talks about the Pauline churches:

The presbyteral-episcopal constitution of the church is said to have been instituted by Jesus Christ, even to be a divine institution and therefore unchangeable divine law. However, a careful investigation of New Testament sources in the last hundred years has shown that this church constitution, centered on the bishop, is by no means directly willed by God or given by Christ but is the result of a long and problematical historical development. It is human work and therefore in principal can be changed.

In the lettters of Paul of which the authority is undisputed there is no mention at all of a legal institution of the church. In the Pauline churches there was neither a monarchical episcopate nor a presbyterate nor an ordination by the laying on of hands.

And yet Paul was convinced that his gentile Christian churches were in their way complete and well-equipped churches, which did not lack anything essential; the non-episcopal congregationalist churches of a later period would appeal to this. The Pauline churches are in fact largely communities with free charismatic ministries. According to Paul, all Christians have their personal calling, their own gift of the spirit, their special charism for service to the community.

In his first letter to the community of Corinth, Paul thinks it quite normal that the Eucharist is celebrated there without him and without anyone who has been appointed to an office, though at the same time it is taken for granted that a certain order should be observed. According to the earliest community order, the Didache (Teaching of the Apostles, around 100), above all teachers and prophets celebrate the Eucharist, and only after them elected bishops and deacons. The community of Antioch was clearly led not by episkopoi and presbyters, but by prophets and teachers. In Rome too, at the time when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, there was evidently as yet no community order with episkopoi. That makes the question of how a hierarchy came into being all the more interesting.

If the meaning of church is community of believers or worshippers, if Jesus was not Catholic, and if the Pauline churches were not hierarchically structured, how did we get to where we are today? Hans Kung has much to say on that score. Stay tuned.

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