Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gamaliel and the Centurion

Between spending my teens in the '60s and stubbornness worthy of a mule, my attitude toward "authority" had been less than fawning.

Happily, I married a woman with a very low tolerance for nonsense. She pointed out that I had no problem with authority. It was pompous nitwits who claim authority that set my teeth on edge. (December 2, 2012; March 30, 2011)

That helped explain why I became a Catholic, and that's another topic.

The Centurion


One of my favorite folks in the Bible shows up in Matthew, a little after the Sermon on the Mount. He refused something Jesus offered — and was commended by my Lord:
"4 When he entered Capernaum, 5 a centurion approached him and appealed to him,

"saying, 'Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.'

"He said to him, 'I will come and cure him.'

"The centurion said in reply, 6 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.

"For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, "Go," and he goes; and to another, "Come here," and he comes; and to my slave, "Do this," and he does it.'

"When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, 'Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel 7 have I found such faith."...
(Matthew 8:5-10)
These days, someone in the centurion's position might have said, 'I understand chain of command:' which isn't blindly following orders, and that's yet another topic. (March 12, 2012)

Or maybe not so much. I can't remember a time when I didn't recognize my Lord as the Son of God: although my understanding of faith has grown a great deal over the decades.

Gamaliel


Another of my favorite folks is Saul's mentor, Gamaliel:
"6 But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up, ordered the men to be put outside for a short time,

"and said to them, 'Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men....

"...So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.

"But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.' They were persuaded by him."
(Acts 5:34-35, 38-39)
This teacher of the law had the good sense to realize that God is large and in charge: and that "activity ... of human origin" self-destructs if it violates natural law.1

The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes Gamaliel as a Saint, and that's yet again another topic.2

Kingdoms, Dynasties - - -


Studying history, I focused on what happened before about 476 AD. From my point of view, that's when Western civilization's 'reset' button got punched.

Since we're still working on the post-Roman iteration — we don't know how it'll turn out yet. I'm cautiously optimistic, and that's still another topic.

One of my professors said that nations or kingdoms don't last more than about two centuries. Remember: this was the late '60s and early '70s. I now see the cultural and legal upheavals as the start of long-overdue reforms. Some didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but many did. (February 9, 2014)

There's a little truth to the 'two centuries' claim: human institutions don't last forever.

Making a quick spot check in Europe's history, I see that the Obodrite realm lasted 35 years, from about 1090 to 1125 or 1093 to 1128 — or thereabouts. By one reckoning, the House of Habsburg lasted 760 years, from around 1020 to 1780.  Maybe 200 years is an average, maybe not.

Come to think of it, the Spanish branch of the Hapsburgs started around 1516, and married close relatives until earning oblivion in 1700: almost exactly two centuries. (December 13, 2013)

On the other hand, some civilizations of the ancient world were remarkably durable.

Egypt under the pharaohs lasted from about 3000 BC to 30 BC, when it became a Roman province. That's remarkable, but over that three-millennia span dynasties rose and fell, and there were at least two major interruptions.

I'm a bit more impressed by Rome: as a Republic from 509 to 27 BC, and an Empire from 27 BC to 476 AD in the west, 330 to 1453 in the east.

Rome's constitution and laws changed over those thousand years: but there was, I think, more continuity than we see in ancient Egypt. Roman law in the Imperial period arguably laid foundations for today's international law, and that's more topics.

- - - and the Catholic Church


After two millennia, and more than a dozen centuries into the current iteration of Western civilization, the bark of Peter has had 264 senior officers on deck.

Some of our Popes, including two from the 20th century, are canonized Saints.

Others were anything but.

Benedict IX, for example, was elected Pope three times — was kicked out of the position twice, and sold the papacy once. That was roughly a thousand years back. The Church hit another rough patch from about 1316 to 1447.

Oddly enough, knowing about Popes who were — ethically challenged? — helped convince me that my Lord's authority had been passed from Peter to Linus, and so on to Benedict XVI and now Francis.

I also knew that the Catholic Church had endured, with an unbroken transfer of authority, for nearly two thousand years: despite the fall of Rome, the occasional knave like Benedict IX, and the Black Death.

Human institutions don't last that long. Not with that sort of continuity.

"...Until the End of Time..."


I'm impressed by folks like that centurion, Gamaliel, and the criminal who said " 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' "

Somehow they knew, or suspected, that this Nazarene was from God.

Nearly two thousand years later, we've had good Popes, bad ones, and some who were good men but inept administrators. We've had folks who said they were the Pope, but weren't.

But the Catholic Church is still here.

I could assume that the Church was incredibly lucky — or accept what my Lord said to Simon Peter in Matthew 16:18.

Applying Occam's razor, I decided that what the Catholic Church had been saying from the start was the most likely explanation. We've had help.

We're guided by Sacred Scripture, Tradition (with a capital "T"), and the Magisterium. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 75-95)

Our Tradition is the apostolic teaching authority, a "living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit."3 (Catechism, 77-79)

For two milllenia we have persevered: through the rise and fall of kingdoms, empires, and civilizations; despite Manichaeism, Benedict IX (we've up to Benedict XVI now), and paparazzi. I expect 'more of the same' until our Lord returns: no matter how long "soon" is.
"Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.

"And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

"I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 14 Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' "
(Matthew 16:17-19)

"11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, 'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

"Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

"teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.' "
(Matthew 28:18-20)

"And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time...."
("Dei Verbum," 8)
Background:
Part of my take on our first two millennia:

1 Natural law: unchanging ethical principles woven into the universe, truth present in the core of each of us, and perceptible through reason. How we apply these principles varies from one era to another, and depending on local circumstances. (1954-1960)

2 More than you may want to know about Gamaliel:
3 Tradition with a capital "T" is not the same as trying to live in the 1950s:
" 'In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.'35 Indeed, 'the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.'36

"This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, 'the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.'37 'The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.'38

"The Father's self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: 'God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church - and through her in the world - leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.'39"
(Catechism, 77-79)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Could the Second Coming of Christ be near? Today's radical Muslims are operating under a crusade mentality of the middle ages. With the extinction of the colonialism of England and France in the Middle East, a political void in authority developed. The revolutionary idea of separation of state and religion was never achieved by the Muslims to the extent we have achieved it in the West. Militant Islam has come to hate their own secular Muslim leaders and have decided to wage jihad against their brothers. The West will sit back and ponder options until the militants have overthrown all of the old guard kingdom leaders of Islam and consolidated their power under a fundamental radical caliphate. Their religion will then become their State. Then the militants will turn their hatred toward Jerusalem. The West will be forced to act to protect God's chosen people. Will this Armageddon usher in the return of Christ?

Brian Gill said...

Anonymous, you may be right.

Folks have been predicting the Second Coming at frequent intervals for about two millennia now - - - sooner or later, someone's going to get lucky. ;)

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