The Gospel reading for the 21st is taken from Matthew 16:13-23. The first part of the selection — Mt. 16:13-19 — is about the Confession of Peter. The theme of the 21st Sunday is about the keys of the kingdom of David that Jesus gives to Peter, the chancellor of the Kingdom. In what follows, we have two Fathers of the Church meditating on this authority given to Peter. The first is on the service of unity that the Petrine office renders. The second is on the apostolic tradition that is guaranteed by the apostolic succession. This second is specially interesting because of the background: the gnostics were boasting that they have a secret knowledge passed on to them that is more efficacious than that of the Catholic Church. Irenaeus’ argument is simple: if the Lord would have given a secret knowledge, he would have given it to the apostles and the apostles in turn would have given it to their successors, the ones who will later on take care of the Lord’s flock in their absence. Irenaeus then how the knowledge of the apostles is handed down in a faithful traditioning that is guaranteed by the succession of bishops. The selection is also interesting because it provides us the list of the successors of Peter in Rome until the time of Irenaeus who lived between 115 and 202.
The Lord said to Peter: “I say to you: you are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church and the doors of hell will not prevail over her. I will give you the keys of the kingdom: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earch will be loosed in heaven.” He builds the Church on only one even if after the resurrection he will give to all the apostles equal authority: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit! To whomever you forgive sins, they shall be forgiven; to whomever you retain sins, they shall be retained (Jn. 20:21-23)”. However, in order to manifest unity, he constituted one chair alone and made it such that by his authoritative word that principle of this unity should be derived from one alone. That which was Peter, that too were all the other apostles: equal sharers to honor and to authority. But all this proceeds from unity, so that the faith in Christ shows itself to be one.
The Holy Spirit alludes to the one Church of Christ in the Canticles when, in the person of the Lord he says: “One alone is my dove, my perfect one, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who gave her birth. (Canticles 6:9)”. Whoever does not preserve this unity of the Church, would he perhaps preserve the faith? Whoever opposes and resists the Church, does he perhaps think he still is in the Church? And yet, it is the Blessed Paul who teaches and reveals the sacred mystery of this unity saying: “One body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God (Eph. 4:4-6)”
Cyprian of Carthage, On The Unity of the Church, 4-5
So, therefore, the tradition of the apostles which is already manifested to the whole world, can be encountered in the whole Church by those who wish to see the truth. And we can enumerate the bishops who were established by the apostles in the Churches and their successors until us, ourselves. Now, these have not taught nor have they known nothing that is similar to the delirious fantasies of these (gnostics). If the apostles knew the secret mysteries which have been taught to the “perfect”, apart from and unknown to others, they would have certainly transmitted such mysteries above all to those upon whom they have entrusted the Churches. Since they would want that their successors and those upon him they have transmitted their mission would become absolutely perfect and irreprehensible in all things. If these men would have accomplished their duties correctly, it would have been a great advantage, while if they would fail, it would have been a worse disgrace.
But since it would take too long in a work such as these to enumerate the successions in all the Churches, we will take only one of these, the greatest and the most ancient of the Churches, the one known to all which the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul founded and established in Rome, showing that the apostolic tradition which she has and the faith she announces to men reached us through the succession of bishops…; with this Church, in fact, because of her more excellent origins, the whole church, that is, all the faithful in all places should agree — she in whom has been conserved, to the benefit of these everywhere, the tradition that came from the apostles. And so, after having founded and built the Church, the blessed apostles gave to Linus the care of the episcopate; it is this Linus whom Paul names in the letter to Timothy. Anacletus succeeds him. After him, it was Clement’s turn to the episcopate, the third position from the time of the apostles. Under Clement, there was a grave dissension among the brothers in Corinth; the Church of rome, therefore, addressed a very important letter to the Corinthians to reconcile them in peace, renew their faith and announce to them the tradition that was just received from the apostles. Evaristos followed Clement, after Evaristos, Alexandre and then, sixth from the apostles is Sixtus, after him, Telesforus, who who gave a glorious witness, and then Iginus. Then comes Pius, after him Anicetus, and since Soteros follows Anicetos, we now come to the twelfth place after the apostles, Eleuteros who holds the episcopate. This is then the sequence and the succession by which the existing tradition in the Church from the apostles and the preaching of the truth has reached us. And this is a very complete proof that this life-giving faith, one and identical to itself, is conserved and transmitted in the truth from the apostles until now.
Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3, 2
Originally posted 2008-08-07 17:38:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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