Monday, June 28, 2010

Neither the Son of God nor the Apostle Paul were sufficiently credible. Will Augustine be?

Another post on whether or not Christ founded His Church on Peter himself or on Peter's Divinely-inspired, God-the-Father-given profession of who Jesus is ("You are the Christ, the Son of the living God").  I am gratified to find that Augustine agrees with me.
Found this below. Perhaps Kevin can consult his Aramaic originals* to verify Augustine's words as quoted.

(Note that Augustine came to the same conclusion as your obedient servant . . . Perhaps you can call him names too, Kevin.):
AUGUSTINE

Augustine is considered by many the most important theologian in the history of the Church for the first twelve hundred years. No other Church father has had such far reaching influence upon the theology of the Church. His authority throughout the patristic and middle ages is unsurpassed. He was the bishop of Hippo in North Africa from the end of the fourth century and on into the first quarter of the fifth, until his death in 430. William Jurgens makes these comments about his importance:
If we were faced with the unlikely proposition of having to destroy completely either the works of Augustine or the works of all the other Fathers and Writers, I have little doubt that all the others would have to be sacrificed. Augustine must remain. Of all the Fathers it is Augustine who is the most erudite, who has the most remarkable theological insights, and who is effectively most prolific (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1979), Vol. 3, p. 1).
He was a prolific writer and he has made numerous comments which relate directly to the issue of the interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18. In fact, Augustine made more comments upon this passage than any other Church father. At the end of his life, Augustine wrote his Retractations where he corrects statements in his earlier writings which he says were erroneous. One of these had to do with the interpretation of the rock in Matthew 16. At the beginning of his ministry Augustine had written that the rock was Peter. However, very early on he later changed his position and throughout the remainder of his ministry he adopted the view that the rock was not Peter but Christ or Peter's confession which pointed to the person of Christ. The following are statements from his Retractations which refer to his interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:
In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter: `On him as on a rock the Church was built'...But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: `Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,' that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: `Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received `the keys of the kingdom of heaven.' For, `Thou art Peter' and not `Thou art the rock' was said to him. But `the rock was Christ,' in confessing whom, as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter. But let the reader decide which of these two opinions is the more probable (The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C., Catholic University, 1968), Saint Augustine, The Retractations Chapter 20.1).
Clearly Augustine is repudiating a previously held position, adopting the view that the rock was Christ and not Peter. This became his consistent position. He does leave the interpretation open for individual readers to decide which was the more probable interpretation but it is clear what he has concluded the interpretation should be and that he believes the view that the rock is Christ is the correct one. The fact that he would even suggest that individual readers could take a different position is evidence of the fact that after four hundred years of church history there was no official authoritative Church interpretation of this passage as Vatican One has stated. Can the reader imagine a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church today suggesting that it would be appropriate for individuals to use private interpretation and come to their own conclusion as to the proper meaning of the rock of Matthew 16? But that is precisely what Augustine does, although he leaves us in no doubt as to what he, as a leading bishop and theologian of the Church, personally believes. And his view was not a novel interpretation, come to at the end of his life, but his consistent teaching throughout his ministry. Nor was it an interpretation that ran counter to the prevailing opinion of his day. The following quotation is representative of the overall view espoused by this great teacher and theologian:
And I tell you...`You are Peter, Rocky, and on this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer her. To you shall I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven' (Mt 16:15-19). In Peter, Rocky, we see our attention drawn to the rock. Now the apostle Paul says about the former people, `They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them; but the rock was Christ' (1 Cor 10:4). So this disciple is called Rocky from the rock, like Christian from Christ...Why have I wanted to make this little introduction? In order to suggest to you that in Peter the Church is to be recognized. Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter's confession. What is Peter's confession? `You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' There's the rock for you, there's the foundation, there's where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer (John Rotelle, Ed., The Works of Saint Augustine (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), Sermons, Vol. 6, Sermon 229P.1, p. 327).
*Kevin Bold claims to know exactly what was said in a conversation the only account of which we have was written in Greek. Even if the same word were used in Aramaic, it still doesn't change the fact that Christ did not say, "You are Peter (petros) and on you Peter (petros) I will build my Church." Rather, Jesus declared, "You are Peter (petros), and this rock (petra) I will build my Church," in response to Peter's confession of Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God."