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Q. I have a Greek Orthodox acquaintance who insists that before the schism between East and West, the papacy was alternated between the bishop of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople. I had never heard that claim. I thought that Peter definitely settled the papacy in Rome. Have you ever heard of this notion?
L.P., Evans, Ga.
A. This is a fitting question for today, which is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland:
Though I have been studying Eastern Orthodox theology for many years, I have never encountered this “notion,” which is an apt term for it. Not even in their most vehement attacks on Catholic Church teaching do Eastern apologists dare to make this claim. It is utterly unfounded.
The “keys of the kingdom,” universal jurisdiction over the Church, were given only to Peter and his successors. Never did Peter nor any of his successors even dream of sharing this authority with anyone else. The see of Constantinople did not exist until several centuries after Peter became the first pope at Rome.
Indeed, apart from the divine commission to Peter, the patriarchs of Constantinople were hardly to be trusted with universal jurisdiction. Warren Carroll’s “History of Christendom,” vol. 2, lists the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch in the years 324–654.
Out of those 330 years, during 120 years the patriarchs of Constantinople were heretics: Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites. During 43 of those years the patriarchs were in schism from Rome. And, of course, among the line of the Alexandrian and Antiochian patriarchs in that period there were also a good many heretics. But the bishops of Rome (popes) never succumbed to these heresies.
Perhaps your Greek Orthodox friend has in mind something called the “pentarchy” theory. Eastern Orthodox apologists such as Farther John Meyendorff often put this forward. It is the theory that in the early centuries, a committee of five patriarchs wielded authority in the Church: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria.
The theory is quite contrary to the facts. There never was such a committee. The bishop of Rome never shared his authority with any patriarch. In early centuries papal authority was exercised largely in putting down heresy. How could heretical patriarchs like those of Constantinople (or those of the other three patriarchates) be expected to put down the very heresies they themselves espoused?
Take only one example of the use of papal authority. Nestorius, a fifth-century patriarch of Constantinople, began preaching what is now universally acknowledged as heresy. Both he and his theological opponents appealed to Rome for vindication. (This action in itself clearly testifies to the acceptance of universal papal jurisdiction by the patriarchs of the early centuries.)
Pope Celestine ruled that Nestorius was teaching heresy and must be deposed. The ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) accepted the pope’s ruling, condemned Nestorius’s heresy and deposed him.
Catholic vs. Orthodox Easter?
Q. I notice on the calendar that this year, though Catholics are celebrating Easter on March 23, the “Eastern Orthodox Easter” is April 27. Why would Orthodox Christians celebrate this important feast on a day that’s different from Catholics and Protestants?
J.H., via email
A. The day designated for annually celebrating our Lord’s resurrection varied within the early Church, a situation that sometimes led to controversy. The fathers of the First Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325) recognized that the unity of Catholic faith throughout the world would be better reflected by a consistency in the celebration of this most important of Christian feasts. So they standardized the method for determining its date.
Unlike Christmas, which always occurs on a set date (December 25), Easter was established as a moveable feast, dependent on the shifting relations each year between the cycles of the moon and the sun. The Nicene fathers declared that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon to occur after the vernal equinox.
The vernal equinox is the time each spring when the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equator, so that night and day are of approximately equal length all over the world. It usually falls on March 21. Thus Easter never occurs before March 22 or after April 25.
We should note that this not a precise statement of the actual Church rules for determining the date. The full moon involved in calculation is not the astronomical full moon, but rather an “ecclesiastical moon” determined from rather complicated tables developed by the Church. Nevertheless, the ecclesiastical moon keeps in step, more or less, with the astronomical moon.
If the Nicene fathers standardized the celebration of Easter, how is it that Eastern Orthodox Christians usually celebrate on a day different from Catholics and most Protestants? The ancient Nicene rule for calculation is in fact still followed essentially by all these Christian communions. But the basic calendar used by the Orthodox churches is itself no longer used in the West.
At the time of Nicaea, the Roman world was using the Julian calendar, so called because it had been introduced by Julius Caesar about 46 B.C. However, the imprecision of this calendar allowed the true (seasonal) year to move away from the calendar year over a period of centuries.
To solve this problem, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII made adjustments to the Julian calendar to make it correspond more closely to the true length of the solar year. The new arrangement was called the Gregorian calendar.
Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, but by that time a discrepancy of 10 days had accumulated between it and the Julian calendar. So the extra 10 days were eliminated by having the date jump that year straight from October 4 to October 15.
By the early twentieth century, most countries had adopted the Gregorian calendar, at least for secular purposes. Nevertheless, the Eastern Orthodox churches, long separated from papal leadership, continued to use the Julian calendar to calculate the date of Easter. That calendar now runs 13 days after the Gregorian one.
As a result, Catholics and Orthodox usually end up observing our Lord’s Resurrection — not to mention the Lenten season and Holy Week preceding it — on different dates. Despite the best efforts of the council fathers at Nicaea so many centuries ago, Christians are still divided in their celebration of this most important of Christian feasts.
King James Bible?
Q. Some of my Protestant friends are always referring to the “King James Bible” as if no other Bible version should be used. What sets this particular Bible apart from others?
R.L., via email
A. Some Protestant believers do in fact insist that the “King James Version” (KJV) of the Bible is the only legitimate English version. In fact, what Americans commonly call the “King James Version” is officially designated the “Authorized Version.” It was commissioned by the Protestant King James I of England and produced by 54 biblical scholars in 1611.
The text is a revision of the earlier “Bishops’ Bible” (1568), rather than an original translation. But other previous English translations were consulted as well, such as the (Catholic) Rheims New Testament (1582), which had considerable influence on its language.
Though the Church of England had separated from Rome more than seven decades before, a battle still raged for its soul. More traditional believers, wishing to preserve many Catholic elements of faith and practice, defended the institution against the zeal of the more radical reformers, the Puritans in particular. Authorities responsible for the new version hoped to avoid these radical influences.
For that reason, they instructed the scholars to reject innovations the Puritans had made in religious terminology, such as replacing “baptism” with “washing” and “church” with “congregation.” A close examination of the text shows that other more “Catholic” terms such as “bishop” (1 Tm 3:1) and “bishopric” (Acts 1:20) were also retained — no doubt to the chagrin of radical reformers who opposed the very notion of such an office.
The language of the KJV is quite beautiful and has exerted extensive influence on English literature and speech. Nevertheless, as the English language itself changed, and as scholarship in ancient languages and archaeology made new discoveries, Protestant authorities called for revised versions and new translations. One of the best known is the Revised Standard Version (RSV), published in the United States in 1946 and 1952, which was actually a revision of the KJV and also has two Catholic editions (1965, 2006)) approved by the Church.
Protestants today who insist that the King James Bible is the only legitimate English version of Scripture tend to view the Catholic Church unfavorably. So they might be startled to learn that the first edition of the KJV actually included the deuterocanonical books — that is, the books of the Catholic Bible that are lacking in present-day Protestant Bibles.
In addition, since many contemporary editions of the KJV include extensive commentaries presenting fundamentalist teachings, its devotees might be surprised to learn that such notes were originally banned from this version. The scholars were instructed to avoid sectarian ideas by including only the marginal notes necessary to explain certain Hebrew or Greek terms.
Q. Why are the best Catholic apologists former Protestants? Why haven’t priests educated us with the same zeal and love and enthusiasm? I love EWTN and have learned more from former Protestants in three years than from 55 years of attending Mass.
C.A., via email
A. As a former Protestant pastor who is now a Catholic apologist and educator, I’ll do my best to answer, based on my personal experience.
First, I should note that in my almost 15 years as a Catholic, I’ve met numerous cradle Catholics — clergy, lay and religious — who are true saints-in-the-making: faithful, zealous, full of knowledge and wisdom about the Faith. They have been wonderful role models for me in my spiritual journey, and I’m deeply grateful for their holy witness. They have taught me a great deal, and I still have much more to learn from them. I can never repay them for their help.
At the same time, I think it’s just human nature that we tend not to value as much what we haven’t had to struggle to obtain. Like most converts, I feel like the merchant who searched for “fine pearls” and finally discovered “one pearl of great value” (Mt 13:45-46). After a rather costly spiritual search, I traded nearly all I had for the great treasure I found in the Catholic Church. So it’s no wonder I tell others about what I’ve found — and try to help them find it, too.
Another factor may be that converts have been put in the position of defending the Faith to their family members and friends, who typically oppose their movement toward the Church. Converts had to learn the answers to these challenges for themselves, and they had to present these answers again and again. By the time they have entered the Church, they have had plenty of practice as apologists, catechists and evangelists.
Yet another observation: Most converts know from the inside what it’s like to be a Protestant who feels suspicious of the Catholic Church, who has been fed misinformation about the Church, and who has problems grasping Catholic truth because he sees it through the lens of the Protestant worldview. We can help other Protestants into the Church — or at least relieve some of their suspicions and correct some of their misunderstandings — because we’ve been where they are, said what they say, thought what they think, felt what they feel. We know their religious jargon, their philosophical assumptions, the emotional blind spots in their reasoning, and the internal contradictions of their theological positions.
Finally, I should note that sometimes those who are raised Catholic may dismiss the evangelistic fervor of folks like me, insisting that we’re like this only because it’s a Protestant “holdover” in our spiritual temperament, something that’s not truly Catholic. (I’m glad the apostles didn’t think that way.) So I’m thrilled to hear from a cradle Catholic such as you who is zealous for the Faith and eager to share it. However we may have received our precious faith, it’s just too good to keep to ourselves. Praise God for your enthusiasm — the Church needs your witness!
Cooperation with Evil?
Q. I work at a rehabilitation hospital as a secretary with a doctor who cares for spinal-cord-injured patients. As the secretary, I take phone messages and give them to the doctor. Often the doctor asks me to call the prescription into the pharmacy or hands me the prescription to mail, as she is busy with patients.
I don’t mind calling the pharmacy for general prescriptions, but when it comes to Viagra, my conscience bothers me, as I feel that these patients may not be married. I think about the immorality of it, and what if they get some woman pregnant and that woman decides to have an abortion? Would I be an accessory to this situation? Is it sinful on my part? The doctor knows I don’t like doing this.
M.E., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman:
Given your position as the secretary for a doctor treating spinal-cord injuries, you would not be an accessory to an abortion. But you are wrestling with the problem of cooperation in evil — and listening to your conscience. So, congratulations! Your conscience is alerting you to stand up for the truth in the workplace and thereby give effective witness to Christ.
Many good Catholics find themselves in these tricky situations. In this case, the scenario of an abortion is so far removed from your action of phoning in a prescription that the principle of double effect, which guides us when a good act has both a good and bad effect, should not even be considered.
The next question is whether the use of Viagra is intrinsically evil. (An intrinsically evil act is one that is sinful no matter why you do it.) If an action is intrinsically evil, you can never cooperate with it, even if it is the lesser of two evils. Simply put, the end never justifies the means.
The notion of an intrinsic evil act is a very important concept for the correct formation of conscience, and it is dealt with at length in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth,” 1993). Echoing the teaching of the Vatican II, that encyclical lists among other intrinsically evil actions abortion, murder, euthanasia and contraception (see no. 80).
The use of Viagra is not intrinsically evil. It can be used legitimately to treat a medical problem. So you can call the pharmacy and order it for your patients. Still, it’s clear from the wild promotion of this medicine that it can be taken for less-than-virtuous reasons.
And there’s the problem, and the reason for your hesitation. You sense correctly that when the goal of human sexuality is changed from openness to children and the expression of married love to simply the pursuit of pleasure and thrills, then there are dire consequences for the entire society.
If Viagra is prescribed to treat impotence, then it is only legitimately prescribed for men who are married. At this writing, there are no other known uses for it, though other possibilities are being researched.
What is your responsibility in this case as the secretary? If you know the person is not married and intends to use the drug to treat sexual problems, you should disapprove. But ordinarily, you will not know that information.
You could take the matter up with the doctor and tell him or her clearly that you do not want to be part of a structure that condones or facilitates illicit behavior. Such an initiative could lead to fruitful discussions and perhaps a change of heart on the part of the physician, especially if you are an excellent and valued employee in every other regard.
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