Sunday, August 21, 2011

What America can learn from Caesarea Philippi- continued

For the convenience of those readers who want to delve a little deeper into the relationship between American and Caesarea Philippi, I reposted part III and part IV below.

Part III:

In regards to religious truth, the open-mindedness and the non-committal attitude of actor Liam Neeson and President Barak Obama is reminiscent of the pre-Christian world. Yet, it is believed to be a mark of politesse and civility. Despite the fine trappings, it is a step backwards. Deference to and tolerance of all religions has value up to a point. If such a gesture is taken to mean that all religions have equal value then it is pushed too far. Apathy towards the differences between religions, in the end, leads to the rejection of all religions. As such, principles pertaining to God and his laws lose credibility and hence fail to bind the consciences of people. What is left are man-made moral codes which are invented to serve the interests of the powerful.

This brings us to Caesarea Philippi where St. Peter stepped forward to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of Living God. As stated earlier, his profession of Faith was inspired by God the Father. And it is through the office of St. Peter and his profession that God would guarantee religious certainty. St. Peter, the first of among a long list of popes, would err and falter as a man. But as the Shepherd of the Universal Church his profession of Faith and his teachings would be preserved from error. Indeed, he would be the voice of Christ for the Church and for the world. This charism that was given to him at Caesarea Philippi was a charism that would be communicated to every one of his successors. In every era, through the successors of St. Peter, God provided a standard bearer of spiritual and moral truth.

To express the permanence and reliability of God's instrument of communicating truth, Jesus used the biblical image of a Rock to name Peter. In fact, the name “Peter” itself means Rock in Aramaic. In the Old Testament, the term “rock” was originally applied to God. But it also was used by the prophet Isaiah in reference to Abraham: “Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the LORD; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you were quarried; Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth...” (51:1-2) Therefore, in the Old Testament, the name, “Rock” was not exclusively applied to God; it was also bequeathed to Abraham as well. It had a two-fold meaning of fatherhood and security from evil and error. As the Psalmist prayed, “LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!” Similarly, in the New Testament, St. Paul said that Christ was referred to as the spiritual rock that followed Moses in the desert. And yet, Jesus himself changed the name of Simon to Peter, meaning Rock. His ministry as the Rock of the New Testament was, like Abraham, a father of God's people and a source of religious certainty. To be sure, as the First Vatican Council taught, religious truth can be known with certainty.

In the meantime, there was the huge rock in the background at Caesarea Philippi; the hollowed cave, which was impressed into the rock, is where the multitudes from many nations worshipped false gods. But upon a new rock, a rock that would be made into a mountain, our Lord would build his Church. This rock or stone would strike down the Roman Empire with a spiritual sword as the prophet Daniel prophesied: “But the stone that struck the statue [the iron statue represented the last of the great pagan empires...the Roman Empire] became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” About this mountain Isaiah said, “The LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it...” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

Part IV:

[B]y pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition.

Just as there are four regions of the world in which we live, and four universal winds, and since the Church is disseminated over all the earth, and the pillar and the mainstay of the Church is the Gospel, the breath of life, it is fitting that she have four pillars [i.e., four Gospels], breathing immortality on every side and enkindling life in men anew.

-St. Irenaeus, 180 A.D.

In the eighth century B.C., the descendants of Abraham had fallen away from the worship of Yahweh, the one true God, and turned to other gods. From amidst this religious confusion, the prophet Isaiah raised his voice and told them to return to the rock from which they were hewn; the rock being father Abraham. It was on this rock where God's lighthouse shined the light of truth. Similarly, St. Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr in the second century A.D., found himself surrounded by those who had succumbed to error and had fallen away from the Gospel preached by the Apostles. In order to demontrate the truth of the Gospel it wasn't enough debate his opponents using Scriptural passages; instead, he simply pointed to those churches that were founded by the Apostles. The most important among them, he said, was the church of Rome where St. Peter and St. Paul had laid its foundations. This Church, he continued, is superior in origin and all other churches must agree with it. Because from her proceeds the breath of immortality which enkindles life in men anew.

As we have said, Jesus founded his Church upon the Rock, who was St. Peter. This Rock became a mountain which covered the earth. (cf. Daniel 2:35) For centuries, the nations would stream toward this mountain to receive the knowledge of God. The ministry of St. Peter continues to this day through Pope Benedict XVI. From him comes the religious and moral certainty amid a confused world. It is the same Rock that Abraham represented; it is the same Rock upon which Christ built his Church; and this Rock is none other than God himself. As our Lord promised, the gates of hell would not prevail against it. If hell cannot prevail against it, neither can Islamic and Secular totalitarianism.

On the other hand, the ambivalence of religious pluralism and egalitarianism is no match for Islamic and Secular totalitarianism. The deference paid to other religious leaders by Liam Neeson may be the etiquette in Hollywood; disavowing the Christian identity of America by President Obama during a press conference in Turkey may have been a politically correct posture; however, this neutrality and open-mindedness, so highly esteemed now days, makes for a poor foundation for any civilization.

Western Civilization, if it is to retain the blessings of God, must return to the Rock from which it was hewn. From the ministry of St. Peter, better known as the papacy, the truth about God, life, love, sex, marriage, contraception, abortion and euthanasia can be known with certainty. From this Church comes “the breath of immortality and the enkindling of life anew.” But the further we drift from this mountain, the further we drift from Christian morality. As history bears witness, the alternative to Christ's moral law is the darkness of pagan morality. If you recall, this pagan morality is aptly represented by ancient Caeserea Philippi where the cult of the State and the worship of many gods flourished. Inseparable from this religious confusion was the prevalence of human cruelty and incivility.

There are many opinions about Christ today and what he actually taught. Nevertheless, the truth of faith and morals, so necessary for our stability and happiness, is to be found coming from the Rock upon which Christ built his Church.