Sunday, February 29, 2004

Bishop, what are you?

Bishop, what are you?

Matthew, in his earlier post on the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope points out the way forward. He rightly indicates the way in which the Treatise as well as the abuse of papacy in its history opens up a way for reconciliation of understandings of the bishop of Rome. This topic is exceptionally complex especially because of the difficulties facing the history of the church of Rome and its bishop in its long institutional history. This is all easily indicated by the favorite phrase of those who work in Rome: "we think in centuries here."

Take just the titles the Pope uses: what is most basic or rudimentary? Is she the episcopus universalis? epsicopus oecumenicus? patriarch of the west? bishop of rome? pope? vicar of Christ? and many more? J. M. R. Tillard's book, The Bishop of Rome argues that the best way to understand the Pope is first and foremost as the bishop of the church of Rome. Not the Roman Catholic Church in all its lands but the church of the city of Rome. This is more or less what the Confessions wish for bishops as well as the pope.

The questions of the pope's universal mission or mission in service of unity of the church is less of a question for the Treatise and indeed the Lutherans. They do not touch this question. It is indeed a very patristic or 20th century question that may not have been possible for them to form. Indeed, the very structure of human and divine right utilized by the confessions does not reflect subsequent insights into the biblical roots of that right and the role of discerning the Spirit in terms of what is needful for the church's mission. Instead, Melanchthon operates with a view of human and divine right heavily indebted to the late-medieval discussions. So, the arguments around the papal office must establish either that a) God wills this structure always to be this way and only this way or b) if it is not that way always, it is not by divine right. This is not the way the Bible or early church reflection has seen the matter and it is to the credit of Catholics and Lutherans of today to see this through.

But still, this treatise does wonders, as Clint and Matthew have indicated. It wishes to see episcopacy within the church rather than above it. And it argues for the importance of a council.

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