Jesus christ didn’t found any church
But then, who founded this church?
RACHEL Today Emisoras Latinas travels to the north of Palestine, to Banias, the place where the city of Caesarea Philippi once stood, at the foot of Mount Hermon. With us again is Jesus Christ, who must recognize this place he once visited with his disciples. Isn’t that true, Jesus?
JESUS Yes, we came here once.
RACHEL And it was here, right here, in this magnificent setting, that you pronounced one of the most decisive declarations in the history of religion.
JESUS Did I really? What I seem to remember is that James and Peter and John were arguing, as always, about when the Messiah would arrive and which of them should sit at his right hand…
RACHEL And it was at that moment that you chose Peter you gave him the primacy and made him the first Pope in history.
JESUS As far as I recall, I didn’t give anybody anything.
RACHEL Let me refresh your memory you said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Do you remember now?
JESUS The thing is, I can’t remember because…
RACHEL Because what?
JESUS Because I didn’t really start any church. I never even used that word, “church”.
RACHEL There must be some error, because you handed over the keys to him.
JESUS What keys?
RACHEL The ones you gave Peter that day. The keys for opening and closing. You gave all power to Peter, the power to bind and to loose in heaven and on earth.
JESUS I don’t mean to disappoint you, Rachel, but …
RACHEL So you didn’t found a church?
JESUS Of course not. Among other things, because I thought the world was going to end soon, that God was about to arrive in power. Why would I have given him the keys? Why would I have founded a church?
RACHEL But the world didn’t end.
JESUS Yes, I realize that. I was wrong in that regard.
RACHEL But you couldn’t have been wrong in naming your successor, Peter, Cephas, the Rock. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Here it is right here, Matthew, chapter 16. Hold on a moment, we have a call… Yes? … The researcher Pepe Rodríguez from Spain? You want to give your opinion? … Go ahead.
PEPE I’m listening to your program, and I call to tell you that Jesus is correct. He never said those words.
RACHEL He never said, “You are Peter and upon this rock … “?
PEPE If you look carefully, that saying appears only in the gospel of Matthew. If it were such an important statement, would Mark, Luke and John have forgotten about it?
RACHEL What are you driving at, Pepe?
PEPE It’s a text that was added afterwards.
JESUS Ask him why it was added.
RACHEL Jesus is asking why they had him say something that he never really said.
PEPE They included it some years before the famous Council of Nicea, and they did so in order to elevate the church of Rome above all the other Christian churches, such as the ones in Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem.
JESUS So they’re trying to put other people’s words in my mouth? Listen, the only stone, the only Rock, according to the psalm I prayed when I was a boy, is God himself.
RACHEL Thank you, Pepe Rodríguez. May we call you again for other consultations?
PEPE I’d be delighted. Give my best to Jesus.
RACHEL Till the next time, Pepe. What our audience most definitely wants to know now, Jesus, is exactly what it was you said when you were here in Caesarea.
JESUS The same as what I was saying everywhere, Rachel that nobody is worth more than anybody else. And if someone thinks he’s greater, then he should bow himself down and serve others.
RACHEL We’re going to take a break, but our listeners can be sure that we’re not going to leave this here. With keys or without keys, there are still a lot of doors that we have to open. I’m Rachel Perez, reporting from the ancient Caesarea Philippi. You can find us on the web at www.emisoraslatinas.net.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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Peter, the Rock
Jesus gave Peter, the fisherman from Capernaum, the nickname “Rock” (“Cephas” in Aramaic). Many gospel stories portray Peter, the brother of Andrew, as the disciple that was closest to Jesus. The gospels tell us more about him than about any other disciple, offering even details that reveal his personality: passionate, rash, impulsive, cowardly, and boastful. The narratives of the Acts of the Apostles show the authority Peter had in the first community in Jerusalem, and they speak also of his visit to the Antioch community. Many scholars, however, doubt that Peter ever went to Rome, even though by the end of the first century there existed a tradition that he had been a victim of Nero’s persecution there.
Peter’s historical protagonism and that later attributed to him, as well as the tradition of his dying in Rome, provided the basis for the primacy of Peter which was ably and opportunistically fabricated in the course of centuries by many ecclesiastical figures, with the aim of elevating the Roman church over other Christian churches and communities.
The Jerusalem community, led by James, the brother of Jesus, was the center and heart of the primitive church. After the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman troops in the year 70, however, the church of Rome quickly undertook to impose its authority. The scandalous history of the hegemony of Rome and the Roman Papacy is treated concisely and splendidly in theologian Hans Kung’s book The Catholic Church (Modern Library, 2003).
From bishop of Rome to powerful Pope
By virtue of his capabilities as a man of power and of laws, Leo I was the bishop of Rome (440-461) who can really be considered the first Pope. He was the first to adjudicate to himself the pagan title Pontifex Maximus (Supreme Pontiff), which had been discarded by the Byzantine emperor. Leo I was the first to be buried in the monument which the Roman emperor Constantine had had built in memory of Peter’s martyrdom.
In the sixth century the emperor Justinian built in Constantinople the Church of Holy Sophia (“Hagia Sophia”, “Divine Wisdom”), the largest and most magnificent temple of all Christendom. This only served to heighten the distrust, the rivalry and the tensions that already existed between the western church, headed by the Pope in Rome, and the eastern churches.
Starting in the fifth century, the Popes sought to reinforce Roman power throughout Christendom by resorting to a scheme of forgeries, the most outstanding of which was the Donation of Constantine, whose bogus nature was proved only ten centuries later. According to this famous forgery, the church of Rome had been granted full primacy over the churches of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem.
The sudden appearance and rapid expansion of Islam in the seventh century diminished the importance of the eastern patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. It also helped to reinforce Roman primacy and aggravated the rivalry between Rome and Byzantium, between West and East, between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople. In 1054 a definitive break took place between the two churches, and the Roman pontiff, invoking history (by means of the famous forgeries) and the will of God (which the Pope claimed legitimized that history), ended up as the central figure of Christendom for all of Europe. Many centuries later the same thing happened for all of Latin America. And so it is until this very day.
Romanization: five processes
According to theologian and church historian Hans Küng, it was during the papacy of Innocent III that Romanization of the church reached its culmination and was consolidated in “five superimposed processes” which have remained as characteristics of the Roman system in the Catholic Church until today. These five processes are: centralization, legalization, politicization, militarization and clericalization.
Küng describes these five processes as follows:
Centralization: The absolutist papal church declares itself to be a mother. The early churches and the eastern church had originally been conceived in terms of fraternal relations, devoid of any centralist authority over other churches.
Legalization: The Catholic Church in the west developed its own law, completely centered on the Pope as absolute pontiff, legislator and judge of Christianity, to whom all other Christians, including the emperor, were subordinated.
Politicization: The Roman church claimed dominion over the world. Through the papacy the western church presented itself as a completely independent legislative body of the highest level, and at times it also gained nearly complete control over the secular powers.
Militarization: The western Christian church was militaristic and summoned people to a “holy war”. The Augustinian theory on the legitimate use of violence to obtain spiritual ends allowed violence to be employed as a method for expanding Christianity.
Clericalization: The western church was controlled by celibate men. The celibate clergy was totally separated from the Christian people, above all by their not being married.
Reading the Bible objectively and critically
For our program Spanish journalist and researcher Pepe Rodríguez discusses the saying, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church (Matthew 16,18), which is endlessly repeated and proclaimed by the Catholic hierarchy to back up their claim that the Roman church is “Peter’s successor”. According to Rodríguez, this verse was not original to Matthew’s gospel, but was added to later versions. In the four gospels there are many such later “additions”.
Often we hear believing Christians, both Catholics and Evangelicals, defending very narrow positions by referring to “what God’s word in the Bible says”. But we must ask: how was that oral tradition put into writing? How were those words translated and divulgated? The first thing we must be mindful of is that all the books of the Bible were written, copied, read, studied, discussed, decided, translated, published, classified, preached, circulated and explained by men, by males. This is the first major bias we must take into account when determining what was “added” and what was “suppressed”.
Furthermore, none of those books was written at the same time the events being narrated were actually occurring. After many long years, sometimes centuries, of oral tradition, somebody finally undertook to write down what “happened”, or rather how it was remembered to have happened, and in the process details were added, changed, suppressed or modified.
We must remember also that for centuries all the books of the Bible, in their Greek and Latin versions (the only languages officially recognized), were interpreted and controlled exclusively by the church hierarchy, which excommunicated anyone who translated the Bible into other languages “understandable” to people not familiar with Greek or Latin. Martin Luther, in his protest against papal practices, caused a genuine revolution when he translated the New Testament into German in 1522, and did the same with the Old Testament in 1534. From that time on Protestants began to read the Bible directly and became ever more knowledgeable about it. In the last third of the 16th century, Fray Luis de León was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for his “barbaric custom” of translating the Bible into Spanish.
Since in Catholicism “divine authority” lay with the Pope and not the scriptures, people did not read the Bible. Reading the scriptures, or even having a Bible, was considered suspicious. Latin was the “sacred” language, and all other languages were “profane”. What was sacred “could not be understood”, it shouldn’t be understood, and so it became more “mysterious”. Four more centuries had to go by before the Vatican would recommend that Catholics read the Bible.
The Bible: texts have to be read in context
All this, and much more besides, should be taken into account when we read the Bible. The Bible is not a recipe book for morality nor is it a science textbook. It does not explain to us everything we should know, nor does it tell us how we should act in all the situations that life presents us with. The Bible cannot regulate our lives, although some of its books can serve to inspire us because of their literary beauty or the strength and profundity of their messages, symbols and myths.
The Bible is a collection of books of greatly varying importance, written in very diverse styles and presented to us in good and bad translations. There are many contradictions among the many books, which were written in different times and contexts and with very different purposes in mind. To read the Bible intelligently one has to be “suspect” of the ways scriptural texts have been interpreted in the past and are still being interpreted – it is necessary to take some distance from many of these interpretations. Before these biblical books reached our hands they had a long and complex history, which we must know about to understand them. We will find our reading of the Bible profitable only if we read its texts in their true context. If we ignore the context of these texts, we can easily end up with simplistic conclusions, or even with fanatical and inhumane ideas, all of which are contrary to the message of Jesus.
Let us pray for the fall of the church
The papacy is the central organ of the Roman Catholic Church, a powerful institution with a monarchical structure and an aristocratic style. The papacy is a human creation that has been consolidated in the course of centuries through ambition, greed and violence, the usual mechanisms of power. How is it even possible to imagine that the papacy could have been established by Jesus of Nazareth, who always preached service, equality and “horizontal” human relations and who passionately opposed all abuse of power, especially abuse committed in God’s name? For that reason alone, more careful exegesis allows us to conclude that verse 16,18 of Matthew, referring to the “primacy of Peter”, was a late addition to the gospel, clearly intended to confirm the bishop of Rome, who claimed, for reasons of power, to be Peter’s successor.
So great is the abyss that any sensible person may discern between the Roman church and the movement of Jesus of Nazareth, and so great is the obstacle that that church represents for a sound spirituality that Catholic theologian Eugen Drewermann has written: Just as Jeremiah prayed for the fall of Jerusalem, so should we pray for the fall of the ecclesiastical institution, so that God can begin as soon as possible to write on the hearts of human beings what he really wants to tell them.