Sunday, June 9, 2013

To Confer with Cephas

In the second reading today, Paul makes a bold point that he did not receive revelation from the Apostles but directly from God.  Protestants will sometimes attempt to use these verses to show that Paul was independent of the Apostles and that the Church doesn't need a human being as an authoritative voice.  They will point to where Paul says, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin.  For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Protestants will conclude that authority has nothing to do with human beings, but comes directly from God.  As we will see, this not Paul’s understanding of authority in the Church.

Paul, a human being, considers himself to be an authority in the Church.  He opens his letter by citing his authority, “Paul, an apostle not from human beings nor through a human being but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead, and all the brothers who are with me” (Gal 1:1).  The Protestants are right that Paul’s authority comes from God, but this authority is expressed through the Church, that is, through human beings.  Paul reminds the Galatians that he is an apostle (someone with authority), and he adds to his authority by mentioning that he is writing in union with other brothers.  Paul is bringing to bear the authority of a whole community against the Galatians who have been distorting the Gospel.  Paul recognizes that he is an authority and that his authority comes from God.  Paul believes that human beings can express God’s authority.

In the mind of St. Paul, the authoritative Gospel is verified by the consensus of the Apostles. After establishing that his authority comes directly from God, Paul goes on to describe how, after three years, he went up to confer with St. Peter in Jerusalem.  Why go to Jerusalem if Paul had received revelation directly from the Lord?  There must have something Paul could not do on his own.  God had made all the Apostles, like Paul, authoritative witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s teaching must be in unity with the other Apostles for it to be authentic.  This is why Paul mentions his visits to Jerusalem to the Galatians.  The other Apostles agreed with Paul’s teaching and did not have him add anything.  Their consensus of faith is an authoritative verification for the Galatians that Paul teaching is the true Gospel.

This authority has been passed down through the laying on of hands. Paul reminds Timothy that by the laying on of hands, Paul gave him the spirit of power and that he has no need to be ashamed when testifying to our Lord (2 Tim 1:6).  Through the sacrament of ordination, the Apostles shared the Spirit given to them for the sake of the Church.  There are many scriptural references to this sacrament (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6).  It is the same gift of the Spirit that animated the Apostles which now animates the Bishops of today.  Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit had spoken through the Apostles authoritatively in the council of Jerusalem, the Spirit continues to speak authoritatively to the Church through human beings who have received the gift from the imposition of hands when they gather together in order to confer with one another and express their consensus faith.

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