Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rome was no accident (part 2)

In part one of this post last week, we looked at the common fallacy that sees the establishment of the headship of the Church at the city of Rome as a mere accident of history that was due primarily to political factors. This position is in fact condemned by Pope St. Pius X in Lamentabili Sane, number 56, where the following statement, The Roman Church became the head of all the churches, not through the ordinance of Divine Providence, but merely through political conditions, is anathematized. Last time we looked at some false, modernist notions of how the Church of Rome came to preeminence. We also looked at the historical argument for Rome's primacy (it's double-Apostolic origin). Today we shall look at the Scriptural or theological reasons for the headship of the Church of Rome over all of the other churches.

It is interesting to note that those who oppose the primacy of Rome have always asserted that Rome maintained the primacy not through Divine injunction, but only through historical-political consequence. Thus the Greeks in the 4th century, already developing a schismatic mentality with regard to Rome, tried to get Constantinople declared to be of equal authority with the See of Rome. When this was rejected, they settled for a situation second to that of Rome, as was codified at Constantinople (381). But look at the language they use to justify their rank:

The Bishop of Constantinople to have the primacy of honour next after the Bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome (canon 3).

Now, this canon says nothing about why Rome has the primacy, but it states quite emphatically that Constantinople comes after Rome because of its position as "New Rome," i.e., because of its political importance as the imperial capitol. The Greeks had always attached great importance to the unity of the ecclesiastical and imperial authority, but such a political explanation, though sufficing to obtain second rank for Constantinople, is insufficient as a theological explanation for Rome's preeminence.

The key to the question is found, surprisingly enough, not in the canons of the earliest councils nor in the writings of the Fathers, but in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. In Daniel, chapter 2:1-45 we read about the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a great image:

The head of this image was of fine gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces; then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:32-35).

Daniel goes on in verses 36-45 to tell Nebuchadnezzar that the four metals of the image represent four coming kingdoms. Later, in Daniel 7-8, Daniel again sees the vision of the four kingdoms, this time represented as four beasts: a lion with eagle's wings, a bear with three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four wings, and then a fourth beast, terrible and strong with teeth of iron (v. 7:2-7). These images represent four kingdoms that shall have power on the earth until the coming of the Messiah: Babylon, Persia, Greece and finally Rome. We could correlate the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel's vision and the four kingdoms this way:

Gold--------------Winged Lion---------- Babylon
Silver------------- Great Bear----------- Persia
Bronze----------- Winged Leopard------ Greece
Iron/Clay-------- Terrible Beast--------- Rome

Now, notice what Daniel says about the fourth beast, Rome: Behold, a fouth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it (Dan. 7:7). Indeed, this beast must have been different, because it was this kingdom, not the other three, that was struck with the great rock back in Daniel chapter 2:35. Not the gold head (Babylon), nor the silver breast (Persia), nor the bronze belly (Greece) were struck, but the legs and feet of iron. The kingdom represented by the iron is blown away, and in its place, the rock "cut without hands" is established and grows until it fills the whole earth. Daniel tells the king that this stone is another kingdom, but of a wholly different type: one established by God:

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignity be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand...The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure (v. 2:44-45).

So the stone represents a new kingdom that replaces the old ones, though this new kingdom is built and established by God and will last forever. And where does it strike? Where does this kingdom touch the earth to begin its expansion? At the feet of iron, or, in the place of Rome. The kingdom of God at the same time demolishes and replaces the power of Rome.

A very interesting study into the history of these four kingdoms shows us that each one cited by Daniel at once began by persecuting God's people, but in the end underwent some kind of conversion and ended up promoting God's plan. Rome is the culmination of this. Let's look at the history of these kingdoms:

Babylon: At first the Babylonians persecute the Jewish refugees for refusing to worship the gods of Babylon; but after and miracles wrought by Daniel and the deliverance of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, Nebuchadnezzar makes the following decree: Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings...Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way (2:47, 3:29). At first, he persecuted Israel, now he supports them by punishing anybody who would deny their God.

Persia: Both by the cunning of Haman and the plot hatched against Daniel by the councilors of Darius do the Persians attempt to destroy God's people. But following Daniel's deliverance, Darius decrees: I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for He is the living God, enduring forever (6:26). After the exposing of Haman's treachery by Esther, King Xerxes/Ahasuerus issues the following decree: We find that the Jews...are sons of the Most High, the most mighty living God, who has directed the kingdom both for us and for our fathers in the most excellent order. And to those who dare to molest God's people: Every city and country, without exception, which does not act accordingly, shall be destroyed in wrath with spear and fire (Est. 16:15-16, 24). Furthermore, it is the Persian King Cyrus who issues the command to rebuild the Temple (2 Chr. 36:22-23, Ezr. 1:2-4). So ardently did this Cyrus promote the interests of the Jews that God calls this pagan His "anointed" (Isa. 45:1). In all these examples, we can see that though the Persians began by persecuting God's people, in the end they promoted them greatly, even to the point of rebuilding the Temple with funds from the royal treasury.

Greece: God also turned the heart of the Greek kings to favor the Jews (at least until the time of Antiochus). Listen to this celebrated event that we read about in Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, 11.8.3-5:

When [Alexander the Great] had obtained Sidon, he besieged Tyre, when he sent a letter to the Jewish high priest, to send him some auxiliaries, and to supply his army with provisions...but the high priest answered the messengers, that he had given his oath to Darius [King of Persia] not to bear arms against him and he said that he would not transgress this while Darius was in the land of the living. Upon hearing this answer, Alexander was very angry; and though he determined not to leave Tyre, which was just ready to be taken, yet as soon as he had taken it, he threatened that he would make an expedition against the Jewish high priest, and through him, teach all men to whom they must keep their oaths.

Now Alexander...made haste to go to Jerusalem; and Jaddua the high priest, when he heard that, was in agony, and under terror, as not knowing how he should meet the Macedonians, since the king was displeased at his foregoing disobedience.

And when [Jaddua] understood that [Alexander] was not far from the city, he went out in procession with the priests and the multitude of the citizens. The procession was venerable, and the manner of it different from that of other nations...[but] Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head having the golden plate on which the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest. The Jews also did altogether with one voice salute Alexander, and encompass him about: whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what Alexander had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind.

However, Parmenio alone went up to him and asked it how it came to pass that when all other adored him, he should adore the high priest of the Jews? To whom he replied, "I did not adore him, but that God who hath honored him with that high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit, when I was at Dios in Macedonia...whence it is, that having seen no other in that habit, and now seeing this person in it, I believe that I bring this army under divine conduct...and that all things will succeed according to what is in my own mind...and when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest's direction.

The next day [Alexander] called [the priests] to him and bade them ask what favors they pleased of him: whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired ...

I know it is a long quote, but this wonderful story verifies what I have been saying. Here, Alexander wants to destroy Jerusalem and punish the high priest, but through God's intervention, he ends up acknowledging the true God and supporting His people by his royal decrees.

We have seen this scenario played out with three of the four kingdoms witnessed by Daniel. But it is to the fourth, which was "different" from the other three kingdoms, that God promised to smash with a rock and replace with a mountain that would fill the whole earth.

Rome: With this story, we are all familiar. How in the reign of this fourth beast the Son of God was born, how the Romans persecuted the Church worse than any of the other three beasts, for this beast persecuted not the followers of the Old Covenant but the faithful of the New, which was even worse, inasmuch as the glory they were spurning was greater. But through the perseverance of the martyrs and the miracles wrought by God, this beast slowly became converted, as the Rock of Peter smashed its toes and began to grow. Soon, the old kingdom was displaced, and the same imperial authority that once issued edicts against the Christians now declared:

It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue in the profession of that religion which was once delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it hath been preserved by faithful tradition...but as for others, since, in our judgment, they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation, and in the second the punishment which our authority, in accordance with the will of heaven, shall decide to inflict (Decree of Theodosius I, 380).

This is a repeat of what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Ahasuerus, Cyrus and Alexander, only now it was different, because now the converted kingdom was promulgating not just the shadows of the Old Testament but the glorious light of the New, which will never pass away. Babylon, Persia, Greece and Old Rome passed away, but the Church of Rome, founded by God on the Apostle Peter, has become that stone that became a great mountain that filled the whole earth which was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet: "In the latter days the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and all nations shall flow to it. Many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the word of the Lord" (Isaiah 2:1-3). It is this kingdom which shall never pass away.

In case you are wondering, I did not make this explanantion up. In my research on kingship in the Middle Ages, I found this view of the Roman Church as the inheritor of the fourth kingdom in the writings of many of the medieval political theorists and theologians, although many saw this kingdom to be not the Roman Church, but the Holy Roman Empire. But by it we can see that it was not by any accident that the head of the Church wound up in Rome. It was part of a long and divinely ordained pattern that went back to Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel. It was all part of God's great plan for making use of the nations of the earth to spread His message and proclaim His glory.


Andrew said...

Excellent! You did an excellent job with that research.

Andrew said...

Excellent! You did an excellent job with that research.

Anonymous said...

Very impressive and convincing. I've never encountered any such explanation of the Church's center being in Rome. Daniel is a fascinating book to say the least. Good work.