Monday, May 14, 2007

Matthias, the Maytag Repairman Apostle

Today is the Feast of St Matthias, the 13th Apostle, who was chosen by the Jerusalem community by lot with prayer to replace the short-timer Judas Iscariot.

This Apostle is not often remembered, due to his predecessor's infamy and to being overshadowed by that "other" Apostle, Paul. Nonetheless, his selection in the book of Acts points to an early self-consciousness on the part of the community concerning the special place accorded to the Twelve Apostles.

I say this only because one myth abroad in the world of theology today is that somehow the Church started out as scattered egalitarian congregations with minimal infrastructure. It was only later that the evils of a larger corporate/ heirarchical identity crept in to stultify the "pure" gospel. In this reading the Church, degenerating through time, ossifies into an institution whereas Jesus had simply started outwith some sort of encounter group/ philosophical school.

Very folksy, but not historically or theologically accurate.

A good antidote to such thinking comes from Tertullian, who, writing around 185 A.D., explains the early Church's self consciousness concerning Her mission. Notice the coagulation of his thought around the persons of the Apostles and also their common body of teaching. This is the precursor to the emerging office of Bishop.

Tertullian (around 155- around 220), theologian

From the treatise On the Prescription of Heretics, 20-22; CCL I, 201f (translation breviary)

"Our Lord Jesus Christ himself declared what he was, what he had been, how he was carrying out his Father’s will, what obligations he demanded of men. This he did during his earthly life, either publicly to the crowds or privately to his disciples. Twelve of these he picked out to be his special companions, appointed to teach the nations.
One of them fell from his place. The remaining eleven were commanded by Christ, as he was leaving the earth to return to the Father after his resurrection, to go and teach the nations and to baptise them into the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19).

The apostles cast lots and added Matthias to their number, in place of Judas, as the twelfth apostle. The authority for this action is to be found in a prophetic psalm of David. After receiving the power of the Holy Spirit which had been promised to them, so that they could work miracles and proclaim the truth, they first bore witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and established churches throughout Judea. They then went out into the whole world and proclaimed to the nations the same doctrinal faith.

They set up churches in every city. Other churches received from them a living transplant of faith and the seed of doctrine... They bear witness to their unity by the peace in which they all live, the brotherhood which is their name, the fellowship to which they are pledged. The principle on which these associations are based is common tradition by which they share the same sacramental bond.
The only way in which we can prove what the apostles taught – that is to say, what Christ revealed to them – is through those same churches. They were founded by the apostles themselves, who first preached to them by what is called the living voice and later by means of letters. "

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