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Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Papacy in the Parable of the Faithful Servant.

I don't remember where I first heard about this argument, but I was surprised that not many Catholics have quoted it when discussing the Scriptural proofs for the Papacy. The argument comes from the Parable found in Matthew 24:45-51 and also in Luke 12:
35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
On the 'ordinary level' of this analogy, Jesus is explaining that a Master can put a chief servant in charge to the Master's place while the Master is away. This only makes sense to our everyday experiences, for it would be ridiculous to suggest a wealthy land owner would not put anyone in charge of his workers. But even more than this, the natural mind knows that it makes the most sense to delegate one person as the chief steward, as this hierarchy will be the best way to preserve order and unity. In this parable, Jesus is responding to Peter, who clearly is the spokesman for the rest of the Apostles, and Jesus responds with this Parable speaking of a singular chief steward. This chief steward is even said to have the task of delegating food to the household. This is a beautiful description of the duty and role of the Pope. This is an obvious proof that Jesus entrusted Peter with "more responsibility" that others, and in turn demands those who fill the Papal office have have "more demanded" from them. 

The Eastern Orthodox might say that Jesus was saying all 12 Apostles are signified by the chief steward, but I do not see this as plausible by the fact Jesus is speaking in the singular when He could (and does elsewhere) speak of servants in the plural in the parable just before this (Luke 12:35-40). Plus, it would not correspond to any actual real-life example, for there is no such thing as "master of the house" in plural, since in the real world this structure devolves into factions.

I see no other coherent or plausible alternative interpretation than what I've just given. Sure you can say every Christian can be inserted into this parable, and that's true to an extent, but any attempts to downplay or eliminate the overtones of hierarchy is simply doing violence to the text. The parable is saying Peter is the "master of the house," the chief steward, to which the other 11 are immediately under him, and collectively they run the Lord's House, the Church.


Update: January 26, 2013. 
While I do not have the tools to easily search through what verses the Fathers have commented upon, I found that most of the Fathers who comment upon the Faithful Servant parable speak in general terms about it. But I did find this quote from St Ambrose from the mid 300s:
1. “Who, then, is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.Not worthless is this servant: some great one ought he to be. Let us think who he may be.
2. It is Peter, chosen by the Lord Himself to feed His flock, who merits thrice to hear the words:Feed My little lambs; feed My lambs; feed My sheep.And so, by feeding well the flock of Christ with the food of faith, he effaced the sin of his former fall. For this reason is he thrice admonished to feed the flock; thrice is he asked whether he loves the Lord, in order that he may thrice confess Him, Whom he had thrice denied before His Crucifixion.
St Ambrose says the ideal figure for the Faithful Servant who feeds the household is St Peter, leader of the Church and given the duty to "Feed Christ's Sheep". This confirms the argument I originally made that this Parable especially applies to Peter.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting Nick. I do see the connection, which also harkens back to Isaiah 22. The warning in Luke 12 is similar to what happened to Shebna as he was violently cast out of his office as "master of the palace".

I always have used this passage (Luke 12) as a support for purgatory, seeing that when the Master returns, one type of servant who does the Master's will is called blessed and set over all of the Master's possessions (heaven). The wicked servant is cut into pieces (hell), while others who did not obey God's will receive light or heavy beatings based on what they knew (purgatory).

Obviously this is a parable, but if this is a reference to the papacy, is it possible that some popes who didn't do God's will could theoretically be ignorant of God's will?

De Maria said...

Very good, Nick,

This is a verse which I think shows that Jesus considered St. Peter His representative on earth:

Matthew 17:27
Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

This coin is the payment that the authorities required of Jesus Christ. Not of Peter. But Jesus said, "give this for us, for you and for me."

Nick said...

I have updated the main post with a quote from St Ambrose.

Trebor135 said...

Hi Nick--you wrote:

"The Eastern Orthodox might say that Jesus was saying all 12 Apostles are signified by the chief steward, but I do not see this as plausible by the fact Jesus is speaking in the singular when He could (and does elsewhere) speak of servants in the plural in the parable just before this (Luke 12:35-40). Plus, it would not correspond to any actual real-life example, for there is no such thing as "master of the house" in plural, since in the real world this structure devolves into factions."

Actually, the disagreement with the Catholic view is not over the reality, but the precise nature, of the role to be played by the pope. The Eastern Orthodox position can affirm the primacy of St. Peter the apostle and his successors in the see of Rome, but not their supremacy.

Shouldn't Christ's warning in Matthew 24:45-48 raise our eyebrows, since it implies that--if the pope is being referred to--the option is very much on the table that he could fall into and even remain in error? Could we really find the Catholic (i.e., graced by virtue of his office and as successor of St. Peter with charisms of universal ordinary jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility), rather than the Eastern Orthodox (i.e., enjoying the status of a respected authority in the Church able to act as spokesperson concerning the faith, hear retrials of deposed bishops, and the like), conception of the role of the pope here?

"While I do not have the tools to easily search through what verses the Fathers have commented upon,"

I understand. Such would certainly be useful.

"I found that most of the Fathers who comment upon the Faithful Servant parable speak in general terms about it."

Isn't it best to go with what most of the Early Church Fathers said about a given passage? If they generally didn't see the parable of "the wise and faithful" servant as referring to St. Peter the apostle, why should those analyzing the passage in the twenty-first century do so, when the latter are (correctly) not going by sola scriptura?

"But I did find this quote from St Ambrose from the mid 300s:"

Thanks for the citation and link. Schaff wrote:

'Who is a faithful and wise servant? His reward is pointed out in the case of Peter, as also in the case of Paul. Ambrose, being anxious to follow Paul’s guidance, wished this book to be added to the others, for it could not be included in the preceding one. The subject for discussion is then stated, and the reason for such a discussion given. He must needs be pardoned, for usury is to be demanded from every servant for the money which has been entrusted to him. Their faithfulness is the usury desired in his own case. He will be happy if he may hope for a reward; but he does not look so much for the recompense of the saints, as for exemption from punishment. He urges all to seek to merit this.'

The commentator appears to say in a matter-of-fact way that this Early Church Father also considered another apostle, St. Paul, a "wise and faithful" servant. Doesn't this fact undermine your argument?

Plus, shouldn't St. Ambrose somewhere make a link with the bishop of Rome--as holding a distinct office but not a fourth clerical rank--in order for us to do so? Again, could we really find the Catholic, rather than the Eastern Orthodox, conception of the role of the pope here?

Nick said...

Hello again,

You said: "The Eastern Orthodox position can affirm the primacy of St. Peter the apostle and his successors in the see of Rome, but not their supremacy."

My objection to this is that this "primacy" or "first among equals" status has never really been clarified as to what it even means. So when the EO go around saying they see Rome as 'first' in some sense, it seems like this is intentionally left vague or undefined so as to not have to answer some of the tougher questions. And with some/many/most EO considering that Rome has fallen away, the EO have to explain the precise status of Rome, along with who now holds primacy, which they've not been able to do.

If all 'primacy' means is that the Pope gets to sit at the head of the table, then that doesn't seem to be much primacy at all, much less is it historical. If this primacy has any 'teeth' to it, then every EO should be thinking twice about opposing Rome.

You then asked how we should view the fact the Faithful Servant parable includes the warning that the head servant could turn to sin. This is a very real possibility, and it has even happened, since "to whom much is given much is expected" is the principle by which Church leaders will be judged. But turning to sin does not invalidate the office of Chief Steward, just as Judas' defection did not invalidate his office of Apostle (it still had to be filled).

You said: "Isn't it best to go with what most of the Early Church Fathers said about a given passage?"

The problem is, I wasn't able to verify what "most" of the Fathers said. The few comments I was able to find on this parable did not mention Peter *nor* the Apostles in general, but rather just Christians in general. But surely even the EO would agree that the Apostles are to be seen in this parable in some sense, given that Jesus is speaking of Household Leadership with the duty of feeding the servants.

As for my Ambrose quote, the way the passage is structured, Peter is mentioned as stand alone and the ideal. I don't see any blanket generalization of the Apostles as a whole here. Paul is mentioned next, but this doesn't really go against my original assertion that the rest of the apostles would hold an immediately subordinate headship role.

You asked: "Again, could we really find the Catholic, rather than the Eastern Orthodox, conception of the role of the pope here?"

It's not clear what the EO "conception of the pope" is to begin with. What can be said is that Ambrose did not generalize the singular chief steward to refer to the Apostles in general or collectively. Why did Ambrose single out Peter at all?

Nicholas Escalona said...

Greetings Nick!

You say "I do not have the tools to easily search through what verses the Fathers have commented upon..."

May I direct your attention to the wonderful site: http://www.catholiccrossreference.com/
You will note the "Church Fathers Search Engine" which works by Scripture verse.

Nick said...

That is an AWESOME resource! Thank you so much!!!