Thursday, June 03, 2010

Upon This Rock

The dangdest things occur to me while I'm brushing my teeth.

Jesus asks His disciples, "Who do men say that I am?"...etc. etc.

Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Jesus answered, "And thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church."

We've all heard this explicated, sliced, diced, shredded, dissected, parsed and proof-texted to prove Peter was or was not the first Pope and the legitimacy of subsequent millenia of various Church heirarchies and structures.

"And thou art Peter..." the same Peter who wrote "we are partakers of the divine nature", the seven word synopsis of the Orthodox view of salvation.

Why did Jesus say, "And thou art Peter"?  Why not, "Atta boy, Peter!" or "You got it, Peter!"

And what is "this rock"?  Not "THE rock", but "THIS rock"?  Why didn't Jesus just say, "You have spoken Truth, and it is upon the rock of My divinity that the Church will be established"?  Or, "Peter, you are A Pebble, but soon you will be The Rock and you will establish My Church?" as expositors for Catholicism or Protestantism have interpreted the Greek?

What is "THIS rock"?

"This rock" seemed to me as I brushed my molars, is simply this:

"This rock" is the capacity for a human being to recognize God in human flesh... AND

"This rock" is God in flesh knowing the name of a human being.

Revelation 2:17 says we will be given a white stone with a new name given by God, in an intimacy only the two will know, the Lover and the beloved.  Simon is given a new name by God: Peter. In Simon Peter is the foreshadowing of our salvation.  We know God.  God knows us by name.

This is the rock of our salvation, our "white stone": we name God.  God names us.  We know and are fully known in intimate Love.

This is the foundation of the Church. This is Communion with God.

So simple. 

Forehead whack.


I'm moving one of my comments up here to the blog post as an edit to the original post for further explication and consideration.

First, I have to put up the "ortho-disclaimer": this isn't "patristic"... as far as I know.  I might be the only person on earth in Church history who has thought of this (though I haven't read ALL the patristics, so let me know if anyone out there knows of something similar). However, it fits perfectly and connects all the dots of the Orthodox view of union with God, deification/theosis, God naming Himself to Moses and taking a name in the Incarnation, the "new birth and new name", etc.

I laid awake last night ruminating about this in terms of "being as communion", ecclesiology, and our Trinitarian anthropology and it just becomes clearer: We know and are fully known in love in the Church (I Cor. 12,13), Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 1:19) and the Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:22,23), we are dead and given life, reconciled to God and built together into a dwelling for God in the Church, to the glory of the Father from whom every family on earth receives its name (Eph. 2:17-23, 3:14). I could go on and on....

As I mentioned, the Petrine passage in the gospel is explicated by Peter himself in his epistles: in Christ we become partakers of the divine nature. St. John (the Theologian and The Beloved) also focuses on love and mystical union with God: two of the disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration. Neither of them in their writings ever hint at "authority structure" or pre-eminence or "succession" as the consequence of their intimacy with Christ, but spoke of the possibility of their experience of union as accessible to all mankind through the Christian life and sacramental participation of the mysteries.

Anyway, this isn't original, just connecting existing dots in perhaps an original way (or maybe its that those who use the passage to "prove their heirarchy" connected the dots in an original way and no one has thought the resultant picture looked goofy because we've stared at it for so long that way).


Fr. Sean Lotz said...

O my goodness. I am going to have to spend some real time with this. I think you may have just shown me something I have never seen before. If so, thank you very much.

JD said...

Revelatory; Bravo

James the Thickheaded said...

Thanks for this. Now what happens when you comb your hair?

Athanasia said...

James, what hair? ;-)

I'm with Father Sean. I'm gonna need to roll this around and share it with my Padre Andrew 'cause we were just discussing this last night at Bible study.

Thanks s-p.

David B said...

Man. Holy ground is everywhere, including in front of the sink.

Good thoughts. Definitely not pithless. Gonna have to watch that... ;)

Anonymous said...

A beautiful thought! Since naming gives power over the thing named, God names us and His power (salvation) covers us. Thanks, Steve.

s-p said...

By the way... did I use enough of the "50 Must Use" Orthodox words for some blog-cred? :)

Anonymous said...

Who can ever exhaust the depth and wealth of Scripture?

Your vocabulary is truly most Orthoticulate...

Ranger said...

I love going to be or even better waking up with scripture on the brain, it has been too long for me.
Great thoughts! It is interesting to me that for so long, the debate over this scripture has focused primarily on the Roman claims, which by the way are not claimed by either Ambrose or Augustine. Why not focus on the language used rather than the various modern-day interpretations. A rock is substantive, it is material. In a real sense Christ is making a concrete statement "You" over there, standing before me,in the flesh " are Peter " and upon this Rock" The incarnate God, whom you see before you, to whom Thomas will thrust his hand in my pierced side, the Rock from which the water flowed, from which came a cave where I was born and a tomb for which to conquer death by " I will build the Church" and we all know that Christ is the cornerstone(I Peter and that the apostles and prophets (plural) are the foundation (Eph. 2.20) Also in referncing Peter, he, when referring to Christ the Cornerstone, refers to the church as living stones.
Love it!! Lots to ponder. Thanks.

ryan said...

I was going to comment, but I decided to brush my teeth in an effort to discover wisdom. I found some chicken from yesterday. Nothing good. I'll cut my nails and get back to you.

To know and be known...

James the Thickheaded said...

Thinking it over in my 5 watt noggin, I'd add the Genesis bit about Adam completes the creatures God brings to him to name. That's what they are. It was so.

Remember how Abraham and Israel have been renamed? So here, Simon is renamed Peter. Can we say synergy?

If I had hair to think this over while combing... maybe I'd have better thoughts.

Chocolatesa said...

I believe the correct term for "forehead whack" is "facepalm".

And ROFL @ James the Thickheaded's comment!

Desertseeker: I'm curious about the "naming gives power over the thing named" idea, where is that from?

Joseph Barabbas Theophorus said...

I would be very careful in speaking about naming God as part of the foundation of the Church. Certainly, God gave Adam the duty to create names as part of his spiritual growth and langauge has been one of the primary modes of human communication ever since then. However, it is only a tool and part of the incomplete way in which we understand creation. Indeed, if we look closely at the Scriptures, we notice that it was not until the Enosh that men began to "call upon the name of the Lord" (Gen 4:26). This is significant because before this time, there existed a much purer, personal relationship that transcended names, attributes, and words. (Of course, Moses describes these events in Genesis with names, attributes, and words, as that was now the only way humanity could understand God and His creation, having falling from seeing things "as they are" and having to form concepts and ideas about how things are. Even he needed a name for God before he was able to understand.) Much of our purification involves reaching that state of the first created man and beginning to see clearly, without the imposition of "our" fallen ideas. This is not to say language is somehow wrong, but we must commune with God on a far deeper level than that. Thus, I would not say that language (especially the idea of "namimg" God) is the foundation of the Church. It helps us through the beginning of our purification, when we need guidance (through the written and spoken word) to help open our hearts to Christ. But I think there is a danger here in limiting the idea of a personal relationship to one which involves very modern conventions, a so-called "first name basis", etc. It seems to be a case of viewing our relationship with God in light of our fallen, earthly relationships, not the other way around. A relationship between two persons looks very different from what we today call a "personal relationship."

As for the idea of the stones in Revelation 2, I think this is a good observation and is indeed connected. I would only caution, again, about the role of names, especially when it comes to us trying to give a nmae to God. Anyways, one reading is this: as those who overcome partake of the manna and are given a stone, this can refer to the fact that Christ gives His Body freely to all (the manna), but that our communion ultimately depends on how much we choose to accept. That is, our names (signifying our hypostasis) are only written on as large a pebble (a piece of the Rock, which is Christ) which we have chosen to accept, chosen to commune with. It is another way of speaking about the fact that we are so far from God's Essence even though we choose to partake of His Energies― and at that, a very small portion of His Enegies. It is a witness to our complete unworthiness before and unfaithfulness to God, Who Is so large we are afraid to let go of our will and follow Him into Himself. As you noted, there are many different levels to the Scriptures and this is only one of its meanings, but I thought it important to reiterate the danger of seeing God in terms of His creation. It is very easy to do, and something we all do; it's part of our fallenness. But the more we are aware of it, the more we can overcome it and, by God's Grace, begin to see Him as He Is.

Anonymous said...

Chocolatesa, it's something I've heard and read in various places, most recently in a podcast by Father Hopko (one of the ones about Darwinism and Genesis).

Ruth said...

JBT said: "Thus, I would not say that language (especially the idea of "namimg" God) is the foundation of the Church."

but what Steve said (and meant when he used the word 'name')was "the capacity for a human being to recognise God in human flesh"

And this does seem to me to be foundational. It is not the idea of naming so that one has some sort of control over, as with Adam naming the animals, but more recognising at last that which has been named from the beginning. There is humility built in there.

or so I read what Steve said. And I personally felt joy when I read his words.

Adam Sheehan said...


I am not sure how much you read outside of Eastern Orthodox authors and scholars, but you might be interested in a book entitled: "Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Interactive Christology" by Cistercian Monk Michael Casey. It is a meditation on the Gospel of Mark where he discusses the intersection of the humanity and divinity of Christ Jesus. Among the many things I gained from reading this, it caused to consider that it may have been no less of a challenge for the Apostles to recognize "The Christ" in Jesus of Nazareth as it is a challenge for me to recognize him in my relationships now.

Chocolatesa said...

Desertseeker: Ah ok, thanks :)

James the Thickheaded said...

JBT - good points. Of course I think I'm less interested in naming God, though there's a lot of interesting Jewish tradition on do and don't in that regard. But the point was more that Adam names things already created, but the name completes how they will be known. And there is this other tradition of God renaming key people at critical junctures. Doesn't do it with everyone... but with a number of them. And of course, we take a saint's name at chrismation, and priests often take a new name with ordination.

s-p said...

Ranger, Indeed the biblical references to "rock" and the Christological foreshadowing in the OT and NT metaphors are many. Much is made of the Greek in Jesus' conversation with Peter, and indeed Christ is "the rock" in typology. But the typology begs the question "so what?" I think the "so what" is the key: Jesus says, "You know Me. I now know you as Peter, no longer Simon". There has been a substantive change in who WE are, not merely who YOU perceive Me to be. This speaks to JBT's and JtTH's comments regarding names in the Scriptures. I would challenge JBT's statement: "I would be very careful in speaking about naming God as part of the foundation of the Church." This is the entire point of the Incarnation: "They called His name Jesus." It was the God-man named Jesus who established the Church in which and through which we are named by God. This is not metaphor and cheap fallen concept of "personal relationship", it is the very foundation of our salvation. "God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us..." and we know His name at which, when it is spoken in the Last Day, every knee will bow. I think you OVER-spiritualize the idea of "knowing God apart from His name" at the expense of the core of our faith: God took flesh through a woman named Mary and in obedience to God named Him. I don't think this is "seeing God in terms of fallen creation". It seems you run the risk of gnosticizing the Incarnation with such as statement. This is not a "fallen tendency to humanize our relationship to God", it is exactly the epitome of God's self revelation in human flesh. The "rock" is our communion with the unknowable God Who has made Himself known and desires to be known as He fully know. We do not and cannot fully know even another human being whose name we know, much less God, but that does not lessen the depth of the meaning of the fact He has a name we can call and that He names us.

Chocolatessa, the notion of having "power over someone" is quite an old concept. If you call someone's name they cannot help but respond in some fashion. I think it was Frederick Buechner who summarized it, "God told man His name and He hasn't had a moment's rest since." It is not that we "control God", but there is "relationship" and mutuality that both enter and are subject to when we have names for one another.

Ryan, let me know how that works for you. :)

Adam, the book sounds interesting... definitely incarnational theology. I'll check Amazon.

Jonathan (a different one) said...

Face palming hurts the nose; forehead slapping doesn't?

Fr. Sean Lotz said...

Congratulations on noticing and naming the great temptation for orthodoxy: gnosticism.

BTW: False advertising. I want my money back. There was too much pith in this thought.

s-p said...

Fr. Sean, The refund check is in the mail. I think I may have used up my allotment of pith for the year, unless I'm declared a heretic, then it only counts as impious blather.

V and E said...

Wow. First time I read this I loved it.

Second time reading this, I still love it!

@Ruth: "[...] And I personally felt joy when I read [this]" Word!

Not so pithless, s-p, not so pithless. Keep up the grooming - clearly, it's working for you!


semper said...

I also found this revelatory-- though even as an Orthodox Christian I think it's a case of both/and. Christ IS also talking about Peter, who founded three of the five patriarchates. (Note that even Gregory the Great explicitly means all three Petrine patriarchates when he says 'the chair of Peter.) And Christ means Peter's faith. (These are the two standard patristic readings, and in harmony with each other.)

AND-- I think you're on to a third meaning.

one thought on JTB's concern: 'knowing God apart from His name': is I think a strange idea in the Hebrew way of thinking about things. God's name IS who-God-is. That's what YHWH means. That's why Jews call God 'Hashem'-- the name. When we are told to 'call upon the name of the Lord,' that's just another variant on 'calling on God'.

To call on His name is to call on Him. To insult His name is to insult Him. To know His name is to know Him.

One might, I think-- though this is a speculative leap-- think of the Name as the energies of God: that is, God himself as known-and-participated-in by us.

Marc Chapman said...

You, sir, have just smashed my brain