Saturday, June 04, 2011

MacCulloch, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 in Diarmaid MacCulloch's survey of Christian history is called "The Making of Latin Christianity." It's the first of several chapters in Part IV which is titled "The Unlikely Rise of Rome."

MacCulloch explains that during the fourth century, the growing Roman emphasis on the antiquity of the Church, the centrality of Rome, and the primacy of Peter were all the result of a desire to gain respectability, "to show that Christianity had a past as glorious as anything that the old gods could offer" (294). To borrow MacCulloch's expression, Christianity was becoming "a religion fit for a gentleman," and by that he means a Roman gentleman. Along this line, I learned something very interesting about the Roman Catholic dogma of the primacy of Peter and the history of the interpretation of Matthew 16. MacCulloch explains:

One aim of the programme was to place a new emphasis on the role of Peter rather than the joint role of Peter and Paul in the Roman past. Moreover, it was in [Pope] Damasus's time that Peter came to be regarded not merely as the founder of the Christian Church in Rome, but also as its first bishop. Ironically, it was actually a North African bishop, point-scoring against his local Donatist opponents by stressing the North African Catholics' links to Rome, who is the first person known to have asserted on the basis of Matthew 16:17-19 that 'Peter was superior to the other apostles and alone received the keys of the kingdom, which were distributed by him to the rest'; yet significantly it was in the time of Damasus that this thought occurred to the North African, some time around 370 (p. 294).

Meanwhile, Jerome was advocating the idea that scholarship, what he was did and loved, was just as legitimate a monastic life as manual labor or being an hermit. He put an exclamation point on his statement when he produced what would become the Christian Bible for the next 1000 years, the Latin Vulgate.

Next, MacCulloch provides a very fine survey of the life and legacy of Augustine, "shaper of the western church" (pp. 301-12), and ends the chapter by telling the stories of important people associated with the rise and development of monasticism in the West:

The most significant early figure in this story is Martin, without whom the Christianization of Germany and missions into the British Isles would not have happened. "Eastern and Western monasticism combined fruitfully in the monk John Cassian" (315). And then there was Benedict whose "Rule" became the basis for the flowering of monasticism in the West for many centuries to follow, even up to the present day.

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