(Extract from the Paper presented by DR. THOMAS MOR ATHANASIUS on the occasion of
Syrian Orthodox- Roman Catholic Dialogue at Spirituality Centre, Manganam, Kottayam)
I presented last time the salient features of episcopacy in view of the Syrian
Orthodox Church have been dealt with in detail. This paper aims at to examine
the function and authority of Bishop in this church in connection with the Petrine office. This attempt is made with Church because the Catholics also
believe in the special assignment given to Peter by the Lord, Petrine succession
in the Church and Petrine authority vested with the head of the Church. In
contradiction with the other churches in the Orthodox traditions the Syrian
Church has able to maintain unity and Catholic outlook despite the racial,
national and linguistic differences among its members. The reason for this is
its firm conviction in the Petrine office and unity of church based on the
ideological basis of Peter’s special calling. The common tradition of the
Catholics and Syrians in the Orthodox tradition concerning Petrine office in the
Church can infact serve as basis for further discussion between these two
churches in their search for a united witness and existence.
The paper examines whether the office of the bishop in the Syrian Church has anything to do with the Petrine authority and function. For this purpose the role of Peter in the New Testament is being sought. Then an attempt is also made to clarify the understanding of Peter in the authentic Syrian tradition...
PETER IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: A short review of Modern Studies
The person of Peter has attracted several eminent Biblical scholars in the recent times. Few outstanding studies have been made with a view to get an authentic picture of this Apostle. Often Peter was misrepresented under the influence of confessional preferences. The recent scholars by means of Scientific study methods tries to give an objective picture of Peter and his role in the early Christian community. People like Blank J Karrer, Raymond E. Brown, Alexander Findley and Oscar Cullman are some who contributed much Petrine research. They unanimously accept the view that Peter had a special role in the early Church and it was believed that he obtained it from the Lord. This impression indeed belongs to the general tradition of the entire New Testament. Oscar Cullman says that the knowledge of a special distinction given to Peter within the circle of the disciples is common to the entire ancient tradition behind the Synoptic Gospels (Peter Disciples, Apostle, Martyr: A Historical and Theological Study, London 28). He also establishes the matter that the Johannine Gospel also witness Peter’s unique role and leadership. Pauline Corpus is no exception in this matter. According to the modern New Testament Scholars the authority of Peter was a fully accepted fact in the Early Church.
PETER IN THE SYRIAN THEOLOGICAL TRADITION
The Fathers of the Syrian Church tried to give a theological interpretation to the person of Peter. They were fully convinced of the unique office of Peter in the primitive Christian community. Ephrem, Afrahat and Marutha who were supposed to be the best exponents of the early Syrian tradition unequivocally acknowledge the office of Peter. They understood that Peter participated in the person as well as the office of Christ in a special way. The Syrian Fathers following the rabbinic tradition call Jesus “Kepha” for they see “rock” in the Old Testament as a messianic Symbol. When Christ gave his own name “Kepha” to Simon he was giving him participation in the person and office of Christ. Christ who is the Kepha and shepherd made Simon the chief shepherd in his place and gave him the very name Kepha and said that on Kepha he would build the Church. Afrahat shared the common Syriac tradition. For him Kepha is infact another name of Jesus, and Simon was given the right to share the name. The person who receives somebody else’s name also obtains the rights of the person who bestows the name. Afrahat makes the stone taken from Jordan a type of Peter. He says Jesus son of Nun set up the stones for a witness in Israel; Jesus our Saviour called Simon Kepha Sarirto and set him as the faithful witness among nations.
Again he says in his commentary on Deutronomy that Moses brought forth water from “rock” (Kepha) for the people and Jesus sent Simon Kepha to carry his teachings among nations. Our Lord accepted him and made him the foundation of the Church and called him Kepha. When he speaks about transfiguration of Christ he calls him Simon Peter, the foundation of the Church.
Ephrem also shared the same view. In a Hymn on Peter he writes:
“Blessed are you Simon Kepha
Who holds the keys which the Spirit forges
Great is the word and ineffable
That could stand bind and loose above and below
Blessed are thou who wert as the head
And as the tounge of the body of brotheren
Through Simon was heard the Revelation from the Father
Through the Rock unshakable”
In Armenian version of De Virginitate records
Peter the Rock shunned honour Who was the head of the Apostles,
In a MEMRA of Efrem found in Holy Week Liturgy points to the importance of Peter:
“The Simon, my disciple, have I set as foundation
of the Holy Church,
I called thee Kepha that thou mightest bear all buildings
Thou art the overseer (baharo) of those who build for me the Church on earth
If they build anything hateful the foundation restrains them
Thou art the foundation-head of my disciples
By thee I will give drink to all nations thou hast the sweetness of life which I will give
I have given thee keys of my kingdom
Behold. Thou rulest over all my possession.”
Both Afrahat and Ephrem represent the authentic
tradition of the Syrian Church. The different orders of liturgies used for
sanctification of Church building, marriage, ordination etc. reveal that the
primacy of Peter is a part of living faith of the Church...
It has been conclusively made clear that the modern Biblical scholarship supports the authentic Syriac tradition concerning the role of Peter.
Dr. Thomas Mor Athanasius, former Assistant Metropolitan of Kandanad diocese
THE VISION, published by the Malankara Archdiocese of Greater India; December 1995.
(Enclosed is the extract from the Paper presented by DR. THOMAS MOR ATHANASIUS who was the former Assistant Metropolitan of the Kandanad diocese under the Late lamented Catholicos of the East H.B. Mor Baselios Paulose II on the occasion of Syrian Orthodox- Roman Catholic Dialogue at Spirituality Centre, Manganam, Kottayam. Though the central focus of the paper was about the function and authority of Bishop in connection with the Petrine office, it also deals with the issue of Petrine Primacy; the extract of which is included here.)