Bishop of Rome

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I find it funny that a number Protestants have been insisting on calling the pope the bishop of Rome. Anglicans consider the pope the bishop of Rome, because they consider all the bishops of equal authority, and they consider the pope the only bishop in Rome. Eastern orthodox have the same view, though they didn't adopt it to justify a king's adultery that Rome wouldn't allow. They simply believed the bishop of Rome was claiming more authority than was really his to claim. Protestants (besides Anglicans) generally don't consider the pope the only bishop in Rome, so why do they think 'the bishop of Rome' refers to him uniquely?

Protestants generally recognize that the word 'bishop' in older English translations of the Bible refers to the local elders of a congregation, the spiritual leaders who carry out the normal teaching function of the congregation, oversee spiritual leadership, and discipline members of the congregation when necessary. Each congregation thus has at least one bishop, ideally a plurality for any local gathering. A leader Protestants wrongly call the pastor should count as one of these elders or bishops, but ideally there will be others in a team, all of whom will teach, even if one or two will be paid full-time. A Protestant might even think Catholics should be calling their whole priesthood bishops or elders rather than priests, since everyone is a priest anyway, and the priests serve the functions that elders do in the biblical records. It just strikes me as funny to see those who believe in many bishops in Rome calling the pope the bishop of Rome, as if that expression is uniquely referring.

6 Comments

In the Eastern Melchite thought, the explanation is that every Christian is a priest, although Christians play different roles in the community. The position of Bishop and its titles entail no automatic relevance or importance in Christianity, except if the Bishop sets an example to the others, i.e., if his life witnesses true faith and rectitude. Only in such case a Bishop may be deemed to have occupied a position of sanctity and/or wisdom.

The Pope is also called the Patriarch of the West, but NEITHER the Orthodox NOR the Eastern Catholics take any of the Patriarchs as second to Christ only, as Roman Catholics usually do.

The title "Pope"(the Latin being Papa, obviously a term of affection less formal than Pater), was from the fourth century accorded to bishops other than just the bishop of Rome and still is accorded to those bishops, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and later the Bishop of Carthage. All Greek priests are called "Papa". All Serbian priests are called "Pop" (pronounced "Pohp"). The Head of the Coptic Church is the Pope of Cairo.
So what's the big deal?

There's a sense in which Paul was a father to the Corinthian believers (I Corinthians 4:15). Yet Jesus said not to call anyone a father for being a spiritual leader (Matthew 23:9). I think the most obvious reconciliation of those two statements has to do with the sense of superiority conveyed by 'father' in the Matthew passage and the sense of merely being the agent by whom God worked to bring them to salvation in the Corinthians passage. Given that, whether someone is properly called father has to be related to something more like what Paul was talking about and less like what Jesus was talking about.

Most Protestants see most Catholic statements about the pope as father, and indeed most Orthodox statements about other authority figures as father, to be more like the sort of thing Jesus was talking about. Some even go as far as saying it's inappropriate to use 'Reverend' or 'Pastor' as titles that indicate some greater importance, as such titles really do convey for most Protestants. That's why I don't like any of these titles.

How about Mister? Sir?
We need to go deeper in considering what Jesus was getting at in the "Be ye not called Rabbi" passage. What was he attacking? Authority? Hardly. Authority, after all, comes from God Himself and for Jesus to attack authority would mean He was attacking Himself.
Jesus was attacking what the word "Rabbi" stood for, Pharisaism, "the leven of the Pharisees".
I myself have a serious problem with calling heterodox clergy "reverend". Being heterodox, the heterodox clergy are not worthy of the title. The first qualification for a clergyman to be revered is that he be Orthodox in his faith. If he is not even Orthodox, how can he possibly be worthy of reverence?

Right, those can follow the same principle if the idea is someone is superior or more holy. If not, then they're fine. For religious leaders in particular I try to stay away from all such titles. I call the elders in my congregation by their first names, and this is something they encourage me and other members of my congregation to do.

If I had a notion of a distinction between clergy and laity, I'm sure I wouldn't recognize heterodox clergy as real clergy. I'm sure we'd disagree on what counts as heterodox, however.

Sure does sound chummy.
At this point, it gets down to how we read Holy Scripture. Does God's Holy Word tell us that His Church should be chummy?
Rather than attempt to get into that, I suggest we start with a more basic question, "How do we find truth in Holy Scripture?" Earlier, I suggested that we turn our attention at this point to the "Commonitory" of St. Vincent of Lerins and I reiterate that suggestion here as to whether or not the Church should be chummy.

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