22 February 2008

Schism and the Sons of Korah

What means that loud portentious cry of terror strange from yonder tent?
From Korah and his company, that strange portentious cry is sent.
A Levite priestly power he sought, And Aaron, saint of God, opposed:
Her prey the opening earth has caught, And o'er the rash intruder closed.

~ Richard Mant, Bishop of Down & Connor

This poem was entitled "Hymn Commemorative of the Punishment of Schism" and is found in an old book called "Ancient Hymns from the Roman Breviary to which are Added Original Hymns" from 1871.

Two hundred and fifty leaders, men of renown, gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" (Num. 16:2-3)

How many times do I hear that one? Many Protestants think that the "priesthood of all believers" means that there aren't men called and anointed by God to serve as Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. They are confused, just like the sons of Korah.

Many Israelites felt that Moses and Aaron had mislead the people. How often is this charge brought against the Church? Despite what the people felt, even when Moses did make a mistake, he was still God's chosen leader and had authority over the congregation. Jesus pointed out that the authority of Moses passed down to his successors, even if they were hypocrites: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." (Mt. 23:1-2)

Korah and the wanna-be priests were swallowed up by the earth, and later their followers were consumed by fire. What I find interesting is that their offering was still considered holy (Num 16:37-38), yet they were punished for their rebellion. The censors were hammered out as a covering on the altar, "to be a memorial to the children of Israel that no outsider, who is not a descendant of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the LORD, that he might not become like Korah and his companions, just as the LORD had said to him through Moses." (Num 16:39-40)

Jesus gave the keys to His kingdom to St. Peter (Mt. 16:19). Those who are not successors (descendants) of the first Bishop of Rome do not have the same authority. This is the history behind today's feast of "The Chair of St. Peter". The other leaders of the church also have their hierchical authority given by God (1 Cor 12:28), but St. Peter had primacy that he passed on just like Moses.
Strict judgement came upon the schismatics and their followers. Will God do the same to those who cause division in His Church? What will happen to those who assume authority outside of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?

St. Jude connects the account of the sons of Korah from Numbers 16 with Schism from the Catholic Church.

"But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe." (Jude 1:5) "Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries." (Jude 1:8) "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah." (Jude 1:11)

The second century Apostolic Father, St. Ireneus of Lyons wrote that Christian tradition is "derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also by pointing out the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those faithful men who exist everywhere." (Against Heresies III, 3:2)

1 comment:

mister corduroy said...

Incidently, before the calendar revision in the Latin Church, this feast celebrated the Chair of St. Peter in Antioch, his first cathedra. The Chair in Rome was celebrated on 18 January.

Of course my "Western Rite" Orthodox friends still celebrate the Chair in Antioch. They also use this day to argue the equality of bishops and diminish the authority of the Roman Pontiff.

But who currently sits in St. Peter's Antiochian Chair? The Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV in Damascus, or the Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III who comes from a line of Patriarchs in communion with Rome?