Why did Jesus resist circumcision?

BENEDICT XVI.

GENERAL AUDIENCE

Wednesday October 1, 2008

      

St. Paul (6): The "Council of Jerusalem" and the Antioch incident

Dear brothers and sisters!

The respect and veneration that Paul always showed the twelve do not diminish when he defends the truth of the gospel with all openness, which is nothing other than Jesus Christ, the Lord. Today we want to dwell on two episodes that demonstrate the veneration and at the same time the freedom with which the apostle addresses Cephas and the other apostles: it is the so-called council in Jerusalem and the incident in Syrian Antioch, of which in Letter to the Galatians (cf. 2.1-10; 2.11-14) is reported.

Every council and every synod of the Church is an "event of the Holy Spirit" and brings the requirements of the whole people of God into its execution: everyone who was allowed to take part in the Second Vatican Council experienced this personally. That is why St. Luke, who informed us about the first council of the Church held in Jerusalem, sent the letter that the apostles sent on this occasion to the Christian communities in the diaspora with the words: "The Holy Spirit and we have decided ..." (Acts 15.28). The Spirit, working in the whole Church, takes the Apostles by the hand as they break new ground in order to carry out his projects: He is the most important master builder in the construction of the Church.

The meeting in Jerusalem, however, took place in an instant of no small tension within the early church. It was about an answer to the question of whether circumcision should be required of the Gentiles who professed themselves to be the Lord Jesus Christ, or whether it was permissible to free them from the Mosaic Law, that is, from observance of the Rules that are necessary to be just, law-abiding people, and above all to free them from the norms relating to the cultic purification regulations, the rules of eating (clean and unclean food) and the Sabbath. St. Paul in Gal 2.1–10: 14 years after his encounter with the risen Christ before Damascus - we are in the second half of the forties - Paul sets out with Barnabas from Antioch in Syria and is accompanied by Titus, his loyal collaborator was of Greek origin and had not been forced to be circumcised upon entering the church. On this occasion Paul presents his gospel of freedom from the law to the twelve, who are called "the honorable ones" (cf. Gal 2.6). In the light of the encounter with the risen Christ, he understood that at the moment of their conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, circumcision, the precepts of food and the Sabbath were no longer necessary as a sign of righteousness: Christ is our righteousness and "just" is everything that is made like it. No further signs are required to be righteous. in the Galatians he reports in a few sentences about the course of the meeting: He enthusiastically mentions that James, Cephas and John, the "pillars" who shook hands with him and Barnabas as a sign of ecclesiastical communion in Christ, approved the gospel of freedom from the law (cf. . Gal 2.9). If, for Luke, as we have mentioned, the Council of Jersualem is the expression of the action of the Holy Spirit, for Paul it is the decisive recognition of the freedom shared by all who participated: a freedom from those from the Circumcision and legal obligations; that freedom to which "Christ set us free" so that we may remain free and not be subjected to the yoke of bondage anew (Gal 5.1). The two ways in which Paul and Luke describe the assembly of Jerusalem are connected by the liberating action of the Spirit, for "where the Spirit of the Lord works, there is freedom", he will later in the Second letter to the Corinthians write (cf. 3:17).

As from the letters of St. Paul makes clear, however, that Christian freedom is never to be equated with self-indulgence or arbitrary action; it is carried out in assimilation to Christ and therefore in true service to the brothers, especially to those most in need. That is why Paul's account of the congregation ends with the reminder of the apostles' exhortation to them: “Only we should think of their poor; and to do that I have eagerly endeavored «(Gal 2.10). Every council arises from the Church and returns to the Church: on that occasion it returns with attention to the poor, for whom it emerges, as from various remarks made by Paul in his Letters especially the poor of the Church of Jerusalem. In the especially im Second letter to the Corinthians (cf. 8–9) and in the final section of the Letter to the Romans (see. Rom 15) expressed concern for the poor, Paul proves his fidelity to the decisions matured during the congregation.

We may no longer fully understand the importance Paul and his churches placed on raising money for the poor of Jerusalem. It was a completely new initiative in terms of the overall picture of religious activities: it was not compulsory, but voluntary and spontaneous; all the churches founded by Paul in the west took part. The collection of money was an expression of the debt of their congregations to bring to the Mother Church in Palestine, from which they had received the incomprehensible gift of the gospel. The importance Paul attaches to this gesture of sharing is so great that he does not simply call it "collecting money": for him it is rather "service", "blessing", "love", "grace", yes "liturgy" (see 2 Cor 9). This latter term is particularly surprising, as it also gives the collecting of money a cultic value: on the one hand, it is a liturgical gesture or "service" offered to God by every congregation and, on the other hand, an act of love performed for the people. Love for the poor and divine liturgy belong together, love for the poor is liturgy. The two horizons are present in every liturgy celebrated and lived in the Church - which by its very nature opposes the separation between cult and life, between faith and works, between prayer and love for the brothers. So it comes to the Council of Jerusalem to settle the dispute about the conduct towards the believing Gentiles, and it chooses freedom from circumcision and from the norms imposed by the law and ends with the ecclesiastical and pastoral requirement that the Puts faith in Christ Jesus and love for the poor of Jerusalem and the whole Church at the center.

The second episode is the well-known incident in Antioch in Syria, which proves Paul's inner freedom: How should one behave with regard to the table fellowship between believers of Jewish origin and the Gentile Christians? This is where the other core of observance of the Law of Moses emerges: the distinction between clean and unclean food, which profoundly separated the law-abiding Jews from the Gentiles. At first, Cephas, Peter, sat at the table with both the one and the other; but after the arrival of some Christians from the circle of James, the "brother of the Lord" (Gal 1:19), Peter had begun to avoid contact with the Gentiles while eating so as not to shock those who continued to keep the commandments of purity while eating; and Barnabas had approved the decision. This decision divided Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians deeply. This behavior, which actually threatened the unity and freedom of the Church, sparked the excited reactions of Paul, who went so far as to accuse Peter and the others of hypocrisy: "If you live as a Jew in the manner of the Gentiles and not in the manner of the Jews, then how can you force the Gentiles to live like the Jews? "(Gal 2.14). In reality, Paul's worries on the one hand and those of Peter and Barnabas on the other were different: for the latter, the separation from the Gentiles was a way of protecting and not shocking the believers who had come from Judaism; for Paul, on the other hand, it represented the danger of a misunderstanding regarding the universal salvation offered to both the Gentiles and the Jews in Christ. When justification is realized solely by faith in Christ, by virtue of being shaped like him, without any legal work, whatever is Is it still necessary to maintain the purity of the food at the common meal? Peter and Paul most likely had different perspectives: the first was about not losing the Jews who had found the gospel; the second is not to diminish the salvific value of Christ's death for all believers.

It may seem strange, but when Paul writes to the Christians in Rome a few years later (in the mid-1950s), he himself will find himself in a similar situation and ask the strong not to eat unclean foods in order not to lose the weak and not to offend: "It is not good to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if your brother takes offense" (Rom 14.21). The Antioch incident thus turned out to be a lesson for both Peter and Paul. Only sincere dialogue, which is open to the truth of the Gospel, could give direction to the path of the Church: "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, it is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14.17). This is a lesson that we too must learn: let us all, with the different charisms entrusted to Peter and Paul, be guided by the Spirit, trying to live in freedom which is oriented in faith in Christ and in service realized concretely by the brothers. It is essential to be made more and more like Christ. In this way one becomes really free, in this way the deepest core of the law is expressed in us: love for God and for one's neighbor. Let us ask the Lord to teach us to be like him, so that we may learn from him the true freedom and love of the gospel that embraces everyone.


The theme of the catechesis of this general audience are two outstanding moments in the relationship between Paul and Peter. In both cases the question was whether the Gentiles who had come to believe also had to keep the law of Moses. At the so-called Apostles' Council in Jerusalem, the apostles and elders of the church heard the testimony of Paul and Barnabas as well as the declarations of Peter and James. Then, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they came to the decision not to demand Jewish circumcision from the Gentiles, who had found salvation through grace and faith in Christ. A little later, however, there was an incident in Antioch, where Peter separated himself from the converted Gentiles so as not to offend the law-abiding Jewish Christians. Paul saw this as a danger to the truth of the gospel and confronted Peter. In this controversy, the two princes of the apostles were not concerned with righteousness; Although they had different views on this difficult issue, they eventually came to an agreement. The incident showed them that open discussion based on love and gospel orientation will move the Church forward on her journey.

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I warmly greet the believers from the German-speaking area. I send a special greeting to the pilgrims from the diocese of Essen, accompanied by Bishop Dr. Felix Genn and the auxiliary bishops. May the pilgrimage for the 50th anniversary of your diocese be a departure for a renewed life of faith. I also greet the choir of the German School of the Borromean Sisters from Alexandria in Egypt. - I ask you all for your prayers for the Synod of World Bishops, which will begin here in Rome in a few days, so that the Holy Spirit may guide our deliberations and the Word of God may enliven the Church. The Lord bless you and your families.

 

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