The Catholic Church in China
With respect to the recent China decision by Pope Francis, there are two primary issues raised in the context of Christian history:
- On what does the efficacy of the Sacraments depend? (A key part of the Donatist controversy of the 4th century)
The Donatist controversy, which arose after Emperor Constantine had put an end to official persecution of the Church, had to do with the less faithful, Priests, Bishops, and lay persons who, during persecution, had in some way denied or been unfaithful to the Church. Some of the more faithful welcomed them with forgiveness and open arms, and some refused to welcome them into the church.
But the bigger issue and one that had to be resolved by the Church was whether the sacraments administered by priests and bishops who had been among the less faithful were valid. St. Augustine helped resolve this issue by advocating the position that, “The validity of any rite of the Church does not depend on the moral virtue of the person administering it. If it were so, Christians would live in constant doubt as to the validity of their baptism. No matter how unworthy the celebrant, the rite is still valid.” (Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Vol 1, Page 213.)
So, the recent decision by Pope Francis perhaps assures lay Catholics in China that the sacraments administered by state-approved Priests and Bishops of the Catholic Church in China are considered valid for the recipients of those sacraments. That must be a big positive for them.
Validity of sacraments is not an issue at all for Protestant churches in China (or for Chinese leaders of course) since they don’t generally recognize the Sacraments as the Catholic Church does.
- Who has the authority to choose bishops and priests and to whom do they owe obedience? (The Investiture Controversy of the 11th century)
In early church history, during so-called Christendom (union of church and state), it was common for emperors and other rulers to choose and appoint not only Bishops but Popes as well. Can we imagine the POTUS calling Pope Francis and announcing, or perhaps just tweeting, that he has a guy picked out to replace Cardinal Dolan in New York City when he retires? We maybe we can imagine that, but I don’t believe it would fly.
The 11th century issue came to a head when St. Pope Gregory VII found himself in direct conflict with Emperor Henry IV who had deposed a bishop and appointed another one. Pope Gregory ordered him to appear in Rome under threat of being deposed and condemned to hell if he did not obey. Henry refused to go and declared Gregory deposed and a “false monk.” Gregory issued this sentence:
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, by the power and authority of St. Peter, and for the defense and honor of the church, I place king Henry…under interdict, forbidding him to rule in any of the kingdoms of Germany or Italy. I also free from their oaths any who have sworn or would swear loyalty to him. And I forbid that he be obeyed as king.” – Gonzalez Volume 1 Page 287
Henry showed up finally at Gregory’s residence and was humiliated by having to wait outside three days in cold snowy weather for admission. Gregory finally pardoned him and withdrew the sentence. That was just one interesting chapter in a long controversy, but it causes us to wonder who will be choosing and appointing Bishops in China in the future. At least King Henry, whether a follower of Jesus or not, was a man who feared God and the threat of excommunication and condemnation. Art above is at this LINK.
King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
I am at a loss for words on this issue. I think we know for sure that Solomon was Israel’s king, had a reputation for wisdom, built a temple, failed in the end to be faithful to God and the people, and left a kingdom soon to be divided and fighting civil wars. From that, a thousand tales have been spun. Essentially all that was mentioned in the discussion is covered in the Wikipedia article on King Solomon.
If you would like to read his whole story in the Bible, the chart below gives the key passages along with key passages about Saul and David and Samuel who was perhaps the wisest of all in warning the people about all the problems that would go along with having a king (because everybody else has one). It is in the text on the lower left side (1 Samuel 8:4-20).