Advent Edition 2009
volume 20, nos. 333-358
Usurpers of the Old and New Covenants

Part Two of A Study of St. Matthew 23: 1-3

By

Stephen Grieve

    Editor's Note: Stephen hails from across the pond in England and has agreed to provide interesting articles that should stir the sensibilities of those who continue to elude the inevitability that a true pope would never and could never do what the conciliar leaders in Rome have done for the past 50 years. Steve continues his multi-part series on proving the basis for a sede vacante stance based on holy Scripture itself. He continues the second part of the essence of the Gospel of St. Matthew 23: 1-3 which basically served as the launching point for Our Lord to castigate the seemingly ruling authority of His days, but which Steve proves Christ was declaring them usurpers and not valid holders of the 'seat of Moses.' Likewise, Steve illustrates how the same arguments holds true for the conciliar usurpers who have seized the throne through material means, but are totally invalid in part seven of his series Toward a Scriptural Brief proving Sede Vacante.
      "Jesus was not affirming the scribes and Pharisees here, but rather the Law of God as revealed to Moses. To the degree that even a Pharisee proclaimed these truths then those truths were to be obeyed. Jesus was not suggesting anything and everything uttered by these scribes and Pharisees should be taken as 'law,' but only those utterances which, in fact, came from the Law of God as revealed through Moses and the prophets. Of this Law, not one dot, not one iota could be removed until it had been perfectly obeyed. Only one Man in history has ever obeyed it perfectly and that is the Saviour Jesus Christ who abrogated it by His death on the Cross and the tearing of the veil of the Temple."


    In part one I concluded with the the fact that I. Shawn McElhinney made the contention that Sedevacantists don't use the Douay-Rheims version of the bible when, in truth, he himself has referenced the King James version. Consider.

    The Douay version reads: "Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not. For they say, and do not." (Vulgate: tunc Iesus locutus est ad turbas et discipulos suos Dicens super cathedram Mosi sederunt scribae et Pharisaei omnia ergo quaecumque dixerint vobis servate et facite secundum opera vero eorum nolite facere dicunt enim et non faciunt).

    First, we need to do away with the erroneous KJV (used by McElhinney), NIV and other versions which Catholics may unfortunately be more familiar with.

    Does it matter? Yes. Why? Because by employing the present tense ('the scribes and pharisees sit on the seat of Moses'), readers of the KJV/NIV et al., are more likely to see an implicit acceptance of some 'right' the pharisees may have had to this position.

    By reading the text in the present tense it is easy to assume that Jesus placed His "stamp of approval" upon their right to teach. It suggests that not only did Jesus affirm their authority, but that He actually commanded the multitudes to obey. And this is obviously how Fr. Boulet and Mr. McElhinney have taken it. But if this interpretation is correct, then it is indeed remarkable for, as we have seen, it flies in the face of everything Our Lord has elsewhere said about the Pharisees who, in His opinion, are 'a brood of vipers' to be 'left alone' (St. Matthew 15:12). There isn't even a hint of disapproval or indignation in Our Lord's words here if read in the present tense.

    The decisive translation must be that which corresponds most closely to the original Greek which has: Ηπι τήζ ΜωCB;σέωζ καθέδραζ έκάθισαν οι γρ αμματεΐζ καί Φαρισαΐοι

    έκάθισαν is intransitive aorist active 3rd person plural. The Douay correctly translates it as 'have sitten'. However that does not sound well to modern ears. Fr. Boulet seems to have noted the awkwardness and (subtly altering the Douay?) has rendered it as 'have sat'. Sounds ok to modern ears, but 'have sat' is past perfect tense - not the Greek Aorist of the original text.

    The NASB renders the text as: 'The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.' And this, I think, is faithful to the original Greek while taking into consideration the exigencies of modern English.

    Now, both the Douay and NASB translations are open to giving an altogether different tone to the text than the flawed KJV.

    So far from some implicit acceptance that the pharisees had any right, to the 'seat of Moses', there is a textual implication here (which, I think becomes imperative given the overall context) that the pharisees, as a fait accompli, had usurped a 'right' that was no longer theirs.

    Our Lord recognised a material licity in that the synagogue was visible and people frequenting it. But it had no formal status since it was steeped in error (clear from the context not only of the rest of the chapter but the entire Gospel).

    Take this sentence, in the present tense, of the usurper Benedict XVI:

    'Benedict sits on the Chair of Peter'.

    We have here an affirmation (of fact) but with a reasonable supposition that he has a right to do so (that he has been given this right) unless the context demands otherwise.

    Now take the same sentence in the past

    'Benedict has sat (himself) on the Chair of Peter'.

    An affirmation (of fact) with the reasonable supposition (or implication) that the right to do so has not been given but that he has done so anyway, i.e. by way of usurpation.

    Of course, you have those versions that totally change the meaning of the text such as the NAB, St. Joseph Edition (Catholic) no less, that translates St. Matthew 23: 2 as: "The scribes and the Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers." This is inadmissible. It would seem to be an excess of (faulty) interpretative apologetic rather than accurate translation. The only 'successor' to Moses is Jesus Christ.

    Either way, all must agree that Jesus was stating a fact: whether He liked it or not, the teachers of the law and the pharisees were in actual fact sitting on the seat of Moses, at least in the sense of claiming Mosaic authority.

    Acknowledging a reality, however, is not the same as affirming a right.

C. 'Unless you think they are teaching erroneously upon which ye may depose them for their seat is thus vacanted.'

    It is not a question of 'deposition'. The present occupier of the Chair or Peter has ipso facto relinquished any office he may have had given his material heresies which have automatically rendered him unfit for any overseership in the Church of God. We have every right, however, to DECLARE the man a manifest heretic and pray for His conversion and public penitence. However, without going into the labyrinth of the man's heresies, there is a more cogent argument - that has nothing to do with heresy. But this demands in-depth treatment and I refer readers to Griff Ruby's Subsistet' and 'Resignation' work published on this site.

D. 'Upon such a vacancy you must adhere to the teachings of the Pharisees of "the Eternal Sanhedren" which you should have no problem determining for yourselves even if your level of theological knowledge be no more than that of a small child's.'

    If by 'the Eternal Sanhedrin' he means the Communion of Saints within the bosom of the Most Holy Trinity, then we have no problem in determining that we do adhere to it. Unlike Protestants, Christ has brought us to Him and to His Father through His Church and therefore we have the right to claim full Communion. We cling, as limpets, to the Office and Rock of Peter, the teaching of all the Catholic Popes and Councils, and preserve that teaching most faithfully.

    'even if your level of theological knowledge be no more than that of a small child's.'

    Firstly our faith is indeed that of 'a little child's' since we have nothing to say of ourselves but rely solely on what we have been taught. Perhaps I should simply ignore the rest but I can't help it! 'The level of our theological knowledge' even so allows us to distinguish between the Douay-Rheims Bible and the King James Version. It also allows us to distinguish between past and present tenses. All the which presume at least an elementary knowledge/ education (let alone theological).

I.S.M: "Yes the actions of Our Lord at the time must have been endorsing a deposing of the High Priest and declaring the Seat of Moses vacant. There is a lesson here that needs to be taken into account and it is this: if Jesus did not usurp the lawful authority of the very high priest who had Him put to death (Matt. 26:57-64), if He counselled the Jews to obey the teaching of the Scribes and the Pharisees, then the reader needs to ask how these sedevacantists get off thinking that they can disobey Church authority and be in like with the teachings of Christ. How can they "hear the Church" or "if they refuse to heed the Church be treated as the heathen and the publican" if the individual can decide when and under what conditions they will be faithful??? The answer is they cannot but instead the same error of private judgment that so ensnared the Jansenists and the Protestants - and even the majority of self-styled 'traditionalists' - is magnified in the case of the sedevacantist. And it is magnified to the point that what is a defacto heresy for others constitutes actual heresy objectively speaking for the sedevacantist. )"

REPLY:

A. 'Yes the actions of Our Lord at the time must have been endorsing a deposing of the High Priest and declaring the Seat of Moses vacant. There is a lesson here that needs to be taken into account and it is this: if Jesus did not usurp the lawful authority of the very high priest who had Him put to death. (St. Matthew 26:57-64)

    Jesus of course did not usurp the 'lawful authority of the high priest' because there was nothing to usurp! (The very idea of Jesus 'usurping' anything is offensive to Catholic ears). Caiaphas was the material high priest in so far as he was visible, functioning, accepted by the Sanhedrin, and in possession of the material Temple; but he was not formal high priest. By His repeated silence in the face of questioning, it is crystal clear that the Saviour did not recognise his authority. As noted, it was only when this wretched man solemnly invoked the 'living God', Jesus' own Father that our Lord deigned to announce (not reply). (Please note: I am not necessarily advocating a sedeprivationist theory here).

    Our Lord acted with supreme independence and indifference (or, rather hostility!) both with regard the High Priesthood and the Talmudic proto rabbinic Pharisaism of His time. However, all the messianic prophecies had to be fulfilled - a recognised 'regnant' (speaking on behalf of the nation) in Jerusalem was necessary. His was a supernatural agenda. More on this further below.

    The last legitimately anointed Jewish High Priest was Onias 111 (d.175 BCE). After Onias, the Jewish Priesthood of Aaron jumped about 120 years to St.John the Baptist who was the last legitimate (in God's eyes) High Priest of Israel. John, acting on behalf of Remnant/ Faithful Israel acted as formal High Priest in recognising the unique High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (the Immaculate Atonement Sacrifice) who takes away the sins of the world. He did not 'transfer' the priesthood but submitted it to Christ. St. John the Baptist summed up all the Old Testament Saints and he officially handed that Dispensation over to Christ - something the so-called 'high priest' in Jerusalem should have done.

    Even the Jews as a whole did not accept Caiaphas as the legitimate high priest. While Caiaphas was the official high priest, the Jews continued to consider Annas to be the real one which is one of the reasons why Jesus was led first to the house of Annas before being sent to Caiaphas. The matter had first to go before Annas (who had no legal right) for Caiaphas' verdict to be accepted as conclusive (cf. St. John 18:12f.)

I.S.M. "if He counselled the Jews to obey the teaching of the Scribes and the Pharisees, then the reader needs to ask how these sedevacantists get off thinking that they can disobey Church authority and be in like with the teachings of Christ. How can they "hear the Church" or "if they refuse to heed the Church be treated as the heathen and the publican" if the individual can decide when and under what conditions they will be faithful???"

REPLY

A. As demonstrated, to assert that our Lord counselled the Jews to obey the Scribes and Pharisees is to display an ignorance of the Gospel that can scarcely be credited.

B. "get off thinking that they can disobey Church authority"

    We disobey Benedict and the conciliarists who can be identified with Caiaphas and company, not the Church. This is involves another argument (and a volume in itself), one that will take us off the track of the text we are considering as such.

I.S.M: "How can they "hear the Church" or "if they refuse to heed the Church be treated as the heathen and the publican" if the individual can decide when and under what conditions they will be faithful??? The answer is they cannot but instead the same error of private judgment that so ensnared the Jansenists and the Protestants…

REPLY: Private Judgment?

i. The implication that the Sedevacantists 'pick and choose' ("if the individual can decide when and under what conditions they will be faithful???") would better addressed to the SSPX who (accepting the legitimacy of Benedict XVI) do indeed 'sift' whatever he says to see whether it is heretical or not. For their part, the Sedevacantists reject, lock-stock-and-barrel, everything that issues from Rome these days - even the undoubtedly good stuff. You may have a perfectly good, healthy looking red apple: inject the tiniest amount of cyanide into it however…

ii. If he means that by consulting Papal encyclicals scanning millennia, Doctors, approved theologians, Councils, and Saints of the Catholic Church (all of whom are in amazing [supernatural] agreement as to what does and what does not constitute heresy) we are indulging in 'private judgement' then we are guilty. Except that the word 'private' is obviously redundant. The accusation should be that we are guilty of 'judgement' - the very public Judgement of the entire Church for nearly 2,000 years until V2.

    In any case, it is not so much a question of judgement, private or otherwise, but a declaration based on simple intelligence backed with gut Catholic instinct and sustained by the grace to persevere against all the odds. The very utterance of such a declaration entails judgement.

    And we must not shy away from this. In the context of apostasy, the Lord God, through the Prophet Osee, tells the faithful Remnant:

    "Judge your mother, judge her: because she is not my wife, and I am not her husband" (Osee 2: 1).

    "Your mother" refers to the Synagogue which is to be declared bankrupt and vile by the Faithful.

    In a previous essay we saw how the circumstances surrounding St. Paul's rebuke of St. Peter in Galatians seem to have been deliberately engineered (by the Holy Ghost) precisely in order to provide the Church with an extremely valuable and pertinent precedent.

iii. It is true that the Saviour gave the obligation to teach the Deposit of Faith to the Magisterium, and not to the Faithful as such. However, He did give the Faithful the solemn duty to 'hold fast' to that same Deposit (which admits of no novelties). The faithful who point out the manifest divergences of the Novus Ordo from the Faith of Always are routinely accused of 'private judgement' when, in fact, all they are doing is bringing attention to the fact, comparing what has always been said with what is now (as a novelty) said.

Two Interpretations of St. Matthew 23:1-3

Problem: whether or not the teachers of the Law had legitimate authority, Jesus still said 'Therefore do as they tell you.'

First Solution: Our Lord's words here may be taken at face value only if they are understood as relating to the actual Law of Moses. The scribes and pharisees had been appouinted (by men, not God) about 500 years previously during the Babylonian Captivity to instruct the people in exile. Had they kept to the authentic Tanakh (the five books of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms and other books making up the Old Testament) our Lord would have had no quarrel with them. All the Jews living at the time were under obligation to observe the Law of Moses but they were not bound to heed all that the scribes and the Pharisees taught in so far as it departed from that Law. To hold that they were is inconsistent with all the rest of our Lord's teaching.

    Jesus was not affirming the scribes and Pharisees here, but rather the Law of God as revealed to Moses. To the degree that even a Pharisee proclaimed these truths then those truths were to be obeyed. Jesus was not suggesting anything and everything uttered by these scribes and Pharisees should be taken as "law," but only those utterances which, in fact, came from the Law of God as revealed through Moses and the prophets. Of this Law, not one dot, not one iota could be removed until it had been perfectly obeyed. Only one Man in history has ever obeyed it perfectly and that is the Saviour Jesus Christ who abrogated it by His death on the Cross and the tearing of the veil of the Temple.

    (That the Master's words apply to the Tanakh and not the proto Talmud is clear because no Jew has ever felt obliged to follow all of the Talmudic laws, and it would be absolutely impossible to do so).

Second Solution: These words could very well be taken as an instance of our Lord's irony, even sarcasm, not in the sense of trying to be witty (sarcasm, although it can be funny, is usually below-the-belt) but in the sense of expressing bitterness.

    "The Living Bible (which is not intended to be a literal translation) captures this intent very well in its rendering of Matt. 23:2 --- "You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws! And of course you should obey their every whim!"

    "In this phrasing the sarcasm of Jesus is very apparent. This is a point that should not be overlooked or discounted, by the way. It is very likely, and several reputable scholars agree, that Jesus was being extremely sarcastic in His statement in Matthew 23:2. The Expositor's Bible Commentary observes: "The only way to make sense of the text is to see in vs. 2-3 an instance of biting irony, bordering on sarcasm" [vol. 8, p. 473]. Indeed, this source rebukes the tendency of some scholars not "to admit that vs. 2-3 are biting irony," saying that such reluctance "overlooks the tone of much of this chapter and superb parallels elsewhere in the NT" [ibid, p. 474]. Citations given by Al Maxley, Sitting in the Seat of Moses A Reflective Analysis of Matt.23:2-3

    A biting sarcasm, or irony, interpretation receives added weight when we study the words themselves: παντα ουν ηοσα αν ειπόσιν ηυμιν (panta oun hosa an eipôsin humin) omnia ergo quaecumque dixerint vobis (Vulgate) "All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you" (Douay).

    Hosa an ηοσα αν (translated as 'whatsoever') carries the idea of an indefinite size or number. It means, precisely, this: 'Everything, anything whatsoever, they tell you to do that you must observe and do -'

    An interpretative rendition of our text, then, would (I suggest) read something like this:

    "Since the scribes and the Pharisees have seen fit to seat themselves on the chair of Moses, then very well: let them teach Moses' law! If they are truly teaching it, you do indeed have to obey (Good Luck!) every single thing they say (for not one jot, not one iota may be removed from this until I have fulfilled all the law and the prophets in myself - you yourselves, however pious, cannot fulfil all the Law but you are still obliged to try). However, when they impose their own (plethora of) hard tasks on you - ignore them completely.'

    Erga is the plural of ergon. Usually translated as 'works'. The Greek-English lexicon by Liddell and Scott gives a wide variety of ways to translate it, including 'hard tasks' or 'burdens'. This translation fits, precisely, the onera gravia et inportabilia ("For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men's shoulders") of the very next verse.

Conclusion: There is only one interpretation that does violence to the text and that is the one that says Jesus taught that the scribes and pharisees had every right to add to the Law of Moses and that the people should believe and do whatever they said though not do what they did. In the Master's view, the current 'seat of Moses' was demonstrably vacant. This is why He said, referring to those who dared to seat themselves on it, "Leave them: they are blind guides."

Stephen Grieve





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