The city that self-identifies as “eternal,” think about it: is it a given that Rome will always be at the center of Western Catholicism?
Roman Christians came to recognition in early Christianity not only because they lived in the foremost city of western civilization, but because of their steadfast witness of faith in the most trying and horrific of circumstances. Other Christians, as I understand my history, gave Rome a listening ear because if you’re persisting in faith in the face of martyrdom, you must be doing something right.
I noticed the tussle in the combox about the supposed “coterminal” nature of “this” Church (I assume Roman) with Jesus Christ. And it got me thinking. Rome as a human city isn’t eternal. In several million years, Africa will ride up through the Mediterranean and mountains like the Himalayas will result. If humans are still alive and on the planet, and if Rome has ceased to exist due to continental drift, will Catholics likewise be adrift without Rome?
Maybe that’s too far in the distant future to consider. In Harry Turtledove’s alternate history work on alien invasion during World War II, Rome suffers a nuclear attack. The author doesn’t treat the religious impact within Catholicism or Christendom in his novel. What happens to Catholics without Rome? We know Christ doesn’t end with the destruction or death of an earthly city, right?
Getting back to the “coterminal” discussion–I would have used the mathematical term “congruent,” by the way. When the hierarchy of the Church acts in a sinful way, I certainly don’t think we can say that Christ resides with that part of the Church–not unless we want to junk Dominus Iesus for starters and move from there. Such people have removed themselves from Christ. No matter what degrees of ordination they have received, or what their forebears in the faith have done.
Suppose Rome were to give a witness contrary to the Gospel, and to render it in a scandalously public way that would negate the tradition of the martyrs. Could a local Church, even Rome, give such a witness that the rest of Christendom, or even Catholicism, would rebuke it in such a way so as to lose a certain stature? Suppose Rome were to be found to have harbored sex offenders of children, and the cry of outrage and condemnation were such that it lost all credibility? What if Catholics had to choose between evangelization or even survival as a religious tradition and Rome itself?
I wouldn’t see this as the end of Catholicism. But maybe there’s a deeper ecclesiological issue at stake. Maybe Rome is essential for Catholicism. What would that mean if human beings lived on other planets or in other star systems in millennia to come? Would Rome still be relevant if it were light years away?
So what do you think? Is Rome the city essential for Catholicism? Is the bishop of Rome essential for the Church? If so, what happens if and when Rome ceases to be a viable city or community? If not, how bad does it have to get? What happens if a public witness of sin and human fallibility were to erase the witness of Roman martyrs?