He Who Hears You, Hears Me

Author: Fr. William Most


Is it legitimate to use these words of Jesus to support the teaching commission of the Church? Vatican II said yes strongly, in "Lumen gentium" P20: "This sacred Council teaches that the Bishops, from divine institution, have taken the place of the Apostles, as the pastors of the Church: he who hears them, hears Christ; he who spurns them, spurns Christ, and Him who sent Christ". And in LG P 25 the Council even taught that the Bishops in unison with the successor of Peter and with each other can even teach infallibly. Pius XII in "Humani generis" (DS 3855) said the same thing about Lk 10:16: "Nor should we think that the things taught in Encyclical letters do not of themselves call for assent, on the plea that in them the Pontiffs do not exercise the Supreme power of their Magisterium. For these things are taught with the ordinary Magisterium, of which it is also correct to say: 'He who hears you,hears me.'" Pius XII went on to explain that this does not apply to everything in Encyclicals: it applies only when the Popes in their "Acta" expressly make a judgement on something that was debated up to then among theologians. Then it is removed from debate, and falls under the promise of Christ.

An objector asserts: "The Scripture clearly states that Jesus said these words to the 72 Disciples, among whom were women, and there is no evidence that any of the 72 were from among the 12 Apostles - no evidence Peter was among them." One will look in vain to see where the Scripture "clearly states" that there were women among that group. And while it does not mention the 12 or Peter specially, it is unthinkable that they would not be among the 72 since they were the chosen core of all the followers of Jesus. So our objector thinks it quite clear Jesus gave authority to women, but there is no evidence He gave it also to the Apostles!

In reply we note that according to Vatican II: "Since Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted by the Same Spirit by whom it was written, to rightly draw out the sense of the sacred texts, one must look not less diligently at the content and unity of the whole of Scripture, taking into account the Tradition of the whole Church, and the analogy of faith." So, if we look at the passage in question narrowly, ignoring what Vatican II calls for, we would say that Jesus indeed did speak to the 72. But there is much more.

We know that Jesus Himself wanted only a gradual revelation of Himself and of His Church and mission. He did not at once say: "Before Abraham was, I am." Rather, He let the truths be seen gradually, a bit at a time. The fullness of this revelation was to come with the descent of the Holy Spirit, as He Himself said in John 16:13: "When He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will lead you into all truth." So here in this Lucan text Jesus begins, but does not complete His commission. He does, on a trial mission, give a teaching authority to the 72 so that he who hears them, hears Jesus. He completed that commission later to Peter and the Twelve, especially in the words recorded in Matthew 16:19:to Peter alone: "Whatever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in Heaven. Two fine Protestant scholars, W. F. Albright (in his day often called the Dean of American Scripture scholars) and C. S. Mann, in "Anchor Bible, Matthew," p. 198, write: "Peter's authority to 'bind' or 'release' will be a carrying out of decisions made in Heaven. His teaching and disciplinary activities will be similarly guided by the Spirit to carry out Heaven's will." For those words, binding and loosing,were well known in the teaching of the rabbis of the time. Their usual meaning was to impose or remove an obligation by an authoritative decision or teaching. These words of Mt 16:19 were repeated to all what seems to be the twelve in Matthew 18:18. That they were not meant for all disciples but just for the Apostles is confirmed by Mt 28:16-29, explicitly to the Twelve. Earlier, at the Last Supper, in John 13:20 Jesus said to the Twelve: "Amen, amen I say to you, he who receives the one I send, receives me; he who receives me, receives the One who sent me."

More of the context of the whole of Scripture is this: at once after the ascension, the Apostles began their mission of teaching In Acts 1:15-26 a replacement for one of the Twelve is chosen, Matthias. Acts 2:42 reports that the people "devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles" and in Acts 5:13: "No one of the rest dared to join himself to them [the Apostles] but the people magnified them." So all did understand from the start that it was the Apostles, and they alone who had the commission from Christ to teach. St. Paul constantly teaches with authority. Pope St. Clement I, in an Epistle to Corinth c. 95 AD, intervened with authority. He said: "Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of Bishop. As a result, having received full foreknowledge, they appointed those we have mentioned, and meanwhile added a provision that if these would fall asleep [die] other approved men should receive their ministry."

St. Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons, who had listened to St. Polycarp telling of the preaching of St. John the Apostle, wrote that since it was long to go through the succession of Bishops in all the churches, he would speak of Rome, "founded by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, which holds the tradition and faith announced by the Apostles, coming down by the succession of Bishops even to us.....It is necessary that every church...agree with this church because of its more important principality...in which the tradition coming from the Apostles has always been kept...."

At the early Council of Ephesus, in 431 A.D. even though it was an Eastern error in question, the Pope sent delegates, who asserted without being contradicted by anyone there: "There is no doubt, it has been known to all centuries, that the holy and blessed Apostle Peter, the prince and head and pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ.... He [Peter] lives even to this time, and always in his successors gives judgment." Twenty years later the Council of Chalcedon on hearing the letter of Pope Leo exclaimed: "This is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. We all believe thus.... Peter has spoken through Leo."

The General Council of Constantinople in 870 taught (DS 661): "Since we believe that the word of the Lord, which Christ said to the holy Apostles and his disciples, "He who receives you, receives me" and "he who spurns you, spurns me"was said to all those too who after them became Supreme Pontiffs and shepherds in the Catholic Church...we define that no one at all of the potentates of the world should dishonor or move them from their sees, but should judge them worthy of all reverence and honor...."

We conclude,that Vatican II, and Pius XII and the General Council of Constantinople were well justified in taking Luke 10:16 as the foundation of the teaching authority of the Apostles and their successors. It was part of His gradual revelation of self and of His Church, it was a start of the trajectory that was to be made clearer as time went on,as we have seen..

As for women, Scripture consistently forbids them to teach with authority. 1 Cor 14:34 says "the women must be silent in the Church". First Timothy 2:12 insists: "I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man but to be in silence." So, to suppose that of course women received the teaching authority in Lk 10:16 and to add that there is no sign it applied to Peter and the Apostles - this is merely completely biased special pleading.