2 So that this call should resound throughout the world, Christ sent forth the apostles he had chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”4 Strengthened by this mission, the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”5
It has been a few weeks since we discussed the first statement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on March 25, so I included it in today’s post. Paragraph 2 draws heavily from Matthew 28: 18-20 and Mark’s (alternate or “longer”) ending, 16:20. All three of the Synoptic Gospels have some form of commissioning by Jesus before his Ascension into heaven.
The first key point of para. 2 is precisely that Christ is the one commissioning. The first paragraph states that in and through his Son, God invites men (sic) to become his adopted children and heirs of his blessed life. The second paragraph describes the agency of the call: Jesus has commissioned his Twelve, the New Israel and symbol of the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, to go forward and make this invitation.
The apostles are commanded, first and foremost, to make this call by proclaiming the gospel. This command is clearer for us than it might have been for the apostles. The term “gospel” was used generically in the apostolic age, synonymous with “good news.” The best Scriptural example of the use of this phrase is probably found in Mark 1:14-15. Mark writes that after the arrest of John the Baptist, “Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the gospel (i.e., this good news).’”
The Catechism does not mention an explicit prerequisite of reform as we find in Mark, but it should be remembered that the early Church always envisioned baptism as a penitential rite, among other things. Acts 2:37ff recounts that at the conclusion of Peter’s stirring Pentecost sermon, his listeners were “deeply shaken” at having crucified the Just One, and they desperately seek a way to make amends. Peter’s answer is to the point: “You must reform and be baptized, each one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter, of course, is speaking from his own painful progression to the fulfillment of the Good News.
The precise charge given to the apostles is the “making of disciples.” Discipleship generally means student-ship, and in fact the Catechism quotes Matthew that the new disciples are to learn “all that I have commanded you.” It is natural, given Matthew’s authorship, to assume that the reference is to the Sermon on the Mount, the New Law that brings the old to completion. The Catechism has opted for Matthew’s understanding of discipleship over Mark’s, which calls the disciple to take up the cross. Matthew and Mark wrote in different local milieus; Mark’s world, on the whole, was a darker place.
Para. 2 cites the first use of the “Trinitarian Formula” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Scripture scholar Benedict Viviano, O.P., observes that there is no mention of circumcision with baptism; this had been a major point of dispute in the Acts of the Apostles when Paul began his mission to the Gentiles. In fact, Viviano highlights the universal call to discipleship, to Jew and Gentile alike, noting that Matthew in particular had demonstrated a rather sectarian slant in Jesus’ preaching to the lost sons of Israel through most of his Gospel. Matthew’s concern for a truly universal mission reflects the early Church’s gradual (and at times contentious) acceptance of a Christian mission to Gentiles.
In Matthew’s quotation cited here, Jesus indicates that he will be with them (the Church)”till the close of the age.” It may be that Matthew could see the Christian assembly enduring for a longer time than he originally thought, as the Second Coming had not occurred with the immediacy that the earliest church assemblies had expected. Mark had made earlier reference to a preaching limited to all of Israel; Matthew’s text quoted in para. 2 speaks of a universal mission to Jew and Gentile alike, embodying the Roman Empire. This, understandably, would be a mission of some considerable duration.
The final sentence of para. 2 returns to Mark’s Gospel and paraphrases what Mark actually reports: that wherever the Good News was preached, the Lord confirmed the twelve’s efforts with “signs.” The Apostles’ post-Pentecost preaching crusade, then, would parallel the Master’s, signs and all, as are reported from the accounts of the Act of the Apostles.
In this paragraph the Catechism follows through on para. 1 by providing an overview of how this loving God extends a personal invitation to all mankind. In chapters ahead there will be considerably more guidance on how God’s agents will carry forth this task.
HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: In a few weeks I will compile all of the Catechism entries in one easy-to-access site on the blog.