I noted the direction that the comments were heading in Peters’ post on Bishops Aquila’s strong words and decided that simply bouncing around the comments trying to put out fires would not be enough. So I grabbed the ear of my friend Rob Corzine who works with Scott Hahn’s St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and asked him for some guidance.
First, Bishop Aquila is clearly referencing Matthew 18:15-18:
According to this, a wayward brother who dissents on a grave matter must be corrected through various channels, including one-on-one fraternal correction, then assistance from another interested party, and finally instruction and mediation by the Church (more on this in a moment, with regard to binding and loosing).
“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
But if the wayward brother remains at odds even after all these reasonable steps have been taken, then the wayward brother, by his own actions or beliefs, has put himself outside the community, and thus is rightly regarded as the Jews regarded gentiles and tax collectors: outside the covenant community.
In this context, the power to bind and loose which Christ gives to the Apostles follows on the tradition of rabbinical Judaism. The rabbi’s power to bind and loose included the authority to establish membership in the community: to excommunicate and to restore to membership. By including binding and loosing in the discussion of how unrepentant dissenters are to be treated, Christ clearly indicates the Apootles’ (and thereby their successors’) authority to do likewise in such cases. (For more, see pages 210, 230-233 of Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri’s volume on the Gospel of Matthew from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series.)
And this has a pastoral, not punitive, purpose. For one, it prevents further scandal of the faithful who may use the unrepentant dissenter’s dissent as cover or justification for their own heterodoxy. “If the bishops do not publicly rebuke public dissenters, then they must not disapprove of the heterodox position—qui tacet consentire videtur—therefore I am justified in my dissent.” Second, it demonstrates to the unrepentant dissenter the gravity of their dissent more sharply and thus gives a greater chance of public repentance. Third, if Communion is withheld (which it ought to be, since one who is not in communion ought not receive Communion), it is withheld for the dissenter’s own good, since to receive Communion unworthily is a sacrilege and therefore mortally harmful to one’s soul.
Or, as Rob put it, “Oh look, you’ve doused yourself with gasoline. Let’s get you cleaned up. But if you persist in remaining doused in gasoline, then—don’t take this unkindly—I’m going to withhold lit matches from you. No offense.”
None taken. I hope.
Christ did personally minister to public sinners, but He did so to call them out of their sin. Christ did send the Apostles to preach to all nations—gentiles and tax collectors included—and St. Paul certainly preached to the gentiles. But the point of all that was to bring the whole world into actual communion with the body of Christ and not the other way around. The one flock of Christ is shepherded by the Apostles and their successors, primarily Peter and the popes, who hold the keys.
I hope that helps people understand a little more what Bishop Aquila was saying.