Our Lord Jesus Christ founded a New Israel with Himself as Davidic King and with Twelve Apostles initiating the new Twelve Tribes of Israel. This is the Messianic Kingdom of the Church.
As one who connects the Old Testament features to Catholic dogma (see this book: The Crucified Rabbi), I’ve always been painfully aware that the term “apostle” doesn’t have a slick connection to Old Testament kingdom language.
Pagan “Boat” Sources for the Term Apostle:
In pagan Greek sources (such as in the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus), ἀπόστολος (apostolos) refers to a political or military delegate or messenger. ἀπόστολος also refers to the commander of a naval force.
In fact, στόλος refers to a naval division or to a colony. So an ἀπόστολος is one who travels out to these naval colonies. Sometimes ἀπόστολος is used to refer to a formal naval dispatch or to an export license to/from these colonies.
So when the New Testament authors adopt this Greek term, they are not merely referring to a local rabbi or preacher. They are using a term that referred to diplomats who traveled to the farrest ends of the earth. It’s a global or catholic term.
Pauline Sources for the Term:
The term ἀπόστολος appears only once in the Greet Septuagint (Greek version of Old Testament) at 1 Kings 14:6 where ἀπόστολος is a translation of the Hebrew שָׁלוּחַ (sha-lach). The term appears 79 times in the New Testament – 68 of which are found in the writings of Paul and his disciple Luke.
It seems that originally ἀπόστολος referred to each of the original Twelve Apostles. However, Saint Paul opened the term to include himself, Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Timothy and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul also speaks of false apostles in 2 Corinthians.
In Hebrews, Luke/Paul identify Jesus as “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). In this context, apostleship is associated with the high priesthood. This is our biggest hint into how early Christians understood the term ἀπόστολος. It was missionary and priestly. Just as an ἀπόστολος origianlly referred to naval delegates to colonies, so a high priest bridges over water as a pontifex, a bridge builder between God and man.
According to Paul, apostles surpass the various other offices within the Church of “teachers, evangelists, and prophets” (διδάσκαλος, εὐαγγελιστής, προφήτης). In the mind of Paul, an apostle is more than these three. I would argue, that for Paul an apostle is all three of these at once while also being priestly diplomats for Christ.
Are Apostles Political or Priestly?
At first glance into a Greek dictionary, the term ἀπόστολος seems political or mercantile. It’s a civil title. However, the Christians looked to King Melchizedek and King David as “priest kings” or “liturgical kings” as the prototypes for King Jesus. So the political realm collapses into the priestly liturgical realm. This is why Christ is both establishing a “kingdom” (political) and also building at “temple” (priestly). He is king and pontiff. And so also, his political ministers are both political and cultic. The ἀπόστολος is a naval delegate for foreign colonies throughout the world but he is also a sacrificial priest who offers the Gentiles to God as sacrifice and who offers the Eucharist as sacrifice.
Apostles on a Boat:
One final related topic. I couldn’t help but noticed that in Acts, the vivid scenes of Paul traveling by ship may in fact be intentionally recounted with detail to bolster Paul’s identity as ἀπόστολος. In the Greek mind, the ἀπόστολος is primarily naval and thus Paul is literally fulfilling his role as ἀπόστολος (maybe better so than the Twelve!). Also, the stories of Saint James Zebedee going to and from (posthumously) to Spain by boat ratifies James as a true apostle for Jesus. And let’s not forget all the “Jesus in a boat” scenes from the Gospels!
Whether you like it or not, we in the West have a layered class system and our inability to see it and plan accordingly has led contemporary Catholics to lose our cultural impact on the global stage. Before we get to the reasons why, let’s look at the classical Greek and Indo-European idea of society and rank and then move on to how Catholics are losing their social and political influence:
Political Society is like a Human Body:
For Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno and the Stoics, the soul of the human is aristocratic and consists of estates or ranks. You will find this doctrine in Plato’s Timaeus (the book Plato holds in Raphael’s “School of Athens”) and in his Republic. You will also find it referenced or built upon in almost call classical Catholic treatments of government. See also Saint Thomas Aquinas’s De regno.
Here is how Plato puts it together:
Head = Philosophers, Scholars, Astronomers, Mystics, Priests
Chest = Generals, Warriors, Police (for the Greeks, nobility always is martial)
Arms and legs = Laborers or at the very bottom Slaves (Plato doesn’t explicitly identify them as “arms and legs” but it could be implied)
It’s easy to see how the cosmo-man fits together:
The head thinks and plans. This is the philosopher and mystic who examines reality and plans or foretells the future and explores future contingencies for the cosmo-man (the State).
The chest keeps the cosmo-man alive by pumping blood and moving air. The chest is brave and forces the body to fight and run. He fights enemies inside and outside the populace.
The stomach receives food and produces capital and art through procreation.
Slaves work the limbs and get things done.
Many have noted that Plato’s four strata are deeply Indo-European and map perfectly onto the Vedic system (1500 BC) of India:
Brahmins (priestly scholar class)
Kshatriyas (royal warrior class)
Vaishyas (artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers)
Shudras (laboring classes)
Nota bene: the Rigveda (the oldest Sanskrit text) identifies the 4 levels descending with the human body in a modified way: 1) head/mouth > 2) arms > 3) stomach/loins > 4) feet.
For Plato and the Greeks (and for Europe), people could move up and down the classes based on merit. For example, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle went from level 3 to level 1. The High Priest Aaron went from level 4 to level 1. King David went from level 3 to level 1. However, in Hindu theology, a person cannot move up and down the classes in this life (because of the false theology of reincarnation). This is a fundamental difference between Western and Eastern philosophy.
Trigger Warning: You maybe be triggered by the talk of classes and castes
We like to think that human society is now finally enlightened and that there are no castes or classes. Whether you call it a “caste” or a “demographic,” you’re just moving around words. The concept may become more humanitarian over time, but the idea of “political layers” transcends cultures and transcends time. Human society has different parts.
The Platonic way of understanding political levels has little to do with wealth. Bill Gates is very rich, but he still belongs to level 3 as a merchant and producer. A modern example of how the the levels can be transcended is how both Barack Obama and Donald Trump ascended from level 3 to level 1. A person at level 3 could be poor, middle class, or a billionaire.
The 4 Levels of Society in Contemporary Society:
In America we may think of ourselves as egalitarian and without castes, but we still preserve this natural human hierarchy of political layers:
Head (priestly scholar class). This was the Catholic Church’s ecclesial hierarchy (from AD 600-1500). Now it is the University, the Professor, Politician, Judges, the “experts” and (since the 1960s) the TV Media and Social Media (Facebook). They are still almost impossible to circumvent. They seek to influence our daily thoughts and our children. And as always, they are usually very rich.
Chest (royal warrior class). This is the military, but more and more so it is the IRS, FBI, CIA, police, ATF, TSA, game warden, et al. They have the power to imprison us and kill us. In a good political system, they are inspired by the Head to promote justice and protect the innocent. It was for fear of a corrupted “chest level” that the United States allowed its citizens to arm themselves with weapons and, notably, firearms.
Stomach/Loins (artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers). This is your “middle class” white collar executives, and your corporate owners. They bear the load of society according to Plato, they must be controlled through “myths or noble lies” crafted by the philosophers. Civil religion is the best way to do this. It can be Roman imperial paganism with an Emperor cult (very powerful). In the same way it can be 16th century Church of England with civil obligations ordered to the king or queen who is “Head of the Church.” Or it can be a form of state-controlled Catholicism (Napoleonic Catholicism or Chinese Communistic Catholicism) or controlled Protestantism (state Protestantism/Lutheranism found in Northern European nations). In the last 30 years, the controlled state religions are being replaced with political correctness and class Socialism.
Limbs (laboring class). We no longer call them “servants” but our society has people who are deeply in debt (in the Bible, debt is de facto slavery) and who work only to: pay off debt (to banks), have food, and have a roof over their heads.
How do we fix it?
Now for the first question:
Where are you in the hierarchy? The most important point in this essay is that you can ascend and descend in these layers. It has always been accomplished in every age. The common born Socrates reached level 1 (but he was killed by level 2). Popes have arisen from slave status level 4 to high priest status level 1. Many Roman Emperors began as level 2 generals and then later became level 1 emperors and even philosophers (Marcus Aurelius). In fact, it has always been quite easy for some people to ascend to level 1. Just be aware that level 1 people are often killed by level 2 people.
Now for the second question:
Isn’t it obvious that Christians are leaving or being forced out of level 1 (head) and level 2 (chest)? Christians are less welcome in Universities. Less welcome in politics. Less welcome in film, TV, and media. It’s a given. This means a revolution is under way whether we recognize it or not. The TV stations, the internet, the news media, and the social media have driven out everything Christian and are replacing it with a new state-sponsored religion of political correctness, which is really environmentalism, pansexuality, and moral tolerance.
Now for the third question:
What is our response as Christians? There are two options for us:
FIRST OPTION: We can fight to take back levels 1 and 2 through intellectual and moral excellence.
SECOND OPTION: We can recreate our own parallel society/culture and seek to win the long distance race of permanence. This is sometimes called the Benedict Option (hat tip to Eastern Orthodox author Rod Dreher) since it follows Saint Benedict creating an alternative culture and intellectual climate.
Taylor Marshall’s conclusion on the matter:
My belief is that Christians currently have possess all 4 levels in action whether or not we are recognized in society (we have intellectuals, warriors, artisans, laborers).
Therefore we should be pursuing both strategies at the same time:
We should be fighting to take back levels 1 and 2 (apologetics, academics, along with undermining the anti-Christian institutions). AND
We should build parallel institutions (e.g., our own Universities, schools, Troops of Saint George, our own TV/radio stations, our own art, our own Social Media outlets, our own news stations).
Some of us can push forward and fight on the front lines of layers 1 and 2 now, while some of us can retreat and construct our own parallel society (of layers 1-4).
Why Catholics are struggling at the moment to accomplish this transition:
The hardest part is that Christians (especially Catholics) are still deeply tied to all the old institutions, old universities, old political parties, and old means of communication (eg, announcements during liturgy and bulletins). This means we are having a very difficult time establishing a pivot.
Also, the Catholic hierarchy in the West still acts like it is operating at level 1 influence. Sadly, this is not the case. Secular nations have spent the last several decades figuring out ways to transform bishops from level 1 priestly spiritual leaders into level 3 producers of funds (taxation of church is the end game) and into level 3 producers of government service (grants to do government work which we saw occur in America under President Obama).
The ultimate aim here is the same as that of King Henry VIII – to make the bishops into level 3 producers and transfer their wealth, land, and production (offerings) to the State. See 16th century England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway for details on how it all goes down.
The difficulty in establishing a Christian pivot for a new era can be observed in how both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis are so deeply wedded to the European Union and traditional forms of communication (eg, Encyclicals) as means for bringing about Catholic influence. The Pope might as well be talking about feudalism and the Code of Hammurabi. It’s like carrying bows and arrows into an era of nuclear war.
The most brilliant minds in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are talking about the Benedict Option (Option 2: parallel institutions), but we need to engage both fronts. The intellectuals who are currently “fighting the culture war” while trying to win back levels 1 and 2 are either Jewish (Ben Shapiro, Mark Levin, Michael Savage) or secular in outlook (Milo Yiannopoulos, Gavin McInnis, Jordan Peterson). Some might see this “diversity” as a strength. I see it as as weakness. Here’s why:
As much as I like listening Jordan Peterson or even Ben Shapiro, I sometimes cringe when I think of how much better an equipped Christian could respond. We have a profound intellectual tradition (Thomism), but we are not using it. This is likely why God has allowed Christian influence to wane.
Where are the Christians? We need to spend the next decade prayerfully cultivating sharp and relevant Christian minds to engage the culture and social media. It’s required for the common good of society and for the moral excellence of next generation. It’s not enough to possess them only within our own parallel “Benedict Option” institutions. We need them out front in the current culture war. And in case you’re ready to sign up for this “level 1” position, be mindful of those level 1 intellectuals and prophets who came before you marked with blood: Isaiah, Socrates, Cicero, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Boethius, Thomas Becket, and Thomas More to name a few.