St. Peter and the Papacy




| The Church Fathers Speak | Protestants Speak? | The Scriptures | The Objections |



Christ instituted His Church as a means of salvation to continue His mission and apply his work of redemption to souls throughout the ages until the consummation of the world (Matt 28:20). This Church is a visible organization: "A city built on a hill cannot be hid" (St. Matt. 5, 14). Being visible, Christ's Church possesses a hierarchical authority to govern it (St. Luke 6, 13), which is invested with His own mission (St. John 20, 21) to teach (St. Matt. 28, 20) to rule (St. Matt. 18, 17-18) and to sanctify the faithful (St. John 15, 16).

This same Church, Christ founded upon Peter, the prince of the apostles in order that he (and his successors) may be the visible representative of Christ saying:

"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever You shall bind on earth, it shall bound also in heaven: and whatsoever Thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be Bound also in heaven: and whatsoever Thou shalt loose on earth, It shall be bound in heaven." - MATHEW 16:18 -19

Although the objections to these clear words of Christ are numerous because of the implications it bestows upon Christians to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. The claim that Christ is referring to himself as the Rock does violence to text since it is clear that Christ is praising Peter for having confessed his divinity and not praising Himself as otherwise it would be but an insult to Peter. Yet nevertheless the words which directly follow would also have not only not make any sense but would have nothing to do with the very context of Christ's words as He goes on to say to St. Peter " And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou (in the singular) shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven". Thus from the whole context it seems clear that Christ is talking to Peter and declaring him to be the Rock upon which He is to build his Church" - MATT 16:19

We also note that Christ had at this point changed Peters name to "Cephas" which means a large, massive stone in Aramaic (since not only was Aramaic the language Jesus and the apostles and all the Jews in Palestine spoke, but Matthew's Gospel was written by him in Aramaic, we know this from records kept by Eusebius of Caesarea--but it was translated into Greek early on, perhaps by Matthew himself) in order to affirm that Peter is the rock upon which He will build His Church. If Peter was not in some way to be a Rock, why the need to change his name, especially since when God changes ones name it often has to do with a divine mission (i.e. Abram's name is Changed to Abraham - Gen 17:5).

It is Jesus Christ Himself Who gave Simon Bar-Jonah, the fisherman, this unique place among His twelve Apostles. The most obvious place to begin is Simon's name, which Jesus changed. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "And I say to you [Simon], you are Peter [Petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." The unfailing Church of Jesus Christ, in other words, is built upon Simon the Rock - Peter. Like the Patriarchs Abram/Abraham (Gen. 17:5) and Jacob/Israel (Gen. 32:28), Simon/Peter received a new identity from the Lord.

Although the reception of a new name is significant in itself, as we know from the stories of Abraham and Israel, Matthew 16:18 also promises that it is on Simon Peter that Jesus' Church will be built. Even though the Apostles in general have been called a "foundation" (Eph. 2:20), Jesus singled Simon Peter out as the "Rock." A similar thing occurs in 16:19: "I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven." "Binding and loosing" is a charism given to all the Apostles (Matt. 18:18), but Peter is singled out for "the keys."

Apologists who strictly equate Matthew 16:19 with 18:18[9] miss a rare but crucial biblical motif: "keys" equal authority. Consider the words of Jesus in Apoc 1:18: "Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and hell." What does Jesus mean when He says He holds "the keys"? In Peter's words, Jesus has authority or rights over death: "it was impossible for [Jesus] to be held by [death]" (Acts 2:24). Jesus holds "the keys" of death, death does not hold Jesus.

The Old Testament; - Gives us some clarity.

If "keys" represent authority, what kind of authority is Jesus conferring on Peter in Matthew 16:19? Jesus gives Peter "keys" to a Kingdom. What kind of King is Jesus? Jesus is a King in the line of David (Luke 1:32). So the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus mentions is nevertheless a truly Davidic Kingdom. Jesus possesses "the key" of David (Apoc. 3:7), and it is within His authority as Davidic King to authorize Peter, which He does in Matthew 16:19.

What is more is we can see a clear parallel here with the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church. For example it is clear from the Old Testament, (which was but an image of figure of the reality to come) that to act as supreme judge and pronounce sentence definitively in all legal controversies, was the exclusive right of the Pontiff, whose decisions all were bound to abide by under penalty of death; and that in any undertaking of importance, recourse was had to be had to him; for only he had the authority to consult God upon such occasions. This reality is set out clearly in the book of Numbers:

"And the Lord said to him: Take Josue the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and put thy hand upon him. [19] And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest and all the multitude: And thou shalt give him precepts in the sight of all, and part of thy glory, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may hear him. If any thing be to be done, Eleazar the priest shall consult the Lord for him. He and all the children of Israel with him, and the rest of the multitude shall go out and go in at his word." -  (Numbers 27:18-22).

Here we see clearly that the God requires that Josue, who was  leader of the people, should not undertake any matter of importance, unless by the command and direction of Eleazar the high priest, who, in such cases, would consult God as to what was to be done, and declare the same to Josue. This precept was binding upon all the other princes and Kings who succeeded him; all were bound to consult the pontiff, and abide by his declaration; and it is remarkable that all who observed this practice were successful in their undertakings; while disappointment and discomfiture were the consequence of its neglect.

Many are the examples which the Old Testament furnishes in support of this truth. David, when he understood that Saul laid snares to take him, had recourse to Abiathar the pontiff, and through him enquired of the Lord, whether he would be safe int he city of Ceila, or whether the inhabitants would him into the hands of Saul (1 Kings 23:9). At another time he consulted God through the same pontiff, whether he would pursue the Amalekites, who laid waste and burned the city of Siceleg (1 Kings 30:6).

We also find that Josue, and other princes of the children of Israel, were deceived by the Gabaonites, because they entered into a league with them, having neglected to consult God through the Pontiff (Joshue 9:14). We also see that while Saul was elated with victory, and confident in his own strength, wished to pursue the Philistines in opposition to the will of the pontiff; and although he afterwards consulted God, the Lord, in consequence of his disobedience, refused to give him an answer, and was therefore unable to complete victory (1 Kings 14:36).

What is more is that God often confirmed by miracles the authority he placed the Pontiffs of the Old Law. For example, the first sacrifice which Aaron offered after his consecration was consumed by a fire which descended from heaven, and devoured the holocaust in the presence of all the people; by which miracle, God manifested his approval of the priesthood and Pontificate of Aaron (Leviticus 9:24). Again, we read that Core, Dathan, and Abiron, who with their companions murmured against the primacy of Moses and Aaron, were swallowed up alive, in punishment of their rebellion (Numbers 16:1).

If in the old law the Jews, who would rebel against those prelates, whom the Holy Ghost has 'placed over him, being to render an account of his soul" (Hebrews 13:17); how much more severe are the chastisements which the Lord has in store for those Christians, who obstinately refuse to submit to the salutary discipline of the Church.

The Keys to the Kingdom. - Infallibility in the Old Testament.

A point that is often overlooked is that what is clear from the Old Law is that accordingly the Pontiff of the Old Law was appointed to judge the various controversies that arose. For God commanded that the disputed point should be referred to the decisions of the Pontiff presiding in the supreme council; accompanying the command with a solemn promise that they should receive from him the truth of the judgment (Deut 17:9). Since God would not the people to submit to decisions in matters of faith and morals that could be false, it is clear that the decisions of the Pontiff was seen as an infallible guiding light.

This does not mean that the presiding pontiff could not err in his own personal actions or in his personal life, for no Pontiff was granted the gift of being free from personal sin or being un able to err, but as regards whether in pronouncing sentence officially in his capacity of Pontiff presiding in the supreme council, he could err, this was never the case and nor could have it been; since he was placed there by God precisely for giving the people divine clarity.

A New Testament Perspective.

Jesus gives "the keys" of His Kingdom to Peter alone among the Apostles; "the keys" are not mentioned in passages like Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23. The Apostles, familiar with Isaiah and with Israel's history, would have understood the imagery Jesus evoked. It need not have been any more explicit. This is precisely however one of the major problems with both a number of (so called) modern scholars and Protestants in general who pick up the bible some 2000 years later and read it without having any historical or biblical education other than their own prejudicial views and then hope to have an infallible understanding of the scriptures!

Can Christ and Peter both be foundation stones at the same time? This indeed is the case as St. Peter is simply to be the ministerial head but Christ is the ultimate head upon which all things depend for their existence. The Headship of St. Peter is dependant upon that of Christ as they are not univocally one and the same since one is subordinate to the other. Christ further illustrates this point when he calls us to be to be the light and Truth (Matt 5:16; John 14:6) even though He is the Light and Truth (John 8:12). Hence there is no contradiction but rather an affirmation. There is no contradiction, as both Peter and Christ are the "foundation" or "rock" of the Church in different senses. Jesus was the cornerstone, author, and foundation of both salvation and Christianity, so Peter who was the head of the apostles is in a lesser way - was the cornerstone of the Church. St. Paul saw no contradiction in this and openly declares that the Apostles and prophets are cornerstones with Christ: "You are fellow citizens with the saints and domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" - Eph 2:20 He also confirms the same thing explicitly of St. Peter, John and James saying " When they had known the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas (Peter the Rock) and John, who seemed to be PILLARS, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship". The Papacy would thus become for the Church what a foundation stone is for a building as outside of this building all are not part of it. This stone offers stability and unity as we get from the supreme authority in any society.

Our Lord singles Peter out on other occasions as well. At the Last Supper, in the midst of foretelling Peter's betrayal, a very negative thing, Jesus gives Peter a particular positive mission. "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you [plural] like wheat, but I have prayed that your [singular] own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you [singular] must strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32). As James informs his readers, the prayers of a righteous man like Jesus avail much (Jas. 5:16), and though Peter unfortunately denied knowing the Lord three times, he did turn and strengthen his brothers. One might say he did this in a number of ways. For example, Peter decided that, according to Scripture, a successor to Judas' office must be appointed (Acts 1:15-22) so that the original number of Apostles would not be diminished (weakened). Peter was also the first to command the baptism of Gentiles (Acts 10:46-48), an action which increased the number of Christians by leaps and bounds. As mentioned above, he was considered the first witness to the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5) and was the first to explain the outpouring of the Spirit and preach the Gospel publicly (Acts 2:14-40).

Peter is again singled out by Our Lord in John 21:15-19. Our Lord, knowing that He would not remain long on this earth after his resurrection, appeared to peter in order to confer upon him that which he had promised saying: JOHN 21:15 "Peter do you love me . . . .

". . . . Feed my Lambs" (Peter Head of the Bishops)

" . . . . Feed my Lambs" (Peter, Head of Priests)

" . . . . Feed my sheep" (Peter, Head of Laity)

By this Christ placed Peter as head to look after his Church that was to continue in perpetuity according to the divine mission, which was entrusted to Him and all of his legitimate successors. A great number of texts in scripture convey that Peter was preeminent among the apostle in both honor and jurisdiction as the Head of the Church. In order signify the superiority of St. Peter his name occurs first (and more often) in all lists of apostles (Mt 10:2; Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13). Matthew even calls him the "first" (Mt 10:2). This is also illustrated by the fact that Peter alone among the apostles is exhorted by Jesus to "strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32) and is uniquely associates with him in the miracle of the tribute-money (Mt 17:24-27). The Jews and common people regarded him as the leader and spokesman of Christianity (Acts 4:1-13; 2:37-41; 5:15). Peter takes the lead in calling for a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:22) and to receiving the Gentiles, after a revelation from God (Acts 10:9-48). Those who purport to ignore Christ's Church through their own disobedience no longer belong to its unity: "if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (St. Matt. 18, 17). To ignore the Church, one effectively ignores Christ.

The language of Peter's primacy, in Scripture, is no mere "primacy of honor." Peter is given crucial duties and responsibilities and authorized to carry them out. Jesus clearly makes Peter a servant, leader, and unifier to all His Apostles and disciples.

After the Ascension of Our Lord, it is Peter whom we see calling, presiding over and directing the assembly at which St. Matthias is elected; it is he that first preaches the Gospel to the Jews; it is he that receives the order to baptize Cornelius and open the Church to the Gentiles; it is he that punishes Ananias and Saphira for the falsehood they uttered, and confounds Simon the Magician; it is he that affirms before the tribunal his right and his mission to preach, and who performs the first miracle in confirmation of the Gospel; first also, he speaks to the Council at Jerusalem; and all the assembly "having heard these things, held their peace" (Acts 11:18); cast into prison, he absorbs the attention of all the Church, and "prayer was made without ceasing by the Church to God for him" (Acts12:5), until his miraculous delivery; it is he who founds the See of Antioch, which for that reason became a patriarchal See; finally it is he who founds the See of Rome, and it is because he died Bishop of that city that his legitimate successors have always had and always will have the primacy in the universal Church.

The words of our lord "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me" (St. Luke 10, 16) teach us that it is no small matter to reject those who he has lawfully placed in command over the Church.

The gift of infallibility, which what is understood by the Power of loosing and binding, is one that is often misunderstood by people as meaning that, even if the pope isn't infallible in all he does, he is infallible in all he says. This again is untrue. The object of the pope's infallibility is matters of faith and morals. He cannot speak infallibly on anything else unless it is something that has a bearing on the teachings of faith and morals. This is what theologians call the secondary object of infallibility. But the pope is not infallible when it comes to matters of science or history or math etc. Nor does it mean that the Pope is impeccable! The Pope is a sinner like the rest of us. Our Lord made use of sinners to write the scriptures which Protestants have no problem as accepting to be infallible and so in like manner he continues to use's a sinner to guard and defend the deposit of the faith, which is the primary duty of the Pope.