Church and the Papacy

2. Peter and the Papacy


There is ample evidence in the New Testament that Peter was first in authority among the apostles. Whenever they were named, Peter headed the list (Matt. 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13); sometimes the apostles were referred to as “Peter and those who were with him” (Luke 9:32). Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles (Matt. 18:21, Mark 8:29, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69), and he figured in many of the most dramatic scenes (Matt. 14:28-32, Matt. 17:24-27, Mark 10:23-28). On Pentecost it was Peter who first preached to the crowds (Acts 2:14-40), and he worked the first healing in the Church age (Acts 3:6-7). It is Peter’s faith that will strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32) and Peter is given Christ’s flock to shepherd (John 21:17). An angel was sent to announce the resurrection to Peter (Mark 16:7), and the risen Christ first appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34). He headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26), and he received the first converts (Acts 2:41). He inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11), and excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23). He led the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and announced the first dogmatic decision (Acts 15:7-11). It was to Peter that the revelation came that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48). 

Peter the Rock

 Peter’s preeminent position among the apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship with Christ. At their first meeting, Christ told Simon that his name would thereafter be Peter, which translates as “Rock” (John 1:42). The startling thing was that—aside from the single time that Abraham is called a “rock” (Hebrew: Tsur; Aramaic: Kepha) in Isaiah 51:1-2—in the Old Testament only God was called a rock. The word rock was not used as a proper name in the ancient world. If you were to turn to a companion and say, “From now on your name is Asparagus,” people would wonder: Why Asparagus? What is the meaning of it? What does it signify? Indeed, why call Simon the fisherman “Rock”? Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews as a whole when it came to names. Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (Gen.17:5), Jacob’s to Israel (Gen. 32:28), Eliakim’s to Joakim (2 Kgs. 23:34), or the names of the four Hebrew youths—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 1:6-7). But no Jew had ever been called “Rock.” The Jews would give other names taken from nature, such as Deborah (“bee,” Gen. 35:8), and Rachel (“ewe,” Gen. 29:16), but never “Rock.” In the New Testament James and John were nicknamed Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder,” by Christ, but that was never regularly used in place of their original names, and it certainly was not given as a new name. But in the case of Simon-bar-Jonah, his new name Kephas (Greek: Petros) definitely replaced the old. 

Look at the scene

 Not only was there significance in Simon being given a new and unusual name, but the place where Jesus solemnly conferred it upon Peter was also important. It happened when “Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi” (Matt. 16:13), a city that Philip the Tetrarch built and named in honor of Caesar Augustus, who had died in A.D. 14. The city lay near cascades in the Jordan River and near a gigantic wall of rock, a wall about 200 feet high and 500 feet long, which is part of the southern foothills of Mount Hermon. The city no longer exists, but its ruins are near the small Arab town of Banias; and at the base of the rock wall may be found what is left of one of the springs that fed the Jordan. It was here that Jesus pointed to Simon and said, “You are Peter” (Matt. 16:18). 

The significance of the event must have been clear to the other apostles. As devout Jews they knew at once that the location was meant to emphasize the importance of what was being done. None complained of Simon being singled out for this honor; and in the rest of the New Testament he is called by his new name, while James and John remain just James and John, not Boanerges. 

Promises to Peter

 When he first saw Simon, “Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter)’” (John 1:42). The word Cephas is merely the transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha into Greek. Later, after Peter and the other disciples had been with Christ for some time, they went to Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made his profession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus told him that this truth was specially revealed to him, and then he solemnly reiterated: “And I tell you, you are Peter” (Matt. 16:18). To this was added the promise that the Church would be founded, in some way, on Peter (Matt. 16:18). 

Then two important things were told the apostle. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). Here Peter was singled out for the authority that provides for the forgiveness of sins and the making of disciplinary rules. Later the apostles as a whole would be given similar power [Matt.18:18], but here Peter received it in a special sense. 

Peter alone was promised something else also: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19). In ancient times, keys were the hallmark of authority. A walled city might have one great gate; and that gate had one great lock, worked by one great key. To be given the key to the city—an honor that exists even today, though its import is lost—meant to be given free access to and authority over the city. The city to which Peter was given the keys was the heavenly city itself. This symbolism for authority is used elsewhere in the Bible (Is. 22:22, Rev. 1:18). 

Finally, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). In repentance for his threefold denial, Peter gave a threefold affirmation of love. Then Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), gave Peter the authority he earlier had promised: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). This specifically included the other apostles, since Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15), the word “these” referring to the other apostles who were present (John 21:2). Thus was completed the prediction made just before Jesus and his followers went for the last time to the Mount of Olives. 

Immediately before his denials were predicted, Peter was told, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again [after the denials], strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). It was Peter who Christ prayed would have faith that would not fail and that would be a guide for the others; and his prayer, being perfectly efficacious, was sure to be fulfilled. 

Who is the rock?

 Now take a closer look at the key verse: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). Disputes about this passage have always been related to the meaning of the term “rock.” To whom, or to what, does it refer? Since Simon’s new name of Peter itself means rock, the sentence could be rewritten as: “You are Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church.” The play on words seems obvious, but commentators wishing to avoid what follows from this—namely the establishment of the papacy—have suggested that the word rock could not refer to Peter but must refer to his profession of faith or to Christ. 

From the grammatical point of view, the phrase “this rock” must relate back to the closest noun. Peter’s profession of faith (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”) is two verses earlier, while his name, a proper noun, is in the immediately preceding clause. 

As an analogy, consider this artificial sentence: “I have a car and a truck, and it is blue.” Which is blue? The truck, because that is the noun closest to the pronoun “it.” This is all the more clear if the reference to the car is two sentences earlier, as the reference to Peter’s profession is two sentences earlier than the term rock. 

Another alternative

The previous argument also settles the question of whether the word refers to Christ himself, since he is mentioned within the profession of faith. The fact that he is elsewhere, by a different metaphor, called the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:4-8) does not disprove that here Peter is the foundation. Christ is naturally the principal and, since he will be returning to heaven, the invisible foundation of the Church that he will establish; but Peter is named by him as the secondary and, because he and his successors will remain on earth, the visible foundation. Peter can be a foundation only because Christ is the cornerstone. 

In fact, the New Testament contains five different metaphors for the foundation of the Church (Matt. 16:18, 1 Cor. 3:11, Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:5-6, Rev. 21:14). One cannot take a single metaphor from a single passage and use it to twist the plain meaning of other passages. Rather, one must respect and harmonize the different passages, for the Church can be described as having different foundations since the word foundation can be used in different senses. 

Look at the Aramaic

 Opponents of the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 sometimes argue that in the Greek text the name of the apostle is Petros, while “rock” is rendered as petra. They claim that the former refers to a small stone, while the latter refers to a massive rock; so, if Peter was meant to be the massive rock, why isn’t his name Petra? 

Note that Christ did not speak to the disciples in Greek. He spoke Aramaic, the common language of Palestine at that time. In that language the word for rock is kepha, which is what Jesus called him in everyday speech (note that in John 1:42 he was told, “You will be called Cephas“). What Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 was: “You are Kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my Church.” 

When Matthew’s Gospel was translated from the original Aramaic to Greek, there arose a problem which did not confront the evangelist when he first composed his account of Christ’s life. In Aramaic the word kepha has the same ending whether it refers to a rock or is used as a man’s name. In Greek, though, the word for rock, petra, is feminine in gender. The translator could use it for the second appearance of kepha in the sentence, but not for the first because it would be inappropriate to give a man a feminine name. So he put a masculine ending on it, and hence Peter became Petros. 

Furthermore, the premise of the argument against Peter being the rock is simply false. In first century Greek the words petros and petra were synonyms. They had previously possessed the meanings of “small stone” and “large rock” in some early Greek poetry, but by the first century this distinction was gone, as Protestant Bible scholars admit (see D. A. Carson’s remarks on this passage in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books]). 

Some of the effect of Christ’s play on words was lost when his statement was translated from the Aramaic into Greek, but that was the best that could be done in Greek. In English, like Aramaic, there is no problem with endings; so an English rendition could read: “You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” 

Consider another point: If the rock really did refer to Christ (as some claim, based on 1 Cor. 10:4, “and the Rock was Christ” though the rock there was a literal, physical rock), why did Matthew leave the passage as it was? In the original Aramaic, and in the English which is a closer parallel to it than is the Greek, the passage is clear enough. Matthew must have realized that his readers would conclude the obvious from “Rock . . . rock.” 

If he meant Christ to be understood as the rock, why didn’t he say so? Why did he take a chance and leave it up to Paul to write a clarifying text? This presumes, of course, that 1 Corinthians was written after Matthew’s Gospel; if it came first, it could not have been written to clarify it. 

The reason, of course, is that Matthew knew full well that what the sentence seemed to say was just what it really was saying. It was Simon, weak as he was, who was chosen to become the rock and thus the first link in the chain of the papacy. 

 

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials 
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. 
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004 

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted. 
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

From Catholic Answers website: www.catholic.com 

 

1. Papal Infallibility


The Catholic Church’s teaching on papal infallibility is one which is generally misunderstood by those outside the Church. In particular, Fundamentalists and other “Bible Christians” often confuse the charism of papal “infallibility” with “impeccability.” They imagine Catholics believe the pope cannot sin. Others, who avoid this elementary blunder, think the pope relies on some sort of amulet or magical incantation when an infallible definition is due. 

Given these common misapprehensions regarding the basic tenets of papal infallibility, it is necessary to explain exactly what infallibility is not. Infallibility is not the absence of sin. Nor is it a charism that belongs only to the pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with the pope, they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. We have this from Jesus himself, who promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the magisterium of the Church: “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16), and “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). 

Vatican II’s Explanation

 Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25). 

Infallibility belongs in a special way to the pope as head of the bishops (Matt. 16:17–19; John 21:15–17). As Vatican II remarked, it is a charism the pope “enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.” 

The infallibility of the pope is not a doctrine that suddenly appeared in Church teaching; rather, it is a doctrine which was implicit in the early Church. It is only our understanding of infallibility which has developed and been more clearly understood over time. In fact, the doctrine of infallibility is implicit in these Petrine texts: John 21:15–17 (“Feed my sheep . . . “), Luke 22:32 (“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”), and Matthew 16:18 (“You are Peter . . . “). 

Based on Christ’s Mandate

 Christ instructed the Church to preach everything he taught (Matt. 28:19–20) and promised the protection of the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). That mandate and that promise guarantee the Church will never fall away from his teachings (Matt. 16:18, 1 Tim. 3:15), even if individual Catholics might. 

As Christians began to more clearly understand the teaching authority of the Church and of the primacy of the pope, they developed a clearer understanding of the pope’s infallibility. This development of the faithful’s understanding has its clear beginnings in the early Church. For example, Cyprian of Carthage, writing about 256, put the question this way, “Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” (Letters 59 [55], 14). In the fifth century, Augustine succinctly captured the ancient attitude when he remarked, “Rome has spoken; the case is concluded” (Sermons 131, 10). 

Some Clarifications

 An infallible pronouncement—whether made by the pope alone or by an ecumenical council—usually is made only when some doctrine has been called into question. Most doctrines have never been doubted by the large majority of Catholics. 

Pick up a catechism and look at the great number of doctrines, most of which have never been formally defined. But many points have been defined, and not just by the pope alone. There are, in fact, many major topics on which it would be impossible for a pope to make an infallible definition without duplicating one or more infallible pronouncements from ecumenical councils or the ordinary magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church. 

At least the outline, if not the references, of the preceding paragraphs should be familiar to literate Catholics, to whom this subject should appear straightforward. It is a different story with “Bible Christians.” For them papal infallibility often seems a muddle because their idea of what it encompasses is often incorrect. 

Some ask how popes can be infallible if some of them lived scandalously. This objection of course, illustrates the common confusion between infallibility and impeccability. There is no guarantee that popes won’t sin or give bad example. (The truly remarkable thing is the great degree of sanctity found in the papacy throughout history; the “bad popes” stand out precisely because they are so rare.) 

Other people wonder how infallibility could exist if some popes disagreed with others. This, too, shows an inaccurate understanding of infallibility, which applies only to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not to disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comments on faith and morals. A pope’s private theological opinions are not infallible, only what he solemnly defines is considered to be infallible teaching. 

Even Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who do not have these common misunderstandings often think infallibility means that popes are given some special grace that allows them to teach positively whatever truths need to be known, but that is not quite correct, either. Infallibility is not a substitute for theological study on the part of the pope. 

What infallibility does do is prevent a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as “truth” something that is, in fact, error. It does not help him know what is true, nor does it “inspire” him to teach what is true. He has to learn the truth the way we all do—through study—though, to be sure, he has certain advantages because of his position. 

Peter Not Infallible?

 As a biblical example of papal fallibility, Fundamentalists like to point to Peter’s conduct at Antioch, where he refused to eat with Gentile Christians in order not to offend certain Jews from Palestine (Gal. 2:11–16). For this Paul rebuked him. Did this demonstrate papal infallibility was non-existent? Not at all. Peter’s actions had to do with matters of discipline, not with issues of faith or morals. 

Furthermore, the problem was Peter’s actions, not his teaching. Paul acknowledged that Peter very well knew the correct teaching (Gal. 2:12–13). The problem was that he wasn’t living up to his own teaching. Thus, in this instance, Peter was not doing any teaching; much less was he solemnly defining a matter of faith or morals. 

Fundamentalists must also acknowledge that Peter did have some kind of infallibility—they cannot deny that he wrote two infallible epistles of the New Testament while under protection against writing error. So, if his behavior at Antioch was not incompatible with this kind of infallibility, neither is bad behavior contrary to papal infallibility in general. 

Turning to history, critics of the Church cite certain “errors of the popes.” Their argument is really reduced to three cases, those of Popes Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius, the three cases to which all opponents of papal infallibility turn; because they are the only cases that do not collapse as soon as they are mentioned. There is no point in giving the details here—any good history of the Church will supply the facts—but it is enough to note that none of the cases meet the requirements outlined by the description of papal infallibility given at Vatican I (cf. Pastor Aeternus 4). 

Their “Favorite Case”

 According to Fundamentalist commentators, their best case lies with Pope Honorius. They say he specifically taught Monothelitism, a heresy that held that Christ had only one will (a divine one), not two wills (a divine one and a human one) as all orthodox Christians hold. 

But that’s not at all what Honorius did. Even a quick review of the records shows he simply decided not to make a decision at all. As Ronald Knox explained, “To the best of his human wisdom, he thought the controversy ought to be left unsettled, for the greater peace of the Church. In fact, he was an inopportunist. We, wise after the event, say that he was wrong. But nobody, I think, has ever claimed that the pope is infallible in not defining a doctrine.” 

Knox wrote to Arnold Lunn (a future convert who would become a great apologist for the faith—their correspondence is found in the book Difficulties): “Has it ever occurred to you how few are the alleged ‘failures of infallibility’? I mean, if somebody propounded in your presence the thesis that all the kings of England have been impeccable, you would not find yourself murmuring, ‘Oh, well, people said rather unpleasant things about Jane Shore . . . and the best historians seem to think that Charles II spent too much of his time with Nell Gwynn.’ Here have these popes been, fulminating anathema after anathema for centuries—certain in all human probability to contradict themselves or one another over again. Instead of which you get this measly crop of two or three alleged failures!” While Knox’s observation does not establish the truth of papal infallibility, it does show that the historical argument against infallibility is weak. 

The rejection of papal infallibility by “Bible Christians” stems from their view of the Church. They do not think Christ established a visible Church, which means they do not believe in a hierarchy of bishops headed by the pope. 

This is no place to give an elaborate demonstration of the establishment of a visible Church. But it is simple enough to point out that the New Testament shows the apostles setting up, after their Master’s instructions, a visible organization, and that every Christian writer in the early centuries—in fact, nearly all Christians until the Reformation—fully recognized that Christ set up an ongoing organization. 

One example of this ancient belief comes to us from Ignatius of Antioch. In his second-century letter to the church in Smyrna, he wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8, 1 [A.D. 110]). 

If Christ did set up such an organization, he must have provided for its continuation, for its easy identification (that is, it had to be visible so it could be found), and, since he would be gone from earth, for some method by which it could preserve his teachings intact. 

All this was accomplished through the apostolic succession of bishops, and the preservation of the Christian message, in its fullness, was guaranteed through the gift of infallibility, of the Church as a whole, but mainly through its Christ-appointed leaders, the bishops (as a whole) and the pope (as an individual). 

It is the Holy Spirit who prevents the pope from officially teaching error, and this charism follows necessarily from the existence of the Church itself. If, as Christ promised, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church then it must be protected from fundamentally falling into error and thus away from Christ. It must prove itself to be a perfectly steady guide in matters pertaining to salvation. 

Of course, infallibility does not include a guarantee that any particular pope won’t “neglect” to teach the truth, or that he will be sinless, or that mere disciplinary decisions will be intelligently made. It would be nice if he were omniscient or impeccable, but his not being so will fail to bring about the destruction of the Church. 

But he must be able to teach rightly, since instruction for the sake of salvation is a primary function of the Church. For men to be saved, they must know what is to be believed. They must have a perfectly steady rock to build upon and to trust as the source of solemn Christian teaching. And that’s why papal infallibility exists. 

Since Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church (Matt. 16:18b), this means that his Church can never pass out of existence. But if the Church ever apostasized by teaching heresy, then it would cease to exist; because it would cease to be Jesus’ Church. Thus the Church cannot teach heresy, meaning that anything it solemnly defines for the faithful to believe is true. This same reality is reflected in the Apostle Paul’s statement that the Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the Church is the foundation of religious truth in this world, then it is God’s own spokesman. As Christ told his disciples: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). 

 

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials 
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. 
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004 

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted. 
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

From Catholic Answers website: www.catholic.com 

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