I was advised by the most objective people of my faith to study the biblical basis of Papacy. They meant that I was to review the Scriptural verses invoked by Papism as proof and justification of the so-called "Primacy of Peter." 1 É found this advice fair and very much to my liking since it would provide the opportunity to research the subject in the light and on the basis of the Holy Scriptures. Naturally, I selected as the object of my research a most prominent verse, one that appears in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel and has served as the foundation of the teaching regarding the primacy: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church."2
For Roman Catholicism, these phrases of the Lord addressed to Simon Peter consist of the divine institution of his papal authority.3 The Jesuit Bernardino Llorca writes:
As reward for his outstanding confession of the divinity of Jesus Christ, He announced to Peter that he would be the cornerstone, in essence, the head and the highest authority of the edifice of His Church.4... [F]or the apostle, this metaphor [Peter = Rock], which shows that he is the foundation of the Church, clearly proves that he is established as her supreme ruler. The meaning of this metaphor is that he must be for the Church that which a foundation is for an edifice. And as in every edifice the foundation stabilizes and unifies the entire structure, likewise in the Church, he [Peter] is the one bestowing stability and true unity.5 According to the aforementioned interpretation of this Scriptural verse, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Saint Peter, the first pope, "is the foundation and cornerstone of the Church, the supreme ruler and her head, and the infallible teacher of the world."6 Indeed, this is the official and required teaching [of the Roman Catholic Church], namely that "according to the will and mandate of God, the church rests upon the blessed Apostle Peter, just as an edifice rests upon its foundation."7 Consequently, according to the Synod of Vatican, this blatantly erroneous teaching is presented to be in total agreement "with the apparent and absolutely overt meaning of the Holy Scriptures, as it has been always understood by the Catholic Church."8
Despite these assertions, in my opinion, this papal claim, which was supposed to have been "always understood by the Catholic Church," was diametrically opposite to "the apparent and absolutely overt meaning of the Holy Scriptures." Actually, few things in the Holy Scriptures are as apparent and as overt as this truth: For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.9
"Jesus Christ is the only true foundation of the Church" according to Saint Athanasius.10 The Apostle Paul boasts about the Lord's being and having laid the sole foundation. The Apostle Paul together with the Apostle Peter "built the Church of Rome"11 because "the Lord Jesus Christ alone is the foundation of all sectors of His Church."12 "Whenever the Holy Scripture refers to a foundation," says Saint Gregory the Great, "it is not meant for anyone else but for the Lord."13
It seems preposterous that anyone who has read the canonical books of the Old14 and New Testament15 even once could deny that Jesus Christ is the Rock and foundation of the Church.
The words of the Lord, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church," recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, are not repeated by any of the other evangelists. Although John was an eyewitness of the confession of Peter, he does not give even the slightest hint about this in his Gospel, and neither does Luke or Mark, who was a disciple, companion, and interpreter of Peter himself and recorded his Gospel according to the spirit and teaching of the Apostle Peter. Apparently the evangelists were neither adherents nor proponents of the papal primacy, insofar that there is no record in their sacred work of this teaching, which, according to Roman Catholicism, constitutes "the most important element of Christianity,"16 "its epitome and its essence."17 Perhaps it would be more correct to hold the Holy Spirit Itself responsible for this inexcusable omission, given that they acted under Its guidance and "spake as they were moved by [It]."18
Similarly, the immediate disciples of the apostles, during the second generation of Christianity, give no indication of the passage in question. In fact, in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, out of the 412 Scriptural verses quoted, not a single one refers to the confession of Peter, which happens to be solely and exclusively recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The same holds true for the other Scriptural verses employed by the Roman Catholics to support the papal primacy. The notorious Roman Catholic version of the "You are Peter..." is also absent from The Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), from Clement, from Ignatius, from Polycarp, from Barnabas, from the Epistle to Diognetus, from the fragments of Papias, and even from The Shepherd of Hermas, whose main objective is the organization and the constitution of the Church.
Consequently, it seems most apparent that the Church of the first two centuries was oblivious to that element, which supposedly serves as "the absolute basis of Christianity."19 This significant omission becomes even more conspicuous in The Shepherd of Hermas, since Hermas was the brother of Pius, Bishop of Rome, and, as we are informed from the Muratorian Canon, wrote this work during the episcopacy of his brother. In this work, Hermas describes the position of the apostles, the bishops, the teachers and the deacons,20 the officials,21 and the presiding presbyters22 in the Church. In fact, in The Shepherd of Hermas, which is a most detailed account of the Church's organization, replete with images and symbols for its hierarchy, there is not a single testimony suggesting the unique position of a bishop as the general leader of the entire Christian community. It is significant, therefore, that even the brother of the bishop of Rome should be completely oblivious to the matter of papal primacy.
The first reference to the Scriptural verse about the confession of Peter appears in the second half of the second century, around 160, when Justin Martyr wrote his Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon. The nonchalant manner in which Justin describes the Apostle's confession is quite revealing:
One of his disciples, who confessed Him Son of God by revelation from the Father, while he was named Simon at first, He then named him Peter.23 Toward the end of the same century and for the first time in the ecclesiastical philology, there appeared a reference mark on this verse, although not very trustworthy. It is found in the Diatessaron Gospel of the Syriac priest, Tatian. This work was of such great importance, that it almost fully superseded the four canonical Gospels in the Syriac Church, at least until the first half of the fourth century. This reference mark is as follows: "Blessed are you, Simon. And the gates of Hades will not conquer you."24 Based on the colloquial meaning of the word "gates" in the East, the only possible interpretation of the passage is that it refers to Peter's victory over death25 and has the same sense as Jesus' words about John: "This disciple will not die."26
From Justin Martyr, we skip over to the Golden Age of the Church in search of other references to that verse. Initially, the first observation of the Fathers was that the Lord called His apostle Petros, a Greek noun in masculine gender, while stating that He would build the Church upon the petra, a noun in feminine gender. The Greek text makes the distinction between the two nouns clear and precludes the possibility of identifying Petros with petra. The explanation offered by the Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers is that the petra [rock] upon which the Church was built was not the person of the Apostle Peter, because in that case, the Lord would have used the expression "and upon this Petros."27
Consequently, most of the Holy Fathers lean toward the interpretation of the word rock as a confession of faith in the Son of God, an interpretation carved out long ago by Saint Jude admonishing us to be "building up yourselves on your most holy faith....".28
Another interpretation suggests that the rock is Christ the awaited Rock of Israel,29 something that He also renders unto Himself.30 Finally, a few other writers such as Tertullian—although they, too, identify the rock with the Apostle sometimes—ascribe only a spiritual meaning to this metaphorical interpretation. They do not consider this to be a special privilege of the Apostle in comparison with the others, and certainly not a successive one.31
The Blessed Augustine wrote in his Retractiones that at first he thought that this biblical verse identified the rock with the Apostle. Later, however, after careful examination, he understood that the correct interpretation is that the Rock upon which the Church is built is He Whom the Apostle Peter confessed as the Son of God.32 The Blessed Augustine always held to this teaching, something which becomes evident from countless points in his works. He posits his reasoning on this interpretation:
Since the Rock is the proper noun, Peter receives this name from the Rock and not the Rock from Peter; just as we Christians receive this appellation from Christ, and not Christ from the Christians. 'You,' Christ said, 'are Peter, and upon this Rock that you confessed by saying "You are Christ the Son of God," I will build my Church'; [I will build it] upon Myself, Who am the Son of the living God.33
The Blessed Augustine repeats this, almost verbatim, in his first homily on the Feast of the Chiefs of the Apostles Peter and Paul.34 He is even clearer in his fifth homily on Pentecost:
I will build my Church upon this Petra [Rock]; not upon Peter (Petrum), not upon your person, but on the Rock (Petram) that you confessed.35 He further adds in the 124th Tractatus for John the Evangelist:
Upon this Rock that you confessed I will build my Church, because Christ Himself was the Rock.36
This same Holy Father gave a sarcastic reply to some, who, precisely like the Papists today, identified the Apostle Peter with the Rock. While interpreting the verses of Peter's apostasy, Blessed Augustine asked them tauntingly in his characteristically fiery demeanor:
And where is your Rock now? Where is the solidity? Christ Himself was the Rock, while Simon was nothing more than a... rocky Peter. The true Rock arose to strengthen Peter, who had cowered and abandoned the Rock.37
Upon this divine Rock -which is His own true Son- God placed the "relative foundation," that is, the first human elements of the Church. This foundation consists of all the apostles collectively, without Simon Peter's holding any special position of authority. The Apostle Paul teaches this,38 and John the Evangelist concurs as was revealed to him in one of his amazing apocalyptic visions that the edifice of the Church was built on the Rock which "had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."39
Thus, Saint Ignatius of Antioch writes to Trallians that "without them [the apostles], even the name of the Church is nonexistent."40 Saint Cyprian expresses the same thing in different words, teaching that the Church stands on the super episcopos, meaning the apostles and their successors,41 who were entrenched on the immovable rock of our Lord Jesus Christ.42 To accept that the Church was established solely upon Peter with the exclusion of all the other apostles, as the Papist system claims,43 is tantamount to comparing the Savior with that "foolish man" of the parable, "who built his house upon the sand... and it fell: and great was the fall of it."44 Saint Jerome writes to Iovinianus the heretic:
You claim that the Church was established on the Apostle Peter, but the truth is that it was established on all the apostles, and the power of the Church became manifest in all of them. 45
The study of the teachings of the Fathers relating to this subject was especially profitable to me. Indeed, according to Saint Vincent:
It is necessary, in order to avoid the trouble and labyrinth of delusion that the method of biblical interpretation must be in conformity with and within the auspices of the traditional ecclesiastical mindset.46 After this Patrological research, I had no doubt whatsoever that the Roman Catholic teaching referring to the papal primacy of Peter was diametrically opposed to the "evident and most overt meaning" of the Holy Scriptures, the teachings of the apostles, the interpretation of the Holy Fathers, and generally to the sound and Traditional teaching of the Church of Christ.47
FOOTNOTES TO CHAPTER 4
1. These verses are: Matt. 16:18-19: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. John 21:15-17: Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I loveYou' He said to him, Feed my lambs' He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I loveYou' He said to him, 'Tend my sheep 'He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I loveYou' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep' Luke 22: 31-32: Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you return [to Me] strengthen your brethren. 2. In the Vulgata: Tu es Petrus,et super istam petram aedificabo EcclesiamMeam. 3. See for example, Knabenbauer, S.I., Cursus Scripturae Sacrae, Paris 1903, Comment. In. Ev. Matthaeum, pars altera, p. 60. Also the Jesuits P. Knabenbauer, Cornely and Hummelauer have the audacity to claim in their “Cursus Scripturae Sacrae” that those of the Holy Fathers who do not recognize papal primacy based on the aforementioned verse, simply erred for not paying close attention to the real meaning of the text: Si Sanctus Doctor recogitasset- writes Knabenbauer regarding St.Augustine- Christum locutum esse aramaice, vel si hane et totum conteæum perpendiset,profecto priore sua interpretatione stetisset” (ibid., p. 61). 4. Bernardino Llorca, S. I., Historia de la Iglesia Católica, Madrid 1850, vol. I, p.49. 5. Ibid, ch. 1, pp. 261-1. 6. Cardinal Hergenroether, Histoire de l'Eglise, vol. 1, ch. 1, 7. 7. Leo XIII, Circular "Satis Cognitum" (the text in José Madoz, S. I., Enquiridion sobre el Primado Romano, 361). 8. Concil.Vatic. Constitut. Dogmat., I. De Ecclesia Christi, ch. 1 (Denyinger, Enquiridion, p. 396). See also: The Conversations at Malines, published by Lord Halifax, III. Conv. London, 1930. 9. 1 Cor. 3:11. 10. St. Athanasius, Against Arians, 3. 11. St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, 3, 3 (Apud Euseb., V, 6, 1-3). 12. Homiliae Aelfric., Passio S. S.Apostol. Petri et Pauli (London, 1844, p. 369, 371). 13. St. Gregory the Great, Moralis in lob, 28, 14. 14. Already in the Old Testament, God and Christ are symbolized as the Rock numerous times: Gen. 49:24; Deut. 32:4; 32:15; 2 Sam. 23:3; Ps. 18:2, 46; 19:14; 28:1; 31:3; 73:26; 89:26; 118:22; Isa.8:14; 28:16; Zach. 3:8, 9 (Cf. Rev. 5:6). 15. In the New Testament the symbol of the Rock always refers to Jesus Christ: Matt. 21:42,44; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Rom. 9:33; Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:10,12; Col. 2:7; 1 Pet. 2:4, 8. 16. Cardinal Bellarmine, De Sum.Pontific., vol. I, Book 2, ch.31. 17. Ibid., Prologue, vol. 2; Marin Ordonez, El Pontificado, vol. 1, Madrid 1887, ch. 10, p. 30. 18. 2 Pet. 1:21. 19. De Maistre, Du Pape, Discours préliminaire, I. 20. Vision III, 5:1. 21. Vision II, 2:6. 22. Vision III, 5:1. 23. See Migne, S. G.,571 ff. 24. Diatessaron Gospel (To St. Ephraim, Sir. S., Mg.). 25. The Eastern expression "the gates" means "the powers," because during times of battle or in the event of some other external danger the military powers would concentrate at the gates of the fortressed cities, where they would display their real might against the enemy. This term, in a more general sense, is used even in our days; [more commonly in European nations] where we find the expression "High Gate," etc. This metaphor was very common among the Jews, especially Eastern peoples, and through them, found its way into the texts of the Holy Scriptures. 26. John 21:23. 27. See St. Augustine, In conciane II super Psalmum XXX; In Psalm LXXXVI; Epistola CLXV ad Generosum; Tractati VII, CXXIII et CCXXIVin Ioannem;Sermo CCLXXin die Pentecostes,V; Sermo CCXIV; in Psalm LXIX; Sermo XXIX De Sanctis De Baptism., II, 1. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 55th on the Gospel of Matthew; Homily 51st on Matthew 16:18;Homily 65; Homily 4;Homily 83; Homilies 4th, 51st, 55th, 65th and 83rd of St. Cyril of Alexandria on Isaiah, Bk. 4th, Treatise 2nd; On the Holy Trinity, 4; On the Gospel of John 21:42 of St.Jerome, In Setum. Matthaeum, liberVI;Adversus Iovinianum, lib.;In Psalmum LXXXVI; Epistola XVadDamasum, 2. of St. Cyprian Epist. XXVII De Lapsis; Epist. XXXIII, in initio; Epist. LXXIII ad Iubaianum; De Unitate Ecclesiae, IV. of St. Ambrose, De Incarnatione Domin. Sacrament, 5;LiberVI Comment. In Evang. Lucae, 9; Comment. In Ephes. 2; Epist. Ad Damasum. of St. John of Damascus, Homily on the Transfiguration; Tertullian, De Pudicitia, 21; De Praescriptionibus Haereticorum, XVI et XXII. of St. Athanasius, Contra Arians, 3; St.Gregory of Nazianzus, Homily 32nd, 18; St. Gregory of Nyssa, Encomium on St. Stephen, 2; About the Coming of the Lord, St. Basil, 2nd ch. of Isaiah; Against Eunomius, 2,4; St. Epiphanios, Against Heresies, 591; St. Ilarion, De S.STrinitate, liber II etVI; St. Gregory the Great (of Rome), Moralia in Job, XXVIII, 14; Comment. in Psalm CI, 27; St. Isidore Ispalis, De Officiis, lib. II, 5; St. Bede, In quaest. super Exodum, cap. XLII, in recapitulation; Homil. De Feria III Palmarum in cap. XXI Ioannem; Basil of Seleucia, Homily 25th; St Peter Chrysologos, Homily 55th, About Stephen the Protomartyr Origen, Homily 74th, on Jeremiah; Homily 16th:Against Celsus, Bk. 3, 28; Comments on the Epistle to the Romans 5; Homily 7 on Isaiah; St. Eusebeus of Alexandria (bishop of Laodicea), Homily on the Resurrection; Theodoritus, Epistle 77th on 1 Cor. 3:10, to Eulalios, Bishop of Persia; St. Isidore of Pelusium, Epistle 235th, 1; Theophylact, on Matt. 16:18; St. Hinemari of Reim, in Opusculi XXXIII adversus Hinemarum Laudunensis episcopum, Vet. XIV; St. Hippolytus, on HolyTheophany, 9; St. Paulinus, Epist. XXVII ad Severum, 10. 28. Jude, 20 29. Gen. 49:24. 30. Matt. 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17. 31. See St. Cyprian, De Unitate Ecclesiae. 32. St. Augustine, Retractiones, I, 21. 33. St. Augustine, Homily LXXVI, 1. 34. St. Augustine, Homily CCVC. 35. St. Augustine, Homily CCLXX, 2. 36. St. Augustine, Tractatus CXXIV In Ioann. 37. St. Augustine, Homily CCVIL, 1. 38. Eph.2:20. 39. Rev. 21:14. 40. ToTrallians, 3:1. 41. St. Cyprian, Epistle XXXIII, in initio; Epistle XXVII, De Lapsis. 42. See St. Jerome, Adversus Iovinianum, lib. I. 43. "[The Lord] in favoring Peter among all the other apostles, established him as the principle of Church unity and as the visible foundation upon whose solidity He established the eternal edifice of the Church-Bulla Paster Aeternus, Constit. I, Introduct. (Denzinger, Enquiridion, 1667). 44. Matt. 7:26-27. 45. St. Jerome, Adversus Iovinianum, I. See also, In Evangelio S.Matt., lib.VI. 46. St.Vincent of Lerins, Commonotorium, II. 47. This was the main argument of Archbishop Strossmayer against papal primacy at the Synod ofVatican. During his presentation, he was interrupted many times by members of the Synod, the other cardinals, with such expressions as: "Crush the mouth of the heretic!", "Silence the blasphemer!" etc. (See, Kölnische Zeitung, 13-7-1881). Moreover, the Roman Catholic Archbishop Kenrick (St. Louis, USA) published an article in 1870 in Naples which he had prepared to present at the Vatican Synod. In this article he argued that the Primacy of the Pope opposes the true interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods and the teaching of the Holy Fathers. For some unknown reason, which would not be so difficult for someone to guess, this homily was not presented at the Synod. The unofficial justification for this omission was that "His Eminence lost his briefcase when he entered the city of Vatican"! Here, the phraseology used by Saint Athanasius in relation to the followers of Apollinaris is most befitting: "Having been blinded by hate, they betray the messages of the prophets and the teachings of the apostles, and the admonitions of the Fathers, and even the unquestionable voice of the Master" (About the Incarnation, against Apollinaris, I, 1).
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Last update: 20-5-2011.