The Papacy and Papal Primacy
"...you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church..."
by Lino Serrano 6/30/98
The Seat of Peter, which is the Papacy, is as old as the Christianity itself. Catholics believe that the first Pope was the Apostle Simon son of Jonas, also known as Peter. Catholics also believe that Jesus Christ himself instituted the office of the Papacy and intended that it should endure until he returns. Catholics believe that through Christs institution of Peter into this special role of the Papacy, he gave him a special office of primacy over the other Apostles and the whole Church. The Roman Bishops or Popes (Latin Papa, meaning father) are the direct descendants of Peter and his episcopal (bishop) office through Apostolic succession. And they occupy his Seat (Latin Cathedra). Note: The word Cathedral means: the seat of a bishop.
Biblical foundation for the Papacy:
Christ himself is the author of the institution of the Papacy, and this comes after a confession made by Simon. (See St. Matt. Chapter 16: 13-20.) "...you are Peter". By using the word "Peter", he is using the Greek word Petros or rock in English. What does Jesus mean by "Petros", "rock"? He means this as a solid foundation for his Church. (See St. Matt. 7: 24 - 27.) Therefore he means that "Peter" is this foundation, and upon this solid "rock", he will build His church.
Someone might say, "it isnt Simon whom Jesus is referring to, but it is himself when he says, and upon this rock (Jesus) I will build my church... It is true that Jesus is the Rock (see Romans 9: 33 and 1 Peter 2:8). But if this is the true meaning, why did Simon continue to be called Peter afterwards? I believe this interpretation of this scripture to be taken out of context. Also when one considers that Jesus was speaking in Aramaic, He would have used the Aramaic word for rock which is Kepha (in some Bible translations Cephas is used which is a transliteration from Aramaic to Greek.) If this is the case, and Jesus purposely renamed Simon to Peter, you would also expect to see Simon referred to as Kephas or Cephas. There are many places in the New Testament where Simon is referred to as Kephas, Cephas or Peter. For one example, See St. John 1: 40 - 41. Therefore the Catholic Church since the beginning has believed that Jesus meant Peter (Kephas) to be the rock upon the Church would be built and the shepherd of Jesus flock when he had gone to be with the Father. (See St. Luke 22:31-32)
The significance of the Keys
In St. Matthew chapter 16: 19, Jesus says to Simon "I will give you the keys to 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." What does Jesus mean when he talks about the "keys to the kingdom?" Lets look back to an Old Testament scripture, Isaiah 22: 15-25. Here we see an official, Shebna, "master of the palace" who has lost favor with God. We see God lift up a new "servant" Eliakin son of Hilkiah. He is clothed with the robe of Shebna and is given the same authority that Shebna once had. What authority? The authority of being a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. The "key" of the House of David will be placed on his shoulder. And whatever he opens, no one will shut, and when he shuts, no one will open. To put it simply he has been given the authority of his King: David.
By proclaiming Jesus the "Messiah, the Son of the living God", Simon has, through the inspiration of God the Father himself, acknowledged the fact that Jesus is the anointed one of God, the King of Israel. Jesus then gives Simon a new name, Peter or Kepha (Rock) and gives him a new authority, the "keys to the kingdom of heaven." With this new authority given to him by God, Simon Peter has the power to bind in heaven that which he binds on earth. And whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. This authority is the same binding and loosing authority that both Shebna and Eliakin had once in the kingdom of David. Now Peter has this authority in Jesus kingdom. The authority to be a father to Christs family: His Church. This fatherhood can also be called "Papa" in Latin, the word that we use in English when translated is: Pope. We now see that Peter is the first Pope (father) of Christs Church.
Primacy of Peter
What is primacy? And how are we to understand it in the context of Peter and the other
disciples of Jesus? Primacy means: being first in the order of rank or importance. We see that by giving Simon the keys to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus have given him this primacy. How should we understand this in respect to Peter and the other apostles? Lets look at St. John 21:15-17. Jesus shows us in the three affirmations by Peter that He is undoing so to speak his three denials of Jesus during His trial, that He intends Peter to shepherd His flock after He leaves to be seated at the right hand of the Father (recall St. Luke 22: 31 - 32.) "Feed my lambs"; "Tend my sheep"; "Feed my sheep". This is the direct appointment of Peter by Jesus to tend to His flock, the Church. As Christs appointed shepherd, Peter has Primacy over the Church. Other signs of Peters primacy are: He leads the Church as the first to proclaim in public the resurrection of Jesus (see Acts 2: 14); He is the person who ends all deliberation about circumcision at the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15: 7 - 12); He is the first to proclaim the Gospel to the gentiles (see Acts 10: 34 - 36; 44 - 49)
Testimony of Papal Primacy from the Tradition of the early Fathers
All that has been written so far can be argued against by some as being only an opinion. There needs to be evidence that can substantiate these claims. We can get this evidence from the unanimous witness of the Early Fathers of the Church.
St. Cyprian of Carthage: Unity of the Catholic Church. (c. 251 AD)
The Lord says to Peter: "I say to you," He says, "That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom o heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven." And again He says to him after His resurrection: "Feed my sheep." On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the church?
St. Ephraim of Syria: Homilies (c. 373 AD)
Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!
St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures (c. 337-352 AD)
In the power of the same Holy Spirit, Peter, both the chief of the Apostles and the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, in the name of Christ healed Aeneas the paralytic at Lydda, which is now Diospolis; and at Joppa he raised the beneficent Tabitha from the dead.
Teaching of Papal Primacy from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
The episcopal college and its head, the Pope
880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, "he constituted [them] in the form of a college or
permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them." Just as "by the Lord's institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another."
881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.
882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source
and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
883 "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff."
884 "The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council." But "there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor."