Roman Catholic Church Authority

The Central Authority of the Roman Catholic Church

 

 "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world,

and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name

those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."

(John 14:10 KJV)

"The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself:

but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works."

(John 17:11 KJV)

 

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

 

"So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow

citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built

upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself

being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together

and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;  in whom you also are built

into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

(Ephesians 2: 19-22 RSV)

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Linked Table of Contents:

 

Part One: Apostles, Disciples and Evangelzation

 

Part Two: Presbyters, Bishops and Apostolic Succession

 

Part Three: The Primacy of the Pope

 

 

 

Part One

 

Apostles, Disciples and Evangelization   

 

"Tradition is the river of new life that proceeds from the origin, from

Christ to us, and makes us participate in God's history with humility."

(Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, May 3, 2006)

 

It wasn't until about 55 A.D. that the first Gospels were put to quill and papyrus.  That the original evangelists wrote their personal accounts of the public life of Jesus within their own lifetimes has been accepted throughout ancient historical Christian tradition and confirmed by scientific research.1  (All notations follow in FOOTNOTES at the end of the article.) Tradition and science aside, the most compelling reason for this fact is that it is not within inspired Christian faith and reason from the Holy Spirit of God to believe otherwise.

 

Before a number of written accounts of the Gospel could be circulated to the faithful, the Christian faith was nurtured by oral tradition.  The account of the life of Christ was passed-on from the original twelve apostles, whose presence in Jerusalem, along with Mary the Mother of Jesus, centralized the focus of the embryonic Universal Church of Jesus Christ.5

 

When Jesus said: “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you“ (Acts 1:8 RSV); He meant that the twelve would receive His Holy Spirit initially and that all of His disciples would eventually receive the Holy Spirit in the laying on of hands.  In Acts 8:14-17 (RSV), the apostles Peter and John, ministering in Jerusalem, pay an episcopal visit to Samaria to perform the laying on of the hands (in this case the Sacrament of Confirmation) upon those who had been newly converted (our underline):

 

"Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word

of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them

that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but

they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their

hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit."

 

A scriptural verse that identifies the original twelve apostles as having a role in the central authority of the post-Pentecostal Church is Acts 15:2 (KJV) is the disputation concerning legal circumcision (our underline):

 

            "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation

with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them,

should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."

 

Additional scriptural verses revealing the role of central authority in the Church are in 1 Peter 5, verses 1-3, 5, 13 (KJV).  St. Peter wrote this letter from Rome which he figuratively calls "Babylon".  In the second quoted verse, St. Peter uses the word “submit” and commands obedience to the established order. In the last quoted verse, he uses the word "elected", which, from context, denotes a process of selection (our underline and emphasis):

 

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of

the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed

the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint,

but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's

heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

 

"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one

to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace

to the humble.

 

"The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth

Marcus my son."

 

In Acts 1: 21, 22 (RSV) the continuity of the original twelve apostles is preserved when a replacement for Judas Iscariot is chosen.  The account includes a prerequisite for selection: the replacement must have faith in the Resurrection of Christ:

 

"So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord

Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day

when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness

to his resurrection." 

 

To perform the act of selection, the apostles followed an instruction found in the book of Psalms; they were  obedient to the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit of God honored their prayer in choosing Matthias.  These two observations are important to consider when establishing the central position of the original twelve apostles.  It can be concluded that the will of God was manifested in preserving the role of the original twelve apostles (there must be twelve, not eleven) in the formation of the embryonic Church of Christ.  From Acts 1: 20-26 (RSV) (our underline):

 

"For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation become desolate (Ps 69:25)

and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'His office let another take.' (Ps 109:8)  So one

of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in

and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken

up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." And

they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of

these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which

Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.  And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell

on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles."

 

It was also the will of God that the importance of the original twelve apostles and their central authority should be firmly established.  They are mentioned prominently in Chapter 21:14 (RSV) of The Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse).  The verse refers to the object of our Christian labors and suffering; the glorified Church of Christ; the City of God, the New Jerusalem:

 

"And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names

of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

 

 

The Central Authority of the embryonic Church was centered in the 12 Apostles, but even these had those among their own whom they went to for answers.  This is revealed in St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, Chapter 2, Verse 9:

 

        "And when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John,

        who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship,

        that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised."

 

The "pillars" from the above verse:

 

Peter: Undoubtedly the designated head of the Church in Matthew 16:18:

 

  “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."

 

James: Supported by the Early Church Fathers as the first Bishop of Jerusalem:

 

(St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XVIII, Chapter II)

“...when James the brother of John was slaughtered with the sword..."

 

 (St. John Crysostom, Homilies on The Gospel of John, Homily XLI, Jn5:39-40)

"....one became first Bishop of Jerusalem, the blessed James, of whom Paul saith, "Other of the Apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:19)..."

 

John: Of all the apostles, he was indisputably the 'theologian'.  His Gospel and his Book of Revelation attests to this.

 

 

It is obvious that in St. John's vision of the New Jerusalem that the mystical representation of Christ's Church demands that it be founded upon the twelve apostles; those twelve who Jesus directed with His Holy Spirit, Who had come at Pentecost to take His place on earth.  Without doubt, the growth of the Church radiated outward from these twelve chosen men---albeit they also evangelized until they could send others out.

 

In establishing the role of the twelve apostles, Jesus transmitted to them His method of evangelization.  Staying behind as the Central Figure in Lk9:1-5 (RSV), He sends the twelve apostles out on a mission (our underline):

 

"And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons

and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal.

And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor

money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from

there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off

the dust from your feet as a testimony against them."

 

Repeating His instructions to a group of seventy other disciples in Lk10:1-7 (RSV), Jesus sent them out (our underline):

 

"After this, the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by

two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to

them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the

harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as

lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one

on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!'  And if a son

of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And

remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer

deserves his wages; do not go from house to house."

 

The final command of Jesus to evangelize came after His Resurrection.  He specifically mentioned Jerusalem as the starting point.  In doing so, Jesus desired to firmly establish the faith in a place from where evangelizers could be sent out and return.  From the Gospel of St. Luke 24:45-47 (RSV):

 

"Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them,

"Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from

the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his

name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."

 

Further evidence of central organization in the ministry of Jesus is the definition of the word 'apostle'.  From Ewell's Evangelical Dictionary (our underline):

 

"The biblical use of "apostle" is almost entirely confined to the NT, where it occurs seventy-nine times: ten in the Gospels, twenty-eight in Acts, thirty-eight in the epistles, and three in the Apocalypse. Our English word is a transliteration of the Greek apostolos, which is derived from apostellein, to send. Whereas several words for send are used in the NT, expressing such ideas as dispatch, release, or dismiss, apostellein emphasizes the elements of commission, authority of and responsibility to the sender. So an apostle is properly one sent on a definite mission, in which he acts with full authority on behalf of the sender and is accountable to him."

 

Note in the last sentence where an apostle "acts with full authority on behalf of the sender and is accountable to him".  To assign someone a task and to maintain their accountability requires central organization and management. 

 

Ewell's says this about ‘disciple’; as different from ‘apostle’ (our underline):

 

"Disciple. The characteristic name for those who gathered around Jesus during his ministry was "disciple." He was the teacher or master; they were his disciples (mathetai), a term involving too much personal attachment and commitment to be rendered adequately by "pupil."  The name was carried over into Acts, where it frequently has the general sense of Christian (cf. Acts 14:21). The use of the term in Acts for those who had no acquaintance with Jesus during the days of his flesh serves as a reminder that the relationship of subsequent generations of Christians to the exalted Christ is not essentially different from that enjoyed by those who walked with him on the earth. “

 

We may now conclude that of the two groups of men that surrounded Jesus (apostles and disciples), it was His apostles and not His disciples that were the most intimately associated with Him, forming core of His new Church.  It is also conclusive that Christ centered Church around the twelve apostles. There is a verse from the Acts of the Apostles that seems to contradict this idea, but future events support the centrist theory.  From Acts 1:8 (RSV):

 

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and

you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to

the end of the earth."

 

Notice that Jesus says "Jerusalem", "Judea", "Samaria" and "the end of the earth". (In the three synoptic Gospels He refers to "all nations" and "all creation".)  He obviously wants Jerusalem and Judea (His home province2) converted first, as in Luke 24:47 (RSV) ("beginning in Jerusalem) and then-----"Samaria", the "end of the earth", "all nations", "all creation"-----the gentiles.  A city in Samaria was converted by Philip in Acts 8:5-6.  In the span of time from Acts 8 to Acts 15:2 an extensive conversion effort was underway by Paul and Barnabas.  The Catholic Encyclopedia6 has this to say about Philip in Samaria, and about Samaria itself:

 

"It is possible that there may have been some question of Samaria in Acts, viii, 5, on the subject of the sermon of the deacon Philip; in this case Christianity is traced to its very origins. --- The Greeks also made it a titular see. It must be remembered that Sebaste and not Samaria was always the correct name of this diocese. From the fourth century we meet with the cultus of St. Paul and St. Jerome at Samaria." 

 

"Samaria:  Suffragan of Cćsarea in Palestine Prima. In the sixth year of his reign (about 900 B. C.) Amri, King of Israel, laid the foundations of the city to which he gave the name of Samaria."

 

Whatever Philip's contribution, Paul and/or Barnabas and Paul and/or Silas fulfilled the Lord's desire to evangelize the rest of the known gentile world. It must be noted that these men were not original apostles.   Besides Egypt and North Africa, the world known to men at the time---is known to us today (on the map from left to right and down) as Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria and Israel:

 

 

The idea that most of the twelve maintained their stay in Jerusalem in order to nurture the central organization of the Church is supported by what happened in the persecution that resulted because of conditions leading to the martyrdom of St. Stephen in Acts 8:1-8 (RSV):

 

"And Saul was consenting to his death. And on that day a great persecution

arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout

the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.  Devout men buried

Stephen, and made great lamentation over him.  But Saul was ravaging the church,

and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed

them to prison.  Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 

Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ.  And

the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they

heard him and saw the signs which he did.  For unclean spirits came out of many

who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or

lame were healed.  So there was much joy in that city.”

 

Acts 8:14-17 says of the conversions in Samaria, that the apostles at the See of Jerusalem sent senior apostles---bishops---to Samaria, to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation:

 

            “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word

            of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them

            that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but

            they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their

            hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

 

In Jerusalem, decision-making by the twelve is described in Acts 6 and 15.  There was the decision regarding the distribution of food dispute between the Hellenist and Hebrew Christians as described in Acts 6:1-4 (RSV).  Notice how the apostles are referred-to as apart from disciples.  Notice also the position of authority enjoyed by the apostles (our underline):

 

"Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists 

murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily

distribution.  And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is

not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore,

brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and

of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to

prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

 

In Acts 15: 1-12 (RSV), St. Peter exercises his authority as the head of the apostles and delivers the words that solve the problem of including or excluding the Jewish rite of circumcision:

 

"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, "Unless you are

circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."  And when Paul

and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some

of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this

question.  So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia

and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the

brethren.  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles

and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.  But some believers who

belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them,

and to charge them to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and the elders were gathered

together to consider this matter.  And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said

to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my

mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God who knows the

heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us;  and he made no

distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.  Now therefore why do

you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our

fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we shall be saved through the

grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.  And all the assembly kept silence."

 

In Galatians 1:18-19 (RSV), after three years in Damascus, St. Paul returns to Jerusalem.  Peter (Cephas) is still there.  James, who has historically been identified the head of the Church in Jerusalem is also there: 

 

"Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with

him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother3."

 

St. Peter, chosen as chief apostle, is concerned with the over-all evangelization of the Church as in Acts 15:7 (RSV):

"Peter rose and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice

among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe." 

 

Even though St. Paul considers himself an apostle, he looks to the position and authority of the original twelve in Gal 2: 7-9 (RSV).  These verses also delineate the missions of the Jerusalem twelve and the missionary disciples:

 

"....when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just

as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised  (for he who worked

through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), 

and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John,

who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship,

that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised...."

 

 

 

The Central Authority of the embryonic Church was centered in the 12 Apostles, but even these had those among their own whom they went to for answers.  This is revealed in the above quotation from Gal 2:9 (RSV):

 

            ...."and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John,

            who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that

            we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised....."

 

The "pillars" from the above verse:

 

Peter: Undoubtedly the designated head of the Church in Matthew 18:18:

 

“And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."

 

James: As the brother of John of Zebedee, James is supported by the Early Church Fathers as the first Bishop of Jerusalem:

 

(St. John Crysostom, Homilies on The Gospel of John, Homily XLI, Jn5:39-40)

"....one became first Bishop of Jerusalem, the blessed James, of whom Paul saith, "Other of the Apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:19)..."

 

(St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XVIII, Chapter II)

“...when James the brother of John was slaughtered with the sword..."

 

John: Of all the apostles, he was indisputably the 'theologian'.  His Gospel and his Book of Revelation attests to this.

 

 

Other examples of Peter’s authority in the seminal Church follow.  Notice the singular benchmark that Peter is the only apostle referred-to by name:

 

In Luke 22: 31-32 (RSV), Jesus reveals that Satan has targeted Peter; but that Peter’s faith would hold fast.  Although his denial of Jesus is unbeknownst to Peter at the time, Jesus orders him to reassure the rest of the apostles after he recovers:

 

            "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, strengthen your

            brethren."

 

In John 21:17 (RSV), Peter is singularly addressed by Jesus to take charge of His flock; the members of the Mystical Body of Christ; the Church:

 

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’  He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’  A second time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes,  Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, 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 everything; you know that I love you.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

 

In Mark 16: 6-7 (RSV), the angel at the tomb of the Resurrected Christ tells Mary Magdalene, Mary Clopas and Salome to notify the apostles of the Resurrection. Peter is the only one referred-to by name:

 

"Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you."

 

After His Resurrection, of all the apostles gathered in the upper room, Jesus chooses to appear to Peter (Simon) in Luke 24: 33-34 (RSV):

 

“And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"

 

In Acts 1: 13-26 (RSV), Peter headed the meeting of the apostles and disciples, in the presence of Mary the Mother of Jesus, to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot. These verses underscore the importance of the consensus, in the minds of the apostles, of restoring the number of apostles to twelve.  The replacement was taken from the ranks of the disciples; those men of lesser rank than the apostles:

 

“And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.  All these with one accord devoted    themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.  In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said,  ‘Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus.  For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry.

 

(Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.  And it became known to all the inhabitants of   Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

 

For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'His office let another take.'  So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the   time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.’

 

And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place."  And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.”

 

In Acts 2: 14 (RSV), on Pentecost, Peter steps out of the group of the eleven apostles and is the first to preach in the new Church:

 

“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.”

 

In Acts 2: 38-41 (RSV), Peter, the first to preach, produces the first converts of the new Church on the first Pentecost:

 

 “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.’  And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

 

In Acts 3: 6-8 (RSV), Peter performs the first miracle after Pentecost:

 

“Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms.  And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.  And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”

 

 

In Acts 8: 9-21 (RSV), Peter excommunicates Simon the Magician of Samaria:

 

 “But there was a man named Simon (Simon Magnus) who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.  They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is that power of God which is called Great.’ And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.  Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it ad not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’  But Peter said to him, ‘Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!  You have neither part nor lot in   this matter, for your heart is not right before God.”

 

 

In Acts 9: 32-35 (RSV), Peter, as the leading figure in the new Church, is making his rounds in his episcopacy.  He is granted signal graces by God so that his role might become clearly distinguishable:

 

“Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints that lived at Lydda.  There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years and was paralyzed.  And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And  mmediately he rose.  And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.”

 

And in Acts 9: 36-42 (RSV), an even more startling demonstration of God’s will for Peter in the Church:

 

 “Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.  In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.  Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, ‘Please come to us without delay.’  So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them.  But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, rise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.  And he gave her his hand and lifted her up.  Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.  And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” 

 

 In Acts 15: 7; 19-20 (RSV), Peter, using his direct authority received from Christ, pronounces the first binding directive regarding the conversion process for gentiles:

 

Peter rose and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.’”

 

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.”

 

In the New Testament, Peter’s name heads the list of the apostles and speaks for them in the following RSV quotations:

 

Matthew 10: 2:      “The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter.”

Matthew 18: 21:    Then Peter came up and said to him..”

Mark 8: 29:             “But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ.”

Mark 3: 16-19:        “Simon whom he surnamed Peter.” 

Luke 6: 14-16:         “Simon, whom he named Peter.”

Luke 12: 41:            Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?”

Luke 8: 45:              Peter said, "Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!"

Luke 9: 32:              ”Now Peter and those who were with him….”

John 6: 68:              “Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?”

Acts 1: 13:               “They went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter…”

 

*           *          *

 

Daily life among the twelve apostles did not always go smoothly.  At Antioch, Peter grew into a custom of eating meals with the gentiles and when his brothers from James in Jerusalem visited, Peter withdrew from the gentiles because he knew that his brothers from Jerusalem would not look favorably on this custom. St. Paul expected St. Peter to not eat with gentiles, for to do so was considered living like a gentile.  For Peter's inconsistency, Paul made a speech to him in open assembly in Galatians 2: 11-14 (RSV):

 

"And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly

was wrong.  For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles;

but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid

of the circumcised.  And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him,

with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw

that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas

in front of all, "If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can

you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

 

These questions remain:

 

1. Was Peter eating with the gentiles in order to preach to them, or did he relax his standards too much?

2. In knowing that he was given the mission to the gentiles, did Paul become a little too possessive?

 

Speaking for himself, this author would attempt to convert the gentiles by eating with them.  Paul, himself says in 1 Corinthians 9: 20-22 (RSV):

 

"To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became

as one under the law--though not being myself under the law--that I might win those

under the law.   To those outside the law I became as one outside the law--not being

without law toward God but under the law of Christ--that I might win those outside

the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all

things to all men, that I might by all means save some."

 

Did not Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?  I'm sticking-up for St. Peter----how about you?  If not, how am I wrong? mail@holyhillcross.com

 

*         *         *

 

Part Two

 

 

Presbyters, Bishops and Apostolic Succession

 

 "The Church is wholly of the Spirit but has a structure, the apostolic succession,

which is responsible for guaranteeing that the Church endures in the truth given

by Christ, from whom the capacity to love also comes."

(Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, April 5, 2006)

 

Table of Contents

 

The "laying on of hands" is mentioned many times in the New Testament. This custom became a rite and was done as a blessing to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit of God, in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  In Acts13: 3-4 (KJV):

 

"And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent

them away.  So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia;

and from thence they sailed to Cyprus."

 

In the ministering of the Church, the "imposition of hands" corresponded to an action of the Holy Spirit of God in regards to blessing, healing, raising-up ministers and conferring authority.  In various translations of the New Testament, the terms "minister" and "presbyter" are interchangeable.  The term "priest" means the same, as usually does the term "elder".  The term "priest" is not used interchangeably in the New Testament as it refers more specifically to Jewish religious hierarchy.  The term "bishop" occurs seven times* in the New Testament. The term "overseer" appears twenty-four times ONLY in the Old Testament.  The term "bishop" in the New Testament indicates a senior Church presbyter having the same authority as modern bishops .  The terms used in describing the exercise of his authority are "rule", "admonish" and "teach"; the latter term "teach" being used a far greater number of times.

 

*(Acts 1:20; Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1Titus 3:1; 1Titus 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1Peter 2:25)

 

We will try to show the various circumstances that the laying-on of hands was used.  In 2 Timothy 1:6 (RSV), the presence of faith is joined with the imposition of hands:

 

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother

Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.  Hence I remind

you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 

            for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control."

 

Eventually, in the laying on of hands, one sees the term "elder" (presbyter, minister) enter the picture in 1Timothy 4:14 (RSV), when a conferring of duties is evidenced.  This is tantamount to the Catholic Church rite of ordination---the Sacrament of Holy Orders:

 

"Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance

when the council of elders laid their hands upon you.  Practice these duties,

devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress."

 

In Luke 22:19 (RSV) and 1 Corinthians 11:24 (RSV), the Sacrament of Holy Orders was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper when He commanded a priestly duty---in memory of His Sacrifice on Calvary:

 

"Do this in remembrance of me."

 

In St. Paul's "First Missionary Journey", Barnabas and he are appointing elders (presbyters, ministers) and assigning them to new churches.  In Acts 14:23 (RSV)

 

"And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and

fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed."

 

Also, we find St. Paul calling together the elders (presbyters, ministers) of the Church of Ephesus in Acts 20:17 (RSV):

 

"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church."

 

.....making them overseers; literally consecrating them as Bishops of the Church as in Acts 20:28 (RSV):

 

"Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made

you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood

of his own Son."

 

Running into problems in Crete in Titus 1: 5-11 (RSV), St. Paul warns Titus to select his bishops carefully:

 

"This is why I left you in Crete that you might amend what was defective, and appoint

elders in every town as I directed you,  if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife,

and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate.

For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered

or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,  but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of

himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so

that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who

contradict it.  For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially

the circumcision party;  they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by

teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach."

 

In 1 Thessalonians 5: 11-13 (RSV), St. Paul admonishes the faithful to respect their bishops:

 

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  But we

beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord

and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace

among yourselves."

 

Although the laying-on of hands in the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) is not implied by Jesus, the authority is granted by Him from God the Father in John 20:21-23 (RSV):

 

        “Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. 

          And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 

          If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 

 

An important conclusion to remember when studying the growth of the Church of Christ:

 

In the early Church, the practice of the imposition of hands under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit produced an unbroken succession of presbyters and bishops which resulted in the manifestation of Apostolic Succession; a mark of the Roman Catholic Church.

 

From Ephesians 2: 19-22 (RSV) comes the authentication of apostolic succession that has taken place in the Catholic Church:

 

     "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and

    members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus

    himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy

    temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

 

The prayer of St. Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21 (NJB) reveals the Most Holy Trinity being invoked to make certain, the promulgation of the Truth throughout the ages, through the power of the Holy Spirit of God, given at Pentecost: (our underline, our italics)

 

"This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood, in heaven or on earth, takes its name. In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God's holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.  Glory be to him (Father) whose power , working in us (Holy Spirit), can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (the Head of the Church) for ever and ever. Amen."

 

 

Part Three

 

 

The Primacy of St. Peter

 

"Wherever the Church is, God's Spirit is too; and wherever God's Spirit is,

there is the Church and every grace; for the Spirit is truth"

( St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, III, 24, 1:  PG 7, 966).

Table of Contents 

 

 

We have briefly referenced the New Testament and have so far:

 

1. Defined the two terms: disciples and apostles

2, Established the centrality and the authority of the original twelve apostles

3. Established St. Peter as the head of the apostles

4. Differentiated between the roles of the centralized apostles and the diffuse missionary disciples (St. Paul claims to be an apostle in 1Titus 1:1)

5. Reviewed the laying-on of hands for the Sacraments of Confirmation, Holy Orders and the consecration of bishops (not a sacrament, but an extension of Holy Orders).  

6. Identified the manifestation of the mark of Apostolic Succession.

 

There is only one task left to this brief dissertation: the role of the successor of St. Peter. As a biblical background, we discover that Peter is singled-out in Sacred Scripture in being the sole Apostle to have had the honor to be first-called the following:

 

Peter is placed first in the lists of Apostles in Matt 10:2, Mark 3:13 and Luke 6:14.

Peter is first to enter to the tomb in Luke 24:12.

John allows Peter to go first into the tomb in John 20:5-6.

Peter is the first to preach in the Church after Pentecost Acts 2:14-36

Peter works the first miracle by healing a cripple in Acts 3:6-12

Peter is the first person after Christ to raise somebody from the dead Acts 9:40

Peter is the first to receive the Gentiles Acts 10:9-48.

 

Considering the qualifications and titles of the successor of St. Peter, we find that he must be a duly ordained Roman Catholic priest and a duly consecrated Roman Catholic bishop. (Technically, one does not have to be a Cardinal to be eligible for the office of the Papacy.)  The successor of St. Peter has many titles, some of which are:

 

The Servant of the Servants of God

The Bishop of Rome

The Holy Father

The See of Peter

The Pope

 

For scriptural confirmation, it is revealed in John 21: 15-17 (DRV), that one of the twelve chosen men, Peter, has received a pastoral commission from Jesus:

 

            When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter:  ‘Simon, son of John,

            lovest thou me more than these?’ He saith to him: ‘Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I

            love thee.’ He saith to him:  ‘Feed my lambs.’  He saith to him again:  ‘Simon, son of

            John, lovest thou me?’ He saith to him: ‘Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.’

            He saith to him:  ‘Feed my lambs.’  He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John,

            lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he had said to him the third time: ‘Lovest

            thou me?’ And he said to him:  ‘Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I

            love thee.’ He said to him:  ‘Feed my sheep.’”

 

Earlier, in Matthew 16: 13-17 (KJV), Jesus had singled-out Peter for these dramatic words Jesus spoke about His Church:

 

            “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying,

            Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?  And they said, Some say that thou art

            John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto

            them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the

            Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art

            thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father

            which is in heaven.”

 

How did Peter know this about Jesus.?  In John 6: 44 (KJV), Jesus revealed that it was indeed the Father Who chose Peter to reveal the truth about His Son:

 

            “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”

 

In Matthew 16: 18-19 (KJV), Jesus fulfills the choosing of Peter by the Father in revealing Peter’s place in the central authority of the Church.  Jesus commissions Himself as the “rock”; the Head of the Church Who will reign from Heaven. As the “keeper of the keys”, Peter retains the authority to lead the Church as given by Christ, the Founder; the True Rock. 

 

We also see Peter (petrus – ‘rock’) designated by Christ as the human ‘Rock’, an ‘alter Christus’ (another Christ), to act "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ). The term ‘Vicar of Christ on Earth’ is an extremely appropriate title for Peter, one which accurately describes the divine dynamics of Christ’s action in regards to Peter’s newly-assigned authority. Along with Peter's designation as head of Christ's new Church goes the "in persona Christi" powers of the Roman Catholic Priesthood.  There are three critical elements in the Matthew 16: 18-19 (KJV) quotation: "Rock" (the designation) "Keys" (the access to Christ's power) and "Binding and Loosing" (the exercise of Christ's power):

 

            “And I say also unto 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 unto thee the keys of the

            kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven:

            and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

 

In Matthew 26: 30-32 (RSV), Jesus plainly reveals that the “sheep” of His new Church will always need a “shepherd”; but even if the shepherd is “struck”---he will return.  The two verses describe a prefigured tribulation in Christ’s future Church, founded at Pentecost; but with the Resurrection of Christ the gates of hell will not prevail against it:

 

            Then Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written,

            'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'  But after I am raised

            up, I will go before you to Galilee."

 

Then, in John 10: 7-16 (RSV), Jesus reveals the authentic nature of a true shepherd of the Church, and how the faithful of the Church know how to follow him in times of apostasy:

 

            "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves

            and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.  I am the door; if any one enters by me, he

            will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill

            and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.

            The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling and not a shepherd,

            whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the

            wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for

            the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows

            me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that

            are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice.  So there shall be one

            flock, one shepherd.”

 

In 2Timothy4: 1-6 (RSV), St. Paul is a reflection of the Good Shepherd, but he also confirms times of apostasy within the future Church:

 

           “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead,

            and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season,            

            convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.  For the time is coming

            when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for            

            themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and

            wander into myths.  As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist,

            fulfill your ministry.  For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure

            has come.”

 

There is a rank and file under the leader of the Church, who himself is “parochial vicar” to Christ, the Head of His Universal or Catholic Church7.  The bishops, who are the direct descendants of the apostles, lead the various members of the Church as revealed in 1 Corinthians 12: 28 (RSV):

 

            “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then

            workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.”

 

Sacred Scripture gives us a dramatic confirmation of the power of the man who is chosen to lead the Church; and to those who are of “one heart and soul” with him: It is from Acts 4: 31-37 (RSV), continuing to Acts 5: 1-11 (RSV):

 

            “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that

            any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And

            with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and

            great grace was upon them all.  There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were            

            possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it

            at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.  Thus Joseph who was            

            surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native

            of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. “

 

            “But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife's            

            knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles'

            feet.  But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep

            back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And

            after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your

            heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’  When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and

            died.  And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  The young men rose and wrapped him up

            and carried him out and buried him.  After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not

            knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so

            much.’ And she said, ‘Yes, for so much.’  But Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed

            together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband

            are at the door, and they will carry you out.’  Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When

            the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her            

            husband.  And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.”

 

The Pope holds a terrifying office.  He is responsible to God for trying, with every drop of his life-energy, to keep the entire Church teaching the Truth of Christ.  He thus shares part of the responsibility for the state of every Christian soul.  An impossible job---it would seem.  From a human standpoint---it is.  That is why Jesus Christ is the true Head of the Universal Church of Christ; the Roman Catholic Church.  No one else can be the actual head of the Church but Christ, and we are to abide by what He reveals in the Gospels and all of Sacred Scripture.  What else applies is what the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son revealed to the Church throughout the centuries in its Sacred Tradition and Sacred Doctrine (Dogma).

 

Obviously being a human being---the Pope is personally fallible.  His power of Papal Infallibility can only be exercised under the power of the Holy Spirit in settling matters of faith and morals.  This power is almost exclusively performed in conjunction with the hierarchy of the Church, or in collegio. It is possible, but rare, that the Pope singularly proclaims an infallible doctrine or dogma.  The last time this was done was in the case of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by Pope Pius XII in the Jubilee Year of 1950.  He did this only after much prayer, study and consultation.  He also acquired a sense of the faithful, or sensus fidelium: 800,000 signatures on petitions were collected from the Catholic faithful of the world. In 1965, the Dogma of the Assumption was ratified into the Magisterium by Vatican Council II. This was a confirmation of the authority of Pope Pius XII and the authenticity of his action.

 

In the present day, an encyclical (papal letter) has contained within it the dimensions of infallible doctrine:  It is the Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae, by Pope John Paul II, released on March 25, 1995 on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.  In reading this encyclical, it is observed that the conditions for infallibility have been met.  From the encyclical Evangelium Vitae by Pope John Paul II: (our emphasis)

"In communion with all the Bishops of the world.”

“5. The Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals held in Rome on 4-7 April 1991 was devoted to the problem of the threats to human life in our day. After a thorough and detailed discussion of the problem and of the challenges it poses to the entire human family and in particular to the Christian community, the Cardinals unanimously asked me to reaffirm with the authority of the Successor of Peter the value of human life and its inviolability, in the light of present circumstances and attacks threatening it today.

“57...."Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.[51]

“The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action. [52]"

There is an imperceptible divine dimension to the office of the Bishop of Rome.  It can be expressed in this way:

 

If the Holy Spirit of Christ did not intervene for the Pope and the Church over the last twenty centuries, the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church would not have survived.

 

The office of the See of Peter is somewhat possible---but also somewhat impossible---to describe.  One thing we know; there have been great Popes, bad Popes, persecutions and wars; but the "gates of Hell" (Mt16:18) will not overcome the Universal Church of Christ.

 

The prerogatives of the Chair of Peter---and arguments for its existence---are best expressed by the early Church fathers and doctors of the Church.  But, before this, let us read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject of the See of Peter:

“424. Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'[Mt 16:16] On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.

(Cf. Mt 16:18; St. Leo the Great, Sermo 4 3: PL 54,150 - 152; 51,1: PL 54, 309B; 62, 2: PL 54, 350-351; 83, 3: PL 54, 431-432.] 'To preach. . . the unsearchable riches of Christ'. (Eph 3:8.)

“552. Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; [Cf Mk 3:16 ; Mk 9:2; Lk 24:34 ; John 21: 15-17 ; 1 Cor 15:5.] Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Our Lord then declared to him: 'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.' [Mt 16:18 .] Christ, the 'living Stone',[1 Pet 2:4.] thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it. [Cf. Lk 22:32 .]"

And now from the early fathers and doctors of the Church on the subject of the Papacy4:

1.  ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (c.1225-74)

      

"Christ is the head of the entire gathering, closer to God than the angels and acting on them also. God the Father seated Christ at his right side in the heavenly world, above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords. God put all things under his feet. Because Christ received grace in himself in such abundance he was able to bestow it on others, and that is what his headship means. So his own personal grace, by which his own soul is right, is the very grace which makes him head of the church and the source of rightness for others; any difference lies only in the way we consider it.

      

In Adam the sin of his nature, which we inherit, derived from his own personally sinful action: his person corrupted his nature, and because of the corruption Adam's sin was inherited, the nature corrupting the persons

descended from him. Christ's grace is not passed on by human nature in this way, but by the personal action of Christ. So we do not distinguish two graces in Christ, one personal and one natural, as we distinguish personal sin and sin of nature in Adam. Christ's personal grace which makes him holy is also the grace which makes others right, and as such is called the grace of headship. The grace of union, on the other hand, produces not activity but Christ's personal existence. So Christ's personal grace and the grace of headship are one and the same disposition, but the grace of union is different.

      

The interior flow of grace into us comes from Christ alone, for his human nature alone has the power to make us right, because of its union with the Godhead. But as head he guides other members of the body in external ways also, and this headship he has shared with others. They too are heads, though not like Christ: for he is head of the whole church at all times in all places and at all stages, whereas others are local heads (like bishops) or temporary (like popes) or heads only over those at a certain stage (like those still living their earthly life). 

      

Christ is head in his own right and strength, others only stand in for him.  But through Christ alone have we access to the grace in which we stand."  (Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas, A Concise Translation, p.389-90, Timothy McDermott, Christian Classics, Box 30, Westminster, Maryland 21157)

2. ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430)

"[In] the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should.... With you, where there is none of these things to attract or keep me.... No one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion.... For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus [Contra Epistolam Manichaei Quam Vacant Fundamenti.)

3.  ST. AMBROSE (340-397)

"We recognize in the letter of your holiness the vigilance of the good shepherd. You faithfully watch over the gate entrusted to you, and you with pious solicitude you guard Christ's sheepfold (Jn 10:7ff.), you are worthy to have the Lord's sheep hear follow you. Since you know the sheep of Christ you will easily catch the wolves and confront them like a wary shepherd, lest they disperse the Lord's flock by their constant lack of faith and their bestial howling." (Synodal Letter of Ambrose, Sabinus, Bassian, and Others to Pope Siricius 42,1).

"It is Peter himself that He says, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.' Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal." (Commentaries on Twelve of David's Psalms 40,30)

"Christ is the Rock, 'For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ,' and He did not refuse to bestow the favor of this title even upon His disciple, so that he, too, might be Peter [or, Rock], in that he has from the Rock a solid constancy, a firm faith." (Expos. in Luc.)

4.  ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347-407)

"For what purpose did He shed His blood? It was that He might win these sheep which he entrusted to Peter and his successors." (De Sacerdotio, 53)

"Peter himself the chief of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received a revelation not from man, but from the Father, as the Lord bears witness to him, saying, 'Blessed are thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and bone hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven'; this very Peter, - and when I name Peter, the great Apostles, I name that unbroken rock, that firm foundation, the great Apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called and the first who obeyed." (Homily 3 de Poenit. 4)

5.  ST. THEODORET OF CYR (393-457)

"This most holy See has preserved the supremacy over all Churches on the earth, for one especial reason among many others; to wit, that it has remained intact from the defilement of heresy. No one has ever sat on that Chair, who has taught heretical doctrine; rather that See has ever preserved unstained the Apostolic grace." (Epistle 116 to Renatus).

6.  ST. HILARY OF POTIERS (c. 300-368)

"Blessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys to the kingdom of heaven." (On the Trinity, 20, NPNF2, 9:105)

7.  ST. EPIPHANIUS (c. 458)

"At Rome. the first Apostles and bishops were Peter and Paul; then Linus, then Cletus, then Clement, the contemporary of Peter and Paul, whom Paul remembers in his Epistle to the Romans .... The succession of the bishops of Rome is as follows: Peter and Paul, Linus and Cletus, Clement, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telephorus, Hyginus, Pius, Anicetus, whom I have already mentioned above in my enumerating of the bishops. (The Panacea against All Heresies 27,6)

8.  ST. OPTATUS OF MILEVIS (c. 387)

"(F)or the good of unity blessed Peter, for whom it would have been enough if after his denial he had obtained pardone only, deserved to be placed before all the apostles, and alone received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to be communicated to the rest." (De Schismate Donatistorum,7:3(A.D. 370),in GILES,120)

9.  ST. BASIL THE GREAT (329-379)

"When we hear the name of Peter, that name does not cause our minds to dwell on his substance, but we figure to our minds the properties that are connected with him. For we at once, on hearing that name, think of the son of him that came Bethsaida, Andrew's brother; him that was called from amongst fishermen unto the ministry of the Apostleship; him who on account of the pre-eminence of his faith received upon himself the building of the Church." (Adv. Eunom. 4)

"It seemed to me to be desirable to send a letter to the bishop of Rome, begging him to examine our condition, and since there are difficulties in the way of representatives being sent from the West by a general synodial decree, to advise him to exercise his personal authority in the matter, choosing suitable persons to sustain the labors of a journey, - suitable, too, by gentleness and firmness of character, to correct the unruly among us here." (Letter 69 to Anathasius, NPNF2 8:165)

10.  ST. IRENAEUS OF LYON (c.120-195)

"With this Church [of Rome] it is necessary that each church agree, on account of its superior origin . . . in which has been preserved the tradition which is from the apostles . . . it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man depositing his money in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them [the heretics], but to love the things pertaining to the Church with the utmost care, and to lay hold of truth's tradition. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how would it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary in that case to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the churches?" (Against Heresies, 3:3-4, A.D.180).

11.  ST. CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (c. 230)

"The heretics dare to sail off and carry letters from profane schismatics to the chair of Peter, to the first of Churches from which first came the unity of the priesthood. Don't they know that they are Romans there, whose faith was praised by the preaching of the apostle, and among whom faithlessness can have no influence?" (Letter 59 to Pope Cornelius, 14, A.D. 252).

"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 of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed in heaven.' On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were also which Peter was, but a primacy was 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 a single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church is built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church? (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4)

12.  ST. MAXIMUS CONFESSOR (580-662)

"If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be . . . a heretic, it is certainly clear that everyone who condemns those who reject Pyrrhus condemns the See of Rome, that is he condemns the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also . . . It is unjust that anyone who has been condemned and expelled by the Apostolic See of Rome for his errors should be honored at all, until he has been received by her, returning to her and to the Lord Himself, by a devout confession of the orthodox faith, by which alone he can receive holiness . . . Let him hurry to satisfy in everything the See of Rome, for if Rome is satisfied all will agree that he is orthodox. For he only speaks foolishly who thinks he can persuade people like me, without first satisfying and begging the most blessed Pope of the Romans, the Apostolic See which has received universal and supreme authority and power of binding and loosing over all the Holy Churches of God in the whole world from the Incarnate Son of God Himself, and also by the holy synods in their canons and definitions. With it the Word who is above the powers of heaven binds and looses in heaven also. Anyone who thinks he can satisfy others without imploring pardon of the most blessed Pope of Rome, is acting like someone who is accused of murder or some other crime and does not prove his innocence to the lawfully appointed judge, but to uselessly demonstrate his innocence to private persons who have no power to acquit him" (Letter to the Priest Marinus of Cyprus, A.D. 641).

13.  ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN (325-389)

"Seest thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were great and deserving of the choice, one is called a rock, and is entrusted with the foundations of the Church; whilst another is the beloved, and reposes on the breast of Jesus; and the rest bear with the prior honor (thus bestowed). 

Neither does a man know, though he be the parent of an evil like unto Judas, whether his offspring shall become godlike Paul, or be unto Peter, - Peter who became the unbroken rock, and who had the keys delivered to him." (Oration 26, & Carm. 2 from Berington & Kirk, Faith of Catholics, 2:21)

*       *       *

Regarding the primacy of the Pope (also known as the Petrine Privilege), we have presented the tradition of centralized authority set by the twelve apostles in Jerusalem.  Regarding this and the tradition of beliefs expressed by the Early Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church; an important quote from Sacred Scripture is extremely relevant:

 

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter."   (2Thess2:15)

 

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FOOTNOTES

 

  Chief reference: PRIEST AND BISHOP---Biblical Reflections, Raymond E. Brown, S.S.,  Paulist Press, 1970.

  1Eyewitness to Jesus, TLC Video, © Double Exposure Ltd. Productions, www.thevideocompany.com ;

    http://www.tektonics.org/tekton_02_02_02.html 

 2Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Hosea 5:14)

 3For a discussion of the "brothers of Jesus" , see YOUR FAITH, The Immaculate Conception and other Truths of Mary, on this

   website.

 4Taken from "Peter the Rock" - A discussion on the views of the early Church Fathers by Martin Beckman

 5The combination "the Catholic Church" (katholike ekklesia) is found for the first time in the letter of St. Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, written about the year 110. The words run: "Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal (katholike) Church." (Catholic Encyclopedia.)  

 6www.newadvent.org

 7  Roman Catholics rightly claim continuity with Christ as the Founder of their Church for the simple but profound reason that the Deposit of Faith in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Doctrine is complete within its Magisteium, or Teaching Office. (Cf. Pope Paul VI; Redemptoris Misso)  Other Confessions of Christianity are Christian Churches which possess elements of salvation which are whole and entire within the Roman Catholic Church. (Cf.CCC:819; LG 8-2, Vatican II) Every Christian Church is a member of Christ and has a role to play in the quest for “One fold and One Shepherd”.  Jesus Christ, in His Gospel, is very clear about His desire for a single universality in His Church. Those who do not believe the Words of the Lord, (John 10: 16) but practice detraction---do so to their detriment.