DAILY CATHOLIC    THURSDAY     March 4, 1999     vol. 10, no. 44


To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO
          Pat Ludwa, a committed lay Catholic from Cleveland, has been asked to contribute, on a regular basis, a lay person's point of view on the Church today. We have been impressed with his insight and the clear logic he brings to the table from his "view from the pew." In all humility, by his own admission, he feels he has very little to offer, but we're sure you'll agree with us that his viewpoint is exactly what millions of the silent majority of Catholics believe and have been trying to say as well. Pat puts it in words that help all of us better understand and convey to others what the Church teaches and we must believe.

          Today he begins a two part series on the Chair of Peter and what it means as Pat traces scriptural proof as to the authority of Peter as thee authority of the universal Church and the authority handed down by Jesus Christ to Peter's successors as the Roman Pontiffs.

The Chair of Peter is not just furniture

      A few weeks ago on the 22nd of February, we celebrated the Feast of the Chair of Peter. And many probably wondered why. One can understand the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, Corpus Christi, and Christ the King. We understand the feast days of the saints, but the Chair of Peter? Critics of the Church will no doubt feel this is a made up feast day to justify the Papacy. But in reality, it's proper we should commemorate the founding of the Chair of Peter, just as we commemorate the founding of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

      If we really think about it, the Chair of Peter, the Papacy, is a great and wonderful gift of God. A gift we often take for granted, misunderstand, or misinterpret.

      One 'charge' is that Peter was no greater than any of the other Apostles. In a way, that's true. St. Cyprian, the martyr-bishop of Carthage wrote about the 'Chair of Peter' and the person who held that 'office'. He points out that He (Christ) assigned power to all the Apostles and that they were all Peter was. However, a 'primacy' was given to Peter alone. We can see this in Scripture. "And Jesus came and said to them (the Apostles), 'All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.'" (Matthew. 28:18-19).

      Note that Christ bestows on the Apostles His own authority. To teach as he taught, and that He will be with them for all time, through their successors. Many latch onto this passage as 'proof' that no 'bishop' holds any real primacy. Hence we have some who follow 'national' Churches, where the national bishop holds the primacy. Others see this as to mean that God gives His authority to ALL of His disciples. But if we really read the entire passage, we note that He is speaking only to His Apostles, not just His disciples. (Though many newer editions replace Apostles with disciples)

      Christ also gives to all His Apostles the authority to forgive sins. " 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.'" (John 20: 21-23).

      And the Lord promised them the Holy Spirit to know what to teach; "These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you...I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you."(John 14:25-26 &16:12-15).

      Now it's true that the Lord bestows the Holy Spirit to all His followers, but the gifts He gives is for the building of the Church. Hence not all receive the Holy Spirit to do as the Apostles did (ref. 1 Corinthians 12:4-31).

      So far, we see no difference between Peter and the rest of the Apostles. However, if we read the Scriptures more closely, we see a 'primacy' is given to Peter, as well as special and unique 'gifts' that correspond to this primacy. First, it is Peter, not the rest of the Apostles, who is called the Rock on which the Church is to be built.

  • 1.Matthew 16:18: "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."

          The "rock" (Greek, "petra") referred to here is St. Peter himself, not his faith or Jesus Christ. Christ appears here not as the foundation, but as the architect who "builds." The Church is built, not on confessions, but on confessors - living men (see, for example, 1 Peter 2:5). Today, the overwhelming consensus of the great majority of all biblical scholars and commentators is in favor of the traditional Catholic understanding. Here St. Peter is spoken of as the foundation-stone of the Church, making him head and superior of the family of God - that is, the seed of the doctrine of the papacy. Moreover, "Rock" embodies a metaphor applied to him by Christ in a sense analogous to the suffering and despised Messiah (see 1 Peter 2:4-8; Matthew 21:42). Without a solid foundation a house falls. St. Peter is the foundation, but not founder of the Church; administrator, but not Lord of the Church. The Good Shepherd (John 10:11) gives us other shepherds as well (Ephesians 4:11)." (The Pre-Eminence of St. Peter - 50 New Testament Proofs by: Dave Armstrong - a convert to Catholicism from Evangelicalism.) The 'keys' Christ gives to Peter denotes a special responsibilty.

  • 2. Matthew 16:19: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven."

          The "power" of the keys has to do with ecclesiastical discipline and administrative authority with regard to the requirements of the faith, as in Isaiah 22:22 (see Isaiah 9:6; Job 12:14; Apocalypse/Revelation 3:7). From this power flows the use of censures, excommunication, absolution, baptismal discipline, the imposition of penances and legislative powers. In the Old Testament, a steward, or prime minister, is a man who is "over a house" (Genesis 41:40; 43:19; 44:4; 1 Kings 4:6; 16:9; 18:3; 2 Kings 10:5; 15:5; 18:18; Isaiah 22:15, 20-21)." (Ibid) Even his (Peter's) authority to 'loose and bind' is different from the Apostles authority to forgive sin.

  • 3. Matthew 16:19: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven."

          "Binding" and "loosing" were technical rabbinical terms, which meant to "forbid" and "permit" with reference to the interpretation of the law and, secondarily, to "condemn," "place under the ban" or "acquit." Thus St. Peter and the Popes are given the authority to determine the rules for doctrine and life by virtue of revelation and the Spirit's leading (see John 16:13), as well as to demand obedience from the Church. "Binding and loosing" represent the legislative and judicial powers of the papacy and the bishops (Matthew 18:17-18; John 20:23). St. Peter, however, is the only apostle who receives these powers by name and in the singular, making him pre-eminent." (Ibid)

          Peter is the only Apostle who Christ prays for that his faith will stand, and he is the only one told to strengthen and confirm his fellow Apostles. "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" (Luke 22:31-32).

          Peter is the only Apostle given Christ's title of the Good Shepherd, to be the good shepherd for His flock on earth. "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" (John 21:15-17). Peter is told to feed and tend Christ's flock on earth.

          Now, why was it important for Christ to establish this 'primacy' of Peter? Why establish, as St. Cyprian writes, "a single Chair, thus establishing by His own authority the source and hallmark of the Church's oneness"? Christ taught with authority. They were not mere opinions. He is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. Not A way, A truth, and A life. His teachings are the same and hold the same authority, yesterday, today and tomorrow. (ref. Hebrews 13:8)

          Now, Christ could have promised the Holy Spirit to all His followers, the presumption of those who believe in personal interpretation of the Scriptures. ("The Lord has given me the Holy Spirit to understand His Word.") But Christ also knew that satan can quote Scripture as well. (ref. Matthew 4: 5-6) Even Martin Luther saw this; "There are as many sects and beliefs as there are heads. This fellow will have nothing to do with baptism; another denies the sacraments; a third believes there is another world between this and the Last Day. Some teach that Christ is not God; some say this, some say that. There is no rustic so rude that, if he dreams or fancies anything, it must be the whispers of the Holy Spirit and he himself is a prophet."

          So Christ establishes one Chair, one office, to confirm, strengthen, and teach the entire Church. It is, if you will, the 'God keeping seal of approval'.

          Now, many will say that this isn't true. That Peter was just another voice in the 1st Council of the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:5-21) and that James was the head of the Council. But James was the 'host' of the Council as the bishop of Jerusalem. "Peter presides over and opens the first council of Christianity, and lays down principles afterward accepted by it (Acts 15:7-11)." (The Pre-Eminence of St. Peter - 50 New Testament Proofs by: Dave Armstrong - a convert to Catholicism from Evangelicalism.)

          Others will point out that Paul chastised Peter for his actions toward the Gentiles. Here we see the confusion over the difference between 'infallibility' and 'impeccability'. No one said Peter was a perfect Christian. One author says Peter, especially before his denial and repentance, suffered from foot in mouth disease. Paul merely pointed out that Peter, always the devout Jew, couldn't act with a double standard. Either Gentiles were Christians or they weren't. Why say they were brothers and not eat with them when other Jews were around? This has been ongoing in the Church's history. The sexual excesses of Pope Alexander (the Borgia Pope), as well as others. Peter made mistakes. The 'commune' he established was a bust, it didn't work. But it wasn't a matter of faith and morals. Just as Pope Honorius I was accused of heresy because the Monophysite heretics misused his 'opinion' that though Christ was of two natures, they were of one will. (His writing to Patriarch Sergius were not well written and offered only an opinion as a fellow bishop, not a teaching as the Head of the Church)

          Consider that it could only be the hand of God and the 'negative safeguard' of the gift of infallibility, that kept the 'bad' Popes from changing Church teaching to suit their own personal wants and desires.

          So, it is fitting that we celebrate, commemorate, and contemplate the Feast of the Chair of Peter every year. For by this wonderful gift of God, we can be sure that we will not run off after fables, we will not follow a different 'shepherd' who says, "I am he!". We can be assured that the teachings of the Church as Christ's who sends the Holy Spirit to recall what He taught, to confirm His teaching, and assure that Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

          On Monday I will elaborate more on the Teaching Authority of the Pope for he is infallible in faith and morals in Teaching ex cathedra "from the Chair of Peter."

      Pax Christi, Pat

  • March 4, 1999       volume 10, no. 44


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