"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and
it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to
them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And
they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other
tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2: 1-4).
And the Church was born, a gift of God surpassed only by His Body and
Blood in the Blessed Sacrament. However, what do we, and God, mean by the
Church? Is it a conglomeration of believers professing faith in God each
according to their own experiences and wisdom? Changeable according to the
times it finds itself?
Though the Church was "born" on Pentecost, our Lord 'conceived' it much
"And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and
blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in Heaven. And I
tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the
powers of death shall not prevail against it'" (Matthew 16: 17-18).
The previous passages hold insights many miss. When asked who the people,
including His followers, said He was, the answers were "Some say John the
Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets"
So 'the people of God' couldn't agree Who He was. Interestingly, no one
said except Peter said that He was the Son of God. Some feel that Jesus
was saying that He is the rock, however theologians and biblical scholars
who honestly read and study this, see that Jesus is saying that Peter is
the rock. Christ used a number of analogies in regard to Himself. The
cornerstone, the vine, and others. But never the rock.
As Dave Armstrong, a convert to Catholicism, points in his article The
Pre-Eminence of St. Peter - 50 New Testament Proofs "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 Pt 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 1Pt 2: 4-8; Mt 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 (Jn 10:11) gives us other shepherds as well (Eph 4:11)."
So, Peter is the 'rock' on which this Church will be built. Note, Christ
said that He will 'build' His Church. It isn't built yet. But why build
it in the first place?
"And Jesus began to say to them, 'Take heed that no one leads you astray.
Many will come in My name, saying, "I am he!" and they will lead many
astray"'" (Mark 13: 5-6).
"So Jesus again said to them, '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 anyone 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'" (John 10: 7-10).
Christ knew, human nature being what it is, that many would come claiming
to be His followers leading many to stray from the truth. He went on to
say in John, "So there shall be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16). One
flock, one Church that listens to Him, not a conglomeration of churches or
followers going their own way.
So this Church that He was building would be built on the Rock which is
Peter, and keep the faithful from straying into fables, whims, and
pointless speculations. It would teach the faithful and spread His word
with His authority.
"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus
had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some
doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, '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: 16-20).
It should be noted that Christ was speaking to His eleven Apostles, not
just His disciples. And by bestowing His authority to them and promising
to be with them for all time, to listen to them would mean listening to
Him. Disregarding them would mean disregarding Him. (ref. Luke 10:16).
But this Church would also continue His work of salvation on earth. To
St. Peter, Christ said, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you
loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven'" (Matthew 16:19). This was more
than what He gave the other Apostles later, it denoted a higher calling and
mission. Again, Dave Armstrong shows us:
"Matthew 16:19: 'And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of
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 Is 9:6; Jb 12:14; Rv 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" (Gn 41:40;
43:19; 44:4; 1Kgs 4:6; 16-19; 18:3; 2Kgs 10:5; 15:5; 18:18; Is 22:15, 20-21) and then there is
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 (Mt. 18: 17-18; Jn 20:23). St. Peter, however, is the only
apostle who receives these powers by name and in the singular, making him
pre-eminent. (The Pre-Eminence of St. Peter - 50 New Testament Proofs).
And to the other Apostles He also gives the authority to forgive sins,
which was His mission on earth, to forgive sins and reconcile mankind with
"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
There are numerous other passages, which show Christ's intent to build a
Church that would continue His teachings and mission. But we see here how
the framework of the Church has been set. The hierarchy has been
established. But it was yet to be born.
"'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.' And when He had said this, as they were looking on, He
was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they
were gazing into Heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white
robes and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into Heaven?
This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same
way as you saw Him go into Heaven'" (Acts 1: 8-11).
So here are the Apostles, given Christ's authority, given their mission
and tasks, but not sure how to begin, what to say, or to whom. But on
Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them and bestowed on them the unique
gift to guide the 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. For these men are not drunk, as you
suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day,'" (Acts 2: 14-16).
Peter is with the eleven teaching these people about God. Filled with the
Holy Spirit and prompted by Him on what to say, as Christ promised. (ref.
Jn. 14:26; 16:12-15).
Note here that neither Mary, Christ's mother, nor any of the others
present with the Apostles, are speaking to the crowd. They too have the
Holy Spirit, but their gifts are of another sort. They nurture the seeds
planted by the Apostles. But it's the Apostles who preach and guide the
entire Church. The Roman, Cornelius, doesn't ask for any Christian, but
Peter. When the question arises whether a Christian must first become a
Jew and/or become circumcised, they various church's don't take a vote on
it. Rather, the Church holds a Council which is hosted by James (the
bishop of Jerusalem) but headed by Peter, who gives the definitive teaching
on the matter.
So much more could be written on this subject. But Vatican II sums it up:
"This is the one Church of Christ, which in the Creed is professed as one,
holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection,
commissioned Peter to shepherd (cf. Jn 21:17) and him and the other apostles to
extend and direct with authority, (cf. Mat. 28:18), which He erected for all
ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". (cf. 1 Tim 3:15). This Church
constituted and organized in the world as a society subsists in the
Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the
Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and
of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as
gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward
Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and
persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might
communicate the fruits of salvation to men. Christ Jesus, "though He was
by nature God…emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave", (Phil 2:6)
and "being rich, became poor" (2 Cor 8-9) for our sakes. Thus the Church,
although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up
to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example humility
and self-sacrifice. Christ was sent by the Father "to bring good news to
the poor, to heal the contrite of heart", (Lk 4:18) "to seek and to save
what was lost" (Lk 19:10). Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all
who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees
the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve
their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy,
innocent and undefiled (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin, (2 Cor 5:21) but
came to expiate only the sins of the people, (Heb 2:17) the Church,
embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of
being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal. The Church,
"like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions
of the world and the consolations of God" (St. Augustine), announcing the
cross and death of the Lord until He comes. (1 Cor. 11:26). By the power
of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in
love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from
without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly,
the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full
light. (Lumen Gentium; Dogmatic Constitution on the Church; Chap 1 The
Mystery of the Church)