“If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” – Cyprian, A.D. 246
We will establish the following facts regarding Peter and the Papacy in this essay:
- Peter acted as the leader of the apostles
- Peter also acted as Christ’s representative – his Vicar
- The Church was established “on” Peter as Its first leader
- To Peter was given the “Keys” representing earthly and divine authority, including “binding” and “loosing”
- This authority includes infallibility in faith & morals
- Peter established the See of Rome and was martyred there
- The See of Rome was “Prime”
- Peter’s office lived on past him via the successor he appointed, which has continued to the present time. (This is a logical necessity since Christ promised His Church would always exist and He would now allow it to fall into a leaderless state – He left it with a leader for a reason.)
Peter is the Leader of the Apostles
I have to admit that when I first encountered the fact that many Protestants (especially “Bible Christians”) do not acknowledge that Peter was the head of the apostles, I was truly amazed – there are few things in Scripture clearer than this simple fact. (But, of course, to see this, one has to read the New Testament thoroughly and completely. The Protestant practice of “proof-texting” encourages “reading in the small” and actually pitting Scripture against Scripture, hiding and distorting many teachings of the Bible.)
Before going through Scripture, be aware of some simple facts such as that Peter is named in Scripture more times than all the other apostles combined and that he is always listed first whenever the apostles are enumerated (with two exceptions where that wouldn’t make sense for other reasons.)
Concerning being named “first”, what does that mean, exactly? Is it just a matter of ordering – which alone would suggest primacy? No, it turns out that there is more to it than that. As is very often the case in Scripture, the full depth of meaning of Peter being called “the first” is lost in translations to virtually all other languages: only the original Greek preserves the full original intent.
“And the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon who is called Peter...” (Matthew 10:2) John Salza writes “The description of Simon as ‘the first’ (in Green, protos) is a special title that means ‘first and foremost’ or ‘primary first’. Peter’s description as ‘the first’ is not an arbitrary numerical detail or a chronological indicator of when Peter became an apostle. In fact, Peter was not the first apostle to follow Jesus. In John’s Gospel, we learn that Andre, Peter’s brother, was the first apostle to have faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Yet, Matthew gives Peter the title ‘primary one,’ or protos. When Jesus met Simon (Peter), He immediately changed his name to Cephas, which is Aramaic for ‘rock’.” So, we see that Scripture very explicitly teaches that Peter was the prime, most important apostle – the leader of the apostles!
Protos is also used elsewhere in both the New and Old (Septuagint– Greek translation) Testaments: in Luke’s parable of the prodigal son (the ‘first’ robe), Acts (Publius, the ‘first man’ of the island), by Paul to describe himself as the ‘first’ sinner, and in Nehemiah (the chief (‘first’) singers).
Below is a set of passages clearly displaying that Peter was both the most important apostle and their leader. It was compiled from several sources and is not exhaustive – there are many more verses that could be quoted:
Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:15-17)
No other apostle is recorded as making an infallible divine revelation. Peter is also the first to confess Christ’s divinity.
And I say to 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 to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.  (Matthew 16:18-20)
Peter is the foundation of the Church (a foundation) and is given the Keys of authority. Much more on this below.
He said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom? of their own children, or of strangers?  And he said: Of strangers. Jesus said to him: Then the children are free.
 But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee. (Matthew 17:24-27)
The tax collector approached Peter because Peter speaks for Christ. Peter pays both his and Christ’s tax.
Peter speaks for the apostles on many, many occasions: Matthew 18:21, 19:27, 10:28, 11:21, 14:37, Luke 8:45 and 12:41, and more. This fact alone – given that so other apostles acts in such a role – makes clear his primacy.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see him, as he told you. (Mark 16:7)
The angel singles out Peter.
In Luke, Jesus is seeing preaching from Peter’s boat – Peter’s “barque” was seen as a type (metaphor) for the Church by the early Fathers and since. Only Peter is called “the fisher of men”. In John 21:7, only Peter runs to the shore to meet Jesus.
And Jesus answering, said to him: Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee. But he said: Master, say it. (Luke 7:40)
Christ addresses Peter specifically and again Peter speaks for the apostles.
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. (John 21:15-17)
Peter declares in answer to Christ’s question that his love for Christ is greater than that of the others. Christ responds by ordering to tend to His flock in a leadership position.
In Luke Chapter 9, it is only Peter that speaks at the Transfiguration. Later, in Chapter 22, Jesus prays for his (Peter’s) faith in particular – the faith of the first leader of the Church, and commands him to strengthen the others.
In John 6, Peter speaks first after Christ’s Eucharistic discourse and confesses his belief.
In John 13:36 and 21:18, Christ’s speaks of Peter’s martyrdom – no other apostle is singled-out in this way. (The first thirty-one popes were all martyred for their faith in Christ.)
In John Chapter 20, the “beloved disciple” waits for Peter before entering the empty tomb.
The Book of Acts makes Peter’s leadership role in the early Church extremely clear as well (there will be more on this below). It is Peter who initiates the naming of Judas’ successor and provides over the council, pronouncing decision on the doctrinal question of circumcision, Peter who speaks for the apostles after Pentecost (2:14), Peter who first preaches baptism in Jesus Christ (2:38), Peter through whom the first healings are performed (3:6-7) (even Peter’s cloak heals!), Peter anathemizes Ananias and Sapphira and binds their sins (5:3), Peter who performs the first confirmation (8:14), Peter who judges Simon (8:20-23), heals Aeneas (9:32-34), and Peter who raises Tabitha (9:38-40).
In Acts 10, an angel commands Cornelius to call on Peter specifically. In 12:5, the entire church prays for Peter, who is the freed by an angel.
In 1 Cor 15:4-8, Paul distinguishes Peter in describing Christ’s appearance “to Cephas, than to the twelve”. Even after receiving Christ’s direct divine revelation, Paul spends fifteen days with Peter before beginning his ministry (Gal 1:18) – the Greek text here makes it clear that Paul approached Peter as a student approaches a teacher.
In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter makes clear his implicit role of leadership by “extorting” the other bishops. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter speaks regarding the proper interpretation of Paul’s letters.
This section would have been very long indeed had all the relevant Scripture passages been quoted in their entirety – I did not do so for the sake of brevity.
Peter Is The Rock On Which Christ Founds His Church
Matthew 16:13-20 is, of course, one of the key passages establishing the leadership of Peter (and much more). Here it is:
“And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is?  But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?
 Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I say to 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 to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.  Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.”
This passage is full of important and amazing things:
- Peter relates, infallibly, a theological truth given to him directly by God
- Christ will build His Church upon Peter (and this Church will never be defeated by Hell – it will last until the end of time)
- Peter is given the “keys” to Christ’s kingdom – the authority to “bind” and “loose”
Let’s look at these things one by one.
Jesus asks his disciples Who He really is. When Peter responds with “Thou art Christ the Son of the Living God”, He tells him that God revealed this divine truth to him directly. Thus, Peter has exhibited the ability to make infallible declarations of doctrine (this ability is the basis of papal infallibility).
John Salza notes that this ability that Peter exhibits had nothing to do with faith (all the apostles had faith) nor certainly with his education or intelligence, for the Gospels establish that Peter was “illiterate and ignorant” (Acts 4:13). God, it seems, very often chooses deliberately the weakest vessels through which to act, for that serves to underscore all the more that it is He that is doing the acting.
The changing of Peter’s name was obviously a symbolic act, implying a “title” and a change of status, and Scripture is replete other examples of name changes carrying the same connotations. Keating: “Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram was changed to Abraham (Gen 17:5); Jacob to Israel (Gen 32:38); Eliacim to Joakim (2 Kings 23:34); and Daniel, Ananias, Misael, and Azarias to Baltassar, Sidrach, Misach, And Abdenago (Dan 1:6-8). But no Jew had ever been called Rock because that was reserved for God.”
Christ then responds with His famous words regarding the establishment of the Church upon Peter “Rock”. This passage so clearly and unambiguously teaches that Christ did, in fact, “build His church” upon Peter that Protestants since the time of Luther have expended great effort on attempting to silence it. But all of these arguments amount to sophistry, and the passage and its unambiguous clarity stand.
Although this is a subject that virtually all Catholic apologists weigh-in on, John Salza has the most in-depth and complete repudiation of all the common Protestant “challenges” (none of which, amazingly, have any record whatsoever of existing before the 16th century). I will deal with only a couple of the most oft-repeated objections here, drawing heavily from his excellent work “The Biblical Basis for the Papacy”.
The “God is the Rock” Argument
There are many places in the Old Testament where God is referred to as “rock”, and so Protestants argue that Christ must have actually been referring to God (or Himself – He also being God). But this is just completely nonsensical, for Christ was referring to Peter literally and there is no way around this. In fact, the fact that previously “rock” had been used to refer to God makes the passage all the more remarkable.
Besides the fact that the text clearly has Christ referring to Peter as the “Rock”, there is the large problem that Christ is doing so because He had already given Peter “Rock” as his name (which is what Peter/Cephas means) as described in John 1:42.
In fact there is no difficulty with God being likened to a “rock” and Peter (“Rock”!) being called Rock as well – Scripture in many instances uses the same name or metaphor to apply to different things. Both Jesus and the apostles are called the foundation of the Church, both Christ and all Christians referred to as “stones”, and both Christ and the faithful called the “temple of God”, for example.
This argument, like so many (virtually all?) Protestant objections to Catholic doctrine, is based on the unhealthy and illogical practice of pitting Scripture against Itself: reading in the small and “proof-texting” by literally claiming that one part of Scripture (the most overtly Catholics part) is contradicted and “outdone” by another part. But that is foolishness; all Scripture is true and free from error. And Catholic doctrine weaves it all into a harmonious whole with no contradictions.
The fact is that Scripture repeatedly assigns divine attributes to Peter and the other apostles, because the Church is a divine institution.
In addition, there actually is an Old Testament precedent to a man being called “Rock” as well: Abraham. Here is Isaiah 51:1-2:
“ Give ear to me, you that follow that which is just, and you that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you are dug out.  Look unto Abraham your father, and to Sara that bore you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and multiplied him.”
Here Abraham is equated with the “rock” in verse one. (Salza outlines the uncanny parallels between Abraham and Peter: each a patriarch of a covenant of God, each the first leader of their respective Covenants, both shepherds of the people of the Covenant, both had their name changed by God, and both called “rock”.)
The “Peter is the Small Rock” Argument
Since it’s very clear that Peter is indeed (literally) Rock and that Christ tells him he (Peter) will be the foundation of the Church, another line of Protestation has been to argue, via a tortured linguistic gymnastic, that while Peter is indeed a “rock” he is a “small” (or female) rock and Christ is, in contract, a “large” rock.
Of course, this one is also completely untenable and is revealed as nothing more than clever sophistry under scrutiny. (And while I do not speak or read Greek, I believe those who say that no native Greek speaker reading the original Greek text would ever read it in the sense that the proponents of this argument insist on.)
The argument is a linguistic one based on the fact that Greek has both masculine and feminine forms of nouns. In the Greek translation (of Christ’s words most likely spoken in Aramaic – more on that below), Christ calls Peter “Petros” initially but in the “build my church” phrase uses “petra” for “rock”. Protestants argue that Christ used this contrast because he was referring to Peter as a “pebble” but Himself as the “rock” on which the Church is built.
The first problem is that the language that most historians (Christian and otherwise) say Christ and His followers spoke, Aramaic, does not have gender-specific nouns (which should not be surprising to us English-speakers as we don’t either). If this is true – and it’s extremely likely it is – there is no way the argument can have any merit whatsoever because there is only one form of rock (neuter) in Aramaic just as there is in English.
But, to continue with the Greek: it turns out that the grammatical rules of the language do require the two different forms of rock be used, because of the gender of the object (Peter). Petra is a feminine noun naturally, but when used as the name of a man its masculine form – Petros – must be used. Also, it is not true – according to the experts – that Greek requires genders to match when they are used to refer to the same object – that is true only of pronouns. Any exegist who is honestly fluent in Greek can confirm these things.
John Salza again goes into the details expertly, and also provides great evidence that petra means only a large, immovable rock, providing many examples from Scripture of the contrary.
Says D.A. Carson (a Protestant): “Although it is true that petros and petra can mean 'stone' and 'rock' respectively in earlier Greek, the distinction is largely confined to poetry. Moreover, the underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; and most probably kepha was used in both clauses ('you are kepha' and 'on this kepha'), since the word was used both for a name and for a 'rock.' The Peshitta (written in Syriac, a language cognate with Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses. The Greek makes the distinction between petros and petra simply because it is trying to preserve the pun, and in Greek the feminine petra could not very well serve as a masculine name." (Carson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary [Zondervan, 1984], volume 8, page 368, as cited in Butler/Dahlgren/Hess, page 17-18)
I must draw attention a final time to the fact that these arguments are contrived and artificial. Furthermore, if they had merit, they would do in themselves fatal damage to the Protestant tenet of private interpretation of Scripture! No Christian reading this passage without bias would read into it what Protestants want read into it – if it were true that it does not mean what it says so clearly it could not be true that all of Scripture can be easily understood by anyone who “has the Spirit”.
Peter Is Given The Keys
It’s very useful, before analyzing the Scripture pertaining to Christ’s bestowing of the Keys, to reflect a bit on the meaning of things like keys of authority and “binding & loosing”. Matthew’s gospel was written specifically for the Jews, and some say written in Hebrew as well as Greek, and it is full of parallels to the Old Testament.
Jews in Christ’s time were, of course, anticipating the coming of the Messiah who would restore David’s kingdom (established around 1,000 BC, and which God promised would endure forever). In David’s kingdom, the king would appoint a steward to rule in his absence, and this steward was given a “key” symbolizing this authority. First century Jews would have immediately understood that Christ’s use of the word “key” to symbolize authority was a parallel to the Davidic kingdom. (“The Old Testament is the New concealed, but the New Testament is the Old revealed", as Augustine said.)
The story of the steward Eliacim is frequently cited in reference to Peter’s stewardship. Here is a relevant passage from Isaiah:
 And I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda.  And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.  And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father.  And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, divers kinds of vessels, every little vessel, from the vessels of cups even to every instrument of music.  In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall the peg be removed, that was fastened in the sure place: and it shall be broken and shall fall: and that which hung thereon, shall perish, because the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 22:21-25)
Note the many parallels between this passage, which it seems apparent Christ had in mind when addressing Peter, and Matthew 16:
- Jesus is now ascending the throne of David, and He too now appoints a steward
- Eliacim is described as a “father” over a “household” with authority
- What he “opens” and “shuts” (binds & looses) no one shall oppose
According to Jewish Tradition King Hezekiah was the most close “type” of the Messiah. God even “raised him up” from death (sickness) on the third day! In this typology Christ is the new Hezekiah and Peter the new Eliacim.
Steve Ray Notes, “The parallels between Peter and Eliakim [sic] are striking. The physical kingdom of Israel has been superseded by the spiritual kingdom of God. The office of steward in the old economy is now superseded by the Petrine office with the delegation and handing on of the keys. The office of steward was successive, and so is the Petrine office in the new kingdom."
Further, Christ, in fact, told several parables recorded in the New Testament regarding a “master” or king and a steward to which he delegates authority in the master’s absence. In fact, in Luke 12:42 he even tells Peter directly that he (Peter) is the steward in the parable!
There is also a direct parallel between the “binding and loosing” Christ grants to Peter and the authority of the Old Covenant: this was the language used by the Sanhedrin to describe what they permitted or forbade in their Rabbinical teaching office. As with the Keys, the Jews would have immediately understood that God’s authority was moving from His representatives in the Old Covenant to those of the new – Peter first. (Don’t make the mistake of believing Christ did not respect the authority of the Sanhedrin: He ordered the people to do what they say, just not what they do, because they were hypocrites. But, He regards their authority as divine as they sit on the “Chair of Moses” – a concept not found in the Old Testament but part of the Jewish oral tradition.)
Indeed, the papacy is the archetype prefigured by the type of the Davidic stewards. A critical thing to keep in mind, though, is that the King delegates His authority to the steward – the steward is 2nd to the King and exercises authority for the King in the King’s absence. This is why Christ speaks continuously of “My Church” and “My people” – we are indeed His, with Peter and his successors only standing in His stead with His full permission and divinely granted authority. This point is driven home by the fact that immediately after granting Peter the Keys Christ speaks of His own imminent death (“From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again.”) – there is the need for a steward.
Of course, Protestants have objections over these things too. (Curiously, as with virtually every single area of Protestant conflict with Catholic teaching, there is no record at all of any of these objections existing or being given serious weight by anyone before the 16th century.)
And as is often the case, these objections revolve largely around what I would have to call “word games” and “reading in the small” (picking out verses that only seem to contradict others, and thus pitting Scripture against Scripture). For example, it has been claimed that when Christ spoke of the “Kingdom of Heaven” He meant only the afterlife – yet from His parables it is clear this is not true. The mustard seed, the sower, leaven, a net catching fishes – all are metaphors for the evangelization and growth of the Church on Earth. Furthermore, Christ said this Kingdom would have “bad seeds” and “fools” – neither are to be found in eternal beatitude.
Likewise, it has been claimed that because Christ’s use of “Keys” is indeed plural it does not have anything in common with the Davidic key of authority – a nearly preposterous contention given all the evidence. John Salza makes sense of the plurality of the Keys in his excellent book The Biblical Basis of the Papacy – Peter was given two separate realms of authority, earthly (Church administration) and Heavenly – the power over souls that the binding and loosing entails. (See Rev 1:18 where the “keys of death and Hell” are referenced.)
It is well known that Paul rebuked Peter in his epistle and much has been made of this. Yet, Scripture does not undo Scripture; the authority given to Peter by Christ so clearly established in the New Testament is not undone if Paul had a disagreement with Christ’s Vicar. In fact, the Holy Spirit may have enshrined this incidence in Scripture (along with examples of Peter’s sin or weakness) to clarify the nature of the papacy: the Pope is not God and the Pope is not perfect. He can sin, and in fact all of them have sinned. And he can certainly make practical decisions that are imprudent or possibly just not popular with everyone!
Despite what has been written about the incident of Paul rebuking Peter for not eating with gentiles, it is not a foregone conclusion (despite what I myself used to think) that Peter sinned here – he may have simply unintentionally offended. In any case, it was Peter that first opened the Church to non-Jews and was the first to baptize them – there’s no evidence he practiced some sort of deep-seated prejudice. If he did, though, it’s clear that Christ didn’t remove him as head of the Church. The fact that Paul refers to him as Cephas in that passage underscores the fact that Paul acknowledged his authority over him.
Another objection frequently raised is that all of the apostles have authority (amusingly, this objection is most frequently raised by Christians who claim that Church leaders had and have no authority). I will not devote a great deal of effort to this question because it is something else clearly responded to by Scripture: the other apostles did indeed have authority (as their successors, the world’s bishops, do) but that authority is secondary to the Vicar’s and exercised only in concert with his. This is why only Peter was expressly given the Keys, only Peter was renamed “Rock”, and why the early Church clearly recognized Peter as the prime apostle and leader of the Church as has been made clear.
David Currie paraphrases the great G.K. Chesterson regarding these Keys: [Chesterson] “made an interesting point by observing that keys are unique and cannot be altered without making them useless. It is no good saying that the shape of a certain key doesn’t please me, and so I will file it down. If I change the key, I make it useless for its original purpose.” He continues, “Some Evangelicals wish that Rome’s authority within the Catholic Church were less complex, or less physical, or less spiritual, or less worldly, or less something else. They learn for the elusive “simple religion of Jesus”. We must never forget, however, that it is not our prerogative to demand change to suit our fancy. The keys to rule the Church permanently were given to Peter and to his successors in Rome, not even to the other apostles, let alone to me. If I refuse the key provided, I have only myself to blame if I fumble at the door.”
As John Salza points out, if Christ promised that Hell “would not prevail” against His Church than the Church Itself is a divine institution, for so it must be to survive such an attack - nor would Hell attack in the first place if there Church were merely natural. Satan hates the Church for the Church is the means by which Christ snatches souls from his grasp.
To define the doctrine, I could quote the Catechism, but I’ll quote Keating, because this is a good quote: “Through the guardianship of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is guaranteed not to teach error regarding faith or morals (presuming, of course, he intends to make an ex cathedra statement and is not speaking as a private scholar). But he cannot teach what is true unless he first knows what is true, and he learns that the same way we do. Catholics who fail this quiz [on the definition of the doctrine] may understand why nearly all Fundamentalists misunderstand infallibility. They do not know what ‘infallibility’ means. Most of them hear ‘infallibility’ and hear ‘impeccability’. They think Catholics believe the Pope cannot sin.” (These last three sentences are very important: confused anti-Catholics seem to put tremendous effort into trying to prove that this or that pope was evil or did evil things. Yes, that’s right: popes are sinners. Every one, starting with Peter. Christ knew that Peter was a sinner and yet gave him His Keys. And He knew every other pope would be a sinner, too. That is fine, because the Holy Spirit simply will not allow these men to teach error officially in their capacity of leader of the Church, and none of them ever have.)
In fact, the infallibility of Christ’s Vicar in matters pertaining to salvation (faith & morality) is implied directly by His words to Peter in Matthew 16 as well as the logical necessity for and fact of the apostolic succession of Peter’s office. Christ told Peter that Heaven would ratify his decisions – God cannot ratify error! Peter & his successors teach only what the Holy Spirit inspires them to teach, and by definition these things are true! It is essentially just that simple.
The infallibility of the Successor of Peter in matters of faith & morals was recognized by the early Church. Like many Christian doctrines (dogmas), its understanding grew over time, and in this particular case it was a long time indeed before the doctrine was formalized into dogma. (Some of the most core and important Christological truths that virtually all Protestants accept (usually implicitly) were not formalized until the 4th century.) Yet Cyprian of Carthage, writing about 256, asked, ‘Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence Apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?’”
Peter Established the See of Rome
An intelligent reading of Scripture alone makes it clear at the very least that Peter did live and preach in Rome.
1 Peter is ended with “The Church here in Babylon”. Babylon was used as a codeword for Rome in the early Church – it is used that way many times in Revelations, for example. It was the New Babylon (persecutor of God); it was the great city. Why would Peter speak in code? Well, of course, he was a wanted man. Certainly no heathen Roman who intercepted his letter would have any idea that “Babylon” referred to Rome, but any contemporary Jewish Christian would understand immediately.
But the testimony of the early Church is overwhelming on this question – there is no shortage whatsoever of clear documentation. Faith of the Early Fathers (Jurgens), produces references with more than thirty variances of the phrases “Peter went to Rome and died there” and “Peter established his See in Rome”. Whether or not Peter did in fact establish a congregation in Rome and was martyred there has never been a serious question for anyone who has any knowledge of the early Church at all. And thus I will spend very little time here.
To continue, here are a few specifics: Dionysius of Corinth, writing to Soter, the 12th Pope around 170: "You have also, by your very admonition, brought together the planting that was made by Peter and Paul at Rome."
Eusebius Pamphilius in only 42 AD: "… the apostle Peter, after he has established the Church in Antioch, is sent to Rome, where he remains as bishop of that
city, preaching the Gospel for 25 years.” He added “Nero is the first, in addition to all his other crimes, to make a persecution against the Christians, in which Peter and Paul died gloriously in Rome."
Ignatius, around 110, remarked that he could not command the “Roman Christians” the way “Peter and Paul once did”.
Anglican scholar J.N.D. Kelly comments, "It seems certain that Peter spent his closing years in Rome. Although the NT appears silent about such a stay, it is supported by 1 Peter 5:13, where 'Babylon' is a code-name for Rome, and by the strong case for linking the Gospel of Mark, who as Peter's companion (1 Pet 5:13) is said to have derived its substance from him, with Rome. To early writers like Clement of Rome (c. 95), Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107), and Irenaeus (c. 180) it was common knowledge that he worked and died in Rome."
Peter lived, preached, and died in Rome. Furthermore, we know exactly where he was buried: directly under the Vatican, as tradition (that’s tradition with a lower-case ‘t’) has always said. Such is the opinion of the expert archaeologists who excavated his tomb. See Walsh’s The Bones of St. Peter for the full story.
The See of Rome Was Prime
Protestant Philip Schaff has this to say in History of the Christian Church: "Rome was the battle-field of orthodoxy and heresy, and a resort of all sects and parties. It attracted from every direction what was true and false in philosophy and religion. Ignatius rejoiced in the prospect of suffering for Christ in the centre of the world; Polycarp repaired hither to settle with Anicetus the paschal controversy; Justin Martyr presented there his defense of Christianity to the emperors, and laid down for it his life; Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian conceded to that church a position of singular pre-eminence. Rome was equally sought as a commanding position by heretics and theosophic jugglers, as Simon Magus, Valentine, Marcion, Cerdo, and a host of others. No wonder, then, that the bishops of Rome at an early date were looked upon as metropolitan pastors, and spoke and acted accordingly with an air of authority which reached far beyond their immediate diocese." (Emphasis mine.)
In 97 AD, Clement I, Bishop of Rome and 4th Pope, wrote to the church in Corinth founded by Paul. He clearly exercised authority over that church and did so as if it were a completely normal thing to do – because it was. (As with the ‘occasional nature’ of the epistles, in general the apostles and other early bishops wrote about things were unclear, or controversial, or challenged – not about the things that were so basic that everyone knew and understood them!)
From the Catholic Encyclopedia: "History bears complete testimony that from the very earliest times the Roman See has ever claimed the supreme headship, and that that headship has been freely acknowledged by the universal Church. We shall here confine ourselves to the consideration of the evidence afforded by the first three centuries. The first witness is St. Clement, a disciple of the Apostles, who, after Linus and Anacletus, succeeded St. Peter as the fourth in the list of popes....The tone of authority [in his Epistle to the Corinthians] which inspires the latter appears so clearly that [Protestant scholar J.B.] Lightfoot did not hesitate to speak of it as 'the first step towards papal domination' ...Thus, at the very commencement of church history, before the last survivor of the Apostles had passed away, we find a Bishop of Rome, himself a disciple of St. Peter, intervening in the affairs of another Church and claiming to settle the matter by a decision spoken under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Such a fact admits of one explanation alone. It is that in the days when the Apostolic teaching was yet fresh in men's minds the universal Church recognized in the Bishop of Rome the office of supreme head....The limits of the present article prevent us from carrying the historical argument further than the year 300. Nor is it in fact necessary to do so. From the beginning of the fourth century the supremacy of Rome is writ large upon the page of history. It is only in regard to the first age of the Church that any question can arise. But the facts we have recounted are entirely sufficient to prove to any unprejudiced mind that the supremacy was exercised and acknowledged from the days of the Apostles." (volume 12, article "Pope" page 263, 264)
And more quotes from early Church Fathers illustrating the special, prime status of the Roman See – only a small selection of the quotes available:
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Mast High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who farmed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love..." Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, Prologue (A.D. 110).
"There is extant also another epistle written by Dionysius to the Romans, and addressed to Soter, who was bishop at that time. We cannot do better than to subjoin some passages from this epistle…In this same epistle he makes mention also of Clement's epistle to the Corinthians, showing that it had been the custom from the beginning to read it in the church. His words are as follows: To-day we have passed the Lord's holy day, in which we have read your epistle. From it, whenever we read it, we shall always be able to draw advice, as also from the former epistle, which was written to us through Clement.' Dionysius of Corinth, To Pope Soter (A.D. 171).
"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:3:2 (A.D. 180).
Peter’s Office Lived On
The logical necessity of apostolic succession from nothing other than the words of Scripture is explored here:
Beyond that, consider that Christ left the Church with a visible head – Peter – and it is not logical to believe He did not leave the Church in the state He intended. That is, we should believe that Christ had reason to leave something so critically important as His One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church in the state He did and did not intend it to change in an area so critically important as whether or not It has a leader. Especially since, at the time of Peter’s death (in 67 AD), the Church was still very much in its infancy, and very much persecuted. (Some of the most important dogmas of the faith, concerning the nature of Christ and the Trinity, would not be formalized for hundreds of years – perhaps it was not a coincidence that these things occurred after the Church was given some “breathing room” by the legalization of Christianity in the early 4th century.)
It is historical fact – as sure as anything in history – that Peter named a successor to his office before he died and that from that point successors were either named by a reigning pope or elected by the successors to the apostles after his death. Is it possible that Peter, and the other early popes (Linus and Cletus) who knew the apostles, were so completely confused about Christ’s purpose for the Church that they extended their authority via succession contrary to Christ’s wishes? It is completely preposterous to suggest so! Nor, or course, would the Holy Spirit allow the Church to “err” in such a gross and dramatic way. That would make Christ’s holy and divine Church a laughingstock.
So, based on very simple deductive logic it must be true that Peter’s office lived past his death and from basic history we know that is the case. If we know that Peter’s office lived on then where this office resides is where Christ’s true, visible, hierarchal Church resides, and the Catholic Church is the only candidate that fits that evidence.
Of course, there is much more we can offer in the way of proof. We’ve seen that Peter’s Keys are similar to the keys of the Davidic kingdom – in fact, they are the latter’s typological fulfillment. It is true that David’s keys represented an office and that that office was larger than any particular, transient occupant. Just as David’s steward had successors so does Christ’s.
There is another Old Testament example as well: the Chair of Moses. As we have seen, that role of prime authority lived on past Moses, which Christ Himself acknowledged 2,000 years later. Furthermore, the physical sign (sacrament) by which Moses’ priests extended their authority was essentially identical to what is seen in the New Testament Church: the “laying on of hands”. See Numbers 27:18:20, 22, & 23 for a few examples. (The Greek work used in the New Testament for “made” in Acts 1:22 literally means ordained. The ordination of many priests (“elders”) and bishops is spoken of in the New Testament.
(Time for an aside: priest vs. elder. Are they the same thing? Yes. But Protestants have tried to divest the word of its priestly connotations – the forgiving of sins and offering of Sacrifice, the two primary duties of the priesthood. But can this be done? Of course not. Although Protestant translations started using “elder” over the previously more typical “priest” almost immediately, even the vaulted KJV uses “priest” and “elder” interchangeably in Revelations 5 (where a priest is offering incense, just as Old Testament priests did and just as Catholic priests do). James 5 speaks of the forgiveness of sins in the context of a priest (or “elder”). Protestants, who have no priests (and cannot, because they have no apostolic succession), need to adopt such a strategy to deny the clearly priestly (and thus Catholic) nature of “elders”.)
Here are just a few quotes from some of Peter’s early successors (all of them martyrs, like him):
"The Church of God, which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth.... If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger." Pope Clement of Rome [reign. c A.D.91-101], 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, 1,59:1 (c. A.D. 96). (This epistle nearly made it into the Canon of Scripture.)
"Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate..." Pope Victor I [reign. A.D. 189-198], in Eusebius EH, 24:9 (A.D. 192).
"Stephen, that he who so boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid...Stephen, who announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter." Pope Stephen I [reign. A.D. 254-257], Firmilian to Cyprian, Epistle 74/75:17 (A.D. 256).
Protestants do not want apostolic succession to exist just as they do not want the priesthood to exist. They especially do not want the continuation of the Petrine office to exist. But all of these things exist, because this is the Church that Christ founded and there is no way around that. Priests can be wished away, and the Eucharist wished away, but Protestant congregations are still cut off from the actual, visible, hierarchal Church that Christ founded. (The New Testament speaks repeatedly of bishops and deacons also, but they have none. Or, at least, none with any actual authority, to cover the cases of the self-proclaimed “bishops” that exist.)
Ordination – the laying on of hands – transfers authority; it only works when there is authority to give, and the only authority in Christ’s Church on earth originates with Peter and the Twelve. Period. Some Protestants may wish that priests who molest children make the Catholic Church invalid, and that the Church really did “add things to the Bible” (an assertion so confused it’s not even really false, just nonsensical), and that the Pope looks very funny in a Santa Claus hat, but this is the Church that Christ founded – period.
Karl Keating, Fundamentalism and Catholicism
John Salza, The Biblical Basis for the Papacy
Stephen K. Ray, Upon This Rock [Ignatius Press, 1999]
Jurgens, Faith of the Early Faters