THE BISHOP OF ROME
(Ecclesiastical Latin papa from Greek papas, a variant of pappas father, in classical Latin pappas -- Juvenal, "Satires" 6:633).
The title pope, once used with far greater latitude is at present employed solely to denote the Bishop of Rome, who, in virtue of his position as successor of St. Peter, is the chief pastor of the whole Church, the Vicar of Christ upon earth.
Besides the bishop of the Roman Diocese, certain other dignities are held by the pope as well as the supreme and universal pastorate: he is Archbishop of the Roman Province, Primate of Italy and the adjacent islands, and sole Patriarch of the Western Church. The Church's doctrine as to the pope was authoritatively declared in the Vatican Council in the Constitution "Pastor Aeternus". The four chapters of that Constitution deal respectively with the office of Supreme Head conferred on St. Peter, the perpetuity of this office in the person of the Roman pontiff, the pope's jurisdiction over the faithful, and his supreme authority to define in all questions of faith and morals.
The present article is divided as follows:
The proof that Christ constituted St. Peter head of His Church is found in the two famous Petrine texts, Matthew 16:17-19, and John 21:15-17.
"Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven." The prerogatives here promised are manifestly personal to Peter. His profession of faith was not made as has been sometimes asserted, in the name of the other Apostles. This is evident from the words of Christ. He pronounces on the Apostle, distinguishing him by his name Simon son of John, a peculiar and personal blessing, declaring that his knowledge regarding the Divine Sonship sprang from a special revelation granted to him by the Father (cf. Matthew 11:27). "And I say to thee: That thou art Peter..."He further proceeds to recompense this confession of His Divinity by bestowing upon him a reward proper to himself: Thou art Peter [Cepha, transliterated also Kipha] and upon this rock [Cepha] I will build my Church.
The word for Peter and for rock in the original Aramaic is one and the same; this renders it evident that the various attempts to explain the term "rock" as having reference not to Peter himself but to something else are misinterpretations. It is Peter who is the rock of the Church. The term ecclesia (ekklesia) here employed is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew qahal, the name which denoted the Hebrew nation viewed as God's Church. "And upon this rock I will build my Church..." Here then Christ teaches plainly that in the future the Church will be the society of those who acknowledge Him, and that this Church will be built on Peter.
The expression presents no difficulty. In both the Old and New Testaments the Church is often spoken of under the metaphor of God's house (Numbers 12:7; Jeremiah 12:7; Hosea 8:1 ; 9:15; 1 Corinthians 3:9-17, Ephesians 2:20-2; 1 Timothy 3:5; Hebrews 3:5; 1 Peter 2:5). Peter is to be to the Church what the foundation is in regard to a house.
He is to be the principle of unity, of stability, and of increase. He is the principle of unity, since what is not joined to that foundation is no part of the Church ; of stability , since it is the firmness of this foundation in virtue of which the Church remains unshaken by the storms which buffet her; of increase , since, if she grows, it is because new stones are laid on this foundation. "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." It is through her union with Peter, Christ continues, that the Church will prove the victor in her long contest with the Evil One:
The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The words refer evidently to Isaiah 22:22, where God declares that Eliacim, the son of Helcias, shall be invested with office in place of the worthless Sobna: 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.
In all countries the key is the symbol of authority. Thus, Christ's words are a promise that He will confer on Peter supreme power to govern the Church. Peter is to be His vicegerent, to rule in His place. "And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." Further the character and extent of the power thus bestowed are indicated. It is a power to "bind" and to "loose" -- words which, as is shown below, denote the grant of legislative and judicial authority. And this power is granted in its fullest measure. Whatever Peter binds or looses on earth, his act will receive the Divine ratification.
The scene stands in striking parallelism with that of Matthew 16. As there the reward was given to Peter after a profession of faith which singled him out from the other eleven, so here Christ demands a similar protestation, but this time of a yet higher virtue : "Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me more than these"? Here, too, as there, He bestows on the Apostle an office which in its highest sense is proper to Himself alone. There Christ had promised to make Peter the foundation-stone of the house of God : here He makes him the shepherd of God's flock to take the place of Himself, the Good Shepherd.
The passage receives an admirable comment from St. Chrysostom: He saith to him, "Feed my sheep". Why does He pass over the others and speak of the sheep to Peter? He was the chosen one of the Apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the head of the choir. For this reason Paul went up to see him rather than the others. And also to show him that he must have confidence now that his denial had been purged away. He entrusts him with the rule [prostasia] over the brethren... If anyone should say "Why then was it James who received the See of Jerusalem ?", I should reply that He made Peter the teacher not of that see but of the whole world. ["Hom. 88 (87) in Joan.", 1. Cf. Origen, "In Ep. ad Rom.", 5:10; Ephraem Syrus "Hymn. in B. Petr." in "Bibl. Orient. Assemani", 1:95; Leo I, "Serm. iv de natal.", 2].
Even certain Protestant commentators frankly own that Christ undoubtedly intended here to confer the supreme pastorate on Peter. But other scholars, relying on a passage of St. Cyril of Alexandria ("In Joan." 12:1), maintain that the purpose of the threefold charge was simply to reinstate St. Peter in the Apostolic commission which his threefold denial might be supposed to have lost to him. This interpretation is devoid of all probability. There is not a word in Scripture or in patristic tradition to suggest that St. Peter had forfeited his Apostolic commission; and the supposition is absolutely excluded by the fact that on the evening of the Resurrection he received the same Apostolic powers as the others of the eleven. The solitary phrase of St. Cyril is of no weight against the overwhelming patristic authority for the other view. That such an interpretation should be seriously advocated proves how great is the difficulty experienced by Protestants regarding this text.
If then Christ, as we have seen, established His Church as a society subordinated to a single supreme head, it follows from the very nature of the case that this office is perpetual, and cannot have been a mere transitory feature of ecclesiastical life. For the Church must endure to the end the very same organization which Christ established. But in an organized society it is precisely the constitution which is the essential feature. A change in constitution transforms it into a society of a different kind. If then the Church should adopt a constitution other than Christ gave it, it would no longer be His handiwork. It would no longer be the Divine kingdom established by Him. As a society it would have passed through essential modifications, and thereby would have become a human, not a Divine institution. None who believe that Christ came on earth to found a Church, an organized society destined to endure for ever, can admit the possibility of a change in the organization given to it by its Founder.
The same conclusion also follows from a consideration of the end which, by Christ's declaration, the supremacy of Peter was intended to effect. He was to give the Church strength to resist her foes, so that the gates of hell should not prevail against her. The contest with the powers of evil does not belong to the Apostolic age alone. It is a permanent feature of the Church's life. Hence, throughout the centuries the office of Peter must be realized in the Church, in order that she may prevail in her age-long struggle. Thus an analysis of Christ's words shows us that the perpetuity of the office of supreme head is to be reckoned among the truths revealed in Scripture. His promise to Peter conveyed not merely a personal prerogative, but established a permanent office in the Church. And in this sense, as will appear in the next section, His words were understood by Latin and Greek Fathers alike.
We have shown in the last section that Christ conferred upon St. Peter the office of chief pastor, and that the permanence of that office is essential to the very being of the Church. It must now be established that it belongs of right to the Roman See. The proof will fall into two parts:
ST. PETER WAS BISHOP OF ROME
Firmilian of Caesarea
Irenaeus we know visited Rome in 177. At this date, scarcely more than a century after the death of St. Peter , he may well have come in contact with men whose fathers had themselves spoken to the Apostle. The tradition thus supported must be regarded as beyond all legitimate doubt.
Lightfoot's suggestion (Clement 1:64), that it had its origin in the Clementine romance, has proved singularly unfortunate. For it is now recognized that this work belongs not to the second, but to the fourth century. Nor is there the slightest ground for the assertion that the language of Irenaeus, 3:3:3, implies that Peter and Paul enjoyed a divided episcopate at Rome -- an arrangement utterly unknown to the Church at any period. He does, it is true, speak of the two Apostles as together handing on the episcopate to Linus. But this expression is explained by the purpose of his argument, which is to vindicate against the Gnostics the validity of the doctrine taught in the Roman Church. Hence he is naturally led to lay stress on the fact that that Church inherited the teaching of both the great Apostles. Epiphanius ("Haer." 27:6) would indeed seem to suggest the divided episcopate ; but he has apparently merely misunderstood the words of Irenaeus.
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.
St. Ignatius of Antioch
He then proceeds to enumerate the Roman succession from Linus to Eleutherius, the twelfth after the Apostles, who then occupied the see. Non-Catholic writers have sought to rob the passage of its importance by translating the word convenire "to resort to", and thus understanding it to mean no more than that the faithful from every side (undique) resorted to Rome, so that thus the stream of doctrine in that Church was kept immune from error. Such a rendering, however, is excluded by the construction of the argument, which is based entirely on the contention that the Roman doctrine is pure by reason of its derivation from the two great Apostolic founders of the Church, Sts. Peter and Paul. The frequent visits made to Rome by members of other Christian Churches could contribute nothing to this. On the other hand the traditional rendering is postulated by the context, and, though the object of innumerable attacks, none other possessing any real degree of probability has been suggested in its place (see Dom. J. Chapman in "Revue Benedictine", 1895, p. 48).
Inscription of Abercius
The force of this expression becomes clear when viewed in the light of his doctrine as to the unity of the Church. This was, he teaches, established by Christ when He founded His Church upon Peter. By this act the unity of the Apostolic College was ensured through the unity of the foundation. The bishops through all time form a similar college, and are bound in a like indivisible unity. Of this unity the Chair of Peter is the source. It fulfils the very office as principle of union which Peter fulfilled in his lifetime. Hence to communicate with an antipope such as Novatian would be schism (Ep. 68:1).
He holds, also, that the pope has authority to depose a heretical bishop. When Marcian of Arles fell into heresy, Cyprian, at the request of the bishops of the province, wrote to urge Pope Stephen "to send letters by which, Marcian having been excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place" (Ep. 68:3). It is manifest that one who regarded the Roman See in this light believed that the pope possessed a real and effective primacy.
St. Dionysius of Alexandria
Again, some years later, the same patriarch occasioned anxiety to some of the brethren by making use of some expressions which appeared hardly compatible with a full belief in the Divinity of Christ. They promptly had recourse to the Holy See and accused him to his namesake, St. Dionysius of Rome, of heretical leanings. The pope replied by laying down authoritatively the true doctrine on the subject. Both events are instructive as showing us how Rome was recognized by the second see in Christendom as empowered to speak with authority on matters of doctrine. (St. Athanasius , "De sententia Dionysii" in P. G., XXV, 500).
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.
It was not of course exercised in the same way as in later times. The Church was as yet in her infancy: and it would be irrational to look for a fully developed procedure governing the relations of the supreme pontiff to the bishops of other sees. To establish such a system was the work of time, and it was only gradually embodied in the canons. There would, moreover, be little call for frequent intervention when the Apostolic tradition was still fresh and vigorous in every part of Christendom. Hence the papal prerogatives came into play but rarely. But when the Faith was threatened, or the vital welfare of souls demanded action, then Rome intervened. Such were the causes which led to the intervention of St. Dionysius, St. Stephen, St. Callistus, St. Victor, and St. Clement, and their claim to supremacy as the occupants of the Chair of Peter was not disputed.
In view of the purposes with which, and with which alone, these early popes employed their supreme power, the contention, so stoutly maintained by Protestant controversialists, that the Roman primacy had its origin in papal ambition, disappears. The motive which inspired these men was not earthly ambition, but zeal for the Faith and the consciousness that to them had been committed the responsibility of its guardianship. The controversialists in question even claim that they are justified in refusing to admit as evidence for the papal primacy any pronouncement emanating from a Roman source, on the ground that, where the personal interests of anyone are concerned, his statements should not be admitted as evidence. Such an objection is utterly fallacious. We are dealing here, not with the statements of an individual, but with the tradition of a Church -- of that Church which, even from the earliest times, was known for the purity of its doctrine, and which had had for its founders and instructors the two chief Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul. That tradition, moreover, is absolutely unbroken, as the pronouncements of the long series of popes bear witness.
Nor does it stand alone. The utterances, in which the popes assert their claims to the obedience of all Christian Churches, form part and parcel of a great body of testimony to the Petrine privileges, issuing not merely from the Western Fathers but from those of Greece, Syria, and Egypt. The claim to reject the evidence which comes to us from Rome may be skilful as a piece of special pleading, but it can claim no other value. The first to employ this argument were some of the Gallicans. But it is deservedly repudiated as fallacious and unworthy by Bossuet in his "Defensio cleri gallicani" (II, 1. XI, c. vi).
The primacy of St. Peter and the perpetuity of that primacy in the Roman See are dogmatically defined in the canons attached to the first two chapters of the Constitution "Pastor Aeternus":
A question may be raised as to the precise dogmatic value of the clause of the second canon in which it is asserted that the Roman pontiff is Peter's successor. The truth is infallibly defined. But the Church has authority to define not merely those truths which form part of the original deposit of revelation, but also such as are necessarily connected with this deposit. The former are held fide divina, the latter fide infallibili.
Although Christ established the perpetual office of supreme head, Scripture does not tell us that He fixed the law according to which the headship should descend. Granting that He left this to Peter to determine, it is plain that the Apostle need not have attached the primacy to his own see: he might have attached it to another.
(adapted from Catholic Encyclopedia)