On the Primacy of Peter and his Successor the Bishops of Rome

The Gospels tell us that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, (Mt 28:18) and that everything has been placed into His hands by the Father. (Jn 3:35 & Lk 10:22) Jesus imparted His divine authority to His Apostles, the authority to cast out demons (Lk 9:1-3) and the authority to forgive sins. (Jn 20:21-24) This authority was then passed on to the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, through the laying on of hands.

It is through the laying on of hands and not baptism alone that the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power is imparted. (Acts 8:15-18 & Acts 19:6) Christ’s apostles teach the truth with that same authority as He did, because He tells them: “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Lk 10:16). The Apostles became “overseers” of the church. (Acts 20:28) The word “overseers” in Greek is “episkopos” from which we get the word “Bishop.”
Jesus promised to be with His Apostles and their successors until the end of time and He tells them that the Holy Spirit will come “to guide you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:13)

Paul tells us that a Bishop, as God’s steward “must hold firm 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.” (Titus 1:9) Jesus intended His authority, power and the truth of His message to be continued throughout all time by the establishment of what He called His “Church”. (Mt 16:18) So that His Church would not suffer division He gave one of His Apostles, Peter, the primacy. (Mt 16:18-20)

When Jesus gave Peter, then called Simon, the authority over His Church, He used a formula that was commonly known to the Jewish people. First, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter (a name that was not known before this time, and one that was to explain his mission) Jesus spoke Aramaic so He called Peter, “Cephas” (meaning ‘Rock’).

Why ‘Rock’? An ancient Hebrew tradition tells us that God created the universe on the foundations of a prime-evil rock. This same tradition claims that the paradise of Adam and Eve was built on this rock, that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son upon this rock, and that Solomon built his temple upon this rock. The rock then became the altar in Solomon’s temple upon which the animals were sacrificed, and it is said that this rock blocked the entrance of a deep shaft that lay beneath it which was the mouth, or gateway, of Hades.

In calling Simon, “Cephas” (Rock), Jesus was telling us that Peter and his successors were to be the Rock that He would build His Church, the New Creation upon, that would hold back the powers of Hades “…and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).

Next, Jesus gives Peter “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” along with the powers to bind and loose (Mt 16:19). This also is a long standing tradition, a symbol of plenary authority which was used in the Kingdom of Judah. In Isaiah 22:22 we see an example of “the key of the house of David” being conferred upon Eliakim along with the power to open and shut.

That the early Church understood exactly what Jesus had done, can be seen by the fact that the “keys” have remained the symbol of power to this day. Also by the fact that the early church called Peter and his successors, Pappa or Pope. This too is based on the ancient formula “and he shall be a Father to the people of Jerusalem and the citizens of Judah” (Isa 22:21) The person who held these keys was called the “Chief Steward” or the “Prime Minister”. In the Davidic kingdom, the Lord had promised David that a King in his line would rule the nations and reign forever. (2 Sam 7:12-14 and Ps 132:11-13). Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy and in Rev 3:7 we see Jesus with the “keys of David”.

In the kingdom of old there were three thrones, one for the King, one for the Queen Mother and one for the Prime Minister/Chief Steward. In the New Kingdom there is also three thrones, one for the King, Jesus (in the unity of the Trinity), one for the Queen Mother, Mary, and one for the Prime Minister (who is given the position of plenary authority upon the earth – to bind and to loose) the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

ON the following pages are just a small number of the Teachings of the Early Church Fathers. I have placed them into just three categories, those of the Early Fathers, the Early Popes and the Early Councils.

Cyprian of Carthage

“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church… [Matt. 16:18–19]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . . If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

“There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering” (Letters 43[40]:5 [A.D. 253]).

“There [John 6:68–69] speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly [i.e., invisibly] in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but it is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another” (ibid., 66[69]:8).

Augustine

“If the very order of Episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement. … In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found” (Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]).

Jerome

“Simon Peter, the son of John, from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, brother of Andrew the apostle, and himself chief of the apostles, after having been bishop of the church of Antioch and having preached to the Dispersion . . . pushed on to Rome in the second year of Claudius to overthrow Simon Magus, and held the sacerdotal chair there for twenty-five years until the last, that is the fourteenth, year of Nero. At his hands he received the crown of martyrdom being nailed to the cross with his head towards the ground and his feet raised on high, asserting that he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord” (Lives of Illustrious Men 1 [A.D. 396]).

“[Pope] Stephen . . . was the blessed Peter’s twenty-second successor in the See of Rome” (Against the Luciferians 23 [A.D. 383]).

“I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails” (ibid., 15:2).

Tertullian

“[T]his is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrneans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John, like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 32:2 [A.D. 200]).

Ambrose of Milan

“[T]hey [the Novatian heretics] have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven [by the sacrament of confession] even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven’[Matt. 16:19]” (Penance 1:7:33 [A.D. 388]).

Ignatius of Antioch

“Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father” (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).

“You [the church at Rome] have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force” (ibid., 3:1).

Irenaeus

“But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [A.D. 189]).

Augustine

“There are many other things which rightly keep me in the bosom of the Catholic Church. The consent of the people and nations keeps me, her authority keeps me, inaugurated by miracles, nourished in hope, enlarged by love, and established by age. The succession of priests keep me, from the very seat of the apostle Peter (to whom the Lord after his resurrection gave charge to feed his sheep) down to the present episcopate [of Pope Siricius]” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 5 [A.D. 397]).

Peter Chrysologus

“We exhort you in every respect, honorable brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the most blessed pope of the city of Rome, for blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the truth of faith to those who seek it. For we, by reason of our pursuit of peace and faith, cannot try cases on the faith without the consent of the bishop of Rome” (Letters 25:2 [A.D. 449]).

Council of Ephesus

“Philip, presbyter and legate of [Pope Celestine I] said: ‘We offer our thanks to the holy and venerable synod, that when the writings of our holy and blessed pope had been read to you . . . you joined yourselves to the holy head also by your holy acclamations. For your blessednesses is not ignorant that the head of the whole faith, the head of the apostles, is blessed Peter the apostle’” (Acts of the Council, session 2 [A.D. 431]).

“Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Celestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy synod’” (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 431]).

Council of Chalcedon

“After the reading of the foregoing epistle [The Tome of Leo], the most reverend bishops cried out: ‘This is the faith of the fathers! This is the faith of the apostles! So we all believe! Thus the orthodox believe! Anathema to him who does not thus believe! Peter has spoken thus through Leo! . . . This is the true faith! Those of us who are orthodox thus believe! This is the faith of the Fathers!’” (Acts of the Council, session 2 [A.D. 451]).

“Bishop Paschasinus, guardian of the Apostolic See, stood in the midst [of the Council Fathers] and said, ‘We received directions at the hands of the most blessed and apostolic bishop of the Roman city [Pope Leo I], who is the head of all the churches, which directions say that Dioscorus is not to be allowed to sit in the [present] assembly, but that if he should attempt to take his seat, he is to be cast out. This instruction we must carry out” (Acts of the Council, session 1 [A.D. 451]).

Council of Sardica

“[I]f any bishop loses the judgment in some case [decided by his fellow bishops] and still believes that he has not a bad but a good case, in order that the case may be judged anew . . . let us honor the memory of the apostle Peter by having those who have given the judgment write to Julius, Bishop of Rome, so that if it seem proper he may himself send arbiters and the judgment may be made again by the bishops of a neighboring province” (canon 3 [A.D. 342]).

“[I]f some bishop be deposed by the judgment of the bishops sitting in the neighborhood, and if he declare that he will seek further redress, another should not be appointed to his see until the bishop of Rome can be acquainted with the case and render a judgment” (canon 4).

Pope Gregory I

“Your most sweet holiness, [Bishop Eulogius of Alexandria], has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in the persons of his successors. And indeed I acknowledge myself to be unworthy . . . I gladly accepted all that has been said, in that he has spoken to me about Peter’s chair, who occupies Peter’s chair. And, though special honor to myself in no wise delights me . . . who can be ignorant that holy Church has been made firm in the solidity of the prince of the apostles, who derived his name from the firmness of his mind, so as to be called Peter from petra. And to him it is said by the voice of the Truth, ‘To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ [Matt. 16:19]. (Letters 40 [A.D. 597]).

Pope Damasus I

“Likewise it is decreed . . . that it ought to be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has not been placed at the forefront [of the churches] by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it” (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]).

Pope Innocent I

“In seeking the things of God . . . you have acknowledged that judgment is to be referred to us [the pope], and have shown that you know that is owed to the Apostolic See [Rome], if all of us placed in this position are to desire to follow the apostle himself [Peter] from whom the episcopate itself and the total authority of this name have emerged” (Letters 29:1 [A.D. 408]).

Pope Leo I

“Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . established the worship belonging to the divine [Christian] religion. . . . But the Lord desired that the sacrament of this gift should pertain to all the apostles in such a way that it might be found principally in the most blessed Peter, the highest of all the apostles. And he wanted his gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter himself, as if from the head, in such a way that anyone who had dared to separate himself from the solidarity of Peter would realize that he was himself no longer a sharer in the divine mystery” (ibid., 10:2–3).

Pope Celestine I

“We enjoin upon you [my legates to the Council of Ephesus] the necessary task of guarding the authority of the Apostolic See. And if the instructions handed to you have to mention this and if you have to be present in the assembly, if it comes to controversy, it is not yours to join the fight but to judge of the opinions [on my behalf]” (Letters 17 [A.D. 431]).

Did you know?:

There are 50 New Testament proofs for Peter’s Primacy. Whenever the apostles are listed Peter’s name always comes first. Peter is mentioned 195 times, John, the second most mentioned, is only mentioned 29 times. Peter is spoken of 60% of the time, with the other 11 apostles making up the other 40% together.

Did you know?:

Church vestments ere introduced by Pope Clement 1 (around 80 – 95AD). The oldest relic of the Popes is the Episcopal chair and Mitre of Pope Silvester 1 (314 – 335 AD) which can be seen in the church of Sa Marino ai Monti.

Did you know?:

Canon Law is the oldest continually functioning legal system anywhere in the western world, and the apostolic succession of the Popes is the longest standing succession of any office of power, in any group or organisation in the world.

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2 Responses to On the Primacy of Peter and his Successor the Bishops of Rome

  1. susan says:

    These readings illumined my understanding, rekindled my faith in God, and strengthened my trust of the church where I belong, the true church established by Jesus Christ, the holy apostolic catholic church…

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