Saturday, January 1, 2011

Peter Rock of the Church, Vicar of Christ

IN JANUARY 1995, Pope John Paul II, the 265th successor to St. Peter, came to Manila in the Philippines to bring the message of peace and unity to all Filipinos, the youth best of all. His coming, however, heightened a controversy that has hounded Christians for generations on the issue of his mandate. From where lies the Pope's authority to lead the world's one-billion Roman Catholics?

From Peter

Theologians give a simple answer: The mandate of John Paul II was given nearly 2,000 years ago by our Lord Jesus Christ. This mandate was bestowed upon St. Peter and has been passed on to all the popes up to John Paul II.

The Roman Catholic Church traces the beginnings of the papacy to Jesus' appointment of Peter as the head of the Church as recorded in Matthew 16:17-19 and John 21:15-17.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Peter, who was previously named Simon, receives his name from Jesus. Here, he is commissioned by Jesus to be the rock of the Church. The text reads:
"Blessed are you Simon of Jonah--And I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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 loosen on earth shall be loosened in heaven."

The Rock

In the Bible, a person is given a new name to signify a major development in his life. It could be a new responsibility, role or identity in the light of God's plan.Examples of this are the changing of the names of Abram, who became Abraham (Genesis 17:5), and Saul, who was called Paul after his conversion (Acts 13:9). Abraham became the Father of all Nations, while Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles. The most important name change in the Bible is that of Jesus himself. When the people saw in him the Messiah--God's anointed one--they began calling him the Christ. For Peter, it was his appointment by Jesus as the rock on which the Lord would build his Church.

Jesus also gave Peter the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" and the authority that whatever he loosened on earth shall be loosened in heaven. This authority follows the Jewish understanding of one having the power to declare something permissible or prohibited. It includes the power to impose or dispense one from an obligation in relation to his or her membership in the Church. The use of Jesus of keys--which are symbols of authority in biblical literature--stresses Peter's mandate.

A misinterpretation?

Some non-Catholics, however, dismiss this as a misinterpretation of the original Greek text of Matthew's Gospel. They contend that in the original text "Peter" is written as Petros, which may mean a "chip of a rock," rather than petras, the Greek for rock.They argue that this discrepancy negates the Roman Catholic belief of Peter's commissioning by Jesus as the rock-foundation of the Christian church.

The "discrepancy," however, is nothing but gender difference in the Greek language, where nouns are either masculine or feminine. Petras is feminine. It would have been awkward for Matthew to have used a feminine name for the leader of the Apostles, so he used the masculine form Petros.

Peter and Cephas

Besides, Petros is only a translation of the original Aramaic name of Peter, which is Kephas (Cephas in its English form). It should be understood that although the New Testament was almost entirely written in Greek, Jesus and the Apostles spoke Aramaic, the Hebrew dialect. In Aramaic, the word for rock is kephas, which unlike its translation in Greek, is free from any gender influence. Thus, the Lord's statement in Mt 16:17 is more accurately rendered as: "You are Kephas and upon this kephas I will build my Church." The Bible, quoting the Lord Jesus, states this clearly in John 1:42. The verse reads: "Jesus looked at him [Peter] and said, 'You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas (which is translated as Peter).'' "St. Paul also called Peter by his Aramaic name in 1Corinthians 1:12 and Galatians 1:18.

In John 21, Jesus appointed Peter as his vicar or deputy in the Church. From Jn 10 we read that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gathered his sheep into one flock, one fold--the Church. However, in obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus knew that he would have to be going back to Heaven, so he appointed someone to take his place ahead of the flock. In Jn 21:15-17, Jesus had just been raised from the dead and was preparing to return to the Father when he appeared to Peter and told him to "feed" and "tend" to his sheep. The Good Shepherd left his flock to the care of Peter. Later, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit--the Paraclete--to guide and preserve the church: its leaders and members.

Peter's leadership

The leadership of Peter among the Apostles and the early Christian church is indisputable. The four gospels say that Peter was the spokesperson of the Apostles, especially during climactic moments such as when he declared Jesus as the Messiah (Mt 16:16).

Peter is almost always mentioned first when the Apostles are referred to. At times, they are referred to only as "Peter and his companions" as in Luke 9:32.

With the death of Peter, the Holy Spirit guided the Church in choosing a successor to take his place. Under the leading and the protection of the Holy Spirit, this succession continued in an unbroken line through the centuries. The Church has an ancient list of popes starting from Peter up to John Paul II. Peter's immediate successor, Linus, in mentioned in 2Timothy 4:21, while the name of Linus' successor, Clement, is found in Philippians 4.

The term Pope, which came from the Latin papa and Greek pappas (father), was previously attached to the bishops or elders of the Church. It was later exclusively given to Peter's successors in recognition of their unique role.

Visible head

The Bible says Jesus established only one everlasting church that is spread all over the world, or his universal (katholicos in Greek). Mt 28:18-20 shows Jesus telling the Apostles and the disciples to "Go and make disciples of all nations" and assuring them that He will be with them "until the end of the age."

The Pope is the sign of the oneness and the unity of the universal Church. The visible head representing Jesus to all believers. He is among the greatest legacies given by Jesus to all Christians united to the Church.

However, non-Catholics dispute Peter's leadership and his being the rock-foundation of the Church despite the declaration of Jesus and the testimony of the Bible. Anti-popes quote 1Corinthians 3:11; 1Peter 2:6-8, and Ephesians 2:20 to try to disprove Jesus' pronouncements in Mt 16:17-19. But can the Bible actually contradict itself in such a very important subject? 1Cor 3:11 reads: "No one can lay a foundation other than the one that is already laid, namely, Jesus Christ." Non-Catholics use this verse to try to prove that Jesus, and not Peter, is the Church's rock-foundation. Indeed, if the verse is taken alone and out of context, it talks about Jesus being a foundation. But of what?

Reading the entire chapter will reveal that Paul is not referring here to Jesus as the foundation of the Church but that of the Christian faith. It is important to make a distinction between the Christian church and the Christian faith. When we talk about the Church, we speak more of the structure and make-up of the body of Christ. On the other hand, faith is the "spirit" underlying the Church.

Faith is a requisite to become a member of the Church. It is not the Church. When Paul spoke to the Corinthians about Jesus as a foundation, it is clear from the entire text that he meant Jesus as the foundation of the faith. It can be said that one can accept Jesus in faith but still be apart from the church that he founded.

Other sheep

The Lord alluded to Christians not part of the Church in Jn 10:16, where he said: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These I must also lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd."Although Jesus acknowledged "other sheep" outside his fold, or outside the Church, he stressed the need for these to also be part of his "one flock," obviously referring to the one church he founded in Mt 16:17-19.

Going back to 1Cor 13, Paul is concerned that the faith in Jesus that he instilled (or founded) in the hearts of the Corinthians was imperiled by "jealousy and rivalry" among the faithful (verse 4). This division is caused by loyalties to certain church elders. He noted in verse 4 the claims of some already disputing Corinthian-Christians who were saying: "I belong to Paul" or "I belong to Apollos."

Paul tried to resolve the conflict by stressing that all the ministers of the church were "equal" (verse 8) and were all "God's co-workers" (verse 9). He cited the various respective works done by each individual church worker but stressed that Jesus was still the central figure of the faith.

In verses 10 to 11, he said: "I as a good architect, according to the capacity given to me, I laid the foundation and another is to build upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is already laid, namely, Jesus Christ." Again, what is pointed out here by Paul is the effect of each individual church minister's work on the faith-foundation of the members of the Church--not the church structure or make-up. To follow the claim of the anti-popes that Jesus is the foundation of the Church would be to commit a grave error.

Grave error

This would be so because if we take verse 11 to mean that Jesus is the foundation of the church structure, then we would be making Paul the one who laid the church's foundation. We should keep in mind that he said in verse 10: "I laid the foundation." Now, how could Paul have laid the foundation of the church he himself was already in or was already a part of? More importantly, such an interpretation of verse 11 would run in direct contrast to Jesus' founding of the Church in Mt 16:17-19, which is the only biblical text that clearly deals on the subject.

As to 1Pet 2:6, the verse states: "For it says in scripture: 'Behold I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.'" The verse, which is taken from Isaiah 28:16, is also echoed in Mt 21:42; Lk 20-17, and Acts 4:11. In these, Jesus is referred to as a "cornerstone," which does not offer any contradiction to the Lord's declaration of Peter as being the rock-foundation of the Church. Non-Catholics confuse the cornerstone to be the rock in Mt 16:17 and think that these are one and the same. Unfortunately, these are two different things.

Simply put, Jesus as the cornerstone is different from Peter being the rock.

During the time of Jesus, people built buildings using slabs of stone put on top of another. The most important piece of stone is the cornerstone. As its name suggests, it is the stone placed at the corner of the building and is used to join the other pieces of stone that form two walls. It is also called a keystone because it puts cohesion to the whole structure and keeps it together. Remove the cornerstone and the building collapses. In the same way, Jesus is the cornerstone, or the basis, of the Christian faith. This is a fundamental truth that the Roman Catholic Church adheres to. Remove Jesus and Christianity is no more. On the other hand, Peter is the rock, the solid base, on which Jesus builds the body of believers on. He is like the ground on which a temple or house is constructed on.


Instead of negating the fact of Peter being the rock on which the Christian Church is built, the verses pointing to Jesus as the cornerstone only stress the strong relationship that he has with Peter. With Peter as the rock of the Church and Jesus as its cornerstone, they are thus inseparable. This is because a cornerstone that has been laid will remain with its rock foundation as long as the building that it forms stands. And since Jesus built the Church to be eternal (Mt 16:18), he and Peter are thus eternally united.

This infinite relationship is continued in every successor of Peter. In other words, we will find Jesus where ever we find Peter, or Peter's successor.This makes the tricky job of determining the true church founded by Jesus much easier. One need only to find the church that stands on the rock laid by Jesus.

In Eph 2:20, anti-popes again take the cornerstone as the same with the rock-foundation. However, the verse itself shows otherwise. In fact, it reinforces the unique relationship of Jesus, Peter and the other Apostles in the make-up of the Church. The verse reads: "[You Ephesians are] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone."It continues: "In him [Christ being the cornerstone] the whole structure is joined together and rises to be a holy temple in the Lord."The analogy of the temple used in the verse follows that in 1Pet 2:6. Eph 2:20 points out the deep union of Jesus, the Apostles and all Christians.I t shows every Christian as a stone that forms part of the one Church founded by Jesus on the Apostles led by Peter. Thus, Jesus, the Apostles and all Christians make up the one temple of God. It goes without saying that every true believer is a part of this building and anyone who refuses to be a part of it rejects not only the Church but Christ himself.

Finally, instead of negating Peter's commissioning by Jesus as the rock-foundation of the Church, 1Cor 3:11; 1Pet 2:6-8, and Eph 2:20 only support it.These verses prove the inseparability of Jesus, Peter and the Church and point to the fact that where ever Peter, or his successor is, there will Jesus and his church be.

The true church

In these times when a multitude of people claim to belong to the true church of the Lord, it is best to look in the Bible where their claim to authority comes from. Jesus himself warned in Mt 24:23-24: "If anyone says to you 'Look here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. False christs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if it were possible, even the chosen ones."

Jesus has given us an immovable sign indicating where his church is. The sign is a rock.

Catholics need not look any further. The Pope is the sign of the church of Jesus here on earth. He is the indisputable successor to Peter, the rock commissioned by the Lord to be the foundation of the church of God.

Nearly 2,000 years of history attest to this aspect of the Roman Catholic faith. As the successor of Peter, John Paul II stood, and now Pope Benedict XVI stands, as the heir to the role bestowed by Jesus on Peter as the shepherd of his flock on earth. The Roman Catholic-Christian faith unites the faithful with the rock of the Church and assures them that they are part of the flock of Jesus. This is a privilege that all Roman Catholics only need to realize, nurture and live to the fullest.


De Liliis said...

'As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is, with the Chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the Church is built. . . This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. . . And as for heretics, I have never spared them; on the contrary, I have seen to it in every possible way that the Church's enemies are also my enemies.'

St. Jerome

Inspirational Quotes from the Saints

Amy Escobar said...

"It goes without saying that every true believer is a part of this building and anyone who refuses to be a part of it rejects not only the Church but Christ himself."

Then what is the need for the pope? In essence, wouldn't a succession of Peter indicate multiple foundations? Wouldn't the pope have to, in essence, be a reincarnation of Peter himself to avoid this?

Seeing as Peter is indeed the foundation of the church, I can't understand why it is necessary to give anyone else his authority, including those who followed in his footsteps of leadership.

Caroline Mugoh said...

@ Amy, Jesus handed the keys to the Kingdom of heaven to Peter right at the same time as He appointed him to head the church. The keys need to be passed on and the authority to act (PS: keys are symbolic here) just as in any organisation, work does not stop because the keyholder has died. He also left him as the head shepherd to look after His sheep....when a shepherd dies, what then happens to the sheep? Hence the need for a Pope as tradition is a major component of the Catholic Church which was established by Jesus Himself.

Artisan Granite said...

Most of the classic renditions of St Peter do picture him holding keys.