Soloviev’s Meditation on the Papacy

Vladimir Soloviev gives this wonderful meditation on the Petrine office in Russia and the Universal Church. He is writing about St. Peter’s being made the Rock of the Church by our Lord and then, almost immediately, being called “Satan” (Mt. 16:18, 23).

This confession of Peter is, then, an act sui generis, an act whereby the moral being of the apostle entered into a special relationship with the Godhead; it was this relationship which enabled human utterance to declare infallibly the absolute truth of the Word of God and to create an impregnable foundation for the universal Church. And as though to remove all possible doubt on the subject, the inspired record of the Gospel at once goes on to show us this very Simon, whom Jesus has just declared to be the rock of the Church and the key-bearer of the kingdom of heaven, immediately left to his own resources and speaking — with the best of intentions in the world, no doubt, but without divine assistance — under the influence of his own individual and uninspired personality:

[Here he quotes Mt. 16:21-23, where Our Lord says, “Get behind me, Satan” to St. Peter.]

Are we to follow our [schismatic] Greco-Russian controversialists in placing this text in opposition to the one before, and so make Christ’s words cancel one another out? Are we to believe that the incarnate truth changed his mind so quickly and revoked in a moment what he has only just announced? And yet on the other hand how are we to reconcile “blessed” and “Satan”? How is it conceivable that he who is for our Lord himself a “rock of hindrance” [i.e., a scandal] should yet be the rock of his Church which the gates of Hades cannot shake? Or that one who thinks only the thoughts of men can receive the revelation of the heavenly Father and can hold the keys of the kingdom of God?

There is only one way to harmonize these passages which the inspired evangelist has with good reason placed side by side. Simon Peter as supreme pastor and doctor of the universal Church, assisted by God and speaking in the name of all, is the faithful witness and infallible exponent of divine-human truth; as such, he is the impregnable foundation of the house of God and the key-bearer of the kingdom of Heaven. The same Simon Peter as a private individual, speaking and acting by his natural powers and merely human intelligence, may say and do things that are unworthy, scandalous, and even diabolical. But the failures and sins of the individual are ephemeral, while the social function of the ecclesiastical monarch is permanent. “Satan” and the “hindrance” have vanished, but Peter has remained.

We pray that the divine infallible magisterium of the “ecclesiastical monarch” will soon overcome the human frailties which have plagued our Lord’s Church in recent decades. Our Lady will soon show us that the remedies for the Church’s present woes will come to us through the Vicar of Christ.