The Catholic Church alone can trace the origin of her authority across nearly 2000 years and over two hundred-sixty successive men to Simon Bar Jona, the man renamed by Christ as “Peter.” In fact, a very simple description of a Catholic is: one who belongs to that Church which has, as its visible head, the Pope. But to many, the foundational, dogmatic belief in the Papacy is itself the very stumbling block preventing them from becoming Catholics. Here we seek briefly and simply to make the case for the Papacy, in such a way as to convince those of good-will, so they may themselves enter the “Barque of Peter.”
Prior to His Ascension into Heaven, Jesus Christ founded His Church. He united it, in its Faith, its Sacrifice, and its Sacraments, under one visible authority.
“One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.” (Eph.4:5.)
“He who hears you, hears Me; he who despises you, despises Me.” (Lk.10:16.)
“If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican.” (Mt.18:17.)
So important did Christ consider the unity of this, His Mystical Body, that He prayed fervently before He suffered: “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as We also are One: I in them, and Thou in Me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast also loved Me.” (Jn.17:21-23.)
Clearly, visible unity is an essential quality of true Christians if the world is to believe in Christ. “See how they love one another!” the pagans observed of the first Christians, as Tertullian informs us.
To preserve this glorious unity of Love (or “Charity,” as it is often called in the theological sense), which is the most impressive proof for the Christian religion, Our Lord established a visible order in His Mystical Body. This order we call “the hierarchy.” At the Creation, He had established hierarchies in nature to help us understand and appreciate His Church’s supernatural hierarchy. First among these is the family, the basis of all human society. Children look to parents for guidance and nourishment. Between parents, the father has the last authority. As established by God before original sin, this perfect order of the family extending into society begets a bond of charity and peace that is often sighed after, but rarely pursued. Strangely, many adults who rightly insist on strict obedience from children, themselves can be found in open rebellion on the supernatural plane. Let them hear the words of our Lord: “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt.18:3.) It is quite easy for those who have “become as little children” to see the family-like structure in the Church’s hierarchy.
Christ foresaw the confusion of false doctrines and practices that would threaten to destroy the precious unity of His Church. Therefore, before ascending into Heaven, He promised His little flock, “I will not leave you orphans!” (Jn.14:18.) In the absence of His physical presence as our ultimate Head, He left with us would-be-orphans much more than just a Book. Having chosen twelve men and instructed them for three years, He gave them divine powers to propagate the Faith, and then sent them out as apostles to begin establishing His Kingdom while He still walked the earth.
Then one day He asked them, “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” (Matt. 16:13.) After various Apostles replied, saying what some people believed of Him, He asked them their own belief: “But whom do you say that I am?” (Matt.16:15.) The impetuous Simon Bar Jona hastened to answer, “Thou art the Christ! the Son of the Living God!” His Sacred Heart all aflame, Christ looked upon Simon and in the presence of the other apostles declared, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona! for flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee, but My Father Who is in Heaven!” Thus, God the Father revealed to Simon the identity of His Son, so he could declare it before the rest of the Apostles. Fulfilling the prophecy He had made to Simon on the day they met, Christ continued, “And I say to thee: that thou art Peter!” Simon had declared Christ’s identity (“Thou art Christ!”) and Christ replies with Simon’s identity: “Thou art Peter,” the “Rock.”
“Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.” Yes, Peter, the “Rock,” divinely strengthened by Christ, the “Cornerstone,” will henceforth be the visible foundation for Christ’s Church. He is that firm, singular Rock that towers immovable amid the storms of heresy and schism, high above the shifting sands and heaps of pebbles that cry out, against the lashing winds and water, for men’s allegiance as they are being washed away. “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This Church will last until the end of time, for time respects the “shall not” of the Son of God.
Eternal Wisdom continues to gaze steadfastly at His first Vicar and promises to give to him vast riches, previously unknown to mortals: “And I will give to thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” The keys to God’s treasure house of Truth have been given to a man! Surely such a divinely empowered man is one to be sought and followed by all!
But pause now. A power so great as to dazzle the most illustrious emperors and kings of all history is about to be conferred upon a mortal. A paramount power beyond the reach of arms, influence, and subtlety is about to be established in the universe. A power overshadowing even the weakness of sinful creatures is being bestowed upon a mere mortal who will demonstrate his personal frailty in a moment! Can we question the judgment of Incarnate Wisdom as He pronounces the weighty decree? “Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven.” Is it not dazzling to think that God has promised to respect in heaven the decisions of a man upon earth? Shall we, like the heretics, flee from this staggering reality by burying our heads in the sands of Greek semantics?
As everyone knows, Saint Peter soon displayed great personal weakness, even to the point of abandoning and denying his Lord during His Passion. Christ could not forgive the despair of Judas but, true to His word, absolved the humble and contrite Peter.
Standing on the seashore a few mornings before His Ascension, Christ humbled Peter before the rest of the Apostles and publicly committed the care of His entire flock to him. Not on his own weakness, but on divine promises was Peter to rely to fulfill these awesome responsibilities. “I (Christ) have prayed for thee (Peter) . . . and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” (Lk.22: 32.) How well Peter now knew the strength of humility, which harnesses the Divine Power!
Be attentive as Christ establishes Peter’s leadership in humility and charity, changing the fisherman into a shepherd: “Simon, son of Jona, lovest thou Me more than these?” “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Jesus commissions Peter, “Feed My lambs.” But Jesus says again, “Simon, son of Jona, lovest thou Me?” How ashamed and sorry Peter is! Everyone knows that he had denied with a curse that he even knew Our Lord! Peter answers, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Jesus more forcefully leaves the young ones of the flock to Peter’s care, “Feed My yearlings.” But how shaken is Peter as Jesus says for the third time, “Simon, son of Jona, lovest thou Me?” Grieved to the depths of his being, Peter can scarcely respond! “Lord! Thou knowest all things,” is his profound act of faith. With burning charity and humility Peter cries out, “Thou knowest that I love Thee!” Our Lord now gives Peter the weightiest command, “Feed my sheep.” Peter is to feed Christ’s flock with the pure doctrines and morals He left with the apostles — just as Moses, a figure of Peter, was elected by God to convey His commandments and judgments to the children of Israel.
With the New Testament continually distinguishing St. Peter as the spokesman and head of the apostles, heretics still have the audacity to deny to him his title, “Vicar of Christ.” Is it wise to attack an authority that Christ, as we have seen, promised to uphold in judgment?
Considering the innumerable false “Christian” religions that have appeared, and their contradictory doctrines and morals, it should be obvious that a single, clear voice of authority is necessary to preserve the unity of Christ’s Church. “And there shall be one fold and one shepherd,” is Christ’s desire. (Jn.10: 16.) This unity cannot be obtained by private interpretation of Holy Scripture, nor by democratic votes on doctrine and morals.
We have but to listen in the corridors of time for the echo of Christ’s Voice, “Thou art Peter!” to find His Church, outside of which no one is saved. Let us not wait for whole nations to board the “Barque of Peter”! We may not be alive if and when they do! True patriotism and faithfulness to Christ require that we start the conversion of our nation and families by our own conversions. Salvation is accomplished one by one. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt.6: 33.)
What follows is testimony from the early Church on the authority of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter. The quotations are taken from the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the Ecumenical Councils. They are all, with the exception of the passages from St. John Chrysostom, documented in the scholarly book The Early Papacy by Fr. Adrian Fortesque. Aside from Fr. Fortesque’s work, in the book Jesus, Peter, and the Keys, Scott Butler and friends have documented a large collection of similar passages from the Fathers and Councils. Both books are available from St. Benedict Center. For those who have Internet access, Catholic apologist Joseph Gallegos has compiled an impressive on-line treasury of patristic proofs for the papacy and other articles of the Catholic Faith. (These may be found at http://www.cin.org/users/jgallegos)
Anyone who discounts these proofs as being “made up” has the moral obligation to show that these passages are fraudulent, or that the Early Church believed something entirely different than what is being proposed here.
St. Cyprian, 258 AD: “There is one Church and one see, founded by the Lord’s voice on Peter. No other altar can be set up, no new priesthood made, except the one altar and one priesthood. Whoever gathers elsewhere scatters.”
“Do they think the Christ will be with them when they are gathered up, who are gathered outside the Church of Christ? . . . They cannot remain with God who will not be of one mind in the Church of God.”
“He who leaves the see of Peter, on which the Church is founded, can he trust that he is in the Church? The Church is founded on one.”
Optatus of Milevis, c. 370 AD: “How can you pretend to have the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, who sacrilegiously fight against the see of Peter by your presumption and impudence?”
Philip, Papal Legate at Ephesus, 431 AD: “There is no doubt, indeed it is known to every age, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, column of faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the Kingdom from Our Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, that to him was given power of forgiving and retaining sins, who (Peter) to this time and always lives and judges in his successors.”
St. John Chrysostom, 407 AD: “[N]o human power can part what God has united. It is said of husband and wife: Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cling to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh [Gen. II: 24.]: Therefore what God has joined together, let no man put asunder. [Matt. XIX: 6.] Thou canst not, O man, dissolve the nuptial tie: how hopest thou to divide the Church? . . .
“Believe me, O man, there is no power like the power of the Church. Cease thy battling, lest thou lose thy strength; wage not war with heaven. When it is with man thou warrest, thou mayst win or lose; but when thy fighting is against the Church, it is impossible that thou shouldst conquer, for God is above all strength. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? [1 Cor. X: 22.] God founded, God gave firmness: who shall be so bold as to pull it down? . . . The Church is stronger than heaven itself: Heaven and earth shall pass, but my words shall not pass. [Matt. XXIV: 35.] What words? Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [Matt. XVI: 18.]
St. John Chrysostom, 407 AD: “By these words: ‘Feed My lambs and My sheep’ (John 21), Christ committed His flock not only to Peter, but to his successors as well.”
St. John Chrysostom, 407 AD: “[Peter] The first of the Apostles, the foundation of the Church, the coryphaeus of the choir of disciples.”
Bishop of Arles, 440-461 AD, to Pope Leo I: “Through blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, the most holy Roman Church should hold sovereignty over all the Churches of the whole World.”
Council of Sardica, 344 AD, to Pope Julius: “It seemed best and most proper that the priests of the Lord should refer from every province to the head, that is to the see of Peter.”
Can. #44 of “Canons of Nicea,” (Arabic edition, 5th Century): “As the Patriarch has power over his subjects, so also the Roman Pontiff has power over all patriarchs as Peter had over all the princes of Christendom and over their councils, because he is the Vicar of Christ over redemption, over the Churches, and over the people committed to him.”
Pope Siricius, 385 AD: “We bear the burden of all who are laden; or rather the blessed apostle Peter bears them in us, who, as we trust, will protect us the heirs of all his government.”
Legate for Pope Leo I at Ephesus, 431 AD: “The order of truth remains; blessed Peter, keeping the strength of the rock, does not abandon the helm of the Church. Whatever we do rightly is his work, whose power lives in his see. In the person of my lowliness he is seen, he is honored, in whom remains the care of all pastors and of the sheep of their charge. His power does not fail, even in an unworthy heir.”
St. Peter Chrysologus of Ravenna, c. 450, to Eutyches: “I exhort you in all things, honored brother, to attend obediently to what is written by the most blessed Pope of the Roman city; for St. Peter, who lives and reigns in his own see, will help those who seek the truth.”
Optatus of Milevis, c. 370: “You cannot deny that you know that the episcopal throne was set up by Peter in the city Rome . . . in which one throne the unity is kept by all, that the other apostles might not each set up his own, that he would be a schismatic and a sinner who should set up another against the one throne.”
Optatus to the Donatists: “By your presumption and insolence you fight sacrilegiously against the throne of Peter.”
St. Ambrose, c. 397: “Where Peter is, there is the Church; where the Church is, there is no death, but eternal life.”
St. Jerome, c. 420, to Pope St. Damasus: “I speak with the successor of the fisherman and disciple of the cross. I, who follow none but Christ as first, am joined in communion with Your Holiness, that is with the See of Peter. On this rock I know that the Church was built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Whoever is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the deluge comes. I know nothing of Vitalis, I defy Meletius, I care nothing for Paulinus. Whoever does not gather with you scatters; for whoever does not belong to Christ is of Antichrist.”
Emperor Valentinian III, 423-455: “We must defend the faith handed down by our fathers with all care; and we must keep the proper reverence due to the blessed apostle Peter incorrupt in our time also. Therefore, the most blessed Bishop of the Roman city, to whom ancient right has given the authority of the priesthood over all, shall have his place, and power to judge about the faith and about bishops.”
All the Fathers at Chalcedon, 451 AD (spoken on the occasion of the reading of Pope St. Leo the Great’s famous Tome addressed to the Council): “This is the faith of the fathers; this is the faith of the apostles! We all believe so; the orthodox believe so. Anathema to him who does not so believe! Peter has spoken thus through Leo!”