Skip to comments.The Apostle Peter and the Papacy
Posted on 09/19/2002 6:13:08 PM PDT by JMJ333
The Apostle Peter possesses the primacy of power; but why should the Pope of Rome succeed to this primacy? We must confess our entire inability to understand how such a question can be taken seriously. Once it is admitted that there is in the Universal Church a fundamental supreme authority established by Christ in the person of St. Peter, then it must follow that this authority is in existence somewhere. And it seems to us that the obvious impossibility of discovering it anywhere else but at Rome is at once a sufficient reason for supporting the Catholic contention.
Since neither the patriarch of Constantinople nor the Synod of St. Petersburg claims or can possibly claim to represent the rock of the Universal Church, that is to say the real and fundamental unity of ecclesiastical authority, there is no choice but either to abandon all idea of such a unity and accept a state of division, confusion and bondage as the normal condition of the Church, or else to acknowledge the claims and actual validity of the one and only existing authority which has always shown itself to be the center of ecclesiastical unity.
No amount of argument can overcome the evidence for the fact that apart from Rome there only exist national churches such as the Armenian or the Greek church, State churches such as the Russian or Anglican, or else sects founded by individuals, such as the Lutherans, the Calvinists, the Irvingites, and so forth.
The Roman Catholic Church is the only church that is neither a national church, nor a State church, nor a sect founded by a man; it is the only church in the world which maintains and asserts the principle of universal social unity against individual egoism and national particularism; it is the only church which maintains and asserts the freedom of the spiritual power against the absolutism of the State; in a word, it is the only church against which the gates of hell have not prevailed.
'By their fruits ye shall know them.' in the sphere of religious fellowship the fruit of Catholicism (for those who have remained Catholics) is the unity and freedom of the Church; the fruit of Protestantism for its adherents both in the East and in the West is division and bondage: division chiefly in the West and bondage in the East.
Think and say what you will of the Roman Church or of the Papacy; we ourselves are very far from seeing or expecting to find in either the achievement of perfection or the realization of the ideal. We are aware that the rock of the Church is not the Church itself, that the foundation is not the same as the building, nor the way the same as the goal.
All that we are maintaining is that the Papacy is the sole international and independent ecclesiastical authority, the only real and permanent basis for the Church's universal activity. That is an indisputable fact and in itself compels us to acknowledge the Pope to be the sole trustee of those powers and privileges which St. Peter received from Christ.
And since the universal monarchy of the Church was not to eliminate the universal monarchy of the political world but to transubstantiate it, was it not natural that the visible seat of the two corresponding monarchies should remain the same? If, as has already been said, the dynasty of Julius Caesar was in a certain sense to give place to the dynasty of Simon Peter, if Caesarism was to yield to Papacy, it was surely to be expected that the Papacy should take up its abode in the existing center of the universal Empire.
The transference to Rome of the supreme ecclesiastical authority established by Christ in the person of St. Peter is a patent fact attested by the tradition of the Church and justified by the logic of circumstances.
As regards the question of the formal manner in which the authority of Peter was transmitted to the bishop of Rome, that is a historical problem which for lack of documentary evidence can hardly be scientifically solved. We believe the Orthodox tradition which is recorded in our liturgical books to the effect that St. Peter on his arrival at Rome definitely fixed his see there and before his death personally nominated his successor. Later times saw the Popes elected by the Christian community of the city of Rome until the present mode of election by the college of Cardinals was definitely established.
Furthermore, as early as the second century we have in the writings of St. Irenaeus unimpeachable evidence that the Church of Rome was already regarded by the whole Christian world as the center of unity, and that the bishop of Rome enjoyed a permanent position of supreme authority, though the forms in which this authority found expression were bound to vary with the times, becoming more definite and imposing in proportion as the development of the whole social structure of the Church became more intricate and diversified.
'In fact' (to quote a historian of the critical rationalist school) 'in 196 the chosen heads of the churches were attempting to create ecclesiastical unity; one of them, the head of the Roman Church, seemed to claim the role of executive authority within the community and to assume the position of sovereign pontiff.' (B. Aube, Les chretiens dans I'Empire Romani, de l afin des Antonitis au milieu du troisieme siecle, p. 69).
But it was not merely a question of executive authority, for a little further on the same author makes the following admission: 'Tertullian and Cyprian appear to hail the Church of Rome as the principal church and in a certain degree the guardian and keeper of the faith and of genuine tradition'.
In the early days of Christianity the monarchical authority of the Universal Church was but a seed scarcely visible but nevertheless pregnant with life; by the second century this seed has visibly developed, as the acts of Pope Victor testify; in the third century the same witness is borne by the acts of Pope Stephen and Pope Dionysius, and in the fourth by those of Pope Julius I.
In the following century we already see the supreme authority and monarchical power of the Roman Church growing like a vigorous sapling under Pope St. Leo I; and finally by the ninth century the Papacy is already the mighty and majestic tree which covers the Christian world with the shadow of its branches.
That is the great fact, the main fact, the manifestation and fulfillment in history of the divine utterance: Thou art Peter. This broad fact is the outcome of divine law, while particular facts regarding the transmission of the sovereign power, the papal elections and so forth concern the purely human side of the Church and have no more than a secondary interest from the religious point of view.
Here again the Roman Empire, foreshadowing as it does in a certain sense the Roman Church, may provide us with an analogy. Since Rome was the undisputed center of the Empire, the individual who was proclaimed Emperor at Rome was immediately recognized as such by the whole world without any question as to whether it was the Senate or the proctorians or the votes of the people which had raised him to the purple.
In exceptional cases, when the Emperor was elected by the legions outside Rome, his first concern was to hasten to the imperial city, without whose support his election would be regarded by everyone as only provisional. The Rome of the Popes became for universal Christendom what the Rome of the Caesars had been for the pagan world. The bishop of Rome was by his very office the supreme pastor and doctor of the whole Church. There was no need to trouble about the method of his election; that depended on circumstances and conditions of the moment. There was usually no more reason for doubting the legality of the election of the bishop of Rome than that of the election of any other bishop.
And once his election to the episcopate was recognized, the head of the central church and the occupant of the Chair of St. Peter was ipso facto in possession of all the rights and powers which Christ conferred upon the rock of the Church. There were exceptional instances where doubt might be felt about the election; antipopes are not unknown to history. But just as the usurpers Demetrius and Peter III in no way robbed the Russian monarchy of its lawful authority, so the antipopes provide no argument against the Papacy.
Any apparent abnormality in the history of the Church belongs to the human 'species' rather than to the divine 'substance' of the religious society. If by some chance adulterated or even poisoned wine were used in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, would this sacrilege have the slightest effect on the validity of the Sacrament itself?
In maintaining that the bishop of Rome is the true successor of St. Peter and therefore the impregnable rock of the Church and the steward of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are putting on one side the question whether the prince of the Apostles was ever personally in Rome. This fact is attested by the tradition of the Church both in the East and in the West and we ourselves feel no doubt in the matter.
But if there are Christians in good faith who are more susceptible than ourselves to the specious arguments of Protestant scholars, we have no wish to dispute the matter with them. We might even admit that St. Peter never went personally to Rome, and yet at the same time from the religious point o fview maintain a spiritual and mystical transmission of his sovereign authority to the bishop of the Eternal City.
The history of early Christianity supplies us with a striking instance of an analogous relationship. St. Paul had no natural link whatever with Jesus Christ; he was not a witness of our Lord's life on earth nor did he receive his commission in any visible or public fashion; nevertheless he is recognized by all Christians as one of the greatest Apostles. His apostolate was a public ministry in the Church and yet its origin, in his relation to Jesus Christ, is a mystical and miraculous fact.
Now if a phenomenon of a supernatural order formed the original link between Jesus Christ and St. Paul and made the latter a chosen vessel and the Apostle of the Gentiles, though at the same time this miraculous commission did not prevent his further activity from being subject to the natural conditions of human life and historic circumstances, then similarly that original relationship between St. Peter and the See of Rome which created the Papacy might well depend upon a mystical and transcendental act, which would in no way deprive the Papacy itself once constituted of the character of a normal social institution acting under the ordinary conditions of earthly life. The mighty spirit of St. Peter, guided by his Master's Almighty Will, might well seek to perpetuate the center of ecclesiastical unity by taking up his abode in the center of political unity already formed by Providence and thus making the bishop of Rome heir to his primacy.
According to this theory (which, let us remember, would become necessary only if it were conclusively shown that St. Peter did not go to Rome) the Pope would be regarded as the successor of St. Peter in the same spiritual and yet absolutely real sense in which, mutatis mutandis, St. Paul must be recognised as a true apostle chosen and sent by Jesus Christ though he had no knowledge of Him except in a miraculous vision. St. Paul's apostleship is attested by the Acts of the Apostles and by the Epistles of St. Paul himself, the succession of the Roman primacy from St. Peter is attested by the unbroken tradition of the Universal Church.
For an Orthodox Christian the latter evidence is intrinsically of no less value than the former. Of the manner in which the foundation rock of the Church was removed from Palestine to Italy we may well be ignorant; but that it was actually so removed and established at Rome is an incontrovertible fact, the rejection of which would involve the denial not only of sacred tradition but of the very history of Christianity.
The point of view which ranks fact lower than principle and lays greater emphasis on a general truth than on the external certainty of material phenomena is by no means peculiar to ourselves; it is the opinion of the Orthodox Church herself.
Let us quote an example in order to make our meaning clear. It is absolutely certain that the first ecumenical council of Nicea was summoned by the Emperor Constantine and not by Pope St. Silvester. Nevertheless the Greco-Russian Church in the office of January 2, in which she celebrates the memory of St. Silvester, has accorded to him special praise for having summoned the 318 Fathers to Nicea and promulgated the orthodox dogma against the blasphemy of Arius. This is no mere historical error -- the history of the first council was well known in the Eastern Church -- but rather the expression of a general truth far more important for the religious conscience of the Church than material accuracy.
Once the primacy of the Popes was recognized in principle, it was natural to ascribe to each Pope all the ecclesiastical acts that took place during his pontificate. Thus with the general fundamental rule of the life of the Church in mind rather than the historical details of a particular event, the Easterns assigned to St. Silvester the privileges and duties which were his according to the spirit, if not the letter, of Christian history. And if it is true that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life, they were right.
Thanks for the bump, NC. =)
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