Last week, we began our examination of how Christ founded the Catholic Church. This week, we're going to take it a step further.
The most telling point about the divine origins of the Church is the papacy. Non-Catholics like to tell us there's nothing in the Bible about the papacy or St. Peter being the first pope. That couldn't be further from the truth. Biblical evidence for the papacy is overwhelming.
Note first that St. Peter was almost always named first in the Gospels' listings of the Apostles (Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16; Acts 1:13) and that sometimes the Apostles were referred to only as "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32). Saint Peter was the first of the Apostles to preach, the first to perform a healing miracle and the one to whom the revelation came that Christianity was for Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 2:14–40; 3:6; 10:46–48).
Peter's preeminent position among the Apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship to Christ, although the implications were only slowly unfolded. At their first meeting, Jesus told Simon that his name would thereafter be Peter, which translates as "Rock" (John 1:42). Until that moment, only God was called a rock. The word was never used as a proper name for a man. If one were to turn to a companion and say, "From now on your name is Soufflé," people would wonder, "Why Soufflé — what does that mean?" Indeed, why Peter for Simon the fisherman? Why give him as a name a word only used for God before now?
Christ wasn't given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews when it came to names. Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram was changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5); Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28); Eliacim to Joakim (2 Kings 23:34); and Daniel, Ananias, Misael and Azarias to Baltasar, Sidrach, Misach and Abdenago (Daniel 1:6–8). But no Jew had ever been called "Rock" because that was reserved for God.
The Jews would give other names taken from nature such as Barach ("Lightning"), Deborah ("Bee") and Rachel ("Ewe"), but not Rock. In the New Testament, James and John were surnamed Boanerges ("Sons of Thunder") by Jesus, but that was never regularly used in place of their original names. Simon's new name supplanted the old.
Saint Peter's name has been firmly established by Christ as a name linked to God. Throughout Jesus and Peter's relationship, the reason became gradually clearer, but it becomes crystal clear in Matthew's Gospel. Immediately after Peter proclaims Christ's divinity, Jesus says:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on 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 will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven (Matthew 16:17–19).
This passage seems obvious to most of us. It could have been rewritten as "You are rock and on this rock I will build my Church." It makes perfect sense that Jesus is here giving Peter supreme authority. However, those who desire to debunk the papacy and its divine authority prefer to claim the rock refers to Christ instead of Peter.
Grammatical rules tell us that the phrase "this rock" must relate to the closest noun. Peter's profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ is two verses earlier, while Peter's name is in the immediately preceding clause. Consider this artificial sentence: "I have a shirt and a coat and it is blue." Which is blue? The coat — because that's the noun closest to the pronoun "it." Obviously then, the word "rock" must mean Peter — "You are Peter (Rock), and on this rock I will build my Church."
Not only is the reference to rock clear, but we see also that Jesus is giving St. Peter more authority than God had ever given any man, along with some specific promises. Immediately after stating that He will build the Church upon St. Peter, Jesus goes on to make an astounding promise, and He has an even more astounding reason for doing so.
The promise is that the gates of Hell will not defeat the Church built on St. Peter. This is a promise that the Church will not be destroyed by Christ's enemies and that she will stand until the end of time. Only a divine institution could be the subject of such a promise. Think about it: There's not one single nation on the face of the planet existing today that existed then. All have either been overthrown and completely remade, or they are destroyed. Many antichrists have come and gone. The Roman Empire tried to destroy the Catholic Church. So did Atilla the Hun, Khan, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin.
Yet Holy Mother Church is still youthful and thriving, while all her enemies have become dust and ashes.
Using the symbol of the keys, Jesus gives Peter his authority. That symbol isn't lost on us today. Dignitaries receive the keys to the city. Business owners possess the keys to their businesses and the authority to run them. You have keys to your car, and no one else has the authority to drive it without those keys. It's obvious then that Jesus is giving divine authority to Peter when He gives him the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.
This is immediately followed by the power of binding and loosing. Binding and loosing among the rabbis of Jesus' time meant to declare something either prohibited or permitted. Here, it plainly means that St. Peter, the steward of the Lord's house, the Church, has all the rights and powers of a divinely appointed steward. He doesn't, like the Jewish rabbis, declare probable, speculative opinions, but he has the right to teach and govern authoritatively, with the certainty of God's approval in Heaven. Lawgiving power is certainly implied by these words.
Got questions? Contact me at Joe@CantankerousCatholic.com.