Primacy of Simon Peter - Catholic View

Catholic View

Catholics assert the following:

St Paul sees Judaism as the type or figure of Christianity: "Now all these things happened to in figure...." In the Old Law, Deut. 17:8-12 attributes to the High Priest the highest jurisdiction in religious matters. Therefore, it is argued, logic dictates that a supreme head would be necessary in the Christian Church, though the relevance of Biblical law in Christianity is still disputed, see also New Covenant and New Commandment.

In the New Testament, which some call the New Law or "New Greek Testament", Matthew 16:16-18 tells that Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter. Elsewhere in Scripture such a name change always denotes a change in status (e.g., Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and Saul to Paul).

In the Greek text, the new name given is "Πέτρος" (Petros), and in the second half of the same verse the word translated as "rock" is "πέτρα" (petra). The common Protestant argument is that Greek is translated (from Hebrew) is tenuous at best as there is no real evidence or indication that the New Testament (in Greek) was ever translated from Hebrew or Aramaic texts, for that argument see Aramaic primacy. According to the Protestant transliteration argument, the language that Jesus spoke, the same word, "כפא" (cepha), was used for both Peter's name and for the rock on which Jesus said he would build his church. A literal translation, in the style of the King James Version, of the words presumably used by Jesus would be "Thou art Rock, and upon this rock will I build my church". To preserve a supposed pun, the Greek text chose to translate Peter's name as "Πέτρος" rather than as "Κηφᾶς" (Cephas). However many Biblical scholars today believe that Jesus and his disciples spoke (and likely wrote) in Greek. Indeed, using the supposed transliteration of "כפא", which is found several times in the New Testament, would lose the play of words. Other problems exist with the Protestant theory. Greek was the language of government, markets, and every day life in Judea. Aramaic would have been spoken to people far beyond the reach of the Roman cities, and Hebrew had been largely lost except within educated religious ranks. In order to reach a larger audience, it would be far more practical and sensible if Jesus spoke to Jews and non-Jews alike in Greek ( Revelation 1:8, Revelation 11, Revelation 21:6, Revelation 22:13, Matt 8:5-13, Luke 7:2-10 ).

Jesus also said to Peter in verse 19, "I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Especially for the Hebrew people, keys were a symbol of authority. Indeed, Jesus declares in the Book of Revelation, that He has the "keys of death and hell," which means that He has power over death and hell; Isaiah 22:21-22 also supports this. Cardinal Gibbons, in his book The Faith of Our Fathers, points out that keys are still a symbol of authority in today's culture; he uses the example of someone giving the keys of his house to another person, and that the latter represented the owner of the house in his absence.

Another source indicating Peter's supremacy can be found in John 21:15-17 where Christ tells Peter three times to "feed His sheep" and "feed His lambs." The "sheep" are understood to be the stronger portion of Jesus' flock (the clergy), and the "lambs" are understood as the weaker portion (the laity). From this, Catholics believe that Peter was given charge over Christ's whole flock, that is, the Church.

Moreover, Peter is always named first in all listings of the Apostles; Judas is invariably mentioned last. In Matthew 10:2 Peter is described as the "first Apostle". It is important to note that Peter was neither the first Apostle in age nor election; therefore, Peter must be the first Apostle in the sense of authority, if you ignore the possibility of him being first in the sense of first in the list of Twelve Apostles. According to Acts 1-2,10-11,15, St. Peter was the leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem. Jesus also instructed St. Peter to strengthen his brethren, i.e., the apostles, according to Luke 22:31-32.

Both Latin and Greek writers in the early church (such as the St. John Chrysostom) referred to "rock" as applying to both Peter personally and his faith symbolically, as well as seeing Christ's promise to apply more generally to his twelve apostles and the Church at large.

Vatican Council I defined the primacy of the bishop of Rome over the whole Catholic Church as an essential institution of the Church that can never be relinquished. This primacy is thus crucial to the understanding of the church from a Catholic viewpoint. At the same time, the history of papal primacy has always been imperfect and much-debated. This is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

424 Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.

552 Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Christ, the living Stone, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.

Regarding the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19, Jaroslav Pelikan writes, "As Roman Catholic scholars now concede, the ancient Christian father Cyprian used it to prove the authority of the bishop—not merely of the Roman bishop, but of every bishop," referring to Maurice Bevenot's work on St. Cyprian.

Eastern Catholics agree with the above, but also consider Peter to be representative of all bishops. In this, they represent a middle-ground between the Catholic position and that of the Eastern Orthodox in the next section.

Though among the Twelve Peter is predominant in the first chapters of Acts of the Apostles, James "the brother of the Lord" is shown to be a leader in his own right in later chapters, indeed he is commonly considered the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Some assume James outranks Peter because he speaks last in the Council of Jerusalem and suggests the final ruling (concerning Gentile converts and Jewish practices such as circumcision) agreed upon by all, and because Paul mentions him before Peter and John when he calls them "pillars of the church" in Jerusalem. James was indeed the first bishop or patriarch of Jerusalem according to tradition. However, Catholics believe the bishop of Jerusalem was not by that fact the head of the Christian church, since the leadership rested in Peter as the "Rock" and "Chief Shepherd". It is believed Peter entrusted the Jerusalem community to James when he was forced to leave Jerusalem due to Herod Agrippa's persecution.

For Catholics, the fact that the new name for Simon is Peter is in fact itself very significant. In the Old Testament God is frequently referred to as a Rock or stone. Jesus refers to himself as the cornerstone. The Book of Daniel contains a prophecy that a Rock or stone from the mountain of God (heaven) will come down to earth and destroy the pagan kings. The rock will then grow itself until it covers the entire earth. Protestants consider this prophecy to allude to the end times but Catholics consider the prophecy to refer specifically to Jesus as the Rock from Heaven. Further, Catholics see the fact that the Rock does not leave but stays to until it covers the entire earth to mean that the Church, built of the Rock of Peter, is the body of Christ, the Rock from Heaven, and that the Rock will eventually cover the entire Earth which is why the term Catholic (universal or worldwide) is the most common designation for the Catholic Church.

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