Church Authority Doesn”t “Peter” Out

Let”s recap what we have discussed so far in this brief series on Peter”s confession of faith in Matthew 16.

Peter confessed his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus not only blessed him profusely, but also gave him a new name and a special mission as the “rock” on which He will build His Church. We then looked at the “keys” that were given to Peter, which established him as the “prime minister” of Christ”s kingdom, with the authority to “bind and loose.”
Clearly Peter had a preeminent role as the leader of Christ’s kingdom on earth. But where do Catholics get the idea of an ongoing papacy?

First, let”s look again at Isaiah 22 from the standpoint of the transfer of office from Shebna to Eliakim. The authority is tied to the office (whoever is given the “keys” and raiment of the prime minister), and not to the individual.

Sports fans call Lebron James “King James” because of his basketball prowess. Yet this title, or nickname, is attached to Lebron personally. There is no “office” that Lebron holds, and when he retires there will not be a “King James” on the court. That title will not pass to his children or teammates. [more]

That”s not how it works with an office, such as president, senator, judge, or school principal. When one person”s tenure is finished, another is chosen to take his or her place. We also see this principle at work in the Acts of the Apostles, where Matthias is chosen as an apostle explicitly to fill the office vacated by Judas (see Acts 1:15 and following, especially v. 20).

In the case of St. Peter, drawing upon the historical precedent of the prime minister in the kingdom of Israel, the very concept of keys implies an office that continues from generation to generation.

Second, let’s turn to the final verses of Matthew (Mt. 28:18-20). St. Matthew concludes his Gospel with Jesus handing over His own divine authority to the Church through the office of Peter and the apostles–the first Pope and bishops.

But, as a practical matter, how could they carry out the command to baptize and teach until the end of the age (at least 2,000 years)? They didn’2012-04-24 18:35:16′t have a written and universally accepted canon of Scripture until after we”ve had dozens of popes. The fact is that the apostles were to have successors–and early Church history clearly bears that out.

So when Jesus gave Peter the keys, He was entrusting His authority not only to Peter, but also to all his successors.The keys of the New Covenant kingdom are transferable–just as the keys were passed on from prime minister to prime minister in the Davidic kingdom of old.

This is why the Catholic Church has always taught that Peter’s successor–the pope–serves as the “Vicar of Christ” and as the preeminent shepherd of God’s people.

As the modern-day successor of Peter and bearer of “the keys,” Pope Benedict XVI stands as the current prime minister in Christ’s kingdom (266th!). It”s not a position of power so much as a position of service. As Pope St. Gregory the Great said around the year 600, the Pope is Servus Servorum Dei: The Servant of the Servants of God.

In Isaiah, the prime minister is a “father” to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Is. 22:21). So too is Pope Benedict our Holy Father.

2 Responses to “Church Authority Doesn”t “Peter” Out”

  1. Zach says:

    I love the "King James" office vs. person analogy, Leon. It works nicely. I”ll have to remember that one!

  2. petebrown says:

    I would add that I think the "key" metaphor also goes with "the gates of hell" allusion. The image is not that of Peter standing at pearly gates in revelations and letting people in (or not) as with so much popular Christianity. Rather it is of unlocking the gates of hades to plunder the devil”s kingdom, with the guarantee that however powerful those gates are they cannot resist the keys. This also fits in well the with "binding" a "loosing" from before.

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