Thursday, February 21, 2013

Answering 8 questions about the papacy


I was challenged once by a rather fundamentalist Baptist to “prove from Scripture” eight different facts about the papacy.  I don’t know if my answers satisfied him, but I certainly surprised him by not being as stumped as he expected me to be.  Here, edited for brevity, are his questions and my replies.

1. Prove from scripture that the alleged authority given in Matthew 16:18-20 is given personally to Peter alone, in distinction from the rest of the Apostles and the rest of the corporate Church. 

This one is easy enough to do. The verse in question reads, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

In English, we are handicapped. Our word “you” can either be plural or singular, depending upon the context. But in most other languages, including Greek, in which this was written, and Aramaic, which Jesus spoke, there are different forms of the word “you” for plural and singular.

In this instance, all of the “yous” in the phrase above are singular except for the last two. What does this mean? It means that for most of His statement, Christ was speaking to only one person, until He shifted His subject towards the end. Who is this one person? Peter, whom Christ directly addresses.

Peter alone had his name changed to "Rock." Peter alone received the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And Peter, together with the rest of the Apostles, received the power to loose and bind.

2. Prove from scripture that all the rest of the Apostles and the early church acknowledged Peter as their spiritual head. 
3. Prove from scripture that Peter viewed himself as the spiritual head of the Church. 

These two questions are related, and so we will address them together. But before we see if the other Apostles saw Peter as the head of the Church, let’s first demonstrate that God did.

Christ was the one who said He would build His Church upon Peter (Mt 16:18). Christ also gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:19), a direct reference to Is 22:22 where the servant Eliakim is granted, via the symbol of the keys, the authority of his master to become the Prime Minister of the Davidic Kingdom. Here in Matthew we have Christ using the same language and the same symbol of the keys to grant His authority to His servant Peter, making Peter the Prime Minister of His Kingdom. Christ also prayed that Peter's faith would strengthen his brethren (Lk 22:32). Christ named Peter as the chief shepherd of His flock (Jn 21:17).

Now, did the other Apostles, and Peter himself, see him in this leadership position? The book of Acts tells us volumes. Peter headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26). Peter led the Apostles in preaching after Pentecost (Acts 2:14). Peter received the first converts into the Church (Acts 2:41). Peter performed the first miracle after Pentecost (Acts 3:6-7). Peter inflicted the first punishment in the Church on Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11). Peter excommunicated the first heretic, Simon (Acts 8:21). Peter received the revelation from God to admit Gentiles into the Church (Acts 10:44-46). Peter pronounces the first dogmatic decision of the Church (Acts 15:17). Looking beyond the Acts, we see in Gal 1:8 that, after his conversion, the first person Paul seeks out is Peter.

Whenever the Apostles’ names are listed, Peter’s name is always listed first (see Mt 10:1-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). Often the Apostles are simply called “Peter and his companions” as in Lk 9:32; 8:46; Mk 16:7. Peter spoke for the Apostles on many occasions (Mt 18:21; Mk 8:29; Lk 12:41; Jn 6:69). Peter’s name is mentioned in the Bible 195 times -- more than all the other Apostles added together.
Was he head of the Apostles? A fair and unbiased reading of the text would lead one to conclude so.

4. Prove from scripture that Peter was given the ability to make infallible proclamations. 

What did Christ promise to the Church through the Apostles? He promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all truth” (Jn 16:13). He gave the Apostles the ability to speak with His own voice (Lk 10:16). And He promised to be with us always (Mt 28:20). Furthermore the Church is said in the scriptures to be the pillar and foundation (“bulwark” in some translations) of truth (1 Tim 3:15).  We therefore believe that Christ's Church is incapable of teaching error.

Now, do Peter and his successors have this infallibility in a special way? We believe yes. Where can this be found in scripture? One obvious but often overlooked place is 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Obviously Peter had the ability to make infallible statements at least twice -- when he composed these two books of the Bible, which Protestants and Catholics both accept as inerrant.

But there are other places. In Lk 22:32, Christ tells Peter Satan has demanded to have him, but that He has prayed for him “that your faith may not fail.” We have to accept that what Christ prayed for was achieved.  This would lead Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in 256 to proclaim, “Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” This extra-biblical source illustrates the idea that Christ’s promises to Peter carry on through his successors.

In fact, if these things could not be passed on from generation to generation, how would Christ fulfill His promise to be with us always? Which leads us to the next question.

5. Prove from scripture that Peter’s personal authority could be  passed on through an unbroken line of successors. 

We see the idea of Apostolic Succession carried out with the selection of the first successor of an Apostle, Matthias, who was chosen to succeed Judas in Acts 1:25-26.  Furthermore, we read in several places of the Apostles ordaining bishops and priests to serve particular churches and carry on their ministry: 1 Tim 4:14, Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5, to name a few. They saw nothing questionable about passing their authority on to others. There are more examples of this kind if you need me to cite them all.

6. Prove from scripture that Peter used his authority to add extra-Biblical, but infallible and binding decrees upon the rest of the Church. 

This is impossible to answer, for the following reason. Any teaching of Peter that is recorded in scripture would, by definition, be scriptural. Therefore it is impossible to prove anything extra-Biblical from scripture. The question is a logical fallacy. Furthermore what we know as “the Bible” did not exist in Apostolic times.  They used the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, but the New Testament was still being written, and would not be formally canonized until 405 AD.

7. Prove from scripture that extra-Biblical traditions would be required in order for the Church to remain pure and apostolic. 

We have the same problem with this question. Any tradition named in the Bible would not be “extra-Biblical.” But, if you’ll see it, there is an answer of sorts contained in your very question. You ask if anything outside of scripture would be needed for the Church to be apostolic. “Apostolic” means “based on the Apostles.” The Church, according to the Nicene Creed, is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. It is united, it is sanctified, it is universal, and it is based on the teachings of the Apostles.

If the Nicene Fathers thought like Protestants, the Nicene Creed would identify the Church as one, holy, catholic, and scriptural. But it doesn’t. This is because the teachings of the Church are based ultimately on what Christ and the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostles. The Scriptures are valued because their teaching is Apostolic. The Apostles are not valued because their teaching is Scriptural.

8. Prove from scripture that not one of Peter’s personal successors could ever be in error. 

I can’t. But this is not Catholic theology. The Catholic Church has never taught, never suggested, that the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, would never hold erroneous or even heretical views. What the Church does teach is that the successor of Peter would never teach heresy as a matter of the faith.

Why refuse to believe that God would grant the Church a special charism to prevent all of the faithful from being led astray? Surely He has performed greater miracles. Why is this one so hard to accept?

It seems to me that the anti-Catholics are preaching that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church, and I just don’t buy it. Why? Because my Bible tells me otherwise, and I am a Bible-believing Christian!

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