A Refutation of the Misrepresentations of the Writings of
William Webster and of the Church Fathers
by Roman Catholic, Stephen Ray, in His Book Upon This Rock
By William Webster
Stephen Ray is a Roman Catholic who has written a biblical and patristic defense of the papacy in a book entitled Upon This Rock. It was published in the Spring of 1999. In this book, Stephen Ray makes reference to The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock and The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, both authored by William Webster. In these references Mr. Ray makes a number of charges against Mr. Webster and purposeful misrepresentations of his writings that need to be addressed.
The First Misrepresentation
The first misrepresentation occurs in the Introduction in which Mr. Ray makes the following statement:
Sometimes silence is more eloquent than words. This is especially true in Church history. We hear so much about what the Fathers say and so little about what they do not say. This is revealing and should play a significant role in our research. William Webster has written a book that we will refer to several times in our study. Webster is an ex-Catholic who decided to abandon the Church and cast his lot with the Fundamentalist Protestants. His book is entitled Peter and the Rock and asserts that, as the blurb on the back of the book says, “The contemporary Roman Catholic interpretation [of Peter and the rock] had no place in the biblical understanding of the early church doctors.” To ascertain whether or not such an assertion is true is one of the main goals of this book. But along with what the Fathers say, we need to hear their silence as well. While reading Webster’s book, I noticed, along with his selective use of the Fathers in attempting to discredit the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Papacy, that there are no citations “revealed” in his book in which a Christian, especially a Church Father, explicitly denies the Petrine primacy or the Petrine succession. Webster collects a large number of passages that are supposed to prove that the Fathers oppose Catholic teaching, yet never is there a flat-out denial of the Petrine primacy or the primacy of Rome. This is a silence that speaks volumes! We may find differing interpretations of Peter’s primacy, which is what we should expect, according to John Henry Newman, yet we find no denial of that primacy.
I wrote to William Webster and asked him if he knew of any Church Father who denied the primacy of Peter or of his successors. Mr. Webster’s response was very telling, and I wish he had been forthright about this matter in his book. His return E-mail stated, “No father denies that Peter had a primacy or that there is a Petrine succession. The issue is how the fathers interpreted those concepts. They simply did not hold to the Roman Catholic view of later centuries that primacy and succession were ‘exclusively’ related to the bishops of Rome.”’ What an extraordinary admission; what an extraordinary truth. Many of the Fathers were in theological or disciplinary disagreement with Rome (for example, Cyprian and Irenaeus), yet they never denied Rome’s primacy. They may have debated what that primacy meant, or how it was to work out in the universal Church, but they never denied the primacy. The quickest way to achieve jurisdictional or doctrinal victory is to subvert or disarm the opponent. In this case it would have been as simple as proving from the Bible or from tradition that Peter, and subsequently his successors in Rome, had no primacy, no authority to rule in the Church. Yet, as even Webster freely admits, this refutation never occurred. Irenaeus may challenge the appropriateness of a decision made by Victor, but he never challenges Victor’s authority to make the binding decision. Cyprian may at times disagree with a decree of Stephen’s on baptism, but he never rejects the special place of the Roman See, which would have been the easiest means of winning the debate. The bishop of Rome was unique in assuming the authority and obligation to oversee the Churches. Clement and Ignatius make this clear from the first century and the beginning of the second. If the authority exercised had been illegitimate, or wrongly arrogated, it would have been an act of overzealousness at one end of the spectrum, of tyranny at the other. Yet no one ever stood up and said, “No, you have no authority. Who are you to order us, to teach us, to require obedience from us, to excommunicate us?” If the jurisdictional primacy of Rome had been a matter of self-aggrandizement, someone would have opposed it as they opposed other innovations and heresies in the Church. The silence is profound (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 12-13).
Mr. Ray has charged that my response in my email was somehow different from that which was expressed in my book. He charges me with failure to be forthright insinuating that I have purposefully misled people. First of all, Mr. Ray failed to give my full response to his request in my email. The full text of my answer is as follows:
Thanks for your e-mail, As to your questions let me make this brief comment. No father denies that Peter had a primacy or that there is a Petrine succession. The issue is how the Fathers interpreted those concepts. They simply did not hold to the Roman Catholic view of later centuries that primacy and succession were “exclusively” related to the bishops of Rome. They do not apply the special titles they attribute to Peter to the bishops of Rome and what is more they often attribute the same titles to the other apostles. The most explicit denial of a Petrine primacy in the Roman Catholic sense comes from Augustine which I have documented in the book where he states in exegeting the rock of Matthew 16:18 that Christ did not build his Church on a man but on Peter’s confession. He specifically separates Peter’s faith from Peter’s person and if the Church is not built upon the person of Peter there is no papal office. This is not to say that the Rome did not have authority in the eyes of the fathers. But Rome did not have exclusive authority. The ecclesiology of the early Church was one of conciliarity which was shared by all the major patriarchal sees. Rome was the only patriarchal see in the West and therefore held authority in the West, though in the beginning this was not universal but regional, as Rufinus’ translation of the Nicene Council makes clear. I would strongly urge you to read the historical works that I have referenced from the various Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant historians. John Meyendorff is especially good. Hope this is helpful (Personal email from William Webster to Stephen Ray).
Mr. Ray has purposefully misrepresented me in his statements. He is very aware of the fact that I deal extensively with the question he raises in a very forthright manner in my book. Mr. Ray’s main argument rests on an argument from silence, the fact that the Fathers never denied the primacy of Peter or Petrine succession. Of course they didn’t. As I mentioned in my email they explicitly affirm it. However, in affirming it they do not interpret it in the same way Rome does today. That is the point. When Roman apologists use the term ‘primacy’ they mean universal juridisdiction to rule the Church universal. When they speak of Petrine succession they mean this in an exclusive sense as applied to the bishops of Rome. But when the Fathers speak of a Petrine primacy and succession and the primacy of Rome they mean something quite different. They are not silent on the issue. They never denied that Rome had a primacy, but it was interpreted as a primacy of honor since the Church was located in the capital of the Empire and was the site of the martrydom of Peter and Paul. It was not a primacy of universal jurisdiction. They never denied that the Church of Rome had a right to exercise authority. But that authority was limited in its jurisdiction. But when the meaning of primacy and rule is couched in the language of Vatican I we find a vigorous opposition to such claims by the Church Fathers. There is not silence. The Fathers do speak, and they make it clear what they mean by the terms they use. They also speak by repudiating the unlawful claims of Rome as they began to be expressed in the third century and in all the subsequent centuries of the Church. Stephen Ray, and Roman apologists in general, are guilty of a major error of historiography. This is the error of importing the theological understanding of terms developed in a later age and to then impose these concepts on the same terms of the writings of an earlier age, assuming that because they use the same word you do, that they mean the same thing by it. The heretic, Pelagius, used the term grace. He did not deny its necessity. But the issue is not whether he used the word but what he meant by his use of it. And when we examine his use of the word we find that his understanding was definitely heretical. In like manner, when we examine the way the Church Fathers employed the terms they used with respect to Peter and the meaning of primacy we discover that their understanding of those terms is very different from Vatican I and present day Roman Catholic concepts.
With regard to Mr. Ray’s charges that I have been less than honest with my readers on the Father’s views of Peter and the primacy, the reader can judge for himself whether those charges are valid. The following is the discussion from my book, The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock dealing with the issue of how the Fathers interpret the primacy of Peter and Petrine succession when I deal with Augustine and Chrysostom:
According to Augustine the Apostles are equal in all respects. Each receives the authority of the keys, not Peter alone. But some object, doesn’t Augustine accord a primacy to the apostle Peter? Does he not call Peter the first of the apostles, holding the chief place in the Apostleship? Don’t such statements prove papal primacy? While it is true that Augustine has some very exalted things to say about Peter, as do many of the fathers, it does not follow that either he or they held to the Roman Catholic view of papal primacy. This is because their comments apply to Peter alone. They have absolutely nothing to do with the bishops of Rome. How do we know this? Because Augustine and the fathers do not make that application in their comments. They do not state that their descriptions of Peter apply to the bishops of Rome. The common mistake made by Roman Catholic apologists is the assumption that because some of the fathers make certain comments about Peter—for example, that he is chief of the apostles or head of the apostolic choir—that they also have in mind the bishop of Rome in an exclusive sense. But they do not state this in their writings. This is a preconceived theology that is read into their writings. Did they view the bishops of Rome as being successors of Peter? Yes. Did they view the bishops of Rome as being the exclusive successors of Peter? No. In the view of Augustine and the early fathers all the bishops of the Church in the East and West were the successors of Peter. They all possess the chair of Peter. So when they speak in exalted terms about Peter they do not apply those terms to the bishops of Rome. Therefore, when a father refers to Peter as the rock, the ‘coryphaeus,’ the first of the disciples, or something similar, this does not mean that he is expressing agreement with the current Roman Catholic interpretation. This view is clearly validated from the following statements of Augustine:
This same Peter therefore who had been by the Rock pronounced ‘blessed,’ bearing the figure of the Church, holding the chief place in the Apostleship (Sermon 26).
The blessed Peter, the first of the apostles (Sermon 295).
Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his, whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, ‘To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 16:19). After all, it isn’t just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged preeminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, ‘To you I am entrusting,’ what has in fact been entrusted to all (Sermon 295).
Previously, of course, he was called Simon; this name of Peter was bestowed on him by the Lord, and that with the symbolic intention of his representing the Church. Because Christ, you see, is the petra or rock; Peter, or Rocky, is the Christian people (Sermon 76).
So then, this self–same Peter, blessed by being surnamed Rocky from the rock, representing the person of the Church, holding chief place in the apostolic ranks (Sermon 76).
For as some things are said which seem peculiarly to apply to the Apostle Peter, and yet are not clear in their meaning, unless when referred to the Church, whom he is acknowledged to have figuratively represented, on account of the primacy which he bore among the Disciples; as it is written, ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ and other passages of like purport: so Judas doth represent those Jews who were enemies of Christ (Exposition on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 119).
You will remember that the apostle Peter, the first of all the apostles, was thrown completely of balance during the Lord’s passion (Sermon 147).
Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer. (Sermon 229).
And this Church, symbolized in its generality, was personified in the Apostle Peter, on account of the primacy of his apostleship. For, as regards his proper personality, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, by still more abounding grace one, and yet also, the first apostle; but when it was said to him, I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,’ he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by divers temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falleth not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. For petra (rock) is not derived from Peter, but Peter from petra; just as Christ is not called so from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. For on this very account the Lord said, ‘On this rock will I build my Church,’ because Peter had said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed, I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself built. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus. The Church, therefore, which is founded in Christ received from Him the keys of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Peter, that is to say, the power of binding and loosing sins. For what the Church is essentially in Christ, such representatively is Peter in the rock (petra); and in this representation Christ is to be understood as the Rock, Peter as the Church (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Tractate 124.5).
Augustine states that Peter is the first and head of the apostles and that he holds a primacy. However he does not interpret that primacy in a Roman Catholic sense. He believes that Peter’s primacy is figurative in that he represents the universal Church. Again, he explicitly states that Christ did not build his Church upon a man but on Peter’s confession of faith. Peter is built on Christ the rock and as a figurative representative of the Church he shows how each believer is built on Christ. In Augustine’s view, Peter holds a primacy or preeminence, but none of this applies to him in a jurisdictional sense, because he says that ‘Christ did not build his Church upon a man.’ We can not get a clearer illustration that the fathers did indeed separate Peter’s confession of faith from Peter’s person. In commenting on one of Augustine’s references to Peter and the rock, John Rotelle, the editor of the Roman Catholic series on the Sermons of Augustine, makes these observations:
‘There was Peter, and he hadn’t yet been confirmed in the rock’: That is, in Christ, as participating in his ‘rockiness’ by faith. It does not mean confirmed as the rock, because Augustine never thinks of Peter as the rock. Jesus, after all, did not in fact call him the rock…but ‘Rocky.’ The rock on which he would build his Church was, for Augustine, both Christ himself and Peter’s faith, representing the faith of the Church(emphasis mine) (John Rotelle, Ed., The Works of Saint Augustine (New Rochelle: New City, 1993), Sermons, Sermon 265D.6, p. 258-259, n. 9.
Augustine does not endorse the Roman Catholic interpretation. Again and again he states that the rock is Christ, not Peter. Augustine claims no exclusive Petrine succession in the Roman bishops and no papal office. Karlfried Froehlich sums up Augustine’s views on Peter and the rock of Matthew 16 in these comments:
Augustine’s formulation (of Matthew 16:18-19), informed by a traditional North African concern for the unity of the church, that in Peter unus pro omnibus (one for all) had answered and received the reward, did not suggest more than a figurative reading of Peter as an image of the true church. In light of Peter’s subsequent fall and denial, the name itself was regularly declared to be derived from Christ, the true rock. Augustine, who followed Origen in this assumption, was fascinated by the dialectic of the ‘blessed’ Peter (Matt. 16:17) being addressed as ‘Satan’ a few verses later (v. 23). In Peter, weak in himself and strong only in his connection with Christ, the church could see the image of its own total dependence on God’s grace. Augustine rigorously separated the name-giving from its explanation: Christ did not say to Peter: ‘you are the rock,’ but ‘you are Peter.’ The church is not built upon Peter but upon the only true rock, Christ. Augustine and the medieval exegetes after him found the warrant for this interpretation in 1 Cor. 10:4. The allegorical key of this verse had already been applied to numerous biblical rock passages in the earlier African testimonia tradition. Matt. 16:18 was no exception. If the metaphor of the rock did not refer to a negative category of ‘hard’ rocks, it had to be read christologically (Reinhold Seeberg, Text-Book of the History of Doctrines (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), Volume I, p. 182-183).
Karl Morrison sums up Augustine’s views of ecclesiology in these words:
Peter was said to have received the power of the keys, not in his own right, but as the representative of the entire Church. Without contesting Rome’s primacy of honor, St. Augustine held that all the Apostles, and all their successors, the bishops, shared equally in the powers which Christ granted St. Peter (De Schismate Donatistorum, Book I.10; Book 2,3,4,6; C.S.E.L. 26. 12, 36. Cited by E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority (London: SPCK, 1952), pp. 118-119).
Reinhold Seeberg, the Protestant Church historian, makes these comments on Augustine’s interpretation of Peter pointing out that it reflects the view of Cyprian:
The idea of the Roman Primacy likewise receives no special elucidation at the hands of Augustine. We find a general acknowledgment of the ‘primacy of the apostolic chair,’ but Augustine knows nothing of any special authority vested in Peter or his successors. Peter is a ‘figure of the church’ or of ‘good pastors,’ and represents the unity of the church (serm. 295.2; 147.2). In this consists the significance of his position and that of his successors…As all bishops (in contradistinction from the Scriptures) may err (unit. eccl. II.28), so also the Roman bishop. This view is plainly manifest from the bearing of Augustine and his colleagues in the Pelagian Controversy…Dogmatically, there had been no advance from the position of Cyprian. The Africans, in their relations with Rome, played somewhat the role of the Gallicanism of a later period (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 67-69).
W.H.C. Frend affirms the above consensus of Augustine’s ecclesiology and his interpretation of Peter’s commission:
Augustine…rejected the idea that ‘the power of the keys’ had been entrusted to Peter alone. His primacy was simply a matter of personal privilege and not an office. Similarly, he never reproached the Donatists for not being in communion with Rome, but with lack of communion with the apostolic Sees as a whole. His view of Church government was that less important questions should be settled by provincial councils, greater matters at general councils (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, Epistle LXX. 17, 18, 20, pp. 279-281).
What was Chrysostom’s view of Peter and his interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16? Does it coincide with the teaching of papal primacy espoused by the Church of Rome? The answer is no. Chrysostom’s views are very similar to those of Augustine. As we have seen Augustine held a very high view of Peter. He called him the chief and first of the apostles and yet stated that the rock was not Peter but Christ. A very similar picture presents itself in the writings of Chrysostom. In his book Studies in the Early Papacy, the Roman Catholic apologist, Dom Chapman, has referenced approximately ninety citations from Chrysostom’s writings which he claims as proof of a clear and unambiguous affirmation of a Petrine and thereby a papal primacy. But Dom Chapman has committed a primary error of historiography—that of reading back into the writings of a previous age the presuppositions and conclusions of a later age. He assumes that because a particular father makes certain statements about Peter that he must have a primacy of jurisdiction in mind and that this applies in his thinking to the bishop of Rome in an exclusive sense as well. But as we have seen with Augustine this is not the case. A close examination of the comments of Chrysostom demonstrates this to be true in his case as well. Like Augustine, Chrysostom makes some very exalted statements about Peter:
Peter, that chief of the apostles, first in the Church, the friend of Christ who did not receive revelation from man but from the Father, as the Lord bore witness to him saying: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar–Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven’: this same Peter (when I say ‘Peter,’ I name an unbreakable rock, an immovable ridge, a great apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called and the first obeying), this same Peter, I say, did not perpetrate a minor misdeed but a very great one. He denied the Lord. I say this, not accusing a just man, but offering to you the opportunity of repentance. Peter denied the Lord and governor of the world himself, the savior of all…(De Eleemos III.4, M.P.G., Vol. 49, Col. 298).
Peter, the coryphaeus of the choir of apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the foundation of the faith, the base of the confession, the fisherman of the world, who brought back our race from the depth of error to heaven, he who is everywhere fervent and full of boldness, or rather of love than boldness (Hom. de decem mille talentis 3, PG III, 20. Cited by Dom Chapman, Studies in the Early Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 74).
These are exalted titles but in using them Chrysostom does not mean that Peter possesses a primacy of jurisdiction in the Church or that he is the rock upon which the Church is built. Again, we have already seen this in Augustine. He uses similar language in describing Peter but without its having a Roman Catholic meaning. We know this is also true for Chrysostom because he applies similar titles to the other apostles and did not interpret the rock of Matthew 16 to be Peter. The term coryphaeus, for example, was a general title applied by Chrysostom to several of the apostles, not to Peter exclusively. It carries the idea of leadership but implies no jurisdiction. Chrysostom uses this term to describe Peter, James, John, Andrew and Paul. He states that just as Peter received the charge of the world, so did the apostles Paul and John. Just as Peter was appointed teacher of the world, so was Paul. Just as Peter was a holder of the keys of heaven, so was the apostle John. He places the apostles on an equal footing relative to authority:
He took the coryphaei and led them up into a high mountain apart…Why does He take these three alone? Because they excelled the others. Peter showed his excellence by his great love of Him, John by being greatly loved, James by the answer…’We are able to drink the chalice.’ (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume X, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Homily 56.2; p. 345)….
Do you not see that the headship was in the hands of these three, especially of Peter and James? This was the chief cause of their condemnation by Herod (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XI, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, Homily XXVI, p. 169…..
The coryphaei, Peter the foundation of the Church, Paul the vessel of election (Contra ludos et theatra 1, PG VI, 265. Cited by Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 76).
And if any should say ‘How then did James receive the chair at Jerusalem?’ I would make this reply, that He appointed Peter teacher not of the chair, but of the world…And this He did to withdraw them (Peter and John) from their unseasonable sympathy for each other; for since they were about to receive the charge of the world, it was necessary that they should no longer be closely associated together (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 88.1-2, pp. 331-332).
For the Son of thunder, the beloved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches throughout the world, who holds the keys of heaven, who drank the cup of Christ, and was baptized with His baptism, who lay upon his Master’s bosom, with much confidence, this man now comes forward to us now (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 1.1, p. 1).
The merciful God is wont to give this honor to his servants, that by their grace others may acquire salvation; as was agreed by the blessed Paul, that teacher of the world who emitted the rays of his teaching everywhere (Homily 24, On Genesis. Cited by E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority (London: SPCK, 1952), p. 165).
It is clear from these statements that Chrysostom, while certainly granting a large leadership role to Peter, does not consider him to have been made the supreme ruler of the Church. These passages demonstrate that the exalted titles applied to Peter were not exclusively applied to him. There is one passage in which Chrysostom does state that Peter received authority over the Church:
For he who then did not dare to question Jesus, but committed the office to another, was even entrusted with the chief authority over the brethren (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 88.1-2, pp. 331-332).
This would seem to indicate that Chrysostom taught that Peter was the supreme ruler of the Church. However in the passage cited above Chrysostom speaks of the apostle John as also receiving the charge of the whole world and the keys equally with Peter:
And this He did to withdraw them (Peter and John) from their unseasonable sympathy for each other; for since they were about to receive the charge of the world, it was necessary that they should no longer be closely associated together (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 88.1-2, pp. 331-332).
For the Son of thunder, the beloved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches throughout the world, who holds the keys of heaven (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 1.1, p. 1).
He goes on to speak of Paul as being on an equal footing with Peter:
Where the Cherubim sing the glory, where the Seraphim are flying, there shall we see Paul, with Peter, and as chief and leader of the choir of the saints, and shall enjoy his generous love….I love Rome even for this, although indeed one has other grounds for praising it…Not so bright is the heaven, when the sun sends forth his rays, as is the city of Rome, sending out these two lights into all parts of the world. From thence will Paul be caught up, thence Peter. Just bethink you, and shudder, at the thought of what a sight Rome will see, when Paul ariseth suddenly from that deposit, together with Peter, and is lifted up to meet the Lord. What a rose will Rome send up to Christ!…what two crowns will the city have about it! what golden chains will she be girded with! what fountains possess! Therefore I admire the city, not for the much gold, nor for the columns, not for the other display there, but for these pillars of the Church (1 Cor. 15:38) (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XI, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans, Homily 32, Ver. 24, pp. 561-562).
Further, Chrysostom speaks of James, and not Peter, as possessing the chief rule and authority in Jerusalem and over the Jerusalem Council:
This (James) was bishop, as they say, and therefore he speaks last…There was no arrogance in the Church. After Peter Paul speaks, and none silences him: James waits patiently; not starts up (for the next word). No word speaks John here, no word the other Apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule, and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XI, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, Homily 33, pp. 205, 207).
Dom Chapman interprets these statements in a limited sense this way:
Obviously, it is James who has the ‘rule’ and the ‘great power’ as bishop of those believing Pharisees who had initiated the discussion. But the idea that he had (rule) over Peter is, of course, ludicrous, and the notion that he could possibly be the president of the council certainly never occurred to Chrysostom’s mind (Dom John Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 90).
The problem with what Chapman says is that this is not what Chrysostom says. Chrysostom says nothing about the chief rule of James being limited to that of the believing Pharisees. There is not one word said about Pharisees. His reference to the chief rule is of the overall Council over which James presided. When all of his statements about Peter, Paul, James and John are taken together, it becomes clear that in the mind of Chrysostom, all the apostles together held the care of the world and headship of the Church universally. Peter did not hold a primacy of jurisdiction but of teaching, which he says is equally true of John and Paul:
And if anyone would say ‘How did James receive the chair of Jerusalem?’ I would reply that he appointed Peter a teacher not of the chair, but of the world (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 88.1-2, pp. 331-332).
Chrysostom interprets the keys given to Peter as a declarative authority to teach and preach the gospel and to extend the kingdom of God, not a primacy of jurisdiction over the other apostles:
For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys; who extended the Church to every part of the world, and declared it to be stronger than heaven (A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford, Parker, 1844), Homilies of S. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 54.3).
This authority was shared equally by all the apostles. Chrysostom states, for example, that John also held the authority of the keys and, like Peter, he held a universal teaching authority over the Churches throughout the world:
For the Son of thunder, the beloved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches throughout the world, who holds the keys of heaven (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 1.1, p. 1).
It is also evident from Chrysostom’s exegesis of Matthew 16 that he did not teach that Peter was made supreme ruler of the Church. He did not interpret the rock of Matthew 16 to be the person of Peter, but his confession of faith, pointing to Christ himself as the rock and only foundation of the Church:
‘And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’; that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd…For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys; who extended the church to every part of the world, and declared it to be stronger than heaven (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume X, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Homily 54.2-3; pp. 332-334).
He speaks from this time lowly things, on his way to His passion, that He might show His humanity. For He that hath built His church upon Peter’s confession, and has so fortified it, that ten thousand dangers and deaths are not to prevail over it…(Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume X, Chrysostom, On Matthew, Homily 82.3, p. 494).
‘For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’ I say, no man can lay it so long as he is a master–builder; but if he lay it…he ceases to be a master–builder. See how even from men’s common notions he proves the whole of his proposition. His meaning is this: ‘I have preached Christ, I have delivered unto you the foundation. Take heed how you build thereon, lest haply it be in vainglory, lest haply so as to draw away the disciples unto men.’ Let us not then give heed unto the heresies. ‘For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid.’ Upon this then let us build, and as a foundation let us cleave to it, as a branch to a vine; and let there be no interval between us and Christ…For the branch by its adherence draws in the fatness, and the building stands because it is cemented together. Since, if it stand apart it perishes, having nothing whereon to support itself. Let us not then merely keep hold of Christ, but let us be cemented to Him, for if we stand apart, we perish…And accordingly, there are many images whereby He brings us into union. Thus, if you mark it, He is the ‘Head’, we are ‘the body’: can there be any empty interval between the head and the body? He is a ‘Foundation’, we are a ‘building’: He a ‘Vine’, we ‘branches’: He the ‘Bridegroom’, we the ‘bride’: He is the ‘Shepherd’, we the ‘sheep’: He is the ‘Way’, we ‘they who walk therein.’ Again, we are a ‘temple,’ He the ‘Indweller’: He the ‘First–Begotten,’ we the ‘brethren’: He the ‘Heir,’ we the ‘heirs together with Him’: He the ‘Life,’ we the ‘living’: He the ‘Resurrection,’ we ‘those who rise again’: He the ‘Light,’ we the ‘enlightened.’ All these things indicate unity; and they allow no void interval, not even the smallest (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XII, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, Homily VIII.7, p. 47).
Chrysostom argues that the rock is not Peter but Peter’s confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God. Even Dom Chapman is forced to admit that Chrysostom consistently interpreted the rock to be Peter’s confession of faith: ‘The rock on which the Church is to be built is regularly taken by St. Chrysostom to be the confession of Peter, or the faith which prompted this confession.’ (Dom John Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 77).
It is Peter’s confession that is the foundation of the Church. Peter is not the foundation. According to Chrysostom that position belongs to Christ alone. Dom Chapman objects to this claiming that in Chrysostom’s mind, the rock is not only Peter’s faith but also Peter’s person. He cites a quote where Chrysostom speaks of Peter as being strengthened by Christ to stand as a rock against a hostile world:
For those things which are peculiar to God alone, (both to absolve from sins, and to make the church incapable of overthrow in such assailing waves, and to exhibit a man that is a fisher more solid than any rock, while all the world is at war with him), these He promises Himself to give; as the Father, speaking to Jeremiah, said, He would make him as ‘a brazen pillar, and as a wall;’ but him to one nation only, this man in every part of the world (A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford, Parker, 1844), Homilies of S. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 54.3.
In light of these statements Chapman says:
I think this statement alone would have made it clear that the Rock is Peter, in St. Chrysostom’s view, as well as, and because of, the firmness of his confession. He has no idea of the two notions, ‘Peter is the Rock’ and ‘his faith is the Rock’ being mutually exclusive, as, in fact, they are not (Dom John Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 79).
But this statement is a complete misrepresentation. In exegeting the rock of Matthew 16, just prior to the above statements, Chrysostom states that Peter is not the rock. In the quotes given by Chapman, what Chrysostom is saying is that just as the Lord strengthened Jeremiah for his calling so he would strengthen Peter. He says he will be like a rock, not that he is the rock of Matthew 16. This is very similar to Augustine’s position on Peter:
So is it the case that Peter is now true, or that Christ is true in Peter? When the Lord Jesus Christ wished, he left Peter to himself, and Peter was found to be a man; and when it so pleased the Lord Jesus Christ, he filled Peter, and Peter was found to be true. The Rock had made Rocky Peter true, for the Rock was Christ (John Rotelle, The Works of Saint Augustine (Brooklyn: New City, 1992), Sermons, Sermon 147.3, p. 449).
According to Augustine, the rock is Christ and Christ made Peter a rock of strength in his faith. But Peter is not the rock of Matthew 16. He simply derives strength to be a rock from the rock, Christ Jesus himself. And what is true for Peter becomes true for all Christians because Peter is a figurative representative of the Church. In contradistinction to Chapman’s assertions the fathers do in fact separate Peter’s faith from Peter’s confession, making them mutually exclusive, as we have seen with Augustine and Ambrose. While it is true that it is the person of Peter who makes the confession, the focus of Chrysostom is not on Peter’s person but on Peter’s faith. Chrysostom holds a similar view to that of Ambrose which we referenced earlier. Ambrose says that where Peter is (his confession), there is the Church. Chrysostom affirms the same point when he says: ‘For though we do not retain the body of Peter, we do retain the faith of Peter, and retaining the faith of Peter we have Peter.’ (On the Inscription of the Acts, II. Cited by E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority (London: SPCK, 1952), p. 168. Cf. Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy, p. 96).
While holding a very high view of the status of the apostle Peter, Chrysostom, like Augustine, did not transfer this status to the bishops of Rome. In his thinking, along with Cyprian, Augustine, Jerome and Ambrose, all bishops are successors of Peter. There is no supreme authority of one bishop over another. In all his remarks about Peter, where does Chrysostom apply them to the bishops of Rome in an exclusive sense? He never does that. He never personally makes that application in his statements and it is historically dishonest to assert that that is what he meant when he personally never said it. In similar fashion to Cyprian, Chrysostom refers to the chair of Peter, stating that the bishop of Antioch possesses that chair, demonstrating that in his mind all legitimate bishops are successors of Peter and not just the bishop of Rome:
In speaking of S. Peter, the recollection of another Peter has come to me, the common father and teacher, who has inherited his prowess, and also obtained his chair. For this is the one great privilege of our city, Antioch, that it received the leader of the apostles as its teacher in the beginning. For it was right that she who was first adorned with the name of Christians, before the whole world, should receive the first of the apostles as her pastor. But though we received him as teacher, we did not retain him to the end, but gave him up to royal Rome. Or rather we did retain him to the end, for though we do not retain the body of Peter, we do retain the faith of Peter, and retaining the faith of Peter we have Peter (On the Inscription of the Acts, II. Cited by E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority (London: SPCK, 1952), p. 168. Cf. Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy, p. 96).
In his book, The Eastern Churches and the Papacy, Herbert Scott makes the assertion that John Chrysostom held to the view of papal primacy because he expressed exalted views about the apostle Peter. He makes the assumption that because Chrysostom speaks of Peter in exalted terms that such statements apply to the bishops of Rome in an exclusive sense. But when pressed by the question as to whether Chrysostom actually makes this application himself, Scott is forced to this significant admission:
Granted that Chrysostom reiterates that Peter is the coryphaeus, ‘the universal shepherd,’ etc., what evidence is there, it is asked, that he recognised these claims in the Bishop of Rome? Is there anything in his writings to that effect?…If it be held that all this labouring by Chrysostom of the honour and powers of Peter does not of itself demand the exalted position of his successors as its explanation, it must be conceded that there is little or nothing in his writings which explicitly and incontestably affirms that the Bishop of Rome is the successor of S. Peter in his primacy (S. Herbert Scott, The Eastern Churches and the Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 133).
In other words, there is no evidence in any of the writings of Chrysostom that he applied his statements about Peter to the bishops of Rome. Nevertheless, Scott goes on to suggest that Chrysostom’s statements imply a papal interpretation to his words. As Scott puts it:
Surely, however, if Peter is the foundation of the Church as Chrysostom constantly affirms, and if the Church is eternal as the Founder made it, he must last as long as the building, the Church, which is erected upon him (S. Herbert Scott, The Eastern Churches and the Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 133).
The logic employed here by Scott is flawed. Chrysostom never makes such a statement. He has in fact explained what he means when he says that Peter is the foundation. There is no reason to suppose that Chrysostom envisioned a papal office when he speaks of Peter as the foundation of the Church. We have seen quite clearly from Chrysostom’s statements that he taught that the Church was built on Peter’s confession of faith. It can be said to be built on Peter only in the sense that it is built on his confession. Chrysostom’s comments given above on Antioch demonstrate that he teaches that the Church’s foundation is preserved throughout history as Peter’s confession of faith is preserved. It is not preserved by being built upon the bishops of Rome as supposed exclusive successors of Peter, but upon Peter’s confession. As Chrysostom put it, ‘Where you have Peter’s confession there you have Peter: ‘for though we do not retain the body of Peter, we do retain the faith of Peter, and retaining the faith of Peter we have Peter.’ (On the Inscription of the Acts, II. Cited by E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority (London: SPCK, 1952), p. 168. Cf. Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy, p. 96). Nevertheless, Scott goes on to offer what he considers incontrovertible proof of the expression of papal primacy from Chrysostom’s writings:
There is indeed one passage which may be a categorical affirmation of the primacy of the pope: De Sacerdotio 53: ‘Why did Christ shed His Blood? To purchase the sheep which He confided to Peter and those who came after him.’ It may be urged that S. Chrysostom means no more by this than all those who have the care of souls. On the other hand, there may be a reference to Peter only and to his personal commission: ‘Feed my sheep’; and Chrysostom soon afterwards actually quotes these words. And when one recalls his comments on them given above, as meaning Peter’s ‘government’ and ‘ruling the brethren,’ it is at least likely that here is a reference to Peter’s successors in the see of Rome (S. Herbert Scott, The Eastern Churches and the Papacy (London: Sheed & Ward, 1928), p. 133).
These assertions are refuted by Dom Chrysostom Baur, the Roman Catholic biographer on the life of John Chrysostom. He points out that Chrysostom’s writings contain no allusion to a papal primacy and that the supposed evidence as that appealed to by Scott twists his writings to say what one wants them to say. It is to read a preconceived theology into his writings that Chrysostom himself never expressed. Baur comments:
A more important question is whether Chrysostom considered the primacy of Peter as only personal, or as an official primacy, hence a permanent arrangement of the Church, and whether he correspondingly attributed the primacy of jurisdiction in the Church also to the Bishops of Rome…Chrysostom never made in his works any questionable deductions, never passed sentence with clear words on the jurisdiction of the Pope. Even P. Jugie admits this frankly. N. Marini, who later became a Cardinal, published a book on this question. In this he seeks, with the help…of a number of quotations from Chrysostom, to prove that this must pass for unqualified evidence of the jurisdictional primacy of the successors of Peter in Rome. His first argument is borrowed from the Treatise on the Priesthood. In Book 2.1 Chrysostom asks: ‘Why did Christ shed His blood? In order to ransom His sheep, which He entrusted to Peter and to those after him.’ Marioni translates here ‘Peter and his successors,’ which naturally facilitates his proof. But Chrysostom actually expressed himself in a more general way, and means by ‘those after him’ all the pastors generally, to whom the sheep of Christ had been entrusted after Peter. So it is not practicable to interpret this passage so narrowly as Marini has done. Still less convincing is Marini’s second piece of evidence. In a letter which Chrysostom addressed to Pope Innocent from his exile, he says that he would gladly assist in putting an end to the great evil, ‘for the strife has spread over almost the entire world.’ So then, one concludes, Chrysostom ascribes to the Pope authority over the whole world. Then Chrysostom writes once more, to the Bishop of Thessalomki: ‘Do not grow weary of doing that which contributes to the general improvement of the Church,’ and he praises Bishop Aurelius of Carthage, because he put forth so much effort and struggle for the churches of the whole world. It would not occur to anyone to wish to construe from this a possible proof of the primacy of the bishops of Saloniki or of Carthage (Dom Chrysostumus Baur, O.S.B., John Chrysostom and His Time (Westminster: Newman, 1959), Vol. I, pp. 348-349).
Clearly, Chrysostom cannot be cited as a proponent of a Petrine or papal primacy in the Roman Catholic sense any more than Augustine. Michael Winter candidly admits that Chrysostom’s views, especially his interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16, were antithetical to those of Rome and greatly influenced the Eastern fathers who followed him. He states that such Eastern fathers as Theodore of Mopsuestia, Palladius of Helenopolis, Theodore of Ancyra, Basil of Seleucia and Nilus of Ancyra held to an opinion that was unfavourable to the superiority of Peter, an opinion that was widespread in the East in the first half of the fifth century:
The antipathy to Rome which finds its echo even in the works of St. John Chrysostom became more pronounced as the Eastern Church came more and more under the control of the emperor and effected eventually their estimate of St. Peter. Although they were not influenced by the Eusebian idea that the ‘rock’ of the church was Christ, the lesser Antiocheans betray an unwillingness to admit that Peter was the rock. Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died a quarter of a century after Chrysostom, declared that the rock on which the church was built was Peter’s confession of faith. The same opinion is repeated by Palladius of Helenopolis in his Dialogues on the life of St. John Chrysostom. Without any elaboration he states that the rock in Matthew 16 is Peter’s confession. The complete absence of reasons or arguments in support of the contention is an indication of how widely the view was accepted at that date. Such an opinion was, in fact, held also by Theodore of Ancyra, Basil of Seleucia, and Nilus of Ancyra, in the first half of the fifth century…The opinion unfavourable to the superiority of St. Peter gained a considerable following in the East under the influence of the school of Antioch (Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helikon, 1960), p. 73).
Stephen Ray gives a further criticism of my comments in these statements:
Webster continues, “On the one hand the Eastern Fathers and theologians held very high views of the status of the apostle Peter but they did not transfer that status to the bishops of Rome” (ibid.). We will provide plenty of evidence to disprove Webster’s assertion later in our study; but here is a single reference to put the lie to Webster’s claim. Methodius (c. 815-885), the famous Eastern Father and “apostle to the Slavs”, or one of his disciples, wrote, “It is not true, as this Canon states, that the holy Fathers gave the primacy to old Rome because it was the capital of the Empire; it is from on high, from divine grace, that this primacy drew its origin. Because of the intensity of his faith Peter, the first of the Apostles, was addressed in these words by our Lord Jesus Christ himself ‘Peter, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep’. That is why in hierarchical order Rome holds the pre-eminent place and is the first See. That is why the leges of old Rome are eternally immovable, and that is the view of all the Churches” (N. Brian-Chaninov, The Russian Church(1931), 46; cited by Butler, Church and Infallibility, 210) (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 177).
Please note the defense Mr. Ray employs for his position that the Fathers of the church apply the prerogatives of Peter to the bishops of Rome in an exclusive sense as a refutation of my statements. He gives a questionable quotation from a ninth century Eastern theologian. Notice how he introduces the quotation: ‘Methodius, or one of his disciples, wrote.’ In other words we do not know for sure who wrote this. There is no reference given to the writing itself as to its genuinness and the citation comes from a source, that is taken from another source, which simply lists it as a quotation. This is very sloppy scholarship if we can call it that at all. In addition, the ninth century is hardly what we would call the patristic age. Historically, the patristic age is considered to have ended with John of Damascus in the mid eighth century. Furthermore, Yves Congar, the Roman Catholic theologian and historian, affirms the fact that the Eastern Fathers of the patristic age and afterwards did not hold to the view of an exclusive Petrine primacy at Rome. These are not the comments of a Protestant historian, but of one of the most eminent Roman Catholic theologians and historians of this century:
Many of the Eastern Fathers who are rightly acknowledged to be the greatest and most representative and are, moreover, so considered by the universal Church, do not offer us any more evidence of the primacy. Their writings show that they recognized the primacy of the Apostle Peter, that they regarded the See of Rome as the prima sedes playing a major part in the Catholic communion—we are recalling, for example, the writings of St. John Chrysostom and of St. Basil who addressed himself to Rome in the midst of the difficulties of the schism of Antioch—but they provide us with no theological statement on the universal primacy of Rome by divine right. The same can be said of St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. John Damascene (Yves Congar, After Nine Hundred Years (New York: Fordham University, 1959), pp. 61-62).
It does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16–19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out an exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than juridical (Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 398).
It must be confessed that the consciousness of the Roman primacy was not expressed in the East at the period when the primacy became classically fixed in tradition, at least not with a clarity that alone could have avoided schism. In the great councils held in the East, there had never been a formula on the universal primacy by divine right…We do not find texts in the East as strong as those in the West; the rescripts of Theodore and of Valentinian II and Valentinian III concern the West. In a number of documents Rome is merely portrayed as an ecclesiastical and canonical court of first instance. In other texts, Rome is recognized as having the right as first See, of intervening to preserve the purity of doctrinal tradition, but not to regulate the life of the churches or to settle questions of discipline in the East. Finally—and to our mind this is the most important point—although the East recognized the primacy of Rome, it did not imply by this exactly what Rome herself did, so that, even within the question on which they were in agreement, there existed the beginning of a very serious estrangement bearing upon the decisive element of the ecclesiastical constitution and the rule of communion (Yves Congar, After Nine Hundred Years (New York: Fordham University, 1959), pp. 61-62.)
The East never accepted the regular jurisdiction of Rome, nor did it submit to the judgment of Western bishops. Its appeals to Rome for help were not connected with a recognition of the principle of Roman jurisdiction but were based on the view that Rome had the same truth, the same good. The East jealously protected its autonomous way of life. Rome intervened to safeguard the observation of legal rules, to maintain the orthodoxy of faith and to ensure communion between the two parts of the church, the Roman see representing and personifying the West…In according Rome a ‘primacy of honour’, the East avoided basing this primacy on the succession and the still living presence of the apostle Peter. A modus vivendi was achieved which lasted, albeit with crises, down to the middle of the eleventh century…From the perspective of an ecclesiology which is not only theoretical but is also put into practice, we are confronted by two logics. The East remained oriented on the logic of local or particular churches in communion with one another in the unity of faith, love and eucharist; this unity was realized by means of exchanges and communications and then, when the need made itself felt, by the holding of a council. It was a unity of communion. The West, which Islam had cut off from North Africa, accepted the authority of the Roman see, and over the course of history Rome occupied an increasingly prominent place. It is a fact that the two gravest crises between Byzantium and Rome arose in times when the papal authority was affirmed most strongly: with Photius under Nicholas I and John VIII, and with Cerlularius at the time of the so-called Gregorian Reform (Nicholas II, Leo IX, Humbert, Gregory VII) (Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion (Mystic: Twenty-Third, 1982), pp. 26-27)
Pierre Batiffol likewise affirms the fact that the Eastern Church, historically, has never embraced the ecclesiology of Roman primacy:
I believe that the East had a very poor conception of the Roman primacy. The East did not see in it what Rome herself saw and what the West saw in Rome, that is to say, a continuation of the primacy of St. Peter. The bishop of Rome was more than the successor of Peter on his cathedra, he was Peter perpetuated, invested with Peter’s responsibility and power. The East has never understood this perpetuity. St. Basil ignored it, as did St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom. In the writings of the great Eastern Fathers, the authority of the Bishop of Rome is an authority of singular grandeur, but in these writings it is not considered so by divine right (Cited by Yves Congar, After Nine Hundred Years (New York: Fordham University, 1959), pp. 61-62).
It should be clear from the foregoing documentation that Mr. Ray’s charge is a purposeful misrepresentation. How does what I wrote to him in my email differ from what I have written in The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock? My statements in the book affirm in every detail and in much greater length what I wrote to him in my email. I have given full documentation from the writings of the Church Fathers and then have backed up my conclusions with the judgments of leading Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant historians.
A Second Misrepresentation
A second misrepresentation has to do with Tertullian’s interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16. In my book The Church of Rome at the Bar of History and The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock I make reference to the writings of Tertullian and in particular his comments from his treatise, On Modesty. The reason for concentrating on this work is because this is the first instance of an actual exegesis of the meaning of the rock of Matthew 16:18 in the history of the Church. There are passing comments in other of Tertullian’s writings, such as his treatise, On Prescription Against Heretics, in which he refers to Peter as the rock. But in his treatise, On Modesty, while he again affirms that Peter is the rock, he explains what he means by this statement. In other words he gives an exegesis of the passage. Stephen Ray makes the following criticism of my comments:
On Modesty 21, ANF 4:99. This treatise was written in 220, at the peak of Tertullian’s Montanist period. He was in a sect that would have been extremely odious to Protestants and Orthodox today. He scorned the orthodox teaching of the Church and depended upon the ecstatic trances and revelations of two women prophets: Prisca and Maximilla. Interestingly enough, this is the only quotation from Tertullian that William Webster refers to in his book The Church of Rome at the Bar of History – a book with the intent of discrediting the Catholic Church. Webster writes, “Tertullian, at the beginning of the third century, was the first to identify the ‘rock’ of Matthew 16:18 with Peter in his treatise On Modesty. But what he means by this identification is not that Peter is the rock in the sense that the Church is built on him, but that it is built through him as he preaches the gospel” (48-49). He then quotes the above passage in its entirety. Whether Webster is being dishonest by withholding pertinent information, or whether he failed to research the issue thoroughly, is not certain; but there are two severe problems with his assertion. First, he does not tell us that there is actually a reference to Peter as the “rock” twenty years earlier, made, by Tertullian himself while in his orthodox period. We read it a few pages back: “‘anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the church should be built,’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and on earth.’ We also find Tertullian referring to the Church as “built upon him (Peter)”. Why does Webster not inform his readers of Tertullian’s earlier orthodox teaching? Second, Webster neglects to alert his reader to the fact that the passage cited is from the depths of Tertullian’s Montanist period-his descent into heresy. Webster himself would recoil at Montanist extremes and would shun Montanist theology, especially the expectation of the imminent descent of the heavenly Jerusalem, coming down from the sky to settle near Pepuza in Phrygia. Is it not curious that Webster, in rejecting the orthodox teaching, the early Church on Peter’s primacy (as reflected in Tertullian’s orthodox writings), sides with the heretical Tertullian in the interpretation of this Scripture passage?
It should be remembered that Tertullian had turned his back on the Church; and was writing in indignation – with all the acrimony he could muster-to repudiate the Church and her foundations. All the orthodox theologians of the time condemned him and his Montanist theology. Tertullian’s indictment of the Church’s understanding of Matthew 16, however, only serves to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the Church did teach that Matthew 16 referred to Peter as the Rock and that that office and authority had been passed on to the Church. If the Church had not assumed this foundational understanding, and overtly taught it, why else would Tertullian strike out vindictively to subvert the accepted interpretation? (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), pp. 175-176).
In my reference to Tertullian’s comments in The Church of Rome at the Bar of History I was not intentionally witholding information from the reader. I was simply making reference to the fact that Tertullian is the first church Father to identify the rock of Matthew 16 with Peter and I use his treatise On Modesty as an example of that fact. In addition, I used this treatise because it gives Tertullian’s full explanation of what he means by the terms he uses. Mr. Ray implies that I am possibly dishonest or am ignorant of the true facts regarding Tertullian’s writings. But this is a baseless charge. William Jurgens, who is a Roman Catholic patristics scholar, in citing evidence for the papal primacy in the early Church, cites the very same quotation from Tertullian’s treatise, On Modesty, which I also cite in The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, except that he fails to give the full quotation thereby distorting the meaning of the passage. But he does not inform the reader of any other passages from the writings of Tertullian that pertain to that subject. He is content to allow this passage to stand on its own as an expression of the fact that Tertullian identified the rock with Peter. That does not mean that there were no other references to that fact or that Mr. Jurgens is ignorant of those writings. The same pertains in my reference to Tertullian in The Church of Rome at the Bar of History. But Mr. Ray knows this is so and that his charges against me are disingenuous because of what I have written in The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock. It is significant that Mr. Ray completely neglects to inform his readers of what is written there. He is being purposefully deceitful and misleading because I cite the very passage he references above from Tertullian’s treatise, On Prescripion Against Heretics, in addition to the passage from, On Modesty, as an affirmation of Tertullian’s identification of the rock with Peter. The following are my comments from The Matthew 16 Controversy:
Tertullian was born in Carthage in North Africa and practiced law before his conversion to Christianity ca. A.D. 193. As a Christian he was a prolific writer and has been called the ‘Father of Latin Christianity’. He was most likely a layman and his writings were widely read. He had a great influence upon the Church fathers of subsequent generations, especially Cyprian. He is the first of the Western fathers to comment on Matthew 16. In one of his writings Tertullian identifies the rock with the person of Peter on which the Church would be built:
Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the ‘rock on which the church should be built’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and earth? (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Volume III, Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 22).
Though Tertullian states that Peter is the rock he does not mean it in a pro–papal sense. We know this because of other comments he has made. But if we isolate this one passage it would be easy to read a pro–Roman interpretation into it. However, in other comments on Matthew 16:18–19, Tertullian explains what he means when he says that Peter is the rock on which the Church would be built:
If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church,’ ‘to thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On thee,’ He says, ‘will I build My church;’ and, ‘I will give thee the keys’…and, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have loosed or bound’…In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what key: ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which kingdom are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation…(Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Volume IV, Tertullian, On Modesty 21, p. 99).
When Tertullian says that Peter is the rock and the Church is built upon him he means that the Church is built through him as he preaches the gospel. This preaching is how Tertullian explains the meaning of the keys. They are the declarative authority for the offer of forgiveness of sins through the preaching of the gospel. If men respond to the message they are loosed from their sins. If they reject it they remain bound in their sins. In the words just preceding this quote Tertullian explicitly denies that this promise can apply to anyone but Peter and therefore he does not in any way see a Petrine primacy in this verse with successors in the bishops of Rome. The patristic scholar, Karlfried Froehlich, states that even though Tertullian teaches that Peter is the rock he does not mean this in the same sense as the Roman Catholic Church:
‘Tertullian regarded the Peter of Matthew 16:18–19 as the representative of the entire church or at least its ‘spiritual’ members.’ (Karlfried Froehlich, Saint Peter, Papal Primacy, and Exegetical Tradition, 1150-1300, pp. 13. Taken from The Religious Roles of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities, 1150-1300, ed. Christopher Ryan, Papers in Medieval Studies 8 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1989)
It is a common practice of Roman Catholic apologists to omit part of the quotation given above by Tertullian in order to make it appear that he is a proponent of papal primacy. An example of this is found in a recently released Roman Catholic defense of the papacy entitled Jesus, Peter and the Keys. The authors give the following partial citation from Tertullian:
I now inquire into your opinion, to see whence you usurp this right for the Church. Do you presume, because the Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ [Matt. 16:1819a] or ‘whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:19b] that the power of binding and loosing has thereby been handed on to you, that is, to every church akin to Peter? What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when he conferred this personally upon Peter? On you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys, not to the Church; and whatever you shall have bound or you shall have loosed, not what they shall have bound or they shall have loosed (Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, David Hess, Jesus, Peter and the Keys (Santa Barbara: Queenship, 1996), pp. 216-217).
When comparing this citation with the one given above it is clear that these authors have left out the last half of the quotation. The part of the quotation that is omitted defines what Tertullian means when he states that Christ built his Church on Peter and invested him with authority. Again, what he means by these words is that Christ built his church on Peter by building it through him as he preached the gospel. This is a meaning that is clearly contrary to the Roman Catholic perspective. To omit this is to distort the teaching of Tertullian and to give the impression that he taught something he did not teach. So, though Tertullian states that Peter is the rock, he does not mean this in the same way the Roman Catholic Church does. Peter is the rock because he is the one given the privilege of being the first to open the kingdom of God to men. This is similar to the view expressed by Maximus of Tours when he says: ‘For he is called a rock because he was the first to lay the foundations of the faith among the nations’ (Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman, 1989), The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, Sermon 77.1, p. 187).
Not only do we see a clear denial of any belief in a papal primacy in Tertullian’s exegesis of Matthew 16, but such a denial is also seen from his practice. In his later years Tertullian separated himself from the Catholic Church to become a Montanist. He clearly did not hold to the view espoused by Vatican I that communion with the Bishop of Rome was the ultimate criterion of orthodoxy and of inclusiveness in the Church of God (The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock (Battle Ground: Christian Resources, 1996), pp. 26-28).
Surely these comments demonstrate that Mr. Ray’s charges are groundless and misleading because he purposefully omits reference to them. Now Mr. Ray would have us believe that Tertullian’s comments are to be discounted because he is writing as a Montanist and that his point of view expressed in the treatise On Modesty is somehow different from his earlier references to Peter as the rock in his pre-Montanist days in his treatise On Prescription Against Heretics. But where is the evidence for this? The Montanist heresies embraced by Tertullian were condemned by his contemporaries but where is the censure for his exegesis of Matthew 16:18-19 which is antithetical to present day Roman ecclesiology? There was none. The fact of the matter is, Tertullian makes precisely the same statement as a Montanist that he made in his pre-Montanist days as recorded in his treatise On Prescription Against Heretics in which he refers to Peter as ‘the rock on which the Church would be built.’ In his treatise On Monogamy, written as a Montanist,Tertullian makes this statement about Peter: ‘Peter alone do I find…to have been married. Monogamist I am led to presume by consideration of the Church, which, built upon him, was destined to appoint every grade of her Order from monogamists’ (Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Ed, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Volume 4, On Monogamy Chapter VIII, p. 65). There is no difference between these statements. In both cases he states that the Church is built upon Peter. Regarding this statement by Tertullian as a Montanist Mr. Ray offers these comments:
Even during his heretical Montanist period, Tertullian verifies that the early Church accepted the interpretation of Matthew 16, which declared Peter as the rock and the foundation of the Church. It was not contested; in fact, Tertullian uses it as given in his argument. Had the interpretation not been a given, his argument would have fallen flat. That Tertullian says the Church was built upon Peter is not as significant as the manner in which he says it. He states it, not as a point to be proved, but as a proof for his point. The early Church was extremely conservative and held tenaciously to the teaching passed down from the apostles, both written and in practice. Tertullian, even as a Montanist makes this statement confidently, knowing that all those who heard or read his statement would agree without question, since it was the clear understanding of the whole of Christendom (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), Footnote #47 pp. 172-173).
Tertullian states that Peter is the rock on which the Church was built. He says this as a Montanist. Mr. Ray contends that Tertullian is expressing the belief of the universal Church, a belief handed down from the Apostles themselves. And then in his treatise On Modesty Tertullian tells us what he actually means when he says that Peter is the rock on whom the Church would be built and his exegesis is completely contrary to the Roman Catholic interpretation. Mr. Ray states that from Tertullian’s words it is obvious that the early Church accepted the interpretation which declared Peter as the rock and foundation of the Church. It follows then that the early Church also followed Tertullian’s exegesis of what that meant. Let me point out again that this is the first instance of the actual interpretation of the Matthew 16 passage in the history of the Church. So one cannot argue that Tertullian’s exegesis is somehow contrary to the prevailing exegesis of the day. While it is true that Tertullian embraced heretical tendencies in certain areas as a Montanist, this does not mean that he was wrong in everything he wrote. Many of his treatises written in defense of the faith during his Montanist period were orthodox. As the editor writes in the Introduction to Tertullian’s works in the Ante-Nicene Fathers: ‘Whatever perverting effect Tertullian’s secession to the sect of Montanus may have had on his judgment in his latest writings; it did not vitiate the work against Marcion. With a few trivial exceptions, this treatise may be read by the strictest Catholic without any feeling of annoyance’ (Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994, Volume 3, pp. 7-8). Mr. Ray speaks in glowing terms of Origen in his book but Origen was also condemned as a heretic by the Church. But he is completely silent on this fact. He is willing to accept Origen’s statements, even though he is a heretic, because he feels that Origen supports his position, which in fact he doesn’t. When Tertullian gives his exegesis of the rock and keys of Matthew 16 he is explaining what he means when he states that Peter is the rock and the Church is built on him. Mr. Ray is willing to accept Tertullian as a Montanist when he states that Peter is the rock, without any qualifying exegesis. But the moment he interprets his words he suddenly becomes a heretic whose words are to be rejected. The double standard here is plain for all to see.
Mr. Ray makes much of the fact that Tertullian and the early Church positively state that the rock is Peter. There is no debate about this. But what Mr. Ray blinds himself to is the fact that these Fathers do not mean this in a pro-papal sense. He imports theological meanings developed from a later age into their words. It is possible to believe that Peter is the rock and not believe this means a papal office. We must allow the words of the Fathers themselves to give us the understanding of what they meant by the words they used and not force them to say what we want them to say because we have a theological agenda we are promoting. Tertullian has told us precisely what he means when he states that Peter is the rock and it is a meaning contrary to the Roman Catholic position espoused today.
A Third Misrepresentation
A third misrepresentation by Stephen Ray has to do with the teachings of Cyprian. The following are my comments on Cyprian and his teaching from The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock:
Cyprian was a bishop of Carthage in North Africa in the mid–third century. He was one of the most influential theologians and bishops of the Church of his day and gave his life in martrydom for his faith. He was greatly influenced by the writings of Tertullian, the North African father who preceded him. He is often cited by Roman Catholic apologists as a witness for papal primacy. In his treatise On the Unity of the Church Cyprian gives the following interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:
The Lord saith unto Peter, I say unto thee, (saith He,) that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:18–19). To him again, after His resurrection, He says, Feed My sheep. Upon him being one He builds His Church; and although He gives to all the Apostles an equal power, and says, As My Father sent Me, even so I send you; receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosoever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted to him, and whosoever sins ye shall retain, they shall be retained (John 20:21);—yet in order to manifest unity, He has by His own authority so placed the source of the same unity, as to begin from one (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), Cyprian, On The Unity of the Church 3-4, pp. 133-135).
Cyprian clearly says that Peter is the rock. If his comments were restricted to the above citation it would lend credence to the idea that he was a proponent of papal primacy. However Cyprian’s comments continue on from the statements given above. His additional statements prove conclusively that although he states that Peter is the rock he does not mean this in a pro–Roman sense. His view is that Peter is a symbol of unity, a figurative representative of the bishops of the Church. Cyprian viewed all the apostles as being equal with one another. He believed the words to Peter in Matthew 16 to be representative of the ordination of all Bishops so that the Church is founded, not upon one Bishop in one see, but upon all equally in collegiality. Peter, then, is a representative figure of the episcopate as a whole. His view is clearly stated in these words:
Certainly the other Apostles also were what Peter was, endued with an equal fellowship both of honour and power; but a commencement is made from unity, that the Church may be set before as one; which one Church, in the Song of Songs, doth the Holy Spirit design and name in the Person of our Lord: My dove, My spotless one, is but one; she is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her (Cant. 9:6) (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), Cyprian, On The Unity of the Church 3, p. 133).
Our Lord whose precepts and warnings we ought to observe, determining the honour of a Bishop and the ordering of His own Church, speaks in the Gospel and says to Peter, I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Thence the ordination of Bishops, and the ordering of the Church, runs down along the course of time and line of succession, so that the Church is settled upon her Bishops; and every act of the Church is regulated by these same Prelates (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of S. Cyprian, Ep. 33.1).
Cyprian, like Tertullian and Origen, states that Peter is the rock. But such a statement must be qualified. He definitely does not mean this in the same way the Church of Rome does. In his treatise, On the Unity of the Church, Cyprian teaches that Peter alone is not the rock or foundation on which the Church is built, but rather, he is an example of the principle of unity. He is representative of the Church as a whole. The entire episcopate, according to Cyprian, is the foundation, though Christ is himself the true Rock. The bishops of Rome are not endowed with divine authority to rule the Church. All of the bishops together constitute the Church and rule over their individual areas of responsibility as co–equals. If Cyprian meant to say that the Church was built upon Peter and he who resists the bishop of Rome resists the Church (cutting himself off from the Church), then he completely contradicts himself, for he opposed Stephen, the bishop of Rome, in his interpretation of Matthew 16 as well as on theological and jurisdictional issues. His actions prove that his comments about Peter could not coincide with the Roman Catholic interpretation of his words. To do so is a distortion of his true meaning.
Historically there has been some confusion on the interpretation of Cyprian’s teaching because there are two versions of his treatise, On the Unity of the Church. In the first Cyprian speaks of the chair of Peter in which he equates the true Church with that chair. He states that there is only one Church and one chair and a primacy given to Peter. In the second, the references to a Petrine primacy are softened to give greater emphasis to the theme of unity and co–equality of bishops. Most Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars now agree that Cyprian is the author of both versions. He wrote the second in order to offset a pro–Roman interpretation which was being attached to his words which he never intended. The episcopate is to him the principle of unity within the Church and representative of it. The ‘chair of Peter’ is a figurative expression which applies to every bishop in his own see, not just the bishops of Rome. The bishop of Rome holds a primacy of honor but he does not have universal jurisdiction over the entire Church for Cyprian expressly states that all the apostles received the same authority and status as Peter and the Church is built upon all the bishops and not just Peter alone. Some object to these conclusions about Cyprian citing his statements about the chair of Peter. Roman Catholic apologists would lead us to believe that Cyprian’s comments refer exclusively to the bishops of Rome and that they therefore possess special authority as the successors of Peter.
The Roman Catholic historian, Robert Eno, repudiates this point of view as a misrepresentation of Cyprian’s view. As he points out Cyprian did not believe that the bishop of Rome possessed a higher authority than he or the other African bishops. They were all equals:
Cyprian makes considerable use of the image of Peter’s cathedra or chair. Note however that it is important in his theology of the local church: ‘God is one and Christ is one: there is one Church and one chair founded, by the Lord’s authority, upon Peter. It is not possible that another altar can be set up, or that a new priesthood can be appointed, over and above this one altar and this one priesthood’ (Ep. 43.5).
The cathedri Petri symbolism has been the source of much misunderstanding and dispute. Perhaps it can be understood more easily by looking at the special treatise he wrote to defend both his own position as sole lawful bishop of Carthage and that of Cornelius against Novatian, namely, the De unitate ecclesiae, or, as it was known in the Middle Ages, On the Simplicity of Prelates. The chapter of most interest is the fourth. Controversy has dogged this work because two versions of this chapter exist. Since the Reformation, acceptance of one version or the other has usually followed denominational lines.
Much of this has subsided in recent decades especially with the work of Fr. Maurice Bevenot, an English Jesuit, who devoted most of his scholarly life to this text. He championed the suggestion of the English Benedictine, John Chapman, that what we are dealing with here are two versions of a text, both of which were authored by Cyprian. This view has gained wide acceptance in recent decades. Not only did Cyprian write both but his theology of the Church is unchanged from the first to the second. He made textual changes because his earlier version was being misused.
The theology of the controverted passage sees in Peter the symbol of unity, not from his being given greater authority by Christ for, as he says in both versions, ‘…a like power is given to all the Apostles’ and ‘…No doubt the others were all that Peter was.’ Yet Peter was given the power first: ‘Thus it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair.’ The Chair of Peter then belongs to each lawful bishop in his own see. Cyprian holds the Chair of Peter in Carthage and Cornelius in Rome over against Novatian the would–be usurper. You must hold to this unity if you are to remain in the Church. Cyprian wants unity in the local church around the lawful bishop and unity among the bishops of the world who are ‘glued together’ (Ep. 66.8).
Apart from his good relations and harmony with Bishop Cornelius over the matter of the lapsed, what was Cyprian’s basic view of the role, not of Peter as symbol of unity, but of Rome in the contemporary Church? Given what we have said above, it is clear that he did not see the bishop of Rome as his superior, except by way of honor, even though the lawful bishop of Rome also held the chair of Peter in an historical sense (Ep. 52.2). Another term frequently used by the Africans in speaking of the Church was ‘the root’ (radix). Cyprian sometimes used the term in connection with Rome, leading some to assert that he regarded the Roman church as the ‘root.’ But in fact, in Cyprian’s teaching, the Catholic Church as a whole is the root. So when he bade farewell to some Catholics travelling to Rome, he instructed them to be very careful about which group of Christians they contacted after their arrival in Rome. They must avoid schismatic groups like that of Novation. They should contact and join the Church presided over by Cornelius because it alone is the Catholic Church in Rome. In other words, Cyprian exhorted ‘…them to discern the womb and root…of the Catholic Church and to cleave to it’ (Ep. 48.3).
It is clear that in Cyprian’s mind…one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority which is superior to that of the African bishops (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 57-60).
As Charles Gore has pointed out, Cyprian used the phrase, the Chair of Peter’ in his Epistle 43, which Roman apologists often cite in defense of an exclusive Roman primacy, to refer to his own see of Carthage, not the see of Rome. This is confirmed as a general consensus of Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic historians. James McCue, writing for Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue, in the work Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, affirms this interpretation of Cyprian’s view in the following comments:
According to Cyprian’s interpretation of Matthew 16:18, Jesus first conferred upon Peter the authority with which he subsequently endowed all the apostles. This, according to Cyprian, was to make clear the unity of the power that was being conferred and of the church that was being established. Cyprian frequently speaks of Peter as the foundation of the church, and his meaning seems to be that it was in Peter that Jesus first established all the church–building powers and responsibilities that would subsequently also be given to the other apostles and to the bishops.
Peter is the source of the church’s unity only in an exemplary or symbolic way…Peter himself seems, in Cyprian’s thought, to have had no authority over the other apostles, and consequently the church of Peter cannot reasonably claim to have any authority over the other churches (Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Edited by Paul Empie and Austin Murphy (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 68-69).
This judgment is further affirmed by the Roman Catholic historian, Michael Winter:
Cyprian used the Petrine text of Matthew to defend episcopal authority, but many later theologians, influenced by the papal connexions of the text, have interpreted Cyprian in a propapal sense which was alien to his thought…Cyprian would have used Matthew 16 to defend the authority of any bishop, but since he happened to employ it for the sake of the Bishop of Rome, it created the impression that he understood it as referring to papal authority…Catholics as well as Protestants are now generally agreed that Cyprian did not attribute a superior authority to Peter (Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helikon, 1960), pp. 47-48).
This Roman Catholic historian insists that it is a misrepresentation of Cyprian’s true teaching to assert that he is a father who supports the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16. And he says that both Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars are now agreed on this. Once again, Roman Catholic historians specifically repudiate what some Roman apologists often teach about Cyprian and his comments on the ‘Chair of Peter’. Karlfried Froehlich states:
Cyprian understood the biblical Peter as representative of the unified episcopate, not of the bishop of Rome…He understood him as symbolizing the unity of all bishops, the privileged officers of penance…For (Cyprian), the one Peter, the first to receive the penitential keys which all other bishops also exercise, was the biblical type of the one episcopate, which in turn guaranteed the unity of the church. The one Peter equaled the one body of bishops (Karlfried Froehlich, Saint Peter, Papal Primacy, and the Exegetical Tradition, 1150-1300, p. 36, 13, n. 28 p. 13. Taken from The Religious Roles of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities, 1150-1300, ed. Christopher Ryan, Papers in Medieval Studies 8 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1989).
John Meyendorff explains the meaning of Cyprian’s use of the phrase ‘chair of Peter’ and sums up the Cyprianic ecclesiology which was normative for the East as a whole:
The early Christian concept, best expressed in the third century by Cyprian of Carthage, according to which the ‘see of Peter’ belongs, in each local church, to the bishop, remains the longstanding and obvious pattern for the Byzantines. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, can write that Jesus ‘through Peter gave to the bishops the keys of heavenly honors.’ Pseudo–Dionysius when he mentions the ‘hierarchs’—i.e., the bishops of the early Church—refers immediately to the image of Peter….Peter succession is seen wherever the right faith is preserved, and, as such, it cannot be localized geographically or monopolized by a single church or individual (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University, 1974), p. 98).
Cyprian’s view of Peter’s ‘chair’ (cathedri Petri) was that it belonged not only to the bishop of Rome but to every bishop within each community. Thus Cyprian used not the argument of Roman primacy but that of his own authority as ‘successor of Peter’ in Carthage…For Cyprian, the ‘chair of Peter’, was a sacramental concept, necessarily present in each local church: Peter was the example and model of each local bishop, who, within his community, presides over the Eucharist and possesses ‘the power of the keys’ to remit sins. And since the model is unique, unique also is the episcopate (episcopatus unus est) shared, in equal fullness (in solidum) by all bishops (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), pp. 61, 152).
And finally, Reinhold Seeberg explains Cyprian’s interpretation of Matthew 16 and his ecclesiology in these words:
According to Matt. 16:18f., the church is founded upon the bishop and its direction devolves upon him: ‘Hence through the changes of times and dynasties the ordination of bishops and the order of the church moves on, so that the church is constituted of bishops, and every act of the church is controlled by these leaders’ (Epistle 33.1)…The bishops constitute a college (collegium), the episcopate (episcopatus). The councils developed this conception. In them the bishops practically represented the unity of the church, as Cyprian now theoretically formulated it. Upon their unity rests the unity of the church…This unity is manifest in the fact that the Lord in the first instance bestowed apostolic authority upon Peter: ‘Hence the other apostles were also, to a certain extent, what Peter was, endowed with an equal share of both honor and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity, in order that the church of Christ may be shown to be one’ (de un. eccl. 4)…In reality all the bishops—regarded dogmatically—stand upon the same level, and hence he maintained, in opposition to Stephanus of Rome, his right of independent opinion and action…(Reinhold Seeberg, Text-Book of the History of Doctrines (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), Volume I, p. 182-183).
The above quotations from world renowned Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox historians reveal a consensus of scholarly opinion on Cyprian’s teaching effectively demonstrating the incompatibility of Cyprian’s views with those espoused by Vatican I. This consensus also reveals the danger of taking the statements of Church fathers at face value without regard for the context of those statements or for seeking a proper interpretation of the meaning of the terms they use. It is easy to import preconceived meanings into their statements resulting in misrepresentation of their teaching. The authors of Jesus Peter and the Keys are guilty of this very thing. They list quotations from Cyprian in total disregard of the true facts as they have been enumerated by the above historians giving the impression that Cyprian believed in papal primacy when in fact he did not. Their point of view and that of many of the Roman apologists of our day is thoroughly repudiated even by conservative Roman Catholic historians. Cyprian is an excellent example of a father who states that Peter is the rock but who does not mean this in a Roman Catholic sense. But without giving the proper historical context and understanding of his writings it would be quite easy to mislead the unintiated by investing Cyprian’s words with the doctrinal development of a later age thereby misrepresenting his actual position (The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock (Battle Ground: Christian Resources, 1996), pp. 32-40).
Stephen Ray makes the following observations on my comments:
William Webster, who mentions only the passages he considers harmful to the Catholic Church, fails, of course, to mention this quotation and others from Cyprian in his The Church of Rome at the Bar of History and Peter and the Rock because it does not fit his “proof-texting” agenda. In his book Peter and the Rock , Webster attempts to prove that Cyprian had no concept of Roman primacy and says that the citations he provides “reveal a consensus of scholarly opinion on Cyprian’s teaching effectively demonstrating the incompatibility of Cyprian’s views with those espoused by Vatican 1” (39). His comments seem to betray an ignorance of scholars who disagree with him. His imagined “consensus” is one built upon selective proof-texting. He quite blithely dismisses a complete modern consensus that cuts across Protestant, Catholic, and even secular (as well as conservative and liberal) lines with respect to the identification of Peter and the Rock in Matthew 16: 18). Instead, he points to Protestant apologists who often cite modernist Catholic theologians – those who have abandoned the historic teachings of the Church – to try to show that “our own” scholars have rejected our position but then refuse even to acknowledge their own Evangelical Protestant scholars who disagree with their position. This amounts to a huge double standard that needs to be exposed for what it is. Scholars who do not fit Webster’s “consensus” include B. C. Butler, John Chapman, E. Giles, A. H. Cullen, William Barry, and Warren Carroll, to mention only a few.
Webster’s section on St. Cyprian also demonstrates his unwillingness to represent fairly the process and necessity of doctrinal development within the Church. As we have demonstrated earlier in this book: the oak tree has grown and looks perceptibly different from the fragile sprout that cracked the original acorn, yet the organic essence and identity remain the same. Do the words of the very first Christians contain the full-blown understanding of the Papacy as expressed in Vatican I? No, they do not, as Webster correctly observes. But then, neither do the words of the first Christians present the fully developed understanding of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ (or the canon of the New Testament, for that matter) as expounded and practiced by later generations of the Church. One must be careful not to read too much into the early centuries-but one must also be careful not to ignore the obvious doctrinal substance contained and practiced by our forebears, which was simply developed and implemented as the need arose throughout subsequent centuries (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 183-184, Footnote #70).
The consensus of scholarly opinion I make reference to come partially from the comments of two conservative Roman Catholic historians, Robert Eno and Michael Winter. In fact, Mr. Ray quotes extensively and approvingly from Michael Winter throughout his book as a reliable source. These are not men who are ‘liberal’ and have been censured by the Roman Church as Mr. Ray falsely claims. Note the conclusions of these two historians:
Robert Eno: It is clear that in Cyprian’s mind…one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority which is superior to that of the African bishops (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 57-60).
Michael Winter: Catholics as well as Protestants are now generally agreed that Cyprian did not attribute a superior authority to Peter (Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helikon, 1960), pp. 47-48).
Are we to conclude that these Roman Catholic historians are guilty of proof-texting because they come to a conclusion which is unsatisfactory to Mr. Ray. These men are true historians who deal honestly with the facts. Michael Winter affirms that the consensus of scholarly opinion today is that Cyprian’s ecclesiology is antithetical to claims of Rome. That is not just my own personal opinion but that of a Roman Catholic historian. Go argue with your own authorities Mr. Ray.
Mr. Ray goes on to state that I am guilty of a double standard because I will quote Roman Catholic historians who discredit Roman Catholic claims all the while neglecting to mention Evangelical scholars who disagree with our own. He says that my comments on a scholarly consensus relative to Cyprian ‘seem to betray an ignorance of scholars who disagree with him. His imagined “consensus” is one built upon selective proof-texting. He quite blithely dismisses a complete modern consensus that cuts across Protestant, Catholic, and even secular (as well as conservative and liberal) lines with respect to the identification of Peter and the Rock in Matthew 16: 18).’ Now Mr. Ray has just performed a subtle sleight of hand. He has changed the subject. I was dealing with a scholarly opinion with respect to Cyprian’s perspective. He suddenly shifts the ground of discussion to a scholarly Evangelical consensus on the meaning of the rock of Matthew 16. The scholarly opinion with regard to Cyprian stands. What Ray is referring to on the other is that a number of prominent evangelical scholars and theologians such as Oscar Cullmann, D.A. Carson and William Hendriksen have stated that Peter is the rock. And so he leaves the reader with the implication that these evangelicals agree with the Roman Catholic interpretation. The authors of the book, Jesus, Peter and the Keys have done precisely the same thing. What he fails to mention is that none of these scholars agree with the Roman Catholic interpretation. There indeed are a number of evangelical scholars who agree that Peter is the rock, but there is likewise a unanimous consensus from these same scholars that this does not mean papal primacy. Just as it is possible for Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian to state that Peter is the rock and not mean that in a Roman Catholic sense, it is the same with these scholars.
And finally Mr. Ray states that my comments on the church Fathers belie an ignorance of the truth of doctrinal development. He would have us believe that the Roman Catholic teaching is that the early Church only believed in the Roman primacy in an implicit sense and that it eventually flowered fully at a later age. Mr. Ray is forced to this conclusion by the weight of patristic evidence against his position. But unfortunately for Mr. Ray, Vatican I, in promulgating the decrees on papal primacy, has stated that there was no development of this doctrine in the Church, that it was there in full belief, understanding and practice from the very beginning because it was established by Christ himself.
A Fourth Misrepresentation
Mr. Ray has gone on in the book to make several other assertions which need to be addressed. In dealing with several quotes from Origen, he puts forth the following challenge: ‘Can anyone claim that the Fathers attributed Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘You are Peter (Rock) and upon this Church I will build my Church’ (Mt 16:18), to Peter’s confession alone and not to Peter himself?’ The answer quite simply is yes. Augustine does precisely that. He makes the following statement in one of his sermons:
Remember, in this man Peter, the rock. He’s the one, you see, who on being questioned by the Lord about who the disciples said he was, replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On hearing this, Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you’…‘You are Peter, Rocky, and on this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer her. To you shall I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:15–19). In Peter, Rocky, we see our attention drawn to the rock. Now the apostle Paul says about the former people, ‘They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them; but the rock was Christ’ (1 Cor 10:4). So this disciple is called Rocky from the rock, like Christian from Christ.
Why have I wanted to make this little introduction? In order to suggest to you that in Peter the Church is to be recognized. Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer (John Rotelle, O.S.A., Ed., The Works of Saint Augustine (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), Sermons, Volume III/6, Sermon 229P.1, p. 327).
Another example that can be cited is Ambrose. he states:
He, then, who before was silent, to teach us that we ought not to repeat the words of the impious, this one, I say, when he heard, ‘But who do you say I am,’ immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession, not of honor; the primacy of belief, not of rank.
This, then, is Peter, who has replied for the rest of the Apostles; rather, before the rest of men. And so he is called the foundation, because he knows how to preserve not only his own but the common foundation…Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter’s flesh, but of his faith, that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ But his confession of faith conquered hell. And this confession did not shut out one heresy, for, since the Church like a good ship is often buffeted by many waves, the foundation of the Church should prevail against all heresies (The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C., Catholic University, 1963), Saint Ambrose, Theological and Dogmatic Works, The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord IV.32-V.34, pp. 230-231).
Peter therefore did not wait for the opinion of the people, but produced his own, saying, ‘Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God’: Who ever is, began not to be, nor ceases to be. Great is the grace of Christ, who has imparted almost all His own names to His disciples. ‘I am,’ said He, ‘the light of the world,’ and yet with that very name in which He glories, He favored His disciples, saying, ‘Ye are the light of the world.’ ‘I am the living bread’; and ‘we all are one bread’ (1 Cor. x.17)…Christ is the rock, for ‘they drank of the same spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ’ (1 Cor. x.4); also He denied not to His disciple the grace of this name; that he should be Peter, because he has from the rock (petra) the solidity of constancy, the firmness of faith. Make an effort, therefore, to be a rock! Do not seek the rock outside of yourself, but within yourself! Your rock is your deed, your rock is your mind. Upon this rock your house is built. Your rock is your faith, and faith is the foundation of the Church. If you are a rock, you will be in the Church, because the Church is on a rock. If you are in the Church the gates of hell will not prevail against you…He who has conquered the flesh is a foundation of the Church; and if he cannot equal Peter, he can imitate him (Commentary in Luke VI.98, CSEL 32.4).
Both of these Fathers separate Peter’s confession from Peter’s person. Augustine states explicitly that the Church is not built on Peter’s person but on his confession of faith. This was Augustine’s personal perspective throughout his ministry. But one will not find this citation or that from Ambrose in Mr. Ray’s book even though he knows they exist because they are listed in my book The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock.
Mr. Ray makes some additional comments on this subject when he references the teaching of the Church Father, James of Nisbis. He provides the following quotation from James: ‘And Simon the head of the Apostles, he who denied Christ…our Lord received him, and made him the foundation, and called him the rock of the edifice of the Church.’ He then offers the following critique of my comments:
To William Webster’s credit, he included this passage from Jacob of Nisbis along with another, which reads “Our Lord Jesus Christ is the firm and true foundation; and upon this rock our faith is established. Therefore, when any one has come to faith, he is set upon a firm rock…. And Simon, who was called a rock, was deservedly called a rock because of his faith”, and another referring to “Simon the rock of faith”. However, Webster concludes by saying that “James, like Eusebius and Augustine, states that the rock of the Church is Christ. He alone is the true and unique foundation. However, Peter is also called a rock foundation of the Church but only because of his faith. The Church is built upon Christ as the foundation, not upon Peter. It can be said to be built on Peter only in the sense that it is built upon his faith which points to Christ” (Webster, Peter and the Rock, 100). Why does Webster have to work so hard to establish the either-or dichotomy? Why not accept the both-andposition of the Fathers and the Catholic Church? (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), Footnote #93, p. 193).
I appreciate the fact that Stephen Ray had the courtesy to note that I had included the additional quotations from James of Nisbis, in addition to the one citation he gave in his book. The additional citations are important because they explain what James means when he states that Peter is the foundation and rock of the Church. He is consistent in his perspective with that expressed by Eusebius, a contemporary of James, and Augustine. The emphasis in James’ writing is on the faith of Peter and as we have seen in the above citations from Ambrose and Augustine, the early Church Fathers separated the faith of Peter from his person. Stephen Ray asks, ‘Why does Webster have to work so hard to establish the either-or dichotomy? Why not accept the both-and position of the Fathers and the Catholic Church?’ The simple answer, Mr. Ray, is that the Fathers themselves established the either-or dichotomy. They do not have the both-and position that the Roman Church would like to promote in terms of papal primacy. I am not laboring hard to twist the words of this church Father to say something that is inconsistent with the prevailing view of his day. These comments are consistent with the overall patristic interpretation. Christ is the rock and foundation of the Church. Peter is the rock and foundation, along with all the other apostles (Eph. 2:20), because of their faith and teaching. The Church is built upon this faith, which points to Christ. But as Augustine points out, the Church is not built upon Peter’s person. Therefore when the Fathers say that the Church is built upon Peter they mean upon his confession of faith. This is why James of Nisbis refers to Peter as the ‘rock of faith.’
A Fifth Misrepresentation
Another misrepresentation that needs to be addressed by Mr. Ray are some of his comments on Ambrose. In his writings Ambrose makes the following statement:
It is to Peter himself that He says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.’ Where Peter is, there is the Church (W.A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1979), Volume 2, St. Ambrose, On Twelve Psalms 440,30, p. 150).
Mr. Ray gives the following interpretation to these words: ‘Peter is the rock upon which the Church is built. If one is with Peter, that is, the bishop of Rome, he is with the Church—all others are on the outside'(Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 218). What Mr. Ray would have us believe is that when Ambrose states that ‘Where Peter is there is the Church’, what he means is ‘Where the Bishop of Rome is there is the Church’. I give the following refutation of that position in the following comments from The Matthew 16 Controversy:
The impression given by (Roman Catholic apologists) is that in these comments Ambrose supports the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16. They apply the following logic to his statement: The above quote seems to suggest that Peter’s person is the rock. And since the bishops of Rome are the successors to Peter they are, therefore, by succession, the rocks of the Church. Therefore, according to Ambrose, the Church is founded upon the universal rule of the bishops of Rome. To be in communion with Rome is to be in the Church. To be out of communion with Rome is to be out of the Church for where Peter (that is, the bishop of Rome) is, there is the Church. Is this what Ambrose meant? If we divorce this one sentence from its context and from the rest of his comments on Peter in other writings, we could certainly lean towards that interpretation. However, Ambrose made other comments on Peter and Matthew 16 which explain exactly what he meant when he said that Peter is the rock. Unfortunately, these other comments are often neglected in discussions by Roman Catholic apologists. Often a quote like this is given out of the context. The result is that an interpretation is given the words of Ambrose that is completely foreign to his true meaning. This becomes clear upon examination of his other statements: (I then list the quotations from Ambrose cited above).
What does Ambrose mean when he says that Peter is the foundation? In the sense that he was the first to openly confess faith in Christ as the Messiah and Son of God. The rock is not Peter himself but Peter’s confession of faith! It is this faith which is the foundation of the Church. Peter possesses a primacy, but he explains that primacy as one of confession and faith and not of rank in the sense of ruling over the other apostles. Thus, when Ambrose says that ‘where Peter is there is the Church,’ he means that where Peter’s confession is, there is the Church. He does not mean the bishop of Rome at all. He goes on to give an exposition of the rock reminiscent of the interpretation of Origen who says that all believers are rocks. As (Roman Catholic historian) Robert Eno points out, when the overall context of Ambrose’s statement is taken into account, it demonstrates that the interpretation given by (Roman Catholic apologists) is a complete misrepresentation of Ambrose’s statement since his statement has nothing to do with ecclesiology and papal authority. Robert Eno gives the following explanation:
There is no question then that Ambrose honored the Roman see, but there are other texts which seem to establish a certain distance and independence as well. He commented, for example, that Peter’s primacy was a primacy of confession, not of honor; a primacy of faith, not rank…Finally, one further text should be mentioned in connection with Ambrose since it is a text which like Roma locuta est has become something of a shibboleth or slogan. This is the brief phrase from his commentary on the fortieth Psalm: Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia (where Peter is, there is the Church)…As Roger Gryson has shown, in his study on Ambrose and the priesthood, the context of such a statement has nothing to do with any treatise on ecclesiology. It is but one statement in a long chain of allegorical exegesis starting with the line from Ps. 41:9: ‘Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted…has lifted his heel against me.’ This is not to deny the fairly common association of Peter as the symbol of the Church, the figura ecclesiae we have seen in Augustine. But it says little that is new and nothing at all about papal authority (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 83-84).
In the view of the fathers, as seen in the examples of Cyprian, Ambrose and Augustine, the Church is not embodied in one individual but in a confession of right faith. Where you have that right confession you have Peter. This is explicitly stated for example by Chrysostom. Like Ambrose, he says that where Peter is there is the Church in the sense of Peter’s confession and he applies it not to Rome but to Antioch: ‘Though we do not retain the body of Peter, we do retain the faith of Peter, and retaining the faith of Peter we have Peter’ (On the Inscription of Acts, II. Taken from E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority (London: SPCK, 1952), p.168)(The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock (Battle Ground: Christian Resources, 1996), pp. 62-66).
A Sixth Misrepresentation
One final misrepresentation I would like to address are some additional comments Mr. Ray makes in his Introduction. He states:
The bishop of Rome was unique in assuming the authority and obligation to oversee the Churches. Clement and Ignatius make this clear from the first century and the beginning of the second. If the authority exercised had been illegitimate, or wrongly arrogated, it would have been an act of overzealousness at one end of the spectrum, of tyranny at the other. Yet no one ever stood up and said, “No, you have no authority. Who are you to order us, to teach us, to require obedience from us, to excommunicate us?” If the jurisdictional primacy of Rome had been a matter of self-aggrandizement, someone would have opposed it as they opposed other innovations and heresies in the Church. The silence is profound (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 13).
These statements are a complete misrepresentation of the truth and demonstrate a profound ignorance of church history. The church Fathers and ecumenical councils are not silent on their opposition to the claims of the bishops of Rome which they considered to be in fact illegitimate and innovations. The fact that Cyprian changed the wording of his treatise, On the Unity of the Church, because Stephen the bishop of Rome misapplied his words to mean papal primacy is clear evidence that they were opposed to any thought that the bishop of Rome held universal jurisdiction within the Church. This is also seen in the example of Cyprian and the Eastern Fathers who opposed Stephen and his demands for their submission to his teaching on the rebaptism of heretics. I give the following summation of that controversy in The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock:
The conflict regarding heretical baptism was over whether or not it was necessary to rebaptize those who had been baptized by Novationist groups—which baptized in the name of the Trinity—who were then later converted and sought membership in the orthodox Church. Cyprian and many Eastern bishops said yes, while Stephen said no. The controversy escalated to the point where Stephen demanded submission by Cyprian and the others to his point of view on pain of exclusion from communion with Rome upon refusal. Stephen went so far as to denounce Cyprian as a false prophet and deceitful worker. It is evident from Cyprian’s correspondence that such a demand by Stephen was made on the basis of his application of Matthew 16 to himself as Peter’s successor. In light of this, the response of Cyprian and the Eastern bishops is significant. Did they submit to Stephen? They did not. In fact, Stephen’s demand, his interpretation of scripture, and the ecclesiology which it represented, was unanimously repudiated by these bishops. Their response was a North African Council in 256 A.D., attended by eighty–seven North African bishops, with the full support of the Eastern Churches as represented by Firmilian of Cappadocia who wrote to Cyprian to encourage him in his defiance of Stephen. All agreed with Cyprian in rejecting not only Stephen’s theology and practice on heretical baptism but also his claims to authority. In their opening remarks to the Council the bishops give the following remarks which clearly reflect their understanding of ecclesiology:
It remains that we severally declare our opinion on this same subject, judging no one, nor depriving any one of his right of communion, if he differ from us. For no one setteth himself up as a Bishop of Bishops, or by tyrannical terror forceth his Colleagues to a necessity of obeying; inasmuch as every Bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he can himself judge another. But we must all await the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has the power of both setting us in the government of His Church, and of judging of our acts therein (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, The Judgments of Eighty-Seven Bishops in the Council of Carthage on the Question of Baptizing Heretics, pp. 286-287).
It is obvious from these comments that these bishops reject the notion that one particular bishop holds a position of authority over other bishops as head of the Church universal. No single bishop can legitimately claim to be ‘Bishop of Bishops’ as they put it. This is further illustrated by Firmilian, the leading bishop of Cappadocia, who completely supported Cyprian in his opposition to Stephen. In a personal letter to Cyprian he expressed his own personal opposition to Stephen by stating that Stephen had fallen into error and adopted a false ecclesiology by misinterpreting Matthew 16. He gives his point of view in the following words:
But how great his error, how exceeding his blindness, who says, that remission of sins can be given in the synagogues of heretics, and abideth not on the foundation of the one Church which was once fixed by Christ on a rock, may be hence learnt, that Christ said to Peter alone, Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven: and again in the Gospel, when Christ breathed on the Apostles only, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. The power then of remitting sins was given to the Apostles, and the Churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the Bishops who succeeded them by vicarious ordination.
And herein I am justly indignant at such open and manifest folly in Stephen, that he who boasts of the seat of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, introduces many other rocks, and buildeth anew many Churches, in that by his authority he maintains baptism among them…Nor does he perceive that he who thus betrays and abandons unity, casts into the shade, and in a manner effaces, the truth of the Christian Rock…Stephen, who proclaims that he occupies by succession the chair of Peter, is roused by no zeal against heretics…He who concedes and assigns to heretics such great and heavenly privileges of the Church, what else does he than hold communion with them, for whom he maintains and claims so much grace?…But as to the refutation of the argument from custom, which they seem to oppose to the truth, who so foolish as to prefer custom to truth, or not to leave darkness, when he sees light?…And this you of Africa may say in answer to Stephen, that on discovering the truth you abandoned the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the custom of the Romans we oppose custom, but that of truth; from the beginning holding that which was delivered by Christ and by His Apostles (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, Epistle LXXV. 17, 18, 20, pp. 279-281).
Firmilian expresses a view of the overall government of the Church which is directly opposed to that of Vatican I. He states that the keys were given to Peter alone as a representative of the Church universal, but were subsequently given to all the Apostles who then passed them on to every legitimate succeeding bishop. In the mind of Firmilian, all bishops are on an equal footing. He mocks Stephen’s claim of superiority to other bishops based on his possessing a unique Petrine succession. According to Firmilian all bishops possess the chair of Peter and are built upon the rock. This is not the exclusive and unique possession of the bishops of Rome. And if, as Firmilian claims Stephen did, they depart from the unity of the Church which is expressed in the collegiality of its bishops, they separate themselves from the rock and foundation of the Church. Because Stephen, in Firmilian’s view, had departed from Apostolic truth, he was no longer in unity with Apostolic succession and the rock foundation of the Church. The Roman see itself was not inherently authoritative simply because it could claim a Petrine foundation and succession. This did not impress the Eastern bishops. The important thing to them, and to Cyprian as well, was conformity to Apostolic truth. Where Roman custom opposed what they considered to be truth, they felt obliged to oppose the bishop of Rome. These bishops did not submit to the bishop of Rome and Cyprian died out of communion with him. They clearly did not view the Roman bishop as the universal ruler of the Church, nor communion with him a necessary condition for membership in the Church universal. Cyprian could say, ‘He who does not have the Church for his mother does not have God for his father,’ but in so stating he did not mean submission to and communion with the bishop of Rome. Karl Morrison sums up the controversy between Stephen and Cyprian and the Eastern bishops in these words:
Stephen had condemned Cyprian as ‘false Christ, false apostle, and practicer of deceit,’ because he advocated re–baptism; and the Bishop of Carthage reciprocated in kind. Since the headship which Stephen claimed was unwarranted, by the example of St. Peter, he could not force his brethren to accept his views. Even worse, his judgment opposed the authentic tradition of the Church. The bishop of Rome, wrote Cyprian, had confounded human tradition and divine precepts; he insisted on a practice which was mere custom, and ‘custom without truth is the antiquity of error.’ Whence came the ‘tradition’ on which Stephen insisted? Cyprian answered that it came from human presumption. Subverting the Church from within, Stephen wished the Church to follow the practices of heretics by accepting their baptisms, and to hold that those who were not born in the Church could be sons of God. And finally, Cyprian urged that bishops (Stephen was meant) lay aside the love of presumption and obstinacy which had led them to prefer custom to tradition and, abandoning their evil and false arguments, return to the divine precepts, to evangelical and apostolic tradition, whence arose their order and their very origin.
In a letter to Cyprian, Firmilian endorsed everything the bishop of Carthage had said and added a few strokes of his own…Recalling the earlier dispute about the date of Easter, he upheld the practice of Asia Minor by commenting that, in the celebration of Easter and in many other matters, the Romans did not observe the practices established in the age of the Apostles, though they vainly claimed apostolic authority for their aberrant forms. The decree of Stephen was the most recent instance of such audacity, an instance so grave that Firmilian ranked Stephen among heretics and blasphemers and compared his doctrines and discipline with the perfidy of Judas. The Apostles did not command as Stephen commanded, Firmilian wrote, nor did Christ establish the primacy which he claimed…To the Roman custom, Firmilian, like Cyprian, opposed the custom of truth, ‘holding from the beginning that which was delivered by Christ and the Apostles.’ And, Firmilian argued, by his violence and obstinacy, Stephen had apostacized from the communion of ecclesiastical unity; far from cutting heretics off from his communion, he had cut himself off from the orthodox and made himself ‘a stranger in all respects from his brethren, rebelling against the sacrament and the faith with the madness of contumacious discord. With such a man can there be one Spirit and one Body, in whom perhaps there is not even one mind, slippery, shifting, and uncertain as it is?’ (Karl Morrison, Tradition and Authority in the Western Church (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), pp. 31-32).
These facts are certainly no endorsement of the views promulgated by the First Vatican Council. The writings and practice of Cyprian reveal that he held an opinion directly opposing that of Vatican One on papal supremacy. William Jurgens affirms this in the following summation of Cyprian’s practice which reflected his theory of ecclesiology:
Although Cyprian was on excellent terms with Pope St. Cornelius…he fell out sharply with Cornelius’ successor, Pope St. Stephen…on the question of the rebaptizing of converted heretics. It was the immemorial custom of the African Church to regard Baptism conferred by heretics as invalid, and in spite of Stephen’s severe warnings, Cyprian never yielded. His attitude was simply that every bishop is responsible for his own actions, answerable to God alone (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 216-217) (The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock (Battle Ground: Christian Resources, 1966), pp. 196-199).
Stephen Ray says, ‘If the authority exercised had been illegitimate, or wrongly arrogated, it would have been an act of overzealousness at one end of the spectrum, of tyranny at the other. Yet no one ever stood up and said, “No, you have no authority. Who are you to order us, to teach us, to require obedience from us, to excommunicate us?” If the jurisdictional primacy of Rome had been a matter of self-aggrandizement, someone would have opposed it as they opposed other innovations and heresies in the Church. The silence is profound’ (Upon This Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 13).
The foregoing facts give the lie to these assertions. It is not the silence but the clear expression of outrage and opposition that is profound. The Council of Carthage explicitly denies the right of any bishop to call himself the Bishop of Bishops and to demand obedience to his demands. William Jurgens is a Roman Catholic patristic scholar quoted over and over again by Stephen Ray. He repudiates the the above assertions of Mr. Ray when he says that ‘in spite of Stephen’s severe warnings, Cyprian never yielded. His attitude was simply that every bishop is responsible for his own actions, answerable to God alone’ (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 217).
This is just one example of many that could be cited. Others would be the opposition of the Eastern Churches to Victor, the bishop of Rome, in the second century; the opposition of Augustine and the North Africans to Zosimus in the fifth century; the excommunication of Vigilius by the North African bishops in the sixth; the repudiation of the primacy claims of Rome by the Second (I Constantinople) and the Fourth (Chalcedon) ecumenical councils; the official condemnation of Honorius as a heretic by the Sixth (III Constantinople) ecumenical council. And all of these culminating of course in the final and continuing repudiation by the Eastern Churches of the primacy claims of Rome with the split between the East and West in the eleventh century. But since Mr. Ray states that there is not one single example in all the history of the early Church this one example will suffice.
These are only a few of the many misrepresentations that are evident in Mr. Ray’s book, Upon This Rock. He has consistently misrepresented my statements and those of the Church Fathers. If there is anyone guilty of proof-texting and of promoting an agenda it is Mr. Ray.