Response to Stephen Ray’s Rebuttal to the Writings of William Webster
An Examination of the Fundamentalist Roman Catholic Approach to History and Its Teaching on Unanimous Consent and Authority as Represented by Stephen Ray
By William Webster
In this section I will be interacting with Steve Ray’s comments from the section of his rebuttal entitled: Historiography: Am I Guilty of Mangling History? In particular I will be dealing with 7 major issues:
1) An Answer to the “Cut n’ Paste” Allegation and His Complaint That I do not Interact With His Book
2) The Difference Between Primacy and Jurisdiction; The Church Councils and the Primacy of Honor
3) Steve Ray’s Appeal to the Doctrine of Development and His Misrepresentations of the Teaching of Vatican I
4) The Teaching of the Council of Trent and Vatican I on the ‘Unanimous Consent of the Fathers’
5) Steve Ray’s View of Historiography
6) My Personal Views of the Meaning of Matthew 16:18
7) The Issue of Ultimate Authority: The Seat of Moses and the Chair of Peter.
1) Explanation of Cut n’ Paste Allegation and A Refutation of Steve Ray’s Denial of Misrepresentation
This whole exchange with Steve Ray was initiated from comments that I made to him in an email about the primacy of Peter. He asked if I knew of any Church Father who denied the primacy of Peter or of his successors. I replied that no father denied that Peter had a primacy or that there was a Petrine succession. But I went on to qualify what I meant by this by stating that the Petrine primacy and succession were not exclusively related to the bishops of Rome. They do not apply the special titles they attribute to Peter to the bishops of Rome and they often attribute the same titles of primacy to the other apostles. In addition they view all the apostles as being successors of Peter so Petrine succession is not the exclusive possession of the bishops of Rome. Steve Ray related the first part of my statement in the Introduction of his book, Upon This Rock, where I state that no father denied a Petrine primacy. He then makes the statement, “I wish Mr. Webster had been forthright about this matter in his book.”
I decided to respond to this allegation because it is patently false. I did so by providing extensive quotations from my book, The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock, on Augustine and Chrysostom, to demonstrate the falsity of the charge. Steve sarcastically refers to this as ‘cut n’ paste’. Steve goes on and on in his rebuttal hyow I am not interacting with his book. But the entire section on Augustine and Chrysostom were given to interact specifically with the statements in his Introduction. I explained that before I gave the quotations and concluded the section by asking the question, “How has what I have written differ in any way from what I had written to Steve Ray in my email?” In his rebuttal Steve says: “I certainly did not misrepresent (Bill). Where does he tell his readers that no early Christians ever denied the primacy of Peter or that it was successive? In his “rebuttal” he wrote: ‘Of course they didn’t. As I mentioned in my email they explicitly affirm it. My point was simply, why not admit that clearly in his book? If Bill states that in his book then he merely has to show me where it is explicitly stated and my argument is empty.”
What I have demonstrated in the book, and anyone reading the sections on Augustine and Chrysostom will readily see this to be the case, is that they speak of a primacy of Peter but do not interpret that primacy in a Roman Catholic sense. He is referred to as the coryphaeus, chief of the apostles, first in the church, but he is not the Rock of Matthew 16, his faith is. In my rebuttal to Steve Ray, I give the following quote from my book, The Matthew 16 Controversy, affirming the fact that the Fathers confirm a primacy for Peter but do not interpret this in a Roman Catholic sense. It can be found on page 1 in Steve Ray’s rebuttal in the section on Augustine: “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.” So I affirm that the fathers teach that Peter has a primacy, but go on to say, as I said in my email, that they do not interpret this in a Roman Catholic sense.
On pages 56 to 57 of The Matthew 16 Controversy I explicitly state that the fathers viewed the bishops of Rome as being the successors of Peter. This quotation is also found in my rebuttal to Steve Ray. It states: “Did they (the fathers) view the bishops of Rome as being the 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 successors of Peter. They all possess the chair of Peter.”
There are your explicit statements, Steve. Petrine primacy and succession but not exclusivity. Precisely what I wrote to you in my email. How is this misleading or less than forthright, Steve? As you say, “If Bill states that in his book then he merely has to show me where it is explicitly stated and my argument is empty.” The statements are provided and your argument is empty. You have in fact misrepresented me in your book.
2) The Difference Between Primacy and Jurisdiction
In The Matthew 16 Controversy I make a distinction between the concepts of primacy and jurisdiction as employed by the fathers. I made the point that when Roman Catholic apologists use the term ‘primacy’ what they have in mind is a universal jurisdiction to rule the Church universal. And by Petrine succession they mean this in an exclusive sense as applied to the bishops of Rome. I then made the point that the father’s interpretation of these terms is quite different. They did not deny that Rome held a primacy but it was a primacy of honor accorded to the Church that was the site of the martydom of Peter and Paul and was situated in the capital of the Empire. It was not a primacy of universal jurisdiction. I then state that the fathers never denied that the Church of Rome had a right to exercise authority. But that authority was limited in its jurisdiction. Steve Ray then commented:
Limited in jurisdiction? Bill seems to be whistling a different tune now. I don’t think the readers of his book will come away with this impression that there was a jurisdictions authority in Rome! Remember, readers, that Bill admits this as you continue to read. I thought they had NO jurisdiction! Only honor, remember Bill! So, you admit they held a jurisdcitional authority – now it’s simply a matter of degree.
I never said the bishop of Rome had no jusrisdiction, Steve. I said he did not have universal jurisdiction. I never said he had honor only, but that the primacy was only of honor among the Church universal. The second half of my book deals with the practice of the early Church in which I deal with the Councils. I made this statement:
‘As the consensus of the above historians confirms, according to canon 6 of Nicaea, Rome had a limited jurisdiction in the Church’ (The Matthew 16 Controversy, p. 172).
One of the historians I quoted was John Meyendorff who states:
Rome itself never either exercised or claimed to exercise ‘patriarchal’ rights over the entire West. Such ‘patriarchal’ jurisdiction of Rome existed de facto over the so-called suburbicarian dioceses, which covered a relatively large territory – ten provinces – which were within the civil jurisdiction of the prefect of Rome. The power of the pope upon this territory was, in every way, comparable to the jurisdiction of the Eastern patriarchs (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), p. 328. Found in The Matthew 16 Controversy, p. 165)
I also quote from Church historian, James McCue, who states:
Nicaea I, which took place during Sylvester’s episcopate, is of interest…because of canon 6. It invoked ancient customs in assigning Egypt, Libya, and the Pentapolis to the bishop of Alexandria, affirming the customary jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, and asserting the traditional authority of the bishop of Antioch and of the provincial metropolitans. The canon does not fix the boundaries of Roman regional power. But the expansion of the canon in Rufinus (345?–410) seems to limit Rome’s authority to the suburbicarian sees. This may reflect the actual jurisdictional situation at the end of the fourth century…Nicaea presupposes a regional leadership of Rome, but indicates nothing more. Thus one concludes that down through the Council of Nicaea, a Roman universal primacy of jurisdiction exists neither as a theoretical construction nor as de facto practice awaiting theoretical interpretation (Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Papal Primacy and the Universal Church (Augsburg: Minneapolis, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 72, 77. Found in The Matthew 16 Controversy, p. 165).
So, I never stated, Steve, as you suggest, that a reader of my book would come away with the impression that Rome had NO jurisdiction. This is yet another misrepresentation.
I stated that the early Church interpreted the primacy of Rome as a primacy of honor because of its location in the captial of the empire and the site of the martydom of Peter and Paul. Steve Ray denies this, claiming that Rome had a primacy because it was the see of Peter and the bishops of Rome were his exclusive successors. He charges that my statements are a misrepresentation of the historical facts. He says:
It was seen as holding the primacy because Peter was bishop there and the successive bishops continued in the autoritative office…The argument that Rome only held a primacy of honor is simply a case of prolepsis on Bill’s part. Remember that word? This terminology of honor is not from the first centuries but a distinction made by the Orthodox churches relatively late in the patristic era. How can Rome be said to have had only a primacy of honor if she was intervening in the affairs of other Churches, confirming bishops, deposing bishops (including the Patriarch of Constantinople), etc.? This is nothing more than obfuscation.
There are two points that need to be made regarding these false assertions:
1) The Councils themselves speak of a primacy given to Rome, a primacy of honor, due to its location in the capital and its being the site of the martydom of Peter and Paul.
I Constantinople states:
Because it is new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome (Norman Tanner S.J., Ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University, 1990), Volume I, First Council of Constantinople, Canons 2 and 3, pp. 31-32).
The Bishop of Constantinople shall hold the first rank after the Bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1895), Volume II, I Constantinople, Canon 3, p. 357).
Following in every way the decrees of the holy fathers and recognising the canon which has recently been read out—the canon of the 150 most devout bishops who assembled in the time of the great Theodosius of pious memory, then emperor, in imperial Constantinople, new Rome—we issue the same decree and resolution concerning the preorgatives of the most holy church of the same Constantinople, new Rome. The fathers rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of older Rome, since that is an imperial city; and moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome, reasonably judging that the city which is honoured by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equalling older imperial Rome, should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her (Norman Tanner S.J., Ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University, 1990), Volume I, Council of Chalcedon, Canon 28, pp. 99-100).
The following historians give us an understanding of the decrees of these Councils:
On I Constantinople:
Between 378 and 398 one senses a major change in the manner in which papal authority was asserted. The pope now spoke as the mouthpiece of the apostle Peter, as the Apostolic See, superior to all others and even to church councils. The churches in Gaul and Spain, but not North Africa, were prepared to accept the situation. But as these claims were being made, and perhaps even provoking them, the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 had conferred on Constantinople equal status to Rome ‘save in honour,’ ‘because Constantinople is New Rome.’…Determined that the see of Constantinople should not become the object of outside interference, particularly from Egypt, canon 2 forbade ‘bishops outside a diocese to enter on churches beyond their borders,’…Then, almost as an afterthought, in an appendix to canon 2 it was asserted, ‘However the Bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honour after the Bishop of Rome, for Constantinople is New Rome’ (canon 3). For the government at Constantinople the reasoning was impeccable, Rome was one, whether on the Tiber or the Bosporous, and its bishops were therefore coequal, but Rome as the older city could claim precedence (W.H.C. Frend, Reprinted from The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), pp. 629, 639).
One of the Constantinopolitan canons forbids the bishops at the head of the great ecclesiastical divisions to meddle out of their own provinces, or to throw the Churches into confusion; but that according to the canons the bishop of Alexandria should alone administer the affairs of Egypt, the bishops of the East those of the East, and so on…What the council would be willing to grant to the bishop of Rome appears from what they granted to the bishop of Constantinople. They did not give him any right to meddle out of his own province, but they said that he should have precedency of honour…next after the bishop of Rome, ‘because this city was new Rome’ (George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (London: Murray, 1914), p. 420, 421-422).
In the first years of his reign, emperor Theodosius I (379–395) presided over the liquidation of Arianism at the general council of the East—eventually to be recognized as the ‘second ecumenical’ council—in Constantinople (381). Canon 3 of that council gave the bishop of Constantinople ‘an honorary seniority…after the bishop of Rome, because that city is the New Rome.’ The text could easily be interpreted as implying that the primacy of ‘old’ Rome had become obsolete after the transfer of the imperial capital to Constantinople…The ancient tradition…recognized the bishop of Rome as the ‘first bishop,’ or ‘primate’ of the universal episcopate. However, the council of Constantinople, by attributing the second rank to the bishop of the new imperial capital could also be understood as implying that the pope had been honored for no other reason than the political position of ‘older’ Rome. This interpretation of canon 3 will be formally endorsed in 451 by the council of Chalcedon (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), pp. 61-62).
On Chalcedon, regarding the meaning of the 28th canon:
The text makes two major points. First—reflecting the desire of the government of emperor Marcian and his wife Pulcheria to associate Rome and Constantinople, as the two ‘imperial’ centers of the Church against the pretensions of Alexandria—the text confirms the decision of 381 to give ecclesiastical ‘New Rome’ the second place of honor after the ‘Old Rome.’ It then goes further than the council of 381, by explicitly interpreting the primacy of both Romes in purely empirical or political terms, as determined by ‘the presence of the emperor and the Senate.’ The second point consists in formally establishing a ‘patriarchate’ of Constantinople (whose position, so far, had been purely honorary), and giving its bishop the right to consecrate the metropolitans in three imperial dioceses: Thrace, Pontus and Asia. The second point was of a purely practical and administrative nature, but the first consisted in a formal denial of the very basis of Leo’s ecclesiology: the primacy of Rome was of a political nature, established ‘by the Fathers,’ and not a divine institution, or ‘chair of Peter.’…The canon endorsed the principle of a purely political rationale for the existence of primacies: the older Rome itself, it proclaimed, was granted privileges ‘by the fathers’ because it was the imperial capital, not because it was founded by St. Peter. Logically, therefore, the new capital, although it had no ‘apostolic’ foundation, was entitled to the same status (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Division (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), pp. 175, 183).
In summary, Roman Catholic historian, Yves Congar, points out that the Eastern Church never acknowledged the primacy of Rome in a jurisdictional sense but was willing to accord this see a primacy of honor:
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 (Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion (Mystic: Twenty-Third, 1982), pp. 26-27).
2) The fact that Rome was supposedly a Petrine See did not carry a great deal of influence in the East. Roman Catholic historian, Francis Dvornick, states:
In the West there was only one see—Rome—that could claim apostolic foundation…The see of Rome was left as the only city of the West that could boast apostolic origin: it had been founded by the first of the Apostles, Peter. But the question of the apostolic character of a see was viewed in quite different fashion in the East. There had been many important sees in the East which had been founded by an Apostle: this was the case for Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Ephesus. Apart from these great sees, there was a large number of less important ones in Asia Minor and in Greece which, according to both authentic and apocryphal writings, had at least been visited by an Apostle. For this reason the principle of apostolic origin never took very deep root in the ecclesiastical organization of the East and the principle of accomodation to the political divisions of the Empire remained always preponderant. It is in this light that we must examine Canon III of the Council of Constantinople, in 381, which gave the Bishop of Constantinople the second rank in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. For the Orientals this promotion was altogether natural granted the change that had taken place in the political organization of the Empire. The new capital of the Empire, the residence of the Emperor, could not remain subordinate to the metropolitan of the diocese of Thrace, Heracleia. When Constantinople became the New Rome, it acquired the right of occupying a place immediately after Rome, the ancient capital of the Empire (Francis Dvornik, Byzantium and the Roman Primacy(New York: Fordham University, 1966), pp. 43-44).
John Meyendorff states:
Three Churches are mentioned in Canon 6 (Nicaea) as enjoying presbeia: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch…Through what particular merit did these three cities acquire the authority which was now confirmed? Was it because of their apostolicity? This did not seem to be the case, at least as far as Alexandria was concerned. The tradition according to which the Church was established there by St. Mark would have been, by itself, insufficient for the Church of Alexandria to claim privileges similar to those of Rome: a very large number of Eastern Churches could claim a much more impressive apostolic foundation accredited by New Testament writings. In particular, this was the case for Antioch which was content with third place, after Rome and Alexandria. Moreover—and this has been pointed out several times by historians—a Church’s apostolic origin was a far too common factor in the East to have had the importance it acquired in the West where the Roman See was the only apostolic see and the main center from which evangelization spread (John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1966), pp. 55-56).
When the Council of Nicaea, in its famous Canon 6, vaguely mentioned the ‘ancient customs’ which recognized an exceptional prestige to the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome, the selection of these particular churches was determined not by their apostolic foundation, but by the fact that they were located in the most important cities of the empire. For if apostolicity were the criterion, as later Western interpretations insist, the position of Alexandria, purported to have been founded by a minor apostolic figure, Mark, could not be greater than Antioch’s, where Peter’s presence is attested by the New Testament (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University, 1974), pp. 99-100).
Philip Schaff sums up the perspective of the Ecumenical Councils in these words:
Finally, in regard to the four great ecumenical councils, the first of Nice, the first of Constantinople, that of Ephesus, and that of Chalcedon: we have already presented their position on this question in connection with their legislation on the patriarchal system.583 We have seen that they accord to the bishop of Rome a precedence of honor among the five officially coequal patriarchs, and thus acknowledge him primus inter pares, but, by that very concession, disallow his claims to supremacy of jurisdiction, and to monarchical authority over the entire church. The whole patriarchal system, in fact, was not monarchy, but oligarchy. Hence the protest of the Roman delegates and of Pope Leo against the decrees of the council of Chalcedon in 451, which coincided with that of Constantinople in 381. This protest was insufficient to annul the decree, and in the East it made no lasting impression; for the subsequent incidental concessions of Greek patriarchs and emperors, like that of the usurper Phocas in 606, and even of the sixth ecumenical council of Constantinople in 680, to the see of Rome, have no general significance, but are distinctly traceable to special circumstances and prejudices.
It is, therefore, an undeniable historical fact, that the greatest dogmatic and legislative authorities of the ancient church bear as decidedly against the specific papal claims of the Roman bishopric, is in favor of its patriarchal rights and an honorary primacy in the patriarchal oligarchy. The subsequent separation of the Greek church from the Latin proves to this day, that she was never willing to sacrifice her independence to Rome, or to depart from the decrees of her own greatest councils (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), Volume III, p. 313).
There is no obfuscation here Steve, just a straightforward presentation of the facts.
3) Vatican I and the Doctrine of Development:
Steve Ray states:
‘Opposition to the Church’s teaching is exemplified by Bill Webster who misrepresents the Council Fathers by redefining and misapplying “unanimous consent”. First in redefining, he implies that unanimous consent means that all the Fathers must have held the same fully developed traditions and taught them clearly in the same terms as used later in Vatican I.’
In his book, Upon This Rock, Steve Ray states that the papacy was subject to doctrinal development in the Church. He uses the metaphor of the acorn and the oak. He states:
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 Papcy as expressed in Vatican I? No, they do not, as Webster correctly observes. (Pg. 184).
Now, there is an implicit admission in these statements. Steve is admitting to the fact that the papacy was not there from the very beginning. It was subject to a process of development and growth over time. In fact, I have an entire section in my book, The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock, entitled The Papacy: A Process of Gradual Development. So how can Steve say that I do not acknowledge the fact that the historical reality is that the papacy is indeed subject to development? The problem is not whether there was development. The problem lies in the fact that Vatican I says there was no development. In other words there was no acorn. It was a full blown oak from the very beginning and was therefore the practice of the Church from the very beginnning. Vatican I reaffirmed the decree of the Council of Trent on the Unanimous Consent of the Fathers. As Steve rightly points out this has to do specifically with the interpretation of Scripture. It states that it is unlawful to interpret Scripture in any way contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. Vatican I then proceeds to set forth its teachings on papal primacy and infallibility with the interpretation of Matthew 16:18, John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:32 as the basis for its teachings. And then it states that the interpretations that it gives and the conclusions it draws from these interpretations, in terms of the practice of the Church, has been that which has EVER been taught in the Church and practiced by it. Here is what Vatican I says:
Chapter I: Of the Institution of the Apostolic Primacy in blessed Peter.
We therefore teach and declare that, according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to blessed Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord. For it was to Simon alone, to whom he had already said: ‘Thou shalt be called Cephas,’ that the Lord after the confession made by him, saying: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ addressed these solemn words: ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar–Jona, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee 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 to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.’ And it was upon Simon alone that Jesus after his resurrection bestowed the jurisdiction of chief pastor and ruler over all his fold in the words: ‘Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.’ At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister.
If any one, therefore, shall say that blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of all the Apostles and the visible Head of the whole Church militant; or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema.
Chapter II: On the Perpetuity of the Primacy of blessed Peter in the Roman Pontiffs.
That which the Prince of Shepherds and great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ our Lord, established in the person of the blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church; which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and blessed Peter, the Prince and Chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides, and judges, to this day and always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by him and consecrated by his blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See, does by the institution of Christ himself obtain the Primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth therefore remains, and blessed Peter, abiding through the strength of the Rock in the power that he received, has not abandoned the direction of the Church. Wherefore it has at all times been necessary that every particular Church—that is to say, the faithful throughout the world—should agree with the Roman Church, on account of the greater authority of the princedom which this has received; that all being associated in the unity of that See whence the rights of communion spread to all, might grow together as members of one Head in the compact unity of the body.
If, then, any should deny that it is by institution of Christ the Lord, or by divine right, that blessed Peter should have a perpetual line of successors in the Primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.
Hence we teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a superiority of ordinary power over all other churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatever right and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchial subordination and true obedience, to submit not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those which appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world, so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme pastor through the preservation of unity both of communion and of profession of the same faith with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and salvation (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, 1877), Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council , Chapters I,II, III).
Notice here that Vatican I states that its interpretation of Matthew 16 and John 21 has been the interpretation that has ever been understood in the Church. That is, from them very beginning. It further states that Peter was given a primacy of jurisdiction from the very beginning by Christ himself and that this primacy was passed on to Peter’s successors, the bishops of Rome. This, it says, has been known to all ages. In other words, there was no acorn. The papacy was a full blown oak from the very beginning because it was established by Christ himself. And then it states that this teaching is part of the content of saving faith. To deviate from this teaching is to incur the loss of salvation. This is an explicit affirmation that outside the Church of Rome there is no salvation. Later on, in its teaching on papal infallibility, Vatican I states:
For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by his revelation they might make known new doctrine; but that by his assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And, indeed, all the venerable Fathers have embraced, and the holy orthodox doctors have venerated and followed, their Apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of holy Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of his disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and, when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.’ This gift, then, of truth and never–failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in his chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all…
Therefore faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God our Saviour, the exaltation of the Christian religion, and the salvation of Christian people, the sacred Council approving, we teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church. But if any one—which may God avert—presume to contradict this our definition: let him be anathema (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, 1877), Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, Chp. 4, pp. 266-71).
Here Vatican I is basing its teaching of papal infallibility on the interpretation of Luke 22:32. A teaching or tradition which it says was received from the very beginning of the Christian faith. The Council asserts that the doctrine of papal infallibility is a divinely revealed dogma and all who refuse to embrace it are placed under anathema.
The papal encyclical, Satis Cognitum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, is a commentary on and papal confirmation of the teachings of Vatican I. As to the issue of doctrinal development, Leo makes it quite clear that Vatican I leaves no room for such a concept in its teachings. Leo states over and over again that the papacy was fully established by Christ from the very beginning and that its has been the foundation of the constitution of the Church and recognized as such from the very start and throughout all ages. He further affirms that Vatican I’s teaching has been the constant belief of every age and and is therefore not a novel doctrine:
Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own…Jesus Christ, therefore, appointed Peter to be that head of the Church; and He also determined that the authority instituted in perpetuity for the salvation of all should be inherited by His successors, in whom the same permanent authority of Peter himself should continue. And so He made that remarkable promise to Peter and to no one else: “Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. xvi., 18)…It was necessary that a government of this kind, since it belongs to the constitution and formation of the Church, as its principal element – that is as the principle of unity and the foundation of lasting stability – should in no wise come to an end with St. Peter, but should pass to his successors from one to another…When the Divine founder decreed that the Church should be one in faith, in government, and in communion, He chose Peter and his successors as the principle and centre, as it were, of this unity…Indeed, Holy Writ attests that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were given to Peter alone, and that the power of binding and loosening was granted to the Apostles and to Peter; but there is nothing to show that the Apostles received supreme power without Peter, and against Peter. Such power they certainly did not receive from Jesus Christ. Wherefore, in the decree of the Vatican Council as to the nature and authority of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age (Sess. iv., cap. 3).
The Roman Catholic Church, itself, has officially stated that there was no development of this doctrine in the early Church. After all, if the fullness of the definition of papal primacy as defined by Vatican I was instituted by Christ immediately upon Peter, as both Vatican I and Leo XIII affirm, then there is no room for development. It was instituted by Christ himself and was therefore present from the very beginning and would have been recognized as such by the Church as Vatican I states: ‘Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See, does by the institution of Christ himself obtain the Primacy of Peter over the whole Church’, a fact which Vatican I says has been known to all ages leading to the practice ‘that it has at all times been necessary that every particular Church—that is to say, the faithful throughout the world—should agree with the Roman Church, on account of the greater authority of the princedom which this has received.’ This documentation completely demolishes Steve Ray’s theory of development. He is at odds with the magisterium of his own Church. If he fails to properly interpret the teachings of his own Church, what can we expect of his handling of the writings of the Church fathers? He must set forth a theory of development because of the historical reality, but such a theory is at open variance with the clear teaching of Vatican I and Leo XIII.
So when we analyze these papal teachings in the light of history it is perfectly legitimate to ask the question on two levels. As to the actual insitution of the papacy, do we find the teachings of Vatican I expressed by the fathers of the Church in their practice? And secondly, as to the issue of interpretation, do we find a unanimous consent of the fathers regarding Vatican I’s interpretation of Matthew 16:18, John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:32 that supports papal primacy and infallibility? In both cases the answer is a decided no.
4) The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers
Steve Ray states that I have a complete misunderstanding of the Roman Catholic teaching of the unanimous consent. This principle was first promulgated in an authoritative sense by the Council of Trent and later reaffirmed by Vatican I. The teaching states that it is unlawful to interpret Scripture in any way contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers. Steve Ray says:
Opposition to the Church’s teaching is exemplified by Bill Webster who misrepresents the Council Fathers by redefining and misapplying ‘unanimous consent.’ First, in redefining, he implies that unanimous consent means that all the Fathers must have held the same fully developed traditions and taught them clearly in the same terms as used later in Vatican I…Second, he misapplies the term, not simply to the interpretation of Scripture, as the Council Fathers intended, but to tradition…The test given by the Councils regarded only the interpretation of Scripture, whereas Bill expands the test out of the documents context to all of Catholic tradition (Page 9 of Historography: Am I Guiltyof Mangling History?).
First of all, I am not misapplying the concept of unanimous consent to apply it to Rome’s tradition because much of its tradition is based on the interpretation of Scripture. A case in point is the doctrine of the papacy. Secondly, Steve is forced by the evidence of history to have to take refuge in the theory of development relative to the doctrine of the papacy. But he is at variance with the clear declarations of Vatican I. As we have seen, it is Vatican I which claims a unanimous consent in its particular interpretation of Scripture to support its teaching on papal primacy, and unanimous consent as evidenced by a universal practice. In this claim it denies that there was an historical development of the papacy. The following are the comments from my book, The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock, on the whole issue of unanimous consent and its application to the teachings of Vatican I:
Vatican I has claimed that its papal teachings, based primarily on a particular interpretation of Matthew 16:18, find support historically from what it calls the ‘unanimous consent of the fathers.’ But the forgoing historical evidence reveals that there is no patristic consensus to support the Vatican I papal interpretation of Matthew 16:18–19. The Roman Catholic Church’s appeal to the ‘universal consent of the fathers’ to support its exegesis of Matthew 16 is fallacious. Such a consensus does not exist. The quotations we have cited document the comments of the major fathers of the patristic age from both the East and West up through the eighth century. Their interpretation of Matthew 16:18 demonstrates that the overwhelming majority view of the Church historically is not that of the Roman Catholic Church today.
This whole issue of ‘unanimous consent’ has direct bearing upon the Roman Church’s claims to authority and to infalliblity as an interpreter of scripture. This is a principle which was promulgated by the Council of Trent and later reaffirmed by Vatican I. Trent states:
Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of the Christian doctrine, wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Fourth Session, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures. Cited by Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper, 1877), Volume II, p. 83).
What the Council is saying, and Vatican I later reaffirmed, is that the Roman Catholic Church alone has the right to interpret scripture and that its interpretation is consistent with the overall interpretation (unanimous consent) of the fathers. It is making the point that the teaching of the Church has not changed over time—that there is a consensus of interpretation that can be traced back through the fathers to the apostles and ultimately to Christ himself. It is not suggesting that there are two levels of authority in interpretation, that of the fathers and that of the Church in a later age. Trent teaches that the Church of the 16th century is consistent in its interpretation with the fathers of earlier centuries. This is why it states that the interpretation of scripture which is contrary to what the Church holds or has held, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers is unlawful. That this is the proper interpretation of the Council’s teaching is seen from the Profession of the Tridentine Faith, issued by Pius IV in 1564 which was required of all priests. Regarding the scriptures all priests were to take the following oath: ‘Neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.’ Historically the Church has always claimed patristic consensus for its tradition as an affirmation of the continuity of its teaching. Even Vatican I affirms this principle when it states that its teachings on papal rule and infallibility have been the practice of the Church from the very beginning.
The Council of Trent laid down this principle of interpretation. It is not the Protestant Church but the Roman Catholic which has enunciated it. This does not mean that every single father has interpreted scripture in precisely the same way but that there is an overall consensus of meaning which the Church upholds. It should be evident then, since this is a formal principle enunciated by Trent, that there cannot be an authoritative interpretation of scripture that fundamentally contradicts what has been clearly promulgated by the fathers. This would be especially true of the fundamentals of the faith. Vatican I states that papal rule and infallibility and submission to it, must be embraced to obtain salvation. It then uses the Petrine texts (Mt. 16, Lk. 22, Jn 21) as the basis for its teaching and gives these passages a papal interpretation.
Vatican I teaches that the Church has held these particular views from the very beginning. So it is only right to ask the question: Is there a unanimous consent of the fathers in the interpretation of Mt. 16, Lk. 22 and Jn. 21? Does it conform to that given by Vatican I? Has the Church from the very beginning always believed and practiced the views of Vatican I on papal rule and infallibility? The answer to these questions is a decided No! (The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock, pp. 143-145).
Steve Ray states that phrase ‘unanimous consent of the fathers’ specifically applies to the interpretation of Scripture. This is correct. The Catholic Encyclopedia provides the following understanding of the meaning of unanimous consent:
Pope Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Providentissimus Deus, repeats the principles concerning the authority of the Fathers laid down by the Vatican and Tridentine Councils: “The Holy Fathers, ‘to whom, after the Apostles, the Church owes its growth—who have planted, watered, built, governed, and cherished it’ (Aug., C. Julian., 11, x, 37)—the Holy Fathers, we say, are of supreme authority whenever they all interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible, as pertaining to the doctrine of faith or morals; for their unanimity clearly evinces that such interpretation has come down from the Apostles as a matter of Catholic faith.” Three conditions are, therefore, required in order that the patristic authority may be absolutely decisive: first, they must interpret texts referring to matters of faith or morals; secondly, they must speak as witnesses of Catholic tradition, not merely as private theologians; thirdly, there must be a moral unanimity in their interpretation.
Vatican I has given us its interpretation of the Petrine passages and we are told that this interpretation can be supported by the unanimous consent of the fathers. But when we look at the interpretation of the fathers, at what they have actually written, we find this not to be the case. There is a unanimous consent. All of the above criteria enumerated by The Catholic Encyclopedia are fulfilled in the interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16 by the fathers, but it is not supportive of the teaching of Vatican I, but rather of the Eastern Orthodox perspective. The following is a listing of the comments of the fathers of the Church in their interpretation of Matthew 16:18. The reader can judge for himself if a unanimous consent is found here supportive of Vatican I. For those interested a much fuller documentation of the writings of the fathers can be found in The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock. The following is simply a sampling:
Augustine: 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).
Ambrose: Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter’s flesh (His person), but of his faith, that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it …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 (Commentary in Luke VI.98, CSEL 32.4).
Ambrosiaster: Paul writes about ecclesiastical orders; here he is concerned with the foundation of the Church. The prophets prepared, the apostles laid the foundations. Wherefore the Lord says to Peter: ‘Upon this rock I shall build my Church,’ that is, upon this confession of the catholic faith I shall establish the faithful in life (Commentary on Ephesians, M.P.L., Vol. 17, Col. 380).
Athanasius: For this we must seek before all things, whether He is Son, and on this point specially search the Scriptures;’ for this it was, when the Apostles were questioned that Peter answered, saying, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ …this is the truth and the sovereign principle of our faith;…And as He is a foundation, and we stones built upon Him,…the Church is firmly established; it is founded on the rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…And because this is the faith of the Church, let them somehow understand that the Lord sent out the Apostles and commanded them to make this the foundation of the Church (Four Letters to Serapion of Thmuis 1.28. Cited by William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1970), Volume I, p. 336).
Aphraates: Faith…is like a building that is built up of many pieces of workmanship and so its edifice rises to the top. And know, my beloved, that in the foundations of the building stones are laid, and so resting upon stones the whole edifice rises until it is perfected. Thus also the true Stone, our Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation of all faith. And on Him, on (this) Stone faith is based. And resting on faith all the structure rises until it is completed. For it is the foundation that is the beginning of all the building. For when anyone is brought nigh unto faith, it is laid for him upon the Stone, that is our Lord Jesus Christ. And His building cannot be shaken by the waves, nor can it be injured by the winds. By the stormy blasts it does not fall, because its structure is reared upon the rock of the true Stone. And in that I have called Christ the Stone, I have not spoken my own thought, but the Prophets beforehand called Him the Stone.
And now hear concerning faith that is based upon the Stone, and concerning the structure that is reared up upon the Stone…So also let the man, who becomes a house, yea, a dwelling place, for Christ take heed to what is needed for the service of Christ, Who lodges in him, and with what things he may please Him. For first he builds his building on the Stone, which is Christ. On Him, on the Stone, is faith built…All these things doth the faith demand that is based on the rock of the true Stone, that is Christ.And if perchance thou shouldest say: If Christ is set for the foundation, how does Christ also dwell in the building when it is completed? For both these things did the blessed Apostle say. For he said: ‘I as a wise architect have laid the foundation.’ And there he defined the foundation and made it clear, for he said as follows: ‘No man can lay other foundation than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus’…And therefore that word is accomplished, that Christ dwells in men, namely, in those who believe on Him, and He is the foundation on which is reared up the whole building (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Vol XIII, Aphrahat, Select Demonstrations, Demonstration I.2-6,13,19).
Basil the Great: And the house of God, located on the peaks of the mountains, is the Church according to the opinion of the Apostle. For he says that one must know ‘how to behave in the household of God.’ Now the foundations of this Church are on the holy mountains, since it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. One of these mountains was indeed Peter, upon which rock the Lord promised to build his Church. Truly indeed and by highest right are sublime and elevated souls, souls which raise themselves above earthly things, called ‘mountains.’ The soul of the blessed Peter was called a lofty rock because he had a strong mooring in the faith and bore constantly and bravely the blows inflicted by temptations. All, therefore, who have acquired an understanding of the godhead—on account of the breadth of mind and of those actions which proceed from it—are the peaks of mountains, and upon them the house of God is built (Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, Cap. II.66, M.P.G., Vol. 30, Col. 233).
Basil of Seleucia: In obedience the tongue of Peter sought employment and though ignorant of doctrine, supplied a response: ‘You are Christ, Son of the living God.’..Now Christ called this confession a rock, and he named the one who confessed it ‘Peter,’ perceiving the appellation which was suitable to the author of this confession. For this is the solemn rock of religion, this the basis of salvation, this the wall of faith and the foundation of truth: ‘For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus (Oratio XXV.4, M.P.G., Vol. 85, Col. 296-297).
Bede: You are Peter and on this rock from which you have taken your name, that is, on myself, I will build my Church, upon that perfection of faith which you confessed I will build my Church by whose society of confession should anyone deviate although in himself he seems to do great things he does not belong to the building of my Church…Metaphorically it is said to him on this rock, that is, the Saviour which you confessed, the Church is to be built, who granted participation to the faithful confessor of his name (Homily 23, M.S.L., Vol. 186, Col. 108).
Cassiodorus: ‘It will not be moved’ is said about the Church to which alone that promise has been given: ‘You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’ For the Church cannot be moved because it is known to have been founded on that most solid rock, namely, Christ the Lord….From this ‘foundation,’ Christ is rightly inferred, who is an immovable foundation and an inviolable rock. Concerning this the Apostle says: ‘For no other foundation can any man lay than that which is already laid, which is Christ Jesus’ (1 Cor. 3.11) (Expositions in the Psalms, Psalm 45.5, M.P.L., Vol. 70, Col. 330).
John Chrysostom: Therefore He added this, ‘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…For Christ added nothing more to Peter, but as though his faith were perfect, said, upon this confession He would build the Church; but in the other case He did nothing like this, but the contrary…I have preached Christ, I have delivered unto you the foundation.‘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 (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily XXI.1, pp. 72-73; Volume XII, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians, Homily VIII.7, p. 47).
Cyprian: 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. 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 Son 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, 1842), Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church 3-4, pp. 133-135).
Cyril of Alexandria: But why do we say that they are ‘foundations of the earth’? For Christ is the foundation and unshakable base of all things…But the next foundations, those nearer to us, can be understood to be the apostles and evangelists, those eyewitnesses and ministers of the word who have arisen for the strengthening of the faith. For when we recognize that their own traditions must be followed, we serve a faith which is true and does not deviate from Christ. For when he wisely and blamelessly confessed his faith to Jesus saying, ‘You are Christ, Son of the living God,’ Jesus said to divine Peter: ‘You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.’ Now by the word ‘rock’, Jesus indicated, I think, the immoveable faith of the disciple…And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ The surname, I believe, calls nothing other than the unshakable and very firm faith of the disciple ‘a rock,’ upon which the Church was founded and made firm and remains continually impregnable even with respect to the very gates of Hell (Commentary on Isaiah IV.2, M.P.G., Vol. 70, Col. 940; Dialogue on the Trinity IV, M.P.G., Vol. 75, Col. 866).
Didymus the Blind: How powerful is Peter’s faith and his confession that Christ is the only-begotten God, the word, the true Son of God, and not merely a creature. Though he saw God on earth clothed in flesh and blood, Peter did not doubt, for he was willing to receive what ‘flesh and blood have not revealed to you.’ Moreover he recognized the consubstantial and coeternal branch of God, thereby glorifying that uncreated root, that root without beginning which had revealed the truth to him. Peter believedthat Christ was one and the same deity with the Father; and so he was called blessed by him who alone is the blessed Lord. Upon this rock the Church was built, the Church which the gates of hell—that is, the arguments of heretics—will not overcome (De Trinitate Liber Primus I.30, M.P.G., Vol. 39, col. 416).
Epiphanius: This is, first of all, because he confessed that ‘Christ’ is ‘the Son of the living God,’ and was told, ‘On this rock of sure faith will I build my church’—for he plainly confessed that Christ is true Son (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (Leiden: Brill, 1994), Books II and III, Haer. 59.7,6-8,3, p. 108-109).
Eusebius: Yet you will not in any way err from the scope of the truth if you suppose that ‘the world’ is actually the Church of God, and that its ‘foundation’ is in the first place, that unspeakably solid rock on which it is founded, as Scripture says: ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’; and elsewhere: ‘The rock, moreover, was Christ.’ For, as the Apostle indicates with these words: ‘No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.’ Then, too, after the Savior himself, you may rightly judge the foundations of the Church to be the words of the prophets and apostles, in accordance with the statement of the Apostle: ‘Built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Commentary on the Psalms, M.P.G., Vol. 23, Col. 173, 176).
Gregory of Nyssa: The warmth of our praises does not extend to Simon insofar as he was a catcher of fish; rather it extends to his firm faith, which is at the same time the foundation of the whole Church (Panegyric on St. Stephen, M.P.G., Vol. 46, Col. 733).
Hilary of Poitiers: A belief that the Son of God is Son in name only, and not in nature, is not the faith of the Gospels and of the Apostles…whence I ask, was it that the blessed Simon Bar–Jona confessed to Him, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God?…And this is the rock of confession whereon the Church is built…that Christ must be not only named, but believed, the Son of God.
This faith is that which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven…The very reason why he is blessed is that he confessed the Son of God. This is the Father’s revelation, this the foundation of the Church, this the assurance of her permanence. Hence has she the keys of the kingdom of heaven, hence judgment in heaven and judgment on earth….Thus our one immovable foundation, our one blissful rock of faith, is the confession from Peter’s mouth, Thou art the Son of the living God (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), On The Trinity, Book VI.36,37; Book II.23).
Isidore of Pelusium: Christ, who searcheth the hearts, did not ask His disciples, ‘Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ Because He did not know the varying opinion of men concerning Himself, but was desirous, of teaching all that same confession which Peter, inspired by Him, laid as the basis and foundation, on which the Lord built His Church (Epistle 235. Cited by C. DeLisle Shortt, Who Was the First Bishop of Rome (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1935), p. 110).
Isidore of Seville: Peter bears the character of the Church, which has the power to forgive sins and to lead men from Hades to the heavenly kingdom…All the apostles also bear the type of the whole Church, since they also have received a like power of forgiving sins. They bear also the character of the patriarchs, who by the word of preaching spiritually brought forth God’s people in the whole world…The wise man who built his house upon the rock signifies the faithful teacher, who has established the foundations of his doctrine and life upon Christ…Moreover, Christ is called a ‘foundation’ because faith is established in him, and because the catholic Church is built upon him (Allegories in the New Testament, M.P.L., Vol. 83, Col. 117-118, Numbers 135, 136, 148; Etym. VII.2, M.P.L., Vol. 82, Col. 267.41).
James of Nisbis: Faith is composed and compacted of many things. It is like a building, because it is constructed and completed in much hope. You are not ignorant that large stones are placed in the foundations of a building, and then all that is built thereon has the stones joined together, and so raised till the completion of the work. So, of all our faith, 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, which is our Lord Jesus Christ. And, calling Christ a rock, I say nothing of my own, for the prophets have before called Him a rock (Sermon 1 de Fide i.13. Cited by J. Waterworth, A Commentary (London: Thomas Richardson, 1871), pp. 39-40).
Jerome: The one foundation which the apostolic architect laid is our Lord Jesus Christ. Upon this stable and firm foundation, which has itself been laid on solid ground, the Church of Christ is built…For the Church was founded upon a rock…upon this rock the Lord established his Church; and the apostle Peter received his name from this rock (Mt. 16.18)…She, that with a firm root is founded upon the rock, Christ, the Catholic Church, is the one dove; she stands the perfect one, and near to His right hand, and has nothing sinister in her…The rock is Christ, Who gave to His apostles, that they also should be called rocks, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church (Commentary on Matthew 7.25, M.P.L., Vol. 26, Col. 51; Epistle 65.15, Ad Principiam. Cited by J. Waterworth S.J., A Comentary (London: Thomas Richardson, 1871), p. 109; Commentary on Amos vi.12-13. Cited by J. Waterworth S.J., A Comentary (London: Thomas Richardson, 1871), p. 112-113).
John of Damascus: And Peter, fired by a burning zeal and prompted by the Holy Spirit replied: ‘You are Christ, Son of the living God.’ Oh blessed mouth! Perfectly, blessed lips! Oh theological soul! Mind filled by God and made worthy by divine instruction! Oh divine organ through which Peter spoke! Rightly are you blessed, Simon son of Jonah…because neither flesh nor blood nor human mind, but my Father in heaven has revealed this divine and mysterious truth to you. For no one knows the Son, save he who is known by him…This is that firm and immovable faith upon which, as upon the rock whose surname you bear, the Church is founded. Against this the gates of hell, the mouths of heretics, the machines of demons—for they will attack—will not prevail. They will take up arms but they will not conquer (Homily on the Transfiguration, M.P.G., Vol. 96, Col. 554-555).
Nilus of Ancyra: If, moreover, a man of the Lord is meant, the first to be compared to gold would be Cephas, whose name is interpreted ‘rock.’ This is the highest of the apostles, Peter, also called Cephas, who furnished in his confession of faith the foundation for the building of the Church (Commentary in Canticle of Canticles, M.P.G., Vol. 87 (ii), Col. 1693).
Origen: And if we too have said like Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, ‘Thou art Peter,’ etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.
But if you suppose that upon the one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, ‘The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,’ hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, ‘Upon this rock I will build My church’? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? (Allan Menzies, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Origen’s Commentary on Matthew, Chapters 10-11).
Palladius of Helenopolis: ‘You, however, who do you say I am?’ Not all responded, but Peter only, interpreting the mind of all: ‘You are Christ, Son of the living God.’ The Saviour, approving the correctness of this response, spoke, saying: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock’—that is, upon this confession—‘I shall build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Dialogue on the Life of John Chrysostom, M.P.G., Vol. 47, Col. 68).
Paschasius Radbertus: There is one response of all upon which the Church is founded and against which the gates of hell will not prevail…Such a great faith does not arise except from the revelation of God the Father and inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that anyone that has faith, like firm stone, is called Peter…It should be noted that anyone of the faithful is rock as far as he is an imitator of Christ and is light as far as he is illuminated by light and by this the Church of Christ is founded upon those as far as they are strengthened by Christ. So not on Peter alone but on all the apostles and the successors of the apostles the Church of God is built. But these mountains are first built on the mountain Christ is elevated above all mountains and hills…This is indeed the true and inviolable faith given to Peter from God the Father, which affirms that if there had not always been a son there would not always have been a Father, upon which faith the whole Church is both founded and remains firm, believing that God is the Son of God (Commentary on Matthew, M.P.L., Vol. 120, Col. 561; Commentary on Matthew, M.S. L., Vol. 120, Col. 555f).
Paul of Emesa: Upon this faith the Church of God has been founded. With this expectation, upon this rock the Lord God placed the foundations of the Church. When then the Lord Christ was going to Jerusalem, He asked the disciples, saying, ‘Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?’ The apostles say, ‘Some Elias, others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.’ And He says, but you, that is, My elect, you who have followed Me for three years, and have seen My power, and miracles, and beheld Me walking on the sea, who have shared My table, ‘Whom do you say that I am?’ Instantly, the Coryphaeus of the apostles, the mouth of the disciples, Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God (Homily of the Nativity. Cited by J. Waterworth S.J., A Commentary (London: Thomas Richardson, 1871), p. 148).
Tertullian: 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 to thee the keys,’ not to the Church; and, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have loosed or bound,’ not what ‘they shall have loosed or bound.’ For so withal the result teaches. 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).
Theodoret: Let no one then foolishly suppose that the Christ is any other than the only begotten Son. Let us not imagine ourselves wiser than the gift of the Spirit. Let us hear the words of the great Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Let us hear the Lord Christ confirming this confession, for ‘On this rock,’ He says, ‘I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’ Wherefore too the wise Paul, most excellent master builder of the churches, fixed no other foundation than this. ‘I,’ he says, ‘as a wise master builder have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’…Wherefore our Lord Jesus Christ permitted the first of the apostles, whose confession He had fixed as a kind of groundwork and foundation of the Church, to waver to and fro, and to deny Him, and then raised him up again…Surely he is calling pious faith and true confession a ‘rock.’ For when the Lord asked his disciples who the people said he was, blessed Peter spoke up, saying ‘You are Christ, the Son of the living God.’ To which the Lord answered: ‘Truly, truly I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume III, Theodoret, Epistle 146, To John the Economus, p. 318; Epistle 77, To Eulalius, p. 273; Commentary on Canticle of Canticles II.14, M.P.G., Vol. 81, Col. 108).
I have provided the interpretations of 29 Church fathers in the above listing. Of those 29, one will find 18 that are translations from the original Greek or Latin that until now, as far as I can determine, have not been translated into English. These are translations from Ambrose, Ambrosiaister, Basil the Great, Basil of Seleucia, Bede, Cassiodorus, Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, Isisdore of Seville, James of Nisbis, Jerome, John of Damascus, Nilus of Ancyra, Palladius of Helenopolis, Paschasius Radbertus and Theodoret. This is something one will not find in the writings of Steve Ray. In the above provided quotations we are dealing with the actual interpretation provided by the fathers of the rock of Matthew 16. It is clear from their statements that they do not give an interpretation that is supportive of Vatican I. There is a unanimous consent, but it is a consent that is antithetical to a Roman interpretation and ecclesiology. And an examination of the interpretations of the fathers relative to Luke 22:32 yields the following conclusion: there is not one Church father who interprets that passage as an affirmation of papal infallibility. The doctrine is not even implied. Brian Tierney, the world renowned Roman Catholic medieval scholar gives the following analysis of the medieval interpretation of Luke 22 which was grounded in the patristic interpretation. He demonstrates that the doctrine of papal infallibility was unknown in the patristic and medieval ages:
The scriptural text most commonly cited in favor of papal infallibility is Luke 22.32. There is no lack of patristic commentary on the text. None of the Fathers interpreted it as meaning that Peter’s successors were infallible. No convincing argument has ever been put forward explaining why they should not have stated that the text implied a doctrine of papal infallibility if that is what they understood it to mean. Again, it is difficult for us to know exactly what men of the sixth and seventh centuries understood by formulas like those of Hormisdas and Agatho. But we do know that the general council which accepted Agatho’s formula also anathematized Agatho’s predecessor, Pope Honorius, on the ground that he ‘followed the views of the heretic Sergius and confirmed his impious dogmas.’ Agatho’s successor, Pope Leo II, in confirming the decrees of the council, added that Honorius ‘did not illuminate the apostolic see by teaching the apostolic tradition but, by an act of treachery strove to subvert its immaculate faith.’ Whatever the council fathers may have meant by the formula they accepted concerning the unfailing faith of the apostolic see, their meaning can have had little connection with the modern doctrine of papal infallibility (Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility (Leiden: Brill, 1972), pp. 11-13).
Luis Bermejo is a Spanish Jesuit who has taught theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum at Puna, India for the last thirty years. In a recently published book (1992), he makes the following compelling argument in confirmation of Brian Tierney’s historical research:
To my knowledge, nobody seems to have challenged Tierney’s contention that the entire first millenium is entirely silent on papal infallibility and that, therefore, Vatican I’s contention concerning the early roots of the doctrine is difficult to maintain. Practically the only objection of some substance raised against Tierney seems to be his interpretation of the twelfth century decretists: is the future dogma of Vatican I implicitly contained in them? Even after granting for the sake of argument that it is—something that Tierney does not concede in any way—the formidable obstacle of the first millenium remains untouched. In my opinion his critics have fired their guns on a secondary target (the medieval decretists and theologians)leaving the disturbing silence of the first millenium out of consideration. Nobody seems to have been able to adduce any documentary proof to show that this long silence was illusory, that the doctrine was—at least implicitly—already known and held in the early centuries. It is not easy to see how a given doctrine can be maintained to be of apostolic origin when a thousand years of tradition do not echo it in any way (Luis Bermejo, Infallibility on Trial (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1992), pp. 164-165).
Yves Congar readily acknowledges that the early Church fathers are not supportive of the teaching of Vatican I and that a consensus of the fathers is nonexistent regarding its dogmas. Not only that, but as far as the Eastern Church is concerned, there was a positive opposition to the teaching. I have already mentioned him above but his statements bear repeating:
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 (Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion (Mystic: Twenty-Third, 1982), pp. 26-27).
Congar is relating an historical reality here. He is saying that the historical facts reveal that the ecclesiology of the Eastern Church, in its practice, was antithetical to that of Rome. He says: ‘The East never accepted the regular jurisdiction of Rome, nor did it submit to the judgment of Western bishops.’ Here we have the consensus of practice. In addition he states that from an exegetical standpoint, the East did not interpret the Petrine passages in conformity with the teaching of Vatican I on papal primacy. He states:
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).
Here Congar is explicitly stating that the Eastern Church does not teach papal primacy in their interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16. In other, words, in both their practice and their exegesis of Scripture, the Eastern Church is not in agreement with Roman Catholic ecclesiology of papal primacy. So here we have a patristic consensus of both practice and interpretation. Steve Ray objects to my quotations from Yves Congar suggesting that I have taken his statements out of context and have imposed a meaning on them that is alien to Congar’s thought. But Congar is stating facts here which he does not modify in the least in any of his other writings or in comments that go before or after the statements as they appear above. There is nothing that Congar could say that could change the historical reality of those facts.
But what Congar does do is provide a theory of Church history which is truly novel. Novel in the sense that it is completely foreign to the perspective of the theologians of Trent and Vatican I who speak of the unanimous consent of the fathers. These two Councils claim that there is a clear continuity between their teaching and the history of the ancient Church which preceeded them. A continuity which can be documented by the explicit teaching of the Church fathers in their interpretation of Scripture and in their practice. As we have seen, Vatican I teaches that the papacy was full blown from the very beginning. But in light of the historical facts, Yves Congar devises a completely novel approach to understanding and interpreting Church history. This view can be referred to as living tradition. What this view basically teaches is that we must assume that because the Church today teaches a certain truth and because the Church is indwelt by the Spirit of God and is therefore infallible and cannot err, there must be an organic continuity between the Church of an earlier age and the Church of the present because the same Spirit indwelt both. This means that the Church of a preceeding age must have believed the same truths as taught explicitly today, even though there may be no documentation of that belief and even though the actual documentation of the teaching of the fathers may seem to be contradictory. Steve Ray provides the following statements from Congar’s work, Tradition and Traditions, from Appendix D, pp. 18-19 of his rebuttal:
In every age the consensus of the faithful, still more the agreement of those who are commissioned to teach them, has been regarded as a guarantee of truth: not because of some mystique of universal suffrage, but because of the Gospel principle that unanimity and fellowship in Christian matters requires, and also indicates, the intervention of the Holy Spirit. From the time when the patristic argument first began to be used in dogmatic controversies—it first appeared in the second century and gained general currency in the fourth—theologians have tried to establish agreement among qualified witnesses of the faith, and have tried to prove from this agreement that such was in fact the Church’s belief. As a matter of fact, a few testimonies sufficed, even that of one single man if his particular situation or the consideration accorded him by the Church were such as to give to what he said the value of coming from a quasi-personification of the whole Church at that time. The decisive factor was not mere quantity but the representative quality of the testimony: “Non numerentur, sedponderentur!”
Unanimous patristic consent as a reliable locus theologicus is classical in Catholic theology; it has often been declared such by the magisterium and its value in scriptural interpretation has been especially stressed.
Application of the principle is difficult, at least at a certain level. [It is here where Bill is no surgeon. Rather than understanding the concept in its complexities, he swings the axe and slashes through the whole concept with the precision of wood chopper, not a surgeon or theologian.] In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is rare. In fact, a complete consensus is unnecessary: quite often, that which is appealed to as sufficient for dogmatic points does not go beyond what is encountered in the interpretation of many texts. But 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 16.16-18. 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.
This instance, selected from a number of similar ones, shows first that the Fathers cannot be isolated from the Church and its life. They are great, but the Church surpasses them in age, as also by the breadth and richness of its experience. It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity. This instance shows too that we may not, at the doctrinal as distinct from the purely historical level, take the witnesses of Tradition in a purely material sense: they are to be weighed and valued. The plain material fact of agreement or disagreement, however extensive, does not allow us to speak of a consensus Patrum at the properly dogmatic level, for the authors studied in theology are only “Fathers” in the theological sense if they have in some way begotten the Church which follows them. Now, it may be, that the seed which will be most fruitful in the future is not the most clearly so at present, and that the lifelines of faith may not pass through the great doctors in a given instance. Historical documentation is at the factual level; it must leave room or a judgement made not in the light of the documentary evidence alone, but of the Church’s faith. We shall come back, in the next chapter, to this problem which we have already, in fact, encountered: that is, the question of the precise distinction to be made between material (historical) and formal (dogmatic) Tradition.
It can, however, be seen that as regards the explanation of a particular text, or a particular article of doctrine, the theological weight of the consensus Patrum is subject to so many conditions that it cannot be easily assessed. Students and devotees of the Fathers—among whom I should wish to number myself—might well feel disappointed if they had no other guidance. But, for a start, there are the foundations of faith, the articles on which the whole structure rests; there are the directions, meanings and spiritual climate in which the content and implications of our covenant relation, as attested in Scripture, have been lived, developed, specified and defended. As far as the reading of Scripture is concerned, there has been built up in that way something more valuable than an interpretative exegetical consensus on some individual verse, I mean the total framework, inside which and starting from which all Catholic reading of written revelation has been formed and educated. This is the most important element, the essential contribution of the Fathers to the formation of an exegetical Tradition.
When we see the Fathers in this way, as those who have formed the milieu of the Church’s historical growth (see the next chapter), we find that they are unanimous, we are at the heart of their real consensus. We have seen that Tradition is for a Christian almost what the educational milieu is for man in general; the child needs to form its own conclusions in a milieu which provides him with security; it is fundamentally the role of the consensus of the Fathers to provide such an element in the Church (Tradition and Traditions (New York: Macmillan Company, 1966), pp. 397-400).
The problem with Congar’s theory is that it is undermined by the historical reality and is a view that would have been rejected by the theologians of Trent and Vatican I. When these councils spoke of a ‘unanimous consent of the fathers’, they were referring specifically to the interpretation of Scripture. An interpretation which, in their minds, could be documented. If, as Trent and Vatican I claim, there is a unanimous consent of the fathers, why should the consensus patrum be difficult at a practical, documentary level? Congar admits that this is what the Church has historically claimed, that it is classical in Roman Catholic theology, and yet he says, practically speaking, it doesn’t exist. As Congar says: ‘In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is rare.’ This is why it is difficult. It is difficult because you have the claim on the one hand and the historical reality on the other which does not support the claim. And he uses the Matthew 16 passage as an example: ‘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 16.16-18. 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.’ Notice here the explicit dichotomy. The Church of the patristic age interpreted this passage in a way that did not agree with the teaching of a later age. In other words the teaching of Vatican I is not in agreement with the fathers of the patristic age because they did not teach papal primacy.
But, according to Congar, the problem is really not a problem because it can be circumvented by a different understanding of consensus. The Fathers must be interpreted in light of present day teaching. Congar says: ‘The Fathers cannot be isolated from the Church and its life.’ And by the Church and its life, he means the Church as it is today. He says: ‘It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity.’ In other words, what matters is what the Church teaches NOW. That is the criterion of truth and Tradition because the Chruch is living and Tradition is living. He continues:
This instance shows too that we may not, at the doctrinal as distinct from the purely historical level, take the witnesses of Tradition in a purely material sense: they are to be weighed and valued. The plain material fact of agreement or disagreement, however extensive, does not allow us to speak of a consensus Patrum at the properly dogmatic level, for the authors studied in theology are only “Fathers” in the theological sense if they have in some way begotten the Church which follows them. Now, it may be, that the seed which will be most fruitful in the future is not the most clearly so at present, and that the lifelines of faith may not pass through the great doctors in a given instance. Historical documentation is at the factual level; it must leave room or a judgement made not in the light of the documentary evidence alone, but of the Church’s faith.
Now please note carefully the last two sentences of that paragraph. Congar postulates that in the future the Church could be teaching doctrines which are completely unheard of today and which will therefore not be able to be documented historically. As he puts it: ‘The lifelines of faith may not pass through the great doctors in a given instance.’ Historical documentation must leave room for judgment that is not restricted to documentary evidence alone but transcends the historical record in light of the present day Church’s faith. In other words, the truth of ecclesiastical history must be viewed through the lens of whatever the faith of the Church is at the present moment. Needless to say, such a theory is completely antithetical to the teaching of Trent and Vatican I on unanimous consent because by unanimous consent these councils are teaching that their doctrines are in continuity with the Church historically and that continuity can be verified by the documentary evidence, by what Congar calls material Tradition. The theory, however, of unanimous consent has been proven to be bankrupt historically and therefore a new theory has replaced it, the theory of development and the living presence of the Holy Spirit which produces a living Tradition. This is a clever way of avoiding the embarrassment of having to face an obvious contradiction between facts and claims.
This in effect cuts the Church off from any kind of continuity as far as real documentation is concerned and allows the Church to conveniently disregard the witness of history in favor of a dynamic evolving teaching authority. History in effect becomes almost irrelevant and all talk of the unanimous consent of the fathers merely a relic of history. Consent is now interpreted to mean a milieu, a nebulous concept devoid of any real substantive meaning. Congar can then declare a victory for consensus by stating that the consensus of milieu demonstrates that the fathers are unanimous. But if the milieu of the Fathers, which can only be discerned by their practice and explicit teaching, is antithetical to the teachings of Vatican I, how can one actually assert that there is a milieu of unanimity that is consistent with Vatican I? This is nonsensical. The historical record clearly reveals that there is no unanimous consent of the Fathers, in interpretation, practice or milieu that supports the teaching of Vatican I.
This brings us to the place where one’s faith is placed blindly in the institution of the Church. It was Ignatius of Loyola who wrote:
That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it black (St. Ignatius Loyola, Rules for Thinking with the Church, Rule 13, (cited from: Documents of the Christian Church, pp. 364-365, ed. Henry Bettenson).
This kind of blind submission, which is in effect intellectual suicide, should cause any thinking person to balk. It is based on the presupposition that the Church is infallible and cannot err. But the presupposition is faulty. Historically, the Roman Church has clearly proven that it can and has erred and is therefore quite fallible.
R.P. C. Hanson makes some very intersting comments with respect to the Roman Catholic promulgation of dogma and its appeal to history and the development of doctrine as proposed by Yves Congar. He looks at this specifically from the perspective of Rome’s teaching of the Assumption of Mary but the principles enunciated here apply to all aspects of Roman Catholic Tardition including the papacy:
A good test of the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Roman Catholic rule of faith is provided by a consideration of the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How do theories of the development of Christian doctrine explain the emergence of what is supposed to be, not an idea, but an historical fact? Historical facts do not develop, they are subject to the laws of historical evidence. The historical evidence for the corporeal Assumption of Mary into Heaven is fully and fairly stated for us in the Catholic Encyclopedia, under the article, ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ (by F. G. Holweck, of St Louis). In this article we are told that the day, year, and manner of St Mary’s death is unknown. Epiphanius (403) says he knows nothing about it. We do not hear of the tomb of Mary at Jerusalem for the first six centuries. The sources for the belief in the assumption of her body into Heaven are summarized in this article. The list begins with the treatise De Obitu S. Dominae, attributed to St John but in reality written in the fourth or fifth century, a book De Transitu Virginis, falsely ascribed to Melito of Sardis, and a spurious letter attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite. In genuine writings the people who first mention the Assumption are Gregory, Bishop of Tours (573-594), St Andrew of Crete (about 680), St Modestus of Jerusalem (about 614), and St John of Damascus (fl. 730-760). The last attributes to the bishop of Jerusalem at the Council of Chalcedon (451), the declaration that, ‘Mary died in the presence of the apostles, but that her tomb, when opened at the request of St Thomas, was found empty, where from the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to Heaven!
In November 1950 Pope Pius XII declared officially that the Corporeal Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven was a defined dogma, part of the Catholic faith, as much part of it as the doctrine of our Lord’s divinity or as his atonement for our sins. He did not take the trouble to call a General Council beforehand, though he consulted all the bishops of his church before he made his declaration. His definition of this dogma was made in such a manner that all Roman Catholic theologians must recognize it as infallible, at any rate until another Pope appears who declares (infallibly) that this decision was not, after all, infallible, for, as we have seen, the latest fashion in doctrine is always, according to the Roman theory, the most trustworthy. Pius XII required all Roman Catholics to believe this on pain of losing their salvation. This they have not found very difficult because most of them believed it already, being well schooled in the art (to use Lewis Carroll’s words) of ‘believing six impossible things before breakfast’; but he also expected the faithful to believe, and the church historians to show, that this dogma always was, in some form or other, believed in the Church from the very earliest times, and was known all along to be an original part of the Christian faith. This has proved a far more difficult task, and though the mass of the faithful may believe this fantastic theory, the church historians have found it a hopeless business to produce any reputable evidence at all for it. They have had to fall back on the lamest of lame explanations, that as this doctrine is found in the church about A.D. 450, and as the Roman Catholic Church now believes it to be de fide, therefore it must have been believed from the very beginning.’
(‘Our belief in the corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary rests exclusively on the foundation that this is what the Church teaches’ (H. Volk, Das neue Mariendogma (1951), p. 25); ‘The fact that the Apostolic Church accepts the doctrine guarantees its apostolicity and its character as revelation’ (ibid, p. 72).
Such a line of argument reveals the utter bankruptcy of their case; it is equivalent to a declaration that the Roman church does not care whether her beliefs have any connection with the historical origins of Christianity or not. To Roman Catholics this latest dogma looks like an example of Papal infallibility; to Protestants it is a prime example of Papal irresponsibility. As long as the Roman church plays fast and loose with historical Christianity like this, it is the unavoidable duty before God and man of Protestants to protest, to witness against her to a soberer, purer, more responsible version of Christianity.
To anybody who does not deliberately shut his eyes to historical evidence, to. anybody to whom the words ‘ancient and unswerving tradition’ are not a mere catch-phrase rolled off the tongue on suitable occasions, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a belief which was quite unknown at least before A.D. 400 anywhere; which was obviously invented by over-credulous minds; for which evidence had to be manufactured. As evidence for the genuineness of a doctrine or an idea this would be utterly unsatisfactory, but when we are expected to accept it as evidence for an historical fact, analogous to the Resurrection of our Lord, it becomes absurd. The doctrine of development cannot help here. The ‘living idea of Mary in the mind of the Church’ cannot help here. The Pope’s declaration of the Assumption as a defined dogma could not in the least alter the fact that the Corporeal Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary did not take place, any more than the House of Commons could alter history by passing a bill declaring that Oliver Cromwell ended his days by making a Flight to the moon. Yet these are the sort of grounds upon which Roman Catholics are expected to believe a doctrine whereon their salvation is supposed to depend.
How can we possibly trust as a sure guide to Christian truth a Church which plays about with historical evidence like this? How can we regard either the Roman church or its Pope as infallible if these are the fruits of infallibility? And if this is the sort of flimsy evidence that is presented to us as sufficient for belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we cannot but suspect that the same insecurity attaches to belief in her Immaculate Conception, and to all the peculiar doctrines of the Roman church (The Church of Rome (Greenwich: Seabury, 1960), pp. 84-87).
This leads us to a consideration Steve’s Ray comments on the topic of historiography and the interpretation of history.
5) Steve Ray’s View of Historiography
Steve Ray makes some very interesting observations about how one is to interpret history in the section, Historiography: Am I Guilty of Mangling History? I found the comments of Fr. Stanley Jaki to be of particular interest. He spoke about the necessity for having a ‘notion of history.’ In referring to his personal belief in the hsitorical reality of papal infallibility Fr. Jaki comments: ‘Much the same is true about the early record concerning infallibility. It clearly contains the thing, that is, the reality of the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome, though not the expression of itself. But to perceive things beneath the words as far as history is concerned, one must have a notion of history such as the one formulated by Newman.’ He then goes on to say this about adopting such an attitude toward historical study: ‘To such an approach to history it will be objected that it prejudges history, that it forces one in advance to decide what to look for in history, to the detriment of a critical scholarship by Newman.’ This objection is absolutely valid. One’s presuppositions about history become the ultimate criterion for how one judges the historical record. If I am absolutely convinced that papal infallibility is true and that Vatican I is right when it says this teaching has been true from the very inception of the Church, then this will become my ‘notion of history’ and I will go to great lengths to read this concpet beneath the words even though it is nowhere explicitly stated. Never mind that an ecumenical council (III Constantinople) officially condemned a bishop of Rome for heresy.
Steve Ray says: ‘So, yes, I look at history from a Catholic perspective inherited from the Jews, the Apostles and the Fathers. In studying history the proper ‘historiography’ is surely the province of Catholics.’ First of all Steve, you view history from a Roman and not a Catholic perspective, which is anything but patristic and apostolic. Secondly, this statement is a bit arrogant, don’t you think? The Orthodox Church doesn’t have a right to claim the province in the sphere of history, Steve? Why is it, Steve, that the Orthodox, who have far greater knowledge of their own history than any Roman Catholic, have always and still to this day aggressively oppose your ‘historiography’ and the presuppositions which undergird it? You don’t deal with history objectively Steve, you manipulate it to promote an agenda. A perfect example is the quote you you give on page 8 of the section on Historiography. You state: ‘Papal primacy was taught in the Councils by the Council Fathers from early times. For example, in the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 we read: ‘No one doubts, but rather it has been known to all generations, that the holy and most blessed Peter, chief and head of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith, the foundation stone of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that the power of binding and loosing sins was given to him, who up to this moment always lives in his successors, and judges.’ You then ask the question: ‘Does this sound like the words of Vatican I? Absolutely, because Vatican I was based on the teachings of the Fathers, both patristic and council fathers.’
So, to use your words, this is a statement ‘taught in the Council by the Council Fathers’ at Ephesus. This is a bit much, Steve. You are ommitting some very significant information.This is not a teaching of the Council. This statement was simply part of the Acts of the Council, not an official decree. It is a statement made by Philip, the papal legate, as part of a speech he made in Session III of the Council. He is simply stating his personal opinion and undoubtedly the opinion of pope Coelestine. The way you phrase it you make it appear that this statement was decreed by the Council Fathers and was an official teaching of the Council. Nothing could be further from the truth. But Roman Catholic apologists make much of the fact that there was no objection to Philip’s statements from those present at the Council and they conclude, therefore, that the Council Fathers must have agreed with him. But actually, there is a way for the Orthodox to accept Philip’s statements by interpreting his words through an Orthodox ecclesiology. All the appelations given to Peter are no different from those ascribed to him by many of the Eastern Fathers. They all agreed that Peter received the keys and the power of binding and loosing. They all agreed that the bishops of Rome were the successors of Peter and that they judged. But it was not true of them in an exclusive sense. It was likewise true for all bishops. All were considered to be successors of the apostles, Peter included, and all judged. This was not something they believed to be the exclusive domain of the bishop of Rome. John Chrysostom expresses this for example, when referring to Flavian, who Chrysostom considered to be the rightful Bishop of Antioch, though he was opposed by Rome:
Since I have mentioned Peter, another Peter comes to me, our common Father and Teacher; who being his successor in virtue has also inherited his seat, for this too is one of the privileges of our city, that it received at the beginning for its teacher the first of the Apostles. For fitting it was that the city which before the whole world encircled her brows with the name of Christian, should receive as Pastor the first of the Apostles. But though we received him for our teacher, we did not keep him to the end, but gave him up to royal Rome. For we have not indeed the body of Peter, but we keep the faith of Peter as himself, and having the faith of Peter, we have Peter (On the Inscription of the Acts, II.6. Taken from Edward Denny, Papalism (Rivingtons: London, 1912), p. 91).
Chrysostom states that Flavian is a successor of Peter and possesses his chair, a chair that Antioch possessed before Rome. In Chrysostom’s view, Rome and Antioch are on an equal footing. They are both Petrine sees and the bishops who are the rightful occupants of those sees are direct successors of Peter. Gaudentius of Brescia expresses a similar view in his comments on Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan:
I beseech our common father Ambrose, that, after the scanty dew of my discourse, he may pour abundantly into your hearts the mysteries of the divine writings. Let him speak from that Holy Spirit with which he is filled, and ‘from his belly shall flow rivers of living water;’ and, as a successor of Peter, he shall be the mouth of all the surrounding priests (Tract. 16, De Ordin. Ipsius. PL 20, 958. Cited by J. Waterworth S.J., A Commentary (London: Thomas Richardson, 1871), pp. 105-107).
This was the common view of the Fathers of the Church and how they would have interpreted Philip’s words. But to state that Philip’s comments, with the papal interpretation that was in Philip’s mind in terms of exclusivity, was a teaching endorsed by the Council of Ephesus, and to further neglect to inform your reader that these comments were simply part of the overall Acts of the Council and made by a papal legate and not by the Council itself is to manipulate the facts of history, Steve. You are distorting the facts to promote a papalist agenda.
6) My Personal View of Matthew 16
Steve asked me to explain my own personal view of the rock of Matthew 16. My personal view is that the Rock and foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ the Lord, the Son of God. This exegesis of the rock as being Christ who is the foundation of the Church as the One upon whom the Church would be built finds support from both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament we find the Lord himself described as the rock, the one sure foundation of security and salvation. For example:
Ps. 62:5-6: My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
Ps. 18:l-2: I love Thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.
Ps. 89:26: He will cry to Me, ‘Thou art my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.’
Over and over again in the Old Testament it is God himself who is referred to as the rock-as the one and only source and foundation and refuge for salvation and deliverance.
In the familiar prophecy in Daniel 2:31-44 we read of the stone which strikes the kingdoms of the world and then itself stands for ever. The Jews saw the stone as the person of the Messiah. Obviously it represents that which is divine for it is described as a stone ‘cut out without hands’.
The word ‘foundation’ is another important word, parallel with the word rock, and it is also used in reference to the person of the Lord himself. In the Old Testament, the word in a literal sense refers to the foundation upon which a building rests. For example in Ezra 3:10 it says, ‘Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets … to praise the Lord.’ This word is important for it is used in a key passage in the Old Testament that is appropriated by the New Testament apostles as speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 28:16 we read:
Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.’
Notice the threefold description here. The stone or rock is not only a cornerstone, but a foundation. And this is the very passage which Peter used with reference to the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:4-8). Peter also, along with Paul, applies to Christ the descriptions of the Messiah in Isaiah 8:13 and Psalm 118:22 as the rejected stone, the stone of stumbling and rock of offence. In Acts 4:11-12 he says:
He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very cornerstone. And there is salvation in no-one else, for there is no other name -under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
So here we see the terms stone and cornerstone being identified with the salvation which is in Jesus Christ alone. Paul reemphasizes this in three other passages. In Ephesians 2:20 he states that the Church is built upon the foundation of Christ as the cornerstone, and in I Corinthians 10:4 he states specifically that the rock is Christ. In I Corinthians 3:11 he says, ‘For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid-which is Jesus Christ.’
To whom then do the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament, consistently point as the rock, the stone, the cornerstone and the foundation upon which the Church would be built? Jesus Christ the Lord, the Son of the living God, he alone is the rock of our salvation.
These facts then give the broader context in which to interpret Christ’s words to Peter in Matthew 16. Peter does not refer to himself as the rock, but to Christ (1 Pet. 2:4-8), and the broader context of the scriptural teaching on the rock justifies our interpreting the rock of Matthew 16 as referring to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ as opposed to Peter. But, in addition to this, there are other considerations in Matthew 16 which do not support the Roman Catholic interpretation. There is absolutely nothing in this passage which speaks of successors to Peter and the passing on of his personal prerogatives to them. The keys, rather than signifying the establishment of the institution of the papacy and supreme authority to rule the Church and the world, are representative of the authority to exercise discipline in the Church and to proclaim the gospel, declaring the free forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a declaration opens the kingdom of God to men or, if they reject the message, closes it to them. The keys are not the possession of a single individual, for exactly the same authority which Christ promises to Peter he also grants to the other apostles in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:22-23. They are all given authority to bind or loose by declaring the forgiveness of sins through Christ. They are all equals under the authority of one head, the Lord Jesus. The authority they are given is a delegated, declarative authority, which is in Christ’s name and comes from him who alone possesses the supreme authority to rule the Church. Thus the rock is Peter’s confession of faith which points to the person and work of Jesus Christ, or ultimately to Christ himself as the rock.
I also believe that it is possible to interpret the rock to mean the person of Peter in a subordinate sense, as Scripture itself explains. What is being emphasized in the Matthew 16 passage is Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. Thus when Christ states that He will build His Church on Peter He means Peter’s confession of faith in the Divinity and Messiahship of Jesus. Jesus Christ is not establishing a papal office in Matthew 16. There is not one word about a papal office or successors. Ephesians 2:20 is a companion verse to Matthew 16 which helps us to understand its proper meaning. Here Paul tells us that the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. The word ‘built upon’ is the Greek word oikodomeo and is precisely the same word as used in Matthew 16 in reference to Peter. So the term and the concept is not exclusive to Peter. It encompasses ALL the apostles equally as well as the prophets of the Old Testament. How is the Church built upon the apostles and prophets? Through their teaching and in particular their proclamation of the gospel which sets forth Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Son of God, in other words, His person and work.
Ephesians 1:13-14 reveals how this takes place: ‘In Him you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.’ When the apostolic message and teaching of the gospel is preached and men believe it, they are spiritually united to Christ and the Church is built, the kingdom of God is extended. Therefore the Church is built upon the apostles and prophets in that it is built upon their teaching which has been incorporated for us in Scripture. The apostles were all equals. Peter is but one of the foundations and the Chruch is built upon him in the sense that it is built upon his right confession of faith which points to Christ as the true foundation.
So it is possible to believe that Peter is the rock wihtout having to conclude that this leads to a Roman Catholic ecclesiology. It most assuredly does not. Peter is a rock of Faith which points to Christ. The Chruch is built upon him and all the apostles when it is built upon their confession and teaching of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Son of God. He is the way, the truth and the life and the only way to God. He has accomplished a work of atonement in which he has paid the full penalty for sin and has fully satisified the righteous demands of God’s Law against sin in his once for all death on the cross. God demands perfection if we are to be accepted by him. If we transgress his law the penalty is eternal death. As our substitute, Jesus has fully satisfied the demands of the law of God on our behalf. He has lived a perfect life under the law for us. He never sinned. And He has completely propitiated (satisfied) God’s justice by bearing our sin and suffering the peanlty of the law, the penalty of death, in our place. And he has been raised from the dead and is now the living Lord who is offered to man as the all sufficient source of salvation. It is not a Church that saves us but a person. And all who come to him in true repentance (turning from sin) and who commit their lives to him in faith alone, forsaking all works and trusting him alone as Savior and submitting one’s life to him as Lord, will receive, as a gift, the imputed righteousness of Jesus which will justify them for all eternity. In order to go to heaven we must have a perfect righteousness. Jesus has accomplished that for us by perfectly fulfilling the righteous demands of the law. His perfect righteousness is given to us as a gift and we are fully justified before God. In addition, those who come to Christ for salvation will be delivered from an eternal hell and will receive the gift of eternal life; they will be born again and will become a new creation, indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, and will come to know God in a personal way; they will be set free from bondage to sin and will be empowered to live a life of obedience and holiness before God; they will be adopted into the family of God and made his children; and when they die they will be with their Lord in heaven for all eternity. This is a salvation which is eternal and can never be lost. The person, once saved, will never face the judgment of God because Jesus has paid the full penalty for sin and promises that all who truly know him and are his true followers will never perish. Hear the words of Jesus: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (Jn. 10:27-29). ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life’ (Jn. 5:24).
And the apostle Paul says: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:1, 31-39).
7) The Issue of Ultimate Authority: The Seat of Moses and the Chair of Peter
The issues involved in this dicussion are far reaching to say the least, Ultimately they have to do with the eternal destinies of men and women. The Church of Rome, and Roman apologists, would have us believe that the Roman Church, through its bishop, is infallible, and a sure guide to truth and salvation. According to Rome, to stand against this Church is to stand opposed to God’s ordained authority on earth. By its teaching on the papacy, Rome is calling men to an implicit faith in the Church and its authority and submission to its teachings. Rome states that rejection of any teaching officially defined as dogma results in the loss of faith and salvation. There is an interesting comparison given by Roman apologists as a defense of its teaching on authority which suggests there is a continuity between God’s established authority in both the Old and New Testaments. This is, we are told, the parallel between Moses and Peter. The theory suggests that just as Moses received a chair and was established as an infallible guide to Israel, and just as their were successors to that chair, so it is with Peter and his chair and his successors. Just as the Jews were instructed by Jesus to be submissive to those who have succeeded Moses in his chair, so those in the New Testament dispensation are to submit themselves to the successors of Peter in his chair, who are also infallible. In his book, Upon This Rock, Steve Ray offers the following explanation of this principle:
Now that we have analyzed the royal aspect of Israel and Judah, is there anything to be discovered from the priestly and scribal side of Jewish society that can shed light on the issue of succession? Let us again look back to the Pentateuch, this time at Moses. “On the morrow Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from morning till evening…. And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God and his decisions” (Ex 18:13, 15-16; emphasis added). Moses was the official teacher of Israel—the lawgiver, interpreter, and judge. Like Peter, Moses also had a direct revelation from God while standing at a huge rock, Mount Sinai. Moses was infallible in his teaching and judgments. He sat from morning until night, judging the people and interpreting the law of God. His teaching authority (symbolized by the “seat of Moses”) continued through the centuries, through succession, and was still prominent in the synagogues almost two thousand years later. This is prominently mentioned in the Gospels. Matthew tells us, “Then said Jesus, to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you’” (Mt 23:1-3). Moses sat in his seat, and in Jesus’ time the scribes and Pharisees continue to sit in Moses’ seat…
The continuity between the Jews of the Old Testament and the Christians of the New Testament is quite pronounced, but it is certainly what we should expect if the covenants and revelation of God have one source and purpose. Moses and Peter both had revelations, and God appointed both to “seats” of authority. Both spoke God’s inspired words. Moses and Peter each had a “seat” (kathedra, in the Greek). Both Old and New Testament communities held to two aspects of one revelation: Scripture and tradition. Neither had the truncated concept of sola Scriptura. Both Israel and the Church had a recognized teaching authority; both believed God’s people were governed by a hierarchy. Both had a hierarchy before they had a “book”, and both “books” (Old and New Testaments) were recognized and collected into authoritative canons through the hands of the respective hierarchies. Both viewed the authoritative teaching office as being one of succession, in other words, the offices would always be filled, never left vacant. “Moses’ seat” continued with successors through two thousand years, acknowledged by the Lord Jesus himself, and now the “chair of Peter” is approaching its two thousandth year, and the office has been filled by 264 Popes (Upon This Rock, pp. 292-294).
In explaining the meaning of Mt 23:1-3 Steve Ray offers the following documentation:
The Church was born from Jewish roots and culture. The “seat of Moses” in the synagogue became the “seat of the bishops” in the early churches. “Sitting on ‘Moses’ seat’ referred to a place of dignity and the right to interpret the Mosaic law. The scribes were the successors and the heirs of Moses’ authority and were rightfully looked to for pronouncements upon his teaching….Jesus does not appear to challenge this right” (Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988], 2:1498). Notice the mention of “successors”, “right to interpret”, and “heirs of authority”. Evangelical commentator D. A. Carson writes, “Moreover, ‘to sit on X’s seat’ often means ‘to succeed X’ (Exod 11:5; 12:29; 1 Kings 1:35, 46; 2:12; 16: 11; 2 Kings 15:12; Ps 13 2:12; cf. Jos. Antiq. VII, 353 [xiv.5]; XVIII, 2 [i. 1]. This would imply that the ‘teachers of the law’ are Moses’ legal successors, possessing all his authority—a view the scribes themselves held…. Panta hosa (‘everything’) is a strong expression and cannot be limited to ‘that teaching of the law that is in Jesus’ view a faithful interpretation of it’; they cover everything the leaders teach, including the oral tradition as well”(Gaebelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8:472)—Carson later dismisses the whole passage by relegating it to irony, which even James White rejects (Roman Catholic Controversy, 100). The Jewish people understood the authority of the “seat of Moses”. And the first Christians, being Jewish, clearly understood that the bishops succeeded the apostles in the Church, carrying on their authority just as the teachers of Israel succeeded Moses and carried on his authority (see St. Marcarius later in this study). Jesus had earlier transferred the rabbinic authority from the Jewish leaders to the apostles (Mt 16:19; 18:18). The Church through her apostles and bishops became the new voice of God, and they ruled and shepherded the flock, defined doctrine, interpreted Scripture, and preserved the apostolic teaching and tradition. This fact is very helpful in ascertaining the early Christians’ understanding of the authority and succession of bishops and the primacy of Rome.
From a Roman Catholic perspective the application of this theory is obvious. What Jesus said to the Jews of his day about the scribes who sat on the seat of Moses applies to men of our own day with respect to the Church of Rome: Do whatever they tell you. We are informed in the above quote by D.A. Carson, which Steve Ray quotes approvingly, that Jesus’ instruction means that the people were to obey everythingtaught by the religious authorities. They are supposedly the successors of Moses and carry his authority. In like manner, men are to obey everything the Roman Church teaches as a successor of Peter, whose bishop teaches with his authority. Now this is an interesting theory. There is just one problem. If it is applied in the way Roman apologists suggest, then Jesus is teaching that the Jews should reject him as the Messiah and should reject his teachings because the Jewish religious leaders, who sat on Moses’ seat, did precisely that. And they taught others to do so. To them, Jesus was possessed by Satan himself. He was a deceiver of the nation. Their interpretations of Scripture were corrected by Jesus as being fallacious and he condemned the teaching of their Tradition because it invalidated Scripture. Clearly, just because these religious leaders sat on Moses’ seat did not mean they were infallible or were to be blindly followed. The same applies to Rome and, in fact, the same errors of which the Judaism of Jesus’ day was guilty have been repeated by Roman Catholicism. The only true parallel between Catholicism and Judaism is not between Peter and Moses but between the corruption of Judaism over time and the corruption of the Church over time into what we know today as Roman Catholicism. These comments from The Chruch of Rome at the Bar of History will serve as a conclusion to this segment:
The Roman Catholic Church makes certain claims for its tradition which it says can be validated by Scripture and the facts of history. It states that it alone is the one true Church which has faithfully preserved the apostolic teaching of the gospel received from Jesus Christ, either orally or in writing. The case we have sought to set out in these pages is that these ~issertions are false. When the Lord Jesus began to preach and teach the Word of God he was opposed by the religious leaders of the Church of his day, who claimed that he did not follow the Jewish tradition. Jesus’ response was to condemn their tradition because much of its teaching invalidated the Word of God. Tragically, just as traditional practices corrupted and superseded God’s Word in the minds of the Jewish people before Jesus was born, the same thing happened in his Church after he ascended into heaven.
In The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim documents the development of a body of tradition within Judaism known as the ‘tradition of the elders’. He points out that the Jews possessed the Scriptures in the Old Testament, but they also believed there had been an oral tradition given hy God to Moses which was faithfully passed down through the Jewish fathers. And over time a body of scriptural interpretation by the most revered fathers and rabbis developed which became as authoritative as Scripture itself. The Old Testament, within Judaism, was acknowledged to be authoritative and inspired, but for all practical purposes the real authority in the life of the nation was its tradition.
The parallel in the development of a tradition within the Roman Catholic Church is astonishing. Scripture is acknowledged to be inspired and authoritative but, as with Judaism, it is argued that God’s Word has been supplemented by an oral tradition handed down by the apostles from Christ, faithfully preserved by the Fathers and bishops, and eventually viewed as equally authoritative as the Scriptures themselves. Although the claim is made that Rome’s tradition is apostolic, it is, in reality a tradition which has embraced many of the same corruptions which characterized the Jewish tradition.
The New Testament is full of warnings against traditionalism, sacramentalism, legalism, asceticism and human philosophy, for these were the specific errors of Judaism. Yet the Church failed to heed these warnings and began to repeat the same errors:
The Jews adhered to a body of tradition which invalidated the Word of God. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church promotes a tradition, the teachings of which also invalidate the Word of God.
The Jews taught sacramentalism by teaching that circumcision was a rite which guaranteed the individual’s inheritance as part of the Jewish nation. Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church embraced sacramentalism in its teaching that a man is saved through baptism and being a part of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Jews taught legalism through their identification of repentance with penance, good works and asceticism to merit God’s forgiveness and favour, as is clear from Christ’s many criticisms of the religious leaders. In the same way, Rome promotes legalism through its identification of repentance with penance, good works and asceticism.
Christ condemned the practice of mechanical praying, that is, simply repeating the same words over and over again in a set form, a practice he described as vain or meaningless repetition. The Roman Catholic Church has repeated this error in its promotion of the rosary and other form prayers.
The Jewish leadership was condemned by Christ for its spirit of greed in using the temple and spiritual duties to enrich themselves and the treasury. The papacy’s historic use of indulgences for its own enrichment is a direct parallel.
Judaisers taught that one must become a Jew to experience salvation. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that one must become a Roman Catholic to be saved.
The parallels are only too plain. In effect, in the name of Christ the Roman Catholic Church has perverted the gospel of Christ…
The claims to apostolic authority and catholicity are undermined by the Roman Catholic tradition. Such claims cannot be supported by alleged apostolic succession and papal authority; they have to be proved by conformity to apostolic teaching as recorded in Scripture. Truth, and especially the truth of the gospel, is the foundation and absolute essential to the nature of the true Church. In its breadth this gospel transcends all denominational and visible church organizations.
It is, then, at the point of truth, both biblical and historical, that the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to be truly apostolic and catholic is found to bee spurious. While it affirms much teaching that is certainly catholic and apostolic, it undermines the truth by adding teachings which contradict the Scriptures and the truth of the gospel. The Roman system is no more the friend of Christ than was Judaism…
The tradition of Roman Catholicism simply is not true, either biblically or historically. The Church of Rome responds to this judgment by appealing to papal infallibility as a guarantee of the impossibility of such a defection. But the theory of infallibility is equally opposed by the facts of history and the truth of Scripture. As Scripture itself warns, Gentile churches are no more promised preservation from unbelief and error than were theJews: ‘they were broken off for their unbelief, and you stand only by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear’ (Rom. 11:20). No such words would have been necessary if the Roman interpretation of Scripture that Christ would grant the Church infallibility and immunity from error were true. The facts of history prove it is not true. The Roman Catholic Church has erred in its teaching and cloaking itself in a humanly engineered shroud of infallibility will not change that reality. The tragic results of such a teaching are that it insulates those who accept it from being able to hear the voice of the Spirit of God who desires to bring the Church to repentance. The same thing happened to the Jews in Jesus’ day. Their false presuppositions regarding their religious status and their relationship to God led them to refuse to listen to the Son of God as he criticised their tradition. And like the Jews, the Roman Church is leading multitudes astray by its false teaching.
Christ called the Jews of his day back to the final authority of the Word of God and to an abandonment of those traditional teachings which had invalidated Scripture for so long. For Christ, Scripture is the ultimate authority, and he is still calling men back to a submission to the final authority of Scripture and its message of salvation…Scripture teaches us that Christianity is Christ, not a Church. It is knowing Christ, being submitted to Christ, committed to Christ, trusting in Christ, serving Christ, worshipping Christ, obeying Christ, loving Christ, walking with Christ, and following Christ—exclusively.
In the issues of authority and salvation we are pointed by Scripture to Christ as the only rock and head of the Church; to Christ as the only mediator, sacrifice and priest; to Christ as the only Saviour; to Christ alone who is received by faith alone. Christianity is Christ! (The Church of Rome At The Bar Of History, pp. 145-152).