Monday, August 27, 2007

Peter, the First Pope?

While I was away on vacation, "The Expositor" created a thread in the HCR forum seeking a defense of the authority of Peter. Of course, I am happy to oblige. What follows is my response to a few comments made by him and "RJ" in that thread. Other people chimed in as well, but these two more directly address the topic at hand. "The Expositor" will be in gray/silver. "RJ" will be in blue.

In my next post I will provide a preliminary Biblical defense of Peter and the papacy.

Pax Christi,
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Do you believe that if a person denies that Peter was the first pope, they are accursed?
What about all succeeding Popes? If we deny the primacy of the Pope and deny that he has full jurisdiction over the whole church, are we accursed?
Well, first of all, the Church never damns people to hell. That's not what anathemas are. An anathema means that a person has separated himself from the Church on a particular point of dogma. The result is excommunication. However, note that only formal heresy is anathematized, and only formal heretics are excommunicated.

The entry on heresy in the Modern Catholic Dictionary provides the following explanation [please read it!]:
  • In the Roman Catholic Church, heresy has a very specific meaning. Anyone who, after receiving baptism, while remaining nominally a Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts any of the truths that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith is considered a heretic. Accordingly four elements must be verified to constitute formal heresy; previous valid baptism, which need not have been in the Catholic Church; external profession of still being a Christian, otherwise a person becomes an apostate; outright denial or positive doubt regarding a truth that the Catholic Church has actually proposed as revealed by God; and the disbelief must be morally culpable, where a nominal Christian refuses to accept what he knows is a doctrinal imperative.
    Objectively, therefore, to become a heretic in the strict canonical sense and be excommunicated from the faithful, one must deny or question a truth that is taught not merely on the authority of the Church but on the word of God revealed in the Scriptures or sacred tradition. Subjectively a person must recognize his obligation to believe. It he acts in good faith, as with most persons brought up in non-Catholic surroundings, the heresy is only material and implies neither guilt nor sin against faith.
So, knowing all this, you tell me? Are you a formal heretic? If so, the anathemas apply to you. If not, they don't.
Pope is a weird term. First used to mean "a supreme bishop," it grew quickly into more.
Not exactly. The word "pope" comes from the Greek word papas, which originally meant "father." For proof, see pope in the Online Etymology Dictionary.
Peter was not a pope, nor was he the first bishop of the church. Historically, that would have been James the Just (Righteous) -- assumed to be the brother of Jesus. Peter was however a chief elder, and along with James and John basically set the stage for the church's growth and doctrine.
No one ever said that Peter was the first bishop. All the apostles are bishops. However, Peter was the first "pope," not in the developed sense in which we understand the word today (the Church was, after all, in its infancy stages), but in the sense that:
  1. Peter held a position of primacy among the apostles,
  2. Peter is the rock upon which Jesus built his Church (cf. Mt 16:18),
  3. Peter was the one to whom Jesus granted the keys of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 16:19), and
  4. Peter was the one to whom Jesus gave the responsibility of feeding and tending His sheep (cf. Jn 21:15-17).
Those are the claims that we make regarding the authority of Peter.
Peter may have been a chief elder and apostle, but when it came to matters of the church (ecclesiology), Paul seemed to have that covered, as he wrote epistles to the churches, dealing with both doctrine and Christian conduct. If Peter was bishop and chief over all the apostles, then why didn't he handle the ecclesiastical duties?
Paul wrote to the churches he established, or to the churches upon whom he was a great influence. That all seems very logical and practical to me. Surely you don't expect Peter to be handling every single affair of the Church. He can't do it all and Jesus never expected him to, or there'd just be one apostle instead of 12 (or 13 counting Paul). Each had a role in building up the Church. But, that doesn't mean that Peter wasn't the primary apostle, or that Paul was just b/c he wrote more.
Catholic members should be pulling from whatever council, creeds, traditions, etc, that are endorsed by the RCC. If they are consistent Catholics, they will agree with whatever the councils, creeds, edicts, etc., say.
I appreciate you allowing me to use my own sources of belief in addressing this issue.
Actually, according to Vatican I, when they say he was the first pope, they mean that he had apostolic primacy and "true and proper" jurisdiction over the whole church. He was head over all matters. It wasn't just a matter of honor, but of true and proper jurisdiction. They claim this is evidenced in Matthew 16:13. Not true, however.
Well, actually, it's farther down in Mt 16:18-19, but I know what you mean. As for the truth of this claim, I'd like to post something that I wrote a while back on this. See my next post.

Pax Christi,

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