The Foundation of the Christian Church
All organisations have a leader. The conception of all organisations originates with one individual, and all developments within an organisation originate with one individual. While many may have contributed to the conception and development of an organisation, one individual always takes the leadership role in each specific action. An individual may have sought the role of leader, or may have obtained it unconsciously. The leadership may be official, or simply just a natural occurrence, as well it may be static, or constantly changing. In many partnerships, the official leaders are all equal in theory, but often one dominates the others, and become the unofficial exclusive leader. In partnerships with truly equal leaders, each one takes the primary leadership role for specific actions in that partnership. The role of leader exists with, or without, acknowledgement, but it is always present.
This is evident not only in the human world, but in all social settings found in the animal kingdom. Even in the case of geese flying in a "V," each one takes a turn as leader, but there is only one leader at a time.
If we look at any heretical rebellion against the Church, one individual always initiates the move away from the Church. The further divisions within these heretical sects can also be attributed to one individual. While this one individual may not be responsible all the heresies within a sect, one individual can be found for each heresy. A heresy is not always fully developed by one individual, but may have a number of individuals, each taking a turn as leader, that make further development in a particular heresy. Again, the leadership may not be static or conscious.
Most heretical sects have an official leader, and some sects with common doctrines have even united under the same leadership. There are some heretical sects, however, that believe in the autonomy of each individual congregation, and have no official leadership beyond the local congregation. Although many of these sects deny that they have originated from one individual, who had separated from another heretical sect or the Catholic Church, their history contradicts this claim. From the leadership that formed these new sects, new leaders are sent out to form new congregations. When these new congregations are fully indoctrinated by the original congregation, they become autonomous. This system works surpassingly well, although with no central leadership, adherence to the original doctrines varies from congregation to congregation.
If we look at the leadership God has placed over his people, he always chooses one central figure. This is very obvious with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, and latter the Kings. At this point, the true leadership of God's people becomes somewhat difficult to pinpoint at times. Many times, we find that the official leader of the God's people is not God's chosen leader, but someone else, such as a prophet.
The leadership of God's people becomes definite when God became flesh, and dwelt among his people (cf. John 1:14). Jesus was not the official leader of God's people, and Jesus submitted to the official leaders (cf. Matthew 17:24-27, Matthew 26:53-56), but his Divine Nature made him the true leader of God's people. Christ's role as an earthly leader was only a temporary one, as his mission could only be fulfilled by ascending into heaven and sending the Holy Spirit to guide those he left in his place. Since Christ the shepherd could not remain physically present with his sheep, he entrusted them to his servant, who will care for them until the he returned.
This servant that Jesus entrusted his sheep to was Simon son of John, but Simon's role as a leader was established before he even met Jesus. At least half of Christ's apostles knew each other before Christ called them, and were most likely friends, with Simon as the leader. Simon was a fisherman with his own boat (cf. Luke 5:3) and his brother Andrew helped him (cf. Matthew 4:18, Mark 1:16). Simon and Andrew's business partners were Zebedee and his two sons, James and John (cf. Matthew 4:20-21, Mark 1:19, Luke 5:7,10), who had another boat. In this business operation, the leaders were Simon and Zebedee, and when the four younger men were together, Simon would be viewed as the leader. This circle of friends most likely also contained Philip, who was also from the same town as Andrew and Peter (cf. John 1:44), and Nathanael, who was definitely Philip's friend (cf. John 1:45). The first six apostles that Christ called all knew each other, and could have very well been close friends. In this group, Simon would have been viewed, at least among four of them, as the leader, before Christ called them to be his apostles.
When the number of the apostles became twelve, Simon still appeared to be the leader. He acted as the spokesman for the Twelve in dialogues between Jesus and his apostles (cf. Matthew 15:15, 16:16, Mark 8:29, 10:28, Luke 8:45, 12:41, 18:28, John 6:68). Simon's leadership among the apostles is even clearer when we look at the way the Gospel writers give an account of him. Whenever the names of the apostles are listed, Simon is always the first, and Judas Iscariot is always the last (cf. Matthew 10:2-3, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16). Simon is even the listed first in smaller groups, such as the three that witnessed the transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:28). Simon is actually mentioned in the Gospels more than all of the other apostles combined, and is the central figure after Jesus. Nevertheless, it is in Christ's dialogue with Simon that Simon's leadership in Christ's Church is firmly established.
The first words Jesus says to Simon are, "So you are Simon the son of John?" (John 1:42). With this greeting, we see that Jesus was anticipating his meeting with Simon, and had something special planned for him. Simon is the only one that Jesus greeted in this manner. The first words Jesus says to Nathanael are a complement (cf. John 1:47), but Jesus greeted no one is with the same anticipation he greeted Simon with.
Immediately after this greeting filled with anticipation, Jesus does something unique and extremely symbolic to Simon, he gives Simon a new name (cf. John 1:42). The act of naming something is the act of taking possession of the thing being named. When a child is born, the parents give the child a name, which signifies their guardianship of this child. It is the same as when someone takes an animal as a pet, or takes possession of a building or vehicle, especially a boat or ship. The act of naming a piece of land also holds the same significance of possession, such is the case with the Americas, and the reason why some places have had more than one names, such as Istanbul opposed to Constantinople.
Throughout sacred history, the act of naming something is synonymous with the act of taking possession of it. When God created, he took possession of what he created by naming it (cf. Genesis 1:5, 8, 10, Psalms 74:16), he even named man before he created him (cf. Genesis 1:26). God gave Adam dominion over the earth (cf. Genesis 1:28-30), and Adam named everything in his dominion (cf. Genesis 2:19-20), even woman (cf. Genesis 2:23).
God also took possession of people, and when he did this, he gave them a new name. God took possession of Abram and named him Abraham (cf. Genesis 17:5), and Abraham's wife Sarai, whom God named Sarah (cf. Genesis 17:15). As well, God took possession of Jacob and named him Israel (cf. Genesis 32:29). Before his conception, God took possession of John the Baptist by declaring what his name should be to his father, Zechariah (cf. Luke 1:13). The name of the incarnation of God only Son was declared to his mother, Mary, before Jesus' conception (cf. Luke 1:31), and to her husband, Joseph, before Jesus' birth (cf. Matthew 1:21). God's naming of Jesus was extremely important, since no human could truly possess him, not even his mother and his earthly guardian (cf. Luke 2:49).
Besides Simon, some of Christ's other followers had two names: Matthew Levi, Bartholomew Nathanael, John Mark, and Paul Saul, but there is no evidence of Christ bestowing these second names on them, and they were common names in that time and culture. Simon's second name was specifically bestowed on him by Christ, and this name was not a word that was used as a personally name in that culture at that time.
The name that Christ took possession of Simon with was "Rock." Simon's new name was so significant to the early Christians that his old name of Simon was pushed into the background. It was so significant that often the Aramaic word for rock that Jesus used was not even translated into Greek, but was given the Greek rendering Κηφας (kephas), which is rendered in English as Cephas (cf. John 1:42, 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22, 9:5, 15:5, Galatians 1:18, 2:9, 11, 14) (English Bibles sometime translate Κηφας as Peter). Greek influence caused the original Aramaic name to be literally translated into the Greek word for rock, πετρα (petra). Since πετρα is the feminine form of this word it was not appropriate as a male name. Hence, the masculine form πετρος (petros) became a masculine personal name, and Πετρος became the dominant name of Simon. However, the significance of this name was so great that literal translations were not made beyond Greek. It is from the Greek word πετρος that we have the Italian names Piero and Pietro, the Spanish names Pierce, Pernell, and Pedro, the French name Pierre, and the English name Peter. The origins of all these names, and their renderings in other languages, are the words of Christ: "You shall be called Rock." (John 1:42).
Jesus' introduction to Peter seems to have been highly anticipated by Jesus, and his immediate possession of Peter by giving him a new name is also highly meaningful, especially since the words Cephas and πετρος were not used as a personal names. Jesus' possession of Peter took place before he called Peter as an apostle, and when Jesus does begin to call his apostles, the first one he calls is Peter (cf. Matthew 4:18-20, Mark 2:16-18, Luke5:10). This all amounts to something very significant, but the true significance was not revealed until around two or three years later.
Peter's leadership of the apostles seems to have been unofficial, since James and John asked to have the seat of authority under Jesus (cf. Matthew20:20-21, Mark 10:35-37). Jesus was the acknowledged leader of the apostles, and Peter's role as second in command existed, but it does not seem to have been formally acknowledged. Peter would have still remained the acknowledged leader of the four fishermen, since they never fully abandoned their trade and equipment while Jesus was with them (cf. Matthew 8:23, 14:22, Mark 4:1, 35-36, 6:32, 45, Luke 8:22, John 6:16-17, 21:2-3). John shows his respect for Peter as the leader by waiting for Peter to enter the empty tomb of Jesus', even though John ran faster and arrived there first (cf. John 20:3-8). Still, it was not until Jesus formally gave the leadership of his Church to Peter that Peter's role as leader was fully acknowledged.
Peter did seem to have a closer relationship with Jesus than the other apostles. Jesus stayed in Peter's home (cf. Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:29, Luke 4:38), and Peter is sent to pay the temple tax for both Jesus and himself (cf. Matthew 17:24-27). Peter is one of the three that witnessed the raising to life of Jairus' daughter (cf. Mark 5:37, Luke 8:51), the transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:28), and the three that Jesus brings further into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (cf. Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33). Peter was one of the two apostles sent to prepare for the Passover (cf. Luke 22:8). Peter was also the first apostle that Jesus appeared to after the resurrection (cf. Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5).
Peter may have been Jesus' closest apostle, but Jesus also foretold of the unique leadership role that Peter would have in the Church once Jesus ascended into heaven. "When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter said in reply, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah." (Matthew 16:13-20).
In Matthew 16:13-20, we now see the full significance of the name Jesus gave Peter. The literal English translation of Jesus' presumable Aramaic statement is: "You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church." Christ announced that his Church would be built on the foundation of Peter. This is why Jesus took possession of Peter with the name Rock. The name Rock would have seemed unusual since this word had not been previously used as an Aramaic or Greek personal name, but in referring to Peter as the rock foundation of Christ's Church, it becomes clear why this unusual name was given to Peter.
The unique leadership role Christ designed for Peter in the Church explains the uniqueness of Peter's description in the Gospels. With this in mind, it becomes clear why Jesus had anticipated meeting Peter; why Jesus took personal possession of Peter by naming him; why Peter was the first to be called as an apostle; why the temple tax was paid for Jesus and Peter together; why Peter was one of the three to witness the raising to life of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration, and the agony in the garden; why Peter was one of the two sent to prepare for the Passover; why Peter appears as the unofficial spokesmen and leader of the apostles; why Peter is always listed first among the apostles; and why Peter is the central figure after Jesus in the Gospels. Peter was the Prince of the Apostles because Christ planned to build his Church on Peter.
Jesus did not immediately let Peter know what role he would play in the Church, but kept it concealed until Peter acknowledged Jesus' true nature. It was not until Peter said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," that Jesus revealed the vocation orchestrated for Peter. In the same way, this is how everyone is accepted into Christ's Church, by confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Peter was the first to confess this, which is natural, since it is by the example of the Church's leaders that others are shown how to follow Christ.
The sequence of Peter's confession of Christ's true nature followed by Christ's confession of Peter's role in Christ's Church corresponds to Peter's call as the first apostle. Peter's call to be Christ's apostle followed Peter's confession of Christ's divinity. Peter made this confession by acknowledging that he was not worthy to be in the presence of Jesus. He said to Jesus, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." (Luke 5:8). After this confession, Jesus said to Peter, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." (Luke 5:9). The sequence of both events was the same: Peter confessed Jesus' divinity, and consequently Jesus confessed Peter's ecclesiastical vocation. Peter gave the example for all to follow: confess Jesus' divinity, and Jesus will confess your ecclesiastical vocation.
Peter's ecclesiastical vocation was substantial since all other vocations in the Church rested upon Peter's. Peter's vocation was to the Church as a foundation is to a house. It was upon Peter's vocation that the Church would grow and remain united and stable. All churches whose foundation is only partially on Peter are not fully united with Christ's Church, and are unstable.
All Christian heretic churches are built partially on the foundation of Peter. The more they rest on Peter, the more they are united with Christ's Church, and the more stable they are. The less they rest on Peter, the less they are united with Christ's Church, and the more unstable they are. The history of heretic churches proves this, when their foundation is not Peter, the foundation crumbles, and new foundations are formed on the crumbles. This is the source of Christian disunity, and the only solution is to abandon all foundations that Christ did not build and return to the foundation of Peter.
In addition to being the foundation of the Church, Christ says to Peter, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This is a direct referral to Isaiah 22:22: "I will place the key of the house of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open."
The key is a symbol of authority, and in both Isaiah and Matthew, the giving of the key is a symbol of giving supreme power to govern. In Isaiah, it is Eliacim's supreme power to govern Israel, and in Matthew, it is Peter's supreme power to govern Christ's Church. This power include the ability to "bind" and "loose," which denotes supreme legislative and judicial authority. What Peter binds and looses on earth is bound and loosed in heaven by God.
The key, and the supreme power of authority that it symbolises, does not belong to Peter, but belongs to God the Son, who received it from God the Father (cf. John 16:15). Peter was given the key and he possesses it, but he does not have ownership of it. Christ retains ownership of the key, and like all leaders, he entrusts the key to his chosen servant who will lead in his absence. Peter becomes the Vicar of Christ, to rule in Christ's physical absence with Christ's authority.
This is exactly parallel with ancient kingdoms, such as the Egyptian Kingdom and the Jewish Kingdom. A kingdom obviously has a king, and the king had a special servant, called a steward or vicar, who was given total authority and jurisdiction over the kingdom, except for the king himself. The king physically gave this servant the keys to the kingdom. These were actual keys to the most important doors in the kingdom. When the king gave these keys to this servant, he was giving this servant his kingly authority and jurisdiction.
This is the exact meaning of the keys in Isaiah 22:22 and in Matthew 16:19. When Jesus said to Peter, in the presence of all the apostles, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven," Peter and all the apostles would understand the Jesus promised Peter the stewardship of Christ's Kingdom. Jesus is the King, and Peter is his steward. Peter has all the authority and jurisdiction of Christ. It is not Peter's authority, but Christ's authority, and by denying the authority given to Peter, one denies Christ's authority.
This is too much authority for a mere human to bear alone, so Christ does not leave his vicar without divine assistance. Peter, as leader of the Sacred Magisterium of Christ's Church, is always guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:15-18, 26, 16:13-15).
With the words of Christ in Matthew 16:17-19, Peter is promised to be the leader of Christ's Church, but he is not yet given this role. Before Peter is given this role, his humanity is firmly established to demonstrate that it is not because of Peter himself that the foundation of the Church is stable, but because of God that the foundation is stable. Peter's first confession of Jesus' divinity, by saying, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man," is exemplified by his denial of his second confession of Jesus' divinity. Jesus foretold of Peter's denial (cf. Matthew 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38), but at the same time he foretold of Peter's rehabilitation and responsibility to lead the others (cf. Luke 22:32).
Peter does sin by denying Christ, an act of apostasy perhaps, but he is immediately filled with remorse and repents (cf. Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:56-62, John 18:17, 25-27). This grave sin that Peter commits show his true weakness and inability to do what is right without divine help. As leader of the Church, Peter remains human, weak and sinful, but as the central figure in the Sacred Magisterium, he leads with the authority of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:15-18, 26, 16:13-15), without error.
After Christ's resurrection, Peter is given the opportunity to counteract his three denials of Christ by confessing his love for Christ three times. "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' He said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' He then said to him a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' He said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, 'Do you love me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'" (John 21:15-17).
Like Peter's other two confessions, each of his confessions of love is followed by Christ's confession of Peter's vocation. Just as Christ is about to depart from this world, he formally entrusts his followers to his vicar. Christ entrusts his whole flock, both the sheep and the lambs, to Peter's care. The fullness of the flock that Peter would shepherd is symbolised in the catch of fish he dragged ashore, one hundred and fifty-three fish (cf. John 21:11). At the time, this is how many species of fish zoologists had catalogued; therefore, this number of fish symbolises Peter's shepherding of all Christians, including the other apostles and future adherents from other cultures and races.
Not only was Peter to feed Christ's flock, but also rule them. When Jesus says, "Tend my sheep," in verse 16, the Greek word ποιμαινε (piomaine) is used, which not only means to feed and tend, but also to rule. This is the same Greek word used in Psalm 2:9 of the Septuagint: "You will rule them with an iron sceptre." What was promised to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 is directly and immediately given to him in John 21:15-17, the supreme pontificate of Christ's Church.
After the Ascension of Christ, Peter becomes the central figure in the physical Church. Peter calls an election for Judas' replacement (cf. Acts 1:15-26), delivers the Pentecost sermon (cf. Acts 2:14-41), and works the first miracle (cf. Acts 3:1-10). These three acts were the acts Christ performed during his mission on earth; once in heaven, these were still the acts of Christ, only they were not performed by Christ himself, but by is vicar.
It was to Peter that God showed his desire that the gentiles should enter the Church (cf. Acts 10). Before St. Paul began his mission, he first went to Jerusalem to see Peter, but not the other apostles (cf. Galatians 1:18-19). Later, Paul met with opposition in doctrine concerning circumcision and had to bring the matter before the Magisterium, which Peter led and was the first to give a judgement (cf. Acts 15:1-12).
In the role of Supreme Pontiff, Peter declared the doctrine that Mosaic Law did not bind Christians, but in his role of a sinner, Peter had difficulty following this doctrine fully. Peter distanced himself from the gentiles and remained with the circumcised that observed Mosaic Law. For this, Paul rebuked Peter (cf. Galatians 2:11-14), but Paul never denied Peter's authority, and acted as one who was not afraid to challenge his superior. St. Cyprian of Carthage affirms this in the year 254 or 255: "For Peter, whom the Lord chose first and upon whom He built His Church, when Paul later disagreed with him about circumcision, did not claim anything for himself insolently not assume anything arrogantly, so as to say that he held the primacy and that he ought rather to be obeyed by novices and those more recently arrived."
Peter left Jerusalem, and with the help of Paul, founded the Church in the then capital of the Roman Empire, the city of Rome, where both Peter and Paul died. Pope St. Clement I mentions this in his letter to the Corinthians, written at the end of the first century, and Caius, a priest in Rome, mentions this between the years 198 and 217: "It is recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and Peter, likewise, was crucified, during the reign [of Nero]. The account is confirmed by the names of Peter and Paul over the cemeteries there, which remain to the present time. And it is confirmed also by a stalwart man of the Church, Gaius by name, who lived in the time of Zephyrinus, Bishop of Rome. This Gaius, in a written disputation with Proclus, the leader of the sect of Cataphyrygians, says this of the places in which the remains of the afore-mentioned Apostles were deposited: 'I can point out the trophies of the Apostles. For if you are willing to go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way, you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church.'" Tertullina tells us that Peter, Paul, and the Apostle John founded the Roman Church: "But if you are near to Italy, you have Rome, whence also our authority drives. How happy is that Church, on which Apostles poured out their whole doctrine along with their blood, where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John's, where the Apostle John, after being immersed in boiling oil and suffering no hurt, was exiled to an island."
With the martyrdom of Christ's vicar, a new vicar was chosen so that the Church was not without a physically present leader and an earthly representative of Christ. The successor of Peter not only took the place of Peter as the Supreme Pontiff of the entire Christian Church, but also the leadership of the Roman Church as the Bishop of Rome. St. Irenaeus wrote before the end of the second century concerning the succession and authority of the Bishop of Rome: "But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the Churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the succession of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organised at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition."
So from the time of Peter's immediate successor until the present, the Bishop of Rome has also been the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, and the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. Peter's successors occasionally took up residence in cities other than Rome, but the residency of Peter's successors was always restored to Rome.
As the hierarchy of the Church developed, certain bishops were given additional duties and jurisdictions. New titles were given to these bishops to describe their additional responsibilities, such as patriarch, primate, archbishop, and metropolitan. Likewise, Peter's successors were also given these titles to describe their responsibilities over certain regions: Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Province of Rome, and Sovereign of the State of Vatican City.
Of all of these titles, the most important is the Servant of the Servants of God. It is in this title that the responsibility of Peter's successors is clear. Jesus came into this world to server, and so his vicar's responsibility is to serve in Christ's place (cf. Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 9:35, 1 Peter 5:1-5). Unfortunately, a number of Peter's successors have not embraced their role as servant, and have made their authority felt by those under them. Some have committed such grievous sins that had they lived in the first few centuries of the Church they would never have succeeded Peter, and would have not be admitted into full communion with the Church.
The first five hundred years of the Church comprises of fifty-four Vicars of Christ, of which only two have not been canonised as saints, although these two were still regard as good Christians. After this time, a canonised successor of Peter becomes the exception instead of the norm; however, by not being canonised they are not incriminated as not fulfilling their divine duties. Men who have been a true disgrace to the Chair of Peter have always been in a small minority, and despite their unchristian behaviour, none have ever erred in teaching doctrines of faith and morals.
Through divine intervention, from Peter until his present successor, there has been an unbroken line of men who have officially taught only truth. The example of Christ's most disgraceful vicars only demonstrates the fulfilment of Christ's promise that Hell will not prevail against the Church, and that the Holy Spirit will always guide it into all truth. Despite the humanity and sinfulness of all of Christ's vicars, God has kept all of their doctrinal definitions infallible.
The sinful man that sits on the Chair of Peter is not infallible, but the office that he holds is, not by his own fallible character, but by the infallible character of God. This infallible characteristic of Peter's office is necessary to truly proclaim the Word of God, without it God's Word would become distorted, as it has in churches without an infallible leadership.
Like the office of bishop, the office of Peter and his successors existed for many years before an official title was conferred upon the office. No doubt, during Peter's pontificate, the unique name given to him by Christ served as his dominant name and his official title. This unique name also served for a long time as the title of Peter's successors with terms like "the place of Peter," and "the Chair of Peter," much like the term "the Chair of Moses." Once the term bishop was restricted to that particular office, Peter's successors were commonly called the Bishop of Rome, and the additional responsibilities as Christ's Vicar and Supreme Pontiff were assumed with that title.
The most common western title for Peter and his successors is Pope, which comes from the Greek word παππας (pappas), and is a child's name for their father. In the east, this title has always been used in reference to all priests, but in the west, it was restricted to only the bishops. In the fourth century, this title began to be used only for Peter and his successors, but as late as the seventh century, it was still occasionally used to refer to a bishop other than the one of Rome. It was not until Pope Gregory VII prescribed that it should be limited to the successors of Peter in the eleventh century that it became an official title of Peter's successors. Since that time, the title of Pope has been the most commonly used title of Peter's successors, and the name of their office is most commonly referred to as the papacy.
Since the papacy is the foundation of the Church, and the source of unity, it is in rebellion against the papacy that all Christian disunity stems. Many of the early heretical sects preferred to think that they remained united with the Church under the authority of the papacy, but through their heretical doctrine, they were separated. The Orthodox Churches resulting from the great Eastern Schism did not really deny the papal office, but decided that it should be held by the Bishop of Constantinople because it was the new capital of the Roman Empire. It was not until the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century that the divine establishment of the papacy was denied without reservation.
With the Protestant heresy of Sola Scriptura, the Sacred Magisterium's interpretation of the Bible was replaced with a large array of personal interpretations, thereby making every literate person into a pope. Protestants had to deny the divine origins of the papacy in order to make the Sola Scriptura heresy seem valid. To accomplish this, early Christian writings not contained in the Canon of the New Testament were ignored, and new interpretations were invented for the Petrine texts contained in the New Testament.
Peter's dominant presence among the apostles in the Gospels was ignored, and more emphasis was placed on Paul, who was the dominant character in the last half of the book of Acts, and wrote far more of the New Testament Epistles than Peter. Peter was reduced to simply one of the Twelve Apostles, and of no more importance than any of the others. The symbolism of Jesus naming Peter was portrayed as having no more significance than an affectionate nickname without any particular purpose or meaning. The actual definition of the Greek noun πετρος, which was used for Peter's new name, was denied, and a new one invented.
Matthew 16:18 is one of the most abused verses in the New Testament. The main focus of this abuse is the use of two different forms of the Greek word for rock. The Aramaic statement that Jesus made, and the original Hebrew text that Matthew wrote, would have only used one word for rock, and a literal English translation would be: "And so I say to you, you are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church." The translation into Greek required the use πετρος (petros) for the first rock, and πετρα (petra) for the second. Since these two words are not the same gender, many Protestants claimed that they have different definitions, and therefore Peter is not the foundation of the Church.
All Greek nouns have a gender: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Sometimes the gender correlates to the physical gender of the subject, such as the masculine αδελφος (adelphos) for brother, and the feminine αδελφη (adelphe) for sister. Other times the gender is arbitrary, such as the masculine νομος (nomos) for law, and the feminine εκκλησια (ekklesia) for church. Although a rock is neither masculine nor feminine, the Greek word for rock, πετρα, happens to be feminine. As stated earlier, the feminine πετρα would be inappropriate as a personal name for a male; therefore the masculine form πετρος was used for Simon's new name. In normal use, πετρα should be used exclusively. The only exception is when it is used as a masculine name, in which case Πετρος should be used. This is why the two different forms are used in Matthew 16:18.
Since most Protestants do not want Peter to be the foundation of the Church, they invent a new definition for πετρος that is distinctly different from πετρα. They claim that while πετρα is a mass of rock, πετρος is merely a small stone or pebble. They can do this without affecting the rest of Scripture and other Greek literature because πετρος is only used as a personal name and not in any other context. This new definition is not based on any precedence, but simply an invention to change the interpretation of Matthew 16:18.
Even if πετρος was used in a context other than a personal name, it would still have the same basic definition as πετρα. As mentioned earlier, αδελφος is the Greek word for brother, and the αδελφη is the Greek word for sister. Both are different forms of the same word, and therefore have the same basic definition. Αδελφη is no more of a sibling than αδελφος. The only difference is that one is female sibling and other is a male sibling. This is the same with all Greek nouns that have masculine and feminine counterparts. If the masculine form πετρος had a different definition than the feminine form πετρα, it would be the only Greek noun that did. It is completely illogical to believe that the Greek language has one rule for the word rock, and an entirely different rule for all other nouns. It is quite obvious that both πετρος and πετρα have the same definition.
Admitting that πετρος and πετρα share the same basic definition, some Protestants claim that in the context of Matthew 16:18 these words are referring to separate subjects. The context of a word can modify its definition. The definition of the English word rock is very different when referring to a rock in your shoe, than it is in referring to climbing a rock. So the context of Matthew 16:18 must be examined to determine whether or not πετρος and πετρα are referring to the same subject.
In Greek grammar, adjectives must agree in case, number, and gender, with the nouns they modify. Since πετρος and πετρα do not agree in gender, some propose that they refer to different subjects. However, πετρος and πετρα are both nouns, so the rule of agreement between nouns and their adjectives has no bearing in this circumstance.
Some cite the presence of the word τη (te), which is the Greek article, in front of πετρα and the lack of it in front of πετρος as giving the two words separate subjects. The suggested translation would be: "And so I say to you, you are a rock, and upon the rock I will build my church." The implication is that Peter is a rock, but not the rock that is the foundation of the Church. The lack of the article in front of πετρος only converts it into the predicate nominative, and is irrelevant in determining if πετρος and πετρα refer to the same subject.
Many quote 1 Corinthians 3:11, that says Christ is the foundation, and Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:4-8, that say Christ is the cornerstone to prove that Christ, and not Peter, is the rock that is the foundation of the Church. The problem with this argument is that a figure of speech is taken out of its context and applied to an alien context. A figure of speech can only be understood in its original context, which means that a figure of speech can have different meanings depending on its context. Jesus is called the firstborn in Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:15, 18, Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 1:5, but in the context of Hebrews 12:23, all Christians are called the firstborn. Jesus calls himself the light of the world in John 8:12, 9:5, and 12:46, but in the context of Matthew 5:14, Jesus calls all of his follows the light of the world. These verses do not contradict each other, but only demonstrate that a figure of speech can only be understood in its context. A figure of speech used in one context does not influence the interpretation of a similar figure of speech in a different context. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 3:11, Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:4-8, have no relevance in interpreting Matthew 16:18.
There is a major question that cannot be answered, if one believes that πετρος and πετρα refer to different subjects. It is obvious that πετρος refers to Peter, but if πετρα refers to something other than Peter, what is it? A number of answers are have been proposed: Christ, faith in Christ, Peter's faith in Christ, Peter's confession that Jesus was the Messiah, and the truth of Peter's confession. These are only proposed answers, and none of them has any more validity that the others. To prove anyone of these answers, a perspective must be taken that does not rely on the context of this verse. The verse only says, "upon this rock I will build my church," and the only clue in ascertaining the subject is the previous clause, "you are Rock."
To make the subject in the clause "upon this rock I will build my church" something other than Peter, the preceding clause would have to have a subject other than Peter. To do this, Matthew could have written: "And so I say to you Peter, your confession is a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church." Matthew could have also given a definite subject in the last clause: "And so I say to you, you are Rock, and upon this rock of you confession I will build my church." This is not what Matthew wrote, and so we are left with two possibilities: Peter is the foundation of Christ's Church, or the foundation of Christ's Church is unspecified.
To decide which conclusion is correct, the grammatical relationship between πετρος and πετρα must be examined. The conjunctive phrase that connects πετρος and πετρα is "και επι ταυτη" (kai epi taute). Και is the conjunction, επι is the preposition, and ταυτη is the demonstrative pronoun. The preposition επι can be translated as "on" or "upon," and does not have any relevance in establishing the relationship between πετρος and πετρα. However, the exact definition of the conjunction and the demonstrative pronoun does establish the relationship between πετρος and πετρα.
The conjunction και can be translated as "and," and can be used two ways: to join words, clauses, and sentences with continuity, and to make a single word or clause emphatic. In the context of Matthew 16:18, it is joining two clauses, and show continuity between these two clauses. This means the idea "you are Rock" continues into the clause "upon this rock I will build my church." If Matthew did not want the idea of these two clauses to be continuous, he would have used the adversative conjunction δε (de), which would translated as "but." He could have even use αλλα (alla), which is stronger than δε in adversely limiting or opposing words, clauses, and sentences. If an adversative conjunction were used, it would translate as: "And so I say to you, you are Rock, but upon this rock I will build my church." This is not what Matthew wrote, and what he did write shows continuity between Peter and the foundation of the Church.
The demonstrative pronoun ταυτη is a near demonstrative pronoun, and can be translated as "this," or even "this same," or "the same." As a near demonstrative pronoun, it equates a previously mentioned subject with the one it is referring to. In the context of Matthew 16:18, it equates the subject of the clause "you are Rock" with the subject of "the rock I will build my church on." If Matthew wanted the subject of these two clauses to be isolated from one another, he would have use a far demonstrative pronoun, like εκεινος (ekeinos), which would be translated as "that thing over there," "that other," or "this other." If a far demonstrative pronoun were used, it would translate as: "And so I say to you, you are Rock, and upon this other rock I will build my church."
The use of a far demonstrative pronoun with a copulative conjunction is a little strange, and would work much better with an adversative conjunction. This is how the use of a far demonstrative pronoun with an adversative conjunction would translate: "And so I say to you, you are Rock, but upon this other rock I will build my church." This is not what Matthew wrote, and what he did write specifies continuity and equation between Peter and the foundation of the Church. A literal translation of Matthew 16:18 that fully expresses the conjunctive phrase "και επι ταυτη" is this: "And so I say to you, you are Rock, and upon this same rock I will build my church." Matthew explicitly stated that Jesus promised Peter that Peter himself would be the foundation on which Christ would build his Church.
Christ promised Peter that he would be the foundation of Christ's Church, and also Christ's vicar. This promise was kept. The Church of Christ is built on the foundation of Christ's vicar, the Pope.