Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
A non-Catholic friend of mine told me that Peter doesn’t mean rock. It means more like a chip off the old block and that Jesus didn’t ever intend to start the papacy and that the papacy started in 325 with the takeover of the Church by the emperor Constantine. Is he right?
Your friend’s scholarship is about as deep as a puddle. First of all, the papacy certainly goes back to the first century of the faith. Allow me to quote St. Irenaeus of Lyon:
Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; we do this, I say, by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (Against heresies Vol.3 Chapter 3 sec 2)
Irenaeus wrote these words around 180 AD. He had some pretty good credentials. He was the Greek bishop of a Roman city in southern France. He was born during the first half of the 2nd century AD, perhaps as early as 115 and was a native of St. Polycarp's church in Smyrna in Asia Minor. He had been raised as a Christian at a time when there were very few cradle Catholics. St. Polycarp had been a student of St. John and Irenaeus had been a student of St Polycarp. You can’t get a better early Christian pedigree than that. Irenaeus states that the Church of Rome was the preeminent Church of Christianity a full two hundred years before Constantine. So much for the myth of Constantine making the bishop of Rome the Pope. I suspect that Constantine would much rather have had the bishop of his new capital as the leader of the Church. The bishop of Constantinople wasn’t even considered a patriarch of the church until 400 years after Christ.
The Council of Nicaea in 325 convened by the Emperor Constantine, recognized the primacy of the Church of Rome, followed by the churches of Alexandria and Antioch. The church of Constantinople was considered unimportant and certainly didn’t go back to the first days of Christianity. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD recognized the diocese of Constantinople as “second in eminence and power to the Bishop of Rome”. This recognition certainly miffed the bishops of Antioch and Alexandria. Why? There had been only three churches which considered St. Peter their founder, and thus had Peter’s supervisory authority, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Antioch had been established as a church by St. Peter, Alexandria traced its origins back to St. Mark, the delegate of St. Peter but Rome was preeminent because both Peter and Paul had been its founders and St. Peter had been martyred and buried there.
These lists of succession and such things as relics were quite important to the first Christians, no matter how we think of them. As to the Peter/Rock business, why would the first Christians make such a fuss about three cities, no less and no more, as having apostolic authority unless they could trace their ordination back to St. Peter? They were founded on Simon Bar Jonah, Peter the Rock. But I’m sure that your friend knows better than the first Christians.
As for this bit about Peter not meaning rock, it is nonsense. The fuss is made because in Greek the world rock is “petra”. Some languages, like ancient Greek, have gender, number and case. English words generally only have number. A rock in English is neither feminine nor masculine. This doesn’t work in ancient Greek. In order to know who you are talking about in Greek and for that matter Latin you have to use a masculine ending to refer to a man. Generally “-a” is a feminine ending in Greek and Latin. The common ending for a male is “-os” in Greek and “-us” in Latin. For Jesus to say that Simon Bar Jonah’s new name was “petra” would be like saying “Thou art Wilhelmina...” William would be the more appropriate name for a man. It would avoid confusion, at least back then it would. To make His point clear that He was giving Simon Bar Jonah a new title as well as a new name, the translators of Jesus’ words would have had to stick a masculine ending on a feminine word.
That's how Greek and Latin work. However, the more important point here is that JESUS WASN’T SPEAKING GREEK OR LATIN!!! He was speaking Aramaic. Aramaic doesn’t have the gender problem that Greek does. Jesus called Simon bar Jonah “Kepha”. This title is repeated 19 times in the New Testament, so clearly it was noteworthy to the first Christians. In addition, St. Paul uses just the word Kepha eight times. When St. Paul wants to make a point, he uses the very word that Jesus used in Aramaic when talking about Simon bar Jonah. He is in effect conceding the title to St. Peter. We can dispute what “petra” or “petros” or “kepha” mean, but the importance of the title and the importance of St. Peter to the first Christians are indisputable. He clearly appears as the leader of the apostolic band.
More significant is the passage in which Jesus says that will give the keys of the kingdom to Simon bar Jonah who will control access to the court of heaven. The Davidic monarch had an officer called the ‘al bayit, literally the “house supervisor”. It was a continuous hereditary office and the keys of the house of David were its symbol. The first Christians perceived that Jesus was founding an institution that would have legitimate authority as prefigured in the Davidic royal court. People who try to redefine the words are simply trying to avoid the fact to which the first Christians and the Scriptures clearly attest: Jesus established a visible institution with legitimate authority. That authority is limited to issues of faith and moral, but it is authority nonetheless. Remember what St. Irenaeus said about “…those of perverse opinion who wish to assemble in unauthorized meetings”.
The history of the papacy is a catalogue of saints and sinners, of the strong and the weak. Its history reflects the life of its first incumbent who at one time Jesus called the rock and at another time called Satan. (Matt. 16:23) Despite their weakness and human frailty, and even sinfulness, the popes have been a stabilizing force in the unfolding of Christianity, regardless of the quibbles of those who think themselves more infallible than a pope.
The Rev. Know-it-all