Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia.
[Where Peter is, there the Church is.]
One of the great reasons of divergence among Catholics and Protestants is related to the legitimacy of the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. According to the reform followers, any person could read and understand the bible correctly, without anyone's aid but the Holy Ghost's, who would guide each one infallibly in the quest of the divine word's true meaning. It is the so-called free examination of the Bible, proposed by the ex-friar Luther.
On the catholic side, the legitimate interpreter of the Scriptures (and also of Tradition) is the Pope, the direct successor of Saint Peter, for Christ has entrusted him to this ministry. Catholics must, therefore, obey the Pope in matters of faith and morals, due the divine power entrusted to him.
Protestants, despite their discussion of discordant passages of the bible in a discerning way, end up having to acknowledge that each one, in a direct connection to God, has his own interpretation, his own "truth", originating, hence, the phenomenon of the multiplication of sects that one can notice starting in the 16th century, and that has not ceased until this very day.
Each sect would be a manifestation of God; it does not matter whether it defends theses opposed to the others, as long as it keeps its "faith" in Christ. This "faith" in fact would be translated as a "feeling Jesus"; therefore, it is about an act of will, not an act of the intelligence.
The Catholic doctrine, on the other hand, acknowledges faith as the adhesion of intelligence to God's revealed truths. Being truths, they cannot vary according to the person who interprets them, nor according to the times, because truth is immutable.
It is up to the Pope to guide the faithful in Christ's teachings entrusted to the Church in deposition, which cannot be altered until the end of times.
It matters thus to know which of these two visions correspond to the divine will, so that we will have solved the problem of the Holy Bible's interpretation, which is the reason of divergence between Catholics and Protestants. Let us examine, then, in the first place, the Scriptures.
Protestants state that, in order to defend the Catholic position, there would be only one passage in Saint Matthew's Gospel (XVI, 16-19) to which there is no parallel in the two other Gospels that describe this very same scene, of doubtful interpretation.
Peter would be just like the other apostles, differing only due to his aggressive character, which would make him a leader before the others, following and obeying Christ. However, Our Lord would have not entrusted any primacy to Peter over the Apostles.
What the Gospel shows, however, is that Peter occupied an eminent place in the Apostolic College, and that Christ has made him a promise of primacy among the apostles, so that he, once converted, would confirm his brethren (Lk XXII, 32). We will use most of the times in the demonstration of this truth the scheme of the book "Igreja, Reforma e Civilização" [Church, Reform and Civilization], (Padre Leonel Franca, Ed. Agir, 6a edição).
Peter is the most mentioned by the Evangelists
We can verify the prominence of Saint Peter among the Apostles, in the first place, by the amount of times he is named in the Gospels: many have noticed that the evangelists refer to Peter 171 times (114 times in the Gospels and 57 times in the Acts of the Apostles), whereas the beloved apostle, Saint John, is referred to 46 times.
It is what one could call of statistical proof, since it shows how the Evangelists considered the figure of the prince of the apostles, detached early since by Christ's authority.
We will see further on that Saint Peter is not only named a greater number of times, but mainly in references which indicate importance, and that the numerical criterion should simply strengthen this one.
In order to defy this argument, some notice that Saint Paul is named 160 times in the Acts of the Apostles, whereas Peter is referred to only 57 times, and that, therefore, by this criterion, Saint Paul would have more rights to the title of Pope.
Nevertheless what matters to show here is that there was one that was detached from the twelve apostles, designated by Christ to guide the others.
This issue concerns the first followers of Christ, and when the Apostle of the Gentiles was converted, it had already been decided. Only Our Lord could be able to appoint a representative of his with such power and authority.
Christ changes Simon's name to Peter
Another exclusive distinction of Peter is that Christ, when calling him to a new and superior vocation, gives him curiously another name, that carries the powerful meaning of, at the same time, being chief and foundation of the new society which will have the mission of spreading the teachings of the Master throughout the four corners of the world. "He [Andrew] findeth first his brother Simon and saith to him: We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And Jesus looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona. Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter [Stone]" (S. John, I 41-42).
Let us begin by analyzing the change of the name: how many times, in the whole Scriptures, did God change someone’s name? If there are only a few times, one must conclude that this is a solemn act, given its exceptionality, which leads to the conclusion of the gravity of what has motivated it.
In the whole Holy Scriptures God changes the name of men only three times, always in order to point out the dignity of a superior vocation: first, He changes the name of Abram to Abraham, turning him into the patriarch faithful to God and rewarded with the Old Covenant and the promise of an exceedingly lineage (Gen. XVII, 5-8). The second chosen one is Jacob, to whom God calls Israel, renewing the promises done to his grandfather in relation to the Jewish people. For no one else did God grant this privilege, neither to Kings nor to Prophets, that were so many and with such Sanctity! In the Old Testament, God seals the Covenant with His people choosing and changing the name of the Patriarchs, showing unequivocally that He anoints - separates - His chosen ones.
Our Lord then, in the plenitude of the times, when mankind finds itself prepared to the great work of Redemption, will once again distinguish those with whom He shall firm the New and Eternal Covenant, changing the name of its Patriarch, that will have to feed the lamb and sheep throughout the centuries, promising him His infallible assistance. And He does not change his name to a meaningless one, but to Peter (Cephas, which in Aramaic - language spoken by Our Lord - means Rock), showing that His Church would not be founded upon sand.
This fact, so often forgotten or relegated to an inferior place has, however, a huge importance, since it shows that Peter should have an honoring distinction among the Apostles, incompatible with the idea of equity among the twelve. Let us recall here that not even Saint Paul deserved such honor.
Christ prefers Saint Peter's boat
Another interesting aspect of the distinction of Peter is about his boat, that early since has been interpreted by the Church Fathers as a symbol of the Church, the only one through which men can be saved.
Christ, in his evangelic teaching, prefers invariably Peter's boat. Actually there is no other boat explicitly named of which Christ would have used.
It is inside Peter's boat where the miraculous fishing happens, of an extremely meaningful symbolism (Lk V, 3-6). Another miraculous fishing will happen after the resurrection in Lake Tiberias, and once again inside Peter's boat (Jo XXI, 3,7,11). Peter's boat is called "the boat" by antonomasia in other passages (Mt VIII, 23; XIV, 22; Mk IV, 36; VI, 45), in opposition to the "other boats" (Mk IV, 36)
Let us come to the only possible conclusion: outside Peter's Boat Christ cannot be found.
Peter's house in Capharnaum and the tribute
Two apparently common facts in Christ's life are added to the evidences accumulated here so far, and have to do with the master's proximity in relation to Peter. First, one can see in the Gospels that, when Christ takes his time in Capharnaum, it is in Peter's house where He lodges Himself. "And Jesus rising up out of the synagogue, went into Simon's house ..." (Mk I, 29; Mt VIII, 14; Lk IV, 38), and later, at the door of Peter's house, Jesus was making miracles. Saint Mark, in other occasions, without mentioning another house, simply says that the Master directed himself "to the house" and "to a house" (Mk II, 1; III, 20; IX, 32).
It is quite curious the difference between Saint Mark and Saint Matthew's narratives on this same episode: this one using the article - to the house; the former one not using it - to a house.
The meaning of the first expression is the same one as to French people the expression "chez moi", that is, in my house. It would be an odd fact were Saint Mark to speak about his house, but we know in advance that the evangelist was Peter’s disciple. While repeating what he heard from the Apostle, he used the expression of someone who speaks about his own house. Saint Matthew spoke about the house without mentioning its owner, for he was speaking about someone else's house. It is also curious that when the evangelists speak about Christ's house, referring to the one in Nazareth, they both use the article, making clear the subtle and extremely reassuring detail of the passage.
Therefore St. Mark's Gospel demonstrates that in Capharnaum Christ was lodged in Peter’s house.
The second fact, which is closely linked to the first one, is that Christ demands to pay tribute to the temple for himself and for Peter, when the tax collectors go to Peter's house to charge the Master "... doth not your master pay the didrachma? He [Peter] said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom, of their own children, or of strangers? And he [Peter] said: Of strangers. Jesus said to him: Then the children are free. But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened it's mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee." (Mt XVII, 23-26).
This is such a distinctive signal of Our Lord's preference to the apostle that the others, as soon as Peter gets afar from them, surrounded the master to know who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mt XVIII, 1).
About this text, Clement of Alexandria exclaimed: "Blessed is Peter, the chosen one, the preferred one, the first of the disciples, the only one to whom Christ paid the tribute." (Qui dives Salvetur, 21, Migne, Patrologia serie Grega [Church Fathers Greek Series], IX, 625. - quoted by F. Leonel Franca).
The List of the Apostles
Every time the evangelists named the twelve apostles, they did that invariably starting with Peter and finishing up with Judas, with the others occupying different places (S. Matthew, X, 2-4, S. Mark, III, 16-19, S. Luke VI, 14-16, Acts, I, 13).
If it is not hard to understand why the last place was left to the traitor, similarly it is not difficult to understand why the first place is to Peter. Saint Matthew is unambiguous: "The first, Simon who is called Peter." (Mt X, 2-4).
First in what? In age, in order of vocation? Neither one, nor the other.
Were the first hypothesis correct, the order of the others would always be the same, were the second one, Andrew and another disciple would be first in the lists (Jo I, 35-42).
In exceptional occasions during Christ's life, three apostles always followed Him: Peter and other two. On Jairus' daughter resurrection, in the manifestation of His almightiness, in the agony in the mount of Olives, in the mystery of his pains, they were present (Mk V,37; IX, 1; XIV, 33 and other parallels).
Sometimes, all the Apostolic College follows Peter in a collective expression: "And Simon and they that were with him" (Mk I, 36).
We also read in St. John's Gospel that is Peter who responds for all in the issue of the explanation of Christ on the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (therefore, the true presence of Christ in the host), an occasion in which some disciples have abandoned the Master.
After Peter pronounces himself, no one abandons Christ anymore.
The great promise
One of the reasons of the great resistance towards Peter's primacy is the fact of his having never executed any authority among the Apostles even after Christ's words that would have given him this authority.
What the enemies of papacy do not understand is that Christ has made a promise to Peter, and not an immediate nomination. It would make no sense if Christ were to designate Peter to guide the souls while He was in the world.
If the Apostles and the Disciples were arguing on who would be the first, or the greatest, in the kingdom, it was because they knew little about what Our Lord taught them, for they were rough souls, and not due to any doubt about the primacy.
This issue was already defined.
In order to understand, let us see the following fact: what truth would be clearer to Christ's disciples other than the transcendental nature of His kingdom? Our Lord continuously told them that His kingdom was not of this world. Nevertheless a little before the Ascension into Heaven, a disciple asks whether Christ was going to re-establish the kingdom of Israel at that moment (Acts I, 7)!
James' and John's mother demands a good place for them in the kingdom (Mt. XX, 21); when the disciples were arguing to see who was the greatest, Christ censured them saying that "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that have power over them are called beneficent. But you not so: but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger: and he that is the leader, as he that serveth." (Lk XXII, 25-27).
With this Christ teaches a new, more perfect, form of executing authority, and He does not intend to fight the primacy of the one who commands, since he applies the rule of humility to himself; in another passage (Jo XIII, 13), the very same Christ calls himself Master and Lord; he who is master, thus, be the example and practice humbleness, but not in order to stop being a master.
The "Thou art Peter"
If all these episodes help us recompose the picture of Peter's predilection, the passage of the great promise is the solemn moment of confirmation of this unique vocation. Christ turns himself towards Peter, after his wonderful profession of faith ("Whom do men say that the Son of man is? (...) But whom do you say that I am?" "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God"), and confirms His promise: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath 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 upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." (Mt XVI, 16-19).
There has never been a more deformed, jagged and redone text in the desperate quest to change its meaning, which is quite simple. For Protestants, Christ would be talking about two rocks. The first rock ("thou art rock") is not a rock; at most, a lesser rock, different from the second one ("upon this rock"). The first one is Peter, the second one, Christ, or the confession of Peter, according to the examiner.
However, the text is fully aimed at Peter - "thou art Peter"; "I will give to thee the keys..."; "whatsoever thou shalt bind"; - in reply to his confession, as a prize for his public defense of faith. The text does not bring any logical interruption when it starts referring to Our Lord. Were it to be this way, the sentence would make no sense: "Thou art Peter, but I won't build my Church upon thee, but upon me, the keys of heaven, however, I shall give them to thee."
It is impossible to admit that the Divine Wisdom would have expressed itself in such a confuse way, even more if we remember the change of Peter's name. Let us also recall that Christ spoke in Aramaic, a language in which Peter and rock both mean Cephas. There is no room left for doubts.
But Protestants will still say that in many passages it says that Christ is the rock, the foundation! There is no doubt of that. But is only Christ the rock? Let us see what Our Lord says: "I am the light of the world" (Jo VIII, 12) and later on: "You are the light of the world", directing himself towards the apostles (Mt V, 14).
Two lights? Yes. There are, therefore, light and light, rock and rock. One source light, the other a reflex light; an invisible foundation rock, cause and end of men, another visible foundation rock, a supporting rock of the indefectible and infallible guide of men, the Church.
But it is not necessary to extend any further the explanation of such an evident thing, so evident that even some more honest Protestants have already recognized. We will reproduce only one quote made by father Franca - P. F. Jalaguier, in his L'Eglise, Paris 1899, p. 219: “Nous nous plaçons encore ici sur le terrain qui leur est le plus favorable (to the catholics) parce qui’ll est à nos yeux le seul vrai; et nous admettons que ce passage renferme une promesse spéciale fait à Saint Pierre” [“We put ourselves in a terrain that is more favorable to them (the Catholics) because it is, to our eyes, the only true one; and we admit that this passage contains a special promise made to Peter"].
The keys of the kingdom of heaven
The bestowing of the keys indicates the authority of opening or closing the entrance to a house, city or kingdom granted to someone, being a custom among the oriental to hold the keys over the shoulders as a sign of authority.
There is no doubt that Christ grants Peter a unique power, that has always been understood by the Church as an infallible power (what is bound on earth, shall be bound on heaven) and subject to the divine will (the pope does not pressure God to bind and unbind, but he can only bind or unbind what God wants in heaven), and that was ratified in the Vatican Council, during the 19th century, with the solemn proclamation of the Papal Infallibility dogma.
Protestants frequently attack this dogma for they depreciate these two truths - the conditioned binding and unbiding, and the ratification (and not an invention) of the dogma.
Actually Christ could not have acted in a different way, were he to wish his Church to triumph during the centuries, in a way other than granting to the universal shepherd, His representative on Earth, an infallible power.
Were this power to be fallible, how to expect it not to perish?
It is exactly what happens to the sects derived from Luther's reforming movement, arising and disappearing endlessly.
The "Pasce oves mea"
As if all this were not enough, we still have the great passage in which Christ grants his herd to Peter giving him, therefore, his power of jurisdiction over the Christians.
To Peter, and no one else, is entrusted the pastorate of the lambs and sheeps, to what Our Lord asks three times Peter's confirmation, and three times he confirms: "Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep." (Jo XXI, 15-17)
Yet Christ did not own any lambs nor sheeps. What He entrusts Peter is His herd of souls, making him their shepherd.
We have here once again Shepherd and shepherd, for Our Lord is the good shepherd. Some people try to reduce this episode to a mere reconciliation between the Apostle and Christ, after the thrice denial of Peter in Anas' and Caiaphas' house, before Christ's Crucifixion. Nonetheless they forget that after the Resurrection, it is to Peter to whom Christ shows Himself first (Lk XXIV, 34), showing that the treason did not make Peter lose his primacy: Christ still continues to considerate Peter as the first one.
Christ, doubtlessly, made Peter comprehend the horror of the sin and the danger of not escaping the occasion of sin. The Gospel tells us that Peter cried bitterly. In fact what great pain must the Apostle have experienced when falling to a sin exactly opposed to the virtue we see most present on him: the public defense of the truth, the challenging of the human respect. By the way, this virtue will be practiced by him heroically since then, and he will give his life for the expansion of the Church.
Uniquely relating to Peter, therefore, we see the meaningful changing of name, the ever-witnessed primacy among the Apostles, the payment of the tribute, the exclusive use of his house in Capharnaum and of his boat, the solemn promise of his being the foundation of the Church, the delivery of the keys of heaven, the nomination for the pastorate of the faithful.
And there are still those who see no difference among the twelve apostles!
To these, there is still the hope of Christ's promise, according to which He could make sons of Abraham out of the rocks. In order to make this happen, however, they will have to accept that Christ turned a son of Abraham into Rock.
Saint Peter, after Christ's Ascension, will take charge of his universal shepherd duty, leading the Church that was being born. After his death, he will be substituted along the centuries by his legitimate successors, the Popes, until the end of times, under the infallible assistance of Christ.
With which we will deal in a future article.