The Papacy, part 1

I’m not sure if there’s a prize for the slowest blog, but if there is, I might just win!  In truth, I think quite often of this blog and struggle with how to write it.  I’ve worked for some time on an article about Peter and the papacy, but I just deleted the whole thing.  It’s not easy to try to condense something so profound into a simple blog.  In addition, I know of much better sources to explain it all.  However, I realize that few people will necessarily pick and read those sources simply because it’s not a drive in their lives like it was in mine.  So, I’m going to try to do a small series of articles on the papacy.  The papacy became for me the pivotal point of my spiritual journey.

As you may recall from my earlier posts, my journey began with the question, “What does God expect of me as a woman?”  That quest led me through many books, tapes, discussions, and internal struggles.  Then came the pivotal moment in the Sunday School class when I began to wonder where my professors and their professors and their professors, etc. had gotten their understanding of Scripture when some things are not explicitly taught in the Bible.  It took a long time, but it was in finally studying the papacy that I understood what I was searching for:  Authority.

Remember when the people were amazed at Jesus because He taught with such authority and not as the scribes and teachers of the Law?  The scribes and teachers of the Law gave their views and interpretations of the Law and the Prophets, but there were different schools of thought.  Jesus came along and said, in a sense, “This is what is meant,” rather than, “I believe it means this.”  And however He said it, the people believed Him and followed Him in crowds.  (Big enough crowds to make the scribes and teachers of the Law very jealous.)  The people were hungry for certainty.  Scholars may enjoy debating points back and forth, but the common man-on-the-street just wants to know the truth he needs to follow so he can get on with it because he’s got a living to earn.  Debate is for those who have the time.  I felt very much like that.  After studying and debating for a couple of years, I, too, just wanted to know the truth so I could get on with it.  But I had to know it was the truth.  I’m not the type of person who can simply say, “Good enough” when it comes to matters of religion.  After all, we are talking about our eternal destiny.

The question is, then, did Jesus leave anyone in authority?  The simple answer is, “Yes.”  He left Peter that responsibility.  The other Apostles were also given authority as well as the responsiblity to pass on that authority to other men through the laying on of  their hands (called “apostolic succession”).  In this way, their authority to govern His church would be passed down through time until His return.  How do we know this?  Scripture teaches it as well as the Early Church Fathers, those men who were the disciples of the Disciples.  There are those who believe that Jesus gave every individual the freedom to interpret His commands on their own, but there isn’t anything to back up that belief from the Early Church.  That idea was completely foreign to the first Christians, as evidenced by their writings and early practice.

There are a couple of key Scriptures that help here.  The first is rather well-known, Matthew 16:13-20, when Jesus asks the disciples who men say He is and Simon responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus says that His Father in heaven has revealed this to him and then says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Although that may sound like a strange conversation to the average American it was powerful for the disciples.  They knew exactly what Jesus was referring to, or, I should say, whom.

His name was Shebna and he was in trouble with God.  His story is told in Isaiah 22:15ff.  Shebna was the steward of Jerusalem and he had proven himself untrustworthy.  Isaiah was sent to tell him that he was going to be hurled away by God and made the shame of his master’s house.  In his place God would put Eliakim and this is what he would receive:

“and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your belt on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”

The key here is very significant because it is the key to the main gate of the city.  It symbolizes that Eliakim will have the authority to decide who stays and who goes–that’s the opening and shutting part.  If Eliakim said someone wasn’t permitted in the city, he was not permitted.  And woe to him if he tried to enter!  Essentially, Eliakim was the Prime Minister, ruling on behalf of the king in his absence.  The implications for Peter and the other disciples is pretty obvious–Peter was being appointed Prime Minister of Christ’s Church with all the authority to bind and loose, open and shut.

The other significant issue is that Jesus had just re-named Simon as “Peter.”  Although there are some people who still cling to the false notion that Jesus was giving Peter a name meaning “pebble,” most scholars of integrity today have understood two things, 1) Jesus originally spoke in Aramaic, giving the name Kepha, which means “rock.”  (Since they were in Caesarea Philippi at the time, home to one of the largest “rocks” around, it must’ve been a pretty impressive object lesson!)  Peter was to be the rock upon which the wise man built his house; 2) Jesus was speaking to Peter, about the man himself, and not referring to his faith.  Nowhere in these verses are we given any indication that Jesus was talking about Peter’s faith.  The only way to come up with that interpretation is due to a refusal to accept the plain meaning:  Jesus had just made Peter head of His Church and given him the authority to decide who is, and isn’t, allowed into the Kingdom.

Now, if that last statement has your head screaming, “No way!” then I should remind you who said it:  Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  If you want to argue, argue with Him.  It’s His kingdom (not democracy) and He runs it the way He wants it run. He said, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Although we as humans may think it preposterous to give man such power, God apparently does not.  In fact, if you read through the Bible, you’ll notice He does that a lot.  He even left the mission of telling the entire world about the Gospel to a few insignificant followers in Jerusalem.  Jesus never does do things the way we think He should do them.

And, just for the record, it’s working!  At least it has for 2000 years, thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit.  Because, in all honesty, with all the centuries of good popes, weak popes, a few bad ones, attacks by heresies, scandals, and the like, the fact that the Catholic Church has survived for 2000 years is only possible because of the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit would lead the Disciples into all truth and that the gates of Hades wouldn’t be able stand against the Church.

In my next post, I’ll explain what is included in that authority–and what isn’t.

(If you want the most thorough treatment of this subject, I suggest getting a copy of Steve Ray’s, Upon This Rock, published by Ignatius Press.  He has everything documented, footnoted, appended, etc.)

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2 thoughts on “The Papacy, part 1

  1. Tracy, I love reading your blog. It is always well written, and your great sense of humor shines through. But, most importantly, I’m being educated. Thanks for helping me to understand the Catholic perspective on some things. Even though I don’t always agree with your understanding, I know you have done much study to come to your conclusions, and so your comments have a lot of credibility for me. Thanks, my friend! Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Sheila, Thanks for reading it! My hope is that family and friends will understand better, even if they don’t agree. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” I have found that to be very true and I am grateful for those who will sincerely listen. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family as well! :-)

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