Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Catholicity and the holy Apostles...

For those of you who follow the Gregorian Kalendar I wish you all a happy feast of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The Collect for the Vigil of this feast is interesting from a doctrinal perspective. See what you think:

Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut nullis nos permittas perturbationibus concuti, quos in apostolicae confessionis petra solidasti. Per Dominum.

Right. So the ''rock'' (petra) is actually the confession of the holy Apostles and not St Peter himself as though the man possessed some Christ-given special personal charism which distinguished him from the other Apostles, as the Petrine office (continued perpetually in the Church uniquely by the bishops of Rome) distinguishes the bishop of Rome from the other bishops of the Church? The propers for the Vigil of Sts Peter and Paul are very old, and clearly pre-date the Ultramontane exegesis of St Matthew 16:18. Is this another one of those unfortunate examples of a very old inversion of the Lex Orandi, that supreme governing principle to which the bishops of Rome do not set very high store by as axiomatic and self-evident?

''Petra'' (the Greek for ''rock'') and ''Petros'' (the same word turned into a masculine proper name) both translate the masculine Aramaic word for rock, namely Kepha, or Cephas in a Greek form. If early commentators (and indeed the composer of this superb collect - it is not inconceiveable to have been a bishop of Rome!) often took the reference of St Matthew 16:18 to be to St Peter’s faith, it was simply because the notion that the verse bestows unique authority on St Peter didn't occur to them (why would it?). St Cyprian of Carthage took the verse to refer to the authority possessed in each see by the bishop of that see. If as Catholics we are, like St Cyprian, to believe that the verse refers to all the bishops of the Church and not just to St Peter, is this not more meaningfully ''catholic'' than to simply confess communion with one bishop, the bishop of the city and diocese of Rome, to be the be all and end all of salvation, because he has the keys of the Kingdom? The very term ''Roman Catholic'' is self-contradictory in the light of orthodoxy and Tradition. How can you be catholic, and yet have your catholicity dispensed for you by a bishop with trumped up claims living in a corner of the world? Does the amount of ''catholicity'' allocated to you depend upon how Ultramontane you are? How ready you are to pucker up and kiss the holy father's...toe? The Collect for this Vigil is expressive of a doctrine far older than the Papacy.


  1. Exactly our Eastern Orthodox unnderstanding. Good work, Patrick. +Jonah

  2. Patricius, you do realize that the reference to the rock need not be an either-or? It could very well refer to both Peter and his faith. Ancient authorities testify to both interpretations.

  3. Vereor, Patrici optime, ne perperam hanc περικοπὴν perlegeris. Petra ista Petrus ipse est. Confessio apostolica est: σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος.

    Nonne nos oportet semper sentire cum Ecclesia non adversus? Ecclesia est tua Mater, Patrici, haud tua concubina. Dilige Eam filius pius.

  4. Jack O'Malley,

    Quo scribis Ecclesiam esse Mater mea, consentio. Verumtamen de nihilo magis quam de auctoritate Papae dissentimus...

  5. As Fr Tim points out the Greek is quite clear "thou art Peter". It seems incongruous to go on to suggest that the "petra" of the very next clause of the Lord's sentence, should refer back to Peter's confession rather than to Peter himself. The fact also remains that in Scripture there is a clear "Petrine principle" quite apart from this passage in Matthew. There are tens of examples in both the synoptics and John where Peter clearly enjoys a certain pre-eminence among the Apostles. This was obviously carried on into the ancient Church.

    The question is only whether all that means the claims of the modern Papacy are the true expression of the principle found in the Tradition. Antioch as everyone knows was also founded by Peter but never enjoyed the pre-eminence of Rome. There is more to Roman primacy than the Petrine claims (I'm sure everyone reading here is familiar) but suffice to say there is a reason it is St Peter and St Paul, after all.


  6. I'm sorry but this post is rubbish of the highest order. The words of Scripture here are as plain in their meaning as the nose on your face. It's as obvious what this means as "hoc est enim corpus meum" is.

    Mt 16:18 is abundantly clear in either language as referring to Peter himself as the Rock on which Christ will build his church.

    Fr Hunwicke has run a fascinating series of articles on the councils of the pre-Schism Churh, in which he implies that it is the affirmation of the Roman Pontiff which is the essential element. I would suggest this as an area of further research, as I would be fascinated to know your take on this.

    And of course, it is now somewhat overlooked, but the Holy See does not derive its authority from Peter alone, but from being the place of martyrdom of Peter and Paul. It may well be the place from which St Mark the Evangelist went (and wrote), and thus be the Mother Church of the venerable Church of Alexandria.

  7. The primacy of Peter among the apostles has never been disputed; it's how you get from there to the Bishop of Rome enjoying personal infallibility and monarchical jurisdiction over every other Christian, including all the other bishops. I recommend The Primacy of Peter, edited by Fr John Meyendorff and published by St Vladimir's Seminary Press (available Amazon) as a useful corrective to a number of misconstructions, Catholic and Orthodox. The difficulty for all of us is to clear the ground of prior perspectives, attachments and agendas in order to let the historical record and the patristic account speak for itself; but no reasonable person will in any case deny that the model of the Papacy adumbrated in Unam Sanctam and defined by Vatican I is a "development" of the Roman primacy as universally acknowledged in the early centuries. Is it a different animal entirely though? If so, it's a ruinous corruption.

  8. Anagnostis, thank you for the reading suggestions, and the measured contribution. I can find nothing to disagree with in your assessment of the question of Papal Primacy.

    Indeed, I would simply add one question: What, when discussing the Primacy of the Pope in the Catholic communion, is the delineation between his authority over the Latin Church and his authority over the Eastern Catholic Churches? Or, to put it differently, when is the Pope Patriarch of the Latin Rite, and when is he Successor to Peter? I think if we can clarify this 'question of hats', the ecumenical situation might be at least rather... well, clearer.

  9. Evagrius

    I'm naturally reluctant to comment on the anomalous situation of the Eastern Catholic churches, other than to note its anomalousness!

    From an Orthodox perspective, it's the nature of the claim of "Succession to St Peter" itself which is at issue, rather than merely its extent: in other words, was Roman primacy "analogically" or "ontologically" "Petrine"? Early Byzantine responses to developing Roman claims are often confused, indicating a profound lack of awareness of what the West was incubating - one well known example being the invention of a "counter-claim" of succession from Andrew, the "first-called".

    In a nutshell:
    - What, exactly, did Peter receive from the Lord?
    - Did it pass uniquely to his "successor"?
    - Does he actually have a "successor" in any personally exclusive, ontologically unique sense?

    The Orthodox response to the first and second questions would be considerably at variance with the Roman; to the third, it would be a straightforward "no".

  10. I commend Anagnostis for his erudite exposition. The three questions he poses accord with a method I once presented to examine the papal claims. For the institution of the Roman papacy—as we now have it—to be true, then there must be an unbroken chain of proof; if that which has been posited in any one ‘link’ of this chain can be shewn to be false, then the claims are disproved.

    Firstly, did Christ endow the Apostle Peter with some special charism that distinguished him from his fellow Apostles?

    If so, did Christ intend this special status to be passed-on to specific ‘successors’ of the Apostle Peter?

    If so, how does one determine who those successors might be? The Apostle Peter founded the Church in Antioch; does that mean that the bishops of Antioch have inherited this privileged position?

    Although there be a long-standing tradition that the Apostle Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome, any ministry of his in that city remains unrecorded; the Church in Rome was chiefly founded by the Apostle Paul, whose labours there are well-attested. Even until as late as 1967—well within living memory, and in my own lifetime—, the Roman liturgical books stipulated that the Apostle Paul should be commemorated on every occasion that the Apostle Peter might be commemorated, and vice-versa.

    If one grant that the Bishop of Rome be a successor of the Apostle Peter who has inherited some status that somehow sets him above his fellow bishops, how does that entitle him to claim jurisdiction over the whole Church?