The title of this chapter is an affectionate term for the person that Christ has put in charge of His Church on earth. He is the earthly “Head of the Church” while Christ is the Heavenly “Head of the Church”. This chapter is written to promote an understanding that Christ has ordained this person to lead His church on earth, to promote unity, and to build the body of Christ – His Church.
“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.” Matthew 16:18-19 [Also see Isaiah 22:22]
The Aramaic word kepa, meaning rock and transliterated into Greek as Kephas is the name by which Peter is called in the Pauline letters (1 Cor 1:12, 3:22, 9:5, 15:4, Galations 1:18, 2:9, 11:14)
Note that in Matthew 18:18 Jesus also gives the other disciples the power to bind and loose, but he does not confer on them the keys to the kingdom of heaven. This is probably drawn from Isaiah 22:15-22:
“…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 keys mentioned is a symbol of authority, and another reference to these keys of David is in Revelation 3:7:
“…The holy one, the true,
who holds the key of David,
who opens and no one shall close,
who closes and no one shall open…”
So there is a biblical background to infallibility. Before delve deeper, lets look at what infallibility is.
“Freedom from error in teaching the universal Church in matters of faith or morals. As defined by the First Vatican Council, “The Roman Pontiff [the Pope], when he speaks ex cathedra – that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and therefore such definitions are irreformable of themselves, and not in virtue of consent of the Church” (Denzinger 3074)
The bearer of the infallibility is every lawful Pope as successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. But the Pope alone is infallible, not others to whom he delegates a part of his teaching authority, for example, the Roman congregations.
The object of his infallibility is his teaching of faith and morals. This means especially revealed doctrine like the Incarnation [The union of the divine nature of the Son of God with human nature in the person of Jesus Christ]. But it also includes any nonrevealed teaching that is in any way connected with revelation.
The condition of the infallibility is that the Pope speaks ex cathedra. For this is required that: 1. he have the intention of declaring something unchangeably true; and 2. he speak as shepherd and teacher of all the faithful with the full weight of his apostolic authority, and not merely as a private theologian or even merely for the people of Rome or some particular segment of the Church of God.
The source of infallibility is the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spririt, who protects the supreme teacher of the Church from error and therefore from misleading the people of God.”
“Yeah, so can Popes sin?”
Yes, they can, they are human too. The Gospels also present the weak human side of Peter so it shouldn’t surprise us to learn of the weaknesses of Peter’s successors, such as five or six popes throughout history whose personal lives left much to be desired. In Mark 8:33, 9:5-6 and John 13:6-11, Peter is a weak and sinful man who misunderstands Jesus, who denies Him, yet afterwards repents (John 21:15-17) and confrims his brothers and sisters in the faith (Luke 22:32).
The present pope, Pope John Paul II, goes to Confession every day. If we really stop and think we would see that we all sin several times each day. But, the Pope has been protected from sin in the area of faith and morals when pronouncing ex cathedra, as mentioned above.
A fascinating example happened – Pope Vigilius 537-55 [ask Kevin Bennet for exact details over the phone]
[James became bishop of Jerusalem,]
Thomas – India who else.
Irenaeus of Lyons, at about the year 180, identified Peter and Paul as the founders of the Church at Rome. This historical record underlines the unique authority of the Church of Rome, “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.”
In 252, Cyprian of Carthage drew attention to Rome’s position among the local churches when he referred to Rome as “… the throne of Peter… the chief church whence priestly unity has arisen”.
In the early Christian community of Jerusalem among the twelve Peter predominates. The Acts of the Apostles presents him as their spokesman. Galation 1:11-19 gives testimony to Peter’s importance. St Paul gives evidence of his special recognition of Peter’s authority. After recognition that there “were appointed Apostles before me “ he said he retired into Arabia, and again returned to Damascus, “Then after three years I went to Jerusalem to see Peter…”
The most powerful expression of the Pope’s role was made by Leo the Great (440-461 AD), who said that Peter continued to preside over the whole Church through the Bishop of Rome. His intervention and decisive authority is seen in the great Christological controversy of the fifth century during which he declared null and void the decisions of a false council. His famous “tome” to Flavian of Constantinople became the basis for the Christological confession of the Council of Chalcedon (451) and was acclaimed by the bishops at the council by saying: “Peter has spoken through Leo.”
Did the apostles’ appointment of successors?
77 In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them “their own position of teaching authority.” Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”36
78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”37 “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”38
How can apostolic succession be a bond of the Church’s unity?
815 What are these bonds of unity? Above all, charity “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”265 But the unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by visible bonds of communion:
- profession of one faith received from the Apostles;
- common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments;
- apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.266
How can apostolic succession be a sign of the Church’s catholicity?
2683 The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or in keeping with the whole.” The Church is catholic in a double sense:
First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.”307 St Ignatius of Antioch. In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him “the fullness of the means of salvation”308 which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. The Church was in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost309 and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.
2684 Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race:310
All men [mankind] are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one… The character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit.311
There is apostolic succession of popes. Is their apostolic succession for bishops and priests. Isn’t apostolic succession, the handing on of authority/power (binding and loosing as mentioned in the Bible) where the bishops and priests have the God given authority to minister the sacraments?
Jesus, in building His Church, established a college of bishops and gave the primacy to Peter. All bishops of the world share in the teaching, governing and sanctifying powers Jesus gave to His Church. The college of bishops, as successors to the Apostles, is spoken of as the episcopal order. The bishop’s share authority with Peter’s successor.
Vatican II states, “It is definite, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter (Matt 16:19) was granted also to the college of Apostles, joined with their head (Matt 18:18; 28:16-20).”
833 The phrase the “particular church,” which is the diocese (or eparchy), refers to a community of the Christian faithful in communion of faith and sacraments with their bishop ordained in apostolic succession.313 These particular Churches “are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists.”314
834 Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome “which presides in charity.”315 “For with this Church, by reason of its pre-eminence, the whole Church, that is the faithful everywhere, must necessarily be in accord.”316 Indeed, “from the incarnate Word’s descent to us, all Christian Churches everywhere have held and hold the great Church that is here [at Rome] to be their only basis and foundation since, according to the Saviour’s promise, the gates of hell have never prevailed against her.”317
1087 Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying:10 they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This “apostolic succession” structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.
significance for the liturgy: 1087
see also Apostles
Is authority necessary for human community?
1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it. The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of society.
1989 The authority required by the moral order derives from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.
1990 The duty of obedience requires all to give due honour to authority and to treat those who are charged with to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is derserved, with gratitude and good-will.
Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church’s most ancient prayer for political authorities. “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honour, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favour with you.”19
How can authority be a role of service?
2235 Those who exercise should do so as a service. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”41 The exercise of authority is measured morally in terms of its divine origin, its reasonable nature and its specific object. No one can command or establish what is contrary to the dignity of persons and the natural law.
Church built on the foundation of the apostles:
857 The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:
- she was and remains built on “the foundation of the Apostles,”
the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;
- with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the good deposit,” the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;
she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor”:
You are the eternal Shepherd
who never leaves his flock untended.
Through the apostles
you watch over us and protect us always.
You made them shepherds of the flock
to share in the work of your Son…367
860 In the office of the apostles there is one aspect that cannot be transmitted: to be chosen witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection and so the foundation stones of the Church. But their office also has a permanent aspect. Christ promised to remain with them always. The divine mission entrusted by Jesus to them “will continue to the end of time, since the Gospel they handed on is the lasting source of all life for the Church. Therefore, … the apostles took care to appoint successors.”
861 In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.” 374
Power of the keys [also see Isaiah 22:22]:
981 After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles “so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.” 524 The apostles and their successors carry out this “ministry of reconciliation,” not only by announcing to men God’s forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ.525
[The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit’s action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us.526
3 Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer.6
This is a bit hard to grasp. Can you answer in English, why you think the Catholic Church is on track?
Yes I will try. Jesus gave numerous references to protecting his disciples from Satan. Jesus said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against my Church.” We can see that Satan is quite active in the world, and yet Jesus did something so that His Church could be protected from being full of heresy. He gave the Church authority to teach in relation to faith and morals. This authority would protect His Church from teaching error in relation to faith and morals. Why would he protect us from these two areas? Because He knew this would be the foundation of the faith of the Church - faith in relation to Jesus and morals in relation to what Jesus wanted to protect.
Let’s stop, take a deep breath, and ponder that awesome fact. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would always be with His disciples. Are we going to call God a liar? Did God lie when he said “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”? Did God lie when he said, “I will be with you always, until the end of time? Did God lie when he said, “Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) Why did Jesus say this to his Disciples, the future leaders of His Church? Did Jesus leave His Church at any time of history and then come back at the reformation? (The reformation will be covered more in depth during my next book). No because if Jesus did, then saying “I will be with you always” would not be true. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been with the Church since Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus knows that Satan can be a very deviously slimy worm, and that He would need to protect his church so that Satan would not be able to conquer it.
The next sentence of Jesus is enlightening, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Jesus is showing us the vital importance of prayer – the power of prayer, that when we ask others to help pray with us (not just for us) and agree then that prayer will be granted. That granting could still be yes, no or wait. Jesus is also promising to be with us when we gather together. Jesus instigated a Church that would gather together, he didn’t instigate a solo-Christianity.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love my brothers and sisters in Christ who have been baptised in other Churches, and I love my brothers and sisters in God who believe in One God only (for instance Judaism, Buddhism). I rejoice too when someone else abandons their life, more fully to God through these Religions. However, Jesus promised this protection to the Church he set up – yes, the Catholic Church. Therefore, in relation to faith and morals, the Church can not teach contrary to Jesus. This doesn’t mean individuals can’t teach absolute heresy. It means the Magesterium extraordinary of the Catholic Church can not teach heresy. Yes, it is a big word, but Magesterium extraordinary simply means the teaching authority Jesus has given to the pope and the successors of the Apostles – bishops and the authority they have passed to priests.
This authority passed on encompasses the teaching authority and the authority to minister the seven sacraments, also instigated by Christ. That is why no one else can, for example, consecrate the Eucharist, hear Reconciliation, etc.
Anyone who is responsible for others, and knows they are about to die will try to get off their chest what their ‘disciples’ or friends really ought to learn. Just before Jesus was about to be betrayed he said something incredible. He not only instigated the sacrament of the Eucharist, but he prayed:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are…Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.” John 17:11, 17-19
Jesus was desperate and His biggest need was to pray for unity. He knew that His Church needed unity and therefore it isn’t illogical that Jesus would bestow on his Church a special authority.
But Jesus doesn’t stop with just praying for His disciples. He continues, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me…” John 17:20-23
Jesus was praying for us – you and me. We are the ones who have believed in Jesus through the word of the Disciples, and the Church, whom Jesus was referring to; the logical sequence, being the Disciples and then the successors of the Disciples.
One of the first things recorded in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus did after he rose from the dead was he commissioned His Disciples to GO and spread the Good News.
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20.
Christ’s Church in-fact exists in every country. The disciples could not go into the whole world. They didn’t know where New Zealand or America was – obviously they didn’t even exist under those names. Jesus was commissioning the leaders of His church – the Catholic Church to spread the good news, to baptise people and to teach them. Catholic means universal. It is the universal Church – the Church instigated by Jesus. Jesus will be with his Church until the end of the age.
List of Popes
1. Saint Peter d.67
2. Saint Linus, 67-76
3. Saint Anacletus I, 76-88
4. Saint Clement I, 88-97
5. Saint Evaristus, 97-105
6. Saint Alexander I, 105-115
7. Saint Sixtus I, 115-125
8. Saint Telesphorus, 125-36
9. Saint Hyginus, 136-40
10. Saint Pius I, 140-55
11. Saint Anicetus, 155-66
12. Saint Soter, 166-75
13. Saint Eleuterius, 175-89
14. Saint Victor I, 189-99
15. Saint Zephyrinus, 199-217
16. Saint Callistus I, 217-22
17. Saint Urban I, 222-30
18. Saint Pontian, 230-35
19. Saint Anterus, 235-36
20. Saint Fabian, 236-50
21. Saint Cornelius, 251-33
22. Saint Lucius I, 253-54