For the past 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been carrying out the Mission given to it by Her Founder Jesus Christ to:
"Make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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 all days, even unto the consummation of the world."
The pages of the New Testament witness to the authority of the Apostles in the governance of the Church which would spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Those same pages as well as all the early Christian writings of the Fathers of the Church testify to the existence of the Church as a concrete visible body of believers in Christ made up of faithful under the rule of Peter and his fellow Apostles. The History of that same Church manifests belief in the person of its Bishops succeeding to the place of the Apostles as rulers of the Church. By the year 200 A.D. the Apostles' Creed refers to belief in "The Holy Catholic Church" which was clearly ruled by its Bishops.
Only twice did Christ Himself use the word "Church" (in Matt. 16:18 and Matt. 17:18) – that Church which was to be a part of Himself, and for which He was to shed His Precious Blood. The first of these occasions was when His Chief Apostle gave that remarkable testimony to the divinity of his Lord which was the result of a special revelation from God the Father. In answer to his confession of faith, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God", Our Lord replied:
"Thou art Rock, and upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever thou shall bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever thou shall loose upon earth, will be loosed in Heaven"
This power of binding and loosing (i.e., the power to make laws for the community of the faithful) was also given later to the Apostles in general (Matt. 18:18), but significantly the Keys (as the symbol of supreme authority) remained in the hands of the leader of the Apostles who received them singly as the head of the Apostolic College. The same Peter (the Rock-man) was also singly chosen by Christ to be the "Confirmer" of his brethren (Luke 22:32), i.e., "as the one whose own faith would never fail" in all the afflictions that would befall the Church. These promises involving a special role for Peter in the Church were seen to be actually conferred on St. Peter by Our Lord Himself after His Resurrection, as related by St. John (21:15-17).
Speaking to the Rock-man alone, Christ conferred upon him the awesome charge to feed all His lambs and sheep. All the imagery found in the Petrine texts, noted above, mark the granting of a supreme headship and authority to the Prince of the Apostles over his fellow Apostles and over the entire flock committed to him (a supreme authority that would be manifested historically as a "universal jurisdiction" over all the members of the "ONE AND ONLY CHURCH" founded by Christ). As the acknowledged head of the Apostles, Peter served as the Church's visible center of unity.
The tremendous import of the "Primatial Office" of Peter in the Church is rendered unintelligible if not grasped as a "Perpetual Office" intended to last as long as the Church itself – and an Office specifically designated by Christ to safeguard and preserve the Visible Unity of His Church throughout the ages. The establishment of His Church's external visible unity as well as His Church's inner unity of faith was the fruit of Christ's High Priestly Prayer to His heavenly Father that all His followers be "ONE" that "THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT THOU HAST SENT ME" (See all of John 17).
The Primacy of Peter with its special prerogatives and privileges exercised today by the Roman Pontiff as the Successor of Peter in his Chair of Unity is thus an essential element of both the visible unity of the Church and its visible Catholicity. There is, of course, no use disputing with anyone about whether Christ instituted a Primacy of divine authority among His Apostles and "a Primacy" to be perpetuated in His Church, if that person doesn't understand that the Church described in the New Testament is a visible Church ruled by visible rulers, that is by Bishops succeeding to the place of the Apostles.
An invisible Church of the elect, the predestined, or the saved is NO Church at all, since it is impossible to identify its members! All those Christians, however, who do believe that the Episcopacy of the Church continues the Apostolic Mission of the original Apostolic College, must acknowledge the illogicality of rejecting the communion of the one Bishop, the Bishop of Rome, who is the heir of:
- the one Apostle chosen by Christ to be the Rock-foundation,
- Holder of the Keys of the Kingdom,
- Confirmer of the brethren,
- and Chief Pastor of the entire flock,
thereby bearing responsibility for assuring the visible unity of the Church. Just as the other Apostles who were also foundation-stones of the Church (see Apoc. 21:14 and Eph. 2:20) cannot be separated from the Rock-foundation on which they were set, so Bishops who would be legitimate successors of the Apostles have their Rock-foundation in the Successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff. In other words, Bishops cannot do without full communion with the visible head of the Church, the Successor of Peter who exercises a Primacy instituted by Christ Himself.
- JESUS ALWAYS REMAINS:
- "the Chief-Cornerstone in Whom all the building of the Church, being framed together, grows up into a Holy Temple in the Lord." (Eph. 2:20-21)
- JESUS ALWAYS REMAINS:
- the Invisible Head of the Church from Whom all life-giving grace proceeds.
However, His one Church is not only His Mystical Body in this world but also a concrete visible society and an identifiable historical institution always imperiled by heresy, factions, and divisions. If the Gates of Hell are not to prevail against the Church built on a Rock (and that Rock the person of Peter, not merely his faith), Christ's authoritative headship of the Church must be reflected in the hierarchical order of the Church itself. The history of the Catholic Church from its very beginnings shows the Bishop of Rome as possessing a Primacy of divine authority as the Successor of Peter, serving his brethren in the Episcopate as the visible head of the Church Militant, and being the center of unity for all the local churches (East and West) making up the Catholic Communion.
It is ironic that it was Martin Luther who, before his own defection from Catholic unity, wrote eloquently concerning the Petrine Primacy in the Church:
"If Christ had not entrusted all power to one man, the Church would not have been perfect because there would have been no order and each one would have been able to say [that] he was led by the Holy Spirit. This is what the heretics did, each one setting up his own principle. In this way as many Churches arose as there were heads. Christ therefore wills, in order that all may be assembled in one unity, that His power be exercised by one man to whom He Himself commits it. He has, however, made this power so strong that he looses all the powers of Hell (without injury) against it. He says: 'the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it', as though He said: 'they will fight against it but never overcome it', so it is in this way it is made manifest that this power is in reality from God and not from man. Wherefore, whoever breaks away from this unity and order of the power, let him not boast of great enlightenment and wonderful works, as our Picards and other heretics do, 'for much better is obedience than to be the victims of fools who know not what evil they do.' (Eccles. Iv.,17)."
(Sermo in Vincula S. Petri, "Werke" Weimar edition, I, 69)
Without the supreme, efficacious and decisive pastoral office of Peter,
the Unity of the Church would utterly collapse."
- Pope Paul VI, " Ecclesiam Suam ", August 6, 1964 -