When I was growing up, I believed that Matthew 16:18 said, “Thou art Peter, and on This Rock I will build my Catholic Church”. No kidding. The papacy was that closely identified with the Roman Catholic Church. And even in the mid 1990’s, when I had my kids in a Catholic school, they would bring home papers that said, in effect, that Jesus made Peter the first pope, and that there was an unbroken succession of popes going all the way back to Peter.
Now that historical research has pretty much undermined that little story, Roman Catholics are looking for new ways to sort-of “get around” some of the inconvenient facts. Here’s a very fine example, and an immediate correction from my friend Constantine:
|Paul Hoffer is caught by Constantine in a doctrinal prevarication|
The papacy is so clearly defined over the centuries that it simply cannot wriggle itself out so easily as Paul Hoffer would suggest. In fact, the papacy is founded on the notion that Papa=Petrus Ipse (the pope = Peter himself). What follows is the analysis by J. Michael Miller, in his doctoral dissertation, The Divine Right of the Papacy in Recent Ecumenical Theology (Universita Gregoriana Editrice, Roma 1980):
Protestant and Catholic theologians agree that Leo the Great (+464) drew together the threads of a theory on Roman primacy which had been in the process of formation for at least two centuries [emphasis added]. In his theological presentation, Leo taught the dominical institution [the direct institution by Christ] of the papacy in a way which had a great influence on subsequent tradition. His theory explaining the relationship between Christ and Peter, and between Peter and the pope, was at the basis of the classical Catholic understanding of Roman primacy iure divino [by divine right].
Leo based his theory of papal primacy ex institutione divina on the evidence of Scripture: Peter enjoyed a primacy within the apostolic college. Even before Leo’s appeal to the Petrine texts as a justification for Roman primacy, other ecclesiastical writers had already drawn attention to Peter’s leadership role among the apostles. [Miller’s note: “Although in the first two centuries the Petrine texts were not invoked to justify a preeminence of the bishop of Rome, at the same time there is no evidence that any pre-Nicene writer ever suggested that the religious position of Rome depended on its secular importance.” I will challenge this notion at a later time. Continuing with Miller: “Once reflection on the reason for Roman primacy began, the Petrine texts provided an explanation for it.” This is a clear example of what I’ve called The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic.]
Leo interpreted Mt 16:18-19 in such a way that it was Christ himself who gave to Peter personally, and to him alone [emphasis added], a primatial role in the primitive Church. From his reading of the Scriptures, Leo concluded that the Lord gave to Peter, without any human mediation, a real potestas [power] within the apostolic college. Peter’s authority was a sharing in the potestas of Christ. Because of this intimate societas between the Lord and Peter, the apostle’s judgments were considered to be identical with those of Christ.
A second constitutive element of Leo’s teaching on Roman primacy was his theory of the close relation between Peter and the pope. Although the idea of the Roman bishop as successor to Peter was known in the ecclesiastical tradition prior to Leo, such assertions were isolated and not based on rigorous argumentation [emphasis added]. Leo clarified his understanding of the link between the pope and St. Peter by using the legal concept of heredity. In the tradition of Roman law familiar to him, the haeres [heir] was acknowledged as having the same rights, authority and obligations as the one whom he replaced. Legally there was no difference between the heir and the deceased. Leo adapted this idea to the authority received by Peter from Christ: the plenitude potestatis which had been given to Peter was also given fully and immediately to each of his successors. As his haeres, the pope enjoyed the same office as Peter. He took Peter’s place in his absence.
Because he held the pope to be the vicarius Petri, Leo was able to bridge the gap between two fundamental ideas: the pope’s inheritance of Peter’s potestas and Peter’s continuing role in the Church. When the term vicarious was applied to the pope, it implied the identity and continuity of Peter’s office. The bishop of Rome was both successor and vicar of St. Peter. As such he receivd more than a delegationof power to substitute for Peter in his absence. The designation implied the active transcendent intervention of Peter who continued to hold a permanent office in the Church.
The mechanism by which this was supposed to have worked was a complete fabrication, by the way. Leo wanted to be in charge of everything, and he just had a feeling it had to be this way.
This more mystical identification of the person of the heir with the deceased is not found in Roman law. To the idea of juristic continuity Leo added sacramental continuity. From heaven Peter continues to exercise a function in the Church; he not only prays as patron, but also governs it through and with his haeres and vicarius, the bishop of Rome. In this sense Papa=Petrus ipse [Pope=Peter himself]. Leo founded the permanence of the primacy on the idea of Peter’s unfailing role in the government of the Church.
In Ep. 12 Leo expressed his conviction that the care of the universal Church belonged to him on the grounds of divine institution (ex institutione divina), a term which he used explicitly. He made the link between Peter and the pope. As successor to Peter he received from Christ all that Peter had. Referring specifically to papal primacy, Leo repeated this statement in a letter to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessalonica: the bishop of Rome owed his care for the universal Church to divine institution.
At the origin of Roman primacy was institution by Christ, known by the Church from the Gospels. Institutio divina implied more, however, than dominical foundation. The formula also indicated the permanence in the Church of what had been instituted by Christ. For justifying Roman primacy Leo relied on the consortium of Christ and Peter and his theory of Papa=Petrus ipse; papal primacy, and not just Petrine primacy, was dominically instituted.
And this is where the “gap” comes in, and looms so large. There was no haeres to Peter. For 100 years, corrupt Roman presbyters, whom Hermas, a second century primary source eyewitness attested, argued among themselves as to who was greatest.
Roman Catholics want to believe that this “potestas” was hanging around “ex institutione divina” until the Newmanesque time that it was “challenged”, and then, all of a sudden, “development” occurred.
Newman’s theory was just that – a theory – and Newman, at least, had the honesty to call it such. And he provided a “defeater” -- “the one essential question is whether the recognized organ of teaching, the Church herself, acting through Pope or Council as the oracle of heaven, has ever contradicted her own enunciations. If so, the hypothesis which I am advocating is at once shattered” (Notre-Dame edition, pg 121).
If, as Hoffer and Adomnan “accurately point out”, the Petrine office [was never defined nor premised as a monarchical or one-man episcopate], then they put themselves in the position of knowing more than the pope, Leo the Great, who essentially defined the institution not only as “one-man” but “Peter himself”, in the form that it held from 450 to 1950 AD.
Not that we would be surprised if they actually believed this. Steve has documented other Roman Catholic apologists who believe they know better than popes.
But nevertheless, this historical gap, posited by many now, poses an intractable problem to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the papacy.