Response to William Webster and Matthew 16:18
Updated: Jul 22, 2022
This Article is a response to William Webster the Protestant Apologist and his article, "The Church Father's Interpretation of the Rock of Matthew 16:18 - An Historical Refutation of the Claims of Roman Catholicism"
You can find his article here: https://christiantruth.com/articles/articles-roman-catholicism/mt16/
You can also find the full documents of the First Vatican Council here: https://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/v1.htm
I want to start out by praising William Webster for looking at the Church Fathers and reading what they said. Most Protestants I know don't bother and simply look at other Protestants and what they say about the Church Fathers. So, I want to commend him for this and encourage him to keep reading the Church Fathers.
As with the other article I’ve written were I responded to an objector of the Catholic Church I’ll make points that the author makes and then respond directly to those points. I’ll try my best to answer all the arguments the author makes but if I miss any or misrepresent any of his arguments then I apologise and please let me know so that I can fix them and respond more accurately to what the author says.
As a disclaimer unless otherwise specified all mentions of “quote” come from the above-mentioned Article by William Webster. I also mean no disrespect when I refer to William Webster simply as William.
Part 1 – Introduction
Point 1: The Claims of Authority from the Catholic Church rest entirely on Matthew 16:18
Quote: “Matthew 16:18 is the critical passage of Scripture for the establishment of the authority claims of the Roman Catholic Church. It is upon the interpretation of the rock and keys that the entire structure of the Church of Rome rests.”
While it is true that Matthew 16:18 does play a large role in the Catholic understanding of where she receives her authority, it is not dependent solely upon Matthew 16:18. The understanding of Church Authority comes directly from the idea that St. Peter was appointed as the visible head of the Church. As we read from the First Vatican Council, “Therefore, if anyone says that blessed Peter the apostle was not appointed by Christ the lord as prince of all the apostles and visible head of the whole Church militant… let him be anathema.”
Now that we can understand that it is based on the idea of St. Peter being the visible head of the Church that ‘the entire structure of the Church of Rome rests’, and not ‘the interpretation of the rock and keys’, we can now look to evidence which backs up this claim. The First Vatican Council gives two passages from scripture to back up the claim that St. Peter was the visible head of the Church. The First is Matthew 16:16-19, the second is John 21:15-17.
The passage from Matthew 16 describes Peter confessing that Christ is ‘The Son of the Living God’. Then Jesus Blesses ‘Simon Bar-Jona’ because, ‘my Father who is in heaven’ had revealed this to him. Jesus goes on to remind Peter of the new name that He had given to him which we find in John 1:42 by changing his address of him from ‘Simon Bar-Jona’ to ‘You are Peter’. Jesus then says, ‘and on this rock I will build my Church’. Jesus then states that the powers of Hell or Hades or death will not prevail against it. Jesus then gives Peter two things. First, ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven’. Second, the power of binding and loosing.
The passage from John describes Jesus after the Resurrection talking with Peter saying, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” The First Vatican Council adds in its interpretation of this passage saying, “And it was to Peter alone that Jesus, after his resurrection, confided the jurisdiction of Supreme Pastor and ruler of his whole fold, saying: Feed my lambs, feed my sheep”.
However, even though The First Vatican Council only pointed to these two passages in it’s 4th session dealing with the institution of the apostolic primacy in blessed Peter. We should also look to John 1:42 where Jesus gave Simon Bar-Jona the new name of Peter (Kepha) because, according to Chrysostom, this passage is foreshadowing Matthew 16:18.
We also have some disagreements among theologians as to the different meanings of Kepha. Thomas Aquinas says that Kepha in the Aramaic can be translated into Greek as Head (Kephale). John Chrysostom even gives Peter the title as Head in his Homily on the Gospel of St. John referring to John 21:15. However, most Protestant scholars disagree with this interpretation such as Matthew Poole the reformed Theologian who believes that the root of the Greek word head is kefalh and not kefa or Kepha. I’m not personally arguing one way or another as I have no expertise in etymology. However, I just wanted to point out that this is another historical point that could re-affirm other evidence of Peter being the Visible Head of the Church.
We also look towards the Early Church and what they said about Peter as the Head of the Church and times when they refer to the Bishop of Rome to solve disputes. William goes into depth on these points throughout the whole article so we will leave this point until later when he brings up certain Church Fathers.
Also, even though they do not submit to the Bishop of Rome, the Orthodox Church still views the Bishop of Rome as having Primacy over the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in terms of the Order of the Major Sees. We can find this in the Ravenna Document signed by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople which states, “Both sides agree that this canonical taxis was recognised by all in the era of the undivided Church. Further, they agree that Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs.” So, the idea of Peter being the Head of the Church is not limited to the Roman Catholics but also the Eastern Orthodox which re-affirm it, although disagreeing with how that Primacy is to be understood.
Even some Protestants affirm that Peter was the head of the Early Church such as Oscar Cullman and Donald Carson who both said that the rock described in Matthew 16:18 was Peter but deny any sort of papal succession.
It is from this point that William Webster will continue to assume that Catholics need the Rock described in Matthew 16:18 to only be Peter. However, this isn’t the case since Biblical passages can be polyvalent or have many layers which illumine different aspects of the Truth in different ways. The Rock can be Peter’s confession, Jesus Christ and Peter himself all at the same time. These don’t contradict each other but simply illumine different aspects of The Church and its foundation. For William to disprove the foundation of the Catholic Church he must prove that the Rock described in Matthew 16:18 ABSOLUTELY CANNOT be Peter rather than show that it can be something else.
Point 2: The Church, Unanimous Consent of the Fathers and Interpreting Scripture
Quote: “the Roman Catholic Church alone has authority to interpret scripture and that it is unlawful to interpret it in any way contrary to what it calls the ‘unanimous consent of the fathers.’ This principle does not mean that every single father agrees on a particular interpretation of scripture, but it does mean that there is a general consensus of interpretation, and Vatican I claims to be consistent with that consensus.”
No point of contention here.
Point 3: Catholic Apologists and their 4 Arguments for Papal Primacy in the Early Church
Quote: “Briefly, the arguments can be summarized as follows:
• The fathers often speak in lofty language when referring to the apostle Peter implying a personal primacy. • Numerous fathers interpret the rock of Matthew 16 as the person of Peter. • While some of the fathers interpret the rock to be Peter’s confession of faith, they do not separate Peter’s confession from his person. • The fathers refer to the bishops of Rome as successors of Peter.”
These are arguments that are made by Catholic Apologists, but they are not the only ones. Another argument is Peter as the Shepherd of the Church as was discussed in John 21:15-17. Even Anglican Charles Ellicott saw Peter as the Shepherd of the Church saying on 1 Peter 5:2, “St. Peter, to whom the flock throughout the whole world was committed, saw it as a whole”
Another argument is in Luke 22:24-32 when the Apostles were arguing about who was the greatest among them and Jesus gives a three-fold response. First, replying that the leader should be one who serves. Second, that all the Apostles that continue with Jesus in His trials will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Lastly, He turns to Peter and says that He has prayed that Peter’s Faith won’t fail after his denial of Christ and that after the denial that Peter should strengthen the others. We see the Early Church Fathers comment on this like St. Jerome who says, “And thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren: even all the other apostles and bishops, over whom I have made and constituted thee and thy successors the chief head, that such a head being appointed by divine authority, all occasions of schisms and divisions might cease.”
Another argument was Peter’s place when placed in a list of the Apostles. In the Synoptic Gospels when the Apostles are listed (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:13-16) and in Acts 1:13 Peter is always named First. Now Peter wasn’t the first to be called since his brother Andrew was called before him, so the list isn’t in order of earliest disciple to latest. Nor is it listed in terms of age since John is often seen as the youngest of the Apostles, but he listed 4th in Matthew and 3rd in Mark, Luke and Acts. Therefore, we see these lists ordered in terms of importance since with each of them (besides the list in Acts) Judas Iscariot is always mentioned last, and he would be the least important since he was the one who betrayed Jesus. Even John Calvin admits that Peter in this passage can be referred to as the First of the Apostles although he disagrees that this is extended to the successors in Rome, “That Simon Peter was the first among the apostles we readily allow, but what was true in reference to a few persons, cannot, on any proper grounds, be extended to the whole world… Granting all that they ask regarding Peter, his rank will be of no avail to the Roman See, till they prove that wicked and sacrilegious apostles are Peter’s successors.”
Henry Alford, an Anglican and author of the ‘Greek New Testament Critical Exegesis Commentary’ says about these lists, ‘πρῶτος Not only as regards arrangement, or mere priority of calling, but as primus inter pares. This is clearly shewn from James and John and Andrew being set next, and Judas Iscariot the last, in all the catalogues… So that πρῶτος here must be understood as signifying the prominence of Peter among the Apostles, as well as his early calling’
John Chrysostom agrees that they are listed in order of dignity when speaking of the list in Mark while commentating on Matthew, “Now Mark does also put them according to their dignity”.
As we can see there are other arguments for Peter as the Head of the Church besides the ones William Webster lists.
Point 4: The Statements used by Catholic Apologists are taken out of context and in some cases misquoted.
Quote: “These statements are given completely out of context of the rest of the writings of these fathers thereby distorting the true meaning of their words. And in the case of Augustine, as we will see, his words are actually misquoted. All too frequently statements from the fathers are isolated and quoted without any proper interpretation, often giving the impression that a father taught a particular point of view when, in fact, he did not.”
This is what we hope to disprove when we look at his further points regarding each Church Father. Although, I’m sure that there will be times when Catholic Apologists have probably misquoted or taken a point out of context, I hope to prove that the Church Fathers still held that Peter was the Head of the Church and that he had successors in Rome.
Point 5: Catholic Apologists claim that Reformers invented an exegesis of Matthew 16
Quote: ‘Karl Keating states that the reformers had invented a novel exegesis of Matthew 16 in order to aid them in their rebellion against the papacy. This is a complete misrepresentation. As historian Oscar Cullmann points out, the view of the Reformers was not a novel interpretation invented by them but hearkened back to the patristic tradition’
Well, we just quoted Oscar Cullman before as being a Protestant who holds that the Rock quoted in Matthew 16:18 is referring to Peter.
Cullman’s quote in Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament goes, “The obvious pun which has made its way into the Greek text . . . suggests a material identity between petra and Petros . . . as it is impossible to differentiate strictly between the two words. . . . Petros himself is this petra, not just his faith or his confession. . . . The idea of the Reformers that he is referring to the faith of Peter is quite inconceivable. . . . For there is no reference here to the faith of Peter. Rather, the parallelism of “thou art Rock” and “on this rock I will build” shows that the second rock can only be the same as the first. It is thus evident that Jesus is referring to Peter, to whom he has given the name Rock. . . . To this extent Roman Catholic exegesis is right and all Protestant attempts to evade this interpretation are to be rejected.”
William Webster’s use of Oscar Cullman as an authority seems to backfire when we look at what Dr. Cullman says about the passage. So, either reformed theologians agree with Roman Catholics about who ‘The Rock’ is, or there seems to be no opposition to the claims made by the Catholic Apologist that Reformed Theologians invented an exegesis.
Point 6: Protestants and Orthodox agree with the patristic understanding of Matthew 16:18
Quote: “This particular article is strictly historical in nature. Its purpose is to document the patristic interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18. And the evidence will demonstrate that the Protestant and Orthodox understanding of the text is rooted in this patristic consensus.”
As we have quoted before from the Ravenna Document, the Orthodox agree with the Roman Catholic Understanding of Peter being the Head of the Church and having successors in Rome. The only disagreement between the Catholics and Orthodox is how Papal Primacy works. The Catholics claim Papal Supremacy and the Orthodox claim First among equals. However, both agree with Papal Primacy.
Point 7: Catholics claims that the Church is built upon Peter in an exclusive sense
Quote: “The Roman Church states that Matthew 16 teaches that the Church is built upon Peter and therefore upon the bishops of Rome in an exclusive sense.”
No, we don’t. Yes, we say that the Church built upon Peter, but we never say that it is built on him exclusively. The word exclusive doesn’t appear once in all the documents from the First Vatican Council. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that, “the Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the comer-stone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles and from it the Church receives solidity and unity.” (CCC 756) but also, “The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved. Before all else there is the choice of the Twelve with Peter as their head. Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, they are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem.” (CCC 765) The New Jerusalem being the Church. The Catechism also affirms Peter’s confession saying, “Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.” (CCC 424)
So, the Catholic Church affirms that the Church is built on Jesus, The Twelve Apostles with Peter as their head, Peter’s confession, as well as Peter himself.
These points show that William’s later point (where he describes the Biblical interpretation of Matthew 16) is in line with Catholic teaching:
Quote: “This demonstrates that from a biblical perspective, even if we were to interpret the rock of Matthew 16 to be the person of Peter, the New Testament does not view the apostle Peter to be unique in this role. Christ is the foundation and the Church is built upon all the apostles and prophets in the sense of being built upon their teaching.”
Point 8: Matthew 16 doesn’t talk about infallibility or successors
Quote: “The Roman Catholic interpretation imports a meaning into the Matthew 16 text that is completely absent. This text says absolutely nothing about infallibility or about successors.”
I think this would be a good point to explain how Catholics read infallibility and succession into Matthew 16.
Firstly, with the quote, “Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” Catholic theologians see that Jesus is here referencing Isaiah 22:22 which says, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” In the context of Isaiah 22 we see that God is calling a successor to the House of David, namely Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who will be handed the authority of his predecessor and that he will have the power to open and close.
This is where we see succession in Peter’s role. If the passage that Jesus was talking about was referring to succession an authority, then he must be granting Peter an authority that can be also be succeeded. Catholic Theologian George Leo Haydock also writes that these same keys can also be seen in Revelation 3:7.
Secondly, with the term Binding and Loosing is relating to the Jewish phrase which appears in the Targum, relates to the Jewish school of Shammai and the school of Hillel which were Jewish schools of thought in the 1st century AD. This term of Binding and Loosing means according the Jewish Encyclopedia, “to forbid by an indisputable authority and to permit by an indisputable authority.” This term relates to the doctrine of infallibility.
The term Binding and Loosing is also used again in Matthew 18:18 in relation to the Church (the other Apostles) being able to bind and loose.
Part 2 – Tertullian
Point 9: When Tertullian says that Peter is the Rock, he is stating that the Church is built through him as he preaches the gospel.
Quote: “In one of his writings Tertullian identifies the rock with the person of Peter on which the Church would be built:
Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the ‘rock on which the church should be built’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and earth? (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Volume III, Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 22).
Though Tertullian states that Peter is the rock he does not mean it in a pro–papal sense. We know this because of other comments he has made…Tertullian explains what he means when he says that Peter is the rock on which the Church would be built:
If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church,’ ‘to thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On thee,’ He says, ‘will I build My church;’ and, ‘I will give thee the keys’…and, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have loosed or bound’…In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what key: ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which kingdom are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation…(Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Volume IV, Tertullian, On Modesty 21, p. 99).
When Tertullian says that Peter is the rock and the Church is built upon him he means that the Church is built through him as he preaches the gospel. This preaching is how Tertullian explains the meaning of the keys. They are the declarative authority for the offer of forgiveness of sins through the preaching of the gospel. If men respond to the message they are loosed from their sins. If they reject it they remain bound in their sins.”
Here William quotes two passages from two different works by Tertullian. The First is Prescription Against Heretics and the second is On Modesty. Since he claims that Catholic Apologists take these texts out of context, we will look at the full context of these texts.
The first is Tertullian’s Prescription Against Heretics. This passage comes from Chapter 22 which is called, “Attempt to Invalidate This Rule of Faith Rebutted. The Apostles Safe Transmitters of the Truth. Sufficiently Taught at First, and Faithful in the Transmission.”
This Chapter is dealing with heretics which said, “the apostles did not know all things: (but herein) they are impelled by the same madness, whereby they turn round to the very opposite point, and declare that the apostles certainly knew all things, but did not deliver all things to all persons — in either case exposing Christ to blame for having sent forth apostles who had either too much ignorance, or too little simplicity.”
Tertullian then refutes these heretics by saying, “What man, then, of sound mind can possibly suppose that they were ignorant of anything, whom the Lord ordained to be masters (or teachers), keeping them, as He did, inseparable (from Himself) in their attendance, in their discipleship, in their society, to whom, when they were alone, He used to expound all things Mark 4:34 which were obscure, telling them that to them it was given to know those mysteries, Matthew 13:11 which it was not permitted the people to understand?”
This is when Tertullian then goes on to say the above-mentioned quote about Peter, “Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the ‘rock on which the church should be built’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and earth?”
In this context we see that these Catholic Apologists aren’t taking this passage out of context. Tertullian is describing the dignity of Peter to show that he is an authoritative figure on the Truth of what Jesus taught. By describing his dignity, he mentions that Peter is the Rock and that he was given the keys and that he had to power to bind and loose. I should also mention that Tertullian mentions Peter first among the list of apostles which is interesting when it considers their Authority on Truth. This may imply that Tertullian saw Peter as the greatest authority because of the dignities bestowed on him by Christ and why he is mentioned first.
As to the next text by Tertullian, ‘On Modesty’, the passage quoted by William above comes from Chapter 21 which is called, “Of the Difference Between Discipline and Power, and of the Power of the Keys”. This entire chapter begins by discussing the difference “between the doctrine of apostles and their power.” He then moves onto to the question, “Who, moreover, was able to forgive sins?” and especially, “mortal sins”. For this question Tertullian argues, “if it were agreed that even the blessed apostles had granted any such indulgence (to any crime) the pardon of which (comes) from God, not from man, it would be competent (for them) to have done so, not in the exercise of discipline, but of power.” Tertullian argues that the ability of the apostles to forgive sins (and grant indulgences) is a power given to them by God. Later, Tertullian then agrees with the heretics that the Church has the ability to forgive sins saying, “you say, ‘the Church has the power of forgiving sins.’ This I acknowledge and adjudge more than you.” However, he goes on to question whether the Church of the Heretics is the same Church that has the ability to forgive sins saying, “I now inquire into your opinion, (to see) from what source you usurp this right to ‘the Church’.” This is where we find the above-mentioned quote which says,
“If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church,’ ‘to thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On thee,’ He says, ‘will I build My church;’ and, ‘I will give thee the keys’…and, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have loosed or bound’…In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what key: ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which kingdom are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation…”
We see that in this passage Tertullian is switching between what the Heretics claim and what is really the truth. The first part is talking about what the heretics claim, “If, (because God bestowed powers upon Peter), you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter…” The Tertullian rebukes them saying that it is personally upon Peter that the Church is built, “‘On thee,’ He says, ‘will I build My church;’” Tertullian then goes on to show how the Church is able to forgive sins saying, “(Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which kingdom are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation” Here Tertullian say that the ability to forgive sins comes from the kingdom through baptism. This is not as William says through the generic ‘preaching of the gospel’ but explicitly through baptism.
However, Tertullian doesn’t stop there because he then explains what this power given to Peter refers to. He says that the powers of binding and loosing doesn’t refer to forgiving sins but actually to the matter of doctrine. He says,
“Moreover, in that dispute about the observance or non-observance of the Law, Peter was the first of all to be endued with the Spirit, and, after making preface touching the calling of the nations, to say, ‘And now why are you tempting the Lord, concerning the imposition upon the brethren of a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to support? But however, through the grace of Jesus we believe that we shall be saved in the same way as they.’ This sentence both ‘loosed’ those parts of the law which were abandoned, and ‘bound’ those which were reserved. Hence the power of loosing and of binding committed to Peter had nothing to do with the capital sins of believers…”
In this he explains that binding and loosing refers to the act Peter did in Acts 15 when it was declared that Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised. In this way Peter bounded and loosed Doctrine.
So, again we can see in the full context of the chapter that there is nothing which goes against the Catholic Apologist’s ability to use this passage from Tertullian. It first states clearly that Peter explicitly is the person that Christ built his Church on, it even goes further to show that Peter was given the power of binding and loosing doctrines, and that Peter was a great Authority on the Truth. We also see that the Church can forgive sins, that the Church can grant indulgences and that there are such things as mortal sins. These are all orthodox Catholic teachings.
Regarding William’s translation, even if we were to throw all of this away and agree with William that it was through Peter that the Church was built from Peter’s preaching of the gospel. This doesn’t mitigate the fact that Tertullian sees Peter as the Rock which is what Catholics claim. If Catholic Apologists want to use this text to show the fathers explicitly said that Peter is the rock, then there is no misuse in doing so.
Point 10: Tertullian doesn’t teach Petrine Primacy or successors in the Bishop of Rome
Quote: “Tertullian explicitly denies that this promise can apply to anyone but Peter and therefore he does not in any way see a Petrine primacy in this verse with successors in the bishops of Rome.”
William here is wrong. Tertullian does teach Apostolic succession and specifically in Rome. We can see this explicitly in Prescription Against Heretics, chapter 32 which is titled, “None of the Heretics Claim Succession from the Apostles. New Churches Still Apostolic, Because Their Faith is that Which the Apostles Taught and Handed Down. The Heretics Challenged to Show Any Apostolic Credentials.”
In the very first part of the chapter Tertullian writes, “But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, — a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed.”
Clearly, this last part shows that Tertullian believed that the Bishops of Rome were successors of Peter.
When we read even further, we see that Tertullian taught that Rome did have Primacy in Chapter 36 titled, “The Apostolic Churches the Voice of the Apostles. Let the Heretics Examine Their Apostolic Claims, in Each Case, Indisputable. The Church of Rome Doubly Apostolic; Its Early Eminence and Excellence. Heresy, as Perverting the Truth, is Connected Therewith.”
In this Chapter he writes, “Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves). How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile!”
Clearly, Tertullian believes in a Primacy in the Church of Rome through their Apostolic Successors.
Point 11: Patristic Scholar Karlfried Froehlich says that Tertullian sees Peter as a representative of the entire church.
Quote: “The patristic scholar, Karlfried Froehlich, states that even though Tertullian teaches that Peter is the rock he does not mean this in the same sense as the Roman Catholic Church:
‘Tertullian regarded the Peter of Matthew 16:18–19 as the representative of the entire church or at least its ‘spiritual’ members.’”
I honestly don’t see how this quote helps William’s case. The Catholic Church doesn’t deny that Peter represented the Early Church. In fact, as the leader of the Early Church it makes sense that he would be the representative.
Point 12: A Catholic Apologist left out a large portion of Tertullian’s quote which distorted the meaning.
Quote: “When comparing this citation with the one given above it is clear that these authors have left out the last half of the quotation. The part of the quotation that is omitted defines what Tertullian means by the statement that Christ built his Church on Peter and invested him with authroity (sic).”
It’s only natural that a quotation is going to start at a place and end at another place. The Catholic Apologists use don’t use the second part of William’s quote because Tertullian later denies that Peter’s Authority to bind and loose has to do with sins.
However, this argument can easily be put back on William. Why does he omit the other parts I mentioned in point 10 which backs up the Catholic claim that Tertullian taught Petrine Primacy and Succession in Rome? Why did he leave out the parts I mentioned in Point 9 which showed that Tertullian taught about Indulgences, mortal sins, the Church being able to forgive sins, etc? Clearly it can also be said that he was selective in his quotes.
Point 13: The Quote by St. Maximus of Turin expresses the same view as Tertullian which is against the Catholic Church
Quote: “This is similar to the view expressed by Maximus of Tours (sic) when he says: ‘For he is called a rock because he was the first to lay the foundations of the faith among the nations’ ”
It would be prudent to see the whole quote of St. Maximus of Turin to see what he is saying.
“Last Sunday we showed that Saint Peter proceeded along his erring ways during the Savior’s suffering and that after he denied the Lord he was better. For he became more faithful after he wept over the faith that he had lost, and for that reason he gained back a greater grace than he lost: like a good shepherd he accepted the charge of protecting his sheep, so that he who had previously been weak to himself would now become the foundation for all, and the very person who had faltered when tested by questioning would strengthen others with the unwavering character of his faith. On account of the firmness of his faithfulness he is called the rock of the churches, as the Lord says: You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. He is called a rock because he will be the very first to lay the foundations of the faith among the nations and so that, like an immovable stone, he might hold fast the fabric and the structure of the whole Christian endeavor. Because of his faithfulness, therefore, Peter is called a rock, as the Apostle says: And they drank from the spiritual rock that was following them, and the rock was Christ. Rightly does he who merits fellowship in deed merit fellowship also in his name, for in the same house Peter laid the foundation and Peter does the planting, and the Lord gives the increase and the Lord provides for the watering.” (The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, Sermon 77.1)
We can see from this full quote of St. Maximus of Turin that he is calling Peter the Rock because of his unshakable faith. However, contrary to what William says, this doesn’t go against Catholic Church teachings. Maximus still says that Peter is the rock on which the Church is built.
Point 14: Tertullian becoming a Montanist shows that he didn’t believe in the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church
Quote: “In his later years Tertullian separated himself from the Catholic Church to become a Montanist. He clearly did not hold to the view espoused by Vatican I that communion with the Bishop of Rome was the ultimate criterion of orthodoxy and of inclusiveness in the Church of God.”
I really don’t see William’s point here.
If his point is that Tertullian, a prominent writer, became a heretic, then there were many heretics who were prominent writers in the Early Church. Tertullian was one, Origen was another. If by this William means that all the works of Tertullian shouldn’t be used by Catholics or that Catholics shouldn’t quote him, then this is a Non Sequitur. Catholics can absolutely use Tertullian’s works when he was still a Catholic. Just because he changed doesn’t mean we can’t reference his works before he changed. A flower can still be appreciated before it withers.
If William’s point is that Tertullian changing his beliefs shows that the Catholic Church can’t be trusted or isn’t orthodox, then again this is a non sequitur. One person adopting a heresy doesn’t decide whether the Catholic Church is true or not. If a prominent Protestant became a Catholic would that one act invalidate all the claims of Protestantism? Of course not.
If William’s point is that Tertullian never believed in the Orthodoxy of the Church of Rome, then this is also incorrect as we have shown in point 10.
I really don’t see his point. If William wants to defend Tertullian’s heresy of Montanism and Subordinationism, then go right ahead.
Part 3 – Origen
Point 15: The Catholic Apologists omitted the full quote of Origen because it was antithetical to their position
Quote: “This is one of the most important passages in all the writings of Origen for an understanding of his view of the rock of Matthew 16. Yet this passage is is (sic) not included in those referenced by the authors of Jesus, Peter and the Keys. This is a glaring omission given the importance of the passage and the fact that it is easily accessible in the work the Ante-Nicene Fathers. One can only conclude that the authors purposefully omitted the passage because it is antithetical to the position they are seeking establish.
I’m not going to quote the passage because it is very long, but you can find it in William’s original article. Basically, what it says is that all the faithful who proclaim that Jesus is the son of the living God are just like Peter and in fact become a Peter. As we become a Peter so too do, we become a rock like Peter and ‘upon every such rock is built the very word of the church’.
To address why Catholic Apologists don’t use this quote from Origen is simple. Firstly, it from a different work by Origen than the part that the Catholic Apologists are quoting. The first quote in which Origen says, “Look at the great foundation of that Church and at the very solid rock upon which Christ has founded the Church. Wherefore the Lord says: ‘Ye of little faith, why have you doubted?’ “comes from his homilies on Exodus. The second much longer quote William makes is from Origen’s commentary on Matthew. The Catholic Apologists are just wanting to prove that Peter is seen as the rock from the Church fathers like the heretic Origen. However, it’s not the job of the Catholic Apologists to try and defend a heretic.
In saying this Origen’s commentary is simply saying that The Rock is the Faith or confession of Peter which I have mentioned in Point 7 is a part of Catholic Teaching.
So, even though the Catholic Apologists did omit the quote from Origen on Matthew 16, it isn’t antithetical to the position of the Catholic Church. It was merely not in line with what they were setting out to do by quoting Origen.
Point 16: John Meyendorff affirms that Origen’s interpretation of Matthew 16:18 is that the rock is the true belief in the divinity of Christ or ‘Peter’s Confession’.
Quote: “John Meyendorff was a world renowned and highly respected Orthodox theologian, historian and patristics scholar. He was dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Professor of Church History and Patristics. He gives the following explanation of Origen’s interpretation and of his influence on subsequent fathers in the East and West:
Origen, the common source of patristic exegetical tradition, commenting on Matthew 16:18, interprets the famous logion as Jesus’ answer to Peter’s confession: Simon became the ‘rock’ on which the Church is founded because he expressed the true belief in the divinity of Christ.”
Again, this is in line with Catholic teaching as we pointed out in Point 7. This doesn’t disprove that Matthew 16 can have other acceptable interpretations too.
Point 17: Tertullian representing the West and Origen from the East were the first fathers to give an exegesis of Matthew 16 and don’t interpret it in a pro-roman sense.
Quote: “Origen and Tertullian are the first fathers, from the East and West respectively, to give an exposition on the meaning of the rock of Matthew 16 and the role and position of Peter. Their views are foundational for the interpretation of this important passage for the centuries following. Strands of their teaching will appear in the views of the fathers throughout the East and West. It is important to point out that the first Eastern and Western fathers to give an exegesis of Matthew 16 do not interpret the passage in a pro–Roman sense.”
As we have mentioned before, Origen gives an interpretation that is consistent with the understandings of Rome and Tertullian is much more explicit in his Pro-Roman writings.
Part 4 – Cyprian
Point 18: Cyprian describes Peter as the Rock but also describes the rock as the entire episcopate
Quote: “Cyprian clearly says that Peter is the rock… Cyprian teaches that Peter alone is not the rock or foundation on which the Church is built, but rather, he is an example of the principle of unity. He is representative of the Church as a whole. The entire episcopate, according to Cyprian, is the foundation, though Christ is himself the true Rock.”
Again, these points are consistent with Catholic Church teaching. Cyprian clearly teaches that Peter is the Rock in his treatise, On The Unity of the Church. He also teaches that all the bishops (the successors of the apostles) are also that rock. This is also consistent with Church teaching as we have mentioned in Point 7.
Point 19: Cyprian did not believe that the Bishop of Rome had a higher authority over other bishops
Quote: “Cyprian did not believe that the bishop of Rome possessed a higher authority than he or the other African bishops. They were all equals”
While Cyprian’s treatises tend to emphasise Episcopal autonomy within the unity of the Church, we see that Cyprian’s actions speak much louder than his words. On multiple occasions Cyprian appeals to Rome to solve disputes or even the Cathaginians (the people Cyprian was the bishop over) would appeal to Rome.
The first dispute was over Imprudent confessors who were ignoring their bishops about proscribing penances to lapsed Catholics and apostates who wanted reconciliation (or the laying on of hands). Cyprian sent copies of all his letters on this issue to Rome (who had no bishop at this time).
The second dispute was when Cyprian went into hiding and the Carthaginians sent complaints to Rome. The Romans then wrote back to Cyprian on the matter.
The next dispute was when the Romans (who still had no bishop at the time) wrote to Cyprian’s Archdeacon (bypassing Cyprian the Bishop) about how they should deal with the lapsed. Cyprian wrote back saying he had read the letter and would uphold their opinion.
Cyprian in a letter to a group of Christians who went to Rome to join a heretical group condemned them for going to ‘The Principal Church’. This phrase Principal church was used both by Irenaeus and Tertullian (Cyprian’s Master) to mean “sovereign ruling”. Cyprian went on to say that the Romans are “they to whom faithlessness can have no access.”
The Next dispute comes from the Catholic historian that William quotes Robert Eno in the same book, ‘The Rise of the Papacy’.
“Another case came at about the same time from the fractious world of Southern Gaul. Marcian, bishop of Arles, had taken a hard line against the lapsed, even refusing them reconciliation on their death beds. In his letter 68 to Stephen, Cyprian complains that nothing had been done about Marcian’s case.”
We see that Cyprian appeals to Pope Stephen, the Bishop of Rome, to do something about this case. Why would Cyprian appeal to Stephan unless he was able to do something about another Bishop?
We also see with Cyprian’s discourse with Stephan that even Stephan himself uses his office as the successor of Peter to enforce authority over Cyprian and to forbid him to re-baptise. So, the idea of the Bishop of Rome having Primacy over other churches because they are the Successor of Peter dates all the way back to the Patristic age which refutes many of William’s arguments.
Even though Cyprian maintains the importance of local churches and the authority of Bishops, that he still acted in a way that showed that Rome had a sovereignty over other churches.
Point 20: Cyprian’s views are incompatible with Vatican 1
Quote: “The above quotations from world renowned Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox historians reveal a consensus of scholarly opinion on Cyprian’s teaching effectively demonstrating the incompatibility of Cyprian’s views with those espoused by Vatican I.”
Cyprian’s views aren’t incompatible with Catholic teaching. What he says about Bishops is true. All Bishops are equal. One Bishop isn’t consecrated more than another. They all share apostolic succession, they all share the same power over the sacraments, they all hold an office over a diocese. As a Bishop, all bishops are equal. In this regard, Pope Francis is equal to your local diocesan bishop. So, in this regards Cyprian is correct. This is the point he wants to stress in his treatise on the unity of the Church. However, in his other writings when he actually addresses Rome, we see that he calls it the principle church. We see that his dealings with the church of Rome show that he acknowledges all the points brought up in the First Vatican council. So, no his views are not incompatible with Vatican 1.
Part 5 – Eusebius
Point 20: Eusebius teaches that the Rock is Christ or the Apostles and prophets.
Quote: “Eusebius unambiguously teaches that the rock is Christ. He correlates this interpretation with the parallel rock and foundation statements of 1 Corinthians 10:4 and 3:11. He goes on to say that there is a subsidiary foundation, from Ephesians 2:20, of the apostles and prophets, the Church also built upon them, but the cornerstone is Christ.”
Again, as stated before these are Catholic Teachings. Nothing heretical or against Catholic Teaching here.
Point 21: Eusebius teaches that Christ didn’t establish a Papal office in Peter and his successors.
Quote: “…he does not mean that Christ established a papal office in Peter and that the Church is built upon him in a personal sense and through him upon his supposed successors.”
On the contrary, Eusebius as a Church historian gives multiple examples of the Bishop of Rome holding Primacy over other episcopates.
The first is about how Pope Victor, bishop of Rome in 190 A.D. excommunicated a large part of the eastern churches because they had a different date of Easter and wouldn’t submit to his ruling that all churches should have the same date.
“A question of no small importance arose at that time [A.D. 190]. For the parishes of all Asia [Minor], as from an older tradition held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Savior’s Passover. . . . But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world . . . as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast [of Lent] on no other day than on that of the resurrection of the Savior [Sunday]. Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other but the Lord’s day and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on this day only. . . . Thereupon [Pope] Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the community the parishes of all Asia [Minor], with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox. And he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. But this did not please all the bishops, and they besought him to consider the things of peace and of neighborly unity and love. . . . [Irenaeus] fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom” (Church History 5:23:1–24:11).
As you can see, the bishops never said he didn’t have the authority to excommunicate but that he shouldn’t have done it. They didn’t question his authority to excommunicate but questioned it’s wisdom.
The Second example comes from Antioch where the bishop Paul had fallen into heresy and the Church he was occupying was given to the Roman Church to decide what to do with it.
“As Paul had fallen from the episcopate, as well as from the orthodox faith, Domnus, as has been said, became bishop of the church at Antioch. But as Paul refused to surrender the church building, the Emperor Aurelian was petitioned; and he decided the matter most equitably, ordering the building to be given to those to whom the bishops of Italy and of the city of Rome should adjudge it.” (Church History, Book VII, Chapter 30)
Why would a church in Antioch be given to Rome unless there was a recognised Primacy there? As we can see, Eusebius through his writings on Church History makes it clear that the Bishop of Rome had Primacy.
So, although Eusebius sees the Rock as Jesus, The apostles and Prophets and Peter. He still affirms the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Part 6 – Augustine
Point 22: Vatican 1 says that the Church made Authoritative interpretations on Matthew 16 before Augustine.
Quote: “The fact that he would even suggest that individual readers could take a different position is evidence of the fact that after four hundred years of church history there was no official authoritative Church interpretation of this passage as Vatican One has stated.”
Vatican 1 makes no such claim. Vatican 1 only claims there was a consensus of the Fathers on how they interpret scripture. It never mentions that there was an Authoritative interpretation on how one should interpret Matthew 16 prior or even during Augustine’s life.
Point 23: Peter was a representative of the whole church, he wasn’t the rock.
Quote: “Augustine could not be clearer in his interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16. In his view, Peter is representative of the whole Church. The rock is not the person of Peter but Christ himself. In fact, in the above statements, in exegeting Matthew 16, he explicitly says that Christ did not build his Church on a man, referring specifically to Peter.”
Yes, it is true that Augustine retracted his previous belief that Peter was the rock and now stated that he wasn’t the rock, but Christ was or at least Peter’s confession was. This is a point the Catholic Church says that Augustine was wrong on. As stated previously, a consensus of the Fathers doesn’t mean that every Church father is correct. In this instance, the church says, regretfully, that Augustine was wrong. This isn’t the only time the Church has had to say one of their greatest theologians was wrong on a subject. They even had to declare that another of the Church’s greatest theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas, was wrong on the Immaculate Conception. This doesn’t detract from their other writings, but even great minds can be wrong on some things.
Point 24: If Christ didn’t establish his Church on the person of Peter then there would be no papal office and successors in Rome.
Quote: “If Christ did not build his Church on a man then he did not establish a papal office with successors to Peter in the bishops of Rome.”
“According to Augustine the Apostles are equal in all respects.”
“While it is true that Augustine has some very exalted things to say about Peter, as do many of the fathers, it does not follow that either he or they held to the Roman Catholic view of papal primacy.”
Augustine would disagree and this really gets to the heart of William Webster’s argument. William presumes that one must hold that Peter is the Rock in order to believe in the legitimacy of the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome. This is not true, and Augustine is a great example of a man who openly stated that he didn’t believe that Peter was the Rock but still recognised the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Augustine wrote his confessions between 397-400AD yet at the same time as he was writing his confessions he also was saying this:
“Carthage was also near the countries over the sea, and distinguished by illustrious renown, so that it had a bishop of more than ordinary influence, who could afford to disregard a number of conspiring enemies because he saw himself joined by letters of communion to the Roman Church, in which the supremacy of an apostolic chair has always flourished.” Augustine, To Glorius et.al, Epistle 43:7 (A.D. 397).
“The chair of the Roman Church, in which Peter sat, and in which Anastasius sits today.” Augustine, Against the Letters of Petillian, 2:51 (A.D. 402).
“If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement. … In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found” (Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]).
Clearly, Augustine at the time of writing his confessions still believed in successors to Peter and the primacy (or in Augustine’s own words, “supremacy”) of the Bishop of Rome in accordance with today’s understanding of the Catholic Church.
Point 25: Catholic Apologists assume that when the fathers talk about Peter that these comments also apply to the Bishop of Rome
Quote: “The common mistake made by Roman Catholic apologists is the assumption that because some of the fathers make certain comments about Peter—for example, that he is chief of the apostles or head of the apostolic choir—that they also have in mind the bishop of Rome in an exclusive sense. But they do not state this in their writings. This is a preconceived theology that is read into their writings. Did they view the bishops of Rome as being successors of Peter? Yes. Did they view the bishops of Rome as being the exclusive successors of Peter? No. In the view of Augustine and the early fathers all the bishops of the Church in the East and West were the successors of Peter. They all possess the chair of Peter. So when they speak in exalted terms about Peter they do not apply those terms to the bishops of Rome. Therefore, when a father refers to Peter as the rock, the coryphaeus, the first of the disciples, or something similar, this does not mean that he is expressing agreement with the current Roman Catholic interpretation.”
If we look at the three previous quotations we made by Augustine we can see that William is clearly wrong.