The Pope: Necessary for Unity

Chapter 10

The Pope: Necessary for Unity

And Jesus answered him . . . you are Peter,

and on this rock I will build my church,

and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16: 18-19


It is safe to say that almost all Protestants have some level of difficulty with the idea of a papacy. They think, as a rule, that this office was created by power-hungry men who wanted to control people’s lives. They cannot see such an office in the Scriptures. Furthermore, they have been told, with great regularity that the Papacy is an appendage of the Church which grew so rotten that it needed to be done away with. Most Protestants would add, “And good riddance!”


I was no different. I had read about the decadence of the medieval and early renaissance popes—their greed, their hunger for power, their complete and utter worldliness and their deceitfulness with regard to priestly vows. The wars, the violence, the intrigue, and the corruption; the riches, the pomp and the ostentaciousness; the crusades and the inquisitions: it was all the opposite of what Jesus taught! Where were love, humility, self-denial and peace-making?

Why did the Pope allow himself to be called Holy Father? Hadn’t Christ admonished his followers to call no one on earth Father?[1] What business did the Pope have giving himself ostentatious titles like Pontifex Maximus? Didn’t Jesus teach just the opposite—that His disciple is not supposed to seek recognition for himself? Why did he allow himself to be adulated and honored, dressed up in the expensive robes with a ridiculous looking thing on his head, riding around in a, what? a Popemobile? You must be kidding!


As someone who took the bible very seriously, I did not see Peter as any sort of influence in the Church after Acts 15, but rather, if anyone was, it was Paul. Furthermore, Paul publicly chastised Peter in Antioch, rebuking him for his lack of courage vis-à-vis the Judaizers:


But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.[2]

Certainly such passages cast serious doubt upon the idea of papal infallibility. Peter is the first pope. He errs. Does it get any simpler? What is it that Catholics don’t get about that? The Bible proves he was fallible.


Once again, I was in for a number of surprises.

Surprised by John Paul II


I am not quite sure when it occurred that I was willing to step back and take a fresh look at the Papacy. John Paul II’s thoroughly Christ-centered teaching and life—which included a stance on the moral issues of our day so insightful and profound as to be truly prophetic—whittled away at the idea that the Pope is a sort of anti-Christ.[3] There was an undeniable authority in his resolute insistence that the smallest and weakest amongst us must be protected from the deadly knife of abortionist. If the Pope is a foreshadowing of the Anti-Christ, where did he get the moral chutzpah to resist the entire Western world on the question of abortion? And where did he get the fortitude to stare down Communism?


John Paul II was an enigma—and a surprise. When I would read something about him or even see a picture of him, I could perceive something very special, wholesome, good, and child-like. He was full of joy, yet stern as an Old Testament prophet. He exuded an attractive simplicity, yet could speak as an exquisitely educated philosopher. His enthusiasm for everything beautiful, especially for the young, not only fascinated, but inspired me. And, unlike many well-educated people, he was not bamboozled by the post-modernists’ relativistic tomfoolery.


The regard that various Christians showed for John Paul II began to have some effect on me as well. Mother Theresa had always been a big fan. Faithful Catholics I read and saw on television were enthusiastically supportive. Even non-Catholic people like Billy Graham thought of John Paul II as a spiritual giant. Surely this is not the precursor of the anti-Christ.


The 16th century Reformers seemed to have thought they somehow put the papacy to death. Like them, evangelical Protestants treated Catholicism, and with it the papacy, as if it had been replaced by Protestantism, as if a sort of change of the guard had occurred, out with the old, in with the new! But they were wrong. It’s still there. Catholicism is still alive, and thriving; and obviously, so is the papacy. The question arose in my mind: if the papacy is man’s creation, and not God’s, how has it survived all of these years? Any worldly institution, if it had been abused to the degree that the papacy had, would have died, long ago.


How Else Can There Be Unity?


The question of the unity of the Body of Christ has been a theme in my life since my initial conversion to Jesus in 1979. I ached, deeply, from the spirit of dissension, disunity, pettiness and party spirit that are such salient features of Protestantism.


I began to ponder. Every human institution, in order to thrive, must have a visible head: a department has a chairperson, a university has a president, a town a mayor, an army a general, a state a governor, a nation a king, a corporation a CEO, a shift a boss, a ship a captain, a team a coach, a crew a foreman, etc. When this natural necessity—that things be led by a leader—is artificially dispensed with, chaos often results. The Church, if she is to be united, must also have a visible head. It makes sense. Unity, which is a necessary mark of the true Church, demands visible authority. Without it, unity is impossible.


Protestantism has always shown me the serious problems involved with the papacy. But, as my walk progressed, and I had experienced Protestantism from the inside of many different versions of it, I saw that there were problems with Protestantism that were even more serious. Choosing to reject the idea of an authoritative voice, an arbitrator of disputes, a force for unity, might have caused more harm than good.


It occurred to me that Protestantism possesses one distinguishing characteristic; one thing that can surely be said about it as a whole, which describes everything in it, from liberal mainstream denominations to the most independent Baptists: dividedness. I allowed myself to ask the question: What is more scandalous, corrupt leadership or disunity?

I no longer agreed with Protestants that the answer was a no-brainer. It became a difficult moral dilemma for me, a driving force which kept me awake at night.


Other questions troubled me:


  • During Old Testament times, there were periods of corruption in high places, bad kings, etc. Those Jewish people who were faithful to God did not secede from the nation in order to start a new one, so how could the People of God in the New Testament do so?[4]


  • If the Church is family, isn’t schism the moral equivalent of divorce? We hear a lot about the moral evil of divorce; why do we never hear a sermon series on the evils of division[5], disunity, dissension,[6] party spirit, or factions? Aren’t we Bible Christians? Don’t we claim to accept the whole counsel of God as revealed in Holy Writ?


  • Could it be that Protestants do not address these sins because their very legitimacy as Protestants depends upon our freedom to not repent of them?


Surprised By History


At some point I became aware of the fact that the entire Church before 1054, when the East and West finally split, had always held to a primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The Orthodox have no trouble admitting this. Primacy functioned in many various ways, and any given thinker in the early Church can be found expressing different and even contrasting versions of it. As I studied, it began to become clear to me—from the beginning the bishop of Rome had always exercised a different authority than any other bishop. Exactly what the authority was could be open for discussion, but that the authority was different, not only in degree but also in kind, was undeniable.


Examples abound, beginning immediately after the Apostles. The Church in Corinth had been through such a row (imagine that – in Corinth!) that they were attempting to depose their bishops. Clement of Rome, third successor of Peter, wrote a letter to them, an Eastern Church, demanding that they re-instate their bishops. The outcome? The Corinthians obey Clement! Easterners allowing the Bishop of distant Rome to tell them what to do! The Corinthians held Clement’s admonition in such esteem, that for years they treated it like scripture, reading it often in their liturgies.


Later, at the end of the second century, a conflict arose as to the correct date for Easter. Those churches which had been founded by John held to a different date than the churches founded by Peter and Paul. The drastic steps, which Victor, the bishop of Rome, took to unify the calendar were strongly resisted by Irenaeus and other bishops as being too harsh. Victor and Irenaeus met, and Victor was swayed by Irenaeus. The gentler approach, promoted by Irenaeus and other bishops succeeded over time in bringing the calendars together. The interesting part of the story is that even though Irenaeus strongly and passionately disagreed with Victor in his appeal to change course, he never denied Victor’s right, as Bishop of Rome, to exercise governing authority over the Eastern churches. There was no discussion; the authority was recognized by all parties.


Lending weight to Irenaeus’ testimony is the fact that he was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of John the Apostle. He has this to say in approximately 180 A.D.:


For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [of Rome], on account of its pre-eminent authority . . . . [7]


There are many instances in which Eastern bishops appealed to the Bishop of Rome for a definitive statement to resolve a conflict. For example, in the third century Cyprian appealed to Pope Stephen about the matter of re-baptizing those who had been baptized by a schismatic or heretical bishop. The verdict Cyprian received did not please him: Stephen ruled that that the Baptism received, because it was in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was valid, even though those performing the baptism were in schism with the Catholic Church. Cyprian complained about the decision, but never denied the authority of the Bishop of Rome to bind the whole Church to a certain teaching. History has proven Stephen correct, and Cyprian wrong. The decision was a good one. The Church still teaches that there is one Baptism, the Trinitarian one. The spiritual condition of the one who baptizes does not affect the validity of the Sacrament.


St. Cyprian quite clearly believed that papal authority must be upheld in the Church for the sake of unity. The term Cyprian uses to describe the Roman Church, principal Church, was also used by Irenaeus in the second century. The term that Cyprian uses, “chair of Peter,” clearly denotes the Bishop of Rome.


With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal Church, in which sacerdotal unity has its source.[8]

There is one God, and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the Word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering. [9]


Such statements from Irenaeus and Cyprian were all the more surprising and shocking because of their dates. Everything Catholic, i.e. everything that the Protestants disagree with, was all supposed to have begun after the dubious conversion of Constantine in the 4th century. I had been told this many times in thumbnail summations of church history given in sermons and books. But it wasn’t true. The early Church far more resembled an infant Catholic Church than anything Protestant. I was very surprised!


A dramatic example of the uniquely authoritative voice of the Bishop of Rome in the early Church was exhibited by the role Pope Leo played at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. His authority was accepted by all of the bishops who attended the council to declare null and void the council held the year before, now referred to as the Robber Council, at which a group of Eastern bishops had attempted to promulgate the heresy of Monophysitism.[10] Today, some people try to assert that the role Pope Leo played in negating the work of the Robber Council was somehow a role any other bishop could have played. In actuality the bishops at the Council of Chalcedon (convened to replace the illicit Robber Council) loudly and publicly accredited the authority of Leo’s wise and orthodox Tome to his position as the successor of Peter. Only his authority could remedy the situation. Without it you would have had only a room full of squabbling Eastern theologians and academics, incapable of agreeing on this issue.


As I became more aware of the conflicts which arose in the first centuries of the Church, I started to get dragged into the ancient family feud between East and West which resulted in the East-West Schism of 1054. On the one hand, I felt like it was really none of my business; I have problems enough of my own without taking on unresolved conflicts of another millennium. On the other hand there were a number of Evangelicals who were becoming Orthodox, people like Frankie Schaeffer Jr., Peter Gilquist, and even some of the TEDS seminarians. Unfortunately, some of them were more vociferously anti-Catholic than they had been as Evangelicals.


It shocked me to discover that the major sees of ancient Christendom, Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria, had, at one time or another, taught heresy . . . but not Rome. Arianism was taught in Antioch by eight different bishops from 330-359, and in Constantinople from 339 to 370 by four different bishops. Monophysitism was taught in Alexandria from 497 to 536 by five different bishops, and in Constantinople 496 to 511 and 536 by two different bishops. Monothelitism was taught in Constantinople from 610 to 641 by three different bishops.


Anti-Catholic apologists like to bring Pope Honorius into the mix, claiming he was a heretic who was the bishop of Rome. It was a close call, because Honorius was a heretic, but he never taught heresy while he was Pope. The one “almost victory” for the Father of lies, i.e. for the Gates of Hell, does more to prove infallibility than to disprove it. If God makes a promise, wouldn’t you expect the devil to go all out to prove it can be broken? In 2000 years, wouldn’t one at least “close call,” be expected?


I discussed these sorts of things with my colleagues at Trinity, especially the historians. My astute historian friend, Steve Pointer, a died-in-the-wool Calvinist, allowed, “The pope did have an uncanny ability to land on the correct side of every heresy.” He thought it was a coincidence. I began to suspect it was by divine design.


I read on-line debates about the papacy; Orthodox, Calvinists, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and Catholics all weighed in. I read books, pro and con. A few things were becoming clear: whatever the exact role was that the Bishop of Rome played in the early Church, it was one no other bishop could have played. Furthermore, the authority the Bishop of Rome wielded was not based upon his own wisdom, his own popularity or even his own sanctity. It was based solely upon the office itself.


As my search unfolded I must say I never seriously considered becoming Orthodox. Each Orthodox Church struck me as so bound to a particular ethnicity and language that it was incapable of being truly Catholic, i.e. universal. And all of them appear to be trapped in time and geographical location. The spirit I perceived coming from the converts to Orthodoxy from Evangelicalism did not appeal to me. I finally came to the conclusion that they had simply succumbed to a more sophisticated version of the Protestant “I did it my way.”

Surprised by the Scriptures


I was starting to get worried about all of this. I started losing sleep. Good Evangelical that I was I turned to the Scriptures. A few issues were clear. None of them, taken on their own could be used to absolutely prove the Catholic position, but taken together, they were not without weight.


  • Peter received a new name.[11] [12] The impact of this had not really dawned on me before. When, in the Bible, someone receives a new name from God, it often underlines the significance of that person in salvation history: Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, and Simon becomes Peter, Kephas, Rock.


Regarding Matthew 16 . . .

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter (rock), and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


. . Jesus was speaking Aramaic, and there is no other word for rock in that language than Kephas. Petra and Petros are used in the Greek because it is a language which uses genders: masculine and feminine. To employ “Petra” in referring to Peter was grammatically not possible in Greek without giving him a girl’s name. Thus, it is quite clear that Jesus said to Simon, “you are Rock and on this Rock I will build my Church.” Even D.A. Carson, highly esteemed professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School agrees; [13] the Petros/Petra distinction exists in the Greek only because of grammatical genders in the Greek, not because Christ is making a distinction between two different meanings of “rock.”


  • While it is true that all of the Apostles receive the powers to loose and to bind in Matthew 18; only Peter is given the power of the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16).

  • Just before Christ’s devastating prediction of Peter’s pending denials, he promises to pray that Peter’s faith will not cease, and issues a uniquely universal charge to him: after Peter repents, he is to “strengthen the brethren.” Jesus never gives such a universal assignment to one individual, except to Peter.

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren. [14]


  • Likewise, Christ’s charge to Peter to act as shepherd to the whole flock, in John 21, is also unique. Jesus never gave anyone else that sort of universal charge, amplified in three repetitions, one for each of Peter’s previous denials.


When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” [15]


  • Furthermore, whenever the Apostles are listed in the Gospels, whether all twelve or a portion of them, Peter is always listed and, always listed first. In the gospels he is mentioned 158 times, more than all of the others combined. Bottom line? In the scriptures there is no gathering of apostles or disciples without Peter. The teaching of the Catholic Church—that the unity of the Church is to be found in the “unity of the Apostles gathered around Peter”—began to seem less unreasonable


Did Jesus make these dramatic statements about Peter in Matthew 16 and give him these authorities just for his lifetime? I had to admit it’s possible, but it wasn’t the only possibility. Did he single Peter out with a new name just to commission him like any other Apostle, or was he establishing an office of Shepherd for the Church, the People of the New Covenant? From the very beginning, the bishopric Peter established in Rome[16] was a special one, with authority different from other bishops not only in degree but in kind. Many Church Fathers, including pre-Nicene ones, refer to the office as the Chair of Peter. This Chair is often credited with being the source of unity, even by people who did not agree with the decisions that come from it.


Was the role of the Bishop of Rome exactly the same as the role the Pope would play? No, it wasn’t identical. But, the difference between the two could be attributed to organic growth, the same sort relationship as a seed to a tree:

Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. [17]


In discussing the papacy the Catechism includes the following paragraphs. I had to admit they represent a possible interpretation. There was nothing outlandish here, and, in any case, I had no way to decide that one possible interpretation was better than another possible interpretation.


CCC 880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them]in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among hem.”[18] Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another.” [19]

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. [20] “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.” [21] This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” [22] “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” [23]

883 “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.” [24]

884 “The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council.” [25]But “there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor.” [26]




What is this infallibility doctrine? I had already discovered how wrong most Protestants were regarding Catholic doctrines like transubstantiation. So, when I listened to the myriad of Protestant opinions about infallibility, I started thinking I had better find out what it really is before I continue to reject it. Does it mean the pope never makes a mistake? Does it mean that nothing he says can ever be changed or corrected? Does it mean that all disagreement with him is regarded as heresy? Does it make him an exception to Romans 3—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? As I began to be able to hear what the Catholic Church actually teaches, I had to admit that it excluded all of the above, i.e. it didn’t mean any of those things.



The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Papal Infallibility:


CCC 891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith – he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals..”[27]

Infallibility is claimed only at those times when the Pope is teaching something to be held definitively by all the faithful. This does not happen very often. Some of what the Pope teaches is an elucidation of that which is already defined. At other times he is speaking to areas of discipline, not doctrine. Although Catholics, for the sake of unity, are bound to obey disciplinary decisions of the Church (fasting on Fridays, celibate priesthood, etc.), such decisions are neither immutable nor infallible.


I also came to understand that infallibility is a charism, a gift from God, which provides that error will not be taught to the Church. It is one and the same as promising that the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church.

It began to become clear to me that Protestants believe the hard part: God can inspire men to write under His inspiration without getting it wrong. Then they balk at the part that, by comparison, is less difficult: God can and does provide a protection of the interpretation of His divinely inspired words. He can see to it that they are not misinterpreted.


Throughout the centuries infallibility has been believed. Irenaeus (second-century) and Cyprian (third-century) both say the Roman Church is the one with which all other must agree. Augustine (5th century), on more than one occasion, said a matter was closed because the Pope had spoken. Leo’s Tome was unanimously hailed as the voice of Peter by the council fathers in Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The fourth Council of Constantinople (9th century, i.e.before the division of East and West in 1054) said, “Thou art Peter. . . and the Catholic religion is preserved inviolable in the Apostolic See.” The Council of Trent (16th century) assumes infallibility, etc., etc.


So when the First Vatican Council defined once and for all the doctrine of infallibility, it was not willy-nilly making something up out of the blue. As a matter of fact, the dogma as it is promulgated in 1870 simply clarifies what the Church has always believed. Furthermore, it serves to limit the pope’s authority by making it clear when the Pope is and when he is not speaking infallibly. This is rarely mentioned by the dogma’s detractors.


The declaration from the proceedings of Vatican I:

And so we, adhering faithfully to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God, our Savior, the elevation of the Catholic religion and the salvation of Christian peoples, with the approbation of the sacred Council, teach and explain that the dogma has been divinely revealed, that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra [28] that is, when carrying out the duty of the pastor and teacher of all Christians in accord with his supreme apostolic authority he explains a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, through the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, operates with that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished that His church be instructed in defining doctrine on faith and morals; and so such definitions of the Roman Pontiff himself
, but not from the consensus of the Church, are unalterable. [29]


Peter vs. Paul?


Regarding the passage in Galatians 2 mentioned above, where Paul reproves Peter, it does not disprove infallibility. Peter is the one man in the Church who, since his vision on the rooftop in Acts 10, had always taught that the Gentiles are welcome in the Church, and don’t have to become Jewish. He received the vision, not Paul. But in Antioch (which was before the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15) his behavior had appeared to contradict his teaching. Infallibility does not guarantee impeccability, not by a long shot, as history will show. So Paul publicly chastised him.[30] It might be that Paul’s behavior was less than scriptural as well, given Christ’s admonition in Matthew 18 to confront a brother in private with his offense before trumpeting it to the whole world.


At the Church’s first Ecumenical Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 Peter teaches very clearly on the matter of keeping the ceremonial laws of the Jews. There can be no doubt where he stands doctrinally, in spite of the apparent lapse in the courage to execute his own teaching.


Drawing Conclusions


I had come to trust the papacy. One day I realized that I was fully on board with it. Even with its quirks and oddities, there is simply no other way to be one Church.


I am convinced; had John Paul II not embodied the idea of a universal shepherd so masterfully before me, I would have had much more difficulty coming to trust the papacy. Such a universal pastor is charged to shepherd all of the sheep, to strengthen all of the brethren. This is precisely what John Paul II did with grace and dignity.


Writing about John Paul II Avery Dulles says:


The pope does not care much for adulatory title such as “Your Holiness,” Holy Father,” and “Supreme Pontiff.” He accepts the title “Vicar of Christ” only with the reservation that it indicates a service rather than a dignity. . . . In his encyclical on ecumenism John Paul II emphasizes the task of the pope as a visible sign and guarantor of unity. The popes, he acknowledges, continue to show the weakness that was present in Peter himself. For this reason they must repeatedly ask for forgiveness and show mercy. How could they fail to do so, he asks, since Peter was the first to experience the mercy of Christ after his three-fold denial? . . . He is the first servant of unity. He must recall the requirements of the common good of the Church and admonish any element in the Church tempted to overlook the common good in the pursuit of personal interests. [31]


[1] Matthew 23:9

[2] Galatians 2:11-15

[3] An idea made very popular by Martin Luther

[4] As a judgment upon Israel, the nation was split asunder, into two kingdoms. This is hardly a positive development and must be seen as a precursor to the various exiles which occurred.

[5] Romans 16:7, 1 Corinthians 1:10, 11:8, 12:25,

[6] Proverbs 10:12, Romans 13:3, Galatians 5:20

[7] St. Irenaeus. Against Heresies

[8] St. Cyprian. Letter of Cyprian to All of His People. [43, 40, 5], in Jurgens, The Fathers of the Early Church, Vol. 1 #580

[9] St. Cyprian. Letter of Cyprian to All of His People. [43, 40, 5], in Jurgens, The Fathers of the Early Church, Vol. 1 #573

[10] Monophysitism teaches that Jesus Christ had only one nature, rather than two – divine and human.


[11] John 1:42: And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). Both Cephas –Aramaic- and Peter –Greek- mean rock.

[12] Protestants might quickly chime in that Paul got a new name too. This is not at all the same thing. The change from Saul to Paul does not occur to signify some new role for Paul, but simply to show he was now dealing with the Greek-speaking world in Greek and not with just the Hebrews in Hebrew. Paul and Saul mean the same thing.

[13] “Although it is true that petros and petra can mean “stone” and “rock” respectively in earlier Greek, the distinction is largely confined to poetry. Moreover the underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; and most probably kepha was used in both clauses (“you are kepha” and “on this kepha”), since the word was used both for a name and for a “rock”. The Peshitta (written in Syriac, a language cognate with Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses. The Greek makes the distinction between petros and petra simply because it is trying to preserve the pun, and in Greek the feminine petra could not very well serve as a masculine name.” D. A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984]), Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., 8:368.

[14] Luke 22:31-32

[15] John 21:15-19

[16] Calvin might have been able to get away with insinuating that Peter was never in Rome. Subsequent scholarship really gives very little room for doubt that Peter was the bishop of Rome until his death in the 60’s A.D.

[17] Matthew 13:31-32

[18] Lumen Gentium (Vatican II) 19; see also Luke 6:13; John 21:15-17

[19] Lumen Gentium (Vatican II) 22

[20] see Matthew 16:18-19; John 21:15-17

[21] Lumen Gentium (Vatican II) 22 § 2

[22] Lumen Gentium (Vatican II 23

[23] Lumen Gentium (Vatican II) 22

[24] Codex luris Canonici, can. 337 § 1

[25] Codex Iuris Canonici can. 337 § 3

[26] Lumen Gentium 22 (Vatican II)

[27] ibid

[28] Ex cathedra means from the chair of Peter i.e. when the Pope speaks in the authority given Peter, which is not often.

[29] First Vatican Council, §1838

[30] I am not sure how Paul would have treated Peter later in his ministry after he himself was forced to compromise on circumcision in order to placate the Judaizers.

And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.


[31] Avery Dulles. The Splendor of Faith: the Theological Vision of John Paul II (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999) p.52


3 Responses to “The Pope: Necessary for Unity”

  1. Una Sancta The Pope: Necessary for Unity « Says:

    […] The Pope: Necessary for Unity […]

  2. unasancta Says:

    what is a pingback?


    Delighted to see your Website and to learn of your new book.
    1) Your Chapter on the Pope is very good but it could be greatly strenghtened by emphasizing that a visible body (as the Church is assuredly envisioned in the New Testament), must have a visible head who serves as its center of unity. Protestants do not believe the Church to be a visible body at all, and Eastern Orthodoxy in general believes the Church to be a visible body but lacks the visible head that is essential to its organic unity, and was, in fact, personally instituted by Christ who made Peter the head of the Apostolic College and the entire Church Militant.
    2) The term “heretic” had a broad meaning in the 7th c. and was applied to Pope Honorius because of his negligence in countering the spread of the Monothelite heresy (as Pope Leo II saw fit to clarify in confirming the 6th Ecumenical Council’s censure). Honorius taught nothing infallibly to the entire Church so the Church’s dogmatic infallibility was not involved at all. Moreover, those closest to him defended his orthodoxy and denied he ever taught heresy.
    3) That St. Paul rebuked St. Peter is generally believed, but there has been a certain tradition from the earliest age of the Church and acknowledged by many Catholic writers that the Cephas censured by St. Paul was not Peter/Cephas but another Cephas who was one of the 70 disciples. You can read an article on this subject that I wrote on my Website: http://WWW.CREDOBUFFALO.COM
    4) It is a profound mistake to confine the exercise of the Church’s infallibility to “ex cathedra” definitions which are admittedly rare. But, as Pope John Paul II’s 1998 document “Ad Tuendam Fidem” declared, when the Pope definitively confirms a teaching of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, that teaching is infallible teaching. Thus the condemnations of the murder of the innocent, abortion, and euthanasia declared to be “intrinsic moral evils” in “Evangelium Vitae” as well as the condemnation of the ordination of women in “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”
    are “infallible teachings”. The same is true of Pope Paul VI’s teaching concerning contraception as an intrinsic evil; that is also infallible teaching whose truth can never change.
    5) I think you would find my two books on Eastern Orthodoxy: “The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church” and “Eastern Orthodoxy and the See of Peter” very helpful.
    See again my Website: http://WWW.CREDOBUFFALO.COM
    In Christ,
    James Likoudis
    president emeritus, Catholics United for the Faith

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