Did Christ Really Place Peter
Over All the Church?


Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter by Perugino

According to Roman Catholic Doctrine, as clarified and declared by the Fourth Session of the First Vatican Council, Jesus Christ Himself named Peter to be His successor and placed him at the head of the Christian church. The Catholic faithful are to believe this, without reservation, under pain of anathema.

Though it is a somewhat lengthy citation, I invite all to read through the full contents of Chapter 1, which is the “infallible” declaration of Peter's primacy over all the Apostles and the church that Christ instituted on that Pentecost so many centuries ago.

Chapter 1 On the institution of the apostolic primacy in blessed Peter

1. We teach and declare that according to the testimonies of the Gospel the primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church of God was promised and was conferred immediately and directly upon the blessed Apostle Peter by Christ the Lord. For the one Simon, to whom He had before said: "Thou shalt be called Cephas" (John 1:42), after he had given forth his confession with those words: "Thou art Christ, Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16), the Lord spoke with these solemn words: "Blessed are thou, Simon Bar Jona; because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee"That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hells shall not prevail against it: and I shall give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matt 16:17 ff.). (Against Richerius etc.). And upon Simon Peter alone after His resurrection conferred the jurisdiction of the highest pastor and rector over his entire fold, saying: "Feed my lambs," "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15 ff.). To this teaching of Sacred Scriptures, so manifest as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, are opposed openly the vicious opinions of those who perversely deny that the form of government in His Church was established by Christ the Lord; that to Peter alone, before the other apostles, whether individually or all together, was confided the true and proper primacy of jurisdiction by Christ; or, of those who affirm that the same primacy was not immediately and directly bestowed upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through this Church upon him as the minister of the Church herself.

(Canon). If anyone then says that the blessed Apostle Peter was not established by the Lord Christ as the chief of all the apostles, and the visible head of the whole militant Church, or, that the same received great honor but did not receive from the same our Lord Jesus Christ directly and immediately the primacy in true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema.--First Vatican Council, Session 4, July 18, 1870, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Chapter 1 (On the institution of the apostolic primacy in blessed Peter (Denzinger 1822 & 1823)

That's pretty strong stuff. Either believe this doctrine, which is declared by an "infallible" general council and promulgated by a Pope, or be declared anathema. Typical mind-control tactics as so often seen in the machinations of the Roman cult. Tell those bound by Roman chains what they are to believe and then threaten them with terrible punishments if they dare to doubt what the Magisterium spews out to them.

That sound hermeneutics reveals nothing in Scripture to support this Romish claim is meaningless to the Magisterium, the supposedly infallible teaching authority of the RCC, for it does not rely only on the written Word of God but also "Holy Tradition." This Tradition seems to be a catchall repository for all the things the Holy Spirit neglected to include in Scripture but revealed to those whose labors sustain the Magisterium. What are the Holy Traditions? How might one study them and so fulfill the biblical command to study to show oneself approved (2 Timothy 2:15)? Well, now, that's a tough question. You see, there is no written compilation of the Holy Traditions one might turn to for enlightenment. Say what they will, the truth of the matter is that all that Tradition is nothing more than solidified expedient responses to threats and challenges to the power of the RCC hierarchy.

Here, we come to an interesting conundrum. Given the clearly defined infallibility of general councils, the Pope when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, and the Magisterium, one would think their pronouncements to be pure and enduring truth. It is a frequently heard position of RCC apologists that such truths have always been held in the RCC, though they may have been formally declared for some time. If that is the case, then one must wonder how so many of those early church fathers Roman apologists so love to refer to could have been so wrong concerning who was the first leader of the "church militant." Given that so many of these luminaries of the church did not agree with the allegedly always understood infallible truth of this dogmatic constitution, does this mean they have been anathematized ex post facto? Or is this but another example of the RCC "infallibly" declaring one thing and doing something different?

Did Christ appoint Peter to lead the Christian Church? Did the apostles and other disciples of Christ recognize Peter as their leader? Well, Scripture nowhere supports such a position, unless one calls in the Magisterial spin doctors to distort Matthew 16:18-19, Acts 15 and elsewhere. Romish apologists often tell us that the early church fathers, many of whom were contemporaries of the apostles and disciples or those who knew them personally, were unanimously in agreement that Peter was the first leader of the Church. Is that true? Or are the masters of misinformation running a game on the unsuspecting? Let's see for ourselves.

John Chrysostom, that bright light of the Eastern church, was acclaimed as a gifted speaker. Many of his homilies survive. In one of them, we can read this reference to, not Peter, but James, having been the first bishop of the Jerusalem church.

6. Nevertheless they, who did not believe at first, became afterwards admirable, and illustrious. At least when Paul and they that were of his company were come up to Jerusalem about decrees they went in straightway unto James. For he was so admired as even to be the first to be entrusted with the bishop's office.--Philip Schaff, Ed., Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 5, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st Series, Vol 10, p. 94

John Cassian, another church father, appears to have considered James the Just to have been the leader of the Jerusalem church. At least that seems to be the implication of his words in his account of the Second Conference of Joseph:

And that we may trace these matters out more carefully and recount one by one the glories of the good deeds of the Apostles, some one may ask how the blessed Apostle can be proved to have suited himself to all men in all things. When did he to the Jews become as a Jew? Certainly in the case where, while he still kept in his inmost heart the opinion which he had maintained to the Galatians saying: "Behold, I, Paul, say unto you that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing," yet by circumcising Timothy he adopted a shadow as it were of Jewish superstition. And again, where did he become to those under the law, as under the law? There certainly where James and all the Elders of the Church, fearing lest he might be attacked by the multitude of Jewish believers, or rather of Judaizing Christians, who had received the faith of Christ in such a way as still to be bound by the rites of legal ceremonies, came to his rescue in his difficulty . . . --Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol. 11, "The Second Part of the Conferences of John Cassian, the Second Conference of Abbot Joseph", Chap. 20, pp. 950-1

"James and the Elders" certainly seems to indicate that James held a position superior to the elders in that church. Not clear enough, you say? Then let us continue searching the writings of these venerable men of the ancient church.

But now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that are asleep; — And He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; (for if thou believe not the one witness, thou hast twelve witnesses;) then He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; (if they disbelieve the twelve, let them admit the five hundred;) after that He was seen of James, His own brother, and first Bishop of this diocese. Seeing then that such a Bishop originally saw Christ Jesus when risen, do not thou, his disciple, disbelieve him. But thou sayest that His brother James was a partial witness; afterwards He was seen also of me Paul, His enemy; and what testimony is doubted, when an enemy proclaims it? "I, who was before a persecutor, now preach the glad tidings of the Resurrection.--Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol 7, S. Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, "Catechetical Lectures," Lecture 14, p. 269

Notice that, while he does mention Peter (Cephas), Archbishop Cyril calls James the "first Bishop of this diocese.?" Seems to me Cyril's understanding of who was running the early church does not agree with the pronouncement of the infallible First Ecumenical Council. Does that mean Cyril of Jerusalem is anathematized? Should Rome take back his sainthood? Inquiring minds want to know.

Now Clement, writing in the sixth book of the Hypotyposes, makes this statement. For he says that Peter and James and John, after the Savior's ascension, though pre-eminently honored by the Lord, did not contend for glory, but made James the Just, bishop of Jerusalem.--A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, Eds.; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, Clement of Alexandria "Fragments, Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History", Book 6.2.1; p. 1177

According to Clement's account, it seems that not Peter, nor James nor John were interested in being the big boss of the new church and, in a wonderful display of Christlike humility, accorded that honor to James the Just. Early church historian Eusebius lends his support to the idea that James the Just, not Peter, was in charge of the Jerusalem church:

FIRST, then, in the place of Judas, the betrayer, Matthias, who, as has been shown was also one of the Seventy, was chosen to the Apostolate. And there were appointed to the diaconate, for the service of the congregation, by prayer and the laying on of the hands of the apostles, approved men, seven in number, of whom Stephen was one. He first, after the Lord, was stoned to death at the time of his ordination by the slayers of the Lord, as if he had been promoted for this very purpose. And thus he was the first to receive the crown, corresponding to his name, which belongs to the martyrs of Christ, who are worthy of the meed of victory. Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem.--Philip Schaff, Ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol 1., "The Church History of Eusebius," pp. 133-4

Just one more selection, again from Eusebius:

After Nero had held the power thirteen years, and Galba and Otho had ruled a year and six months, Vespasian, who had become distinguished in the campaigns against the Jews, was proclaimed sovereign in Judea and received the title of Emperor from the armies there. Setting out immediately, therefore, for Rome, he entrusted the conduct of the war against the Jews to his son Titus. For the Jews after the ascension of our Savior, in addition to their crime against him, had been devising as many plots as they could against his apostles. First Stephen was stoned to death by them, and after him James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, was beheaded, and finally James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Savior, died in the manner already described. . . .--Philip Schaff, Ed.; The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd SERIES, VOLUME 1, The Church History of Eusebius, Book 3, Chapter 5, p. 216

Given the foregoing, I reckon it is not a fact that the early church fathers unanimously accepted that Christ placed the leadership of the new church, which existed only in Jerusalem at the time of His ascension, into the hands of Peter. Who is in error? The early church fathers, some of whom were contemporaries or near-contemporaries of the Apostles? Or the "infallible" men of the "infallible" First Ecumenical Council, who met some 1800 years after the fact?

Scripture warns us:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.--1 Timothy 4:1-5

Home | The Papacy | Catholic Stuff | PTG Forum
(C) 1994-2008 Ron Loeffler