Whenever the Chair of Saint Peter is vacant, the crows begin to buzz and bicker and snipe at the Church and the Papacy. The abdication of Benedict XVI has stimulated even more excitement among that murder of crows – joined by any number of so-called Catholics.
The Citizen has been absent from writing lately for a variety of reasons, but I am thankful for those who have roused me from my slumber to enter once more into the fray against heresy and heterodoxy and just plain ignorance.
There is a young man whose acquaintance has sparked my musings today. He professes to be a Catholic – and a fourth year seminarian at that – and has questioned the legitimacy of the Papacy. Falling to the words of those anti-Catholic ‘sola scriptura’ heterodox preachers, he insists that there is no biblical justification for the Papacy, that the Vatican is nothing more than a human construct, and he has intimated that the Holy See interferes with a person’s ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Alas, he is not alone – so let us explore this issue.
To understand the protestant abhorrence to Catholicism, you have to understand the concept of ‘sola Scriptura’ – Latin for ‘by Scripture alone’. This is the tactic they use to attempt to put Catholics on the defensive on every tenet of our Faith from transubstantiation to the sacrament of Reconciliation to the legitimacy of the Papacy. To the Protestant, every word of the Bible is inspired and inscribed directly by the will of God and that all knowledge of God’s will for mankind can be found completely within the pages of the Bible. There is no wisdom, no legitimacy, no truth that does not emanate explicitly from the Bible. Period.
Well, that would be wonderful if we lived in a perfect world where man cannot commit error or Free Will interferes with the writers of the various books that comprise Scripture – not to mention those who compiled them into the New Testament – from being compelled to be robots transcribing the Word. This is why we have the Tradition and the Magisterium to support Scripture. And while many Doctors of the Church place tremendous significance – and rightly so – on Scripture – we as Catholics also rely upon the other two gifts from Jesus. Tradition and the Magisterium.
Let’s set Tradition and the Magisterium aside for a moment and focus on Scripture. The New Testament is studded with references and injunctions for the Apostles to establish the Church – and the hierarchy.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
This established the office of priest – but the Scripture did not stop there. John 21:15 – 19 establishes the hierarchy and the role Peter was to play.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “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.[18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me”
Matthew 16:18 reinforced that position that Christ had entrusted Peter to assume:
18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[a] and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Now, there are those who like to quibble about the masculine or feminine usages of the word ‘rock’ – I find that when a debating partner starts quibbling over the esoteric, they have no substantive argument.
In his History of the Church, written in 324, Eusebius (260-339), wrote:
After the martyrdom of Paul and Peter, the first man to be appointed Bishop of Rome was Linus. … Linus, who is mentioned in the Second Epistle to Timothy as being with Paul in Rome, as stated above was the first after Peter to be appointed Bishop of Rome. Clement again, who became the third Bishop of Rome … to Miltiades.
Paul’s letter to Timothy mentions a Linus. A coincidence? Likely not.
“…Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers send greetings.” (2 Timothy 4:21)
Linus would assume the office of Bishop of Rome upon the martyrdom of Peter. Sometime around the 8th century, the title Pope – once used by bishops – became a title reserved for the heir of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
These passages consist of the first leg of the ‘tripod’ – Scripture. We have the Tradition and Magisterium as well…something that Protestants do not want to admit as relevant, because it would invalidate their theological constructs. Yet the very Scriptural passages I cite clearly demonstrate that there is – within the Scripture itself – legitimacy for the teaching authority and the establishment of the Church.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 states “Hold fast to the traditions which we gave you whether by word of mouth or in writing.” Christ lived among the apostles for three years, Paul lived among the people in the communities he preached in. Our Catholic faith is steeped in tradition inspired by Scripture and confirmed by Dei Verbum. We live a scriptural life that is supported and enriched by the Traditions of our Faith. The Rosary, Stations of the Cross, novenas, and other practices do not supplant Scripture. Indeed, like salt enhances the flavor of soup, Tradition enhances our understanding and enjoyment of a scriptural life.
Thus when Catholics refer to the Throne of Peter, we are cleaving to that tradition of the line of succession, established in Matthew, confirmed in the writings of Eusebius, and continued by the customs, usages, and traditions of our Church.
Magisterium refers to the teaching authority of our bishops – the heirs of the apostles and the Pope – the heir of the first Bishop of Rome, Peter. In Councils and through the writings of early Doctors of the Church, the legitimacy of the Papacy was established. It was through these councils and discernment, the books of the New Testament were recognized as inspired and thus Scripture. In like manner, the Magisterium has articulated that the injunction places upon Peter in Matthew imbued him – and his brethren and their appointed successors – with the responsibility of guiding the community of believer through the exercise of discernment, grace, and faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was written as an instrument of the Magisterium, explicitly stating the doctrines, practices, and teachings of our Faith and justifying them using the authority not only of scripture but of tradition and the legitimately recognized teaching authority of our bishops.
CCC 877 states:
Likewise, it belongs to the sacramental nature of ecclesial ministry that it have a collegial character. In fact, from the beginning of his ministry, the Lord Jesus instituted the Twelve as “the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy.”395 Chosen together, they were also sent out together, and their fraternal unity would be at the service of the fraternal communion of all the faithful: they would reflect and witness to the communion of the divine persons.396 For this reason every bishop exercises his ministry from within the episcopal college, in communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter and head of the college. So also priests exercise their ministry from within the presbyterium of the diocese, under the direction of their bishop.
This establishes the legitimacy of the Apostles as the first council of bishops and sets the Bishop of Rome paramount among them, a chief priest among priests. CCC 881 confirms this position of Peter and his successors:
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.400 “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.”401 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.
And in CCC 882, the Pope acts as the ‘…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.”
Brothers and sisters, we have a Pope whose authority emanates not solely from Scripture but from Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority – or Magisterium – of the Apostles and those men who have followed in their office from the pontificate of Peter to that of Benedict.
I salute and thank Benedict for his service and devotion and inspired leadership. I accept the wisdom of his decision and marvel at the humility that he must possess to renounce one of the most powerful, influential, and important offices in the world. God bless you, Papa, and I pray the our Cardinals will listen to God as they discern and elect the man who will take the throne of Saint Peter and accept the awesome responsiblity of being the next Vicar of Christ and Keeper of the Keys of Heaven.