An Invitation to Examine Roman Catholic Faith in the Light of Scripture
2nd in a series adapted by Philip L. Powell
from the book of the above title (© 2005 Dr Joseph Mizzi) with the author's written permission. www.justforcatholics.org
By Dr Joseph Mizzi (Malta)References
Unless otherwise indicated, Bible quotations are taken from the New King James Version (Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.) Used by permission. All rights reserved.References to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) are marked “CCC” and followed by the paragraph number.
Built upon Christ
On whom is the church built? Who is her Head?The Bible exhorts all the faithful:
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught - Colossians 2:6-7.
The church is built upon Christ, as proclaimed by God's chosen messengers.
Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone - Ephesians 2:20.The Bible clearly states that Jesus is the foundation of the church:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ - 1 Corinthians 3:11.
Who then is the Head and Leader of the church? The Bible answers:
Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body - Ephesians 5:23.
The beloved Son of God is:….the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre- eminence - Colossians 1:18.
Christ alone holds the primacy in the church! Jesus rules His church from His throne in heaven, by the Holy Spirit whom He sent after His ascension, according to the rule of His Word written in Scripture and through the office of His faithful ministers, the pastors and teachers.
Upon This Rock
The Roman Catholic Church affords different answers:
The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the 'rock' of his Church (CCC 881).
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 (CCC 882).
To evaluate properly these statements, we must first of all acquaint ourselves with the portion of Scripture the Roman Catholic Church uses as evidence for the pope's authority:
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” - Matthew 16:13-19.
When I was still a schoolboy, our teacher told us that the church is built upon Peter, because Peter means “rock.” Later on I was quite surprised to learn that “Peter” (petros) and “rock” (petra) are two distinct words with separate meanings. The Roman Catholic interpretation assumes that “Peter” and “rock” are strictly synonymous, whereas they are not.
Christ builds His church upon the rock.
The question is: What is this solid rock upon which the House of God rests?
The subject of Matthew 16 is not Peter, but the true and full identity of Jesus. The rock is therefore Peter's confession, namely, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
After all, both Paul and Peter describe Jesus Christ as “the rock” “petra” cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:8. Elsewhere Scripture asks, “For who is God, except the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?” (Psalm 18:31 cf. 2nd Samuel 22:32).
You may perhaps consider that the above is a novel interpretation of this important text. Although some Church Fathers explain “this rock” to mean Peter or the apostles, many of them interpret the rock to mean Christ Himself or else Peter's confession about Christ. For instance, Augustine of Hippo writes:
'Therefore,' he saith, 'Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock' which thou hast confessed, upon this rock which thou hath acknowledged, saying, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' will I build My Church; that is upon Myself, the Son of the Living God, 'will I build My Church. I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon Thee' (Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, 26. www.ccel.org/fathers/NPNF1-06/ecf3-26.htm)
Interestingly, today's Roman Catholic Church admits that this is a correct interpretation. In her Catechism, paragraph 424, we read:
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.
Truly, the rock is the faith confessed by Peter. How then does the Roman Catholic Church contend that “The Lord made Simon alone, whom He named Peter, the rock of his Church”?
The Apostle Peter
Peter was an outstanding leader in the early church. He is consistently mentioned first in the list of the apostles; he is often their spokesman; and he had the privilege of first preaching the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. Peter was prominent, but that does not mean that he was a pope. Prominence is altogether different from a “full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church” (First Vatican Council, session 4, chapter 3).
The Roman Catholic bishop of New York may be more prominent than the bishop of Malta, yet the former does not exercise authority over the latter.We all agree that Christ gave authority to Peter.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven - Matthew 16:19.
At issue is whether this authority was unique to Peter. Evidently it was not, for soon afterwards Jesus gave exactly the same authority to all the apostles:Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven - Matthew 16:19; 18:18.
Hence Peter had an authority identical to that of the other apostles, not an authority over them.Peter and his fellow-apostles never understood the Lord's saying as appointing Peter to be the chief leader and the head of the entire church. Even on the eve of Christ's crucifixion “there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest” (Luke 22:24). The Lord did not remind them what He had said earlier to Peter in Caesarea. He only told them that they should not exercise lordship over the people as the kings of the Gentiles do, but rather to be servants to each other.Peter took the lesson to heart. Although he was so prominent in the early church, Peter simply called himself an apostle and servant of Jesus Christ. In addressing elders, he referred to himself as “a fellow elder,” (1 Peter 5:1) but it is never once intimated that he is absolute leader, or pope, or even the chief among the apostles, or the vicar of Christ, or universal bishop. The Roman Catholic Church calls Peter the church's “supreme shepherd.” Peter disagrees; on the contrary, he calls Christ, and not himself, “the Chief Shepherd” (Compare Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes, no.5., with 1 Peter 5:4).
According to the witness of the New Testament, Peter did not exercise supreme authority over the whole church. So, even if the bishop of Rome were his successor, he would have no right to call himself universal bishop.
Not only so, the bishop of Rome has no right to Peter's apostolic authority. Beside the temple gate, Peter and John met a lame man. The invalid expected alms from them. Instead, Peter told him:
Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk -Acts 3:1-10.
The lame man instantly leaped up, stood and walked, praising God. The bishop of Rome claims to be Peter's successor, but he can hardly say, “Silver and gold I do not have.” Much less does he exercise the miraculous power with which God endowed Peter. I do not make this observation disrespectfully, but since the pope pretends to such lofty titles, we are entitled to examine his credentials.
The Struggle for Power
The Lord never gave authority over the whole church to the bishop of Rome or to any other person. The power and influence wielded by the Vatican today were gained gradually through much political and religious intrigue over the centuries. According to Scripture, presbyters are called to take care of the local church. Nevertheless, as early as the second century, it became fashionable for one presbyter to have jurisdiction over other presbyters, and to act as chief leader (known as the bishop).
In the fourth century, Emperor Constantine, and others succeeding him, showered the bishops with many honours since Christianity had become the empire's official religion. The highest dignity was accorded to the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Several bishops of Rome, particularly Leo I and Gregory the Great endeavoured with all their might to enhance their own prestige and that of their section of the church of Rome. The main battle was fought out between the bishops of the two main cities of the empire: Rome and Constantinople, and the rivalry and pique between them grew to such an extent that eventually Christendom suffered a schism in the eleventh century. The effect can still be seen today: the Roman Catholic Church on one hand and the Greek Orthodox Church on the other.
The patriarch of Constantinople, John IV, assumed the title of “Universal Bishop.” Pope Gregory I (590-604) readily rebuked him for his arrogance, declaring that the title was proud and foolish, that it came from the devil, and that it was unfit for any Christian bishop to use. Ironically, Gregory's successor, Pope Boniface III, became the recipient of the title “Universal Bishop.” This appellation, originally given by the wicked emperor Phocas, is still inherited by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to this very day.
Who is Your Rock?
If the pope had been accorded the title Universal Bishop by the Lord Jesus, we would be duty-bound to submit to him. The biblical and historical facts, however, do not warrant us to take such a step. In spite of this, the pope declares that for salvation, it is absolutely necessary for people to be subject to him.
Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff (Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302).Vatican II asserts:…it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is 'the all-embracing means of salvation,' that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.” (See Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Rredintegratio, no. 3.)
Peter, the apostle did not teach so. He did not exalt himself or the church of Rome, because salvation is not in the hands of some human leader or the monopoly of a particular church. Peter was intent on preaching Jesus Christ, for as he said:Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved - Acts 4:12.
Whom will you believe? To whom will you entrust your soul's salvation? The Lord Jesus blessed Simon Peter in confessing Him:
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God - Matthew 16:16.
If like Peter you believe wholeheartedly that Jesus is the promised Messiah, God's unique Son, trusting your salvation into His hands, you too will receive the unspeakable blessing from above—eternal life cf. John 20:30, 31.
How I wish that this Psalm will be your song:Truly my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved - Psalms 62:1, 2.