Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 3, 1953
NUMBER 30, PAGE 9c-10

Dunne - Pickup Discussion, Third Affirmative

George H. Dunne, S.J.

Proposition: "The Roman Catholic Church today is the church established by Jesus Christ."

We have quoted from a writer who speaks of the "heart-rending spectacles" and of "irreparable damage" caused by the disunity resulting from a denial of authority in particular churches. It seems illogical to regard disunity within a particular Christian community as a "heartrending spectacle" doing "irreparable damage" to the church of Christ while at the same time regarding disunity in the church universal with equanimity. Certainly it does not make sense to deplore small scale disunity and to defend large scale disunity. If "chaos and confusion" is bad in St. Francis Xavier parish, it is incomparably worse in the universal church. And if the recognition of authority is absolutely necessary to avoid "chaos and confusion" in St. Francis Xavier parish, it is incomparably more necessary if "chaos and confusion" are to be avoided in the universal church.

That writer's arguments contradict his conclusion. So does the inspired text of the New Testament. Granting that it is reasonable to suppose that our Lord, in order to obviate the danger of "chaos and confusion," established a supreme center of authority in His church, the question is: Did He in fact do so? The affirmative evidence is quite conclusive.

Christ, who conferred upon all of the apostles authority to teach and to govern, gave to one of them, Peter, a primacy of jurisdiction over the universal church.

1. The primacy of jurisdiction is promised to Peter:

"He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Then Jesus answered and said, 'Blessed art thou, Simon BarJona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in Heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:15-19)

With these words Christ promised Peter supreme authority over the universal church. (It is scarcely necessary to add that this is naturally a delegated authority and subject to Christ in whom alone resides all original authority over the church.)

In the metaphor employed by Christ Peter was to be to the church what the foundation is to a building. Without a foundation a building falls apart. It is the foundation which guarantees the unity and stability of the building.

Peter, therefore is to be the principle assuring unity and stability to Christ's church. But in any organization composed of human beings, whether "civil, domestic, or religious," the principle which alone can prevent "chaos and confusion" and guarantee "peace and order" (which is to say, unity and stability) is the principle of an "ultimate authority."

Furthermore, it is entirely plain from the context of Christ's remarks that He is here not referring simply to the church in Jerusalem or in Antioch or in Rome, but to His church universally considered. The ultimate or supreme authority which He here promises to delegate to Peter is, therefore an authority to be exercised over the church universal. It is not the church in Jerusalem or in Antioch or in any other particular locality against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail, but the universal church. Indeed, the gates of Hell have time and again over the last two thousand years "prevailed" over particular churches, as they are prevailing at the moment over the churches in China. The whole point of Christ's promise is that whatever local victories the powers of evil may win they will never succeed against the universal church.

2. The promised primacy of authority is conferred upon Peter:

Even were the Gospels silent on the subject we could be quite sure that what Christ promised to do He actually did. However in this ease St. John describes the fulfillment of the promise:

" 'Simon, son of John, dost thou love me more than these do ?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.' He said to him, `Feed my lambs,' He said to him a second time, 'Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?' He said to him, `Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.' He said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' A third time he said to him, `Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?' Peter was grieved because he said to him, for the third time, Dost thou love me ?' And he said to him, 'Lord thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.' He said to him, 'Feed my sheep'." (John 21:15-18)

In the light of Christ's earlier promise to Peter, these words, spoken after His resurrection, leave no doubt as to their meaning. But even considered in isolation from the text of Matthew their meaning is clear.

Christ addressed himself directly to Peter. He obviously intends to confer upon Peter a special prerogative, inasmuch as Peter had already received along with the other apostles the general authority and mission committed to them all. What the nature of that prerogative is may be judged from the metaphor deliberately employed by Christ: Peter is to be to the church what the shepherd is to the flock. The authority of the shepherd over his flock is independent and supreme. His is the responsibility of feeding and governing the flock. Upon Peter are imposed the responsibility of feeding and governing the entire flock of Christ's church and the authority without which responsibility is meaningless.

There are many clues scattered throughout the Gospel narratives which confirm that which the above texts clearly affirm, namely the primacy of Peter's position among the apostles: Whenever the evangelists list the apostles Peter is always named first, although the order in which the others are named is often changed. (Mt 10: 2-4; Mc. 3:16; Lk. 6:14; Acts 1:13) Christ often singled Peter out for special attention. (Lk. 4:38; 5:3; 5:10; Mt. 17:26; Jn. 13:6; Lk. 22:32; Jn. 21:18; Lk. 24:34; Mk. 16:7)

The behavior of Peter following the ascension of Christ shows that he was fully conscious of the special authority vested in him. It is always Peter who presides over the gatherings of the apostolic college and who speaks in its name: at the election of Mathias (Acts 1:15); on Pentecost (2:14); before the rulers and elders of the people (4:8); he is the first to perform miracles (3:6); he alone passes judgment upon and sentences Ananias and Sapphira (5); he visits the particular churches (9:32); in the first council of Jerusalem it is Peter who, arises and puts an end to the "long debate" and authoritatively settles the point in dispute. (15:7ff)

An examination of the writings of the Fathers of the early church (through the first six centuries) shows that they all recognized the special position of Peter as distinguished from the other apostles. It is enough here to quote some of the titles which they give him: "foundation of the church," "pillar of the church," "base of the church," "foundation of faith," "the head of the entire faith," "prince and head of the apostles," "the mouth of all the apostles," "the head of the family," "the prefect of the whole world."

Among those who explicitly direct themselves towards demonstrating the primacy and universality of Peter's authority from the text of Matthew and of John are Tertullian, Ephraim, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus, Ambrose, Jerome, Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine.

Thus the Holy Scriptures and tradition combine to prove that Christ established a church in which authority was shared by an episcopacy, but with an ultimate center of authority vested in one of their number. To put it technically, the organizational structure which Christ gave to His church was hierarchical and monarchical.

The conclusion from this is that only a church so organized can claim to be the church established by Jesus Christ. The only church so organized is the church commonly known as the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church, is therefore, the church established by Jesus Christ.