Whose your Daddy…..or why we have a Pope.
By: Christopher Johnson
Almost nothing is as confusing to non-Catholics as the papacy. Pope John Paul II acknowledged this when he said that the papacy is a stumbling block to Christian unity. We know that people are confused by our relationship to him. Do we worship him? Does he boss us around? Is his power political, or spiritual? Is he a Jedi?
Well let us start with his title. He is the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Catholic Magisterium, which is a fancy word for the teaching authority of the Church. As the head of the Magisterium the Pope holds the final word on matters of faith and morals. We believe that he can make mistakes and is not divine in any manner, however, we do believe that when he speaks on faith and morals these are circumstances when he is protected by the Holy Spirit and is granted “papal infallibility” but more on that later.
I know, I know, there is a lot of strange concepts here but give me a chance to explain. What you need to remember is that Catholics don’t worship the Pope, and he’s not a replacement for Jesus. The papacy is an institution that has its roots in scripture so lets start by looking there.
This is probably the best possible place to begin looking at how we see the papacy being created. Just imagine Jesus and the apostles in the region known as Caesarea Philippi. Your standing next to the sheer face of a rock wall the towers over the town. At the walls highest point is a temple to Caesar Augustus ( I think its safe to assume that Jesus is drawing a distinction between his kingdom and the earthly one that he was part of.) This is the location where he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?’ he asked. “Who do you say I am?’
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
For one thing it’s hard for contemporary Christians to understand the ramifications of what Simon had said. Many people thought that Jesus might be a prophet of old, but the truth is no one could fathom Jesus’ true nature and the fact that what Simon said had huge ramifications for him and ultimately for the Christian Church.
And what might these ramifications be?
Well for one Simon’s name is changed to “Peter” which means “rock”.
So why is this a big deal?????
Well because when a person gets renamed in the Bible its sort of a big deal. It’s a sign that God is going to work through that person in a special way. Think about it, Abram became the father of nations after being renamed “Abraham,” and Sarai the mother after being renamed “Sarah.” Jacob became “Israel” and Saul became “Paul”. In Aramaic the word for rock is the same as for Peter. That word is Cephas.
So in the language of Jesus this would have sounded like this,” And I tell you that you are Cephas, and on this Cephas I will build my church”
If Jesus was talking about the statement that Peter made then the question is why then change Simon’s name?
I understand that many of our Protestant brothers and sisters may have an issue with this assertion but let me address the “keys to the kingdom” statement which may help clear the issue up.
If you have ever seen the Papal seal, you’ll notice some keys. Catholic teaching here puts the keys of the kingdom statement in Matthew in context with Isaiah 22:22, where God tells Isaiah to go to King Hezekiah’s steward, Shebna, and inform him of God’s intention to replace him with Eliakim. In regards to the new steward, Eliakim, God says: I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
What does all this mean?
In the Old Testament the steward of the palace was the king’s second in command. When the king is away, this steward was the keeper of the keys of the kingdom, running things while the king is gone. What is important to remember is that the steward never replaced the king, just ran things while he waited for the king to return. If and when a steward died, another filled his office.
The Pope is the same as the Old Testament steward. We believe that Christ, to ensure the health and unity of his flock granted Peter the governing authority over his Church, hence giving him, “the keys to the kingdom”. And like the stewards when a Pope dies his office is filled. Until Christ’s second coming, the keys will continue to be passed between each successive Pope.
So what about all this binding and loosing jazz?
In 1st century rabbinic canon law it refers to the legislative and judicial powers held by a Rabbi. From a Catholic perspective the giving of Peter the keys to the kingdom made him the leader of the apostles, a position that seems pretty obvious throughout New Testament. This binding and loosing gets handed on to each new Pope just like the keys to the kingdom get handed to each new steward upon their death.
How does Papal Infallibility work?
The issue of religious authority brings up an often misunderstood doctrine of Catholic teaching: Papal infallibility. We see that Catholics believe the Pope has great authority in matters of the faith, but this doesn’t mean that Catholics believe every word the Pope says comes straight from the Heavenly Father like Peter’s first pronouncement.
Papal infallibility refers to the belief that while all Christians have personal access to the Holy Spirit in prayer, Christ promised a unique protection over the Apostles’ teachings, ensuring they would preach without error (John 16: 12–15). In order for a papal teaching to be considered free of error or “infallible,” the Pope must a) be speaking on a matter of faith and morals (he can’t tell us that the sky is now red not blue) and b) make it clear he is speaking from the “Chair of Peter” and that what he is about to say is binding. Back to the concept of guardianship, the Catholic Church teaches that infallible statements are for affirming what has always been true and is not a method of creating new beliefs. Official statements of infallibility are rare — the last one was made in 1950.
Oh yea one more thing about Papal Infallibility!!
It’s important to remember that Papal Infallibility refers to doctrine being protected from error, not the man holding the Papal office being free of imperfection or sin. Catholics point to Peter’s sinfulness as an example of failings in a Pope, and John Paul II was known to confess his sins weekly.