Musings on the Papacy of Rome

The Pope of Rome:

George Joyce in The Catholic Encyclopedia makes no bones about the collective expression of the Catholic Church concerning the pope when he states:
“The title 'pope' once used with far greater latitude, is at present employed solely to denote the Bishop of Rome, who, in virtue of his position as successor of St. Peter, is the chief pastor of the whole Church, the Vicar of Christ upon earth.”

This statement is more revealing than one might note at first. In fact, it either concedes that the pope has not always been in its present condition or that it will one day change. Protestants and Evangelicals agree that it is indeed something that did not just occur as a command from Christ to the one considered first pope-Peter (See Matthew 16:18-19). In fact, J. P. Kirsch asserts that Peter grew in prominence and then was given headship over all the Apostles. The key text for this argument is found in Matthew 16:18-19. He states that in those texts we see Christ declaring Peter as the “spiritual guidance of the faithful”. Speaking of the wishes of Christ he continues:

“His statement then admits of but one explanation, namely, that He wishes to make Peter the head of the whole community of those who believed in Him as the true Messias; that through this foundation (Peter) the Kingdom of Christ would be unconquerable; that the spiritual guidance of the faithful was placed in the hands of Peter, as the special representative of Christ.”

The current situation of the papacy “is a relatively late institution” (Geisler). Although the claims and contradictions of the Catholic Church are many on the issue of the pope some of the characters of the papacy have been varied since some have been heretics and others seemingly good men left with “little choice but to wield power…since no one else was there do so in any kind of stable way.” Some came to be pope in much different ways than others but culturally a pope was at times a good alternative to chaos when no emperor existed or a competent one at least.

 In fact, Gregory the Great, who became pope in 590 AD, was a politician who became had become a monk. Tradition suggests that he even attempted to leave Rome hidden in a huge basket to escape being voted in as pope. Gregory called himself “the servant of the servants of Christ” which was to become a title that all popes since would take on. This has indeed been an albatross about the necks of some popes as many were heretics and given to corruption, most of which occurred after the era of Gregory the Great.

Foundations for Popery:

Prior to Gregory, Damasus I reigned as the bishop of Rome from 366-384 AD. Damasus however had a very “high view of his own authority”. In fact, The Catholic Encyclopedia records this, “The increased prestige of the early papal decretals…belongs to the reign of Damasus…This development of the papal office, especially in the West, brought with it a great increase of external grandeur. This secular splendour, however, affected disadvantageously many members of the Roman clergy, whose worldly aims and life, bitterly reproved by St. Jerome, provoked (29 July, 370) and edict…forbidding ecclesiastics and monks (later also bishops and nuns) to pursue widows and orphans in the hope of obtaining from them gifts and legacies.”

Damasus also took the historical title of a pagan Roman priest “pontifex maximus”. Interestingly enough Damasus was the one to argue that “the authority of the bishop of Rome had been established by Jesus himself.” His proof text, of course, was Matthew 16:18-19.  Siricius, his successor, was the first to use the title of “pope”. A synod in 495 AD, held at Rome, became the very first to declare any pope (Gelasius I) as “the Vicar of Christ”. It is here that Hill believes the “theological foundations” for papal power were laid.

This foundation had been laid in imperial Rome as bishops or simply men, in need of a savior as everyone else, rose to prominence and unjust jurisdiction over people’s and lands. Rome however is a very important place to anyone who is a student of the Scriptures since it is there that both Peter and Paul were martyred for Christ. The Apostles had travelled spreading the Gospel as they went and consequently establishing an assembly of the Body of Christ in those respective places. The understanding that their letters and writings were indeed inspired Scripture tantamount to the Hebrew Scriptures is apparent in the New Testament (See 1 Timothy 5:18; 1 Peter 3:15-16). Therefore, there was and is a natural respect and inclination of authority vested in their words and commands given us and preserved by our Creator God.  These two ingredients were essential in the usurpation of such authority and power from the foundational Apostles of the Church to that of heretics and men wanting to bring civility.

Damasus I began the rolling tide of popery by actually wresting the meaning of Christ’s words in Matthew 16:18-19. Therefore, a perversion and manipulation of the church erupted from a misinterpretation of the very text given for the Church itself. Let us consider this key text and Catholic misinterpretations.

Key text for doctrine of the Pope: Matthew 16:15-19

Matthew 16:15-19, He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 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." NRSV

Reformation apologist James R. White contends that this passage is “key” but further says it is a “final refuge” for the position held by the Catholic Church. I would have to agree with White and the Reformation’s traditional interpretation here although there are at least 3 other interpretations as to whom or what the “rock” is in vs. 18. White states: “The central theme is the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. Any interpretation that takes the focus off of Jesus as Messiah is missing the point.” Indeed it gives further solidarity to the Christology of the New Testament.

It is also significant that Christ said “My church” (See Matthew 16:18) demonstrating that he alone is the architect and builder as well. Texts such as Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:1l; Ephesians 5:23 indicate that that Christ is both the foundation and the head of the church. By the use of the pronoun here Spiros Zodhiates suggests, “The Lord Jesus is not only going to build His church; He's going to possess it in the fullest sense. It is His church, and no one else's. And He alone builds. As the apostle Paul says later, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God increased (1 Cor 3:6; a.t.)

It is can also be noted that in Matthew 16:18-19 two different concepts are used. Jesus uses the terms “church” and “kingdom of heaven” and makes a proper distinction here. The church consists of the Body of Christ or the believers on earth then and now. The Kingdom of heaven is considered by some to pertain to the earthly and heavenly realms. The point then of “binding and loosing” is that things which have and are conclusively decided by God (kingdom of heaven) are also going to be or should be imitated by the Church on earth. The Church is comprised of believers who acknowledge the common confession, as did Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

William Webster has stated that “the overwhelming majority of the Fathers of the early centuries cannot be cited as supporters of the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matt 16:18 as proposed by Vatican One.” Augustine and John Chrysostom are among two of the greatest patristic theologians (East and West) that refute the Catholic notion and maintain a consistent Scriptural argument that is against the Roman Catholic interpretation that is persistent until this day.

The word for “Peter” (petros) means a small stone (John 1:42). Jesus uses a play on words here when he uses “rock” (petra) because this word refers to a foundation boulder (cf. 7:24, 25). It is out of harmony with much of the New Testament to attribute this use of “rock” to Peter himself since it is clear from the texts that Christ is both the foundation (Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Cor. 3:11) and the head (Eph. 5:23) of the church. The original Apostles did play a foundation role in the early church; however, a role with Peter having popish-like primacy seems ridiculous when such a role should always be reserved for Christ alone. This is further demonstrated in the very next verse when Christ warns them not to tell anyone that He was the Christ (See 16:20). The subject of the pericope rests upon the identity of Christ, found in the words of Peter.

Spiritual House built up by Living Stones

Just prior Peter had acknowledged and spoke as representative of the others, as usual, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah! To this response Jesus tells him that the Father had revealed this to him and not “flesh and blood”. Therefore, from the lips of Peter—a small stone—has come a foundation stone, upon which the church will and shall be built. Matthew being Hebrew, as well as all other Scripture writers excluding Luke, would naturally use such concrete concepts as “rock” here. Platonic Greek thought tended towards expressing things in more abstract concepts (e.g. mercy, love).

1 Peter 2:5-6, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (6) For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." NIV

Indeed in this preceding text Peter has later explained the imagery again when he states that the church is a “spiritual house” built of “living stones” (believers). In vs. 6 he quotes the prophet Isaiah 28:16, a reference to Christ being the chosen and precious foundational stone. Living stones confess that Jesus is the Christ; the Son of the living God and Peter as well as subsequent believers can do the same.


 1.      Joyce, G. (1911). The Pope. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 24, 2008 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12260a.htm

2.      Kirsch, J.P. (1911). St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 26, 2008 from New Advent:http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11744a.htm

3.      Geisler, N. L., & MacKenzie, R. E. (1995). Roman Catholics and Evangelicals : Agreements and differences (279). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

4.      Hill, Jonathan. Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity. Copyright © 2006 by Jonathan Hill Pg. 169

5.      White, R. James. The Roman Catholic Controversy, Copyright © 1996

6.      Zodhiates, Spiros. Exegetical Commentary on Matthew. Copyright © 2006 by AMG Publishers. All rights reserved. Used by permission

7.      Webster, William. Roman Catholic Tradition, Copyright © 1994, 1999 Christian Resources


Anonymous said...

I believe that the issue of the papacy is not see easily defined. The birth place of this doctrine, like so many others from the Trinitarian perspective, is Alexandria. Their 'bishop' was actually called 'pope' long before Rome's.

James Anderson said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. You can be assured this was not an exhaustive study on the papacy, especially juxtaposing that of the East and West. I dare say it would take a few more pages. In fact, these are musings to draw general conclusions on the subject of papal "ROME" not East. The term pope is also popularly referred to as that of the Roman Catholic church.

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)