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Was St. Peter ever a Pope?

20 Jul 2015, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Doctrines

Peter and the keyI once read an article written by obviously a none Catholic because the article was directed against the Catholic Church; he questioned the Petrine authority and insist that the Catholic Church is wrong in her teaching about St. Peter as the first Pope. The writer insists that the Catholic Church only imagined Peter to be the first Pope, but never was. This is funny and laughable; I feel people should spend their time and energy proclaiming God’s greatness and the salvation available in him through Jesus Christ rather than spending so much time attacking others.

I strongly believe that those who claim that Peter was never a Pope imagine him dressed in liturgical vestments and been addressed as Pope Peter I, in the Vatican City, with Cardinals, bishops, priests, and every Catholic under him as we have it today. I believe they look into history with the ‘eyes of today.’ But that is wrong; the organization of the Church gradually developed into what we have today. Even none Catholics gradually developed into what they are today; they are not the same as the early protestant movement.

The word “Pope” has a Greek/Latin root, which is translated to mean “Father.” Therefore, the Pope is a Father, a leader, a rallying point, and that was what Peter was. That title, “Pope,” was never used for Peter as some think, neither was it used by the early “biblical Christians.” But the reality of the office and Peter’s leadership role over the Church are biblical and historical. Some argue that Peter was never a leader; he never had authority over other apostles. Very well; that is the teaching of Jesus Christ, that the leader should not lord it over others but be their servant. But Jesus called them to him and said, “you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It should not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mtt.20:25-28. emblemIn this passage, apart from the fact that Jesus insists that whoever would be first among the apostles must be their servant, he also made it obvious that one of them has to be first (leader). The fact that Peter did not lord it over or make a show of his authority to belittle others did not take away the fatherly role he played in the Church’s life; he was first among equals. The Pope, as the office was later called. Like him, the Pope sees himself as the servant of God’s servants (Servus Servorum Dei); a title that was first officially adopted by Pope St. Gregory I and later became one of the titles of the Pope.

The Papacy was founded by Jesus Christ himself and chose Peter to be the first Pope, even though he was not referred to as Pope. I will not bore you with the whole history of the Roman empire and how the title “Pope” came to be the official title for the leader of the Catholic Church. However, we look into the scriptures to see if Peter was ever a leader in the early Church.

I pointed out earlier how Jesus made it obvious that one has to be the first among the apostles. In the gospel, according to Matthew, Jesus pointed out the first among the apostles, The keyshe said; And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdoms of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven Matt. 16:18-19. Therefore, it is funny to hear some people argue that this passage of the scripture does not suggest the appointment of Peter as a leader; really funny. What does it mean to be the rock upon which something is built? How do you explain the keys given to Peter? What exactly was built upon Peter, a house or a Church? Certainly not a house but a Church, and the Church is the people of God. He ordered Peter to take care of the Church to feed his Lambs and his Sheep (Jn. 21:15-17). He entrusted the Church to Peter’s care; he became the leader, the Pope. The Pope does not take the place of Jesus Christ, just as leaders in other Churches do not take Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord forever.

The Petrine authority is obvious in the bible; it’s of no use arguing about it. For instance, when Mary Magdalene came to report to the apostles that some persons have taken the body of Jesus away from the tomb, the bible says that she went to Simon Peter and the other disciple (Jn. 20:2). Take note of what the bible says; So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple… Going to Simon Peter indicates that Peter held the first place among the apostles. You may ask, what about the other disciple? Well, let us look at what happened next after the report. The bible says they both ran to the tomb, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first, but did not go in. Peter came and entered, then the other disciple followed (Jn. 20:3-8). Though the other disciple reached the tomb first, he had to wait for the leader to lead the way, he recognized peter as a leader or as an elder as you may call him, the other disciple had to give Peter that honor. He was a leader and was made so by Jesus Christ.

There are other passages in the scriptures that sides the Petrine authority. Peter was always listed first among the apostles (Mt. 10:2; Mk. 3:16-19; Lk. 6:14-15; Acts 1:13). At Pentecost, Peter spoke to the crowd and made known the Church’s mission (Acts. 2:14-40). Whenever Jesus selected a group of three for special purposes, Peter was always one of them, which Paul recognized as been Pillars of the Church (Gal. 2:9). There are other passages I may not have the time to mention here but know that the New Testament testifies to the Petrine authority.

As a man, Peter may have failed in some areas; in fact, Paul rebuked him (Gal.2). That is not a denial of his authority; neither does it count against Papal infallibility. Even today, leaders of the Church make mistakes out of human weakness but need their brothers to correct them in love as Paul did. In the end, the decision was not Paul’s but the Church’s.

The office of the Pope gradually developed into what we have today. The fall of the Roman empire and the recognition of Christianity by emperor Constantine greatly contributed to Christianity’s growth. All to the glory of God.

  • Ada Reply

    what can i say ” a powerful explanation” Fr. U re just another blessing to the mother church mostly my dear parish. May the Lord keep and sustain you in your ministry. Amen.