Greetings, ST, ‘Ettes, and ‘Sieurs!
I have to thank our gracious host – as I often do – for asking this motivating question: “Do not Catholics consider all Popes to be successors to the Apostle Peter? If so, how does that work?” I’m so glad you asked, Your Saintliness! Petrine/papal primacy and apostolic succession, Chaps-style, coming up.
Why a pope? Why succession? On its face, this looks really complicated: history, geopolitics, custom, and tradition all play a part here, but let’s start with what Scripture offers us about the “Petrine Office”. Peter’s primacy, (“first among equals” in the Eastern church), has its roots in Peter’s answer to Christ’s question: “Who do you say that I am?” [Matthew 16:13–16; Mark 8:27–29; Luke 9:18–20].
Peter’s immediate – some might say impetuous – answer: “You are the Messiah (Christ), the Son of the living God.” gets an equally prompt and possibly surprising reply from Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon-bar-[son of ] Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is a pretty far-reaching (and seemingly brand-new) mission and promise, open to various interpretations. Unless we walk backwards a bit further. Come with me, if you will….
Though Peter’s primacy is thus affirmed by the NT, Petrine succession by the bishops of Rome to his office as master of Jesus’ house relates to the position of head of the king’s household (the ‘vizier’). This office existed in both the Northern Kingdom – Israel [1 Kings 18:3; 2 Kings 10:5] and the Southern Kingdom – Judah – prior to Isaiah’s writing about its current and previous occupants [See Isaiah, chapter 22:22]. The language used by Jesus concerning Simon Peter’s new relationship to Him, parallels that of Isaiah describing Eliakim’s succession of Shebna: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”
The idea of succession – even over indeterminately long periods of time – would, of course, have been familiar to the scribes and Pharisees – who saw themselves as the successors of Moses and the guardians of his teaching. Each of the patriarchs: Abraham [Gen. 15:5; 17:8], Isaac [Gen. 26:3-4], and Jacob [Gen. 28:13-14], were entrusted with successive missions, and promises of God’s faithfulness toward them. Scripturally, there you go; historically/geopolitically: have at it….Next up: Why choose Simon Peter? and How does the whole process of choosing a pope work these days, anyway?
Until next time: “Peace….Out.”