Catholic Teachings in the Early Church : Part 3 The Papacy

The Papacy

[Quotes below are listed in Rod Bennett’s book Four Witnesses]

Today’s Catholic Teaching:

That which our Lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the Church, must of necessity remain for ever, by Christ’s authority, in the church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time. For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and for ever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the holy Roman see, which he founded and consecrated with his blood. Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the Church which he once received. For this reason it has always been necessary for every church – that to say the faithful throughout the world – to be in agreement with the Roman Church because of its more effective leadership.

~Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ.

Catholic Teaching in the Early Church:

Nor does the kingdom of heaven belong to the sleeping and the lazy; rather, the violent take it by force [Mat 11:12]….On hearing these words the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with Himself the Savior paid the tribute [Mt 17:27], quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? “Behold, we have left all and have followed you!” [Mt 19:27; Mk 10:28].

~Ca. A.D. 200: Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man that is Saved? Chap.21, no. 1, in FEF !:187, no.436.

Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, left only one Epistle of acknowledged genuinity. Let us concede also a second, which, however, is doubtful.

~Ca. A.D. 230: Origen, Commentaries on John 5,3, according to Eusebius, History of the Church, bk. 6, chap. 25, in FEF 1:202, no. 479a.

Our Lord, whose commands we ought to fear and observe, says in the Gospel, by way of assigning the episcopal dignity settling the plan of his Church: “I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they will be loosed also in heaven” [Mt 16:18-19]. From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of time and successions: for the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the church is controlled by these same rulers. Since this has indeed been established by divine law, I marvel at the rash boldness of certain persons who have desired to write to me as if they were writing letters in the name of the Church, “since the Church is established upon the bishop and upon the clergy and upon all who stand firm in the faith.”

~A.D.250: Cyprian of Carthage, Letter…to the Lapsed 33 (27), no. 1, in FEF 1:229, no. 571.

There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering.

~A.D. 251: Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to All His People 43 (40), no. 5, in FEF 1:229, no. 573.

We are not ignorant of the fact that there is one God, and one christ the Lord whom we confess, and one Holy Spirit; and that there must be one bishop in the Catholic Church.

~A.D. 252: Pope Cornelius I, Letter to Cyprian, in Cyp. Epist. 49 (ai.46), no.2, in FEF 1:216, no.546.

Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of My treasures. I have given you the keys of My Kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all My treasures!

~Ca. A.D. 350: Ephraim of Nisibis, Homily 4, no. 1, FEF 1:311, no. 706.

You cannot deny that you are aware that in the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head – that is why he is also called Cephas – of all the Apostles; the one chair in which unity is maintained by all. Neither do other Apolstes proceed individually on their own; and anyone who would set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner.

~Ca. A.D. 367: Optatus of Milevis, The schism of the Donatist 2, 2, in FEF 2:140, no.1242.

I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but Your Blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails.

~Ca. A.D. 375: Jerome, Letter to Pope Damasus 15, no. 2, in FEF 2:183-84, no. 1346.

Although all the Catholic Churches spread abroad through the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven” [Mt 16:18-19]….The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it.

~A.D. 382: Pope Damasus I, Decree of Damasus, no. 3, in FEF 1:406, no. 910u.

Before His suffering the Lord Jesus Christ, as you know, chose His disciples, whom He called Apostles. Among these Apostles almost everywhere Peter alone merited to represent the whole Church. For the sake of his representing the whole Church, which he alone could do, he merited to hear: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven” [Mt 16:19]. For it was not one man, but the unity of the Church, which received those keys. In that way, therefore, Peter’s own excellence is foretold, because he acted the part of the unity and totality of the Church herself, when to him it was said, “I hand over to you,” what was in fact handed over to all.

~Ca. A.D. 410: Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 295, no. 2, in FEF 3:32, no. 1526.

We exhort you in every respect honorable brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the Most Blessed Pope of the City of Rome; for Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the truth of faith to those who seek it.

~A.D. 449: Peter Chrysologus, Letter to Eutyches 25, no. 2, in FEF 3:268, no. 2178.

From the whole world only one, Peter, is chosen to preside over the calling of all nations, and over all the other Apostles, and over the Fathers of the Church. Thus, although among the people of God there are many priests and many pastors, it is really Peter who rules them all, of whom, too, it is Christ who is their chief ruler.

~Ca. A.D. 460: Pope Leo I, Sermon 4, no. 2, in FEF 3:275, no. 2191.

Part 4 will focus on the Baptism.

[FEF: The Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgen]


About Rob Brock

A Catholic convert with a fire for discipleship, catechesis, and formation that leads to transformed lives in Christ. View all posts by Rob Brock

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