Eminent Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott contended that Matthews 16:18-19’s blessing words, which are perceived by the Church in Rome to be the promised primacy of honour and jurisdiction, “are addressed solely and immediately to Peter.”(Ott 1954: 280)
The Vatican Council anathematized anyone who denies that “the blessed apostle Peter was not constituted, by Christ Our Lord, Prince of all the Apostles and visible head of all the Church Militant; or that he (Peter) directly and immediately received from Our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honour only and not one of true and proper jurisdiction”(ibid 279).
In the previous article, Contra Rome and Protestant: A Plausible Reading Of Matthew 16:18, I showed that both Rome’s and some of Protestant’s understanding of Matthew 16:18 are inadequate. I proposed the Peter of faith as one who is the foundation to which Christ built his Church. This position is what we find in the testimony of the Fathers when read in their proper context.
Contrary to William Jürgen and Karl Keating, I showed that the Fathers did indeed contended that Peter is the rock to which Christ built his Church, thus affirming his primacy of honour but quite the contrary to the doctrines of Rome, they neither view Peter as the only rock nor understood him to be the one of true and proper jurisdiction.
Thus reformers like John Calvin were correct in observing that, Peter truly possessed preeminence, but “still there is a great difference between the honour of rank and the possession of power.” (Calvin 1997: n.p) I began with Origen because he is among the early Fathers to give a robust exegesis of Matthew 16:13-23.
Origen’s Understanding of Matthew 16:13-23
Origen affirmed that Peter is the one “on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail”(Origen 1897: 346). “What sense it is said to Peter,[in Matt. 16:18-19]” wrote Origen in his exposition of Matthew 16:19, “ and to every Peter?”(Origen 1897b: 458 emp. added)
Origen believed that this passage applies to every one who joins in Peter’s confession. He contented:
“And if we too have said like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, “Thou art Peter,” etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.”(ibid 456)
Origen contended that it is not Peter alone who received these blessings. He paused a series of rhetorical questions:
But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, “Upon this rock I will build My church”? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them?(Ibid 456–457)
Origen noted that even though in the Gospel according to Matthew Peter is promised the keys of the kingdom, in the Gospel according to John Jesus promised the same to all disciples. Many then, not only Peter, who confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, through the Spirit of God, will become Peters.
All who join Peter in his confession, according to Origen, “will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was.” (Ibid)
In Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue James F. McCue thus correctly observed that “[w]hen Origen is commenting directly on Matthew 16:18f, he carefully puts aside any interpretation of the passage that would make Peter anything other than what every Christian should be”(McCue 1974: 60)
Question: Contrary to Roman Catholic, Origen recognized Peter’s primacy of honour only. Should we let Origen, on this view, be an anathema?
Next: Cyprian Contra Roman Catholic’s Mathew 16:18 Exposition
Calvin, John (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
McCue, James F. (1974) “Papal Primacy in the Universal Church” in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V. Ed. Paul Empie & Austin Murphy, ed at. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
Ott, Ludwig (1954) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Ed. James Canon Bastible, Trans. from Germany: Patrick Lynch. Roman Catholic Books. Fort Collins.
Origen. (1897). Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John (A. Menzies, Trans.) In A. Menzies (Ed.), (346). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Origen. (1897b). Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (J. Patrick, Trans.) New York: Christian Literature Company.