Showing posts with label Ecclesiology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ecclesiology. Show all posts

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

 The Mystical Body of Christ

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 
one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,
who is above all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4, 4-5

In Protestantism, any person who professes or has faith in Christ is by this act a member of the Church that Christ founded regardless of which denomination they belong to. The Church is essentially pneumatic as an entire body of baptized believers. On the other hand, since ancient times, Catholics have acknowledged the Church, which our Lord established, as being a visible and hierarchical body consisting of no independent and completely autonomous denominations of disparate persuasions. It is not enough that a person is validly baptized to become a member of Christ’s body. Believers are removed or separated from this body by apostasy, heresy, schism, or ex-communication from the Catholic Church which is visibly one and apostolic since Pentecost. The idea that the Church is invisibly one in the Holy Spirit, despite being visibly divided in the world in essential matters pertaining to faith and morals, belongs to the Protestant paradigm.

Now you are Christ’s Body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the Church, first
apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations,
various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not
teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All
do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
1 Corinthians 12, 27-31

St. Paul illustrates how the Mystical Body of Christ is a concrete unity no less than our own physical bodies are with its organized different members. One body presupposes a unified body, a whole comprised of many parts with different functions that all contribute to the maintenance of its proper state. Our Lord has composed this body so that there should be no division and disharmony within it. “And He [God the Father] put all things in subjection under His [Christ’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22). The body of Christ is a plurality of members, each of whom has a different place and function in it. The members don’t all have the same function or role. Meanwhile, some spiritual gifts are greater than others, though all the members are equally dependent on each other to keep the body functioning properly.

Indeed, the one body is hierarchically organized, and each of the subordinate functions equally contributing to the unified and harmonious activity of the entire body. Christ is placed at the top of the hierarchy as the head of the body. The head and members together form one body consisting of one shared divine life. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him, who is the Head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied when each part is working properly, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).

The Holy Spirit is the life of the body or its source of animation, the soul of the Church. The Holy Spirit is invisible, but the Church is not. The Church isn’t merely pneumatic but a composite of soul and body with all its members. And so, Paul writes: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body-whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor 12:13). The Holy Spirit is the life principle of the mystical Body of Christ, the source of church unity in the oneness of faith. All members of the body are in union with Christ by being incorporated into it through the Holy Spirit. If there is division or dissent in the Church, the Holy Spirit isn’t the cause. It’s when some members of the body become too assertive and self-complacent and, thereby, encroach on the prerogatives of other members in the hierarchy that dissension and division arise in the Church. It’s like the body has been invaded by a malignant virus from an outside source, that being the principality of darkness.

When Paul tells us, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” (Gal 2:20) he is referring to our union with Christ in his mystical Body which is the Church. We mustn’t understand his words in an individualistic ‘Jesus-and-me’ sense which lies at the root of a Protestant’s indifference to joining the Catholic Church. But our union with Christ in all its fullness and vitality is completed through our incorporation into his mystical Body which is the one Church he founded on Peter the Rock so that all its members would be one in faith and share one baptism in common. Jesus says that a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. This city he is referring to is the Church (Mt 5:14).

The idea that the Church is an invisible corporate entity united in the Holy Spirit, notwithstanding the countless self-governing Christian denominations that visibly exist with their fundamental differences of beliefs, doesn’t comply with our Lord’s vision and intention (Jn 17:11, 21, 23). Jesus gave Peter and, through him, the apostles the authority to “bind and loose” (Mt 16:19; 18:18). This ruling and teaching authority requires the Church to be hierarchical and thereby visibly united. Binding and loosening are visible acts in a church where there is only one flock in accordance with Jesus’ design (Jn 10:16).

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets,
some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for
the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Ephesians 4, 11-12

The Church that Christ founded is not only visibly united in its shared faith and celebration of the same sacraments, but also in its shared ecclesial hierarchy throughout the world. Each of these has been received and passed down from the apostles whom our Lord invested with divine authority. Jesus is the invisible Head of the Body, which is the Church, while Peter is the visible head on earth. Each member of the visible hierarchy can be one in unity only if the visible hierarchy is ordered to its one visible head. If the visible head of the hierarchy were actually a plurality of visible denominational heads in an invisible Church, then the visible hierarchies would not be essentially but only accidentally unified.

In this case, the Church within the Protestant notion could not be one infallible or indefectible corporate entity that is guided by the Holy Spirit in all truth, and all of the conflicting doctrines and practices would be based on nothing more than private judgment and popular opinion in each denomination. There could be no essential unity in the Church’s teaching beyond the fundamental tenets as laid out in the early Apostles’ Creed. In fact, there could be no single and reliable teaching authority as there had been during the apostolic time and in the early Church, notably in the post-apostolic era.

So, a plurality of visible heads and separate hierarchies of different denominations that hold different sets of beliefs present visible disunity in the pneumatic Church, constituting a myriad of distinct authoritative entities that impede the unity of faith by holding opposing and unresolved theological opinions. Who is to say which denominational hierarchy can rightfully claim that it’s protected and guided by the Holy Spirit if there isn’t a single universal head which has been ordered by Christ and graced with the charism of infallibility in extraordinary matters of faith and morals? This is the dilemma Protestants have faced since the time of Martin Luther and is the root cause of the splintering of Protestantism with its thousands of independent and autonomous denominations rising one after another. This isn’t the “building up of the body of Christ” but rather perpetually demolishing it. Certainly, the one invisible Holy Spirit cannot be behind this mayhem that manifests itself outwardly. God cannot be the author of such confusion if the Church is intended to reveal the fullness of the divine mysteries over the course of time (Jn 16:12-13).

Ironically, Protestants don’t believe that Christ founded one visible hierarchical Church on one visible head, namely Peter, the rock, with whom the apostles had to be in union for their teachings to be infallible or free from grave error by the guarantee of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:1-35). Yet every single Protestant congregation has a head pastor. And each mainstream denomination has its own visible hierarchy. The Church is invisible, but each visible denominational church and Protestant congregation is led and ruled by a visible head and/or hierarchy for the sake of unity in matters of faith and morals among its own members while the whole of Christendom is visibly and tangibly divided in matters of faith and morals. This inconsistency that has resulted from Protestant indifference only confirms what the Catholic Church has regarded as essential for preserving Church unity since apostolic time. Our Lord never intended to create a religious movement consisting of countless denominations. These are man-made entities that reflect a democratic political system in which freedom of speech and freedom of conviction are highly valued beyond reasonable proportion, seeing that the Church is actually a kingdom and monarchy.

Without an essentially unified visible hierarchy ordered to one visible head, a composite whole cannot be a visible single body that is harmoniously united.  But each Protestant denomination is essentially both a visible and invisible body within the entire “invisible” Church according to the Protestant construct. Each denomination reflects what the entire Church was intended to be and, in reality, is the ancient Catholic tradition that is rejected by Protestants who, as a result, aren’t practicing what they believe.

Our Lord and King Jesus Christ intended his Church to be a composite whole and hierarchical visible body under one visible head who represents him. Our Lord knew in his wisdom that if one unified hierarchy weren’t in place or was abandoned at some point in history, nothing else could preserve unity in faith or the unity of sacraments. Paul himself describes the Church as one visible body comprised of single members who form a visible hierarchy of believers. In the Protestant paradigm, we have one invisible body made up of separate visible bodies comprised of many visible hierarchies and members under different visible heads. It’s hard to believe that the one Spirit or soul animates what amounts to an incomposite body that can be divided into countless separate bodies and heads. God is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Cor 14:33). All the churches that the apostles and their successors founded in the first century belonged to the one visible, universal (catholic) Church with Peter as its one visible head or vicar of Christ on earth.

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do
not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ,
and individually members one of another.
Romans 12:4-5

​Paul warned the faithful to avoid those who created all this disharmony by not listening to their teachings (Rom 16:17). While Paul was dealing mainly with the Judaizers, false teachers were a dangerous problem for the church to which John was writing. His warning against showing hospitality to false teachers (notably Docetists) may have sounded harsh and unchristian, yet these men were teaching Christological heresy that could seriously harm the faith of his flock (1 Jn 4). The NT was written to confirm what the apostles preached and taught in the Church to help dispel the confusion of the mind and preserve doctrinal unity. The Apostolic Tradition had to be defended so that the Church would not become divided and eventually splinter into separate sects or denominations started by men who had no apostolic authority invested in them by Christ, to begin with.

Being of one Spirit, one faith, and one baptism essentially requires one visible Church and doctrinal unity. All faithful Catholics, for instance, believe Mary is the Mother of God and practice infant baptism. This certainly isn’t the case in Protestantism or denominational Christianity. Jesus warned that the gates of hell would try to destroy the Church but wouldn’t prevail against it for the reason that our Lord would build his church on Peter the rock to whom he would give the keys of the kingdom (Mt 16:18). Satan initially tried to demolish the Church by trying to create doctrinal disunity. For instance, the New Testament (Covenant) church had to grapple with dissenting Christian sects such as the Docetists and Judaizers who opposed the apostolic teaching authority of the Church. These dissenting sects were responsible for contentions and discord among the church’s members in various communities.

​In fact, Paul exhorted the church in Philippi to stand firm in one spirit and with one mind striving together to uphold the true faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27). He urged the Thessalonians to stand firm and hold fast to the traditions or teachings they received from the apostolic authority (2 Thess 2:15). The apostle had much to fear and contend with, in the wake of false teachings that infiltrated the Church throughout many regions. He fervently prayed that all Christians be of the same mind in one accord (Phil 2:2). When Paul ordained Timothy as bishop, he warned of those who sought controversy and had disputes by challenging the common faith of believers. And he reminded him to safeguard and pass on the teachings that were handed down by the universal apostolic teaching authority of the Church (1 Tim 6; 2 Tim 2:2).

Paul acknowledged the Church to be the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:25). One unified visible church means that our Lord has only one bride, not many brides. Likewise, Christ is the Head of one body, the Church, not countless bodies or denominations, each with its own visible head and/or hierarchy that disagrees with the other bodies of believers on some point of doctrine. Peter exhorted the faithful to have unity of spirit (1 Pet 3:8). He wouldn’t have made this charge if he didn’t acknowledge the entire Church to be one visible and hierarchical body. Unity of spirit and mind is impossible to achieve unless there is a central teaching authority established by Christ on the foundation of the apostles and their valid successors in the episcopate. And this apostolic teaching authority must be respected if there isn’t to be any discord or even schism under the penalty of excommunication (2 Cor 2:17; 3:6; 5:20; 10:6; 10:8; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 2 Thess 3:14; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13: 7, 17; 1 Pet 5:5; 2 Pet 2:10; 1 Cor 5:3-5; 16:22; 1 Tim 1:20; Gal 1;8; Mt 18:17). By apostolic succession, this divine office has continued and will continue under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit to ensure the faithful transmission of tradition and doctrinal unity until Christ returns in glory (Mt 28:16-20).

​In his vision of the Church, Daniel prophesies that people of all nations and languages shall serve God’s kingdom (Dan 7:14). This single entity is the Catholic Church. The word catholic means universal in the sense that the Church consists of all peoples of different nations and languages who, despite the global demographics of its members and different cultures, possess one mind and one spirit in faith, notwithstanding any dissension, discord, or scandal that may arise within the Church through the power of darkness, but not to the extent of its destruction. The Catholic Church has existed for almost two thousand years, outlasting all historical empires that have existed until now, and shall always exist on earth with Christ as its Head until he returns in glory. Christendom shall be perfectly united with the second coming of Christ at the end of this Messianic age.

 Early Sacred Tradition

“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye
would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do
anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist,
which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the
bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ
is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate
a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything
that is done may be secure and valid.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyraens, 8
(c. A.D. 110)

“Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the
holy presbyters…It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest
we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be
nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden (paradisus) in
this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, ‘Thou mayest freely eat from every tree of the garden,’
that is, Eat ye from every Scripture of the Lord; but ye shall not eat with an uplifted mind, nor
touch any heretical discord.”
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:20
(A.D. 189)

“Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a
bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: I say unto thee, That
thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church…Thence, through the changes of times
and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the
Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same
rulers. Since this, then, is founded on the divine law, I marvel that some, with daring temerity,
have chosen to write to me as if they wrote in the name of the Church; when the Church is
established in the bishop and the clergy, and all who stand fast in the faith.”
St. Cyprian of Carthage, To the Lasped, Epistle 26/33
(A.D. 250)

“‘And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the
mountains’ The house of the Lord, ‘prepared on the top of the mountains,’ is the church, according
to the declaration of the apostle, ‘Know,’ he says, ‘how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house
of God, which is the church of the living God’ Whose foundations are on the holy mountains, for
it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. One also of these mountains was
Peter, upon which the rock the Lord promised to build his church.”
St. Basil, Commentary on Isaiah, 2:66
(A.D. 375)

He that is not with me is against me:
and he that gathers not with me scatters.

Luke 11, 23

Pax vobiscum

The Church Is Catholic


I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world,
and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by Your name,
the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.

John 17, 11

Since Apostolic time, the Church or the unblemished bride of Christ has understood herself to be catholic. By definition we mean a visible society of baptized Christians from all around the world professing the same faith under the authority of the invisible head who is Christ and the authority of the visible head, his vice-regent the pope, and the world’s bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff.

The apostles themselves knew that their Lord and Master had established his Church to be visibly one and hierarchical for the unity of faith and consistent transmission of the deposit of faith from one generation of believers to the next without error under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16; 16:12-13). For instance, none of the apostles dared to question or challenge Peter’s authority to speak for the entire Church and resolve a disputed doctrinal issue such as whether baptized Gentiles ought to be circumcised like the Jews. Rather, they listened to what Peter had to say in silence and accepted his word as final for the Church to receive without objection (See Acts 15). The debate that went on at the council in Jerusalem may never have been resolved or accepted by everyone with a moral certainty of faith if it wasn’t believed that Peter had the universal primacy of authority to reach or ratify a final verdict for the whole Church to confidently accept in unity (Mt 16:20).

The New Testament (Covenant) Church was catholic in every religious sense of the word. There are several key passages in Scripture that reflect how the Church perceived herself through the knowledge she received from the Holy Spirit in the sanctifying light of faith. First of all, Jesus says that a city (Jerusalem) “set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mt 5:14). Our Lord is referring to his Church (the new Jerusalem that has come down from heaven) which is essentially a visible church and a unity of members who comprise his Mystical Body. The Church isn’t simply a pneumatic construct in which there is an invisible unity of spirit but a visible division that really makes no difference beyond the fundamental tenets of the Apostles’ Creed. Indeed, Jesus warns us that “a kingdom divided against itself is laid waste and cannot stand” (Mt 12:25; Mk 3:25; Lk 11:17). This scenario best describes the miserable state Protestantism finds itself in from the time of its inception in the sixteenth century, what with the myriads of autonomous and independent denominations that differ on many fine points of doctrine on faith and morals while appealing to the same Scriptures supposedly under the guidance of one and the same Holy Spirit.

Jesus clearly stated that he would build his “church” on Peter the rock and the apostles who are in communion with the Lord’s vicar. He said nothing about ‘churches’ (Mt 16:18). Unity of faith wisely requires a visible body under a visible head which in turn represents and is accountable to the invisible head who is Christ. A visible church cannot exist without a visible head who rules visibly by ‘binding and loosening’ so that the Church may be visibly united in faith and in that sense be truly catholic. Protestantism amounts to being nothing more than a divided religious movement consisting of countless churches with independent visible heads or ruling bodies in some shape or form.

Jesus himself told the apostles there must be only “one flock and one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). This means one visible flock, one visible shepherd, and one invisible shepherd who is Christ in heaven. It’s obvious that Jesus intended his Church to be structured this way since he prayed that his followers may be perfectly one as he is one with the Father (Jn 17:11, 21, 23). There is perfect oneness only in the one true Church founded by Christ which is the Catholic Church, despite the heresies, divisions, and schisms that have arisen throughout the ages because of rogue clerics and arrogant academicians who divorced themselves from Christ’s vision and rejected his institutions.

Surely, Our Lord foresaw all the turmoil that would historically arise in the Church, notably from the time of Arius in the early fourth century, when he said to his apostles, “He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30). Only by listening to what Peter and the apostles say, and thereby their appointed successors in the episcopal office until Christ returns, can there be perfect unity in the one, visible, and hierarchical Church. Those who refuse to listen to and reject the ruling and teaching authority of the Universal Magisterium, in fact, refuse to listen to Christ and reject the authority that was given to him by his heavenly Father and then transferred to Peter and the Apostles (Lk 10:16).

Up to this time, Christian denominations were the creation of men and women who were presumed to be invested with the divine authority to teach and rule in the name of Christ totally indifferent to the institutions which Our Lord established on the concrete foundation of Peter and the Apostles. Denominationalism is anti-Christ. So is its negative counterpart: Non-denominationalism (essentially a sub-denomination in Protestantism) which ironically holds Christ never founded a single corporate religious entity (or entities) in the first place. This is a modern religious phenomenon that bears the characteristics of ancient Gnosticism.

In any event, the apostles and the faithful men whom they appointed to join and succeed them in the divine offices of the episcopacy and priesthood (presbyterium) kept Christ’s vision in their minds and hearts. The New Testament church was indeed the Catholic Church in mind and spirit. Paul exhorted the body of believers in Rome to live in harmony with one another (Rom 15:5). There can be no visibly unified body and one mind in faith as long as there are dissenters in the ranks who create divisions in opposition to the apostolic teaching authority. 

On the contrary, these false teachers must be avoided at all costs and shouldn’t be listened to (Rom 16: 17). For the Church to be truly catholic and remain catholic, Christians must be on guard against those who dispute Church teachings and create controversies by proposing their own misguided notions and misleading the flock with their confusing rhetoric (1 Tim 6:4). The Judaizers and Ebionites are clear examples. For the Church to be catholic, there must be a universal teaching authority of appeal that can trace its authority back to Christ. This was the case at the council in Jerusalem. Those who rejected the decisions of the council fell out of communion with the one true Church.

Paul fervently prayed like Jesus had that there be no dissensions and disagreements among Christians, and they might be of one mind and one spirit for the sake of perfect unity (1 Cor 1:10). After all, the Church is the visible ‘body’ of Christ, not Our Lord’s invisible spirit or soul (Eph 1:22-23; 5:23-32; Col 1:18, 24). Jesus has only one bride, not many brides who believe and think somewhat differently on fine points of doctrine and morals (Eph 5:25). Peter called for a unity of spirit which is what Catholicism is all about (1 Pt 3:8). But this is impossible if Christians are of different minds and hearts and indifferent to the established central teaching authority of the Church because of how they feel or what they might think. Such people do not belong to the Church and have dismembered themselves from the body even to the point of ex-communication or schism. God isn’t the author of confusion, but of peace and reconciliation (1 Cor 14:33).

The Holy Spirit isn’t the source of countless denominations that keep popping up around the world and are divided. The prophet Daniel foresaw the creation of the Catholic Church whose divine author is Our Lord Jesus Christ. He envisioned a single body of people from all nations serving His kingdom on earth (Dan 7:14). The Church isn’t a democracy with different political or religious parties but rather a kingdom and monarchical entity (Rev 7:9-10).

Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (c. A.D. 110) was a follower or student of the apostle John. Perhaps the evangelist even ordained him. As an apostolic successor in the divine office, His Excellency reveals how the Church is intended to be visibly one and catholic in the biblical sense of the word. He says, “See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Christ Jesus does the Father… Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8:2). Catholicism amounts to respecting the visible episcopal authority and acknowledging the validity of the Blessed Sacrament only when it is celebrated and administered by one who can trace his priestly ordination back to the apostles themselves (with the laying on of hands) in a physical and associated line of succession (cf. Acts 6:6; 9:17-19; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14).

Irenaeus (A.D. 180), Bishop of present-day Lyons, France was a student of Polycarp who, according to early tradition, was also tutored in the faith by the apostle John. The key point of Irenaeus’ theology was the unity and the goodness of God, in opposition to the Gnostics’ theory of God: a plurality of divine emanations (Aeons) along with a distinction between the Monad and the Demiurge. There were many Gnostic sects of different shades of persuasion that arose in the second century. Gnostics believed they were Christian in their spirituality which they considered was more important than any particular religious affiliation. And they were Christians of truly diverse viewpoints. But what all these cults shared in common were belief systems for attaining secret knowledge or gnosis. Gnostic sects were in direct competition with the teachings of the nascent Catholic Church. These sects rejected the Apostolic teaching authority of the one true Church with respect to Christ’s person in the incarnation.

In his contention with the Gnostics, notably Marcion, Irenaeus writes: “Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters…It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures” (Against Heresies, 5:20). He refers to their leaders as “ these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom… while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world.”

Irenaeus understood what the word catholic meant to the New Testament Church as opposed to the superficial pluralism of the Gnostic sects in his day: “But it has, on the other hand, been shown, that the preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the prophets, the apostles, and all the disciples…For in the Church, it is said, ‘God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,’ and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behavior. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth” (Ibid., 1.10.3). Thus, Irenaeus affirmed the true Church to be one in faith, visible instead of invisible or purely pneumatic, and hierarchical. The One Holy Spirit ensured the transmission of the one true and indisputable faith through the institution of Apostolic succession.

Further, Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 254) testifies how the early Church understood itself to be catholic by presenting his point of view: “Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if anyone is not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church, which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another” (To Florentius, Epistle 66/67). The Alexandrian priest Arius, however, broke with tradition and decided to interpret the Scriptures on his own personal authority, not unlike Marcion, and presumed to teach that the Son didn’t eternally co-exist with the Father nor was consubstantial with Him. But to be Catholic, one must obediently follow the dogmas of the Church in union with all the faithful. Arius never recanted and, unfortunately, brought the majority of the Eastern Church bishops on his side. As a result, the Church (or rather the Roman emperor) was compelled to convoke the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. This is the decision reached by the bishops who attended the council: “But for those who say, ‘There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance’… these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.”

Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 350) describes in Pauline fashion what it means for the Church to be catholic: “Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, ‘That thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.’” (Catechetical Lectures, 18:25). There is only one God and one divine truth which the Church is in possession of by the presence of the Spirit of truth. The life of the Church has its source in the life of God whose Spirit ensures that the bride of Christ remains unblemished in her faith and guarantees that the truth is made known for all to accept without questioning the apostolic teaching authority that all began with Peter and the Apostles in communion with him, that the Church be visibly one in the faith and one body of believers.

“We are not to give heed to those who say, Behold here is Christ, but show him
not in the Church, which is filled with brightness from the East even unto the West; which is
filled with true light; is the ‘pillar and ground of truth’; in which, as a whole, is the whole advent
of the Son of Man, who saith to all men throughout the universe, ‘Behold, I am with you all
the days of life even unto the consumption of the world.’”
Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Tract 30
(A.D. 244)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every
nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the
Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a
loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7, 9-10

Pax vobiscum

Upon this Rock

 Papal Primacy & Infallibility

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are
you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my
heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my
church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the
keys to 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.”
Matthew 16, 16-19

In Roman Catholic theology, papal infallibility is the doctrine that the pope, acting as the supreme leader or shepherd under extraordinary circumstances, cannot err when he teaches matters in faith and morals. This doctrine is based on the belief that Jesus entrusted his Church with a teaching mission whose mandate required that it remain faithful to Christ’s teaching under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who guarantees that what the Church teaches is always absolutely true and can be accepted with absolute certainty without any shadow of a doubt. The charism of papal infallibility ensures that the Church teaches only that which Christ has taught without the least taint of adulteration in his teachings. Meanwhile, this doctrine is related to but distinguished from the concept of the Church’s indefectibility, viz., the doctrine that the grace Jesus has promised his Church assures its preservation of the faith until our Lord returns in glory at the end of time.

The definition of the First Vatican Council (1869-70) states the conditions under which the pope has spoken infallibly or ex-cathedra (“from his chair” of supreme teacher): 1. “The Roman pontiff speaks;” 2. “he speaks ex-cathedra;” 3. “defines the following;” 4. “that doctrine concerning faith and morals;” 5. “must be held by the whole Church.” We have one instance of a pope speaking ex-cathedra and with infallibility in the Apostolic Constitution, Benedictus Deus, of Pope Benedict Xll in A.D. 1336.

1 (The Roman Pontiff speaks)

“The Apostolic Constitution, Benedictus Deus, of Pope Benedict Xll”

2 (Speaks ex-cathedra)

“with apostolic authority”

3 (We pronounce, declare, and define)

“define the following”

4 (That doctrine concerning faith and morals)

Pope Benedict declares ex-cathedra that each soul will be particularly judged immediately after death according to his or her deeds before the general day of judgment.

5 (Must be held by the whole church)

Thus, with the definition of the First Vatican Council, it is more accurate to say that papal infallibility is a “dogma” of the Catholic Church which states, in virtue of Jesus’ promise to Peter, the Pope, when appealing to his universal primacy of authority (Extraordinary Magisterium) as the supreme leader or as the head shepherd, is preserved or safeguarded by the Holy Spirit from the possibility of committing an error of doctrine first given to the apostolic church and handed down in the deposit of faith: Scripture and Tradition.

The pope isn’t only the visible head of the Church but also the head of the episcopal college. When Jesus founded the Twelve, “he constituted them in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.” Just as Peter and the Apostles constitute a single apostolic college, likewise the Roman Pontiff (Peter’s apostolic successor) and the bishops in the entire world (successors of the rest of the apostles) are associated with each other in a bond of unity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 880).

Jesus made Simon, whom he would name Peter, alone the “rock” of his Church. He gave Peter the “keys” of his Church and established him as shepherd of the entire flock. The office of “binding and loosing” was given to Peter and was also assigned to the College of Apostles united to its head (CCC, 881). Bishop Vincent Ferrier Gassier explains the importance of this prerogative that our Lord conferred on Peter. “The purpose of this prerogative is the preservation of truth in the Church. The special exercise of this prerogative occurs when there arise somewhere in the Church scandals against the faith, i.e., dissensions and heresies that the bishops of the individual churches or even gathered together in the provincial council are unable to repress so that they are forced to appeal to the Apostolic See (in Rome) regarding the case, or even the bishops themselves are infected by the sad strain of error” (The Gift of Infallibility: Ignatius Press, 2008). This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops who are united to the Pope under his universal primacy of authority.

The bishop of Rome who is the pope in a universal capacity as Peter’s successor in the divine office “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (CCC, 882). The Roman Pontiff, by reason of being the Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church, has “full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (CCC, 883). Thus, the College of Bishops has no authority or power to teach with infallibility unless it is united with the Pope since he has succeeded Peter as head of the entire Church, both clergy and laity. As such, the college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.” The College of Bishops exercises its authority in a formal and solemn manner in an ecumenical council. But “there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor” (CCC, 884). On the occasion of an ecumenical council in which we have the College of Bishops defining matters of faith and morals in union with the pope, there is the exercise of what we call the Universal Magisterium.

Since the Roman Pontiff is believed to be graced with the charism of infallibility in virtue of being the apostolic successor of Peter, we must turn to the New Testament to see whether Jesus had, in fact, established the apostle as the visible head of the Church and bestowed on him the gift of infallibility. To make this determination, we must examine the meaning of the words “rock” and “keys” and the power to “bind and loose” while, in the meantime, uncovering the ancient Jewish roots of Peter’s unique office that lends it credibility and establishes its validity.

Scriptural support for the pre-eminence of Peter in the nascent church and his unique role as head shepherd is found in the fact that his name is mentioned no less than 191 times in the New Testament. Next in line is the beloved disciple John who is mentioned 48 times. If this isn’t strong enough evidence, however, we can turn to the list of the apostles in the Gospel of Matthew to support the Church’s tradition. We read in Chapter 2, Verse 1: “The names of the twelve apostles are these: First, Simon called Peter,” The Greek word for “First” that describes Peter is protos (πρῶτος). Methodist theologian and professor James H. Strong defines the word “before, principal, most important” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Hendrickson, 2009. Entry 4413. Protos).  In other words, among the apostles, Peter is “first and foremost” or “primary first.” Peter’s description as being “first” is not “an arbitrary numerical detail” or a “chronological indicator” of when Peter became an apostle. We see in John 1:41 that Peter’s brother Andrew was the first one chosen by Jesus to be an apostle of his. Peter’s name appears first in the list of apostles because he is the “primary” apostle within the entire college (John Salza, The Biblical Basis for the Papacy: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2007).

Other New Testament writers use protos to describe the pre-eminence of individuals. Luke uses protos to describe Publius as “the chief (protos) man on the island” (Acts 28:7). He was the chief magistrate of the island of Melita and a man of authority. Paul also describes himself as a sinner “of whom I am the chief (protos). Other translations have Paul humbly describe himself as the “foremost” sinner (1 Tim 1:15). In the Septuagint (Old Testament), protos is also used as a title of pre-eminence. The sacred author describes the “chief (protos) singers appointed, to praise with canticles, and give thanks to God” (2 Ezdra 12:45; 2 Neh in the RSV-CE). So, Peter is described as “the first” of the apostles because he is the “chief” or “foremost” among them. He holds a pre-eminent place in the apostolic college (The Biblical Basis for the Papacy).

This fact becomes more obvious by seeing how Jesus and Peter relate to each other while they are together during our Lord’s three-year public ministry. To begin, Peter is the first apostle to profess the divinity of Christ. Jesus tells him that he has received this divine knowledge by a special revelation from God the Father (Mt 16:16-17). As we have noted, Jesus built his Church only on Peter, the rock, with the other apostles as the foundation and Jesus as the cornerstone or head (Mt 16:18). And the keys which represent authority over the entire Church (clergy and laity) are given only to Peter (Mt 16:19). Further, a tax collector approaches Peter for Jesus’ tax payment because he must be aware that the apostle is our Lord’s spokesperson (Mt 17:24-25). This incident illustrates what Catholics mean about the pope being the vicar of Christ. He speaks for Christ, and our Lord speaks through him, on the occasion of making a declaration ex-cathedra. In fact, Jesus pays the half-shekel tax with one shekel for both himself and Peter (Mt 17:26-27) since he is our Lord’s representative on earth.

We have an example of Peter assuming a leadership role among the apostles when he asks Jesus to explain the rules of forgiveness for all to understand (Mt 18:21). He actually speaks on behalf of all the apostles, besides himself, when he assures Jesus that they have left everything to follow him (Mt 19:27; cf. Mk 10:8). In the Garden of Gethsemane, at the start of our Lord’s passion, Peter and the apostles are sound asleep while Jesus is praying. But our Lord asks no one else but Peter why he was sleeping at this hour. This is because Peter is accountable to Jesus in a special way above the rest of the apostles. Since he has been appointed as their leader, he should be awake or alert and set a good example to the others (Mk 14:37).

What is also intriguing is that Jesus chooses to preach from Peter’s boat (Lk 5:3). In biblical typology, a boat may metaphorically represent the Church. Such is the case with Noah’s Ark in the Old Testament. This verse implies that Jesus guides his Church in all truth through his vicar. It’s on Peter’s boat of all boats where Jesus instructs Peter of all the apostles to lower his net again for a catch of fish. What follows is a miraculous catch (Lk 5:4, 10). Jesus recognizes Peter as the chief “fisher of men.” Without Jesus, he couldn’t have caught such an extraordinary number of fish at a time when they weren’t active. Peter’s divine office rests on the authority of Jesus the Head and his exercise of office relies on his grace to be fruitful.

Moreover, in the Gospel, it’s Peter who answers on behalf of the apostles after Jesus has asked who touched his garment (Lk 8:45). It appears none of the other apostles ever dared to speak first because they saw Peter as their leader and doing otherwise would have been disrespectful or insubordinate of them. Peter not only speaks first but also speaks on behalf of the rest. He does so at our Lord’s transfiguration, after being the first apostle to reach the mountain height (Lk 9:28, 33), and when he seeks clarification of a parable (Lk 12:41).

Finally, Jesus prays for Peter alone, that his faith may not fail, and he charges Peter to strengthen the apostles in the event their faith is shaken (Lk 22:31-32). Since Peter holds a primacy of authority, it’s imperative that his faith does not fail so that he can preserve the faith in the apostolic college and its unity. Peter is assigned a greater measure of responsibility for making sure the other apostles hold true to their faith in communion with him. Our Lord’s grace is designed to keep Peter free from teaching error, and it’s that same grace Our Lord bestows on the other apostles but with Peter’s collaboration.

In the Gospel of John, at the Last Supper, Jesus chooses to wash the feet of Peter to set an example of what it takes for him to be the servant of servants (Jn 13: 6-9). Peter could have washed the feet of the other apostles in emulation of our Lord who “did not come to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28) though it isn’t recorded. Indeed, Jesus asks Peter in front of the apostles whether he loves him more than them (Jn 21:15). This is because he has been appointed the visible head of the apostolic see. His allegiance is first and foremost to Christ without any compromise. Soon before he leaves to return to the Father, Jesus charges Peter to “feed [his] lambs” and “feed [his] sheep” (Jn 21:15-17). These lambs or sheep mean all people including the apostles. Our first pope is charged with the primary responsibility of tending to the faith of both the clergy and the laity in a universal capacity.

Peter’s unique position as “the first” of the apostles is clearly spelled out in Matthew 16:13-19. Simon Peter’s supernatural ability to intuit divine knowledge from God (a fundamental Christological truth) and communicate it without error to the apostles who are present illustrates what the Catholic Church understands about the concept of papal infallibility. The pope isn’t infallible by nature but by the operation of the Holy Spirit who guides his thoughts. As soon as Simon pronounces the first papal infallible decree in Church history, Jesus changes his name to Peter, in Greek Petros. The name ‘Cephas’ (also spelled Kepha) is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word “rock” (See Jn 1:42; 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 2:9).

The Greek text is a translation of Jesus’ words, which were actually spoken in Aramaic. Aramaic only had one word for rock, kepha which explains why Peter is often called Cephas in the Bible. The word kepha in Aramaic means “huge rock.” The Aramaic word for “little stone” is evna and Peter isn’t called “Evna.” In Aramaic, Jesus said “You are Peter (Kepha) and upon this rock (kepha) I will build my Church.” The metaphor works well in Aramaic where nouns are neither feminine nor masculine.

D. A. Carson explains, “… the words petros and petra were synonyms in first-century Greek. They meant “small stone” and “large rock” in some ancient Greek poetry, centuries before the time of Christ, but that distinction had disappeared from the language by the time Matthew’s Gospel was rendered in Greek. The difference in meaning can only be found in Attic Greek, but the New Testament was written in Koine Greek—an entirely different dialect. In Koine Greek, both petros and petra simply meant “rock.” If Jesus had wanted to call Simon a small stone, the Greek lithos would have been used” ( The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., 8:368).

In the kingdom of David, the king who ascended to the throne delegated his royal authority to a chief steward who would rule and govern in his absence. The king would formally invest his chief steward with this authority by presenting him with the keys to the kingdom. As the keeper of the keys, the chief steward (vizier or vicar) was said to be “over the house” of the king, viz., the house of David. He would be second only to the king and would have plenary power over the palace and the authority to pass judgments over the king’s subjects. Jesus came into the world to restore the kingdom of David in a new dimension, so like his royal ancestors on the throne of David, he presented his chief steward or vicar with the keys to a visible kingdom, namely the Church. He appointed Peter over “the house of God” (cf. 2 Cor 5:1; 1 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet 4:15) who would rule and govern God’s household in the king’s absence after his ascension into heaven.

The Hebrew Scriptures mention “keys” only once, and that is in the context of the authority of the Davidic king’s chief steward. Around 715 B.C., Hezekiah was the king of the Southern Kingdom, and Shebna was his chief steward or vice-regent. God reveals through the prophet Isaiah that He will remove Shebna from his office and replace him with Eliakim, to whom he will give the “key to the house of David.”

This is what the Lord, the Lord Almighty, says:
Go, say to this steward,
to Shebna the palace administrator:
What are you doing here and who gave you permission
to cut out a grave for yourself here,
hewing your grave on the height
and chiseling your resting place in the rock?
“Beware, the Lord is about to take firm hold of you
and hurl you away, you mighty man.
He will roll you up tightly like a ball
and throw you into a large country.
There you will die
and there the chariots you were so proud of
will become a disgrace to your master’s house.
I will depose you from your office,

“In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe
and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to
those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the
house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive
him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honor for the house of his father.
Isaiah 22, 15-23

So, God gives Eliakim the key to the house of David which was previously held by Shebna. This office is transferrable by appointing successors. Having custody of the key to David’s kingdom, whatever Eliakim opens, no one will shut, and whatever he shuts, no one will open. In other words, his final judgment is indisputable and irrevocable since he represents the king in his absence and speaks for the king in accordance with his will. Eliakim will be known as a “father” to Israel in the exercise of his office. Just as God was directly involved in the administration of his kingdom in the Old Dispensation, so He is in charge of the administration of His kingdom in the New Dispensation.

That God should choose the reign of King Hezekiah to reveal the succession of the chief steward is significant. We read in Isaiah 7, 14:

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
and shall call His name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7, 14

The “great sign” John sees in heaven is that of the restoration of the Davidic Messianic kingdom in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary herself giving birth to the Messiah King (Rev 12:1-5). The Nativity of Christ is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophetic signs of the restoration (cf. Micah 5:1-3). In ancient Judaic tradition, Hezekiah prefigured the Messiah more closely than the other Davidic kings had. In a Christian context, Hezekiah resembles Christ more closely than the others do. God decrees Hezekiah’s sickness unto death and then promises to raise him up or heal him on the third day.

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz
went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going
to die; you will not recover.” Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord,
“Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and
have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had left the
middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my
people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and
seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the
2 Kings 20, 1-5

By raising Hezekiah on the third day, God makes him the most important Messianic figure among the kings who inherited David’s throne. Since the king prefigures the Messiah, his kingdom prefigures the kingdom of our Lord and King in the house of David. Just as Hezekiah had a succession of chief stewards, so, too, Jesus would also have a succession of chief stewards. Linus was the first successor to Peter in A.D. 67 (See 2 Tim 4:1). Just as Eliakim would be known as a “father” to Israel in the kingdom of Judah, so, too, Peter and his successors would be known as “holy fathers” in the new kingdom or house of Israel, which is the Church. Thus, we have a biblical precedent for the appointment of Peter as the steward or vicar of Jesus’ kingdom on earth. Now, let’s turn to the topic of binding and loosing.

As we have seen, just as Eliakim had the authority to “open and shut,” so, too, Peter is given the authority to “bind and loose.” Since this authority is derived from possessing the keys to the kingdom, Jesus confers this authority on Peter alone and not also on the Twelve. John Salza explains what the terms binding and loosing mean in a Jewish context. “’Binding and loosing’ (Heb. asar ve-hittar) were common rabbinical terms used by the Jewish religious authorities of the day. These terms described their legislative and judicial authority to ‘forbid’ or ‘permit.’ This included rules of conduct (halakah) for God’s people, as well as issuing definitive interpretations of Scripture, oral tradition, and the whole of the Mosaic law. In short, the terms described the Pharisees’ authority over doctrinal and disciplinary matters” (The Biblical Basis for the Papacy).

We have an example of Peter exercising this authority in Acts 15, 12-17. At the general council in Jerusalem, he resolved the first doctrinal and disciplinary issue on whether the Gentiles should be circumcised after they had been baptized. None of the apostles in attendance question or dispute with Peter but remain silent. Only after Peter issues his statement, in the capacity of Christ’s chief steward or vicar on earth, do Paul and Barnabas (bishops) respond in support of Peter’s definitive declaration. Finally, James, who has presided over the council as Bishop of Jerusalem, gives his assent.

Further, in the time of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees were successors of Moses and the appointed religious teachers of Israel. The “chair of Moses” Jesus refers to in Matthew 23:2-4 signified their authority to interpret and expound the Mosaic law. The chair was placed in the middle of a synagogue on which the official teacher of the Law would sit to read the Scriptures and address the congregation. The Jews based this tradition on Exodus 18, where God says, “And the next day, Moses sat to judge the people” (v. 13). Moses rendered God’s judgments from the chair he was sitting on. ‘And Moses answered him: “The people come to me to seek the judgment of God. And when any controversy (extraordinary circumstance) falls out among them, they come to me to judge between them, and to show the precepts of God, and His laws”’ (vv. 15-16). The authority of Moses and the tradition of the chair were passed on through generations to Joshua, the judges or elders, the prophets, and finally to the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ time (The Biblical Basis for the Papacy). The chair stood for the divine office which presupposes there should be successors.

Jesus himself acknowledged the scribes and Pharisees to be legitimate successors to the chair of Moses, and taught with his authority, despite their personal shortcomings and imperfections. Our Lord told the apostles to observe “everything” (panta hosa) they said while sitting on the chair (Mt 23:5-7). Although Jesus harshly criticized them for abusing their divine authority and exercising it in pride and contempt towards the common Jew, notably the marginalized (Mt 23:5-7, 13), he acknowledged their authority to “bind” and “loose” and to “open” or “shut” in the kingdom of God in matters of faith and morals in accordance with the Torah.

Jesus uses terms familiar to the Jews when he addresses Peter. By this, he is inaugurating a new ruling and teaching authority in his Church. There is to be a transfer of power and authority of the teachers of the Law to the teachers of the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2). The New Covenant of grace and charity (agape) shall replace the Law of the Old Covenant with all its civil and ceremonial prescriptions under the curse of the law. As a result, the chair of Moses will be replaced by the chair of Peter. Not unlike Moses, Peter shall have the authority to “render the judgment of God” (Ex 18:15) and shall be the official interpreter of God’s word (See 2 Peter 3:16). Peter shall have the power Eliakim had to “open” what none can “shut” (Isa 22:22). And with the authority of the Sanhedrin of his time, Peter shall be able to “shut the kingdom of heaven against men who separate themselves from his teaching (Mt 23:13). Only Peter and his successors in the papacy have the plenary authority to excommunicate heretics and schismatics from the Church whether they be clergy or laity.

Hence, there is biblical and ancient traditional support for papal infallibility and the universal primacy of papal authority in the Church that Christ has established. What Peter binds on earth, heaven binds. What Peter looses on earth, heaven looses. Heaven’s reciprocal binding (estai dedemenon) and loosing (estai lelumenon) are in the passive voice. This could be translated as “shall be bound” or “shall having been bound” (The Biblical Basis for the Papacy).  Heaven is receiving the binding and loosing from Peter and ratifying his decisions. At the same time, the Holy Spirit ensures that Peter makes the right decision in accordance with divine revelation. Just as God revealed to Peter a fundamental Christological truth of salvation, God will now confirm all of Peter’s official teachings on salvation, and so shall all his successors on the chair.

The future tense (“shall be bound”) indicates that heaven’s ratification of Peter’s decisions will have occurred at the time he has made them. Heaven will ratify what Heaven has guided him to say through the Holy Spirit and not by any private judgment of his (flesh and blood) that would amount to an arbitrary theological opinion. “The Holy Spirit’s unique use of the future tense with the passive voice to describe heaven’s reciprocal binding and loosing underscores that Peter truly speaks for heaven just as he did when he confessed the divinity of Christ. Peter’s binding and loosing decisions are ordained by God” (The Biblical Basis for the Papacy).

The gift of papal infallibility basically means that God has protected Peter and protects all his successors who speak from his chair (ex-cathedra) from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit guarantees that what they have declared and taught is part of God’s revelation. Since Jesus has promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church and has promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in all truth (Jn 16:12-13; cf. 1 Tim 3:15) until his glorious return, papal teachings from the chair of Peter shall always be free from error. An ex-cathedra pronouncement is a definitive teaching on faith or morals and is intended to be infallible and be believed by the entire Church without question because of the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Early Sacred Tradition

“The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which sojourns at Corinth
But if any disobey the words spoken by him through us, let them know that they will involve
themselves in transgression and in no small danger.”

St. (Pope) Clement of Rome
1st Epistle to the Corinthians, 1,59:1
(c. A.D. 96)

“And he says to him again after the resurrection, ‘Feed my sheep.’ It is on him that he builds the
Church, and to him that he entrusts the sheep to feed. And although he assigns a like power to all
the apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, thus establishing by his own authority the source and
hallmark of the (Church’s) oneness. No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is
given to Peter, and it is (thus) made clear that there is but one flock which is to be fed by all the
apostles in common accord. If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine
that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has
he still confidence that he is in the Church? This unity firmly should we hold and maintain,
especially we bishops, presiding in the Church, in order that we may approve the episcopate itself
to be the one and undivided.”
St. Cyprian of Carthage
The Unity of the Church, 4-5
(A.D. 251-256)

”The reason for your absence was both honorable and imperative, that the schismatic wolves might
not rob and plunder by stealth nor the heretical dogs bark madly in the rapid fury nor the very
serpent, the devil, discharge his blasphemous venom. So it seems to us right and altogether fitting
that priests of the Lord from each and every province should report to their head, that is, to the
See of Peter, the Apostle.”
Council of Sardica, To Pope Julius
(A.D. 342)

“You cannot deny that you know that in the city of Rome the Chair was first conferred on Peter,
in which the prince of all the Apostles, Peter, sat…in which Chair unity should be preserved by all,
so that he should now be a schismatic and a sinner who should set up another Chair against that
unique one.”
St. Optatus of Mileve
The Schism of Donatists, 2:2-3
(c. A.D. 367)

“Philip, presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See, said: There is no doubt, and in fact it has been
known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of
the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of
loosing and binding sins: Our holy and most blessed Pope Celestine the bishop is according to due
order his successor and holds his place…Accordingly the decision of all churches is firm, for the
priests of the eastern and western churches are present…Wherefore Nestorius knows that he is
alienated from the communion of the priests of the Catholic Church.”
Council of Ephesus, Session III (A.D. 431)

“Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us,
and through this present most holy synod together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter
the Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the
orthodox faith, hath stripped him of the episcopate, and hath alienated from him all hieratic
worthiness. Therefore let this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned Dioscorus
to the canonical penalties.”
Council of Chalcedon, Session III (A.D. 451)

But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not:
and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.

Luke 22, 32

Pax vobiscum