Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Did early Christians think Peter was the rock?

In Matthew 16:18 we read: “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.”

Catholics see this as a foundation for the papacy; in which Peter is named the head apostle and is given special authority (actually a lot of that comes from verse 19 when Peter is given the keys).

To undermine the papacy many people say Peter wasn’t the rock at all. They say Jesus was the rock by bringing up the Greek Petra/Petros or they’ll say Peter’s confession of Christ in verse 16 is “the rock”. Or maybe Peter’s faith is the rock? Who knows, it could be anything; other than the obvious, of course.

These are nice theories and I’m sure a lot of people believe them. What about the early Christians? What did they say about the matter? Did they think Peter was the rock on whom the Church is built or was Jesus saying something else?

“Peter, who is called 'the rock on which the church should be built,' who also obtained 'the keys of the kingdom of heaven...'” Tertullian, On the Prescription Against the Heretics, 22 (c. A.D. 200).

“And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail...” Origen, Commentary on John, 5:3 (A.D. 232).

“'...thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church' ... 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...If a man does not fast to this oneness of Peter, does he still 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?” Cyprian, De Unitate Ecclesiae (Primacy text), 4 (A.D. 251).

“And Peter,on whom the Church of Christ is built, 'against which the gates of hell shall not prevail'” Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6:25 (A.D. 325).

“...the chief of the disciples...the Lord accepted him, set him up as the foundation, called him the rock and structure of the church.” Aphraates, De Paenitentibus Homily 7:15 (A.D. 337).

“[F]or the good of unity blessed Peter, for whom it would have been enough if after his denial he had obtained pardon only, deserved to be placed before all the apostles, and alone received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to be communicated to the rest.” Optatus of Milevis, De Schismate Donatistorum, 7:3(A.D. 370).

“As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built!” Jerome, To Pope Damasus, Epistle 15 (A.D. 375).

“But you say, the Church was rounded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one (Peter) among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.” Jerome, Against Jovinianus, 1 (A.D. 393).

“Peter, that head of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received revelation not from man but from the Father...this Peter, and when I say Peter, I mean that unbroken Rock, the unshaken foundation, the great Apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called, the first to obey.” John Chrysostom, De Eleemosyna, 3:4 (ante A.D. 407).

Too bad no one taught these early Christians Greek…

Many more quotes can be found at Scripture Catholic.

6 comments:

dave ruiz said...

Dan, how come no one says that Peter is the rock in the epistles ? How come no one says it for for another 5 or 6 generations after Peter's death ? It is known that Tertullian was wrong on some issues, and frankly, I guess Origen, Eusubius, Aphrates and Jerome were wrong on this matter also. This idea did gain momentum several centuries after Peter. The Old Testament has rock always referring to God (35 times) ........Saint Ignatius, "The Comforter and the Word is holy, the Son of the Father, by whom He made all things, and exercises providence over all of them. This is the way which leads to the Father, the Rock, the Shepherd, the Key, the Sacrifice......" (Epistle to Philadelphia).....Justin Martyr, "...Christ was proclaimed by the prophets in parables a Stone and a Rock,..and we are happy to die for the name of the good Rock" (Second Apology). .....Shepherd of Hermas, "What is the meaning of the rock and the gate ? This rock and this gate are the son of God"....... Tertullian refers to Christ and Peter as "rock, but also says, "You subvert the truth thinking this power has derived to you",referring to succession, denying that Peter had successors of equal power and authority.(On Modesty-ch21)........As far as Cyprian, you fail to tell your audience that Cyprian had two versions of chapter 4. You cite his early version, which has "primacy', favoring your viewpoint and fail to state his revision, which is longer and omits phraseology favorable to Rome..According to papal scholar W. Jurgens "The Faith of the Early Fathers", Cyprian recognized the bishop of Rome had " a kind of special and primatial position; but he had not thought of it as implying a universal jurisdiction", that the other apostles had "equal dignity and authority". "When a writer revises an earlier text, it is the later version which is to be preferred since it is based upon greater maturity and perspective". Pre - Nicene Fathers show there is not antiquity or consensus or universality for Peter being the rock and foundation (Matt 16;18)."Because this view (Papal) was not proposed in the early Church,.no Father had a need for refutation. However, we know that once Rome began to claim an identification of the Apostle Peter with the rock on which the church was built, there were refutations.,thus failing the test of consent,if not universality and antiquity. For this reason it can not be claimed that the Church is founded on Peter"(geocites.com/trvalentine/orthodox/rock) .....Dan, I agree with the above authors. The epistles, the first and second century Fathers do Not put forth that Peter was the rock, but that Jesus is the Rock, and even the Key, our corner stone, all in harmony with the old testament. Peter as the rock is NOT in harmony with old testament. The twelve apostles are foundational (Revelations), as were the twelve tribes of Israel. ....The earliest of Christians (and the apostles themselves) thought Jesus was the Rock,as do all reformed catholics today.

Dan said...

I don't see the relevance of quotes relating that God is a rock when those quotes aren't commentary on Mt 16. It's no secret that God is a rock and Jesus is the cornerstone, the stone the builders rejected, etc. Saying Jesus or God the Father is a rock has nothing to do with Jesus saying Peter is the rock and foundation of the visible Church on earth. I don't see any relevance.

For example, you say the Shepherd of Hermes calls the “rock and gate” the “son of God”. Ok, if this applies to Mt 16 then you are saying Jesus is the “rock” of the Church (which he is, by the way, Peter is simply the visible rock) AND that Jesus is the “gate” of what? Hell? The only reference to “gate” in Mt 16 is to the gates of hell so is the Shepherd of Hermes saying Jesus is the gate of hell?

Of course not, that would be ridiculous.

If you read Shepherd of Hermes you'd find that it defines both “rock” and “gate” within its own context and is not a commentary on Mt 16. In other words; it's a complete red herring to say it applies to Jesus' words to Peter.

Tetrillian does say some interesting things about succession. However, we are discussing if Peter is the rock in Mt 16, which Tetrillian certainly agrees with.

The website you linked that claims there wasn't consensus and so on doesn't work for me so I can't really comment on that. It's pretty easy for anyone to get a free website at Geocities and say anything they want; this doesn't mean they're right.

In the end, I see several early Christian writers saying Peter is the rock of Mt 16, none that deny it, and the plain reading (in my opinion) supports it.

dave ruiz said...

Dan .you make the same point historians, as I quoted, have made. The quotes of Jesus being the Rock and Key etc. may not be referring to Matt. 16 specifically, but it certainly harmonized with all other scripture. It also shows Matt. 16 had no distinction from all the other Rock scriptures, that Peter had not YET been "assigned " by theologians and church fathers as the Rock. Again, you can NOT say my quotes do not apply to Matt. 16, but you are right, I am not sure I have proof that they apply specifically either ,only generally. The point still stands ,NO ONE referred to Peter as the rock specifically before the 3rd century or there abouts........Still, the quotes ARE relevant because we ARE discussing whether Jesus or Peter is the "Rock". So when early fathers refer to Jesus as the Rock, it carries some weight when discussing Matt 16 . After all, it is your opinion only that keeps the quotes from entering in to the discussion of Matt 16.....Red herring they are not. Again, the early fathers felt no need to include Matt.16 specifically because NO ONE was putting forth the dogma that Peter was the rock......Why do you have an aversion to websites that discuss some of your same topics, like "anybody can do it". What, anybody can be an historian, write research books, or even quote from those who have ? I would hope to respect most sites that are open to discuss these issues ,as yours does......Yes ,you have some early fathers to support your view, but again it is not in the epistles or Acts, nor in the first century nor in the second century. Indeed, there would soon be many writings supporting Peter as Rock (3rd,4th and 5th century), but not surprisingly, only as Rome tried to assert itself "over " the other Patriarchal Christian centers. This was also the time the Church became politically sanctioned, and in politics, a strict heirarchy is much more preferred than a loose but Spirit knit Church of the first few centuries. Indeed, earlier emperors only varied in their degrees of tolerance or persecution of the Church. With Constantine now embracing and sanctioning Christianity, he was concerned with "unity" for control purposes, and to keep the peace, to stop the bickering, which was not good for the empire.

Dan said...

Dave, you’re assuming only one person can be “the” rock. Why? Catholics believe Christ is the rock and foundation of our faith and Church. How could we say otherwise? However, in Mt 16 Jesus says Peter is the rock, or foundation, of the visible Church just as a vicar (who had the keys) was the visible head of a kingdom when the king was physically away.

As they say, don’t mix metaphors. If God is a rock in one sense then why can’t Peter be a rock in another sense?

You say the claims that Peter was the rock were part of Constantine’s plan for unity. How do you explain that so many of them came before Christianity became legal in 323?

dave ruiz said...

Dan, I believe every metaphor of "rock" in the bible refers to Diety, even Matt. 16 . Again, Jesus is NOT referring to Peter as the rock, in my humble opinion. I understand your position . It has been explained as well as it could be. I do not say Peter as the rock was Constantine's idea .I believe around his time is when church fathers began using Matt. 16 as text proof for the bishop of Rome as being head of the church. I am afraid it is not so simple that you merely say Peter is the Rock, but that it leads to "popery", universal head bishop, vicar of Christ , ruler of the world wide church for the entire church age,etc,etc. Again, I believe most writings stating Peter as the rock come closer to the time of Constantnine than to the time of Peter....I enjoy it when you use scripture to dialogue (old testament "vicar" when King is away) Again, in my humble opinion, The Holy Spirit is the Vicar when Christ is away. Oh, He is quite invisible yet His effects are quite visible .He is the difference between a dejected denying Peter and a preaching Peter with 3ooo saved. Furthermore, we must take into account Revelations which states the twelve apostles are the foundation of the church, visible and invisible. All twelve had the keys of the kingdom (yes, Peter wonderfully was the first to use it after the ascension (3000 saved), and the first to reach the gentiles). All twelve could remit or retain sins. I do not believe my view of Matt.16 is man made. I believe it is supported by scripture, both old and new testaments. I believe it is supported by the earliest of church fathers' writings. I believe that when the contrary was taught, ,there was some opposition (biblical rebuttal). I understand that around the third or fourth century, your view became stronger and indeed became held by much of the church, till the great schism (1000A.D. ?) , and then the reformation (1500 ). I understand that you believe your view not to be man made either and that you believe tradition teaches it began with Peter. I rest my case however, that such tradition is sketchy if non-existent before the third century. AND, as long as we are in Matt.16,(a great place to be), the correct view has HOPE, in that the same Person that revealed to Peter whom Jesus is can also reveal the truth here. Alleluia.

dave ruiz said...

In 1 Samuel8:4, "Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. This displeased Samuel.... God said they have rejected Me, even after all I did for them bringing them out of Egypt. Warn the people that this king will TAKE from them (land, seed, money, their sons and daughters etc).........It is interesting that the Jews prided themselves with enough insight to see that indeed Samuel's sons were corrupted and ungodly (but not themselves). They did not trust God to somehow overcome this obstacle of poor leaders. In reality they were waiting for the moment to dump "prophets", who could rebuke them for their sin. They wanted to be unfestered by conscience, and live like the world around them. They were carnal but put a good spin on it, "so we can be judged righteously, after all Samuel's sons in line to judge were ungodly. Israel had been a true theocracy ,with God as it's King ....Likewise ,I humbly believe the earliest church was also truly theocratic, with Jesus as King.and the Holy Spirit as his Vicar, and believers as His voice and hands and feet. To qualify Jesus and the Holy Spirit as visible or invisible as pertinent is to misunderstand His reality of existence. Their existence was and is real today as when Jesus walked the shores of Galilee. The church was built and tried thru fire this way. The church survived quite well it's persecution and factionalism and heresies. All this without a pope, without a "manned" central authority . The church was delivered out of "Egypt". Then, in the third, fourth century sentiment grew for a central authority, specifically Rome, and its head bishop. One could say there were good intentions - unity amidst heresy, and factionalism, yet had not the church survived this for several centuries without this Pope ? Was then this just a normal human (carnal) response for power, to Lord over (which Jesus said would not be in His kingdom). Of course one could say it was in the name of service to the church, much the same way the Israelites said they wanted to be judged (which they did not really want) This is in part why I can not agree anymore with Peter having to be head or vicar because Jesus was going away (disappearing) .The Holy Spirit is as real even stronger ,than the reality of Jesus walking with the apostles.Do you not believe in the invisible ? You certainly see His works, as the apostles saw the works of Jesus. What happened at Pentecost ? what happened at the first sermon? what happened as peter spoke to that gentile family ? What happened to Saul of Tarsus ? What happened to John on Patmos ? who was Stephen or Priscilla ? Is not Jesus at Galilee just as real as the Holy Spirit in Philippi or Antioch or Corinth or Ephesus ? Anyways, thank you for giving me space to share my humble thoughts as a "catholic- protestant" on this issue so important to us. Alleluia