Early Evidence for the Primacy of Peter and His Successors

Many non-Catholics claim that the papacy was an invention of Constantine to consolidate power in Rome and rule over all the Churches. However, in keeping with my previous post I want to show how there is clear evidence that the Apostolic Succession of the Bishops of Rome can been seen and how it was acknowledging that the unity of the Early Church depended upon the Primacy of Peter.

That nasty word AUTHORITY

To me, it makes clear and reasonable sense that Jesus would establish a central guiding authority to govern His Church to maintain His Truth in teaching and unity of the believers. The problem that many have when they hear this is that word “AUTHORITY.” It brings to mind some overarching force that imposes their will on the people. So it may help to clarify what is this authority that Jesus Himself gave to Peter?

The Church has always held that the Roman pontiff was the “Servant of the servants of God” in other words, he serves not as a ruler but as a servant. In John 13:12-17 we can see the kind of Authority that Jesus had in mind as He gave the example after washing the feet of the apostles.

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you? 13 You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. 14 If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. 16 ‘In all truth I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. 17 ‘Now that you know this, blessed are you if you behave accordingly. – John 13:12-17

Jesus is teaching them an important lesson that will define the type of authority that the apostles will need to demonstrate. Again in Mark 10:41-45 Our Lord telling the apostles about the kind of authority that they are going to have to demonstrate. This came right after James and John asked Jesus to make a place for them on His right and left. They were thinking as the world thinks and not how God sees things. Jesus quickly corrects them:

41 When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, 42 so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the gentiles those they call their rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. 43 Among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. 45 For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ – Mark 10:41-45

So, this is the basis of the Servant Leadership that has been passed down to the Apostles and to the representative of Christ on earth. Now, I know I need to stop right here before I go any further because some will say that Peter and his successors was not established as Christ’s representative on earth. Really? Let’s look at scripture for some answers.

Jesus gave His authority to Peter, not as that of a dictator but that of a representative of the Authority of Christ. There is an Old Testament precedent for this. I invite you to look at the following where God is putting in authority a “Prime Minister” of the House of David in Jerusalem: Isaiah 22:20-22

“On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, gird him with your sash, confer on him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.”

I’m sure you can see that Jesus is using the same procedure when He confers upon Peter His own authority in a very similar way in Matthew 16:17-19:

“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. l 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.”

The Catholic Church and Peter prophesied in the Old Testament

Additionally, did you know that the Papacy was prophesied in the Old Testament? It’s true. Let me show you where. In Daniel 2:34-36,44-45 the Jews have gone into exile into Babylon and the Babylonian, King Nebuchadnezzar, has a dream. Here is that dream as the Jewish Prophet Daniel is interpreting it:

34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it smote the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces; 35 then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. 36 “This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation… 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever; 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.” – Daniel 2:34-36,44-45

I want to you to pay particularly close attention to something as we go through this. What is it that destroys the giant image of the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold? It was a stone, a stone from heaven that becomes a great mountain that will fill the whole earth. Daniel is explaining that the four substances of the giant image are representing the four ancient kingdoms:

  1. Babylon, Gold
  2. Persia, Silver
  3. Greece, Bronze
  4. Rome, Iron and Clay

In his interpretation, Daniel explains that the stone, that was cut from a mountain by no human hand hits the image in the feet, Rome, and crumbles. Daniel also explains that during the time of the last kingdom that God will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus Christ came during the Roman Empire and He established the Kingdom of God on earth. Interestingly enough, what does Jesus name His number one apostle?

18 And so I say to you, you are Kephas (meaning Rock, Petros in Latin, Peter in English), and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 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 16:18-19

That’s right “Rock”, He renames Simon Bar Jonah and calls him Rock. What a strange name to give someone, I’ve gotta think that Simon was a bit perplexed at this at first. People were not named after things in those days, that’s kind of like naming someone Tree, or Truck. But, God never gives a new name to someone without a very good reason. Abram to Abraham, etc. Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy in Daniel Chapter 2 that the kingdom of God will be built on a Rock. A Rock that was hewn by the mountain but not by human hands. Awesome isn’t it?

Additionally, going back to Daniel 7:19-27, Daniel explains in much more detail what the prophecy means. I’m going to list it all here, you can read it in your bible, but I do want to point out the last verse that says the following:

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’ – Daniel 7:27

In other words, during the time of the Roman Empire, the kingdom shall be handed over to the saints of the Most High, the saints of God, and their kingdom shall last forever, and it will be a kingdom that wields God’s authority. The Church was centered on Rome from the beginning. Think about it, it makes total sense. God takes an already established empire with a massive infrastructure of roads and the ability to reach out to all the ends of the known world and over a few decades hands it over to the Church, the saints of God. What better way to facilitate the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world? This is why the Pope, the Rock, is in Rome. If you want a more in depth treatment of this I would like to point you to an excellent book by Dr. Taylor MarshallThe Eternal City: Rome & the Origins of Catholic Christianity. He goes into great detail on this topic.

Evidence from the Early Church

So now that we have covered ancient prophecy and supporting New Testament scripture passages, let’s take a look at some quotes of the Early Church to support this. As per usual, I’m going to keep my quotes to pre-Constantine Father’s so as to show that the Pope existed before the so-called creation of the papacy by Constantine.

Clement of Rome, regarded as the fourth in line of succession of the papacy said the following in his Letter to the Corinthians:

Clement of Rome

“But if any disobey the word spoken by him, Peter, through us.” (Letter to the Corinthians [A.D. 96]).

In the following quote by Tertullian we see that the Bishops were ordained and passed down their authority, one to another. Regardless whether you believe that Peter was the first Pope, we can clearly see that Peter was indeed seen as the head of the Church in Rome and passed that authority to Clement of Rome. He also points out several other times that Keys of the Kingdom are held by Peter and his apostolic descendants.

Tertullian

“This is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrneans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John, like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 32:2 [A.D. 200]).

“For though you think that heaven is still shut up, remember that the Lord left the keys of it to Peter here, and through him to the Church.” (Antidote Against the Scorpion 10 [A.D. 211]).

“The Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. . . . Upon you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys, not to the Church” (Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]).

Clement of Alexandria explains that Peter was seen as the prime among the Apostles, as early as A.D. 200.

Clement of Alexandria

“The blessed Peter, the chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid the tribute [Matt. 17:27], quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? ‘Behold, we have left all and have followed you’ [Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28]” (Who Is the Rich Man That Is Saved? 21:3–5 [A.D. 200]).

Eusebius in his Church History explains that Victor was the thirteenth bishop of Rome.

Eusebius

“Victor . . . was the thirteenth bishop of Rome from Peter” (The Little Labyrinth [A.D. 211], in Eusebius, Church History 5:28:3).

Cyprian of Carthage

Again, here is one of the several quotes from the Early Church that shows they understood that Peter was the first among apostles and that the Church was built upon him. That the position of “Peter” in the Church was needed to insure Unity. I like it when he says “If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” …True, very true.

“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.’ . . . On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

Well, there are many more quotes that I could show, but I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite. It’s a list of popes written between 175 to 190 by Saint Irenaeus, not many years after his visit to Rome. He lists the order from Peter to Eleutherius. I think it’s important that I give this part to you at length so that you can read it all in context. It is very interesting.

Irenaeus

1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority — that is, the faithful everywhere — inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere. potentiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, hoc est eos qui sunt undique fideles, in qua semper ab his qui sunt undique, conservata est ea quâ est ab apostolis traditio].

3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.

4. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time — a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles — that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Against Heresies book 3, ch 3; [A.D. 190]).

That’s enough for now. I hope you are enjoying the post. Please feel free to comment, share with your friends and like my Facebook page.


 

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