Papal Supremacy Series: Solus Petrus Theology

This is a continuation of my series on papal supremacy. It is going over my thought process, from my presuppositions to my conclusions. It will show how I, as a Roman Catholic, worked my way through papal supremacy and its inevitable contradiction. Please let me know what you think.

Looking at the contradiction found in papal supremacy, and its destruction of the Church as a Sacrament, one begins to ask: where did this come from? What broke the concept of communion in the Roman Church? This brokenness is found in the Roman conception of Faith.

As discussed in the article on Faith, Faith leads man to believe that which the Lord has revealed, found in the Scriptures. However, while Rome claims to venerate and and serve the Scriptures, she actually adds upon Scripture an hermeneutic best called Solus Petrus (Peter Alone).

One cannot judge the Pope by what the Lord reveals in the Scriptures, since no man can judge the Pope. Solus Petrus is to whom anyone may appeal. Solus Petrus defines the meaning & extent of the Scriptures. Solus Petrus determines liturgy and sacraments. Solus Petrus has authentic authority in the Church.

This is going to lead Rome, when she approaches the Scriptures, to seek to understand the Scriptures not on their own terms but to look at herself and find herself in the Scriptures.

Key Petrine Texts

This hermeneutic will be especially important when looking at key texts in discussions with Roman Catholics.

For example, looking at Matthew 16, Jesus Christ says to St. Peter:

thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Matt. 16:18-9

This is true and should be celebrated. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church and the Church is founded on Peter, the Rock, to whom the keys are given. In fact, let us go farther. St. Peter appears first in every list of the apostles (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13) and, when the apostles are addressed and need to provide a response, St. Peter is the one who speaks for them (Acts 5:27-9). It is manifestly clear from the Scriptures that St. Peter leads the apostles and serves as a sort of spokesman of the apostles. This shows that St. Peter has a special place and even a primacy.

However, all these texts break down if Petrine primacy turns into Petrine supremacy. Promoters of papal supremacy try to support this doctrines with these Scripture passages, but St. Peter having a high place does not logically lead to Petrine supremacy. Instead, they have to force the hermeneutic of Solus Petrus into these texts. Let’s apply this to the texts and see if they still make sense.

Eisegesis by Solus Petrus

Solus Petrus demands that when Jesus Christ says that “thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church this Peter alone I will build my church”, He really means “upon this Peter alone I will build my church.” If that is what Jesus meant, then we should see this in the rest of the New Testament, right? We should, but we do not. St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, teaches that the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). This is explained more mystically by St. John who writes, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations: And in them, the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Apoc. 21:14)

Indeed, St. Peter is the Rock but not Peter Alone. Instead, St. Peter and all the apostles are rocks which form the one foundation of the Church. If this is what the Bible teaches, then was this accepted by the Church Fathers? Indeed. Despite the façade that the Church Fathers believed in papal supremacy which is constructed by Rome, the evidence is quite to the contrary. For example, instead of the Solus Petrus theology imposed on Matthew 16:18, Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) comments on that passage saying,

This is not the property of Peter alone, but it came about on behalf of every human being. Having said that his confession is a rock, he stated that upon this rock I will build my church. This means he will build his church upon this same confession and faith. For this reason, addressing the one who first confessed him with this title, on account of his confession he applied to him this authority, too, as something that would become his, speaking of the common and special good of the church as pertaining to him alone. It was from this confession, which was going to become the common property of all believers, that he bestowed upon him this name, the rock.

Commentary on Matthew 16:17-8

Here we see Theodore expanding being the foundation of the Church to not just the apostles but even every Christian. Origen (c. 184-253) approaches these verses in the same way. He writes,

For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it…But if this promise, “I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” be common to the others, how shall not all the things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them?

Book XII, Chapters 10-1

Here, Origen reasons from the keys being given to all of the apostles (as shown earlier) to the reality that not Peter alone but upon all the apostles, and—in a sense—every disciple, is the Church built. It is then on this firm foundation of the apostles that the Church is built. It is important to note that the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail is not given to the foundation but to the Church. Any rock, whether St. Peter or St. Andrew, can fall away, but the Church will never completely fall away.

The Deception of Solus Petrus

For Roman Catholics, it is difficult to even imagine the Catholic Church without the Solus Petrus lens. However, investigating Scripture and the Church Fathers, we see that the Church is bound in communion not with Peter alone but among the apostles. Solus Petrus is not just an error. It is a spiritual illness which convinces Christians not to go back to the sources—to go to the Scriptures and understand them on their own terms—but to accept modern Rome and then justify her from the Scriptures. In this system, which is higher: the Pope or the Word of God?

2 thoughts on “Papal Supremacy Series: Solus Petrus Theology

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