Augustine on Peter

I’m trying to defend the Papacy, by quoting the Early Church Father’s. Things were going swell, but it seems something always pops-up like this:

How can I explain Augustine’s statements to a Christian that is trying to deny Peter & the Papacy.

One or two snippets from an author as prolific as Augustine hardly tell the whole story concerning the saint’s perspective on Peter.

Start here:

Augustine on Peter

“Number the bishops from the see of Peter itself. And in that order of Fathers see who succeeded whom, That is the rock against which the gates of hell do not prevail.” (Psalmus contra partem Donati, 18 (A.D. 393),GCC 51).

“Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God is able to forgive all sins. They are wretched indeed, because they do not recognize in Peter the rock and they refuse to believe that the keys of heaven, lost from their own hands, have been given to the Church.” (Christian Combat, 31:33(A.D. 397), in JUR,3:51).

“For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: ‘Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it !’ The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: – Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Iginus, Anicetus, Pius, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor, Zephirinus, Calixtus, Urbanus, Pontianus, Antherus, Fabianus, Cornelius, Lucius, Stephanus, Xystus, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychianus, Gaius, Marcellinus, Marcellus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found. But, reversing the natural course of things, the Donatists sent to Rome from Africa an ordained bishop, who, putting himself at the head of a few Africans in the great metropolis, gave some notoriety to the name of ‘mountain men,’ or Cutzupits, by which they were known.” To Generosus, Epistle 53:2(A.D. 400), in NPNF1,I:298

“When, therefore, He had said to His disciples, ‘Will ye also go away?” Peter, that Rock, answered with the voice of all, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ “Homilies on John, Tract 11:5(A.D. 417), in NPNF1,VII:76

“And the Lord, to him to whom a little before He had said, ‘Blessed thou art, and upon this Rock I will build my Church,’ saith, ‘Go back behind, Satan, an offence thou art to Me.’ Why therefore ‘Satan’ is he, that a little before was ‘blessed,’ and a ‘Rock’ ?” In Psalms, 56[55]:14[PL 36, 656] (A.D. 418),in NPNF1,VIII:223

“Peter, who had confessed Him as the Son of God, and in that confession had been called the rock upon which the Church should be built.” In Psalms, 69:4[PL 36, 869] (A.D. 418), in Butler, 251

“And if a Jew asks us why we do that, we sound from the rock, we say, This Peter did, this Paul did: from the midst of the rocks we give our voice. But that rock, Peter himself, that great mountain, when he prayed and saw that vision, was watered from above.” In Psalms, 104[103]:16(A.D. 418),in NPNF1,VIII:513

“[In my first book against Donatus] I mentioned somewhere with reference to the apostle Peter that ‘the Church is founded upon him as upon a rock.’ This meaning is also sung by many lips in the lines of blessed Ambrose, where, speaking of the domestic cock, he says: ‘When it crows, he, the rock of the Church, absolves from sin.’ But I realize that I have since frequently explained the words of our Lord: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church’, to the effect that they should be understood as referring to him Peter confessed when he said: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’, and as meaning that Peter having been named after this rock, figured the person of the Church, which is built upon this rock and has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven. For what was said to him was not ‘Thou art rock’, but ‘Thou art Peter’. But the rock was Christ, having confessed whom(even as the whole Church confesses) Simon was named Peter. Which of these interpretations is more likely to be correct, let the reader choose.” Retractations,1:21(A.D. 427),in GILES, 177

“Among these [apostles] it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, ‘To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 16:19)… Quite rightly too did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. It’s not, you see, that he alone among the disciples was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep; but when Christ speaks to one man, unity is being commended to us. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is first among the apostles.” (Sermon 295:2-4 (A.D. 410), in WOA3,8:197-199)

“So does the Church act in blessed hope through this troublous life; and this Church symbolized in its generality, was personified in the Apostle Peter, on account of the primacy of his apostleship.” (On the Gospel of John, Tract 124:5 (A.D. 416), in NPNF1, VII:450)


“For as some things are said which seem peculiarly to apply to the Apostle Peter, and yet are not clear in their meaning, unless when referred to the Church, whom he is acknowledged to have figuratively represented, on account of the primacy which he bore among the Disciples.” (On the Psalms,108[109]:1(A.D. 418),in NPNF1,VIII:536)

“The authority of Cyprian does not alarm me, because I am reassured by his humility. We know, indeed, the great merit of the bishop and martyr Cyprian; but is it in any way greater than that of the apostle and martyr Peter, of whom the said Cyprian speaks as follows in his epistle to Quintus?

‘For neither did Peter, whom the Lord chose first, and on whom He built His Church, when Paul afterwards disputed with him about circumcision, claim or assume anything insolently and arrogantly to himself, so as to say that he held the primacy, and should rather be obeyed of those who were late and newly come. Nor did he despise Paul because he had before been a persecutor of the Church, but he admitted the counsel of truth, and readily assented to the legitimate grounds which Paul maintained; giving us thereby a pattern of concord and patience, that we should not pertinaciously love our own opinions, but should rather account as our own any true and rightful suggestions of our brethren and colleagues for the common health and weal.’(Cyprian, Epistle 76[70]:3)

Here is a passage in which Cyprian records what we also learn in holy Scripture, that the Apostle Peter, in whom the primacy of the apostles shines with such exceeding grace, was corrected by the later Apostle … I suppose that there is no slight to Cyprian in comparing him with Peter in respect to his crown of martyrdom; rather I ought to be afraid lest I am showing disrespect towards Peter. For who can be ignorant that the primacy of his apostleship is to be preferred to any episcopate whatever?” (On Baptism against the Donatist, 2:1,1(A.D. 400),in NPNF1,IV:425-426)

This is also helpful.

Matthew 16:18 – Peter the Rock
Understanding the Use of Metaphor in the New Testament

Matthew 16:18-20 (NIV)
18And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

[a] Peter means rock.

Many non-Catholics object to the idea that Peter was the rock upon which Jesus promised to build the Church, and they offer various alternative interpretations of the rock as being Jesus himself, Peter’s confession of faith, and the curious hybrid Peter and his confession. To support their denial of Jesus’ establishment of Peter as the head of the Church, non-Catholics frequently cite other scripture passages in which Jesus is called the “chief cornerstone” and the apostles collectively being described as foundation stones. These arguments are based upon a misunderstanding of the use of metaphors within the pages of scripture. Author Stephen Ray, himself a former Evangelical and convert to Catholicism, addressed this problem in his book, Upon This Rock:

“In this metaphorical description, Jesus himself could not be the foundation, because in this illustration he presents himself as the builder. The following is very important. In Scripture Jesus is variously depicted as the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11), the builder (Mt. 16:18), the cornerstone (Acts 4:11), and the temple itself (Rev. 21:22). We also see the apostles and/or believers as the foundation (Eph. 2:20, Rev. 21:14), the builders (1 Cor. 3:10), the stones, lithos, not petra (1 Pet. 2:5), the building (1 Cor. 3:9), and the temple (Eph. 2:21). Many illustrations are used to explain various aspects of the Church. One cannot simply substitute one descriptive figure of speech for another in any one illustration thereby mixing metaphors. It does great violence to the textual illustration itself and is a good example of roughshod “proof-texting”, wrongly “dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The Bible does not set up a dichotomy—either Jesus or Peter; rather, it presents us with both Jesus and Peter as foundation stones. Jesus is establishing the man who will be the focal point of unity within the Church, the foundation. He who builds upon sand has a structure that crumbles (Mt. 7:24-27). Jesus builds his Church upon the rock of his choice, and, by his protection, the Church has stood the test of time. The powers of hell have failed to destroy or corrupt her” (Stephen Ray, Upon this Rock, [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999], 36.)

In this same book, Ray also cites Protestant George Salmon, author of The Infallibility of the Church which he wrote to undermine the teachings of the Catholic Church. On the matter of metaphorical usage, Salmon wrote at length:

“It is undoubtedly the doctrine of Scripture that Christ is the only foundation [of the Church]: “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Yet we must remember that the same metaphor may be used to illustrate different truths, and so, according to circumstances, may have different significations. The same Paul who has called Christ the only foundation, tells his Ephesian converts (2:20):—“Ye are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” And in like manner we read (Rev. 21:14):—“The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.” How is it that there can be no other foundation but Christ, and yet that the Apostles are spoken of as foundations? Plainly, because the metaphor is used with different applications. Christ alone is that foundation, from being joined to which the whole building of the Church derives its unity and stability, and gains strength to defy all the assaults of hell. But, in the same manner as any human institution is said to be founded by those men to whom it owes its origin, so we may call those men the foundation of the Church whom God honoured by using them as His instruments in the establishment of it; who were themselves laid as the first living stones in that holy temple, and on whom the other stones of that temple were laid; for it was on their testimony that others received the truth, so that our faith rests on theirs; and (humanly speaking) it is because they believed that we believe. So, again, in like manner, we are forbidden to call anyone on earth our Father, “for one is our Father which is in heaven.” And yet, in another sense, Paul did not scruple to call himself the spiritual father of those whom he had begotten in the Gospel. You see, then, that the fact that Christ is called the rock, and that on Him the Church is built, is no hindrance to Peter’s also being, in a different sense, called rock, and being said to be the foundation of the Church; so that I consider there is no ground for the fear entertained by some, in ancient and in modern times, that, by applying the words personally to Peter, we should infringe on the honour due to Christ alone.” (George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church [London: John Murray, 1914], 338-339).

Some years ago I came across a similar misuse of Augustine. What I recall is that Augustine wrote that during his career he referred to the “rock” as both Christ and Peter…and that it was up to the reader to decide.

And that may be the best answer: that the rock is both Christ and Peter.

I’ll also add that regarding Protestantism, the whole “rock” issue is a red herring anyway. God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14:33) so in Protestantism Christ as “rock” or “head” of the Church can only be in a figurative, symbolic sense. Otherwise, how explain how the Church went off the rails for some 1000+ years.

Thank you Randy Carson. Excellent posts. Appreciate all the “homework” you’ve done on this issue.

God bless.


Yes, thank you Randy and the rest.

Thanks, Randy.
Could you check your link? I get a 404 error. I’d like to snag a copy.

That came from Steve Ray’s website, and it appears he’s having some technical problems a the moment. is supposed to be the domain.

Randy. Is this the same document (but a different link) as you were referencing?

(New link here)

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