Early Church Fathers Agree: Peter is the Rock

Early Church Fathers Agree: Peter is the Rock

**Tertullian **

“[T]he 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; and whatever you shall have bound or you shall have loosed, not what they shall have bound or they shall have loosed” (Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]).

“Was anything hidden from Peter, who was called the Rock whereon the Church was to be built; who obtained the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the power of loosing and of binding in heaven and on earth?” (De Praescript Haeret, n.22, p. 209, in Colin Lindsay, The Evidence for the Papacy, (London: Longmans, 1870), 19, c.A.D. 200-220,)

Cyprian of Carthage

“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ He says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven.’ And again He says to him after His resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.’ On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, 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; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all 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 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 [A.D. 251]).

Jacob of Nisibis (d. AD 338, attendee of the Council of Nicaea)

“Simon, the head of the Apostles, he who denied Christ…Our Lord received him, and made him the foundation, and called him the Rock of the edifice of the Church.”

“Simon, who was called a Rock, was deservedly called a Rock because of his faith.”

Ephraim the Syrian

“Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the Holy Church. I betimes called you Peter [Kefa, or Rock, in the original text], because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they would wish to build upon what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of the kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures.”

John Chrysostom

“Peter, that head of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received the revelation not from man but from the Father…this Peter, and when I say Peter, I mean the unbroken Rock, the unshaken foundation, the great Apostle, the first of the disciples…” (De Eleemos, iii).

Chrysostom recognized that the Church was built “on the faith of his confession” but that was inseparable from his person as the future Rock of the Church:

“Is it not because he was immovable in his faith that Peter received this name?” (Homily, “I Resisted Him to His Face”)



“’Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build My Church.’ As He bestowed light on His apostles, so that they were to be called ‘the light of the world”, and as they obtained other titles from the Lord so also Simon, who believed on the Rock Christ, was given the name Peter (Rock). And in accordance with the metaphor of a rock, it is justly said to him, “I will build My Church upon thee.’” (Commentary on Matthew, I, iii)

"Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless garment of the Lord, ‘woven from the top throughout,’ since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ, and since among broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover ‘the sealed fountain’ and ‘the garden enclosed,’ I think it is my duty to consult the Chair of Peter, and to turn to the church whose faith has been praised by Paul. …My words are spoken to the successor of the Fisherman, to the disciple of the Cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with no one but Your Blessedness, that is with the Chair of Peter. For this I know is the Rock on which the Church is built! This is the house where alone the Paschal Lamb can rightly be eaten. This is the Ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails." (Jerome, Letter 15 --addressed to Pope Damasus I, c. 375 A.D.)

**Ambrose **

“[Christ] made answer: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church . . .’ Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, whom he called the rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church [Matt. 16:18]?” (The Faith 4:5 [A.D. 379]).

Gregory of Nyssa

“The memory of Peter, the head of the Apostles, is celebrated; and magnified indeed with him are the other members of the Church; but upon him is the Church of God firmly established. For he is, agreeably to the gift conferred upon him by the Lord, that unbroken and most firm Rock upon which the Lord built His Church.”


“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).

“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).

**Pope Leo I **

“[T]he blessed Peter persevering in the strength of the rock, which he has received, has not abandoned the helm of the Church, which he understood. For he was ordained before the rest in such a way that, from his being called the rock, from his being pronounced the foundation, from his being constituted the doorkeeper of the kingdom of heaven, from his being set as the umpire to bind and loose, whose judgments shall retain their validity in heaven, from all these mystical titles we might know the nature of his association with Christ” (Sermons 3:2–3 [A.D. 450]).

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