Keys of the Kingdom to Peter alone?

We all know of the text in Matthew 16, where Jesus gives to Peter the keys of the kingdom. But did he give it to Peter alone? My Catholic Bible in it’s notes said that it was just for Peter that this exercise f authority was given? But do the church fathers teach this? Is this historical? I ask because I saw a quote from St. Jerome on a website today about the Apostolic authority. As you will see, he clearly agrees to Peter’s authority, but says all the Apostles had the keys of the kingdom.
The Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.
-St. Jerome
Thanks! Look forward to your all’s help! Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

This may help. The key symbolism was a reference to Isaiah which has a specific meaning–authority that can be handed down.

For what it’s worth, the 2nd-person pronoun used in that passage is singular, translated as “thee” in the older English versions.

I don’t recall seeing much, if anything, as far as I’ve read in the Fathers (I’ve been in Augustin all year), but then during the early centuries I don’t think this was much of a controversy.

That quote from Jerome was from his letter “Against Jovinianus” and it’s not clear to me if Jerome was expressing his own opinion or quoting something Jovinianus had previously said. In any rate, Peter is the head of the Church and there is no passage in the New Testament that give “keys” to anyone other than Peter. The other apostles had the authority of binding and loosing in regard to forgiving sins, just like Peter, but only Peter is recorded as receiving the Keys. These ambiguous quotes are endlessly circulated by anti-Catholic protestants. This one seem to originate from a book by Isaac Barrow, “The Pope’s Supremacy.” It is very anti-Catholic.

There are different aspects to the keys precisely because they are metaphorical. Peter did not receive a literal set of keys, although artistic depictions suggest this, of course.

When Jesus said this to Peter, he was undeniably harkening back to Isaiah where the prime minister/chief steward of the Davidic household received the “keys.” This individual was given the “binding” and “loosing” authority, but with slightly different language (“opening” and “shuting,” I believe). So the bottom line is that there is a sense Peter alone is receiving the keys, for the passage refers to Isaiah, in which a single person is made prime minister.

By looking to Isaiah, one not only sees that Jesus is giving Peter the keys in a unique sense, but also that Jesus is in fact making Peter “chief steward.” I think this important point is sometimes missed in discussions Peter’s primacy. It is very telling that Christ is referencing this, for in it are rolled up four important ideas: the singular aspect of the keys; the ability to bind and loose, the “chief” or “prime” role of one individual, and lastly, even the idea of succession.

But like anything in the Bible, there are often multiple layers of meaning and applications. For example, the fact that Peter is the “rock” of the church. It is undeniable that Peter is the rock of the church, for his name means that! Why else would Christ change his name? And yet, some Christians insist that the “rock” is Christ, or Peter’s confession – as opposed to the most obvious identification (Peter himself).

And these same Christians will show how this or that church father identified the “rock” as Christ. Or how Paul says Jesus is the “cornerstone.” Well… so? The Catholic Church says the same.

The same with the Keys. There are uniquely given to Peter. But as Cyprian said in the third century in his Unity of the Catholic Church, Christ founded a single “chair” from which the unity of the church flows. It is from Peter that the church participates in its unity. Other bishops have the power of the keys, but only in the fullest sense in union with Peter.

Even priests, the elders of the church, participate in the keys of the kingdom, for the keys have also represented the ability to forgive sin – something simple priests are empowered to due in Christ’s name.


The article on the “Power of the Keys” in the Catholic Encylcopedia, especially the section on “Fathers,” might be helpful.

The article mentions a person named Optatus, presumably St Optatus, a 4th-century bishop in North Africa, who wrote that the power of the keys was given to St Peter alone, not to the other Apostles, and denoted his primacy among them.

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