Orthodox Scholars Agree: Peter is the Rock

Orthodox Scholars Agree: Peter is the Rock

Veselin Kesich

“It has long been noticed that Mt 16:17-19 has a Palestinian, Aramaic background. The form of Jesus’ reply to Peter’s confession appears Hebraistic. There are parallels to the Matthean text in the Qumran literature. The use of semitisms such as ‘gates of Hades,’ ‘flesh and blood,’ ‘bind and loose,’ and semitic parallelism again indicates an Aramaic environment…[Jesus] conferred upon Simon Bar-Jonah the title Peter, and promised that he would build his church upon him. ‘You are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church (ecclesia).’ These words are spoken in Aramaic, in which Cephas stands both for petros and petra…The confession of Peter, therefore, cannot be separated from Peter himself. Petra or rock does not simply refer to Peter’s faith but also to Peter personally. There is a formal and real identity between Petros and petra. Jesus will build the church upon Cephas.” (Veselin Kesich, “Peter’s Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition” in The Primacy of Peter edited by John Meyendorff [St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992], page 47,48)

“We may conclude that the early church Fathers and Christian writers recognized Peter’s position of honor and preeminence in the New Testament period. He was the spokesman for the group of the Twelve, the leader, the shepherd, and the martyr. Their interpretations of Jesus’ promise to Peter – ‘You are ‘Petros’, and on this petra I will build My Church’ – converge with those of modern exegetes: Peter is the Rock.” (ibid. p. 65)

Fr. John Meyendorff

“for the Patriarch Photius, as for the later Byzantine theologians, the polemical argument artificially opposing Peter to his confession did not exist. By confessing his faith in the divinity of the Savior, Peter became the Rock of the Church. The Council of 879-80, which followed the reconciliation between Photius and John VIII, went even so far as to proclaim: “The Lord placed him at the head of all the Churches, saying ‘Feed My sheep.’” (ibid. p. 72)

“’the coryphaeus’ of the apostolic choir; he is the first disciple of Christ and speaks always on behalf of all. It is true that other apostles, John, James, and Paul, are also called ‘coryphaei’ and ‘primates’, but Peter alone is the ‘Rock’ of the Church. His primacy has, therefore, not only a personal character, but bears an ecclesiological significance…The Byzantine authors consider that the words of Christ to Pter (Mt. 16:18) possess a final and eternal significance. Peter is a mortal man, but the Church ‘against which the gates of hell cannot prevail’, remains eternally founded upon Peter.” (ibid. p. 74)

Theodore Stylianopoulos

“That Orthodox scholars have gradually moved in the direction of affirming the personal application of Matt 16:17-19 to the Apostle Peter must be applauded. From the standpoint of critical scholarship it can no longer be disputed that Jesus’ words to Peter as reported in Matt 16:17-19 confer a special distinction on Peter as “rock” — the foundation on which Christ promised to build his Church. … These points are now conceded by conservative Protestant scholars as well.” (Kasper, 48-49)

Fr. John Meyendorff

This negative statement [concerning Peter’s powers, according to Orthodox/Byzantine theology], however, does not sufficiently explain all that the Bible means by the messianic image of the ‘Petra’ or the Rock, an image which Christ applies to Peter alone." (J. Meyendorff, A. Schmemann, N. Afanassieff, and N. Koulomzine, The Primacy of Peter, [Aylesbury, Bucks, UK: The Faith Press, 1973], 28.)

I assume all citations are from The Primacy of Peter?

Perhaps not - Randy admitted, in one or 2 of his other 10+ current threads circulating on page 1 of this forum, that he didn’t have time to wade through primary sources, but instead relied on others’ “summaries”…despite quoting as if from a scholarly source. I, too, would appreciate accurate citations of these CliffsNotes versions of history and theology.

The last one is from Kasper, but I know nothing of that passage and the source was poorly documented.

Since most books containing quotes from the Fathers go to great lengths to provide the references in order to establish their validity, I think you can relax.

And you’ll admit, surely, that you’re painting with a broad brush. “Some” Orthodox, who may or may not be scholars (it’s difficult to know, if you’re not listing the works you’re citing), have said things that may include reference to “Peter is the Rock”…and then off you go equating Peter to the Roman Pontiff and making all sorts of claims that they do not support. It’s important to keep their actual writings distinguished from our personal interpretations, for clarity in these discussions. Thanks!

Well lets continue and see. For example we spoke of St Cyprian of Carthage, whats interesting also is that Tertullian also of Carthage preceded the Saint and would have had a good deal of influence on everyone there in the period of Cyprians

If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church,’ ‘to thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On thee,’ He says, ‘will I build My church;’ and, ‘I will give thee the keys’…and, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have loosed or bound’…In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what key: ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which kingdom are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation…(Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Volume IV, Tertullian, On Modesty 21, p. 99).

Your point is well taken. after eight years on this board, I have learned the value of citations, and I will do my best to provide them when I have them.

We’ve already seen how you misrepresented Schmemann. Doubtlessly, these quotes ripped out of context are also not completely representative of their authors’ often nuanced arguments. I am away from home, so I currently cannot consult The Primacy of Peter, but I will do so when I return home. In the mean time, I’d like to challenge you Randy actually to read the book (it’s only a few hundred pages long), since you seem to love quoting it so much. Why not be charitable for once and make an actual attempt to interact with Orthodox thought instead of treating Orthodoxy so disdainfully as to continually construct a strawman of it?

Randy is on a roll today! They should call this the Orthodox-Catholic ecumenical dialogue forum instead.

Cav, as you know, I have you repeatedly for a book recommendation both in threads and by PM. I did the same with the Lutherans. I’m about halfway through their choice. I will be happy to read anything you think would be helpful.

What do you recommend? The Primacy of Peter? Dvornik’s rehabilitation of Photius?

I’d prefer something on the history of the schism rather than theology…and no multi-volume sets, please. :slight_smile:

Finally, will you reciprocate and read a book I recommend to you? It’s not a requirement, I’ll still read your book, but it might be a nice gesture of good faith on your part. :slight_smile:

Here is another quote from Schmemann that requires your…ah…nuanced interpretation:

“We live in the poisoned atmosphere of anathemas and excommunications, court cases and litigations, dubious consecrations of dubious bishops, hatred, calumny, lies! But do we think about the irreparable moral damage all this inflicts to our people? How can they respect the Hierarchy and its decisions? What meaning can the very concept of canonicity have for them? Are we not encouraging them to consider all norms, all regulations, all rules as purely relative? One wonders sometimes whether our bishops realize the scandal of this situation, whether they ever think about the cynicism all this provokes and feeds in the hearts of Orthodox people? Three Russian jurisdictions, two Serbian, two Romanian, two Albanian, two Bulgarian…A split among the Syrians…the animosity between the Russians and the Carpatho-Russians…the Ukrainian problem!..We teach our children to be ‘proud’ of Orthodoxy, we constantly congratulate ourselves about all kinds of historic events and achievements, our church publications distill an almost unbearable triumphalism and optimism, yet, if we were true to the spirit of our faith we ought to repent in ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ we ought to cry day and night about the sad, the tragical state of our Church…Nothing can justify the bare fact: Our Church is divided. To be sure, there have always been divisions and conflicts among Christians. But for the first time in history, division belongs to the very structure of the Church.” (Alexander Schmemann, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1964; pp. 67-84).

In light of the difficulties associated with the 2016 Pan-Orthodox Council described here, it is obvious that the situation has not improved in the fifty years since Schmemann penned those words.

Orthodox (or some Orthodox, anyway) believe that no Council is definitive until the “whole Church” has accepted it. This receptionism theory engenders in the individual the idea that his “vote” counts and thus, he is actually encouraged to pick and choose what he will or won’t accept from the hierarchy of the Church. Rather than the Church judging, guiding and correcting the individual on his journey through life, each individual Orthodox now stands in judgment of the Church on its passage through history!

We call people like this “Cafeteria Catholics”, but it has another name, also: Protestantism. The problems that occur when each believer is free to interpret the Sacred Scriptures for himself are multiplied many times over when each individual is free to interpret not only the Bible but also the writings of the Fathers and the Councils of the Church, as well.

In the midst of all this doctrinal chaos, there is little wonder why Orthodox cling so tightly to the past. Yet, as Fr. Adrian Fortescue notes, this is not a strength:

The great weakness of Orthodox theology and the radical affliction from which the Orthodox Church suffers is arrested development…In spite of their boast of unchanging antiquity, their theology, rites and Canon Law represent not the first ages but a comparatively advanced development, that of the Byzantine Period. And they stay there, satisfying neither the need of continuous development that is the mark of a living Church, nor the rival ideal of unchanged primitive observance." (Adrian Fortescue, The Orthodox Eastern Church, 1920; pp.393-394)

The remedy is clear:

**Matthew 9:36 (RSVCE) **
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

John 21:15-17
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep."

St. John Chrysostom
And why, then, passing by the others, does He converse with Peter on these things? (John 21:15). He was the chosen one of the Apostles, and the mouth of the disciples, and the leader of the choir. On this account, Paul also went up on a time to see him rather than the others (Galatians 1:18). And withal, to show him that he must thenceforward have confidence, as the denial was done away with, He puts into his hands the presidency over the brethren. And He brings not forward the denial, nor reproaches him with what had past, but says, 'If you love me, preside over the brethren …and the third time He gives him the same injunction, showing what a price He sets the presidency over His own sheep. And if one should say, ‘How then did James receive the throne of Jerusalem?,’ this I would answer that He appointed this man (Peter) teacher, not of that throne, but of the whole world. (Chrysostom, In Joan. Hom. 1xxxviii. n. 1, tom. viii)

Randy - I gotta give you a fist bump b/c it’s no joke trying to convince people on this pope stuff.
Papal primacy… to succession… to infallibility. It’s a tough task.

It’s all there in the pages of scripture, but some folks seem to know more about the canons of the councils than they do about the inspired Word of God which, ironically, is what the Church Fathers spent their time studying.


Yeah it’s there in scripture. I agree with that. So is the ultimate source scripture or the Church? Catholics try to prove primacy, succession, & infallibility via the Canon of Scripture but the Canon came from the Church based upon a church that has primacy, succession, & infallibility. It seems circular… if that makes sense? You see what I’m trying to get i?

I do. I’ll address the “circularity” issue in a moment.

But first, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are two forms of the one message of God - the “stuff” from which our faith is drawn. The Magisterium provides infallible guidance as to the proper interpretation of that stuff. Catholics appeal to Scripture as a common frame of reference that we share with Protestants and Orthodox. We don’t always share the same interpretation of what scriptures mean, but at least we have somewhere to begin the conversation. Try discussing much with a Muslim or Hindu, and you’ll quickly understand the problems that arise when one party does not accept the other’s book.

Now, the charge of "circularity’ is common, but inaccurate. It takes a bit to see why, but it’s worth it. In the following, the ultimate question answered is: “How do we know the Bible is inspired?” But along the way, the question of how we know that the Catholic Church is true is also answered - so it’s Buy One, Get One. :wink:

Proving Inspiration

The Catholic method of proving the Bible to be inspired is this: The Bible is initially approached as any other ancient work. It is not, at first, presumed to be inspired. From textual criticism we are able to conclude that we have a text the accuracy of which is more certain than the accuracy of any other ancient work.

Next we take a look at what the Bible, considered merely as a history, tells us, focusing particularly on the New Testament, and more specifically the Gospels. We examine the account contained therein of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Using what is in the Gospels themselves and what we find in extra-biblical writings from the early centuries, together with what we know of human nature (and what we can otherwise, from natural reason alone, know of divine nature), we conclude that either Jesus was just what he claimed to be—God—or he was crazy. (The one thing we know he could not have been was merely a good man who was not God, since no merely good man would make the claims he made.)

We are able to eliminate the possibility of his being a madman not just from what he said but from what his followers did after his death. Many critics of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection claim that Christ did not truly rise, that his followers took his body from the tomb and then proclaimed him risen from the dead. According to these critics, the resurrection was nothing more than a hoax. Devising a hoax to glorify a friend and mentor is one thing, but you do not find people dying for a hoax, at least not one from which they derive no benefit. Certainly if Christ had not risen, his disciples would not have died horrible deaths affirming the reality and truth of the resurrection. The result of this line of reasoning is that we must conclude that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. Consequently, his claims concerning himself—including his claim to be God—have credibility. He meant what he said and did what he said he would do.

**Further, Christ said he would found a Church. Both the Bible (still taken as merely a historical book, not yet as an inspired one) and other ancient works attest to the fact that Christ established a Church with the rudiments of what we see in the Catholic Church today—papacy, hierarchy, priesthood, sacraments, and teaching authority. **

We have thus taken the material and purely historically concluded that Jesus founded the Catholic Church. Because of his Resurrection we have reason to take seriously his claims concerning the Church, including its authority to teach in his name.

**This Catholic Church tells us the Bible is inspired, and we can take the Church’s word for it precisely because the Church is infallible. Only after having been told by a properly constituted authority—that is, one established by God to assure us of the truth concerning matters of faith—that the Bible is inspired can we reasonably begin to use it as an inspired book. **

A Spiral Argument

Note that this is not a circular argument. We are not basing the inspiration of the Bible on the Church’s infallibility and the Church’s infallibility on the word of an inspired Bible. That indeed would be a circular argument! What we have is really a spiral argument. On the first level we argue to the reliability of the Bible insofar as it is history. From that we conclude that an infallible Church was founded. And then we take the word of that infallible Church that the Bible is inspired. This is not a circular argument because the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired) is not simply a restatement of its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable), and its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable) is in no way based on the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired). What we have demonstrated is that without the existence of the Church, we could never know whether the Bible is inspired.

The advantages of the Catholic approach are two: First, the inspiration is really proved, not just “felt.” Second, the main fact behind the proof—the reality of an infallible, teaching Church—leads one naturally to an answer to the problem that troubled the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:30-31): How is one to know which interpretations are correct? The same Church that authenticates the Bible, that attests to its inspiration, is the authority established by Christ to interpret his word.

Randy -

Very good post. In the middle, you start a paragraph with, “Using what is in the Gospels…” to conclude that we know Jesus is God. You reference other items such as reason & other historical documents. In addition, I think you may want to include the Holy Spirit who convicts all Christians that Jesus is God. Reason being is that the vast majority of Christians are Christians due to prayer & faith before they dissect historical documents to determine whether or not these Jesus guy is God or a crazy man.

Second, you stated that we can conclude Jesus founded the Catholic Church. Critics may agree he founded a church, but the church in the 1st-3rd century does not refer to the Catholic church in the 20th century but rather an invisible church only (Protestant) or Orthodox Church. I guess that leaves Catholics with having to prove the Church of the first few centuries must be constructed as “Catholic” and not the alternative visions of what the Church is. Does that make sense?

Third, you state after Jesus finding a church, that we conclude that the church is infallible. This would bring us back to this thread in trying to prove the primacy/succession/infallibility from historical sources. I see the logic in that step.

I guess overall, your post was excellent, and I understood what you were trying to convey. I’m trying to understand the step from Jesus finding a church => to Church is infallible via historical documents alone => Church official remains are the 20th century Catholic Church.

Good discussion Randy!

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