Papal primacy

Hi there

Recently I have been thinking about the question of Papal primacy.

I have studied Matthew 16:18 and other passages. I think the most plausible interpretation of Scripture is that Jesus intended Peter to have a special position of leadership among the Apostles. (Although, I am still uncertain about the respective roles of Peter and James the Just.)

But, I think there are three more key elements to the Catholic view, beyond just Jesus appointing Peter to a special position:
*]that this special position was not just one of primacy of honour or primus inter pares, but involved a substantive authority which the other Apostles lacked (without this element, you essentially end up with the Eastern Orthodox position)
*]that it was the intention of Jesus that this office, rather than being purely personal to Peter, would be passed on by him to his successors
*]that while Peter as Bishop had concurrent successors (the Bishops of Antioch, the Bishops of Rome, possibly others), only the line of the Bishops of Rome succeeded Peter as Prince of the Apostles
Now, I don’t believe that any of these three elements can be clearly demonstrated by Scripture alone. Do people agree or disagree with that?

So if one cannot demonstrate them with Scripture, can one demonstrate them by Tradition? Can someone sketch how such a demonstration would proceed? I assume it would be based on a study of the Church Fathers, especially the Apostolic Fathers.

I recently found a Master’s thesis, “Upon This Rock”: an Exegetical and Patristic Examination of Matthew 16:18, by one Brittany C. Burnette (online copy). I found it interesting reading overall. (Although, her description of “Peter” as Simon Peter’s surname I found somewhat jarring, and at points it is rather badly formatted, but I think the latter may be a problem with the copy at that website rather than her thesis itself.) It is written from a Protestant perspective, but she agrees with Catholic commentators that see Jesus’ use of “rock” in Matthew 16:18 as referring to Peter himself, not to Jesus or to Peter’s faith or something else like that. But she then argues that, while Jesus appointed Peter to a special position, there is no evidence in Scripture that Jesus or Peter intended that special position to be passed on to his successors as Bishops of the Church in Rome; furthermore, she argues that the Patristic evidence on the topic is mixed, and thus insufficient to support the Catholic position. Could someone outline a Catholic response to this?

Thank you

I think the strongest argument of Apostolic Succession specifically related to Peter comes from the idea of Peter as the Royal Steward and the connection between Mt 16:18-19 and Is. 22:22. I’ll cover all that in a moment.

First, a big data dump. :wink:


The argument for Apostolic Succession can be made directly from scripture, from history and from logic.

Biblical Basis for Apostolic Succession

Acts 1:15-26
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, " ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, " ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

The eleven replaced Judas with Matthias who filled the twelfth seat.

Acts 14:13-15
The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.”

Paul and Barnabas are also Apostles. This makes fourteen.

Romans 16:7
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Andronicus & Junius are Apostles according to the Apostle Paul – and possibly were Apostles before him. That makes 16 men named Apostle in Scripture. Other candidates include Apollos, Epaphroditus, Timothy and Titus.

2 Timothy 2:1-2
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

There are four generations of believers contained in this one passage: 1. Paul himself, 2. Timothy, who was Paul’s disciple, 3. those whom Timothy would disciple, and 4. those to whom Timothy’s disciples would preach.

Titus 1:5
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Apostolic Succession is illustrated here as Paul had appointed Titus and left him in charge of appointing elders in the Cretan church.

2 Peter 1:12-15
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

What effort could Peter make to ensure his message would be remembered after his departure? With the knowledge that he would follow Christ in martyrdom (cf. John 21:18-19), Peter alludes to his plans for naming a successor.


One document for the Early Church Fathers is so exceedingly clear on the subject of Apostolic Succession that appealing to any other historical source is unnecessary. Writing in around the end of the first century (and probably before the death of the Apostle John), Clement of Rome, the third successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome expanded upon Peter’s veiled thought contained in 2 Peter 1:12-15 in his “Letter to the Corinthians”:

The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labors, having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.”

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that you have removed some men of excellent behavior from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honor.

From these two chapters we see that the Apostles tested and approved their earliest converts to be Bishops and Deacons. Additionally, the Apostles gave instructions that when these Bishops and Deacons should “fall asleep’ either due to natural causes or martyrdom that they should be succeeded by other men in the ministry. Note that Clement also exercises his primacy as Bishop of Rome by correcting the Corinthian church for improperly removing some of the “presbyters” from office. The acceptance of Clement’s intervention by the Corinthians is evidence of the authority of the Bishop of Rome, or Pope, even at this early date.


Matthew 28:18-19
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

First, notice in the passage known as the “Great Commission”, that the Apostles were commanded to make disciples of “all nations”. How would it have been possible for these Eleven men to travel to every country on earth at a time when travel was slow and difficult? Given that the last of the Apostles died no more than 60 years or so after the Ascension of Jesus, would there have been time for them to physically visit every nation on earth to fulfill His command? No! Clearly, the instruction of Jesus only makes sense if it was given to the Apostles and those who would take the place of the Apostles after their deaths. Those who took the place of the Apostles would have to have the same Apostolic Authority given to the Apostles handed down to them. Thus, the “Great Commission” would be fulfilled over time through the missionary efforts of a greatly expanded Church.

Second, if the authority of the Apostles was intended to die out with the death of the last Apostle, why bother to elect Matthias to the office of Apostle after the suicide of Jesus’ betrayer, Judas Iscariot? (cf. Acts 1) Instead, we can understand that Peter had initiated the replacement of one Apostle (Judas), had known the beheading of another (James), and was conscious of Jesus’ prophecy concerning his own impending martyrdom. Wisely, Peter planned for his own replacement as Bishop of Rome.

John 14:16-17
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Does it make sense for Jesus to say “forever” if He anticipated that the Holy Spirit would depart from the church with the death of the last Apostle? No! The Spirit would remain with the Apostles and, through those who succeeded them, with the church forever. As we saw earlier, he also said,

Matthew 28:18-19
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

How could Jesus fulfill this promise if the disciples themselves did not live until the end of the age? Clearly, Jesus intended that the apostles would be succeeded by other men who are still with us and will live until the end of the age. Jesus can be with the Apostles through their successors who also have the same Apostolic Authority by means of Apostolic Succession.

Early Church Fathers on Apostolic Succession

The first Christians had no doubts about how to determine which was the true Church and which doctrines the true teachings of Christ. The test was simple: Just trace the apostolic succession of the claimants.

Apostolic succession is the line of bishops stretching back to the apostles. All over the world, all Catholic bishops are part of a lineage that goes back to the time of the apostles, something that is impossible in Protestant denominations (most of which do not even claim to have bishops).

The role of apostolic succession in preserving true doctrine is illustrated in the Bible. To make sure that the apostles’ teachings would be passed down after the deaths of the apostles, Paul told Timothy, “[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In this passage he refers to the first three generations of apostolic succession—his own generation, Timothy’s generation, and the generation Timothy will teach.

The Church Fathers, who were links in that chain of succession, regularly appealed to apostolic succession as a test for whether Catholics or heretics had correct doctrine. This was necessary because heretics simply put their own interpretations, even bizarre ones, on Scripture. Clearly, something other than Scripture had to be used as an ultimate test of doctrine in these cases.

Thus the early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly, a Protestant, writes, “[W]here in practice was [the] apostolic testimony or tradition to be found? . . . The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. . . . Unlike the alleged secret tradition of the Gnostics, it was entirely public and open, having been entrusted by the apostles to their successors, and by these in turn to those who followed them, and was visible in the Church for all who cared to look for it” (Early Christian Doctrines, 37).

For the early Fathers, “the identity of the oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles. . . . [A]n additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message committed was to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit. Indeed, the Church’s bishops are . . . Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed ‘an infallible charism of truth’” (ibid.).

Thus on the basis of experience the Fathers could be “profoundly convinced of the futility of arguing with heretics merely on the basis of Scripture. The skill and success with which they twisted its plain meaning made it impossible to reach any decisive conclusion in that field” (ibid., 41).

Clement of Rome

“Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).

“We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ, in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. (ibid.)


“When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the law, the prophets, and the Lord” (Memoirs, cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4:22 [A.D. 180]).


"1It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about…Surely they wished all those and their successors, to whom they handed on their authority, to be perfect and without reproach.” (Against Heresies 3.3.1, [A.D. 180])

"2But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.” (Against Heresies 3.3.2, [A.D. 180])

“3The blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus. Paul makes mention of this Linus in the Epistle to Timothy. To him succeeded Anencletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen from the episcopate. He had seen the blessed Apostles and was acquainted with them. It might be said that He still heard the echoes of the preaching of the Apostles, and had their traditions before his eyes. And not only he, for there were many still remaining who had been instructed by the Apostles. In the time of Clement, no small dissension having arisen among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome sent a very strong letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace and renewing their faith. To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded; and Alexander succeeded Evaristus. Then, sixth after the Apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telesphorus, who also was gloriously martyred. Then Hyginus; after him, Pius; and after him, Anicetus. Soter succeeded Anicetus, and now, in the twelfth place after the Apostles, the lot of the episcopate has fallen to Eleutherus. In this order, and by the teaching of the Apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us.” (Against Heresies 3.3.3, [A.D. 180])

“4Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time” (Against Heresies 3:3:4 [A.D. 189]).

“Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth, so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. . . . For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient churches with which the apostles held constant conversation, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?” (ibid., 3:4:1).

“It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the apostles, those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession [of bishops] and assemble wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion…The true gnosis [knowledge] is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which succession the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere” (Ibid. 4:26:2, 33:8).

“The true knowledge is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which succession the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere” (ibid., 4:33:8).

“For all these [heretics] are of much later date than are the bishops to whom the apostles handed over the churches, and this fact I pointed out most carefully in the third book. It is of necessity, then, that these aforementioned heretics, because they are blind to the truth, walk in devious paths, and on this account the vestiges of their doctrines are scattered about without agreement or connection. The path of those, however, who belong to the Church goes around the whole world, for it has the firm tradition of the apostles, enabling us to see that the faith of all is one and the same” (Ibid. 5:20:1).


“[The apostles] founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive Church, [founded] by the apostles, from which they all [spring]. In this way, all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one in unity” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 20 [A.D. 200]).

“[W]hat it was which Christ revealed to them [the apostles] can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves . . . If then these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches—those molds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, [and] Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savors of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood” (ibid., 21).

“Moreover, if there be any [heresies] bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of the Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origins of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some of one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles. For this is the way in which the apostolic Churches transmit their lists: like the Church of the Smyrnaeans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John; like the Church of the Romans where Clement was ordained by Peter. In just the same way the other Churches display those whom they have as sprouts from the apostolic seed, having been established in the episcopate by the Apostles” (The Demurrer Against the Heretics 32.1, [A.D. 200]).

“But should they even effect the contrivance [of composing a succession list for themselves], they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles [as contained in other churches], will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory” (ibid.).

“Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic Church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith” (ibid.).

Cyprian of Carthage

“[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way” (Letters 69[75]:3 [A.D. 253]).


“But what is his error and how great his blindness…who does not remain on the foundation of the one true Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ, can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone, ‘Whatever things you shall bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth, they shall also be loosed in heaven’; and by this, again in the Gospel, when Christ breathed upon the apostles alone, saying to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive any man his sins they shall be forgiven, and if you retain any man’s sins they shall be retained.’ The power of forgiving sins was given to the apostles and the churches which these men, sent by Christ, established and to the bishops who succeeded them by being ordained in their place” (Epistle to Cyprian 75:16 [Inter A.D. 255-256]).

John Chrysostom

“At all events the master of the whole world, Peter, to whose hands He committed the keys of heaven, whom He commanded to do and to bear all, He bade tarry here [Antioch] for a long period. Thus in His sight our city was equivalent to the whole world. But since I have mentioned Peter, I have perceived a fifth crown woven from him, and this is that this man [Ignatius of Antioch] succeeded to the office after him. For just as any one taking a great stone from a foundation hastens by all means to introduce an equivalent to it, lest he should shake the whole building, and make it more unsound, so, accordingly, when Peter was about to depart from here, the grace of the Spirit introduced another teacher equivalent to Peter, so that the building already completed should not be made more unsound by the insignificance of the successor.” (Homily on St. Ignatius, 4)


“Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians” (Letters 14:8 [A.D. 396]).


“[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]).

“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).

Gregory I

“The disciples receive as their lot the preeminence of celestial judgment, so that, in God’s stead, they retain sins for some and for some they forgive them [John 20:22-23]. . . . Certainly it is now the bishops who hold their place in the Church. They receive the authority of binding and loosing, who have as their lot a degree of governing. It is a magnificent honor, but that honor carries with it a heavy burden.”(Homilies on the Gospels 2:26:4 [A.D. 590-591]).

I disagree and here’s why:

Peter – The Royal Steward

Jesus gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”. In ancient times, a king might choose a second in command (known as the royal steward or prime minister) who literally wore a large key as a symbol of his office and who spoke with the authority of the king. The prophet Isaiah confirms this:

"In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isaiah 22:22)

In the passage above, God is speaking, and He confirms the existence of the office, the key, and the continuation of the office despite the change of office holder. In other words, the office of the royal steward continued even when the man who held the office died or was replaced by someone else. God Himself passes the key from one steward to the next.

In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus inherits the throne of his father, David.

Luke 1:31–33
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.

We also read the following:

Matthew 16:13-19
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I 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.

The passage quoted above from Matthew tells us that Jesus named Peter as His royal steward and gave him the “keys to the kingdom of heaven" as the symbol of his authority to speak in His name. Since Jesus is an eternal king, the office of royal steward in His kingdom will never. Peter died as a martyr as Jesus foretold, and the successors of Peter have taken his place in the eternal office that Jesus established in His royal court.

In addition to the reference to a key or keys, note the following parallels:

"What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Is. 22:22)
"Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:19)

Jesus specifically referenced the passage from Isaiah when He appointed Peter. Peter has received authority from Jesus to speak in His name. To do so faithfully, Peter must not teach error; therefore, Peter (and his successors who hold the office) are protected by God through the charism of infallibility.

Protestant Scholars and Commentaries on Peter as Royal Steward

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown

[The steward is] the king’s friend, or principal officer of the court (1 Kings 4:5; 18:3; 1 Chronicles 27:33, the king’s counsellor) . . .

Keys are carried sometimes in the East hanging from the kerchief on the shoulder. But the phrase is rather figurative for sustaining the government on one’s shoulders. Eliakim, as his name implies, is here plainly a type of the God-man Christ, the son of “David,” of whom Isaiah (ch. 9:6) uses the same language as the former clause of this verse [and the government will be upon his shoulder] (Jamieson, Robert, Andrew R. Fausset & David Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961 [orig. 1864; Fausset and Brown were Anglicans, Brown Presbyterian], 536 – on Isaiah 22:15,22).

New Bible Dictionary

In the . . . exercise of the power of the keys, in ecclesiastical discipline, the thought is of administrative authority (Is 22:22) with regard to the requirements of the household of faith. The use of censures, excommunication, and absolution is committed to the Church in every age, to be used under the guidance of the Spirit . . .

So Peter, in T.W. Manson’s words, is to be ‘God’s vicegerent . . . The authority of Peter is an authority to declare what is right and wrong for the Christian community. His decisions will be confirmed by God’ (The Sayings of Jesus, 1954, p.205). (New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1018)

In the Old Testament a steward is a man who is ‘over a house’ (Gen 43:19, 44:4; Is 22:15, etc). In the New Testament there are two words translated steward: ‘epitropos’ (Mt 20:8; Gal 4:2), i.e. one to whose care or honour one has been entrusted, a curator, a guardian; and ‘oikonomos’ (Lk 16:2-3; 1 Cor 4:1-2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 4:10), i.e. a manager, a superintendent – from ‘oikos’ (‘house’) and ‘nemo’ (‘to dispense’ or ‘to manage’). The word is used to describe the function of delegated responsibility. (New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1216)

Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary

In accordance with Matthew’s understanding of the kingdom of heaven (i.e., of God) as anywhere God reigns, the keys here represent authority in the Church. (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, Grabd Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. ed., 1975, 622)

New Bible Commentary

Eliakim stands in strong contrast to Shebna . . . Godward he is called ‘my servant’ (v.20; cf. ‘this steward’, v.15); manward, he will be ‘a father’ to his community (v.21) . . .

The opening words of v.22, with their echo of 9:6, emphasize the God-given responsibility that went with it [possession of the keys], to be used in the king’s interests. The ‘shutting’ and ‘opening’ mean the power to make decisions which no one under the king could override. This is the background of the commission to Peter (cf. Mt 16:19) and to the church (cf. Mt 18:18). (New Bible Commentary, Guthrie, D. & J.A. Motyer, eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 1970 [Reprinted, 1987, as The Eerdmans Bible Commentary], 603)

The phrase is almost certainly based on Is 22:22 where Shebna the steward is displaced by Eliakim and his authority is transferred to him. ‘And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.’ (This is applied directly to Jesus in Rev 3:7). (New Bible Commentary, Guthrie, D. & J.A. Motyer, eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 1970 [Reprinted, 1987, as The Eerdmans Bible Commentary], 837)

Adam Clarke

For further references to the office of the steward in Old Testament times, see 1 Kings 4:6; 16:9; 18:3; 2 Kings 10:5; 15:5; 18:18, where the phrases used are “over the house,” “steward,” or “governor.” In Isaiah 22:15, in the same passage to which our Lord apparently refers in Matt 16:19, Shebna, the soon-to-be deposed steward, is described in various translations as:

  1. “Master of the palace” {Jerusalem Bible / New American Bible}
  2. “In charge of the palace” {New International Version}
  3. “Master of the household” {New Revised Standard Version}
  4. “In charge of the royal household” {New American Standard Bible}
  5. “Comptroller of the household” {Revised English Bible}
  6. “Governor of the palace” {Moffatt}

As the robe and the baldric, mentioned in the preceding verse, were the ensigns of power and authority, so likewise was the key the mark of office, either sacred or civil. This mark of office was likewise among the Greeks, as here in Isaiah, borne on the shoulder. In allusion to the image of the key as the ensign of power, the unlimited extent of that power is expressed with great clearness as well as force by the sole and exclusive authority to open and shut. Our Saviour, therefore, has upon a similar occasion made use of a like manner of expression, Matt 16:19; and in Rev 3:7 has applied to himself the very words of the prophet. (Adam Clarke, [Methodist], Commentary on the Bible, abridged ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967 [orig. 1832], 581)

R.T. France

Not only is Peter to have a leading role, but this role involves a daunting degree of authority (though not an authority which he alone carries, as may be seen from the repetition of the latter part of the verse in 18:18 with reference to the disciple group as a whole). The image of ‘keys’ (plural) perhaps suggests not so much the porter, who controls admission to the house, as the steward, who regulates its administration (cf. Is 22:22, in conjunction with 22:15). The issue then is not that of admission to the church . . . , but an authority derived from a ‘delegation’ of God’s sovereignty. (R.T. France; in Morris, Leon, Gen. ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985, vol. 1: Matthew, 256)

Oscar Cullman

Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord puts the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so does Jesus hand over to Peter the keys of the house of the kingdom of heaven and by the same stroke establishes him as his superintendent. There is a connection between the house of the Church, the construction of which has just been mentioned and of which Peter is the foundation, and the celestial house of which he receives the keys. The connection between these two images is the notion of God’s people. (Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestle, 1952 French ed., 183-184)

Raymond Brown, Karl Donfried and John Reumann

The prime minister, more literally ‘major-domo,’ was the man called in Hebrew ‘the one who is over the house,’ a term borrowed from the Egyptian designation of the chief palace functionary . . .

The power of the key of the Davidic kingdom is the power to open and to shut, i.e., the prime minister’s power to allow or refuse entrance to the palace, which involves access to the king . . . Peter might be portrayed as a type of prime minister in the kingdom that Jesus has come to proclaim . . . What else might this broader power of the keys include? It might include one or more of the following: baptismal discipline; post-baptismal or penitential discipline; excommunication; exclusion from the eucharist; the communication or refusal of knowledge; legislative powers; and the power of governing. (Peter in the New Testament, Brown, Raymond E., Karl P. Donfried and John Reumann, editors, Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House/New York: Paulist Press, 1973, 96-97. Common statement by a panel of eleven Catholic and Lutheran scholars)

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

In biblical and Judaic usage handing over the keys does not mean appointment as a porter but carries the thought of full authorization (cf. Mt. 13:52; Rev. 3:7) . . . The implication is that Jesus takes away this authority from the scribes and grants it to Peter. (J. Jeremias, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, abridgement of Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985, 440)

All these New Testament pictures and usages go back to a picture in Isaiah (Is 22:22) . . . Now the duty of Eliakim was to be the faithful steward of the house . . . So then what Jesus is saying to Peter is that in the days to come, he will be the steward of the Kingdom. (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, vol. 2, 144-145)

Isa 22:15 ff. undoubtedly lies behind this saying . . . The keys are the symbol of authority . . . the same authority as that vested in the vizier, the master of the house, the chamberlain, of the royal household in ancient Israel. Eliakim is described as having the same authority in Isaiah. (William F. Albright and C.S. Mann, Anchor Bible: Matthew, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971, 196)

And what about the “keys of the kingdom”? . . . About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim . . . (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. (F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983, 143-144)

Many non-Catholics cannot find Peter’s primacy in scripture for the same reason that a burglar cannot find a policemen (hint: they are not looking for it).

As Randy pointed out, Jesus created twelve offices, with one being CEO. As only one example, let’s read Luke 22:24-32 in the RSV carefully:

A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; 29 as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,[a] that he might sift you** like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”**

Jesus went straight from declaring that one of the twelve was the “greatest”, and the “leader”, to directly addressing Peter. Peter was so important in God’s plan that the devil demanded to sift him, as he did with Job, like wheat. This happened to none of the others.

Hi Randy

Much of what you have posted is about Apostolic succession, which is a related issue, but not quite the same issue. One needs some form of Apostolic succession to have Papal primacy, no doubt; Papal primacy could be described as a special kind of Apostolic succession. But one can believe in Apostolic succession without believing in Papal primacy: that is the position of the Eastern Orthodox, among others.

The Epistle of Clement, which you mention, is a relevant data point. The real question here, I think, is do we know why the church at Corinth consulted with the Church at Rome? Possibly, as you argue, it is because they believed that Rome had a special position in the Church as a whole; but it is also entirely plausible that they may have done so for other good reasons. For example, one might seek the help of another part of the Church in resolving a local dispute, not because one believes that other part of the Church necessarily has some special authority over one’s own part, but simply because one believes that in the present circumstances their good offices might be beneficial. It is also possible that Corinth referred to Rome because they believed it had some sort of authority over Corinth which was less than universal. Arguably, one practice in the early Church was to refer disputes in local churches to its chief centres, the Apostolic Sees, for resolution. Rome may well have been the nearest Apostolic See to Corinth (as the bird flies, Alexandria is slightly closer, but other factors such as social/personal/cultural links may have played a larger role than pure distance). At a later point in Church history, the Church became geographically structured so that the dioceses of a province reported in (as it were) to its metropolitan diocese, and the metropolitans were linked to the Patriarchial Sees; it is possible that some forerunner of that arrangement applied in Clement’s time. So it is possible that Corinth looked to Rome, rather than elsewhere, for local reasons, rather than due to any belief that Rome had a special role in the Church as a whole. So I don’t think this is a conclusive argument for Papal primacy, it is at best merely suggestive evidence.

I will make another post to respond to your scriptural arguments, since the forum is telling me my post is too long.


Hi Randy

As to your key scriptural argument, that the link between Mt 16:19 to Is 22:22 is evidence that Jesus intended Peter’s office to be successive, I am not convinced. I agree that Jesus is alluding to Is 22:22. However, the problem with parallels and allusions, is deciding which parts of the parallel/allusion carry over, and which parts don’t. You argue that Jesus intended to carry over the element of succession in his allusion, but I’m not sure whether that is correct. For one thing, Jesus identifies Peter with Eliakim, and yet in the Isaiah passage Eliakim is the successor to an existing royal steward (Shebna), not the first in a line of successors; who then was Peter’s predecessor as Pope? For another thing, Isaiah 22 says that God will remove Shebna from office and replace him with Eliakim because of his misdeeds; is Jesus therefore implying that God might remove one of Peter’s successors from office because of their misdeeds? But that is something that the Catholic Church argues cannot happen, that a Pope can only resign or die, not be removed from office. Yet, there is no indication in Isaiah 22 of Shebna resigning; 22:19 makes clear his departure from office is forced rather than voluntary. While Isaiah 22:18 does refer to Shebna’s death, it is a death subsequent to exile or abduction to another land, and it seems plausible that Eliakim may have succeeded Shebna in office before Shebna died. It is also worth considering Isaiah 36:3, which has Hilkiah as steward and Shebna as secretary; could this be the same Shebna as in Isaiah 22? Some think they are the same person, others think they are two different officials with the same name; I don’t think anyone really knows. But if they are the same person, this implies that Shebna was reduced in rank from steward to secretary first, and sometime later was exiled or abducted to a foreign land, and then died when he got there. But, by Catholic teaching, that could never happen to a Pope. So, it seems to me that the concept of succession is not fully transferable from Is 22:22 to Mt 16:19; you argue that it nonetheless should be transferred in part, while I would ask, if it does not fully carry over, should it be carried over at all?

You argue that “Since Jesus is an eternal king, the office of royal steward in His kingdom will never [end]. Peter died as a martyr as Jesus foretold, and the successors of Peter have taken his place in the eternal office that Jesus established in His royal court.” Hezekiah’s office as king came to an end, and he was succeeded by Manasseh, while Jesus’ office as King is eternal. But if Jesus’ office is eternal, why not Peter’s? Of course, you argue that Peter’s office is eternal through his successors; but I am thinking of Peter’s office as being eternal in another sense, that Peter remains Prince of the Apostles in Heaven, and that through his key, foundational role in Church history, his influence continues to this day (quite apart from any questions of succession to offices), and hence in that sense is eternal. So there are two senses in which Peter’s office can be said to be eternal, as continuing in Heaven and as a continuing influence in Church history, without supposing he has any earthly successors as Prince of the Apostles.

Now, in the Old Covenant, the office of King is successive, in the New Covenant it is non-successive; hence, by parallelism, if both King and Steward were successive in the Old Covenant, and if King is non-successive in the New, why should not Steward also be non-successive in the New?

Another problem, is who does Eliakim signify: Peter, or Christ? Your argument revolves around Eliakim as a type/forerunner of Peter, but then you quote Jamieson, Fausset & Brown to say that “Eliakim, as his name implies, is here plainly a type of the God-man Christ”. That quote seems to run against your argument rather than in favour of it.

This is I guess the problem with Scriptural arguments: they are easy to construct, but it is easy to construct counter-arguments too; and some seem too clever for their own good - you might think that of mine, but I might think that of yours.


Hi po18guy,

I think it might be helpful to distinguish “the primacy of Peter” from “the primacy of the Pope” - one can believe in the former without believing in the later; i.e, one can believe that Peter had a special office as first among the Apostles, without necessarily believing he had any successors in that special office.

I know some Protestants argue against Peter having a special role among the Apostles, but I think that is an overreaction which is hard to justify from Scripture.


ZackMartin #15
I think it might be helpful to distinguish “the primacy of Peter” from “the primacy of the Pope” - one can believe in the former without believing in the later; i.e, one can believe that Peter had a special office as first among the Apostles, without necessarily believing he had any successors in that special office.

That is denying reality.

It’s interesting that Arnold Lunn in Now I See, Sheed & Ward, 1955) could quote from the Anglican Vicar of Oddington, Rev S Herbert Scott, that St Peter and his successors were recognised as the supreme judges in matters of faith by a long succession of great Eastern saints, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Denys, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and others.

Note that the early Church always accepted the Bishop of Rome as head of the Church. In about 80 A.D., the Church at Corinth deposed its lawful leaders. The fourth bishop of Rome, Pope Clement I, was called to settle the matter even though St. John the Apostle was still alive and much closer to Corinth than was Rome. Tradition shows Pope St Clement exercising his primacy in about 96, on a matter of schism in the Church of Corinth. Of the same generation as Saints Peter and Paul and when St John the Apostle was probably still living in Ephesus, Pope Clement wrote as one commanding to the Church of Corinth in Greece: “If any disobey what He (Christ) says through us, let them know that they will be involved in no small offence and danger, but we shall be innocent of this sin.” (I Clem. ad Cor. 59,1) This Is The Faith, Francis J Ripley, Fowler Wright Books, 1971, p 151; 139-141].

About Pope Victor I’s declaration by edict, about the year 200, that any local Church that failed to conform with Rome was excluded from the union with the one Church by heresy, none other than the radical protestant Adolph von Harnack admitted that Victor I was “recognised, in his capacity of bishop of Rome, as the special guardian of the ‘common unity’… " (See And On This Rock, p 118, 1987, Trinity Communications, Fr Stanley L Jaki).

Harnack asked: “How would Victor have ventured on such an edict – though indeed he had not the power of enforcing it in every case – unless the special prerogative of Rome to determine the conditions of the ‘common unity’ in the vital questions of faith had been an acknowledged and well-established fact?”


The apostles were a collegial community, under Peter. “By the end of the apostolic age, the bishops of the Catholic Church began meeting together on a regional basis, and with the first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325, this co-operative activity reached worldwide proportions.” (Fr John A Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism, Doubleday, 1975, p 320-321). The teaching of Ecumenical Councils has to be approved by Christ’s Supreme Vicar, and then encompasses collegial infallibility.

Well, Zach, I don’t find that to be a reasonable or consistent argument. If the office was created, it was created until Christ returns. To believe that Peter’s office was somehow filled with a lesser man in a lesser role makes zero sense. Why would the Church do that, knowing of both Peter’s office and his role? If there was no leader, then the Church failed to fulfill Jesus’ expectation of a leader and one who was the greatest (from Luke’s Gospel). One must then assume that the Apostolic Church failed - as many Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons claim. Good company, huh?

Rather, investigate the origins of Protestantism and you will find numerous, serious and insuperable failures in its very DNA. Instead of constantly defending what needs no defense, go on the offensive agains the illegitimacy of the youthful rebels (most were in their 20s or 30s) that turned Christianity on its head 1,500 years after Christ. Look into the opinion of the Greek Orthodox Church as it rejected the reformers’ offer of an alliance or communion. Examine their reasoning that no Church could be founded on scripture alone. Even though the Greeks wanted nothing to do with the Catholic Church, they wanted the reformers even less.

Strictly speaking, Catholicism needs no defense - Protestantism does. It is Protesantism that is the contender. It is Protestantism that is making new claims. The burden is on them. We know who Peter’s successors were, and we know that they exercised their primacy. Specifically, Clement, third successor to Peter, exercised that authority to quell an insurrection at Corinth, as described in his Letter to the Corinthians.The problem? Young rebels, exactly as in the “reformation.”


(1) It was necessary for Peter to have primacy among the apostles,


(2) The Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession is true,

Then it is necssary that there is a successor to Peter that is chief among the successors to the apostles. If Peter served a necessary role among the apostles, then that same role is as neccessary or more so than it ever was in Peter’s day.

Hi Abu

If we want to talk about the specifics of what Ignatius, Irenaeus, “Denys” (by whom I assume you mean Pseudo-Dionysius the Arepoagite?), Athanasius, John Chrysostom, etc., say, I would be very interested. These are all important figures in the early history of Christianity, and so I think their statements are worthy of our consideration. On the other hand, I’m not sure why anyone should care what Arnold Lunn or S. Herbert Scott thought; in comparison to the former, they are not particularly important. You mention Adolf von Harnack below, I could say the same about him.

I take it that the Apostle John died around 100, and Clement wrote his epistle around 96. So it is only four years between those two dates. How much certainty is there in those dates? It would only take either of them to be a few years out, and this statement would be wrong. Given that I don’t think we know either figure with enormous precision, it is not impossible that John was already dead by the time Clement wrote his letter. Even if John was still alive, he could well have been indisposed (such as due to advanced age or illness) to carry out that task.

It certainly shows Clement intervening in the church at Corinth; whether that was an exercise of primacy, or something less, I think remains to be demonstrated.

Question: Are Clement’s words binding on the Corinthians, by virtue of what he says, or by virtue of who he is? You clearly think the later, but how on the basis of the text itself can that be concluded? Or if it is by virtue of who he is, is that which he is what the Catholic Church teaches, or something else?

Do you have a reference for Pope Victor I’s actual edict? Is its text available on the Internet? What was the context of his edict?


Hi po18guy

I’m not sure how that follows.

But surely, all of Peter’s successors are lesser men in lesser roles, whether one believes in the Papacy or not. No Pope has ever claimed to be the equal of Peter; I am sure if you asked Pope Francis, if he is Peter’s equal, he would answer that he is Peter’s inferior. Peter’s role in salvation history greatly exceeds that of any of his successors; he knew Jesus personally, unlike his successors; he wrote canonized scripture, unlike his successors. But if they are lesser men with lesser roles in so many ways, why not in this way as well?

Are you referring to Luke 22:24-30? If we interpret that passage as Jesus saying that Peter was greatest among the apostles, I am not sure how it follows that there would continue to be a “greatest” after Peter; the passage itself concerns the now of Jesus’ time and the end of times, and does not seem to say anything about our now that falls in between them.

Do the Eastern Orthodox believe that the Apostolic Church failed? For they reject the Catholic view of the papal primacy, believing in only a primacy of honour, and even that now suspended in practice. Your listing of “company” is selective.

And yet it is not just Protestants that reject the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy - Eastern Orthodox effectively reject it too. They do accept it in a very limited form, as a primacy of honour, but compared to the Catholic doctrine, that is not much at all.


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