Question about Papal Primacy

I have a question about Papal primacy and it ties into our belief in apostolic succession - that all bishops (Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and other churches with valid orders) are successors to the apostles.

First let me quote the gospel of Luke

"An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.’” Luke 9:46-49


“Then an argument broke out among them about which of them should be regarded as the greatest. He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.’” Luke 22:24-26

So given that these two passages display our Lord’s disapproval over any apostle claiming to be greater than the other, why is acceptable when any of these apostles’ successors claim to be greater than the other? Specifically, why is it acceptable for the Bishop of Rome to claim primacy over his brother bishops?

I mean no disrespect here, this question recently popped in my head and I am having a hard time figuring this one out.

First, “primacy” does not mean the same thing as “greater.” I don’t think the Apostles were trying to figure out which one of them was in charge. I think they were trying to figure out something related to the following questions: Who is the favorite? Who is the best? Who has the most value? <-- Somewhere in the midst of that was where they were looking, and the function of primacy has nothing to do with those.

Second, one of the passages you cited, Luke 22:24-26, goes on to specify that Peter was responsible for the rest of the apostles: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you all, that he might sift you all like wheat, but I have prayed for you yourself, that your own faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

Of course, all priests are also in a way successors of the apostles. So it might be argued that no one priest in the city should be called bishop. Christians in general, too. It could be argued no person in a parish should be called priest, since no one can be “greater”.

But we already accept that some people - parents - have just and necessary authority, even though they are not “greater” in the larger design of God. So, too, popes, bishops and priests are judged by God just as laity are. They are not “greater” as persons. But persons in the Church have different functions, going back to St. Paul’s analogy of the body.

It’s interesting you refer to apostolic “succession” and “valid” orders. The same Magisterium that created these categories also identifies the papacy.

The Anglicans for instance may not exactly agree with the Magisterium’s interpretation of those categories, but they accept that the creation of those categories (by whom?) is good and necessary. In a way, this is parallel to the Protestant argument: “I don’t need any Magisterium to decide which books belong in the New Testament. I just look at the Table of Contents in my KJV”.

I agree with you that it is very inappropriate for any Christian to compare themselves to others, assert primacy, and demand subservience. This is one reason the Pope signs his communications as “servant of the servants of God”. While the last 100 years have seen very holy Popes, it has not always been so. Some of them did not even seem like believers, and were pre-occupied by material wealth and power.

We need to keep in mind that the Petrine gifts and responsibilities were not “claimed” by Peter or his successors. They were given by Christ, for the service of the Body. Peter was given charge of the whole flock. There were no exceptions made. Jesus was clear that He expected His Apostles to work together, and He taught a model of servant leadership. Problems and schisms have always occurred when men departed from this model, and started thinking like monarchs.

Jesus was not saying that there would be no leaders in his Church but that those who are leaders in his Church should not abuse their authority.

Consider what Jesus said to Peter…
41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 44 Truly, I tell you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. 48 But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more. (Luke 12:41-48)

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