Who/what gave Catholic Church Ultimate Authority?


I am a Christian just doing a little research. I am having trouble understanding why the Catholic Church claims it is the one true church?

I’m told that Mt 16:18-19 declares that Peter was the first pope and that the Church is the ultimate authority under God, but this verse cannot be used to prove that declaration because only the Catholic Church can properly interpret the bible. So to me this seems like circular reasoning. Who gave the Catholic Church the ultimate authority?

Short Answer

Mt 28:18-20 - Jesus delegates all power to Apostles
Jn 20:23 - power to forgive sin
1Cor 11:23-24 - power to offer sacrifice (Eucharist)
Lk 10:16 - power to speak with Christ’s voice
Mt 18:18 - power to legislate
Mt 18:17 - power to discipline

Thanks for your reply!

So based off this answer it’s actually the Bible that has ultimate authority?

Jesus said the “upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

That’s “church” not “churches.”

My Evangelical Christian cousin says that at the final judgment, it won’t matter what church we belong to. I have a couple problems with her statement. First, Christ says there is only one Church. If He said it, it must be kinda important, yes? no?

Second, in the New Testament, you read about Paul consulting the apostles to make sure he has an understanding of the principles of the faith. He declares that it is so. See? People all over, in different places, are supposed to be “on the same page” so to speak.

Third, in John 17, Jesus prayed to His Father for unity in the Church – it was not guaranteed, because we all have free will, but He prayed that it would be so. That should be our prayer, too? You might say, this is the “other” Lord’s prayer.

Most non-Catholics I have heard of who eventually join the Catholic Church do so because they do extensive research, safe, warm, but uncomfortable in their Protestant surroundings. What often turns them to the Church is a look at the early church fathers and the history of the Church, in general. It shows how the early Church was “Catholic” in practice and eventually in name.

You should be diligent, you have a right to be. The Catholic Church has done dumb and sinful things; we have “wheat” growing up with “chaff.” But, the teachings of the Church have not betrayed Christ or the Bible.

On your bucket list of things to do to become Catholic, I suggest you read Tim Staples’ book, “Behold Your Mother” which is “a biblical and historical” description of Marian doctrines.

How else would Jesus’ saying be fulfilled that we would KNOW the truth and that it would set us free, if there was no authority in His Church? The Catholic Church is the church of unbroken succession of leadership from Peter to the present. Why would we be interested in a Church that didn’t claim authority? When there was a dispute about scripture, for example, the situation begs for someone to give the final answer, the correct answer. I don’t think it says anyplace in scripture to come up with our own interpretations of it.

Shorter answer: JESUS CHRIST gave His society (the “New Jerusalem”) His authority.

Authority is the province of the living (i.e., flesh and blood), just as Christ was a real man who taught as one “with authority.” The Bible is authoritative, in the sense that it is an infallible witness of sacred tradition. But the Bible didn’t fall out of the sky. Christ did not leave us a Bible and jokingly say, “Have fun interpreting this thing!” Rather, He gave us a living authority, His Church, to teach and forgive sins in His name.

Thanks Sirach2v4,

You bring up a lot of good points but I want to focus on the question at hand.

The question is where did the Cath Church get its authority to declare itself the ultimate authority? If we are quoting the bible, saying Jesus said so, then we are saying the bible is the ultimate authority?


Thanks CommonWeal!

I understand what you are saying, but the bible was written by eye-witnesses and firsthand-witnesses who could testify to every word and action of Jesus. I find this to be much more authoritative than a church claiming it is the one and only church established by Jesus (furthermore, the only church able to interpret scripture).

Thanks for being so kind! :slight_smile:

Greetings nms553,

The Holy Bible is a record of the life of Christ. Included in the Bible are the many acts by which Jesus created the Church (some were referred to in the first response to your question).

Obviously a book can’t found a Church, only God can.


The Catholic Church put together and gave you the Bible you are referencing.
Why would the Church put together a Book that disagreed with it’s own doctrine?

Fact of history: The Catholic Church selected and canonized 27 of her own writings and named them the New Testament. At the same time, in the same Councils, she canonized 46 writings from the Greek Septuagint that she inherited from Jesus and the Apostles and named them the Old Testament.

Just curious, are you here to prove us Catholics wrong, or are you sincerely investigating the matter with an open mind? If the latter, then you might ask yourself, “What came first?” As a matter of historical fact, the society Jesus founded came first, and then the Bible. That society had a visible structure, and its pastors exercised real authority, both moral and political, over the faithful.

In addition, please consider that (1) sola scriptura is not taught anywhere in the Bible; and (2) no Christian believed that the Bible was the sole rule of faith until the Reformation.

The answer is simply: Christ did. That’s the only answer.

The only way we know this to be true is from history. Christ founded the Church, and Christ gave it his authority. The Bible is a witness to this history, and we don’t even need it to be doctrinally authoritative for us to believe it as history. This, along with the writings of the early Christians, and the blood the martyrs shed tell us that as a matter of history, the Catholic Church traces itself to Christ. That is where the authority comes from.

It is on the basis of THAT authority that we believe the Bible has any authority at all. The only reason we accept the Bible as the Word of God is because the Catholic Church says so.

Great original question, and thanks for posting!
However–I was under the impression that the Gospels are not firsthand accounts, but written 80-90 years after Christ’s death by the succeeding generation of believers? Correct me if I’m wrong, I find this topic fascinating!

Looking at the above I see where part of the problem of understanding is occurring…

The Catholic Church has not declared itself ultimate authority. What the Catholic Church lays claim to - and rightly so - is the teaching, and ministerial authority that was given to it by Christ through the Apostles and their successors. This is illustrated both in Scripture and in the writings of the early Church fathers.

The unbroken apostolic succession of bishops from the apostles to today is testimony of the protection of the Holy Spirit. The Bible, assembled and affirmed by multiple councils of Bishops has been protected, defended, promulgated and taught from by the Catholic Church for millenia.

So - this is not about someone claiming “ultimate authority” for that authority belongs to Christ. What the Church contains is an authority to teach and to minister that was received directly from Christ Himself.

Does this help?


Christ did not leave us a book, He left us a Church. It was only later that the Church, in her teaching authority, declared which writings were canonical, i.e. the Bible.

And the beautiful thing about the book is that it points so clearly to the Church as authoritative. :thumbsup:


:thumbsup: :yup:

The answer to your question is contained in this article and summarized in the concluding paragraph.

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.

The same people who were the “eye-witnesses and firsthand-witnesses” were also the folks who founded the Catholic Church.

The early Church - the Church founded by Christ as promised in Matthew 16:18 - was that which was originally known as “the Way” (cf. Acts 24:14). Later, those individuals who followed Christ began to be called “Christians” beginning at Antioch (cf. Acts 11:26). As early as 107 A.D., those same individuals referred to themselves collectively as the “Catholic Church”. In a letter to the Church of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch wrote:

You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery (priest) as you would the Apostles. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, A.D. 107, [8,1])

Notice that Ignatius does not take pains to introduce the term “Catholic Church”; instead he uses it in a manner suggesting that the name was already in use and familiar to his audience. This further suggests that the name, Catholic Church, had to have been coined much earlier in order to have achieved wide circulation by the time of this writing. In other words, the Christian assembly was calling itself the Catholic Church during the lifetime of the last Apostle, John, who died near the end of the first century. John, the beloved disciple, may have thought of himself as a member of the Catholic Church!

The Catholic Church began with Peter and the Apostles and continued without interruption or cessation through their disciples (Ignatius, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Clement, Justin Martyr, etc.) down to the present day. As a side note, it appears that the believers in Antioch may have coined both terms still in use today: “Christian” and “Catholic Church” – terms they used to describe the one body of believers in Christ.

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