Mat 16:13 And Jesus came into the quarters of Cesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is?
All know that there were two Caesareas. One, the ancient, which was formerly called the Tower of Strato. It was enlarged by King Herod, and adorned by him with many noble works, and called Caesarea in honour of Augustus Caesar, as we learn from Josephus (Antiq., xv. 13, and De Bell. Jud., xvi.) and from S. Jerome on this passage. It was situated on the coast of the Mediterranean, between Dora and Joppa. There was another, more modern, in Phoenicia, at the foot of Mount Libanus, where the Jordan takes its rise, which had been previously called Paneas, and which Philip, the son of Herod the Great, and tetrarch of the region of Trachonitis (S. Luke 3:12), adorned and enlarged, and called Caesarea in honour of Tiberius. After wards, King Agrippa, to flatter Nero, called it Neronias, as Josephus says (Antiq., xx. 8). The assertion of S. Jerome that it was then called Paneas does not seem to have been said by a lapse of memory; but it was very likely that in his time the adulatory name of Caesarea had been lost, and the city had resumed its ancient name of Paneas. It was called Caesarea Philippi; Philip the tetrarch having so named it to distinguish it from the other Caesarea of Herod.
And He asked His disciples. S. Mark 8:27 says that this happened on the way, and S. Luke 9:18 when He was alone praying. Euthymius answers that He took His journey and prayed at the same time. This hardly seems probable. The opinion of S. Augustin (De Consens., ii. 53) seems more probable, that it happened by the way, before He reached the place to which He was going. He turned aside out of the way to some solitary spot to pray, and, when He had finished His prayer, He went on, and then asked the disciples whom men said that He was. “As He was praying” (S. Luke 9:18) is a Hebraism for “When He had finished,” as Ps 125:1: “When the Lord brought back”; that is, “When,” or “after He had”.
Whom do men say. Many Latin copies, and most Greek ones, have “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” There is a three fold version. (1). “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” (2) Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” (3) “Whom do men say that I am?” In the first, almost all the Latin copies and all authors agree. In the second, only S. Epiphanius (In Anchoratus), Theophylact, and, as it seems, S. Hilary. In the third, only S. Chrysostom (Hom. lv.).
The first, which is the most usual one, and that in common use, seems much the best, and the conjecture that it was written at first (“Whom do men say that the Son ofman is?”) seems very excellent. Then perhaps some Greek, to show that Christ spoke of Himself, inserted “that I am,” into the margin; another may have transferred it to the text ; and thus it may have begun to be read, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” And, lastly, that some transcriber, thinking that there was a redundancy, removed the words, “the Son of man,” which were obscure, and left the “Me,” “that I,” which was clearer. I know that many read it either way, and either without an interrogation, and by apposition: “I, the Son of man;” or, with an interrogation: “Whom do men say that I am? the Son of man?” Both readings seem absurd; the second the more so of the two. For Christ does not call Himself the Son of man honourably, but in humility; nor does He speak in the third person of any but Himself.
Observe the antithesis. Christ asks: “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” Peter answers: “Thou art the Son of the living God”. Hence it seems that in the first passage we ought to read the words, “the Son of man,” for the antithesis. For Christ seems designedly, and in the most contemptuous terms, to have called Himself the Son of man, to try their faith, and to give them an opportunity of saying freely what their thoughts of Him were, even if they held Him no more than a mere man.
Men. A Hebraism, as in Matt 5:1313, which S. Luke explains. To S. Matthew’s, “Whom do men say?” S. Luke 9:18, adds, “Whom do the people say that I am?” as in explanation. S. Matthew, as we have shown, keeps the words; S. Luke the meaning and explanation.
Mat 16:14 But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
Mat 16:15 Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?
But whom do you say that I am? Here is a plain antithesis. S. Jerome thinks that Christ opposed the Apostles to men, as being something more than men. “Observe,” he says, “that from what follows and from the text of the discourse, the Apostles are not called men, but gods. For when Christ had said: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? He added: But whom do you say that I am?” It may be believed that Christ did not oppose them to men as gods, but He seems to have opposed them to the vulgar, as not ordinary men, which S. Chrysostom also thinks. “You who have been with Me always, who have seen Me do many wonderful things, who in My name have yourselves done many acts of power, whom do you say that I am?”
Mat 16:16 Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.
Simon Peter answered. The Ancients give many reasons for Peter’s having answered before the rest. (1) That Peter was the princeps all, as S. Chrysostom (Hom. LV.) says. (2) Because he was of a more ardent temperament, as S. Hilary and S. Jerome on Matt 14:28 say. (3) Because He was as the mouth of the Apostles, and was accustomed to speak for all, as S. Chrysostom (in loco) and S. Augustin say; for in S. John 6:68, when Christ asked all the disciples if they also would go away, Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Whether he answered here for himself only, or for all, we will endeavour to show on verse 18.
Thou art the Son of the living God. Peter calls Christ the Son, by nature, not by adoption. For all confessed Him to be the Son of God by adoption, as being a just man and a prophet. The most certain proof that Peter thought Christ the Son of the living God was his opposing Him to John, Elias, Jeremiah, and the Prophets, who, it is certain, were the sons of God by adoption. He calls Christ, therefore, the Son of God, not by adoption, but by nature. The Ancients rightly proved the Divinity of Christ from this passage; as S. Hilary (in his Comment., and De Trin., vi.), S. Athanasius (Serm. cont. Arian. Serm. iii.), and Dionysius Alexandria (Cont. Arian).
The living. Peter calls Him the living God to distinguish Him from idols, which are lifeless things, as S. Jerome, Bede, and Euthymius have observed. S. Basil (De Pcenit.) terms Him the Son of the Holy God. Rightly, then, Theophylact notes the addition of the Greek article to the word Son, to show, not that He was an ordinary man, but that He was the one only Son of God by nature. ( Vide Matt 10:2.).
Mat 16:17 And Jesus answering said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.
Because flesh and blood. Man, that is, consisting of flesh and blood. The Evangelist opposes men to God. “My Father,” He says, “who is in heaven,” and as Gal 1:16; 5. John 1:13. Thus Scripture opposes men who savour of carnal things to God, or to those who savour of divine things (1 Cor 15:50). So it is called the wisdom of the flesh (Rom 8:6, 7).
Mat 16:18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it
And I. A forcible antithesis; but the Greek is still more forcible: δέ κἀγώ λέγω, “and I assuredly say.” As if Christ had said: You, who are a man, have called me the Son of the living God; but I, who am the Son of the living God, say that thou art Peter, that is, My vicar, whom thou hast confessed to be the Son of God. For My Church which is built upon Me I will build, as upon a second foundation, upon thee also.
Thou art Peter. Some think that he was not called Peter before, but that the name was only promised him. S. John 1:42: “Jesus, looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jonas. Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter.” It is more probable, as S. Augustin says (De Cons., ii.), that he was so called from the beginning of his vocation, as S. Mark 3:16 and S. Luke 6:14 show. And, therefore, when Christ said to him (S. John 1:42), ” Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter,” He gave him a name; as if He had said: Henceforth thou shalt not be called Simon, but Cephas, i.e. Peter; as God gave Abram the name of Abraham, speaking of the future (Gen 17:5).
And upon this rock I will build My Church. Some ancient authors take this rock to mean this faith, or this confession of faith, by which Peter had called Him the son of the living God. Such are S. Hilary (De Trin. vi.); S. Gregory of Nyssa (Cont. Jud.); S. Chrysostom (Hom. Iv. in loc., and Orat.u. adv. Jud.); S. Cyril Alexandria (Dial. iv. de Trin) , and the author of the Commentaries on
the Epistles of S. Paul, which are ascribed to S. Ambrose (On Gal. iv.).
But the interpretation of S. Augustin (On S. John xxvii. and cxxiv. 4, and Serm. xiii. de verb. Dom. sec. S. Matt.). “Upon this rock, that is, upon Myself,” because Christ was the Rock (1 Cor 10:4, and 3:11), is still further from the meaning. Origen takes it of all who have the same faith (Tract, in S. Matt.).
Nothing could be more alien to the meaning of Christ than to suppose Him to say that He built the Church upon Himself, or upon any other foundation than S. Peter. For (1) the demonstrative pronoun “this” is here evidently put for the relative “which.” As if Christ had said: “Thou art a rock upon which I will build My Church,” for Petrus and Petra are the same word, only of different genders. It may be doubted why, if not S. Matthew himself, yet the Greek translator of S. Matthew, made that distinction of word and gender. The answer is, that in the Greek Πέτρος (Petros) and πέτρα (petra) are masculine and feminine. Peter, because he was a man, could not be spoken of by the word Petra, but must be described by his own proper masculine name Petrus. (2) When Christ spoke of the foundation of the building, He called him not Petrus but Petra, though both words meant the same thing. And in buildings of this kind, the feminine form of the word is more used than the masculine the masculine being Attic and rare. Besides, who doubts that by these words Christ meant to bestow some great and singular gift upon Peter as a reward of his confession of faith, or wished to promise such? But what would Christ have given to him if He had only given him the name of Peter? Nay, He would not have given him the name, for, as has been shown, he was already called Peter; but by the words, “upon this rock,” He signified that He would bestow upon him the great and singular dignity of founding upon him His Church; that is, of making him the head of the Church, and His own vicar in it. From the words that follow: “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” it is clear that the words in question apply to Peter, for it is absurd that a change either of things or persons could be made by so few words. As, then, Christ said, “I will give unto thee the keys,” so He said, “Upon this rock,” that is, upon thee, “I will build My Church”.
He gave him the same thing in different words, and by different metaphors, that he should be His vicar in the Church. This dignity (prior to that of the foundation), when He said, “Upon this rock I will build My Church,” He afterwards confirmed by the metaphor of chief or head of the Church, when He gave him the keys like those of a city: Christ Himself being both head and foundation of the Church; by which two names and metaphors, not two, but one and the same thing is signified.
It may be asked why Christ did not directly, and in one word, say: “Upon thee will I build My Church?” The obvious reply is, that the grace and force of His words would in that case have been lost These consisted in Christ s using terms applicable to a building when speaking of the Church as a building; but it would not have been consistent to say, “Upon thee,” for buildings are not founded upon men, but upon rocks, as S. Jerome says. Besides, if the meaning were “upon this rock,” that is, upon this faith, or upon Myself, it would be very greatly in favour of the opponent who thinks that Peter spoke not for himself alone, but for all the Apostles; which, it must be confessed, some of the ancient Fathers thought as well (S. Chrysostom, S. Jerome, in loc.; S. Augustin, Serm. xiii. de verb. Dom. ap. S. Matt.), who shall shortly be commented on with due respect. We have now to refute the errors of the followers of Calvin. If Peter spoke for all, why did not Christ say to all, “Blessed are ye?” Why were not the names of all changed? Why was it not said to all, “To you I give the keys?” Again, when Christ asked all, why did not all reply? Especially when a little before, when He asked whom men said that He was, not only Peter, but all, or as many as would, answered: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elias, others Jeremias, or one of the Prophets”. All other authors, then, have seen more correctly that Peter answered for himself alone. Not that the others did not believe the same thing, and would have said it, had not Peter anticipated them; but that Peter, with a great faith, was the first to break out with a confession. These authors meant this alone, when they said that he answered for all, and called him the mouth of the Apostles. It is consonant with this, that as Christ chose the twelve Apostles, after the form of the twelve Patriarchs, so He should choose one like Abraham, who, because of his great faith, was the head of all; and that as Abraham was the foundation of the Old Testament so Peter should be of the Church of the Gospel. For all things are equal in both. Abraham excelled in faith, so did Peter. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, as he was to be the father of many nations (Gen. xvii. 5); and so Peter’s, who was to be the father and head of all Christians. For the one sole reason given by the heretics for denying that the Church was founded upon Peter, that it could have no other foundation but that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus (1 Cor 3:11), is altogether false. For S. Paul (Eph 2:20) calls the Apostles and Prophets the foundation of the Church. The heretics interpretation of this, as meaning the faith and doctrine, is wholly perverse. For the Apostle adds: “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone”. In these words, he signifies that in the Church, as in the foundations of other buildings, there are many stones, the first and chief corner-stone being Christ, into whom all others are united; the second ones being the Apostles and Prophets, who are themselves built upon the first, but who were the foundation of other Christians; as S. John says in the Revelation 21:14, in plain words, which have not yet met with any heretical explanation.
Why, then, did S. Paul not say that we are built upon Christ rather than upon the Apostles and Prophets? The answer is easy. We are placed further from Christ in the building of the Church than from the Apostles and Prophets. For Christ is in the first place. He is the first and corner-stone. Upon Christ are the Apostles and Prophets. Upon the Apostles and Prophets are built ourselves.
Lastly, except these heretics, all ancient authors teach that the Church was built upon Peter. So, then, S. Clement Rome (Ep. to James), Hippolytus (De Consum. Mundi), Dionysius (Ep. to Tim.), Tertullian (De Prcescript. and De Pudicitia), S. Cyprian (Eps. to Jubaian. and Cornell), Origen (Horn. v. on Exod.), S. Epiphanius (Anchorat.), S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. de Moderat.), S. Basil (Hom, de Paenit., and ii., Against Eunom.), S. Ambrose (Serm. xlvii. de Fide Petri, and Ixviii. de Nat. Pet. et Paul.), and the Hymn of the Church, which is said by S. Augustin to be the composition of S. Ambrose:
“Hoc, ipsa petra Ecclesias
Canente, culpam diluit”
“And singing this the Church’s rock itself,
His fault condoned”.
So, S. Jerome (Ep. to Marcella against Montanus, and bk. 1, Adv.Jovin the author of the Commentaries on the Epistles of S. Paul which are commonly ascribed to S. Ambrose (On Gal. ii.), Leo (Serm. ii. de Pet. et Paulo, Ep. to Pp. Vienna and Ep. to Geminian),the whole Council of Chalcedon, Juvencus (Psellus ap. T/ieod., and iii., In Cant.), and lastly, those authors who are thought to have held the contrary. For S. Hilary (De Trin., vi.), when he said that Christ founded the Church upon the faith of Peter, uses these words: “After his confession of this mystery, the blessed Simon, laying it as the foundation in the edification of the Church, and receiving the keys.” And (On Ps. cxxxi.): ” So great was Christ’s zeal of suffering for the salvation of the human race, that He named Peter, with the railing of Satan.” (Satanae convicio), “the first confessor of God, the foundation of the Church, the door-keeper of the kingdom of heaven, and in earthly judgment the judge of heaven.” “O thou, happy in the naming of thy new name, blessed foundation of the Church, and rock worthy of that edification which shall destroy the laws of hell, the gates of Tartarus, and all the bars of death” (Can. xvi. on S. Matt.). And S. Chrysostom (Hom. ii. on Ps. 1.): “Hear what Christ said to Peter, the column and foundation of the faith, who, for the strength of his confession, was called Peter: Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church”. S. Cyril (ii., On S. John xii.): “Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas” rightly showing, by the name itself, that on him, as on a rock and most firm stone, He would build His Church.” And S. Augustin (Serm. xlix. in verb. Dom. sec. Joann: “He said to Peter, on whom He establishes His Church, Peter, lovest thou Me?” And (lib. i. 21 of Retract.) the opinion of those who should say that the Church was built upon Peter he does not disapprove.
From this it appears that those authors who explain the words “upon this rock” by “this faith” received it in a different sense to these heretics. It would seem the best explanation to say that they meant that the Church was built upon the faith and confession of Peter; that is, upon Peter because of his faith and confession, as all other authors say.
We use such expressions daily, as when we say that the kingdom was built upon the faith of one man; that is, on one man because of his faith, as S. Ambrose (De Resurrect. Fide) said: ” It was not the body of Peter that walked upon the waters, but his faith; for it was not his body, but his faith that made him do it”. It is clear from these words that they do not deny, as the heretics do, that S. Peter is the foundation of the Church.
It may be said : If all others, not only Apostles, but also Prophets, as S. Paul says, are the foundation of the Church, what in particular is given to S. Peter in those words? The answer is, that among all the Prophets and Apostles, he, after Christ, was the first foundation of the Church, and fills Christ s place in His absence. But when others are a foundation also, nothing less could be given to him than that he should be the second foundation-stone after Christ, and in the same way in which Christ is such; that is, that not only one part, but the whole Church, should rest on him (niteretur). There is this difference, that Christ is the foundation by His own power, Peter by Christ’s; and Christ rests on no other foundation, but Peter rests on another, that is, Christ.
My Church. Christ calls the Church His, to show that He was God and the Lord of the Church, as Theophylact has rightly shown.
And the gates of hell. That by the gates of hell all the powers of the devil is meant is beyond question ; but it is doubtful why, by the word “gates,” powers is signified, and why Christ did not call it by its proper name of power, but by a metaphorical one of the gates. The reason may be easily conjectured. Christ speaks of the Church as if it were some city. The gates were the strongly fortified parts of the city (as in Ps 147:13) ; and because cities were most commonly taken through the gates, as Gen 22:17, 24:60: “Thy seed shall possess the gates of thine enemies;” that is shall possess the cities of their enemies; and Judges 5:8; 1 Kings 8:37.
For this reason, therefore, the power of the devil is not called the power, but the gates of hell. But why is it called hell, and not the devil, who is the enemy of the Church, as Moses said? (Gen 22:17). This also is easy. Because, as Christ speaks of the Church, He speaks of hell, where the devil rules, as if of some city, as Ps 107:16: “Because he hath broken gates of brass, and burst iron bars”. For these are two cities: one of God, the other of the devil, of which S. Augustin wrote his books.
Shall not prevail. Shall not overcome, or have the mastery. The meaning of these words does not appear to be that which most authors, except S. Hilary, seem to suppose. For they think that the meaning is, that the power of the devil may try The Church, but will never be able to overcome it, never to oppress it. This meaning, though true, is poor, and does not fill up the place and words of Christ. Christ seems to have intended something better. For gates do not over come, but resist; so that it is not the power of offending, but of defending, that must be meant by the gates. The meaning, then, seems to be that there will be a time when the Church, founded by Christ upon a rock, shall so take by storm all the power of the devil that he will be able by no power and no arts to resist. The Hebrew is “will not be able to resist it”. It is clear that S. Hilary is of this opinion. The Church, he says, shall break to pieces all the laws and gates of hell, and all the bonds of death. By the gates of hell, that is, the power of the devil, some of the Ancients understand heresies; as S. Epiphanius (In Anckorat.). Others, vices, as S. Ambrose (De Bon. Mortis., chap, xii., and Comments, on S. Luke, ix.). Others both, as Origen (Tract. 1. on S. Matt.), S. Jerome, and Bede. Others, the blasphemies of heretics and their persecution of the Church, as Euthymius. Others, all persecutors of the Church, as Theophylact. It is better not to narrow the meaning, but to understand generally all the power of the devil.
Against it. Origen (Tract. i. on S. Matt.) and S. Chrysostom (Hom. Lv.) think that the relative is to be referred either to the rock or to the Church. Doubtless to the latter, which the ancient authors think more probable, and the rest think true; although Christ said that the gates of hell should not prevail against the Church, because it was founded upon a rock (as above, Matt 7:24, 25); except that there it is said that that house resisted the rains and waves and winds, and here that the Church shall not only resist hell, but shall take it by storm, because it is founded upon a strong rock. For the Church and hell are spoken of, as we have said, as like two cities or strong citadels, near to and at war with one another; of which the one that hath the better foundation, and is the most strongly fortified, shall take the other.
Mat 16:19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
And I will give to thee the keys. The power of opening and shutting the kingdom of heaven is called the keys by metaphor (Luke 9:52). The same power is immediately expressed by the other metaphor of binding and loosing.
The question is, in what this power consists? The followers of Luther and Calvin say that it means (merely) the teaching that their sins have already been forgiven, or that they will be if we believe the Gospel. But if so, Christ, in giving Peter the keys, gives him nothing more than that which the Scribes and Pharisees had before (Matt 23:2, and Luke 9:52): “Woe to you lawyers, for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves have not entered in, and those that were entering in you have hindered”. It has been proved, however, that Christ not only gave more to Peter than to the Scribes and Pharisees, but more even than to the other Apostles. Something, then, is meant by the power of the keys more than the power of teaching. Besides, Christ gave this power not only to the twelve Apostles, but also to the seventy-two disciples (Luke 10:1). But the keys and the power of binding and loosing He gave to the Apostles alone. Thus, the power of binding and loosing and the power of teaching are not one and the same power. Besides, Christ had already given the power of teaching to the Apostles (Matt 10:7);but that of the keys He had not given.
It has been shown that the Apostles had had given to them a general power of teaching; but the use of it was restricted for a time, that they should not go among theGentiles, because it was not fitting that the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles before it had been preached to the Jews. Supposing a special power only to have been given to them, what would it have to do with the present question? Certainly, if to teach and to remit sins be one and the same thing, wherever they could teach they could also forgive sins. But we see that the power of teaching had been given them, but the power of the remission of sins had not been given. Therefore they are not the same power.
We see, also, that in this place where the keys are given, and with them the power of binding and loosing, no mention is made of teaching. On the other hand (Matt 28:19, and Mark 16:15), where the Apostles are commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature, no mention is made of the keys, or of binding and loosing. For, from the words of S. John 20:22, 23, we learn that Christ, when He sent the Apostles, said: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins ye retain, they are retained.” Though it was said to be about the same time, it was not said to have been actually the same. Besides, as in many other instances, S. John relates this as having been passed over by the other Evangelists.
It is not the least argument that the power of remitting sins was given to the Apostles with a different ceremony to that of teaching. For, when He gave the former, He is said to have breathed upon the Apostles, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost”. But when He gave the latter, He is not said to have either breathed upon them nor given them the Holy Spirit. The power of teaching, then, was different to that of remitting sins. Add to this, that if men only remit sins in this manner by teaching, whoever teaches another, even if the teacher be a woman, will remit sins, which is both unheard of and most senseless.
Again, if to teach is to loosen, that is, to remit sins, not to teach is to bind, that is, to retain them. So that everyone who does not teach has the power of binding, that is, of retaining sins. Again, if to teach is to loosen, and not to teach is to bind, Christ had not given the Apostles power to bind when He commanded them to teach all nations; that is (if their opinion be true), to loosen all, and to bind none. To what end was this power of binding, if no one were to be bound? It follows, from their own opinion, that the saying of Christ was false. For if to teach is to loosen, it is not the case that whatever the Apostles loosed upon earth would be loosed in heaven; for how many have been taught well whose sins, for their unbelief, have not been loosed in heaven! Nay, how many who have believed and been well taught, and have believed rightly, will be lost!
Finally, those whom we read of as having been bound in Scripture, were not bound either by teaching or not teaching. S. Paul bound the Corinthian (1 Cor 5:5). He bound those heretics (1 Tim 1:20), not by teaching, but by delivering them to Satan, when he had taught them well before; as now the Catholic Church binds the heretics with whom we are now at issue by excommunicating them, that is, by delivering them over to Satan.
So far one of these heretics on this passage has been answered. The second is their denial that anything was given to S. Peter by these words, which was not given equally to all the other Apostles.
This has to be answered, not by disputing the words, “Upon this rock,” of which enough has been said, and proof shown that it was given to Peter alone, that the Church should be built upon him. We are now to treat of the words: “I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven”.
By these words, I maintain, against the opinion of the followers of Calvin, and even of some Catholics, that the primacy of the Church was given to Peter; not that these Catholics deny it, but because they think it not to have been given him but in the preceding words, “Upon this rock I will build My Church”; and that the keys were not given to S. Peter alone, but to all the Apostles collectively. It appears that in both forms of words the primacy of the Catholic Church was given to Peter.
The words mean this. For the keys of a house or city are given into the keeping of the chief of the house or city. Therefore, the primacy is signified in Scripture by the keys, as in Isaiah 22:22: “I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder”; that is, I will give to him the supreme power in the kingdom of heaven. The words, “Upon his shoulder,” when keys are not laid upon the shoulder but carried in the girdle, are used, as is frequently the case in Scripture, by a confusion of two metaphors, signifying one and the same thing; one of the keys, the other of the sceptre; each of which terms expresses the supreme power; and because the sceptre is laid upon the shoulder, He says that He would place the keys of the house of David on his shoulder, as in Isaiah 9:6; ” And the government is upon his shoulder”. In the same sense Christ says (Rev 1:18) that He has the keys of death and hell; that is, that He is the Lord of life and death; and (Rev 3:7) that He has the keys of David: “He that hath the key of David; He that openeth and no man shutteth, shutteth and no man openeth”. In this sense, then, the keys were given to Peter; that is, the supreme power in the Church, that he might shut and no man open, and that he might open and no man shut; that is, that no man should loose what he has bound, and no man bind what he has loosed. Hence, the power of the Roman Pontiff is most effectually proved ad reservatos casus; and hence it is concluded that to Peter alone it was said in this place: “I will give to thee the keys of heaven and hell”; and so said as if they were not to be given to any other, because he alone answered: “Thou art Christ the Son of the living God”; as it was said to him alone; ” On this rock I will build My Church”. For by both metaphors, one of the foundation, and the other of the keys, one and the same primacy is signified, and the explanation of one is that of the other.
2. It cannot be denied that the other Apostles had also their own keys; that is, the power of binding and loosing; as all ancient authors teach, saying that the keys were given to all; but I deny that they had the keys which are now in question, and that those which all Catholics call keys, and rightly so, but in a different sense, are ever called keys in Scripture. It is a most unanswerable proof of the truth of this, that when Christ gave the other Apostles (Matt 18:18; John 20:23) the power of binding and loosing, He made no mention of the keys. Peter alone, therefore, had those keys by which he so opened that no one could shut, and so shut that no one could open. So, in a house, all or many have their own keys, but the master alone has all the keys, and the secret ones, by which, when he wills, he can so shut that no one can open, and so open that no one can shut.
3. The third error of the followers of Calvin is that the power which was given to S. Peter was not given also to his successors; and therefore, even if it be granted that Peter had the primacy of the Church, it does not follow that his successors had the same, but that this power was given (to use his own words) to Peter personally. Tertullian (De Pudicitia) seems to say the same, but he spoke not as a Catholic, but as a heretic, when he deserted the camp of the Church to join that of Montanus. S. Jerome (Lit. de Script. Eccl.) says that that work of Tertullian was written against the Church.
We have shown that the keys and the rock upon which Christ built the Church mean the same thing. Who is so senseless as to believe that Christ built an immortal Church upon a mortal man, after whose death the Church must necessarily fall into ruins? Not upon Peter alone, then, but upon him and his successors was the Church founded; and as these will never fail, the Church will remain for ever. The same must be said of the keys which, as we have said, mean the same thing. How, too, did Christ give this power to Peter alone and to his successors? For He instituted His Church; He instituted her officers; and that not to the honour of persons, but to the good of the Church. These were to endure as long as the Church herself, especially that which, as it is the greatest of all, so it was the most necessary of all: the head of the Church, who was also to be its foundation. Therefore, as the other and lesser offices were not to be transferred to later ages, it was yet necessary that this should be so, as all ancient writers teach.
4. The fourth error of these men is the denial that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter. They say that Peter was either never at Rome at all, or if he were, it cannot be shown that whoever was the Roman Pontiff then was his immediate successor. This error shall be confuted elsewhere. Here we simply bid the assertors fight against the whole world. For there never was any before them, Catholic or heretic, who did not affirm (1) That Peter died at Rome; (2) That the Roman Pontiffs were his successors. As the Wise Man says therefore (Wisdom 5:21): “The whole world shall fight with him against the unwise”.
And whatsoever thou shalt bind. This is a metaphorical saying, by which the same thing is signified as was contained in the two former verses, that Peter had the supreme power of remitting or retaining sins; but I do not consider that it was said to Peter in the same sense as that in which it was said to the other Apostles, though all authors apparently, except Origen, take it so; but in the sense in which the Church was built upon Peter alone, and in which to him alone were given the keys, so to bind as no one should be able to loose, and in so to loose as no one should be able to bind. This is to be proved by the same arguments as we have used already to prove his primacy.
It is asked in what the power of binding and loosing consists? S. Thomas, in his Commentaries, has noticed three errors on the subject to be marked and avoided.
1. That of those who appear arrogantly to think that the priesthood can arbitrarily bind or loose whomsoever they please; and that every act of theirs, whether right or wrong, will be ratified in heaven. And if we look at the mere words, they do seem to bear this meaning. For “Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven”. But it is not so. For Christ only intended to give to Peter first, and then to the other Apostles, to perform His offices as if He were on earth: binding those that were to be bound, and loosing those who were to be loosed; with this sole exception, that Christ would bind or loose in His own power, the Apostles in another s, that is, Christ’s. From the fact, then, that He gave over to them His own functions, we understand that they should bind and loose, not according to their own judgment, but according to His ; so that, as S. Cyprian rightly says: “Let no one prejudge Christ the Judge”. This is what theologians and Doctors of the Church call “Clave non errante“.
2. The second error is, that to bind or to loose is nothing else than the declaration that men are already bound or loosed by God, as, in the Old Testament, the priest neither made nor healed the leper, but merely declared that he was actually a leper, or was truly healed of his leprosy. This error is confuted by the passage before us. For, if this were so, and the priest could only loose and bind in this manner, Christ would not have said, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven,” but, “What is bound in heaven you shall bind on earth”. But, as He says, on the contrary, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth it shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth it shall be loosed also in heaven,” He signifies most clearly that it shall be loosed by the Apostles on earth before it is loosed by God in heaven. This was a gift befitting the Apostles, as representing the Person of Christ, that, as when Christ Himself was on earth, whatever He loosed on earth was loosed by the Father in heaven, so, when He had returned to heaven, whatever the Apostles loosed on earth should be loosed by Him also in heaven. I do not think that the opinion of S. Jerome was at all different, nor that he would have countenanced the above error, but that he only desired to confute the former one.
3. The third error is that, “as in sin there are two things the fault, and the penalty of eternal punishment and a man is absolved from both by contrition, the eternal punishment being commuted into a temporal one, the priest can do no more by his absolution than diminish some part of the temporal penalty”. This is easily answered, for Christ said (John 20:23): “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained”. The priest, then, remits not only the penalty but the fault. Nor ought it to appear more wonderful, the priest doing this by the sacrament of penitence than by that of baptism, as S. Ambrose says against the Novatians (lib. i. 2, De Pænit). It may be objected that, as the priest, when he binds, does not make men sinners, but only declares them to be such, so, when he absolves, he does not make men righteous, but only declares that they are so, and absolved from their sins. The answer may be that this is not a sequitur. For the power of binding and loosing was given to the Apostles, not for the righteous, but for sinners. For those who are righteous, that is, who are loosed, God will not have bound. But those who are sinners, that is, who are bound, He desires to have loosed, if they are worthy, and to be bound, if they are unworthy. Besides, the priest is not able to bind and to loose in the same way. He cannot bind in the same manner as that in which he looses. He looses by truly loosing; he binds by not loosing, that is, not by causing, but as S. John says, by retaining sins.
On earth. Some conclude from this that the power of the Church of binding and loosing does not apply to the dead, because they are not upon earth, that is, under the jurisdiction of the Church. So says Strabo, the author of what is termed the ordinary gloss. Whether this be so or not, it can only be said at present that this conclusion does not follow from the words in question, for the words “on earth” are to be referred, not to those who are bound or loosed, but to those who bind or loose ; as if Christ had said, “What ever you who are living on earth shall bind or loose shall be bound or loosed by God, who dwells in heaven,” or, more briefly, “Whatever is loosed or bound by you men shall be loosed or bound by God”. For men are signified by “earth,” and God by “heaven”. It is an elegant antithesis by which, from the great distance between heaven and earth, the power given to the Apostles is commended. As if a prince should say to some dependant: “Whatever you do, even in the Indies, I shall value very highly,” to show how thoroughly he confided in him, and how ample power he gave to him. For we are less used to ratify what is done in our absence, in our name, by someone else, than if we were present or at hand. Servants, the longer their master is away, are the more apt to take greater licence, as the parable shows (Matt 24:48, 49).
Two premisses ought to be fixed and certain:
1. That the Church has the power of excommunicating even the dead that is, of depriving them of the prayers of the Church, which seems to have been always practised by SS. Cyprian and Augustin; and,
2. That the Church has the power of freeing those who are in purgatory by her prayers.
This passage is also one from which the practice of ecclesiastical confession is most clearly proved. For this power which was given to the Apostles could not have been exercised without their knowledge of the sinners, nor could the sins, which are for the most part secret, be known without the explicit confession of the sinner. Thus all the ancient Fathers have based on this passage the practice of penance; e.g., S. Cyprian (Serm. on “Lapsed”), S. Athanasius (Hom, on the words, “Go into the village”), S. Basil (Ep. to Amphilock.). We may add that Christ, in these words, not only gave the Apostles the power of absolving, but He laid upon all Christians the obligation of confession.
The meaning, then, will be not only that whatever the Apostles loosed on earth, He Himself would loose in heaven: but also that He would neither loose nor bind anything in heaven, except what His Apostles or their successors had loosed or bound on earth. For He bestowed on them His own power to govern the Church for Him. So that He would have everyone who needed forgiveness come to the Apostles or their successors as if to Him, if He were on earth, and seek from them absolution when they had made their confession, as, if He were living on earth, He would absolve no one from his sins unless he had first made confession of them.
But He as God could do so without that sacrament, the Apostles as men could only do so through the sacrament; as if that were the hand of Christ; that is, as if a king when sending some minister to a distant province to govern for him, should say: “Whatever you do I approve,” and he should give orders to the people to refer any question or difference to his substitute as to himself, and plead all causes before him; not that he deprived himself of his power, so that he could not judge a cause if he pleased, but that, by the transference of all ordinary power to his substitute, he reserved the extraordinary to himself. This is to be understood of Christ and the Apostles. The ordinary remedies instituted in the Church for the remission of sins are the sacraments, without which men cannot remit them. Christ is able to do this, but He does it extraordinarily, and very much more rarely than through the sacraments. For He would not have men trust to extra ordinary means, which are both rare and uncertain, for the remission of sins ; but He would have them seek the ordinary, and, so to say, the visible aids of the sacraments. And He has, therefore, given the precept, as of baptism and the Eucharist, so of confession and penance.