Explaining the Authority of the Pope Through the Eyes of a Loving Parent
While making dinner, you notice an eerie quietness in the room where your 2 year old has been playing. Rounding the corner, you catch sight of the reason why: Little Timmy has found joy jumping on the sofa. In an instant, without conscious deliberation, your eyes take in the corner of the coffee table, the antique lamp from Great Grandma Sally, and the 2-½ feet that separate a happy little boy and a hard wood floor. Without hesitation, you pick up your bouncing baby boy and firmly tell him, “No jumping on the couch.”
Have you stopped your son from jumping simply to ruin his fun or threaten his freedom? Had the intent of your action been merely a show of power, an exercise of your authority? Of course not! You have acted out of love. You have acted to stop your child from hurting himself and also from harming that, which is precious around him. You have acted out of compassion by picking your up your son, helping him to be free from the harm that could result from his own ignorance and error. Your son may not have been happy that you picked him up, for he was enjoying his jumping, but you, the parent, aware of the dangers that accompany couch jumping, recognized your responsibility to keep your child safe –in short, you have exercised your authority.
Just as you, the parent, can foresee the physical dangers that surround your child, so too does God, our Heavenly Father, know the dangers that surround our souls, and threaten to impede the reaching of our ultimate goal; union with Him. God knows our every weakness and our need for continuous, living guidance to avoid the dangers that threaten our chances of spending eternity with Him in heaven.
Since the beginning of time, God has provided His people with figures of authority to guide them away from harm, and lead them to God. In the Old Testament, authority is seen first in the patriarchs; such as, Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Jacob and then with His covenant with the nation of Israel, God provided for a living, continuing authority in the Mosaic Priesthood (2 Chr 19:11; Mal 2:7). In the New Testament, this authority is seen in Jesus (Mt 7:28-29), and as Jesus established His Church on earth, the New Israel, He also established a living, continuing authority to teach, govern, and Sanctify His name, for He knew he would not be a physically visible head of His Church forever. He would need to provide an office of the visible and earthly head of His Church while he remains the invisible and supreme head. Jesus, having all authority given to Him by God the Father, made a definitive statement by His Example that authority was always to be used in service of others. True authority is the product of love, for God is love.
Jesus set up His church on earth, giving authority to St. Peter (Mt 16:13-19). “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” The office of Peter, which is held by the Pope, is one of tremendous authority instituted by Christ. The Pope is the visible head of Christ’s church on earth, given the responsibility to shepherd His flock. Scripture holds numerous proofs of this authority released from Jesus to Peter.
Just as you, the parent, recognize your child’s lack of knowledge in certain situations and his need for guidance, so too does our Holy Father, the shepherd chosen to lead God’s people on earth with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, recognize the dangers that surround us on our journey to salvation. By stopping your child from doing that which is harmful to him and/or his surroundings and guiding him toward that which is good, you are acting out of love. Your act of compassion is just that; an act brought forth through concern and care. It is not an act of self importance and pride. You have not acted to experience the ‘power’ of authority, but to ensure the safety of your child. On a greater scale, this is the role of the Pope, the Successor of Peter; to act out of utter compassion and service to continually teach, govern and protect Christ’s Church on earth. This role is ultimately an act of service not power. True authority, as Christ has showed us, is found in perfect service to others, be it child, companion, community or Church.
Below is an excerpt from an excellent list of Scriptural references arranged by John Salza in his essay, The Primacy of Peter:
Matt. to Rev. – Peter is mentioned 155 times and the rest of apostles combined are only mentioned 130 times. Peter is also always listed first except in 1 Cor. 3:22 and Gal. 2:9 (which are obvious exceptions to the rule).
Matt. 10:2; Mark 1:36; 3:16; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:3; 2:37; 5:29 – these are some of many examples where Peter is mentioned first among the apostles.
Matt. 14:28-29 – only Peter has the faith to walk on water. No other man in Scripture is said to have the faith to walk on water. This faith ultimately did not fail.
Matt. 16:16, Mark 8:29; John 6:69 – Peter is first among the apostles to confess the divinity of Christ.
Matt. 16:17 – Peter alone is told he has received divine knowledge by a special revelation from God the Father.
Matt. 16:18 – Jesus builds the Church only on Peter, the rock, with the other apostles as the foundation and Jesus as the Head.
Matt. 16:19 – only Peter receives the keys, which represent authority over the Church and facilitate dynastic succession to his authority.
Mark 10:28 – here also, Peter speaks on behalf of the disciples by declaring that they have left everything to follow Him.
Mark 11:21 – Peter speaks on behalf of the disciples in remembering Jesus’ curse on the fig tree.
Mark 14:37 – at Gethsemane, Jesus asks Peter, and no one else, why he was asleep. Peter is accountable to Jesus for his actions on behalf of the apostles because he has been appointed by Jesus as their leader.
Mark 16:7 – Peter is specified by an angel as the leader of the apostles as the angel confirms the resurrection of Christ.
Luke 5:3 – Jesus teaches from Peter’s boat which is metaphor for the Church. Jesus guides Peter and the Church into all truth.
Luke 5:4,10 – Jesus instructs Peter to let down the nets for a catch, and the miraculous catch follows. Peter, the Pope, is the “fisher of men.”
Luke 22:31-32 – Jesus prays for Peter alone, that his faith may not fail, and charges him to strengthen the rest of the apostles.
John 13:36; 21:18 – Jesus predicts Peter’s death. Peter was martyred at Rome in 67 A.D. Several hundred years of papal successors were also martyred.
John 21:2-3,11 – Peter leads the fishing and his net does not break. The boat (the “barque of Peter”) is a metaphor for the Church.
John 21:7 – only Peter got out of the boat and ran to the shore to meet Jesus. Peter is the earthly shepherd leading us to God.
John 21:15 – in front of the apostles, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus “more than these,” which refers to the other apostles. Peter is the head of the apostolic see.
John 21:15-17 – Jesus charges Peter to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.” Sheep means all people, even the apostles.
Acts 1:13 – Peter is first when entering upper room after our Lord’s ascension. The first Eucharist and Pentecost were given in this room.
Acts 1:15 – Peter initiates the selection of a successor to Judas right after Jesus ascended into heaven, and no one questions him. Further, if the Church needed a successor to Judas, wouldn’t it need one to Peter? Of course.
Acts 2:14 – Peter is first to speak for the apostles after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost. Peter is the first to preach the Gospel.
Acts 2:38 – Peter gives first preaching in the early Church on repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.
Acts 3:1,3,4 – Peter is mentioned first as going to the Temple to pray.
Acts 3:6-7 – Peter works the first healing of the apostles.
Acts 3:12-26, 4:8-12 – Peter teaches the early Church the healing through Jesus and that there is no salvation other than Christ.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
John Salza, The Primacy of Peter (scripturecatholic.com, 2001)
Matt Pinto, Did Adam and Eve Have Bellybuttons? (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Ascension Press, 2003)
Michael Francis Pennock, This Is Our Faith (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1989)
Rev. Mr. Sam Catapano, “Jesus Taught Them As One Who Has Great Authority”, Holy Name of Jesus, Medina, MN (January 28 & 29, 2006)
Copyright 2012 Kelly Wahlquist