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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 16:13–20. Mark 8:27–30. Luke 9:18–21]

BEING come to the neighbourhood of Cæsarea Philippi (Fig. 77) Jesus asked His apostles, as they went along, who the people said that He was. They replied: “Some, John the Baptist, others, Elias, and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” Wishing to hear their own opinion, or, rather, to draw from them a profession of faith, He asked: “But whom do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered: “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus 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. And I say to thee that thou art Peter, and this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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 upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

 

Fig. 77. Ruins of Bonias (Cæsarea Philippi). (Phot. Bonfils.)

Witnesses for the Divinity of Christ: 1. Peter testified that Jesus was the Son of the living God. 2. Our Lord accepted and ratified this confession of faith, by calling Himself the Son of the Father who is in heaven, and by calling Peter ‘blessed’ on account of his faith in His Divinity. 3. Our Lord acted and spoke as God, by giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and by promising him a continuous power of binding and loosing—a power which, obviously, only God could give.

Faith is a gift of God. The natural reason of the people sufficed to make them understand, from His teaching and miracles, that Jesus was a mighty prophet. But, as our Lord expressly said, supernatural light and grace were necessary to enable them to pierce the veil of His human nature, and recognise in this poor Jesus of Nazareth the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. St. Leo the Great writes thus: “By divine inspiration Peter’s mind soared above that which his senses could perceive, and with the eyes of his spirit he recognised the Son of the living God, and the glory of His Divinity.”

The Church of Christ. Our Lord, in this chapter, said that He would found a Church (one only), and that this Church could not be overcome. At the same time He elected Peter to be its foundation, and clearly chose the other apostles to be its pillars. Thus the twelve apostles, with Peter as their chief, were the foundation of the Church, upon which and into which all men, like so many stones, had to be built. The Church of Christ is, therefore, visible. She is formed of men, and governed by men, who are armed with the divine power of binding and loosing. The faithful owe obedience to this Church of Christ, and he who refuses to obey her is to be regarded as a heathen, who has no part in the kingdom of heaven (chapter XL).

The duration of the Church. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Church, therefore, can neither be overcome nor destroyed; it will endure till the end of time.

Peter is the visible head of the Church and the Vicar of Christ upon earth. Our Lord built His Church upon the rock of Peter (on the rock which is Peter), giving to it an invincible strength and stability. Thus Peter, according to the will of the Divine Architect, is the immovable foundation of the Church. On him the visible Church, and all its pillars and stones (or to speak without figure, all its members) must, mediately or immediately, rest, and by this support be kept together. Whatever does not rest on this foundation, does not belong to the Church of Christ. We must, therefore, accept the fact that Peter occupies quite a unique position in the Church; that he is its supreme head, and that his office is to keep all other members in the unity of the faith, and that he is, in fact, the supreme authority in the Church. This is to be understood by the power of the keys, which was given to Peter. The giving up to another of the keys of a house is understood by all to be the token of the surrender to that person of supreme authority over the house and its inhabitants. So, when our Lord Jesus gave to St. Peter the power of the keys, He gave him supreme authority over His Church, that is, the authority to teach, to judge, and to make laws. The promise which our Lord on this occasion made to Peter, He fulfilled after His resurrection, when He gave him the office of Chief Pastor. By this supreme authority Peter became the visible representative of our Lord Jesus Christ upon earth, and this Primacy of St. Peter must needs continue so long as the Church lasts; in other words, there must be successors of Peter.

The Pope. St. Peter became the first Bishop of Rome, and for that reason the Roman Bishop has ever been believed to be the successor of St. Peter in the Primacy. Hence he is called the ‘Pope’, i. e. the father of all the faithful. The Papacy therefore is of divine institution.

The Infallibility of the Pope. The infernal spirit of lies would overcome the Church, if he could succeed in diverting her from the true faith, and plunging her into error. If, therefore, the Church is to be invincible through Peter (that is, through the Papacy), the Pope must be an infallible teacher. Even as far back as the third century St. Cyprian writes: “To the rock of Peter no error can obtain access.”

APPLICATION. How great is the authority of the Church! It is a divine authority. What a great sin it is to disregard it! Do you faithfully observe the Commandments of the Church? Do you love her august head on earth, our Holy Father, the Pope, and pray for him?








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