Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 27, 2023 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 22:19-23 Psalm 138:1-3;6-8
Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Why am I a Priest of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion and not a Roman Catholic Priest? Aside from the fact that Deacon Sharon and I are married, and aside from the fact that I hold many opinions that are at odds with the Roman Catholic Church, the real reason is far more over-arching. I have not ever, and will never ever, accept the Pope’s authority nor his infallibility claims.
The truth is, no one human person on the entire earth can have, or should have, immediate, universal, and personal jurisdiction over all Christians. That role belongs to God alone. Nor can any human person, when speaking on matters of faith and morals, or any other subject, claim to speak without error.
Why? Because human persons are by nature, by just being human, capable of making mistakes. I am not perfect. Deacon Sharon is not perfect. None of the Bishops of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion are perfect, and none claim to be, likewise for other independent Catholic traditions and the Bishops of the Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox communions.
The Roman Church claims that both the universal jurisdiction and infallibility of the Pope arise out of three sentences in today’s Gospel Reading. They are, and I quote:
“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.” You bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The entirety of the Roman claims to immediate universal jurisdiction of the pope and the pope’s infallibility rest on the Roman interpretation of just these three sentences.
From the Roman interpretation of those three sentences, arises the mistaken notion that Rome is the “One True Church.”
From those three sentences arise many other kinds of mischief, like the ridiculous Roman Catholic doctrines on sex and gender issues, like divorce and remarriage, birth control, clerical celibacy, non-marital sex, same-sex relationships, and a male-only priesthood, all of which are impractical and nonsensical. Their logic is, “We’re the One True Church,” so what we say is that’s the way it is, and everyone else is wrong.
Take away the Roman misinterpretation of those three sentences, and the entire Roman Magisterium, that is, the entire Roman legalistic and authoritarian structure, falls flat on its face.
Take away the Roman misinterpretation of those three sentences, and the Roman Catholic Church is but one more Catholic ecclesiastical jurisdiction, just like the others with Apostolic Succession, like Old Catholics, which we are, the Anglicans, the Eastern Orthodox, and some of the Lutherans. None are better or worse than any other. God loves them all equally.
These erroneous Roman claims are not only triumphalistic, chauvinistic, and ecclesiastical narcissism but they are built on an inherently defective exegetical foundation. To put it another way, if you construct a building on defective concrete, its foundation fails and the building falls. Same thing with churches.
The first problem with the Roman position is one which infects the entire New Testament. No original source documents exist for any book of the New Testament. All of the New Testament is based on oral tradition copied from person to person. So we will never know what Jesus really said.
But, assuming today’s Gospel quoted Jesus accurately, note that in the text, Jesus granted authority to only Peter, personally. None of the words of Jesus, as reported in today’s Gospel or anywhere else, within and outside of scripture, gave the so-called keys to the kingdom to any other person, including whoever would succeed Peter as leader of the Apostles or to subsequent Bishops of Rome.
Moreover, whether or not Peter was actually Bishop of Rome is disputed. Nothing in the New Testament that says that he was. And, although Peter was instrumental in the Book of Acts in the founding of the Early Church, nowhere did Jesus give Peter alone authority over the other Apostles. Nor can Peter be considered, “the head of the church,” when Ephesians describes Jesus and the head of the church in no uncertain terms.
Note also that later in the same chapter of Mathew as this week’s Gospel, which we will hear next Sunday, Jesus foretold his death, but Peter rashly vowed that this would never happen under his watch. Jesus then rebuked him very harshly, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” In fact, the impulsive apostle was true to his word, when in fear for his life, he denied Jesus three times. His denial appears in all four Gospels. And at the Jerusalem Council, Peter spoke about his ministry to the Gentiles, but he did not preside over the great council at which issues concerning Gentiles were considered. James did.
But the biggest problems driving the Roman concept of Peter’s role comes from the words themselves in the Greek version. As a point of information, the oldest known New Testament text is in Greek.
Two words are at issue here: petros and petra. In the Greek text, Jesus said, tu ei petros, or, “you are Peter.” But then Jesus then purportedly said epi taute te petra. Assuming the Greek text is accurate, note that Jesus did not use the term petros twice. So why did he say it that way?
To find out, we must dig deeper into petros and petra meanings. We have to consult an interlinear translation showing the corresponding Greek and English words, then identify them with their unique number in the Strong’s Concordance, and then look up the particular Strong’s number in a Greek-to-English lexicon.
In other words, we have to use the brain that God gave us, instead of just spouting what some ecclesiastical authority tells us. At Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, we want people to actually think, not just check their brains at the door. We have to do some research.
Here is the result. “Petros” and “petra” are not one and the same Greek words. “Petros” is “rock,” in the sense of a moveable boulder. “Petra,” however, means a solid, firm cliff. So, note that Jesus did not say “petros” twice, once for Peter, the person, and again in relation to the foundation of the Church. As you can imagine, a big difference exists between a boulder that can move and a cliff that does not. So one feels safe standing in front of cliff, but not in front of a boulder. Don’t people move out of the way of a rolling boulder? Simply put, while a boulder may stand huge and overpowering, it does not exist with the firmness and solidity of a cliff. Boulders can and do fall.
These two words show that Peter, the person, and the Church’s foundation are different entities. According to Jesus, the Church is thus built on “petra”, a firm, massive, solid foundation that stands on its own. Peter, however, is “Petros”, a boulder, capable of movement if force acts upon it. If Peter is the rock on which Christ was to build His church, Peter could not be overcome and the gates of hell could not prevail against him. But the fact is that he was overcome, and the gates of hell did prevail against him.
Scripture tell us that Peter was more like a boulder than a cliff. Peter did not stand not on his own strength, but on the strength of his faith, which ultimately failed him when he denied knowing Jesus at his passion. Boulders are fallible, and so was Peter. So Peter proved himself fallible. And thus, the whole papal infallibility house of cards falls along with the entire concept of the Magisterium.
Of course, all the evidence in this world, or the next, is not going to persuade the Roman Church, or its adherents, that on this issue it is dead wrong.
To give you an analogy, consider all those Trump supporters who insist their man won the twenty-twenty election based on alleged fraud despite a total lack of evidence of any irregularity that would change the bottom line result of the election. Over fifty judges who heard their lawsuits all over the country came to the same conclusion. Trump lost. Yet, those stupid people continue to rely on their gut-level determination that their man won, no matter the evidence. It’s like saying Barack Obama was born outside of the United States despite a genuine birth certificate that says he was born in Hawaii.
For so many people, gut-level opinions sadly supersede facts. They don’t want to use the brains God gave them. And one of those facts is that papal infallibility simply did not come from the Bible. Rather, the Roman Church declared the notion of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council in eighteen-seventy. The Pope at the time was Pius the Ninth. He simply declared himself infallible and looked to the Council to ratify his declaration.
However, the cardinals at the council did not agree unanimously on the meaning of the language from Matthew in today’s Gospel when they voted for the first time. They had five different interpretations. Seventeen insisted Peter is the rock. Sixteen held that Christ is the rock. Eight believed the whole apostolic college is the rock. Forty-four said Peter’s faith is the rock, while the remainder saw the whole body of believers as the rock. Ultimately, the majority of the cardinals voted to affirm papal infallibility so as not to displease the Pope.
So who’s objectively correct? To find out, we must focus further on the text, we can consider the idea that the Church was built by Jesus himself. He said, “Upon this rock, I will build my Church.” The Greek word used in the text is “oikodomeso, future tense, “will build”, implying that the building of the Church is in the future and ongoing, and by saying, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” one could infer nothing can stop the ongoing building process and that it will never be destroyed or perish.
Further, the church belongs to Jesus, not to humanity. Jesus identified the Church as his church in today’s Gospel when he used the possessive, “my Church.” It belongs to Him alone, not to the Roman Church or any other ecclesiastical body. And by calling it a Church, using the word “ekklesia, Jesus meant not just a physical structure, but people called to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. And people is plural, a community, not one individual.
The Ecumenical Catholic Communion, of which Saint Cecilia’s is part, reflects elements of the Eastern and Anglican views on Petrine primacy. The Ecumenical Catholic Communion arose out of the Old Catholics of Utrecht in the Netherlands, a movement that started in the Eighteenth Century but started in earnest after the First Vatican Council declared papal infallibility as a dogma to be accepted by all Catholics.
Except that, those courageous Dutch Bishops did not go along with that program! In eighteen-eighty-nine, they issued what’s called the Declaration of Utrecht, which explicitly rejected papal infallibility and universal papal jurisdiction while acknowledging the historic primacy that several ecumenical councils and the Fathers of the ancient Church with the assent of the whole Church have attributed to the Bishop of Rome by recognizing the Pope as the primus inter pares. That’s pretty much how the Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans view the situation as well.
The Eastern Orthodox view Peter as an icon of the episcopate. In the traditional Eastern Orthodox view, the Church is the local Eucharistic assembly, and the bishop is considered to hold the “chair of Peter.” Thus, in the Eastern view, the primacy of Peter is relevant to the relationship between the bishop and the priests, not between the bishop of Rome and the other bishops who are all equally holding Peter’s chair.
Eastern Orthodox Catholics also argue that the phrase in today’s Gospel, “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” was addressed not just to Peter by citing another verse in Matthew which says the same thing but which was not addressed specifically to Peter but to all the Apostles.
Eastern Orthodox scholars do not see Peter as above other apostles. They point out that Peter did not exercise authority over them during the earthly life of Jesus. Between the original twelve apostles, they see only “degrees of intimacy” or “degrees of honor.” According to this view, Peter has a weak, purely honorary primacy. This fits the Orthodox notion that the Church, in all its catholicity, is fully present in the local church and that the local bishop is the focus of unity. One only gets to this proposition if all the Apostles, and therefore all bishops, are considered equal.
The Anglican view of the situation is, as can be expected, ambiguous and nuanced. Those familiar with Anglican clergy know that they tend to talk out of both sides of their mouth after they wet their finger and hold it aloft to see which way the wind is blowing. And of course, Anglicans are highly fragmented; on many topics, they do not espouse a unified view. Maybe that’s a good thing.
In general, Anglicans recognize that Peter played a foundational role in the early Church and that the New Testament depicts Peter in a leadership role among the apostles. While many Anglicans are comfortable with the idea of the Bishop of Rome holding a place of primacy in the global Christian community, they object to the concept of papal supremacy. The idea that the Pope has jurisdictional authority over all other bishops is not generally accepted in Anglican theology.
Yet in their talks with Rome through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, the Anglicans have agreed that the Bishop of Rome can be symbol of unity for all Christians as a “sign and safeguard within the church” to “uphold the truth of the Gospel and the unity of God’s people.” Generally speaking, this Commission of Roman Catholics and Anglicans has envisioned a papacy that both Anglicans and Roman Catholics can accept and recognize as serving the universal Church.
The decoupling of the papacy from infallibility and universal jurisdiction will lead to a church that speaks with many voices, where Christian unity is not a joinder of ecclesiastical jurisdictions under one roof, but instead, a recognition of the legitimacy of a diversity of opinion and a departure from the notion that there is a so-called, “one true church” and instead the idea that there are many roads to heaven in this world and the next.
Recognizing the legitimacy of diversity holds enormous potential for the successful continuation of the Church in today’s world. Simply put, “one size fits all” drives people away rather than attracts and holds them. It is also more consonant with how God created humanity: that each of us is a unique individual, not a fungible object stamped out of a machine.
A good example is sexual orientation. God made some people to be attracted to the opposite sex, but God also made some people to be attracted to the same sex, or to both sexes. But God made all of us to love one another, regardless of our respective orientations. All of that is good in God’s eyes. To quote the First Epistle of John, “God is love, and love is from God.” Recall that Jesus said in the Farewell discourses on the night before he died, “Love one another because I have loved you.” Nowhere does Jesus himself distinguish love between persons of the opposite sex as more valid than love between persons of the same sex. What is most important is love, period.
Please know that here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, we are not, have never been, and never will be, answerable to the Bishop of Rome. We are accountable to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All of you are good in God’s eyes, and we will always treat you that way. If we don’t meet your expectations, please let us know.
As we recite in the Baptismal Covenant every time we baptize someone here, we are, and we will continue to be, a church community that respects the dignity of everyone.
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community is a church built on love. We are a place where it goes without saying that we offer all sacraments to everyone. Todos Sacramentos Para Todos! AMEN.