The papal ministry is based on mandate which Simon Peter received from Jesus himself after making his divinely inspired profession of faith
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 25 November, the Holy Father discussed the ministry of the Pope in the College of Bishops. This catechesis is the 45th talk in the series devoted to the mystery of the Church. The Pope spoke in Italian.
1. We have seen that according to the Council's teaching, a summary of the Church's traditional doctrine, there exists an "order of Bishops which is the successor to the College of the Apostles in their role as teachers and pastors"; and indeed this Episcopal College, as "a continuation of the Apostolic College, together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, has supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff" (Lumen gentium, n. 22).
This text of Vatican II tells us about the Petrine ministry exercised in the Church by the Bishop of Rome as the Head of the Episcopal College. We will devote the set of catecheses that we are beginning today to this important and significant point of Catholic doctrine. We intend to give a clear reasoned exposition of this teaching, in which the feeling of personal inadequacy is joined to that of the responsibility which stems from Jesus' mandate to Peter, and in particular, from the divine Teacher's response to his profession of faith in the region of Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13-19)
2. Let us again examine the text and context of the important dialogue handed down to us by the evangelist Matthew. After asking: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" (Mt 16:13), Jesus asks his Apostles a more direct question: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16: 15). It is already significant that Simon answers in the name of the Twelve: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:13-16). One might think that Simon made himself the spokesman for the Twelve by force of his own more vigorous and impulsive personality. Possibly this factor came into play to some extent. Jesus, however, attributes his answer to a special revelation from the heavenly Father: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father" (Mt 16:17). Above and beyond factors of temperament, character, ethnic background or social status ("flesh and blood"), Simon is the beneficiary of an illumination and inspiration from on high that Jesus identifies as "revelation". And it is in virtue of this revelation that Simon makes a profession of faith in the name of the Twelve.
Name given to Simon signifies a new mission
3. Here is Jesus' declaration, which in the very solemnity of its form manifests the binding and constitutive meaning that the Teacher intends to give it: "And so l say to you, you are Peter" (Mt 16:18). The declaration is indeed solemn: "I say to you". It involves Jesus' sovereign authority. It is a word of revelation, of effective revelation in that it accomplishes what it says.
A new name is given to Simon, the sign of a new mission. That this name was given is confirmed by Mark (3:16) and Luke (6:14) in their accounts of the choice of the Twelve. John also speaks of it, indicating that Jesus used the Aramaic word Kephas, which in Greek is translated as Petros (Jn 1:42).
We should remember that the Aramaic word Kephas used by Jesus, as well as the Greek word petra which translates it, means " rock". In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave the example of the "wise man who built his house on rock" (Mt 7:24). Now addressing Simon, Jesus declares to him that because of his faith, a gift from God, he has the solidity of rock upon which an unshakeable edifice can be built. Jesus then states his own decision to build on this rock just such a building, i.e., his Church.
In other passages of the New Testament we find similar, although not identical, images. In some texts Jesus himself is not called the "rock" on which something is built, but the "stone" which is used in building: the "cornerstone" which ensures the solidity of the structure. The builder then is not Jesus, but God the Father (cf. Mk 12:10-11; 1 Pt 2: 4-7). Thus the viewpoints are different.
There is yet another perspective expressed by the Apostle Paul when he reminds the Corinthians that "like a wise master builder" he "laid the foundation" of their Church and then indicates that this foundation is "Jesus Christ" (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-11).
Through the diversity of particular viewpoints one can nevertheless notice a basic relationship allowing us to conclude that by giving him a new name, Jesus made Simon Peter a sharer in his own capacity as foundation. Between Christ and Peter there is a foundational relationship rooted in the profound reality where the divine vocation is translated into a specific mission conferred by the Messiah.
4. Jesus goes on to say: "Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18). They are words which attest to Jesus' will to build his Church with an essential reference to the specific mission and power that in due time he will confer on Simon. Jesus describes Simon Peter as the foundation on which the Church will be built. The Christ-Peter relationship is thus reflected in the Peter-Church relationship. It imbues it with value and discloses its theological and spiritual meaning, which is objectively and ecclesially the basis of its juridical significance.
Matthew presents Peter as foundation of the Church
Matthew is the only evangelist who records these words for us, but in this regard it must be remembered that Matthew is also the only one who collected the recollections concerning Peter specifically (cf. Mt 14:28-31), perhaps with reference to the communities for which he wrote his Gospel and in which he wanted to instil the new idea of the "assembly called together" in the name of Christ present in Peter.
On the other hand, the "new name" of Peter given by Jesus to Simon is confirmed by the other evangelists, without any difference in meaning attributed to it than that given by Matthew. Moreover, there is no other meaning it could possibly have.
5. The text of the evangelist Matthew (16:15-18), which presents Peter as the foundation of the Church, has been the subject of many debates, too lengthy to repeat here, and also of denials which do not derive so much from proofs based on the biblical texts and Christian tradition as much as from the difficulty in understanding the mission and power of Peter and his Successors. Without going into detail, here we simply point out that Jesus' words as recorded by Matthew have an unquestionably Semitic tone to them, noticeable even in the Greek and Latin translations; furthermore, they involve an inexplicable innovation precisely in the Jewish cultural and religious context in which the evangelist presents them. In fact, in contemporary Judaism the role of foundation stone was not attributed to any religious leader. Jesus, however, attributes it to Peter. This is the great innovation introduced by Jesus. It could not be the product of human invention, neither in Matthew nor in later authors.
6. We must also point out that the "Rock" of which Jesus speaks is properly the person of Simon. Jesus says to him "You are Kephas". The context of this statement enables us to understand better the sense of that "you-person". After Simon says who Jesus is, Jesus says who Simon is, according to his own plan for building the Church. It is true that Simon is called rock after the profession of faith and that implies a relationship between faith and the role of rock conferred on Simon. However, the role of rock is attributed to the person of Simon, not to an act of his, however noble and pleasing to Jesus. The word rock expresses a permanent, subsisting being; therefore, it applies to the person, rather than to one of his necessarily transitory acts. Jesus' subsequent words confirm this when he says that the gates of the netherworld, i.e., the powers of death, will not prevail "against it". This expression can refer to the Church or to the rock. In any case, according to the logic of the discourse, the Church founded on the rock cannot be destroyed. The Church's permanence is connected with the rock. The Peter-Church relationship in itself reproduces the link between the Church and Christ. Jesus in fact says " my Church". This means that the Church will always be the Church of Christ, the Church which belongs to Christ. She does not become Peter's Church. However, as the Church of Christ she is built on Peter, who is Kephas in the name and by the power of Christ.
7. The evangelist Matthew records another metaphor which Jesus used to explain to Simon Peter, and to the other Apostles, what he wanted to do with him: "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 16:19). Here too we immediately note that, according to biblical tradition, it is the Messiah who possesses the keys of the kingdom. The Book of Revelation, in fact, repeats the expressions of the prophet Isaiah and presents Christ as "the holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open" (Rv 3:7). The text of Isaiah (22:22), which concerns a certain Eliakim, was seen as a prophetic expression of the messianic age when the "key" would not be for opening or closing the house of David (as a building or as a dynasty), but for opening the "kingdom of heaven": this new, transcendent reality proclaimed and ushered in by Jesus.
Jesus, in fact, is the one who, according to the Letter to the Hebrews "entered into the heavenly sanctuary" (cf. 9:24) through his sacrifice: he possesses its keys and opens its gates. Jesus hands these keys over to Peter, who thus receives power over the kingdom, power which he will exercise in Christ's name, as his steward and the head of the Church, the house which gathers together those who believe in Christ, the children of God.
8. Jesus indeed says to Peter: "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" (Mt 16:19). This is another simile used by Jesus to show his will to confer on Simon Peter a universal and complete power guaranteed and authenticated by heavenly approval. This does not mean only the power to formulate points of doctrine or general norms of action: according to Jesus, it is the power of "binding and loosing", that is, of doing whatever is necessary for the life and development of the Church. The opposing terms "binding-loosing" serve to show the totality of the power.
Keys to the gate were entrusted to Peter
It should be immediately added, however, that the aim of this power is to open the entrance to the kingdom, not to close it: "open", that is, to make it possible to enter the kingdom of heaven and not to place obstacles that would be equivalent to "closing" it. This is the proper purpose of the Petrine ministry, rooted in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ who came to save and to be the Gate and Shepherd of all in the communion of the one Fold (cf. Jn 10:7, 11, 16). Through his sacrifice Christ became "the gate for the sheep" the symbol of which was that built by Eliashib, the high priest, who with his priestly brothers worked to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the middle of the fifth century before Christ (cf. Neh 3:1). The Messiah is the true Gate of the New Jerusalem built through his blood shed upon the cross. He entrusted the keys of this Gate to Peter so that he might be the minister of his saving power in the Church.
L'Osservatore Romano December 2, 1992