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May they be one. (John 17:21): An Overview of the Papacy

Judge not, lest you be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

Everyone (has) the right to worship God in accordance with the dictates of one's own conscience and to profess (one's) religion in private and in public. Pope John XXIII*
(Peter De Rosa, Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy London: Corgi Books, 1988, p. 396).

Index: Source Document 1


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit — the Source, Word, and Nurturer. Amen.

Peace be with you.

The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict offer the People of God a context within which to worship God. The Order calls this context The Benedictine Network, or simply, The Network. Its nature, purpose, and function is to offer the Word and Sacraments to all without question — as Christ is open to all, present to all. We are at the millennium of Christianity. Some would say that what Christianity is today has little, if anything, to do with what Christ taught. The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict want to bring — as many have in the past two thousand years — Christianity back to its root — to Christ.

Vatican II of the Roman Church talked about the church in the modern world. The modern world clearly distinguishes between the extremes of the fundamental conservatives and the free wheeling liberals. The People exist. In our experience, many of The People care less about church politics and are more interested in The Spirit of The Church. They do not understand the Church's institutionalism, much less the supposed need for institutionalization. These folks are not necessarily alienated or disenfranchised. If any label was to fit, perhaps the word contemporary is most apt. Contemporary Catholics. (P. Ariosto Coelho) Therefore, the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict offer the following as a point of departure for the Contemporary Catholic person. Some have said that once we humans appreciate — acknowledge and accept without praise or blame — where we have come from, we can better take responsibility for, envision and chart our future.
Index: Source Doc 1

Part I. The Issue

Sacred Scripture gives authority to The People of God in general and to Peter specifically. In Matthew 16* Christ gives to Peter the power to bind and to loose, using the singular form of the word you. In Matthew 18,*** Christ gives the Church, a plural you, the power to bind and to loose.1 What has occurred on one side (The Roman side) is that the Roman Bishop assumed these powers and absolutized them. The Roman Bishop, through tradition, has subordinated the power of everyone else, specifically other bishops and The People of God, and has nullified scripture. The result today is what some would call abusive power patterns in the institutionalized church.2

This tradition history notes effectively began in 383 CE. Roman Emperor Theodocius made Christianity the state religion. The Christian Church assumed Roman institutions as its administrative code and became institutionalized as Roman Catholicism, echoing the universality of the Roman Empire. One hundred years later, Pope Gelasius (492-496) ruled under the notion of papal primacy as a dominant civil force. The papacy has developed full theoretical justification for clerical dominance. He asserted that religious power dominated civil power, with supreme religious power for himself and his office. He reserved for himself alone the title Pope and made it the norm.3 (Please refer to a brief summary of papal psycho-historical, socio-political activity as an addendum to this article.)

With Gelasius as the historical bench marker patriarchal clericalism in Catholicism ... supplanted the message and mission of Jesus Christ.4 In the USA today (late 20th Century) two sociological expressions of Catholicism are evident. Eugene Kennedy identifies these expressions as Culture I and Culture II Catholics. Culture I Catholics support and protect the patriarchal institution needing its control over them. These Catholics might be termed co-dependent Catholics. They are obsessive and either by choice or temperament, are willing or unwilling (comfortable) with being controlled or in controlling the institutional church.5 If one were to actually love the institutional church as one would an alcoholic parent or abusive spouse, one might simply acknowledge and accept it as it is, let it be — until such a time that it "bottoms out" and on its own begins its own process of recovery. (We are suggesting here, that the institutional church today, given its own inherent nature (i.e., its corporate identity; c.f. Addendum) as it has evolved to today, will probably need to "bottom out" terms of its episcopal body as this is were the problem resides. The Bishops are co-dependent with the papacy as the papacy is co-dependent with them in terms of the power, status, prestige and control they jointly hold over a co-dependent Culture I Catholic body. The Bishops will have to take responsibility and begin a true process of ecclesial recovery — if it is to happen.)

Culture 2 Catholics have moved beyond their co-dependency. They know they are The People of God. They are involved with their lives: their families, their work, their play. They have no particular expectation for the Institutional Church. They are only surprised when its leadership speaks in human rather than institutional terms.6 They do not react to the institutional Church. They respond to and in the Spirit of the Church. They are Contemporary Catholics in a contemporary world of a here and now that is neither ancient nor modern. Perhaps they realize how fleeting and irrelevant these terms are in light of inherent human concerns for the general health and well-being of one's own family and extended family systems.

In sum, Roman authority is malicious as it is human. Humans do seek power, status, and prestige. Some humans and institutions allow themselves to become victims of these basic needs. Roman authority resulted from such ecclesiastical consensus (human nature) and historical reality (environmental nurturing) of the Roman Empire and its own institutions carried forward in the guise of the Roman Church.7 The Roman Church is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. A rose is a rose. A daffodil, a daffodil. It is what is.
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Part II. The Origins

Christ established the Church. He commissioned the Apostles to carry his message forward. The Apostles governed the whole Church while today's bishops govern single local churches or communities. Grace being what grace is, the life of God Present, each local church has the same fullness of grace — all of them are the Church in its totality.8 The privilege of The Twelve is that Christ called them directly. Yet their office is not one of privilege, but one of service. 9 The Apostles held equal authority and power, there being no degrees of power in the Apostolic College.

There were degrees of intimacy or degrees of love.10 Only in the case of Judas's apostasy did the Apostolic College choose a replacement. That number — Twelve — no one could reduce or increase. When James, bother of John died (Acts 12:1), the Apostolic College made no replacement.11

Finally, we must recall that the Apostles were not members of the early churches. They jointly acted in the name of Jerusalem. Through them the Holy Spirit flowed to the new churches born in the grace of the Spirit — not the Apostles.12 The Churches were one in The Spirit.
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Part III. Peter

Christ called Peter and Andrew together as his first apostles (Mark 3:16). John lists Andrew as the first with Andrew acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. Andrew then introduces Simon to Jesus (John 1:39-40). Luke in Acts clearly outlines Peter's dependence on The Twelve and on the Church of Jerusalem.13 In what sense does Peter have primacy?

Clearly during Christ's ministry Peter leads The Twelve. The texts clearly indicate he is not above the other Apostles. He is equal to and with them as Christ demonstrated by washing their feet. Peter — including his shortcomings — is the leading disciple. He is never a super apostle.14

As co-equal leader, Peter is a judge with The Twelve in the first Jerusalem community (Acts 5). He presides with The Twelve in the organization and the administration of the Jerusalem community's possessions (Acts 2:42; 4:36; 6:1) He is responsible to speak for the Jerusalem community before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4 7 5). He is the spokesperson for the disciples (Mark 10:28). In the unrepeatable Pentecost Church, Peter stands first among the twelve. He is also the first to confess Jesus as the Christ (Mark 8:27-30).15

Matthew 16:17-18* appears only in Matthew's gospel. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox scholars agree that this verse belongs in the post resurrection period. 16 John Chrysostom, Augustine, Theophanes Keraneus (12th C.), and Callistus (Patriarch of Constantinople - 14th C.) each agree that Jesus founded the Church on Peter because Peter expressed his faith in Christ's divinity. Hence, those who believe in Christ's divinity receive the keys of the kingdom and become Peter's successors. Hence, all believers are Peter's successors.17

Peter's confession refers to Peter's faith as well as to him personally. Peter is the rock by faith and personality.18 Cyprian affirms that on the basis of Matthew 16:18-19, you refers not just to Peter but to the episcopal body as well: all are equal. 19 The early church simultaneously held that Christ built the church on the human Peter and the Rock, Peter's confession.20

Pope Callistus in his edict of indulgences (ca 200) was the first Bishop of Rome to use Matthew 16:18. For many centuries this verse played little in the Bishop of Rome's power seeking.21 In short, Matthew 16:17-19** referred to every disciple who confesses as Peter confessed. 22 ... That all may be one ...

In Matthew 18:18***, we find that the power Christ gave to Peter is the same as that he gave the other apostles.23 Given the language of Christ's day, to feed means to nurture; to tend, to protect, govern, lead, and care for. As we find in John 21:15-17, Christ was simply commenting that Peter had restored his relationship with Christ. In no way is there an implication of "primacy" or "superiority" over the Christian community.24

As far as Peter's power as Bishop of Rome, the literature (Scripture) shows clearly that Peter did not have a permanent residence at Rome. Everything leads us to think that Peter's ministry was peripatetic. He continuously visited churches to which he did not belong.25 If anything, we find in Acts that Peter was the head of the Jerusalem Church, the first of yet to be many local churches. James later became head of the Jerusalem Church.26

Cyprian of Carthage concludes that the see of Peter is present in every local church (Deunitate Ecclesiae).27 From the perspective of the New Testament, there CANNOT be a successor to any of the Apostles, including Peter. What Christ gave to Peter personally cannot transfer to anyone else. The primitive church had no one leader who held primacy and no one church held primacy over the other churches.28
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Part IV. Primacy of Peter and Rome

Roman primacy is politically based — on the fact that Rome was the seat of the empire. The 28th Canon of Chalcedon points out that the  Roman See only defended the Church's interests before a pagan imperial administration.29 It was this same pagan imperial administration that the Roman See was later to mimic when it became the State Religion under Theodocius II in 383 CE.

Ontologically, the question of primacy centers on universalism. On side there may be universalism in the institutional center, as a Pope. On the other, there may be universalism of faith and grace, as Christ. God's grace is present equally in Christ's Church (where two or three are gathered together, there I am I the midst of you. Matt. 18:20) Hence, God's church exists in each church fully, sacramentally and individually.30 It is this ontological identity of faith and grace — of Christ — that establishes the connection between Churches making them the Church Universal.31

..If universal unity is indeed unity of the Church and not merely unity of churches, its essence is not that all churches together constitutes one vast, unique organism, but that each church — in the identity of order, faith, and gifts of the Holy Spirit — is the SAME church, the same body of Christ indivisibly.32

The union of the early local churches was sui generis. Each local church contained in itself all the local churches because it possessed all the followers of the church of God, and all, local churches together were united, because they were always the same Church of God.33 No one church has the ability or right to make the one and indivisible gift "her own, private gift."34
Index: Source Doc 1

Part V. Primacy of Christ

Thus each Church is united IN rather than WITH every other Church. The unity of Christ is the unity of the church. The Apostle John refers (Rev. 1:12) metaphorically to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Each one of them is the church universal in all its followers35 united as they are in Christ. No human being but Christ is the unifying center of the Church of God. Hence, each of the primitive churches held autonomy and independence. They held autonomy and independence in that each church was the Church of God in its followers.36 They are autonomous and independent because Christ in his infinity indwells in each in perfect fullness.37

The indivisible Body of Christ is the Church of God. Being individual, Christ is wholly and individually present in each Church. Christ's presence manifests in the inherent unity of the People of God, the Body of Christ. Hence, the Church is the visible unity of the People of God, the bishop, and the Eucharist.38
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Part VI. Summation: May they be one.

In summary, each Church is the Catholic Church, not as a part, but in itself the universal church. Ignatius wrote, Where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Thus, the Church in it wholeness, its fullness, is present in each limited locality or jurisdiction.39

No one Church has priority over another. They are co-equal and co-extensive. Being universal Love, each Church exists not in competition with another, but in a concordance of love and mutual assistance.40 Hence, a grave error occurred when one particular church put itself over all the others.41 We can refer to St. Paul 1st Corinthians if we are confused by what Love is and how local churches might demonstrate their universal love for each other. Love is the foundation of the Church. Love underlies all relations with other Churches. The Churches themselves are living examples of Love's authority.42

The indivisible unity of the church, the Eucharist, and the Bishop is the power in the church. The power of the church-a ministry, as are all church ministries — is a charism, a gift of grace. God bestows this power to the church through the Sacrament of Orders, held in the Bishop-Priest-Deacon. 43 No bishop holds supreme power over the church for this would mean that the bishop held power over Christ himself.44 Likewise, no other bishop can have power over another bishop or his jurisdiction. If power belongs to the church as one of is constituent elements, it must correspond to the nature of the church and not be heterogeneous to it.45

Primacy, as Symeon of Thesslonica taught, exists in the college of bishops itself, just as it existed in the Apostolic college. This primacy implies Catholic unity in the truth.46 The truth is Christ: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6) Christ, the Truth, spoke much, told many stories, and gave only two commandments: Love God and Love neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). Thus, primacy is the primacy of Christ, exemplified by the People of God, whom the bishops teach, preach to, and sanctify following witness of the apostles in the power of Orders and Jurisdiction.

Thus, in place of a universal ecclesiology, do we now return from whence we came — to a Eucharistic ecclesiology, the only one known in the early church.47

Universal Power of Love and Authority we can now replace by the Universal Power of Love and Compassion, the Law of Christ. Paul teaches we are the Body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:27) When we celebrate the Eucharist we, who are many, become one body partaking in one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17). We become one in Christ.48

Through the Eucharist manifests the church's catholicity. The Eucharist is the Church. The Apostolic Church as a whole succeeds to the apostolic privileges in Christ.49 The Church is the People of God united in a Bishop. Through the Bishop rooted in Christ as priest, pastor, and teacher is the Eucharist. So simple is the ecclesiology of the early church.50 A government as a matter of law and right recedes to a government as founded on grace.51

May they all be one. (Jn. 17:21)
Index: Source Doc 1


When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijaj, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But you," he said, "who do you say I am?" Then Simon Peter spoke up, "You are the Christ," he said, "the Son of the living God."

*Jesus replied, "Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it."* (Matt. 16: 17- 18)

**"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you lose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven."** (Matt. 16: 19)

If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

***I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.***(Matthew 18: 15-18)

  1. Veselin Kesich, "Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition" in The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff (Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992), p. 51.
  2. Michael H Crosby, The Dysfunctional Church: Addiction and Codependency in the Family of Catholicism (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1991) p. 50.
  3. Crosby, p. 69.
  4. Crosby, p. 81.
  5. Crosby, p. 178.
  6. Crosby, p. 178f.
  7. John Meyendorff, "St. Peter in Byzantine Theology" in The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed John Meyendorff (Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992) p. 69.
  8. Meyendorff, p. 80.
  9. Kesich, p. 54.
  10. Kesich, p. 55.
  11. Kesich, p. 55.
  12. Nicholas Koulomzine, "Peter's Place in the Primitive Church"in The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff (Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992) p. 17.
  13. Kesich, p. 41.
  14. Kesich, p. 50.
  15. Koulomzine, p. 13.
  16. Kesich, p. 44.
  17. Meyendorff, p. 70.
  18. Kesich, p. 48.
  19. Kesich, p. 63.
  20. Kesich, p. 65.
  21. Kesich, p. 61.
  22. Kesich, p. 64.
  23. Kesich, p. 52.
  24. Kesich, p. 43.
  25. Koulomzine, p. 23.
  26. Nicholas Afanassieff, "The Church Which Presides in Love" in The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff (Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992) p. 118.
  27. Meyendorff, p. 70.
  28. Kesich, p. 57.
  29. Meyendorff, p. 82.
  30. Meyendorff, p. 82.
  31. Alexander Schmemann, "The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology" in The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff (Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992) p. 115.
  32. Schmemann, p. 155.
  33. Afanassieff, p. 111.
  34. Schmemann, p. 155.
  35. Kesich, p. 49.
  36. Afanassieff, p. 107.
  37. Afanassieff, p. 109.
  38. Schmemann, p. 155.
  39. Kesich, p. 48.
  40. Afanassieff, p. 113.
  41. Afanassieff, p. 114.
  42. Afanassieff, p. 127.
  43. Schmemann, p. 148.
  44. Schmemann, p. 154f.
  45. Schmemann, p. 147f.
  46. Meyendorff, p. 87.
  47. Afanassieff, p. 140f.
  48. Afanassieff, p. 108
  49. Schmemann, p. 154.
  50. Kesich, p. 57.
  51. Schmemann, p. 153.
  52. Afanassieff, p. 141
Index: Source Doc 1


Afanassieff, Nicholas, "The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology." In The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff. Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992, pp. 145-172.

Crosby, Michael H. The Dysfunctional Church: Addiction and Codependency in the Family of Catholicism. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1991.

De Rosa, Peter. Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy. London: Corgi Books, 1988.

Kesich, Veselin, "Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Tradition." In The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff. Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992, pp. 35-66.

Koulomzine, Nicholas, "Peter's Place in the Primitive Church" in The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff. Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992, pp. 11-34.

Meyendorff, John, "St. Peter in Byzantine Theology." In The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, ed. John Meyendorff. Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992, pp. 67-90.

Schmemann, Alexander, "The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology." In The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early  Church, ed. John Meyendorff. Cestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1992, pp. 145-172.

Index: Source Doc 1

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