Historical Supplement I - St. Chrysostom and “Upon This Rock”
By Matthew J. Bellisario 2010
Before I move on to the next part of this series, I wanted to further examine Matthew 16:18, which is the foundational text often looked upon to support the Catholic teaching of the papacy. As I have shown in the last part, there is no question as to how this passage fits in with the general view of St Peter throughout the New Testament regarding St. Peter’s leadership. We saw how St. Chrysostom viewed the passage in regards to Peter’s special position among the apostles. But I wanted to supplement the earlier post by taking a closer look at how St. John Chrysostom viewed the passage in more detail. Since for the sake of brevity I quoted only a small portion of his commentary and I wanted to go back and take a closer look, since many Protestants often quote an earlier part of the commentary as somehow being an “Ace in the hole” in refuting the Catholic claim to the rock referring to Peter. St. Chrysostom mentions Peter’s faith in an earlier part of the commentary, and taken in isolation it may seem as if the great Saint is taking a contrary position to the Catholic meaning.
It must be noted that there can be many levels of meaning in regards to Sacred Scripture, and the Fathers often had more than one interpretation, and they often had very in depth explantations of Scripture passages such as this one. Since I used Saint Chrysostom in the prior part, I wanted to give you an example of how he viewed the passage in totality, or at least as much as he gave us in reference to this particular passage. I would recommend that you site down and read through his entire commentary instead of taking my word for it. I mentioned prior that St. Chrysostom did not view this profession of Peter to mean that it was only a profession based on St. Peter’s faith alone, but that it was on St. Peter himself as well, and it is a fact that St. Chrysostom viewed Peter as being given a special authority among the apostles by this passage. We read earlier in his commentary on Matthew 16:18, “And I say unto you, You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;” that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd.” This commentary is significant, because St. Chrysostom here does not separate Peter’s faith from his person as being appointed the shepherd among the apostles. So yes, Jesus was referring to Peter’s faith, but not only Peter’s faith, for he further ties Peter to being made a shepherd by Jesus to this passage as well. He continues on to explain further how Christ first gives Peter alone the ultimate authority to bind and to loose, that which would be extended to the other apostles later. “Do you see how He, His own self, leads Peter on to high thoughts of Him, and reveals Himself, and implies that He is Son of God by these two promises? For those things which are peculiar to God alone, (both to absolve sins, and to make the church in capable of overthrow in such assailing waves, and to exhibit a man that is a fisher more solid than any rock, while all the world is at war with him), these He promises Himself to give; as the Father , speaking to Jeremiah, said, He would make him as “a brazen pillar, and as a wall;” Jeremiah 1:18 but him to one nation only, this man in every part of the world.”
It is worth stopping at this point to note the typology or prefigurement St. Chrysostom sees between the authority and the guidance given to Jeremiah in the Old Testament, to that which was later given to St. Peter, except in an even higher manner. It is a special authority given only by God Himself. I think it is worth pulling from Jeremiah chapter 1 a bit further to communicate the type of authority that St. Chrysostom is comparing to Peter from that being quoted from in Jeremiah. I quote here from verses 16-19. “And I will pronounce my judgements against them, touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have sacrificed to strange gods, and have adored the work of their own hands. Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak to them all that I command thee. Be not afraid at their presence: for I will make thee not to fear their countenance. For behold I have made thee this day a fortified city, and a pillar of iron, and a wall of brass, over all the land, to the kings of Juda, to the princes thereof, and to the priests, and to the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee, and shall not prevail: for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.” There can be no question as to the authority that Christ is conferring upon Peter as Peter being the foundation of the Church in this passage of Matthew, according to St. Chysostom’s interpretation. By the mere fact that St. Chrysostom compares these two passages has significant value in how the passage of Matthew should be interpreted correctly. There is no doubt that St. Chrysostom views Peter as being given a unique authority and mission from Jesus. He also confirms that Peter’s faith as well a Peter himself is what the Church would be built upon, and he solidifies this by comparing this passage with that of Jeremiah where Jeremiah is given the task to the fortifies city which would not be prevailed against, which is directly compared to Pater and the Church which Jesus builds upon him, which hell would not prevail against.
I find it quite disgusting that Protestant apologists like James White, who frequently cite the earlier passage of St. Chrysostom as somehow being contradictory to the Catholic Church’s claims of papal authority, completely ignore the entire context of which St. Chysostom is speaking. They see that St. Chrysostom talks about Peter’s faith, and then they stop at that point claiming there is some contradiction to the claims of the Catholic Church without ever looking to see what the great Saint further explains in relation to Peter and the authority given to him by Christ. Now we continue on with St. Chrysostoms’s commentary which I posted on the prior part to see how it all ties together. “I would fain inquire then of those who desire to lessen the dignity of the Son, which manner of gifts were greater, those which the Father gave to Peter, or those which the Son gave him? For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to a mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys; who extended the church to every part of the world, and declared it to be stronger than heaven.” Again we see there is no doubt that Peter, the mortal man in which Chrysostom names here has been entrusted with the authority over all things in Heaven, and extending to the entire Church in every part of the world. This should give you pause to stop and think the next time you see a Protestant try and use this text against the claims of the Catholic Church.