Peter: First among equals? An Eastern Catholic Perspective.


I would like to make it known that as a Catholic, I accept absolutely 100% of what Holy Mother Church upholds to. To quote Saint Theresa of Avila: “If, perchance, I say anything which does not exactly agree with what the Holy Catholic Church holds, it will be through ignorance, and not in malice.” (Interior Castle, Preface pg. 24)

With that in mind, I am willing to be corrected for any errors in which I may uphold to, for as a laymen in whom does not have any background in theological explanation nor canon law, my words are open to inaccurate conclusions. I acknowledge that as a laymen, my words are only fallible since I am not the magisterium of the Church nor am I the Roman Pontiff speaking via Ex Cathedra.

If I, through my own fault, mislead any of my readers, my sincerest apologies since it is not my intention. My only intention, as an Eastern Catholic, is to reconcile Eastern Christian thought in the context of what the Holy Catholic Church has always upheld to since the beginning of time.

To begin, if you have ever engaged in a dialogue with an Eastern Catholic; you may have heard that we uphold the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Saint Peter, to be First among equals. Being that this is an expression also used by our dear brethren in schism with the Church, such as the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, it can cause controversy being that they have a different understanding of the role of Peter within the Church than we do as Catholics.

To distinguish the differences between what we as Catholics uphold to in contrast to what our brethren in the Eastern schism believe, we as Catholics believe that the Roman Pontiff, being that he is the successor of Peter, has absolute authority over the other bishops considering that this was the role given to him by our Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 16:17-19 “Thou art Peter [Cepha, transliterated also Kipha] and upon this rock [Cepha] I will build my Church.” The churches in schism, on the other hand, believe that all the bishops and patriarchs are equal in authority over the church.

Considering that Peter was given this Primacy of Honor over the entire Church to be the mouth of the rest of the apostles, it explains why we as Catholics uphold this doctrine given that this was the faith of the early church. For instance:

“He saith to him, “Feed my sheep”. Why does He pass over the others and speak of the sheep to Peter? He was the chosen one of the Apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the head of the choir. For this reason Paul went up to see him rather than the others.

And also to show him that he must have confidence now that his denial had been purged away. He entrusts him with the rule [prostasia] over the brethren. . . . If anyone should say “Why then was it James who received the See of Jerusalem?”, I should reply that He made Peter the teacher not of that see but of the whole world. [St. John Chrysostom, Homily 88 on John, 1. ]

To quote what Holy Mother Church herself teaches:
“880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.”398Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another.

The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.400 “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.”401 This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”402 “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”403 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Lumen Gentium 22: “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church.

And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.”

So what does it mean that the Pope is the “first among equals” in Eastern Catholic circles? From a Eastern Catholic perspective, the Pope is the “first among equals” in the context that he is a bishop just like all of the other bishops. Sacramentally, he was ordained a bishop just like any other bishop, making them equal in the sense that as a bishop, (again, not as the Pope), the pope has no more power than any other bishop since all bishops are equal in power.

“This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: “My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honor, when it is denied to none of those to whom honor is due.” (Vatican 1, Chapter 3 of Session 4)

However, as the very successor of Peter, he enjoys more authority than the other bishops of the Church. If you live in a state with lots of Roman Catholics, chances are you will probably have an archdiocese and several dioceses. The archbishop holds no additional power than the other bishops because they are all equally bishops. By virtue of his position of archbishop, however, he commands more authority in the Church. Thus, all bishops are of equal rank. But Peter is the eldest and the first because of the virtue of his office given by Christ Himself.

“To him, in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church. All this is to be found in the acts of the ecumenical councils and the sacred canons.Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate.

Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world. In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation.” (Vatican 1)

Thus, Peter is the leader of the disciples. “That Christ singles out Simon Peter has a twofold significance: (1) Peter was the leader among the disciples, and thus had to be the first to confess his love for the risen Lord.” (Orthodox Study Bible of Saint Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Footnote for John 21: 15-17)

Words from the Eastern Church Fathers:

” In the power of the same Holy Spirit, Peter, also the foremost of the Apostles and the key-bearer of the Kingdom of Heaven, healed Aeneas the paralytic in the name of Christ. (Patriarch St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 363 AD, Catech. xviii. n. 27)

“Peter, the Leader of the choir of Apostles, the Mouth of the disciples, the Pillar of the Church, the Buttress of the faith, the Foundation of the confession, the Fisherman of the universe. (St. John Chrysostom, T. iii Hom).

St. Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (434), A disciple of St. John Chrysostom

“Peter, the coryphaeus of the disciples, and the one set over (or chief of) the Apostles. Art not thou he that didst say, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’? Thou Bar-Jonas (son of the dove) hast thou seen so many miracles, and art thou still but Simon (a hearer)? He appointed thee the key-bearer of Heaven, and has though not yet layed aside thy fisherman’s clothing?” (Proclus, Or. viii In Dom. Transfig. t. ix. Galland)
A disciple of St. John Chrysostom

Peter, Head of the choir of Apostles. (Nilus, Lib. ii Epistl.)

Peter, who was foremost in the choir of Apostles and always ruled amongst them. (Nilus, Tract. ad. Magnam.)
Macedonius, Patriarch of Constantinople (466-516)

Macedonius declared, when desired by the Emperor Anastasius to condemn the Council of Chalcedon, that ‘such a step without an Ecumenical Synod presided over by the Pope of Rome is impossible.’ (Macedonius, Patr. Graec. 108: 360a (Theophan. Chronogr. pp. 234-346 seq.)




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