Rock Solid

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said: “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is of course, quite a different thing.”

The same applies all over the world. If Catholics believed what they are condemned for believing, they might deserve to be written off. In truth, few Catholics know little of authentic Catholic belief, and the opponents even less.

Catholicism is Christianity. Protestants argue that they found the ship covered with barnacles and gave it a good scrubbing between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, revealing the original and authentic Christian faith. Wycliffe, Tyndale, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the rest believed themselves to have restored the Church to its Biblical, first-century form: no papacy, no Vatican, no saints and feast days, no veneration of the Virgin Mary, a reliance on the Bible alone, and a conviction that men and women are saved by faith alone.

There is no room here for an account of the Protestant Reformation, the rise of nationalism, the advent of the printing press, the emergence of capitalism, or a discussion of what Martin Luther in particular really wanted, but we can say with confidence that there are problems inherent to the Protestant approach. If the Bible is the only guide to salvation and life, why are there tens of thousands of competing Protestant denominations? And why are they mutually exclusive? Some argue for the baptism of babies, others for the baptism of adults; some ordain women, others don’t; some allow the consumption of alcohol; others don’t; some believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ, others that it is partly His body, others that it is deeply symbolic, others still that it is merely a gesture.

Some Protestant churches believe that only a specific early seventeenth-century translation of the Bible is acceptable, others think they’re wrong. Some allow divorce and even homosexuality, others not. And so on. Yet all claim the Bible as their inerrant, infallible guide.

But Scripture alone can’t solve these problems.

The ecclesial sense of life in Christ is the fundamental point of difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. To put it bluntly, knowledge of Jesus is available to all people, but only Christians in communion with the Church really know Christ. To live in Christ is to live in a Church, to live in THE Church, because that’s how Christ gives Himself to us.

  Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter (Pietro Perugino, c. 1481)

Jesus might be one’s personal Lord and Savior, but in Protestant perspective he often looks suspiciously like one’s own self. Catholics, of course, believe the Bible is the word of God, but also that Jesus left us a teaching office, the Magisterium. The pope and the teaching authority of the Church guard the truth of the Bible through the ages. Interpretation is not left to individuals but to those given the authority and the ability to interpret by Jesus Christ while He was on earth present here among us. 

In the New Testament the names Simon, Peter, or Cephas are mentioned almost 200 times, while the names of all of the other apostles combined fewer than 140. Peter is mentioned first in the list of apostles by Matthew, “to single him out as the most prominent one of the twelve.” Paul spent fifteen days with Peter as a preparation for his own journeys of conversion.

But the most important event for the Big Fisherman, and for us, was when Christ took him and the other apostles on a journey to, well, change his name.

The place chosen is known in modern Israel as Banias (in the Bible, Caesarea Philippi), and was remote, out of the way, and also supremely pertinent and important. It’s beautiful, with a natural forest, a waterfall, and luscious rock formations. It was also considered one of the religious wonders of the ancient world and a pilgrimage site for ancient pagans.

It had been used for animal and perhaps human sacrifice. Herod built a temple to Caesar Augustus on top of the huge rock that still dominates the area. At the base of the rock was a deep, dark hole considered to be bottomless and known as the “gates of hell.” It was before the pagan temple, before the gates of hell, before the place of sacrifice and ignorance that Christ, speaking in Aramaic, gives Simon the name Kepha or Rock (Petra in Greek) and in English; Peter.

The exchange is deeply moving. Jesus asks who people say He is. All sorts of ideas are circulating: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet – all very flattering but entirely wrong. Jesus is the Messiah, but none of them say this because, while they love and revere Him, they do not understand that the Messiah promised by God in the Old Testament is this man they can see and hear. Christ turns to Simon Peter: But what about you. Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter has heard all of the arguments, listened to the legalistic objections, and the explanations even from followers as to why He cannot be the chosen one: You are the Anointed One. You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the Living God! Then, from Jesus, You are greatly blessed, Simon, Jonah’s son, for this was not revealed to you through human means. This was revealed to you personally by my Father in heaven.

Jesus continues, And so I now tell you that you are the Rock. On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it! And then, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And it’s still going on.

  • Heresy - Thursday, May 17, 2012