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Christ builds his Church on Peter

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 25 November 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We have seen that according to the Council's teaching, which is 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." Indeed this episcopal college "gives this apostolic body continued existence, [and] 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. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff" (LG 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 this profession of faith in the region of Caesarea Philippi (cf. 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 asked his apostles a more direct question: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). It is already significant that Simon answered 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. However, Jesus attributed 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 was the beneficiary of an illumination and inspiration from on high that Jesus identified as "revelation." In virtue of this revelation Simon made a profession of faith in the name of the Twelve.

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 I 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 was 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 which Jesus used, as well as the Greek word Petros 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). Addressing Simon, Jesus declared to him that because of his faith, a gift from God, he had the solidity of rock upon which an unshakable edifice could be built. Jesus then stated his own decision to build on this rock just such a building--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 Pet 2:4-7). Thus the viewpoints are different. The Apostle Paul expresses yet another perspective 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 went 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). These words attest to Jesus' will to build his Church with an essential reference to the specific mission and power that in due time he would confer on Simon. Jesus described Simon Peter as the foundation on which the Church would 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 is the only evangelist who records these words for us. But it must be remembered that Matthew is also the only one who collected the recollections concerning Peter specifically (cf. Mt 14:28-31). Perhaps this was with reference to the communities for which he wrote his Gospel and in which he wanted to instill 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 which Jesus gave 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. It is also the subject of denials which do not derive so much from proofs based on the biblical texts and Christian Tradition as much as from 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 unquestionable 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 contemporary Judaism the role of foundation stone was not attributed to any religious leader; however, Jesus attributed 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 spoke is properly the person of Simon. Jesus said to him: "You are Kephas." The context of this statement enables us to understand better the sense of that "you-person." After Simon said who Jesus is, Jesus said 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 said that the gates of the netherworld, 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 said "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 virtue 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, the Messiah possesses the keys of the kingdom. The Book of Revelation 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" (Rev 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 is the one who, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, "entered the heavenly sanctuary" (cf. 9:24) through his sacrifice. He possesses its keys and opens its gates. Jesus handed these keys over to Peter, who thus received 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 said 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 Jesus used 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.

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.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Saluto a un gruppo di vietnamiti 

Ce matin, il y a parmi nous une représentation importante de l’Église catholique qui est au Viêt-Nam. Le groupe de pèlerins vietnamiens est accompagné par deux évêques: Monseigneur François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân, Archevêque coadjuteur de l’archidiocèse de Hôchiminh Ville, et Monseigneur Étienne Nguyên Nhu Thê, qui accomplit son ministère épiscopal dans l’archidiocèse de Huê.

Votre présence, chers Frères et Sœurs du Viêt-Nam, est particulièrement éloquente, du fait même qu’hier nous avons célébré la mémoire liturgique des Martyrs vietnamiens; cent dix-sept martyrs, dont huit évêques, cinquante prêtres, cinquante-neuf laïcs, et parmi eux une femme, Agnès Lê Thi Thành, mère de six enfants. Ces chrétiens ont témoigné de leur fidélité au Christ jusqu’au sacrifice suprême de leur vie, dans la période comprise entre 1745 et 1862. Sur eux, comme sur un fondement solide, l’Église qui est au Viêt-Nam s’est développée. Que leur témoignage et leur intercession soient un encouragement et un soutien pour tous les chrétiens vietnamiens, évêques, prêtres, religieux, religieuses et laïcs, qui s’efforcent de vivre l’Évangile dans la situation sociale de ce pays bien-aimé, ou qui font l’expérience de l’exil et de la séparation en vivant sur tous les continents!

Je suis conscient des difficultés et des sacrifices que les catholiques du Viêt-Nam doivent endurer dans leur vie de tous les jours. À eux et à vous, je veux donner l’assurance de ma proximité par la pensée, par l’affection et par la prière. Votre fidélité au Christ et à la personne du Successeur de Pierre est un motif d’honneur pour toute l’Église et de grande joie pour moi; j’en rends grâce de tout cœur au Seigneur. Que le Dieu de l’espérance vous comble de joie et de paix dans l’Esprit Saint et vous aide à marcher avec confiance sur les chemins que la Providence indique à l’Église dans votre Patrie!

La présence de Monseigneur Thê nous fait souvenir du sanctuaire marial de La-Vang, appartenant à l’archidiocèse de Huê, dans le centre du Viêt-Nam. À la Reine des Martyrs, la Bienheureuse Vierge Marie vénérée dans cette cité depuis bientôt deux cents ans, nous confions l’ensemble de la communauté catholique vietnamienne, afin qu’elle puisse vivre et grandir dans un climat de liberté et de paix, et apporter sa contribution spécifique â l’essor civil et au progrès moral du Pays.

Ecco le parole del Papa in una nostra traduzione in italiano.

Questa mattina, sono presenti fra noi alcuni importanti rappresentanti della Chiesa cattolica in Vietnam. Il gruppo di pellegrini Vietnamiti è accompagnato da due vescovi: Monsignor François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Arcivescovo coadiutore dell’Arcidiocesi di Hochiminh Ville, e Monsignor Etienne Nguyen Nhu The, che svolge il suo ministero episcopale nell’Arcidiocesi di Hue.

La vostra presenza, cari fratelli e sorelle del Vietnam, è particolarmente significativa, dal momento che proprio ieri abbiamo celebrato la memoria liturgica dei Martiri Vietnamiti; centodiciassette martiri, di cui otto vescovi, cinquanta sacerdoti, cinquantanove laici, e tra loro una donna, Agnès Le Thi Thanh, madre di sei figli. Questi cristiani hanno testimoniato la loro fedeltà a Cristo fino al sacrificio supremo della propria vita, nel periodo compreso tra il 1745 e il 1862. Su di essi, come su un fondamento solido, la Chiesa in Vietnam si è sviluppata. Che la loro testimonianza e la loro intercessione siano un incoraggiamento e un sostegno per tutti i cristiani Vietnamiti, vescovi, sacerdoti, religiosi, religiose e laici, che si adoperano per vivere il Vangelo nella situazione sociale di questo amato paese, o che scelgono l’esperienza dell’esilio e della separazione vivendo in tutti i continenti. Sono consapevole delle difficoltà e dei sacrifici che i cattolici del Vietnam devono affrontare nella vita di tutti i giorni. Voglio assicurare a voi e a loro che vi sono vicino col pensiero, con l’affetto e con la preghiera. La vostra fedeltà a Cristo e alla persona del Successore di Pietro è motivo d’onore per tutta la Chiesa e motivo di grande gioia per me. Per questo, rendo grazie al Signore con tutto il cuore. Che il Dio della speranza vi colmi di gioia e di pace nello Spirito Santo e vi aiuti a percorrere con fiducia le vie che la Provvidenza indica alla Chiesa nella vostra Patria!

La presenza di Monsignor The ci fa ricordare il santuario Mariano di La-Vang, che appartiene all’Arcidiocesi di Hue, nel Vietnam centrale. Alla Regina dei Martiri, la Beata Vergine Maria venerata in questa città da ormai duecento anni, noi affidiamo tutta la comunità cattolica Vietnamita, affinché essa possa vivere e crescere in un clima di libertà e di pace e possa portare il suo contributo specifico allo sviluppo civile e al progresso morale del Paese.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Au moment où l’Église s’apprête à entrer dans le temps de l’Avent, je souhaite que leur pèlerinage soit une occasion privilégiée de préparer leur cœur à devenir la demeure du Sauveur. Avec ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the group of Bonzes from Thailand. In welcoming you to the Vatican I express the hope that as the followers of different religious traditions grow in mutual esteem they will contribute to ever greater understanding and cooperation between all the members of the human family. Upon all the Englishspeaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrims from the Philippines and the United States, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini di Sendai, a voi che concludete l’anno liturgico pellegrinando fino al centro della cristianità, auguro di trascorrere la vita pellegrinando verso il Cielo.

E a voi che allietate gli animi con l’armonia degli strumenti musicali auguro che il canto della pace risuoni sempre nella vostra vita. Vi benedico tutti di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Will kommensgrub an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Möge Euer Besuch an den Gräbern der Apostelfürsten Petrus und Paulus auch Euren persönlichen Glauben festigen und neue Kraft verleihen für ein furchtloses Bekenntnis zu Christus und seiner Kirche. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie allen, denen Ihr Euch im Gebet verbunden wibt, von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Doy mi más cordial bienvenida a esta Audiencia a todas las per sonas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, al grupo de sacerdotes capuchinos, a las Religiosas Adoratrices y de la Inmaculada Concepción, así como a las peregrinaciones de México y Argentina.

A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese 

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os caros peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nomeadamente os frades capuchinhos aqui presentes. Faço votos por que as palavras do Sucessor de Pedro, pronunciadas em espírito de humildade e de oração, sirvam de estímulo para renovar a própria fé naquele a quem Cristo Nosso Senhor confiou o ministério da salvação na Sua Igreja. Que Deus abençœ o vosso trabalho, as vossas famílias e vos torne firmes na fé. 

Ai fedeli polacchi 

Następujące grupy: z parafii św. Andrzeja Apostoła w Mąkolnie, Klub Inteligencji Katolickiej z Warszawy, grupa PKP z lokomotywowni w Łazach k. Częstochowy. Grupy turystyczne: “Beskid-Tour” z Bielska-Białej, “Fax-Tour” z Warszawy, “Esperanto-Tour” z Płocka oraz inni obecni na tej audiencji Polacy, zarówno z kraju, jak z emigracji. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana 

Rivolgo ora il mio cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai sacerdoti e fedeli della Parrocchia romana del Corpo e Sangue di Cristo, che ho avuto la gioia di visitare lo scorso anno, proprio in questa data. Grazie per la vostra presenza qui, ed auguri vivissimi, che la missione popolare, recentemente conclusa, continui a portare copiosi frutti per un sempre più impegnativo cammino di perfezione cristiana.

Saluto, inoltre, gli Allievi della Scuola del Genio, Battaglione “Tobruk”, da Roma, e gli Istruttori del Centro Nazionale di Specializzazione e di Perfezionamento tiro della Polizia di Stato, da Nettuno. A tutti voi, carissimi, auguro che l’esperienza che state vivendo contribuisca ad una vostra ulteriore maturazione personale alla luce anche dei perenni valori del messaggio evangelico. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Un pensiero, infine, ai giovani, agli ammalati ed alle coppie di sposi novelli: esso si ispira alla festa di Cristo Re, che abbiamo celebrato domenica, a conclusione dell’anno liturgico. Siate consapevoli, voi giovani, che Cristo vi ha liberati dal potere delle tenebre, per inserirvi nel suo Regno, e fare di voi testimoni credibili della Verità salvifica. Il Cristo, che regna dalla Croce, conforti voi tutti, cari malati, con la certezza che nella sua passione il Signore si è fatto solidale con tutto il dolore umano. Cristo Re sia per voi, giovani sposi, il centro della vostra famiglia, Colui che guida i vostri passi verso l’adempimento pieno della vocazione coniugale. A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

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