Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Upon This Rock

This is a followup to Monday's article on the important "upon this rock I will found my Church" declaration by Jesus in Matthew's gospel. The Bear wanted to connect the dots from an apologetics perspective. "Apologetics" means defending the Catholic faith. Catholics should know this, because it refers to the beginning of our Church and the papacy. Fortunately, it is not a hard argument to follow.

Upon This Rock

So simple, even a Bear
can understand it.
Simon was chief among the twelve apostles. It was Simon who first professed Jesus to be "the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)

You can almost hear the delight in Jesus' voice when He responds. "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (vv. 17, 18.)

When God renames someone, it inaugurates a change in the person's life. Tricky little Jacob, in fretful sleep before meeting his estranged brother, Esau, wrestled with an angel. He was renamed "Israel" after the encounter. Jesus does not rename Simon just to make a clever pun, but to mark a major occasion. From now on Simon would be known as Peter. But what new role did God have in mind for Peter?

St. Pebbles?

Peter means "rock" in Greek. Protestants try to distinguish petros -- small stone -- which becomes Peter's name, from petra -- large rock -- for the rock of foundation. So, they argue, Peter is really more like "Pebbles," and could not be identified with the massive rock of the Church's foundation. That has to be something else, such as Peter's faith in Jesus as the Christ, not Peter himself.

There are problems with this interpretation, however. One is that there is no evidence in the Koine Greek of New Testament times for a distinction between petros - little rock and petra - big rock. So why Petros vs. petra? Well, it would hardly do to give a man a name with a feminine ending, would it? It would be like referring to George Clooney as an "actress."

But even more to the point is that Jesus never spoke the words in Greek! In Aramaic the word in both instances is kepha. So it goes, in Aramaic, "you are kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my church." So, in the memorable Aramaic words of Our Lord, there is only one word for "rock" used both for Peter's name, and for the foundation of the Church.

Peter the Foundation?

Protestants sometimes prefer a strained interpretation to counter a Catholic truth than accept the most natural and sensible interpretation. If Jesus is not founding his Church on the person of Peter what is he using as the foundation? Protestants will usually say it is what Peter said, his expression of faith. That is why it was so surprising to hear that Protestant argument from the Pope. 

The problem is, there is no need to rename Simon if it was only his faith, not his person. Jesus would have said -- if he had wished to avoid confusion -- something like this: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, your faith is the rock on which I will build my church. 

Of course, without the name change, there is no need for any mention of "rock" at all. Better would have been: this is the foundation upon which I will build my Church. If Catholics are wrong, Jesus merely confused things by talking about rocks and changing Simon's name. (Sort of like the Eucharistic Discourse in John, but that's another topic.)

But Catholics are not wrong, and the passage makes sense only when understood as Catholics have always understood it. 

The Keys to the Kingdom

And keep in mind Jesus was not finished. Without missing a beat, Jesus goes on to give the newly renamed Peter some pretty amazing authority. "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.” (v.19.)


Keep the context in mind. If Peter wasn't so special -- as the Protestants claim -- why does Jesus immediately grant him the power of the keys? This passage is all about Peter. Peter is the rock of foundation.

This grant of the keys to Peter is unique. Now, Jesus knew that the Church would extend into the distant future. Are we to imagine that this power would only need to be exercised until Peter's martyrdom in 64 A.D.? Clearly Christ was doing exactly what he said: founding a Church on the person of His chief apostle, and establishing the authority for continuing governance. 

Doesn't it feel good to know you're in the Church?

This is the message that should be sent out. If you are not in the Church, you have chosen a self-imposed exile in a howling wilderness of error. Christ established the Catholic Church as a visible feature of history with well-defined boundaries. That's what so many seem to be uncomfortable with. A real Church, with a mission, a history, and hard edges. It's the Church Militant, not the Church Imaginary. 

Apologetics remind us of the facts behind our Faith. We should be able to correct sloppiness, no matter where it comes from.


Generally, Beginning Apologetics 1, pp. 16-20, Fr. Frank Chacom and Jim Burnham (2010). NOTE: the Bear has the entire set, which does a good job of setting forth the arguments supporting Catholic doctrines which are most often disputed.

Scripture quotes are from the New American Bible. (2011). (Revised Edition., Mt 16:13–19). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


  1. Hello, Bear!

    I don't know where you get your energy from!

    >>Christ established the Catholic Church as a visible feature of history with well-defined boundaries<<<

    Yes! That is it! Anyone who has read the Gospels even once can answer the question .....
    ."Did our Lord devote more energy and time into:

    a) writing a Holy Book?
    b) forming a human Organization?"

    maybe a better question is....
    "Did Our Lord intend, after His Ascent, that the world should have a RELIABLE and IDENTIFIABLE human teaching Organization? or did He not want that for us?

    Certainly all of us know the relief we have when an actual human answers a help line--say when some new gadget, like a new printer-- refuses to link-up to do what its supposed to do! Aren't we glad to have a human teacher to show us how instead of getting an automated message which basically says 'read the instructions'?

    1. St. Corbinian's Bear employs a team of 20 low-paid writers in China.

      Not really. That must be why I'm so tired all the time! LOL

  2. regardless of how you do it, you are a bright light for me in the gloom!

    Pope Frank has definitely knocked the wind out of me. I just don't have the energy anymore. I feel bad for those who visit my blog.... those same people in places like Nottingham, England and Lazio,Rome who keep coming back even though I haven't posted in months ( keeps me apprised). I'm letting them down. If I had your strength I could give them hope.

    1. I think having an ursine alter ego helps. I hope you rediscover whatever made you want to be a blogger in the first place. Don't let Pope Francis get you down. Heck, he's the best thing that happened to Catholic bloggers! Or, better, pretend he doesn't exist and blog about whatever it was you blogged about before. Good luck!

  3. Thank you! This is the best presentation I have read on the subject. As a former Evangelical I've had this discussion several times with old friends

    1. You're welcome! The enemies of the faith recycle the same old arguments. But they're bad arguments, and can be easily countered with a little study. Peter is the Rock, pure and simple. Any other interpretation is not Catholic, and not correct.

    2. Oh, I've studied it. So I knew the argument about the Aramaic word kepha, for example. But I'd never seen this: "The problem is, there is no need to rename Simon if it was only his faith, not his person." That resonated with me - and by God's grace may do so with others.


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