*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 18th of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today begins a special octave in the church- that is, a period of 8 days surrounding a feast designed to draw special attention to various aspects of that feast. As the church has grown and calendars have changed, and traditions have blended, today begins an octave that works kind of like a barbell- a feast on either side of this octave- and the days in between have been designated as a week of prayer for Christian Unity. At the end of this octave, the church has celebrated the conversion of St. Paul, and the beginning of the octave begins on this, the 18th of January, with the feast of the Confession of St. Peter.
So much going on- I love that you have the Western Catholic church with its “Petrine” influence meeting the Western Protestant Church with its Pauline influence, and the two are connected with a week of prayer for unity. Why a week of prayer for unity? Well, you know… lots of disunities. Let’s take a look at the confession of Peter and the various dust-ups it has caused in the history of Christian theology.
The confession of Peter- that is, his answer to Jesus’ question “whom do you say that I am?” Comes to us in all 3 of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In Mark 8 and Luke 9, Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus tells his disciples to keep this quiet for the time being. It is in Matthew 16 that we read Peter making his confession and then Jesus responding: Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my father in heaven- and I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church….”
So much going on here- first, this is the only place in the Gospels that the word “Ecclesia” or “church” is used. In John 1, we read of Jesus renaming Simon as Peter with no confession.
But let’s hone in on Matthew 16- the historical question for the church has been, “what did Jesus mean by on this rock?”
Some of the earliest church fathers understood this text as Jesus using wordplay to make a point and evade literal interpretations. Think of Jesus telling his disciples that they were fishermen who would now fish for people… how “literally” should we take this?
Some church fathers believed that Peter represents every Christian in this text. What Peter has done- confess that Jesus is the Messiah- will become the foundation for all Christians who will do the same. St. Augustine had a typically Christological interpretation; he claimed that “the Rock” was not Peter but Christ himself. Others have argued that the “rock” was the confession of Peter- emphasis on the confession and not Peter.
In the first centuries of the church, many theologians tried to understand the place of Peter amongst the apostles. In the 5th century, the idea began to percolate that Peter was preeminent in the West. Thus his bishopric- which was given as Rome according to tradition- was the preeminent See (or jurisdiction).
In the East, the confession of St. Peter is seen as indicative of the whole church, not just Rome. In this interpretation, the church is given the gift- Peter is seen as representative of all apostles.
At the time of the Reformation, several new commentators began to question the interpretation of Matthew 16 and the use of Jesus’ precise words. Jesus says- in the text- that you (Simon) are now Petros, and on this Petra, I will build my church. Aha!
In the 16th century, many Catholic apologists began to argue for their position from Scripture- Cardinal Cajetan and Robert Bellarmine, among others, knew that to be taken seriously by Protestants, they needed to make exegetical arguments. And if Jesus spoke Aramaic (as we believe he did), he would have said, “you, Simon are now Kepha, and on this Kepha I will build my church.” Same word, but also not the word used by the Gospel writers.
In the spirit of Christian unity, as we enter this Octave that includes a prayer for Christian unity, we can see that “the Rock” is Peter and the church and the confession of faith. Of course, to go back to St. Augustine, when we hear “rock” in Scripture, our mind goes to the author and finisher of our faith- the one who has made it sure and the one who asked, “who do you say that I am?”
The last word for today comes from Matthew 16:
13 Now, when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Rocks include Dwayne Johnson, Pet, and Pop. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who can’t believe that Dak just ran up the middle with no timeouts. Wow. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.