Pope Peter
Monday of Epiphany 2
15 January 2018
Peter was the first pope, right? Well, not quite. Historically speaking, the papacy didn't arise in a recognizable form until the time of Gregory VII in the eleventh century. The view of Peter as the first pope is an anachronism that leaps clumsily over a millennium to confer a triple tiara on the one commissioned by Jesus to be a fisher of men. Sometimes it is claimed that Peter was acclaimed by Christ to be the "rock upon which the church is founded," by likewise applying an anachronistic interpretation of Matthew 16:18, "I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The papacy was not created on the basis of any biblical texts, but arose as a matter of political development in early medieval Europe.
The early church did not refer these texts to the office of the papacy (See Tractate 25-29). The Church Fathers consistently taught that the rock was the content of the God-given confession made by Peter. Peter himself was not the rock of the church. Before the political clout of the papacy required a reinterpretation of these texts, the Church Fathers took them to refer to the proclamation, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).
Peter is not as important as the content of his confession given by God. The confession of the rock is not the possession of any particular person or institution. We have a free God who does not tie Himself to human control. The Word of God lives among us through its proclamation freely, even if on the lips of those who hold a divine office. Office remains at the service of the proclamation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Peter is a mouthpiece for the saving faith. That remains the calling of the divine office: that the church should not stand on the authority of a person other than Christ, the Son of God.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Hilary of Poitiers
"What then is this truth, which the Father now reveals to Peter, which receives the praise of a blessed confession? It cannot have been that the names 'Father' and 'Son' were novel to him. He had heard them often. Yet he speaks words which the tongue of man had never framed before: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). For though Christ, while dwelling in the body, had declared Himself to be the Son of God, yet now for the first time the Apostle's faith had recognized in Him the presence of the divine nature. Peter is praised not merely for his tribute of adoration, but for his recognition of the mysterious truth; for confessing not Christ only, but Christ the Son of God. It would clearly have sufficed for a payment of reverence, had he said, "You are the Christ," and nothing more. But it would have been a hollow confession, had Peter only hailed Him as Christ, without confessing Him the Son of God. And so his words "You are" declare that what is asserted of Him is strictly and exactly true to His nature. Next, the Father's utterance, "This is My Son," had revealed to Peter that he must confess "You are the Son of God," for in the words "This is," God the Revealer points Him out, and the response, "You are," is the believer's welcome to the truth.
"This is the rock of confession on which the Church is built. But the perceptive faculties of flesh and blood cannot attain to the recognition and confession of this truth. It is a mystery, divinely revealed, that Christ must be not only named, but believed, the Son of God. Was it only the divine name; was it not rather the divine nature that was revealed to Peter? If it were the name, he had heard it often from the Lord, proclaiming Himself the Son of God. What honor, then, did he deserve for announcing the name? No, it was not the name; it was the nature, for the name had been repeatedly proclaimed.
"This faith is the foundation of the Church. Through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven. This faith is the Father's gift by revelation; even the knowledge that we must not imagine a false Christ, a creature made out of nothing, but must confess Him the Son of God, truly possessed of the divine nature."

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 6.36-37
Matthew 16:13-21

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, Your Father revealed that You are His beloved Son, and placed that glorious confession on the lips of Peter. Grant that we too in our day might confess that Jesus is the Christ with both our lips and our lives. Amen.
For Michael Koutsodontis, who has cancer, that the Lord God would bring the gift of healing and the gift of spiritual strength to him
For all shut-in believers, that they would be strengthened daily in the grace of God
For President Matthew Harrison, that the Lord of the church would strengthen him in the rock confession of the church
Art: DAVID, Gerard  Triptych of Jean Des Trompes (1505)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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