St. John Chrysostom (349-407) & Vatican 1 (1870) – Agree on “Rock” (Matthew 16:18)


St. John Chrysostom


Recently, I had someone reference an an article by well known Protestant William Webster which seeks to disprove the early acceptance of the Papal-theory as codified especially at the Vatican Council of 1870. I wanted to make sure a certain point was understood before the merits of that article are weighed, though this is not meant to engage with the whole of the article. At points, Webster is keen to find where he thinks the Patristic authors disassociated the “rock” (Matt 16:18) from “Peter”, but even more important is that even if this was associated, there was no continuing succession of Peter as the rock as some divine institution for the well-being of the Church. This later piece will not be addressed here, since I have a much finer point intended. But if readers are interested, I recommend my articles on St. Augustine, the Greek fathers, and some Patristic citations.

That the “rock” of St. Matthew’s account of the holy Gospel is Peter’s “confession of faith” is perfectly harmonious. In fact, if you go to the link here, under the show notes, you will find a citation from the Catholic Catechism which says the “rock” is the confession of Peter’s faith.
In any case, I wanted to show how one particular church father, St. John Chrysostom, not only proves Catholic doctrine on the matter, but even teaches precisely what the Vatican Council taught specifically concerning the relationship between the “rock” and “Peter”.
So let’s first take a quick look at what the Vatican Council said about the rock and its relation to Peter. Chapter 2, Paragraph 3 reads as follows:

Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ


Pope Pius IX

himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the Church which he once received ” (Vatican, 1870)

What is the “rock-like strength” Peter was granted? Let’s observe the text which is commonly cited from St. John Chrysostom which supposedly contradicts.:
“‘And I say unto you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church’, that is on the faith of his confession” (Homily 54 on the gospel according to St. Matthew)
So it would seem as though the Vatican Council goes way beyond Chrysostom here. But that is only if we cut it short here. If we continue reading in Chrysostom’s homily, we read the following:
“…that is on the faith of his confession. Thus he shows many will believe and raises his mind and makes him shepherd. Do you see how he himself leads Peter to high thoughts of him, and reveals himself and shows that he is the Son of God by these two promise? For those things which are peculiar to God alone, namely to forgive sins, and to make the Church immovable in such an onset of waves, and to declare a fisherman to be stronger than any rock while all the world wars against him, these things he himself promises to St._John_Chrysostom,_lower_register_of_sanctuarygive; as the Father said, speaking to Jeremiah, that he would set him as a column of brass and as a wall — but him [Jeremiah] for one nation [Israel], this man [Peter] for all the world. I would ask those who wish to lessen the dignity of the Son, which gifts were greater, those which the Father gave to Peter, or those which the Son gave to him? The Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son, but the Son gave to Peter to sow that of the Father and of himself throughout the world; and to a mortal man he entrusted such authority over all things in heaven, giving him the keys, who extended the Church throughout the world and declares it to be stronger than heaven” (Patrologia Graeca 58 ,534; Homily 54 in St. Matthew,

So it turns out that just like the Catholic Church has always believed, Chrysostom teaches the rock is the faith of Peter but it is a “rock-like” strength given to him and has an intricate association with Peter such that this faith is channeled into the ministry of Peter, such that it lifts him up to be a strength unto the nations, much like, albeit in a greater way, the ministry of holy Jeremiah.

Now, there is nothing in St. John Chrysostom himself that we have in the survived corpus which speaks of a specific continuation of the rock in the successors of St. Peter. But if you check the three links in the first paragraph, one could hardly argue that it was not held by both East and West in the early centuries of the holy and undivided Church of the first millennium.

What Everyone (especially Anglicans) Considering Eastern Orthodoxy Should know : The Conversion of Frederick Joseph Kinsman (1868-1944)

Many contemporary readers on things Catholic, Anglican, and even Eastern Orthodox are at least familiar with the name John Henry Cardinal Newman, the 19th century Anglican who converted to Catholicism, if not with his whole story. Well, another Anglican who came after Blessed Newman’s time is Frederick Joseph Kinsman, a Bishop of the American Episcopal Church and Oxford trained Professor of Ecclesiastical History who converted to Catholicism in 1919 after resigning from his Bishopric in Delaware. While Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua is his very scholarly review of his defenses for his journey to Catholicism, Kinsman’s Salve Mater is less scholarly and much more practical. Like Newman, He taught and lectured in many places, though his specialty was History and not Theology. What I find more practical about Kinsman is that, unlike Newman, he engaged with the Greek and Russian Orthodox Apologetic, which makes for something a tad more relevant to our contemporary times wherein we are beginning to see many traditional Catholics make an exodus to Eastern Orthodoxy in light of the current situation. Now, I don’t happen to agree with every point Kinsman brings up contra-Orthodoxy, but overall he summarizes the primary reason I chose to remain Catholic and not go Orthodox, namely, that the Papal office is as essential to the Church as the Bishop’s office, and thus we cannot have the Church at x-point in history with the Papacy and then y-point in history without the Papacy. Many Orthodox today are willing to concede a great amount of recognition of Rome’s authoritative primacy in the 1st millennium, though relegate its institution to more ecclesiastical institution, and thus leaving it to an institution even less divine than the office of Deacon. In other words, the Church can do with it or without it. Others, of course, not as plentiful, have stated that the current Patriarch of Constantinople assumes the same position of the Pope in the 1st millennium, and so attempt to say that the Orthodox have never really dumped the universal Primate from its constitutions, for reasons, at times, which run along the lines of synodality being non-existent without primacy. As faithful to history as this all may or may not be, the fact that there is a variety of divergent voices in Orthodoxy on the matter is already an indication which makes Kinsman’s apologetic contra-Orthodoxy just as relevant as it was to him in the early 1900’s. Ultimately, if the Papal office, being the office of St. Peter, is a creation of Jesus Christ, then the earthly Church has no rights to remove it from the visible constitution of the Church without axing off something essential to itself. Below, I have taken the time to type out large sections from Kinsman’s Salve Mater which deals with his reasons for going to Rome and not Constantinople. For those who wish to read more, I recommend getting the whole book, which can be read online for free here  , or the physical book can be purchased at relatively low costs via AbeBooks.
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Another Anglican Concession (1846 – 1917)

A. Theodore Wirgman, H.D., D.C.L., late Anglican Scholar of Magdalene College, Cambridge , author of The Constitutional Authority of Bishops in the Catholic Church admits that St. Cyprian understands a universalist relation between the See of Peter as source of unity and the whole network of churches in the world, rather than merely to North African and Southern Italy, or the West, as Dr. Kidd had claimed in his Roman Primacy. Wirgman writes:

“S. Cyprian tells Pope Cornelius of the schismatics of his diocese who ‘dare to set sail, and carry letters to the Chair of Peter and to the principal Church whence sacerdotal unity has taken its rise‘ (St. Cyprian, Ep. 54). We cannot well limit the meaning of unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est to the probable fact that the Bishop of North Africa and Italy traced their Apostolic succession to the Roman see. It implies that the Church of Rome is a centre of unity for the whole Church”.  (Chapter II, Note A, page. 90)

However, he ducks the incoming inference of this implying somewhat a foundation for the Papal claims by resolving:

“But it is not de fide that separation from the communion of the See of Rome involves separation from the communion and unity of the Catholic Church.”