St. Peter and the Keys of the Kingdom


St. Peter holding Key

Eastern Orthodox apologist Craig Truglia recently published an extensive article which attempts to show that the Roman Catholic teaching on Peter and the Keys is contrary to the mind of the Fathers. As always, I thank him for the opportunity to clarify. His contention is that the Universal Catechism, in its 553rd paragraph, is an innovation which has no roots in Christian tradition. That paragraph of the Catechism goes as follows:

The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles [cf. Matt 18:18] and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom (CCC, 553)

From this, we can see the Catholic Church teaches that St. Peter was, in some way, entrusted with the Keys of the Kingdom in an exclusively unique way that is over and besides the rest of the Apostles, as well as the entire Episcopate and Priesthood, and which is not shared by anyone save for Peter himself and his successors. This is no different than what St. Theodore the Studite said in one of his preserved letters to Pope St. Leo III:

Since it is to the great Peter that Christ our God gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven and entrusted the dignity of chief of the flock , it is to Peter, that is to say, his successor, that one ought to submit every innovation which is made in the Catholic Church by those who turn aside from the truth.” (Patrologia Graeca 99, 1017 – Epistle 1)

However, Truglia recognizes that the distinctions which will be brought to light here, but he fails to see how the current Catechism is in continuity with it. I will below assist in helping him and others see that it is reconcilable.



St John Paul II under whose Pontificate the modern Universal Catechism was released


The very same Catechism of the Catholic Church Truglia cites from also recognizes that the Keys of the Kingdom pertain to the whole priesthood, i.e. All Apostles, Bishops, and even Priests. Paragraphs 979-981 speak the following:

979 In this battle against our inclination towards evil, who could be brave and watchful enough to escape every wound of sin? “If the Church has the power to forgive sins, then Baptism cannot be her only means of using the keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ. The Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives.”

980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church:

Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers “a laborious kind of baptism.” This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.

981 After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles “so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.” The apostles and their successors carry out this “ministry of reconciliation,” not only by announcing to men God’s forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ:

[The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit’s action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us.



St. Charles Borromeo, superintended the production of the Roman Catechism

In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, otherwise known as the Roman Catechism, which was published in 1566, long after the Greek and Latin schism which certainly was sealed by the repudiation of the synodal decrees of the Council of Florence in 1485 by a Synod in Constantinople,  and long after the West had made clear the Papal claims, the following is said about the Keys of the Kingdom:

“Since this power, therefore, cannot be of human origin, divine faith can alone enable us to understand that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are deposited with the Church, that to her has been confided the power of remitting sins,” of denouncing excommunication, and of consecrating the real body of Christ; and t}tat her children have not here a permanent dwelling, but look for one above.”


“It being necessary, therefore, that a power of forgiving sins, distinct from that of Baptism, should exist in the Church, to her were entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, by which each one, if penitent, may obtain the remission of his sins, even though he were a sinner to the last day of his life. This truth is vouched for by the most unquestionable authority of the Sacred Scriptures. In St. Matthew the Lord says to Peter: I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and what- soever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven; and again: Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.’ Further, the testimony of St. John assures us that the Lord, breathing on the Apostles, said: Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. ‘”


“In any event, the words of our Saviour furnish a clear proof: I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. The absolution announced in the words of the priest expresses the remission of sins which it accomplishes in the soul.”


“Justly, then, do those most holy men, our Fathers, proclaim that by the keys of the Church the gate of heaven is thrown open, a truth which no one can doubt since the Council of Florence has decreed that the effect of Penance is absolution from sin.”


“A sacramental accusation of one’s sins, made to obtain pardon by virtue of the keys


“This truth is clearly conveyed by our Lord Himself, when, by a most beautiful metaphor, He calls the power of administering this Sacrament, the key of the kingdom of heaven. Just as no one can enter any place without the help of him who has the keys, so no one is admitted to heaven unless its gates be unlocked by the priests to whose custody the Lord gave the keys. This power would otherwise be of no use in the Church. If heaven can be entered without the power of the keys, in vain would they to whom the keys were given seek to prevent entrance within its portals.”


At the Ecumenical Council of Lateran (1215), the Council decreed the following in its opening constitution:

“There is indeed one universal church of the faithful, outside of which nobody at all is saved, in which Jesus Christ is both priest and sacrifice. His body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God’s power, into his body and blood, so that in order to achieve this mystery of unity we receive from God what he received from us. Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained according to the church’s keys, which Jesus Christ himself gave to the apostles and their successors. But the sacrament of baptism is consecrated in water at the invocation of the undivided Trinity — namely Father, Son and holy Spirit — and brings salvation to both children and adults when it is correctly carried out by anyone in the form laid down by the church. If someone falls into sin after having received baptism, he or she can always be restored through true penitence. For not only virgins and the continent but also married persons find favour with God by right faith and good actions and deserve to attain to eternal blessedness.”


The Church Fathers amply teach that the Keys of the Kingdom, while given to the whole Church, are uniquely entrusted to St. Peter. We could provide many witnesses to this, but it will suffice to demonstrate from both Greek and Latin sources in the Fathers that the Catholic Church’s stance, and not the Eastern Orthodox stance, is amply proven.


St. Gregory of Nyssa :

through Peter gave to the bishops the keys of the heavenly honors” (PG xlvii, 312c)

“According to the privilege granted him by the Lord, Peter is that unbreakable and most solid rock upon which the Savior built His church” – ή άρραγής καί όχυρωτάτη πέτρα έφ ήν τήν Έκκλησίαν ό Σωτήρ ώκοδόμησε (Patrologia Graeca 46, 733)

More from the Greek Fathers can be found here.



St. Optatus of Milevis (360-80):

“And though this has been thus written, nevertheless, for the sake of unity, blessed Peter (for whom it would have been enough if after his denial he had obtained pardon only) both deserved to be placed over all the Apostles, and alone received the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, which he was to communicate to the rest” (Book 7.3 from Against Parmenian)


Pope St. Boniface I (422):

“We in particular are under obligation to be responsible for all, to whom Christ assigned the duty of universal stewardship in the holy Apostle Peter, when He gave him the keys of opening and closing, and discriminated among His apostles, not so one should be inferior to another but that He should be the first. Law should govern us, not we the law; if we are to uphold canonical principles, let us be obedient to the canons ourselves” (Epistle 3, Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, 29)


Bishop of Constantinople, Fravitta (I’m unsure he is venerated by the Orthodox), successor to Acacius in 490 AD wrote the following to Pope St. Felix at the address:

“the successor of Peter, prince of the Apostles, the rock of faith and steward of the heavenly mysteries by the authority of the keys” (Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, 51)






During the Monophysite fall out in the East, there were Greek bishops who were strongly Chalcedonian, and thus, wished above all to retain the communion of the Apostolic See. A famous letter of appeal was written to Rome, and these Greeks openly declared the following about Pope St. Symmachus (512 AD):
“…but for the precious salvation not only of the East, but of three parts almost of the inhabited world, redeemed, not with corruptible gold or silver, but with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, according to the doctrine of the blessed prince of the glorious Apostles, whose See Christ, the Good Shepherd, has entrusted to your blessedness….You have not only received the power of binding, but also that of loosing, in accordance with the example of the Master, those who long have been in bonds, nor only the power of uprooting and of destroying, but also that of planting and rebuilding, as Jeremias, or rather, as Jesus Christ, of whom Jeremias was the type….You are not ignorant of this malice, you whom Peter, your blessed Doctor, teaches always to shepherd, not by violence but by an authority fully accepted, the sheep of Christ which are entrusted to you in all the habitable world.” (Mansi viii. 221)





St. Gregory the Great (594-604):

“To all who know the Gospel [presumably, the account of Sts. John & Matthew] it is obvious that by the voice of the Lord [divine institution] the care of the universal church was committed to the holy apostle and prince of all the apostles, Peter…Behold, he received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the power to bind and loose was given to him, and the care and principality of the entire Church was committed to him, and yet he is never called the Universal Apostle. But that most holy man, my fellow-bishop John, wishes to be called the Universal Bishop. I am compelled to exclaim, O tempora! O mores!“” (Book 5, Epistle 37)



St. Leo


And if you want explicit teaching by an “Eastern Orthodox” Pope, St. Leo the Great (450), on the issue of the keys, peter, and the rest of the priests, here is an explicit testimony which your OP seems to suggest doesn’t exist in the patrimony:

“And yet, out of the whole world, one, Peter, is chosen, who presides both at the call of the Gentiles, and over all the apostles and collected fathers of the Church; so that though there be , among God’s people, many priests and many shepherds, yet Peter especially rules all whom Christ also rules originally. Beloved, it is a great and wonderful sharing of his own power which the divine honor bestowed on this man, and if he wished that other rulers should be in common with him, yet he did never give except through him what he denied to others....’I will give unto thee the keys’….the right of this power did indeed pass on to the other apostles, and the order of this decree passed on to all chiefs of the Church; but not in vain was that which was imparted to all was entrusted to one”.…So then in Peter the strength of all is fortified, and the help of divine grace is so ordered that the stability which through Christ is given to Peter, through Peter is conveyed to the other Apostles” (Sermon 4, PL 54.149)



9 thoughts on “St. Peter and the Keys of the Kingdom

  1. Pingback: The Pre-Schism Exegesis of Who Has “the Keys” – Orthodox Christian Theology

  2. About the Keys and Peter in the Church Fathers there are even more citations. I think this will be helpful. Eulogius of Alexandria – “Neither to John, nor to any other of the disciples, did our Savior say, ‘I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,’ but only to Peter.” (Lib. II. Cont. Novatian. ap. Photium, Biblioth, cod. 280). Cyril of Jerusalem in his famous Catechetical Lectures said – “For Peter was there, who carrieth the keys of heaven.”. The same was said by Epiphanius of Salamine, John Chrysostom, Hilary of Poitiers and other Church Fathers.

  3. Also Stephen, bishop of Dora – “(…)For this great Peter, the Head of the Apostles, has been wont to do with power from of old, by his Apostolical or canonical authority; since manifestly not only was he alone beside all thought worthy to be entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to open and to shut these, worthily to the believing, but justly to those unbelieving the gospel of grace.(…)” – (Mansi, X. 894)

  4. Basil the Great – “And when he, the instrument of such and so great a judgment; he the minister of the so great wrath of God upon a sinner; that blessed Peter, who was preferred before all the other disciples; who alone received a greater testimony and blessing than the rest; he to whom were entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” -(T. ii. p.1. Procem. de Judic. Dei, n. 7, p.221, 371 A.D.). John Cassian – “O Peter, Prince of Apostles, it is just that you should teach us, since you were yourself taught by the Lord; and also that you should open to us the gate of which you have received the Key. Keep out all those who are undermining the heavenly House; turn away those who are trying to enter through false caverns and unlawful gates since it is certain that no one can enter in at the gate of the Kingdom except the one unto whom the Key, placed by you in the churches, shall open it.” -(Book III, Chap 12, Against the Nestorians on the Incarnation). There is even indirect allusion to Is 22,22. Sorry that this is in three comments.

  5. Aphrates the Sage – “David received the kingdom of Saul his persecutor; and Jesus received the
    kingdom of Israel His persecutor. . . . David handed over the kingdom to
    Solomon, and was gathered to his people; and Jesus handed over the keys to
    Simon, and ascended and returned to Him who sent Him.” – Select Demonstrations of Aphrahat 21, 13, NPNF2, 13:398. This was said in conotation of ancient Israel, where only one person, chief steward has the Key or Keys symbolizing an unique authority.

  6. Pingback: The Pre-Schism Exegesis of Who Has “the Keys”–An Addendum – Orthodox Christian Theology

  7. Pingback: St. Peter and the Keys of the Kingdom – Part 2 | Erick Ybarra

  8. Pingback: Papal Forgeries, A Road To Schism – Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia

  9. Pingback: Saint Peter, the Rock, and the Keys: Symbolic Representations of the Catholic Church | Erick Ybarra

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