St. Peter and the Keys of the Kingdom – Part 2


Orthodox Christian Apologetics has responded to my critique of his first article on St. Peter and the Keys. This post is, therefore, part 2 of my critique of his position. In this new response, Craig accurately opens up with describing the Catholic position on the Apostle Peter, the Apostles, and their successors’ relation to the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. That is, as he puts it:

The official Roman Catholic teaching, according to the Lateran Council of 1215 AD, is that all Bishops have keys through Apostolic Succession and all Apostles receive their keys, through Peter. So, in short, all Bishops have keys but they are contingent upon the Roman Bishop. I was incorrect in my initial portrayal of the “official” Roman Catholic position, presuming this is an accurate restatement of it.”

He is also right to point out that he former understanding of the Catholic position, namely, that St. Peter receives the Keys of the Kingdom as absolutely his own, exclusive to the other Apostles and Bishops of the Church, is the result of many Catholic apologists misrepresenting the traditional and conciliar teaching on this matter.

In any case, I still believe there are some needed responses that should be looked at carefully. This will be divided into 10 points:

(1) Craig cites St. Theodore the Studite when he addressed Pope Leo III in the following manner:

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)

For Craig, what is being said here really does not arrive at the position of the Catholic Church today. Well, what is clear enough is that St. Theodore believed that the reality of the “Keys” in St. Matthew’s gospel is such the property of the Apostle Peter and His successor that it is to Peter, or his successor, that every doctrinal question should be left submitted to for resolution. If that is the case, this is neither the position of Orthodoxy, nor is it compatible with any Christian confession today besides modern day Roman Catholicism. And if St. Theodore is right, then the current question on the Keys and their relation to the universal Church should be left to the Roman bishop to resolve. While this may come somewhat short of stating explicitly the position of the CCC in its entirety, but this slight possible variation matters extremely little when we admit that something eve more profoundly Roman Catholic vis-a-vis Papal authority is being claimed by the saintly Abbot. One could argue, however, that the “Keys” are a symbol of authority, and that St. Theodore believed that Peter and his successors have supreme authority in the world of doctrine. If that is the case, then would it not be redundant to bother pointing out this divergence between St. Theodore and the modern CCC? I mean, what significant difference is there? The determination of the true faith is admittedly a clear criteria for the orthodox communion, on even Craig’s own terms, and such is being admitted to the Pope as his sole prerogative.

(2) Craig cites St. Gregory of Nyssa when he wrote:

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

And comments that this comes short of saying anything about the keys being contingent upon communion with Peter and his successors. This is true, but that doesn’t mean we have any negation of that, either. Craig wishes to say that the pre-schism Church *did not* teach the current formulation of the keys, peter, and the apostles. What he should really say is that there is not enough evidence. While just as disagreeable, it is more accurate for his side. Otherwise, he would be claiming to know what everyone said and never wrote, or what was written but never copied and saved, or what every Christian thought but neither said out loud, let alone written. While we can agree St. Gregory does not arrive at the Catholic formula of the modern CCC, we can say that his position is very consistent with the Catholic claims on the keys, Peter, and the episcopate, and that it is far more inconsistent with the Eastern Orthodox polity.

(3) Craig cites again from St. Theodore the Studite when he wrote to Pope Paschal I:

“Hear me, O Head of the Apostles, placed by God as Shepherd of the Sheep of Christ, holder of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the rock of faith on which the Catholic Church has been built. For you are Peter; you adorn the throne of Peter and rule from it” (PG 99-1151).

To this he speculates on the possibility of it being mere flattery. Well, the problem with this interpretation is that St. Theodore cannot be reasonably said to be using mere flattery in the following where the Papacy is referenced:

We venerate images….not because we are assured that we are right by the second holy synod of Nicaea or by that which earlier decided divinely, but from the very coming of our lord and God in writing and without writing we have been made firm and rest securely upon that [Roman] See to which Christ say – you are Peter , and upon this rock I will build my church , and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (PG 99, 1117)

If Craig were to say this is mere flattery, then he would have to say that the authority of Nicaea is less real than the unrealistic exaltation of Papal authority, or worse, that it would also be merely flattered by this saintly man. Since the Council of Nicaea is admitted by the Eastern Orthodox, of which Craig is a member, as supremely authoritative, and by reality and not mere flattery, then St. Theodore’s assigning of the Papal decree above said Council must also be just as real.

(4) Craig cites St. Optatus of Milevis :

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)

However, he reasons that this says nothing about the ongoing contingency of communion with Peter’s successors, and then he quotes the erroneous exegesis of Alura from Shamless Orthodoxy who believes that the significance of the Keys, Peter, and Rome is merely the historical and local accident of the rival episcopal claimant in Rome, Victor of Garba, versus the true line of Roman bishops. However, if one reasons all 7 books of St. Optatus, they will clearly realize that the Roman Church is the heir of what St. Optatus believed belonged properly to St. Peter alone by his reception of the Keys. We know this because of the argument enclosed in the 2nd book. First, St. Optatus goes out of his way to show that the true Episcopal Church is that which is truly Catholic, and thus “spread throughout the world”. The first criteria, therefore, of the true Church is catholicity. He writes:

So we have proved that the Catholic Church is the Church which is spread throughout the world” 

It is important to see that this is a reference to the universal Church. He then goes on immediately to say:

We must now mention its Adornments

St. Optatus goes on to speak of 5 adornments, one of which is the Cathedra. The universal Church has been adorned with this Cathedra. What is the Cathedra? St. Optatus says:

You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra, on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas ), that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all

Well, if this is one of the five adornments of the catholic and universal church, then its significance is far wider than Rome vs Victor of Garba, but Rome in relation to the universal episcopal and church. St. Optatus confirms this when he says:

Well then, on the one Cathedra, which is the first of the Endowments, Peter was the first to sit

If these are truly endowments upon the catholic and universal Church, then the Cathedra referenced here is the one which began with St. Peter and is currently occupied by his successors.

(6) Craig cites Pope St. Boniface where the following is said:

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)

However, Craig concludes from this that the Pope is teaching the equality of Bishops, i.e. all Bishops are equal in authority. However, we know this cannot possibly be the case because in two other occasions, the very same Pope teaches Papal supremacy and the current idea of the CCC:

“The universal ordering of the Church at its birth took its origin from the office of blessed Peter, in which is found both its directing power and its supreme authority. From him, as from a source, at the time when our religion was in the stage of growth, all churches received their common order. This much is shown by the injunctions of the council of Nicaea, since it did not venture to make a decree in his regard, recognizing that nothing could be added to his dignity: in fact it knew that all had been assigned to him by the word of the Lord. So it is clear that this church [i.e. Rome] is to all churches throughout the world as the head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to its fellowship (Pope St. Boniface, Epistle 14; PL 20, 777; Giles 230)

The 2nd ocassion is detailed in my article, “Pope St. Boniface I (A.D. 422) – The Universal Jurisdiction of the See of Rome in the East“.

(7) Craig then cites Pope St. Gregory the Great on how the Keys were given to St. Peter, but then notes quickly that Gregory believed Antioch and Alexandria both have the Keys too, and thus, perhaps, are equal. I have written an entire article on this subject here, and I have nothing more to add.

(8) Craig then tries to say that the official Catholic position really is collapsed to saying Peter alone has the Keys because all the Bishops have to be in communion with the Pope in order to exercise the Keys. Well, such a collapse is question begging. Craig already believes that Bishops have the prerogative of exercising the Keys if they are in communion with the Orthodox Church and profess the Orthodox faith, but this does not devolve into the Church alone having the Keys without Bishops actually having them. There is no illusion for Orthodox, here. Yes, it is required to be in communion with the single Episcopal Order of which the Orthodox say retains the Apostleship of Christ and the Twelve, as well as it is required to hold to the Orthodox faith, but this does not mean that it collapses into the Bishops not having the keys, leaving only the “Church” as having said keys. In the same way, the same “illusion” should not be asserted of the Papal condition, just because there is a condition therein.

(9) Craig then points out that the Catholic Church recognizes the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, and thus the exercise of the Keys, even when she is outside of her communion, and thus this either mans her teaching on the Papal condition vis-a-vis the Keys/Bishops is false, or that the Orthodox are in communion with the true Church, and are thus not in schism. This is a non-sequitur, since the power put into the Ordained does not always operate from the aspect of jurisdiction. For example, it does not take jurisdiction to absolve the Eucharist (a Priest, who has no jurisdiction, for example, can confect the Eucharist). As can be explained by St. Thomas Aquinas:

Just as Baptism remains in them,” i.e. in heretics, schismatics, and those who are excommunicate, “so do their orders remain intact.” Now, by the power of his ordination, a priest can consecrate the Eucharist. Therefore, it seems that heretics, schismatics, and those who are excommunicate, can consecrate the Eucharist, since their orders remain entire. I answer that, Some have contended that heretics, schismatics, and the excommunicate, who are outside the pale of the Church, cannot perform this sacrament. But herein they are deceived, because, as Augustine says (Contra Parmen. ii), “it is one thing to lack something utterly, and another to have it improperly”; and in like fashion, “it is one thing not to bestow, and quite another to bestow, but not rightly.” Accordingly, such as, being within the Church, received the power of consecrating the Eucharist through being ordained to the priesthood, have such power rightly indeed; but they use it improperly if afterwards they be separated from the Church by heresy, schism, or excommunication. But such as are ordained while separated from the Church, have neither the power rightly, nor do they use it rightly. But that in both cases they have the power, is clear from what Augustine says (Contra Parmen. ii), that when they return to the unity of the Church, they are not re-ordained, but are received in their orders. And since the consecration of the Eucharist is an act which follows the power of order, such persons as are separated from the Church by heresy, schism, or excommunication, can indeed consecrate the Eucharist, which on being consecrated by them contains Christ’s true body and blood; but they act wrongly, and sin by doing so; and in consequence they do not receive the fruit of the sacrifice, which is a spiritual sacrifice.” (Question 82, Article 7)

Moreover, just because some aspects of the Sacrament of Order remain intact, due to the indelible mark, this does not mean the full range of the Keys can be exercised in the schismatic communities. For example, the Orthodox do not have any jurisdiction to teach the universal Church, due to her severance from the Chair of Peter. That much is inferred by St. Theodore the Studite, St. Optatus, St. Leo the Great, and St. Boniface I. Thus, the consequences acclaimed by Craig are shown to be false.

(10) And lastly, I will leave with more evidence of the Catholic position, which finds justification in the decrees of the Council of Lateran 649. In the Second Session, the Bishop of Carthage, Victor, got up and read aloud a letter from Africa to Pope St. Theodore (now being read in the presence of Pope St. Martin and the Council). In this letter, Victor opens up as follows:

To his holy brother and most blessed and most honourable Pope Theodore….through the teaching of the divine utterances in the intstruction of your exhortaroy admonition the orthodox church of Christ is being built up, founded on apostolic ordinance and most firmly buttressed by the faithful fathers. To her all the most blessed Apostles, endowed with an equal share of honour and authority, by pious and holy conversion of the hoards of the nations, led the men foreknown by the grace of divine predestination from darkness to light….It is therefore for you, most holy brother, to oppose with a canonical sentence, according to custom, that which is contrary to the Catholic faith, and to prohibit novel utterance that lacks any sanction from the authority of the venerable fathers...” ( Session II; Acts of Lateran 649, Price 182-186)

To this, Pope St. Martin responds:

In his synodical letter that has just been read Victor the most devout Bishop of Carthage…using his letter to give us precise information about the protests of all Christians on its account and the continuous groans of the devout bishops, alarmed to no small degree by the inventions and concoctions that Bishop Paul of Constantinople has ratified in opposition to the true faith….until such time as he [Paul] may learn of the judgment passed on him by our Apostolic authority, which is to say that of Peter the head of the Apostles, who alone, above all others, was deemed worthy to receive in trust the King of Kings, Christ God, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, so as to open it deservedly for those whose belief in the Lord is orthodox and to close it to all the unorthodox heretics who persist in their heresy. The said most God-beloved Bishop has urged us in his letter to act accordingly, lest we should in any way ignore the just accusation brought against the heretics….” (ibid, 186).

This shows that, like in Pope St. Celestine’s letter to the Council of Ephesus (431), that the Popes of Rome pre-Schism understood that while all the Apostles share in the ministry of the keys, there is a sole prerogative given to St. Peter above all the other Apostles. when it comes to Christ giving him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is seen practically in Victor’s appeal to Pope St. Theodore to process a condemnation of heresies, seeing it as the Pope of Rome’s prerogative. And St. Stephen of Dor and St. Maximus the Confessor accepted Pope St. Martin and the decrees of this Council. Therefore, the above was believed by them.

9 thoughts on “St. Peter and the Keys of the Kingdom – Part 2

  1. I don’t want to get point by point, as maybe this should be more of a convo on R&T but in short:

    1. The focus of my posts was supposed to be very narrow. It was not meant to “disprove” the concept of Papalism specifically. Rather, it was simply whether or not one of the popular exegesis of the texts to justify this, “the keys,” was seen as such a proof text. In all these responses, it appears that my original conclusion is correct: no. Just because one term was not used as a proof text, that does not definitively disprove Roman ecclesiology. However, it does give us reason to pause not to use the text as a proof text, at least with Orthodox.
    2. In some cases you are oversstating what is actually said and making extrapolations like “well they said this here, so they must mean this there.” WHile this is certainly possible, please see number one. It just would not be relevant to the actual point at issue, whether a given exegesis is preschism. If death comes from “a thousand paper cuts” sometimes it helps to find where numbers 554 and 667 started.
    3. I thought you missed that I strengthened your case with St Optatus. As for Alura, I’ll allow him to respond.
    4. I stick to my guns about the flatteries. Just because St Theodore the Studite said something nice about the Pope next to a statement about an ecumenical council, this does not amount to a rough equivalency. If I said “the Scriptures teach X and even Erick Ybarra agrees with me,” that does not equate Erick with God! So, I still maintain that to interpret these mens words we must look at their actions. Now, I have not read St Theodore the Studite in the primary sources so I am agnostic whether he was a crypto-papist or not. I hear accusations to the contrary but I want to see hard evidence from the Orthodox side.
    5. Lastly, I don’t think you addressed my “non-sequitur.” In short, the CCC nor Trent appear to actually teach what we see in the 1215 council. However, presuming they did, the teaching of the 1215 council creates major issues that does not fit into the categories you wish to fit it. It, in short, says the Eucharist is impossible outside communion with the Pope. Period. However, you loop together essentially exceptions and criteria that would logically contradict the 1215 council. Of course, if we “read between the lines” and say those “Exceptions” are “implied” in the 1215 council, through such interpretations we can justify just about any interpretation we want.

    Therein lies the problem, ultimately. Correct doctrine ultimately cannot be proved via proof-texting or we end up eviscerating our own positions. Some people write to me privately essentially saying they are losing their Christian faith simply because they lost faith in protestantism due to the contradictions, and now they are losing faith in RCism/EOy for the same reason. Maybe some people will be convinced by the lawyering but once humpty dumpty falls off the wall there is no putting him back together.

    I long ago was very well aware that the Scriptures, in particulars, msot certainly contradict themselves. However, I was also aware, that reading into particulars is not the point. Our sense of the Scriptures comes from a broader reading. Somehow, this has been lost in the Church. And so, this is why I think the better question is “who” is in schism, because the side that is with all the logic in the world ultimately is not correct in their exegesis. Spiritual things must be Spiritually discerned and this is found only in the Church, not the schismatics.

    So, while the EO position is certainly stronger and more widespread among the fathers, and that is something that swayed me to that side, that does not mean that RCs have nothing to go by whatsoever. Nevertheless, there seems to be a lack of recognition of our own limitations all around. This is why I have always offered a more nuanced position and even admit, it is totally possible that the Papalist position is actually correct and from the 1st century. Its early and I am just ranting now, so I’ll leave it there. We should do a show.

    God bless,

    • Thanks for this response. I am more than happy to discuss the matter on the show. As a preparation, this is how I would approach what you are saying here.

      (1) The elaboration on the Keys in the current Magisterial teaching should not be thought to require a full blown explanation in the sources in order for it to be logically derived therefrom. We have learned this when it comes to Christology. As the historical theologian remarks quite convincingly about the subject of operations and energies in the Godhead/Manhood of Christ, this was justified only loosely from Patristic sources per se, and was justified more on a theological synthesis. Therefore, we would not write off statements from the Fathers where it is said Peter alone received the keys as not evidence of the Roman position because it happens to lack the extra note of “and all the bishops only partake as long as they are in communion with the successors of Peter in the Roman episcopate until the end of history”. Such a criteria of specificity sounds very much like what the Arians were asking for in the 4th century with regard to the equality of the Son in the New Testament. Or, more glaringly, the subject of dyotheletism/dyoenergeism. Likewise, just because one particular Father says that the Keys are shared by all does not thereby entail a lack of evidence for Roman teaching since this is absorbed into our teaching. All in all, I think a very good case can be made for a theological synthesis for the Catholic position, rather than the Orthodox position. In fact, the Orthodox do not even have a position on this. As far as it goes in the modern context, the highly conditioned Papalism of the modern Orthodox scholar finds no home in the majority, which is supposed to be the signal of the Spirit’s teaching (i.e. consensus).

      (2) I may be overstating my case. But I think it would deserve an explanation in order for one to believe you.

      (3) On St. Optatus – Yes, I must have missed this

      (4) I think your downplaying the evidence of the Papacy in St. Theodore. He did not say something akin to “Scripture teaches X, and even Erick Ybarra agrees with me”. That is not at all the nature of his communication. He denied a place for Nicaea (787) as a force of persuasion in order to highlight the authority which goes beyond all questions, namely, the Papal dogma on images. This is like saying, “I’m more convinced about the issue of the images because of what that Church of Peter teaches in light of the promises of divine protection, than I am from the teaching of the Council of Nicaea”. I mean, I don’t know how much more stark one can get. This goes even beyond what I would say. I would actually criticize St. Theodore’s position here. Be that as it may, my point is that he is far more consistent with the Papal theory than anything like a modern Byzantine ecclesiology, even with all the alleged flattering and all.

      (5) As for the teaching of Lateran 1215 – “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.”. There is nothing untrue about this. The episcopal lines of the schismatic churches at once began “according to the Church’s keys”. In other words, the Orthodox bodies did not derive the validity of their sacraments (Eucharist) from themselves, but from the Catholic Church. What Lateran 1215 does not address is what happens when someone who is properly ordained according to the Church’s keys then ordains priests/bishops while in a state of schism. What then is destroyed, hindered, or maintained? It was the common teaching even in 1215 that the sacrament of orders, and therefore the validity of sacraments (Eucharist), was retained. I can provide evidence for this in the near future. But that does not mean that the power of the Keys is reduced to sacramental validity. St. Augustine would be one perfect example who taught that the sacraments can be valid outside the church in schismatic bodies, and he had one of the most exclusive notes on the keys of the kingdom.

      • Let me just say that this will probably be the last time I address this issue concerning Optatus with regards to the recent flurry of posts between both Craig and Erick, since I will be unable to respond further for quite an extended period of time to any form of contact.

        I am not even certain that you even understood my argument in full, Erick. My argument was placing Optatus in his historical context and what precisely he was arguing against, which Optatus himself says in the very book you quote, but neglected to include in his own words. He says in Book 2 that the Donatists have set up their own see in Rome and then makes several arguments against the legitimacy of such actions. I don’t believe I have denied that Optatus makes whatever arguments you claim regarding the keys vis-a-vis Peter. I actually do not have a strong position one way or another on that particular issue concerning Optatus.

        What I do have an issue with is your negligence to fully capture the full scope of Optatus’ ecclesiology here. He makes further arguments, also in Book 2, stating that there is further evidence that the Donatists do not belong to the Universal Church. This evidence includes the fact that they were not in communion with the Seven Churches of Asia spoken of in the Book of Revelation. This argument shows that Optatus placed both Rome and the Seven Churches of Asia as key features of what the true church is. This ecclesiology articulated here is quite different from modern Catholic ecclesiology. So to just pick, as you have done, one portion of Optatus’ ecclesiology and say, “See, Rome!” while ignoring the other half which conforms neither to modern Orthodox or Catholic ecclesiologies seems mistaken to me.

        Let me just further add, since we’re on the subject of the North African Church. All ecclesiologies uttered by the North African Fathers was historically contingent. They were suffering in the aftermath and chaos caused by both the Decian and Diocletian persecutions, which caused schisms and mass apostasy. Therefore, all of their religious texts must be fully contextualized by the circumstances that these individuals were placed in. Augustine’s ecclesiology differs from Cyprian’s and Cyprian’s differs from Tertullian’s, etc. because they were trying to fix problems on the ground in a way to restore unity. Obviously, all of the solutions they posited failed because schism plagued North Africa till at least the Ummayad conquest. I recommend reading Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs by J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin Jensen. No amount of small quotations is sufficient without engagement of modern scholarship by historians that fully contextualizes the circumstances of historical actors.

      • Let me just add one amendment to my previous post. Tertullian died before the Decian persecution, so he was not so much responding to any major schism as I recall (I am away from my books, so you will have to forgive my fogginess of mind). Nonetheless, his views on the sacraments and the priesthood still differ in some interesting ways from Cyprian. At anyrate, this was but a sidenote to my overall point.

  2. “Therefore, we would not write off statements from the Fathers where it is said Peter alone received the keys as not evidence of the Roman position because it happens to lack the extra note of “and all the bishops only partake as long as they are in communion with the successors of Peter in the Roman episcopate until the end of history”. ”

    **That extra note is the other half of Roman position so to say quotations lacking half the position you’re trying to prove still prove your point is hilarious at best and lying/disingenuous at worst.

    • My claim here is in response to Craig Truglia who, when he sees church fathers speaking about Christ giving the keys to St. Peter alone, understands that this is no evidence of the belief that the universal catholic communion will, ever thereafter, be contingent upon communion with the prime key-holder (i.e. the successor of Peter). All I am saying is that since theological synthesis is a real thing, this should not be “written off”, as it could be a piece of that synthesis.

      Now tell me, how is any part of that claim laughable?

      • You’re trying to prove the Roman position. A quotation that proves half of the Roman position doesn’t prove the Roman position especially when the half of the position it proves is shared with Orthodoxy and classical Anglicanism, in which case, it might as well prove the Orthodox position.
        That’s what’s hilarious.

  3. Pingback: Does the Lateran Council of 649 Prove Papal Infallibility? – Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia

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

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