Listers, glory and honor to God for giving us the grace of the papacy. The Pope is the “Advocate of Christian Memory” and he holds the King’s people to the King’s laws until our Savior returns. Each year on February 22nd the Church celebrates the Cathedra Petri – the Chair of St. Peter.

This feast brings to mind the mission of teacher and pastor conferred by Christ on Peter, and continued in an unbroken line down to the present Pope. We celebrate the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle, and renew our assent to the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, extended both to truths which are solemnly defined ex cathedra, and to all the acts of the ordinary Magisterium.

The feast of the Chair of Saint Peter at Rome has been celebrated from the early days of the Christian era on 18 January, in commemoration of the day when Saint Peter held his first service in Rome. The feast of the Chair of Saint Peter at Antioch, commemorating his foundation of the See of Antioch, has also been long celebrated at Rome, on 22 February. At each place a chair (cathedra) was venerated which the Apostle had used while presiding at Mass. One of the chairs is referred to about 600 by an Abbot Johannes who had been commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great to collect in oil from the lamps which burned at the graves of the Roman martyrs. — New Catholic Dictionary1

To commemorate this holy feast day SPL brings you a defense of the papacy with references to Scripture, the Western Church Fathers, the Eastern Church Fathers, and of course, the Medieval Popes.


The article addresses the following questions:

  1. Did St. Peter hold any primacy amongst the Twelve Apostles?
  2. Did Christ charge St. Peter with the office of the papacy?
  3. Did St. Peter exercise his ministry from Rome?
  4. What about the controversy of Sts. Peter and Paul?
  5. Did the papacy continue after St. Peter and if so, to whom?
  6. Did the Early Church speak of a hierarchal Church with bishops?
  7. What of those who started their own “churches”?
  8. What did the Eastern Early Church Fathers say about the Petrine Ministry?
  9. Are all people subject to the papacy?


The following list is certainly not exhaustive. The Scripture studies alone could fill up volumes and a proper study of Church history is a lifetime of academic work; however, we’ve catalogued a quality sampling of sources with biblical and textual citations in order that you may be able to defend or maybe even discover for the first time the grace of the papacy.


Holy Scripture

1. St. Peter was Prince of the Apostles

“Prince of the Apostles” means that St. Peter held a certain primacy over the other eleven. Understanding St. Peter’s unique position among the twelve and the unique ministries he exercised lays an excellent groundwork for a discussion of Christ’s founding of the Papacy. There are three primary topics of focus for exploring the biblical articulation of the primacy of the Petrine ministry.


St. Peter’s Place of Primacy Among the Twelve
Sts. Peter, James, and John are a special group of disciples that are allowed to witness the Transfiguration2 and accompany Christ to the Mount of Olives.3 In each event, St. Peter, the Rock, is singled out. At the Mount of Olives, Christ finds all three asleep, but it is St. Peter he addresses. During the Transfiguration, it is St. Peter who speaks for the disciples. In St. Luke 5:1-11, Christ calls his first disciples, and the first is Simon Peter. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the “call of Peter appears as the original pattern of apostolic vocation par excellence.”4 Every time the disciples are listed, St. Peter is listed first.5 Furthermore, when referring to the disciples, sometimes only St. Peter is mentioned by name, e.g., “And Simon and those who were with him,” and “Now Peter and those who were with him”.6 St. Peter is the only one to try to walk on the water (Mt 14:28ff) and he is the one that brings up the famous question of how many times we must forgive.7 Even St. Peter’s shadow was an instrument of healing.8


Significance of the Name Change
While it was common for Rabbis to give nicknames or new surnames to their disciples, e.g., the Sons of Zebedee as the “Sons of Thunder,” it was uncommon to change a disciple’s first name. Christ gives Simon the new name “Peter” or Kephas (or Cephas) meaning rock.9 In the Old Testament, God changing someone’s name denoted a special calling, a new vocation, e.g., Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, etc. St. Peter’s name change denotes that he will have a special vocation among the twelve. Obviously Christ was also referred to as the Rock, because he is the foundation of all things. However, in the rabbinical tradition, Abraham was also referred to as a rock: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn… look to Abraham your father” .10 Cardinal Ratzinger comments:11

Abraham, the father of faith, is by his faith the rock that holds back chaos, the onrushing primordial flood of destruction, and thus sustains creation. Simon, the first to confess Jesus as the Christ and the first witness of the Resurrection, now becomes by virtue of his Abrahamic faith, which is renewed in Christ, the rock that stands against the impure tide of unbelief and its destruction of man.


The Papal Office Given to St. Peter by Christ
After the Resurrection, Christ appears to the Twelve and has a unique conversation with St. Peter. Christ, the Shepherd, asks St. Peter three times if he loves him. St. Peter responds yes all three times – presumably this passage should reflect his three denials. Christ also tell St. Peter and Peter alone: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep. As the Vicar of Christ, St. Peter must care for the flock.12 In Lk 22:31-34, two major Petrine themes are evident. First, Satan has taken a special interest in St. Peter. He will fail, but will repent. Second, after St. Peter has “turned again” to Christ, Jesus commissions him to “strengthen the brethren.” Another mission given only to St. Peter.

In Matthew 16:13-20, the most famous unique call is given to St. Peter: to be the foundation of the Church and to exercise the authority of keys of the kingdom. The office given to St. Peter is that of the Vicar within the Davidic Kingdom. The Vicar governs in the King’s stead, according to the King’s rules, while the King is gone.13 St. Peter is the Vicar of Christ, the Pope.


Concluding Thoughts and Suggested Reading
For all of this information plus a brief handling of the relationship between Sts. Peter and Paul, please reference 13 Biblical Reasons St. Peter is the Prince of the Apostles. The page citations and Scripture references for this section are taken from Cardinal Ratzinger’s Called to Communion, which was featured in The 6 Books by Pope Benedict XVI All Catholics Should Read.

A selection from “Christ’s Charge to Peter,” Raphael (1515)