Note: This series is a work in progress. New material is being added, existing posts are being revised and expanded, and works used are in the process of being referenced. Please refer to the live blog pages for the latest versions.
Saint Peter, 5th or 6th century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai.
In my home library (overflowing, alas, the eight-foot bookshelves lining my home-office walls into double rows on the shelves and spills out into stacks covering the floor) are a couple dozen or so books by Eastern Orthodox writers, at least two of which are dedicated to the exploring the meaning of Peter’s primacy and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Some Protestants are surprised to discover this, because they have the idea that the Eastern Orthodox “deny the primacy” of Peter and/or of Rome; but this is not the case. The nature and applicability of the Petrine and Roman primacies is certainly a subject of controversy, not only between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, but also to an extent among different schools of Eastern Orthodox thought; but the fact of Peter’s preeminence both in the New Testament and in the tradition of the early Church, as well as the special role of Rome in the early Church, is so clear that there is little question of denying it altogether.
In this series of posts I will briefly explore the New Testament basis for Peter’s preeminence or primacy in the New Testament. I call this “the Petrine fact” because I see the fact of Peter’s preeminence or primacy as an intractable datum to be accounted for, regardless what theology or ecclesiology one subscribes to.
My intent for now is to maintain the following:
Peter’s preeminence and leadership role among the Twelve is seen in many different ways throughout the New Testament evidence, not just in one or two books (possibly indicating the special interest of a particular community), but in every major strand of NT tradition (Pauline, Synoptic as well as Acts, Johannine, and, within the Synoptic tradition, in “triple tradition” [all three Synoptics], “double tradition” [Matthew and Luke], and material unique to Matthew, Mark and Luke).
This primacy is different in kind from the preeminences of other prominent apostles (i.e., James and John on the one hand, Paul on the other). It is not merely a function of, e.g., Peter’s outspoken personality, or some other informal consideration. It is rooted in the choice of Jesus Christ, who indicated his intention for Peter to have a unique foundational role in the new People of God, a representative headship among the apostles, and a uniquely privileged relationship to Jesus himself in the kingdom.
The Petrine fact, and in particular Peter’s role as rock on which the church is built in Matthew 16, has for some time been widely recognized by Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox scholarship. Major challenges remain in unpacking how this Petrine fact is best understood historically and ecclesiologically, what significance it is understood to have for the early church, the church Fathers of the East and West, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Reformation — questions that have been debated for centuries and which have perhaps remain to be fully explored. (At this point I must resist the temptation to get sidetracked with important caveats for my Orthodox and Protestant brethren; bear with me.) But the Petrine fact itself I take to be, as it were, bedrock and ecumenical New Testament data.
In coming posts I will explore some of the biblical evidence regarding the Petrine fact, and perhaps try to offer some light on how it is to be understood.
Added: Bibliography (in progress)
Below is a partial list in progress of sources used and (slowly) referenced in this series. In particular, Joseph Ratzinger’s essay “The Primacy of Peter and the Unity of the Church” provided the template for the overall strategy of this series and for many of the individual insights.
- Caragounis, Chrys C, Peter and the Rock (W. de Gruyter, 1990).
- Chamblin, J. Knox, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible: Matthew (Baker, 1989).
- Clément, Olivier, You Are Peter: An Orthodox Theologian’s Reflection on the Exercise of Papal Primacy (New City Press, 2003).
- Fitzmyer, Joseph, “Aramaic Kepha’ and Peter’s Name in the New Testament,” To Advance the Gospel (W. B. Eerdmans, 1998 – 2nd ed), pp. 112–120.
- Kasper, Walter (ed.), The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue (Newman Press, 2006).
- Meyendorff, John (ed.), The Primacy of Peter (St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1992; first English ed. 1963).
- Nichols, Aidan, Rome and the Eastern Churches (2nd ed.) (Ignatius Press, 2010).
- Ratzinger, Joseph, “The Primacy of Peter and the Unity of the Church,” Called to Communion (Ignatius Press, 1996), pp. 112–120.