In short, the Papacy is the Pope, and the Pope is the Papacy. Next question …
The Papacy is a very old ministry within the holy Catholic Church.
Jesus and Peter
The Papacy derives its authority from Jesus Christ, who said to St Peter in Matthew 16: ‘You are Peter [meaning Rock or Stone], and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’
Jesus went on: ‘I give to you [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’
In other words, Jesus Christ gave to Simon Peter TREMENDOUS spiritual authority.
Look at this carefully. Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter. The name Peter was a new name, Jesus made it up on the spot. It means Rock or Stone, which amounts to the same thing.
Then Jesus said: You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church.
Jesus isn’t talking about himself, he is talking about something or someone ELSE that he will build his Church on. That someone else is Peter, Rock.
Jesus tells Peter that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church built on this Rock, on Peter.
Then to make it extremely clear and obvious, Jesus says specifically to Peter – not the other disciples:
‘I give to YOU [singular] the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever YOU [singular] shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever YOU [singular] shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’
Jesus is speaking only to Peter here. He gives Peter:
- The keys of the kingdom of heaven – this means Peter alone has the authority to open up the kingdom of heaven for people
- The spiritual authority to bind and loose at will on earth, and heaven will confirm his decisions.
This means that St Peter is the greatest of all the apostles. It means he is the Prime Minister of Jesus Christ on earth.
Jesus left the world, but didn’t leave the Church without himself. Jesus left us with himself in Peter. Jesus reigns in Peter, and Peter is the representative of Jesus on earth.
But Peter died …
Yes, Peter died. How unfortunate for the Church right?
Not so! Peter had a successor. Tradition tells us Peter’s successor was St Linus.
St Linus is mentioned in the New Testament (2 Timothy 4:21). He was ordained by the apostle Paul, but Peter transferred the Papacy onto him.
After Peter therefore, St Linus took up Peter’s ministry on earth, just as Peter had taken up Christ’s ministry on earth.
St Linus became the Pope, the Rock, the Head of the Church on earth, with the keys to the kingdom of heaven and with power to bind and loose.
After St Linus, St Clement 1st took up the Papacy towards the end of the 1st century.
All of these men were Bishops of Rome, because St Peter had been Bishop of Rome and because Rome was the most important Church in the early Church.
What about today?
This is an astonishing thing, but the Catholic Church can trace EVERY SINGLE Pope down through her history, all the way back to Peter. There is a direct Papal line from St Peter all the way to the current Pope, who is Pope Francis 1st.
You can find this line of succession here.
I remember being impressed with this when I first visited the Vatican before I became Catholic. In the Vatican there was a huge stone plaque with the name of every Pope and the dates they served from Peter all the way down to Pope Francis.
At the time, I wasn’t sure I believed this, but I thought it was pretty impressive that the Catholic Church could list this so accurately and had taken such care to document these names so carefully throughout her history.
Obviously such a thing would have been hard to just make up if it was a bunch of baloney.
Later I came to realise that this isn’t a bunch of baloney, that it is true and that the Papacy is one of God’s special gifts to Christians.
I discovered that it is actually impossible intellectually to refute the Papacy and the Papal claims. No-one can disprove the Papacy 100%, this is intellectually and philosophically impossible.
And then of course, the Papacy is still here, to this day. Why? That’s weird, don’t you think? So many other kingdoms have fallen. The Nazis were gone within less than 2 decades. The Communists in Russia lasted much less than a full century.
Both the Nazis and the Communists made incredible claims about themselves, saying they would take over the world and last forever.
Neither lasted very long at all.
Every kingdom created by humanity has fallen, sooner or later. Ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs. Greece and Alexander the Great. The Babylonian Empire, the greatest of them all perhaps.
The British Empire is nowhere near what it was. Rome herself fell in the 5th century, after dominating the world for some centuries.
But the Papacy still stands, and today it seems in many ways stronger than ever.
Billions all over the world listen to the Pope when he speaks. Nations hear him. Presidents and Royals listen to him.
Do you know why Communism fell? In large part, it was due to the spectacular efforts and boldness of St Pope John Paul II!
And so, the Papacy is still here, and it’s very evident that it is here to stay.
Who the next Pope will be is anybody’s guess, but right now we look to Pope Francis, the Vicar of Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth, to guide us forward at the dawn of the 3rd millennium.
Whatever the future holds is unknown, but we do know that whatever is to come, God will ensure we have the Papacy to guide us.