Friday, August 03, 2012

The Primacy of Peter

Just a few days ago, I acquired my own copy of a book I remember from childhood (not, alas, from Catholic school): the silver jubilee edition of My Catholic Faith, by Bishop Louis Laravoire Morrow, S.T.D. (My Mission House, Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1961).  Bishop Morrow served as the Bishop of the Diocese of Krishnagar, India, from 1939 to 1969; his book originally came out in 1936.  My Catholic Faith is a concise summary of the Faith and is divided into three parts: What to Believe; What to Do; and Means of Grace.  This worthy book unfortunately appears no longer to be in print, and was one of the many treasures swept out into the sea of oblivion by the flood of modernism that followed Vatican II.  Sadly, many of the devotions, ceremonies and liturgical accoutrements that it describes were also swept away and are now foreign to most Latin Rite Catholics; but, thanks to our current Holy Father, they are beginning to come back.  If you can find a copy on Amazon or from a used book seller, My Catholic Faith is a good place to learn about and rekindle a love for these once-common features of Catholic life.

One striking lesson in My Catholic Faith is Lesson No. 50: The Primacy of Peter.  One of the defining characteristics of Protestantism is the rejection of this doctrine; and unfortunately, it is now all but rejected by many Catholics.  Many in the pews have been raised to view the Pope as a semi-comical figure in a white dress and fancy headgear who leads a sheltered life, ignorant of the concerns of everyday people, and just wants to ruin everybody's fun.  Even many priests and bishops do not seem to see the need of obeying the Pope in the exercise of his rightful authority, as the response in some quarters to Summorum Pontificum clearly demonstrates.  But here Bishop Morrow brings us up short.  "The true test of loyalty to Christ," he says, "is not only to believe in Him and worship Him, but to honor and obey the representatives He has chosen.  Our Lord chose St. Peter as His Vicar.  It is rebellion against Christ to say to Him: 'I will worship You, but I will not recognize Your representative.'  This is what Christians do, who deny the authority of the successor of Peter."

How do we know that Christ has a Vicar on earth, and that the Vicar is Peter?  The good bishop gives us his point-by-point analysis:

-- Jesus changed the name of Simon to Peter after his confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi.  "Peter" means "Rock," signifying Peter's role as the foundation of the Church.

-- Jesus gave to Peter, and to no other Apostle, the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Keys are a sign of authority.

-- After the Resurrection, on the Lake of Gennesareth, Jesus asked Peter three times  if Peter loved Him, and three times told Peter to feed His lambs and His sheep.  The "lambs" are the laity; the "sheep" are the clergy who nourish the lambs.  By this Jesus signified the entire flock.  He gave to no other Apostle the responsibility of feeding His entire flock.

-- Jesus gave Peter a new name; chose him as a companion on the most solemn occasions; appeared to him first among all the Apostles after the Resurrection.  These marks of distinction were conferred on no other Apostle.

-- Jesus is the Invisible Head of His Church, but, like any other society, the Church needs a visible head; St. Peter was chosen to be the visible head of the Church to take Christ's place among men.

-- Peter actually exercised his primacy.

1. Peter's name always comes first in the list of Apostles, just as the name of the Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, always comes last.  St. Matthew calls him the first of the Apostles (Matthew 10:2).  He was not the first in age (his brother Andrew was older) nor in election (here again, Andrew preceded him), so he must have been first in authority.

2. It was on Peter's advice that the Apostles chose a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:21-26).

3. Peter preached the first sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36).

4. Peter admitted the first converts from both Judaism and Paganism, shattering the taboo against Jews and pagans consorting with one another (Acts 2:38-41; 10:5 et seq.).

5. Peter worked the first miracle by curing a man lame from birth (Acts 3:6-8).

6. Peter meted out the first punishment, against the cheaters Ananias and Sapphira, who fell down dead at his rebuke (Acts 5:1-6).

7. Peter cast out the heretic, Simon Magus, who wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:19-20).

8. Peter made the first visitation of the churches (Acts 9:31-32).

9. At the first ecclesiastical council in Jerusalem, after much debate, all submitted to the judgment of Peter (Acts 15:7-12).

10. St. Paul presented himself to Peter after his conversion (Gal.1:18).

11. As the See of Peter, the Church of Rome ranked highest among the early churches established by the Apostles.

And, of course, the successors of Peter down to this day succeed to his primacy and his authority.  

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.  
Matthew 16:18-19 

UPDATE: A commenter has just drawn my attention to the fact that My Catholic Faith is indeed back in print, under the auspices of Angelus Press.


  1. Great post. One of the reasons I hate the many films and videos done by Protestants on St.Paul is that these make him look equal to Peter. The Lutherans favor Paul over Peter, as it is a prejudice against the Pope and they think that as Paul wrote more, he was better than the first Pope.

    I love those old books and had some. I hope homeschooling families read this and order that book.

  2. Believe it or not, the Angelus Press has this book- we purchased it several years ago at the urging of our pastor and love having it in the house-

  3. Supertradmum, I hope people order this book too. Agnes, I'm glad somebody has this book in print. God hasten the regularity of the SSPX.

  4. The more time passes since I entered the Church at Easter Vigil 2009 the more I think of what catechesis should be. As a non-Catholic graduate of a Catholic high school I recall the dreadful religion text we had to use. And I don't remember a single session in RCIA devoted to the Mass for example.

    A tangential note. The location of Bishop Morrow's see reminded me of a series of YouTube videos I came across the other night entitled CATHEDRALS AND CHURCHES IN INDIA. It elegantly and dramatically presents images of Catholic and Christian churches all over India accompanied but beautiful liturgical music. A highly recommended portrait of the Christian witness in that country. And the variety -- from Anglican churches seemingly lifted from the English countryside to ecclesiastical architecture that could only have been produced in India. A revelation to this Catholic who has been fortunate enough to attend a Syro-Malabar mass.