The Early Fathers and the Papacy

In an IRC chat with a gentleman who goes by the nick (nickname) of Emanon, I was asked to read former Catholic, William Webster's refutation of Catholic apologist, Stephen Ray. That website is: I agreed to do this and told "Em" that I would get back to him on this.
Mr. Ray also has posted his own response to Webster at:

Both men do bring out some interesting quotes and Webster makes some charges that must be answered, that will be my undertaking in this webpage. I am dividing my response into smaller sections than Mr. Webster's original, this part will deal primarily with what is being said in regard to St. Augustine.

An Answer to the Refutation of the Misrepresentations of the Writings of William Webster and of the Church Fathers by Roman Catholic, Stephen Ray, in His Book Upon This Rock; by William Webster

by Scott Windsor (aka CathApol on IRC)

The First Misrepresentation

To keep track of where I am quoting from Webster's page, I will, periodically, include some of his headings.

The first point I wish to bring out comes from Webster's email to Ray:

Webster's Email to Ray
Thanks for your e-mail, As to your questions let me make this brief comment. No father denies that Peter had a primacy or that there is a Petrine succession. The issue is how the Fathers interpreted those concepts. They simply did not hold to the Roman Catholic view of later centuries that primacy and succession were "exclusively" related to the bishops of Rome. They do not apply the special titles they attribute to Peter to the bishops of Rome and what is more they often attribute the same titles to the other apostles. The most explicit denial of a Petrine primacy in the Roman Catholic sense comes from Augustine which I have documented in the book where he states in exegeting the rock of Matthew 16:18 that Christ did not build his Church on a man but on Peter's confession. He specifically separates Peter's faith from Peter's person and if the Church is not built upon the person of Peter there is no papal office. This is not to say that the Rome did not have authority in the eyes of the fathers. But Rome did not have exclusive authority. The ecclesiology of the early Church was one of conciliarity which was shared by all the major patriarchal sees. Rome was the only patriarchal see in the West and therefore held authority in the West, though in the beginning this was not universal but regional, as Rufinus' translation of the Nicene Council makes clear. I would strongly urge you to read the historical works that I have referenced from the various Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant historians. John Meyendorff is especially good. Hope this is helpful (Personal email from William Webster to Stephen Ray).

Windsor Responds:
Webster charges, "This is not to say that Rome did not have authority in the eyes of the (F)athers. But Rome did not have exclusive authority." No, Rome did not have exclusive authority, and never had it, and never claimed to have it! Each bishop, in his own diocese, has the equivalent authority of the Pope over his jurisdiction. When the Pope acts in his capacity as Bishop of Rome, he is no different, other than a "first among equals," than the rest of the bishops over their own jurisdictions. The Pope does also have another title, "Vicar of Christ" wherein he stands in Christ's place here on earth, over Christ's Church. This authority is clearly given to St. Peter when "The Good Shepherd" told Peter, "Feed My lambs...Tend My sheep...Feed My sheep" (John 21:16-17). In this sequence, Jesus is speaking directly to Peter, and not to any of the rest of the Apostles, all of whom are also present (minus Judas). So there is something special about Peter, and the see that he would occupy. This isn't the position of a tyrant, a king, or a dictator, but a shepherd. Clearly Jesus left one of the Apostles "in charge" to "tend (His) sheep," and that one Apostle is St. Peter. This is not an exclusive authority over the other Apostles - just an added responsibility for Peter and his successors. Having one Apostle to hold this position is the unifying factor for all true Christians.

Webster continues on his webpage:

Mr. Ray has purposefully misrepresented me in his statements. (See what I mean about adolescent boys on the playground?) He is very aware of the fact that I deal extensively with the question he raises in a very forthright manner in my book. Mr. Ray’s main argument rests on an argument from silence, the fact that the Fathers never denied the primacy of Peter or Petrine succession. Of course they didn’t. As I mentioned in my email they explicitly affirm it. However, in affirming it they do not interpret it in the same way Rome does today. That is the point. When Roman apologists use the term ‘primacy’ they mean universal juridisdiction to rule the Church universal. When they speak of Petrine succession they mean this in an exclusive sense as applied to the bishops of Rome. But when the Fathers speak of a Petrine primacy and succession and the primacy of Rome they mean something quite different. They are not silent on the issue. They never denied that Rome had a primacy, but it was interpreted as a primacy of honor since the Church was located in the capital of the Empire and was the site of the martrydom of Peter and Paul. It was not a primacy of universal jurisdiction. They never denied that the Church of Rome had a right to exercise authority. But that authority was limited in its jurisdiction. But when the meaning of primacy and rule is couched in the language of Vatican I we find a vigorous opposition to such claims by the Church Fathers. There is not silence. The Fathers do speak, and they make it clear what they mean by the terms they use. They also speak by repudiating the unlawful claims of Rome as they began to be expressed in the third century and in all the subsequent centuries of the Church. Stephen Ray, and Roman apologists in general, are guilty of a major error of historiography. This is the error of importing the theological understanding of terms developed in a later age and to then impose these concepts on the same terms of the writings of an earlier age, assuming that because they use the same word you do, that they mean the same thing by it. The heretic, Pelagius, used the term grace. He did not deny its necessity. But the issue is not whether he used the word but what he meant by his use of it. And when we examine his use of the word we find that his understanding was definitely heretical. In like manner, when we examine the way the Church Fathers employed the terms they used with respect to Peter and the meaning of primacy we discover that their understanding of those terms is very different from Vatican I and present day Roman Catholic concepts.

Webster shows his misunderstanding of the Roman Catholic position and definition of "primacy." One must speculate that if Mr. Webster had known the true teachings of the Catholic Church, he may never have left it. One has to hope that when he does come to this understanding, he will return home - where he will be welcomed as the Prodigal Son was. I also have the hope that Emanon, also a former Catholic, will also return home. To continue: Primacy is not a position of universal "authority" per se, but of universal responsibility to feed, tend and care for Jesus' sheep - the Church.

It is encouraging to note that Mr. Webster does not deny that the Roman Pontiff does indeed have a primacy of honor, but Peter's commission from Christ was more than honorary. Peter was to take Jesus' place as the Shepherd, the one who watches over the sheep.

Webster goes on to charge: "Ray, and (Catholic) apologists in general, are guilty of a major error of historiography," saying that we are "importing the theological understanding of terms developed in a later age and to then impose these concepts on the same terms of the writings of an earlier age." Well, I would have to charge that it is rather Mr. Webster that is guilty of this. The definitions that Protestants use are the new definitions! Protestantism has only existed for the last 400-500 years, whereas Catholicism is rooted in the Apostles and Christ Himself! How easy is it for this new religious movement to come forth and tell us how we are to define our terminology! Let us recall that the "Great Founders of Protestantism" (Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, etc.) were all former Roman Catholics! The got their start by inventing new definitions for old terms, applying what seemed to be "rational" arguments, and convincing thousands and eventually millions, to follow them in their erroneous ways.


Next, Mr. Webster turns his attention toward St. Augustine, but it is clear to see that Webster contradicts himself with his main tennant, that "(a)ccording to Augustine the Apostles are equal in all respects. Each receives the authority of the keys, not Peter alone."

But, Mr. Webster, it is not the keys that are in question here! Though, it can be argued that some of the Early Fathers do indeed say the keys are given only to Peter, let us deal with St. Augustine for now. The authority of the keys, (which is to bind and loose, retain and/or forgive sins - another very Catholic position given that men are able to forgive sins), is given first to St. Peter (Matthew 16:18) and later to the rest of the Apostles (Matthew 18:18). We concur that this authority is truly given to all the Apostles, I am not so sure that we concur that this authority is passed on to their successors, which in Catholic belief, it surely is - but many Protestants believe this "power" ended with the end of the Apostolic Age. (We can take that up in a future debate, if Mr. Webster so chooses to engage me). The point that Webster, and it would seem most other Protestant apologists miss, is that Catholics do not base the primacy solely on Matthew 16:18! The primacy of responsibility is clearly shown in John 21:15-17. And, the point that Mr. Webster is attempting to make here is that St. Peter is not given anything different than any of the rest of the Apostles were given. Hmmm, how about a new name? How about being the only one commanded to "Feed My sheep...?"

Mr. Webster includes several quotes from St. Augustine, which I will also leave in place:

This same Peter therefore who had been by the Rock pronounced ‘blessed,’ bearing the figure of the Church, holding the chief place in the Apostleship (Sermon 26).

Hmmm, St. Peter is holding the "chief place in the Apostleship." This is supportive of the Catholic definition throughout the ages, including the present!

The blessed Peter, the first of the apostles (Sermon 295).

Hmmm, the "blessed Peter, the first of the apostles." Again, supportive of St. Peter's "lead" role among the Apostles.

Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his, whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, ‘To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 16:19). After all, it isn’t just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged preeminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, ‘To you I am entrusting,’ what has in fact been entrusted to all (Sermon 295).

Here we see Peter, again, being given preeminence, but a similar authority given to the rest of the Apostles. Again, completely in line with current and past Catholic beliefs on the Pope and the college of bishops.

Previously, of course, he was called Simon; this name of Peter was bestowed on him by the Lord, and that with the symbolic intention of his representing the Church. Because Christ, you see, is the petra or rock; Peter, or Rocky, is the Christian people (Sermon 76).

Well, first off I cannot let this interpretation of "Peter" to mean "Rocky" go unchallenged. This too seems to be a novel interpretation that is not reflected by the Early Fathers, nor even other apologists before this recent time.

Second, we find again St. Augustine acknowledging that St. Peter IS the representative for the Universal (Catholic) Church.

So then, this self–same Peter, blessed by being surnamed Rocky from the rock, representing the person of the Church, holding chief place in the apostolic ranks (Sermon 76).

Again, St. Peter is shown to be "holding chief place in the apostolic ranks." If he is "chief" how could he be "the same" as the rest of the Apostles?

For as some things are said which seem peculiarly to apply to the Apostle Peter, and yet are not clear in their meaning, unless when referred to the Church, whom he is acknowledged to have figuratively represented, on account of the primacy which he bore among the Disciples; as it is written, ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ and other passages of like purport: so Judas doth represent those Jews who were enemies of Christ (Exposition on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 119).

Again, St. Peter is being held out as the one to represent the Church because of "the primacy which he bore among the Disciples."

You will remember that the apostle Peter, the first of all the apostles, was thrown completely of balance during the Lord’s passion (Sermon 147).

Even though St. Peter stumbled (an example that even the popes that would follow him would stumble) he was still regarded as "first of all the apostles."

Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer. (Sermon 229).

This is a figurative passage. The Church was not physically built upon "the man" of St. Peter, for he would be crushed in the literal sense. Jesus foundationally lays the groundwork for the Church on Simon's confession, but there's more to this chapter! Simon Bar Jona is renamed Peter here! When God renames someone, there is great significance! (Noting: Abraham, Israel, etc.) None of the other Apostles were so honored or held up as Simon Bar Jona!

And this Church, symbolized in its generality, was personified in the Apostle Peter, on account of the primacy of his apostleship. For, as regards his proper personality, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, by still more abounding grace one, and yet also, the first apostle; but when it was said to him, I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,’ he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by divers temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falleth not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. For petra (rock) is not derived from Peter, but Peter from petra; just as Christ is not called so from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. For on this very account the Lord said, ‘On this rock will I build my Church,’ because Peter had said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed, I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself built. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus. The Church, therefore, which is founded in Christ received from Him the keys of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Peter, that is to say, the power of binding and loosing sins. For what the Church is essentially in Christ, such representatively is Peter in the rock (petra); and in this representation Christ is to be understood as the Rock, Peter as the Church (Commentary on the Gospel of John, Tractate 124.5).

Again we are shown that St. Peter is given primacy and is the single Apostle shown to represent the Church. Where were the other Apostles at this time? The were right there with St. Peter! Why then does the Lord single out Simon and give him the name of Peter? If this were merely an act of symbolism, then why, from this time forward, is Simon refered to as "Peter?"

Webster continues:
Augustine states that Peter is the first and head of the apostles and that he holds a primacy. However he does not interpret that primacy in a Roman Catholic sense. He believes that Peter’s primacy is figurative in that he represents the universal Church. Again, he explicitly states that Christ did not build his Church upon a man but on Peter’s confession of faith. Peter is built on Christ the rock and as a figurative representative of the Church he shows how each believer is built on Christ. In Augustine’s view, Peter holds a primacy or preeminence, but none of this applies to him in a jurisdictional sense, because he says that ‘Christ did not build his Church upon a man.’ We can not get a clearer illustration that the fathers did indeed separate Peter’s confession of faith from Peter’s person.

This would be a logical argument, IF not for the fact that at the begining of Matthew 16 this Apostle is known as "Simon" and after verse 18 he is known as "Peter." Mr. Webster is attempting to put a 16th century spin on an ancient text - but wait, that's what he accuses Catholic apologists of doing!

Webster also states: "We can not get a clearer illustration that the fathers did indeed separate Peter’s confession of faith from Peter’s person." Let's take a look at what a few of the other Early Fathers said:

St. Cyprian of Carthage, The Unity of the Catholic Church
The Lord says to Peter: "I say to you," He says, "that you are Peter, and upon this rock will I build My Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound in also in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed in heaven."
[Cyprian's first edition:]
And again He says to him after His resurrection: "Feed my sheep." On him He builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep; although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed all by the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church? The episcopate is one, of which each bishop holds his part within the undivided structure. The Church also is one, however widely she has spread among the multitude through her fruitful increase ... The Church is bathed in the light of the Lord, and pours her rays over the whole world; but it is one light that is spread everywhere, and the unity of her structure is undivided.
[Jurgens 555-556]

Now, does this sound a bit like Protestantism?! Where is the unity in Protestantism? Today, who would St. Cyprian say is sitting in the "one chair" of the Church?

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter without heading, of Cyprian to the Lapsed. A.D, 250
Our Lord, whose commands we ought to fear and observe, says in the Gospel, by way of assigning the episcopal dignity and settling the plan of His Church: "I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they will be loosed in heaven."
From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of times and successions; for the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by the same rulers. Since this has indeed been established by Divine Law, I marvel at the rash boldness of certain persons who have desired to write me as if they were writing letters in the name of the Church, "since the Church is established upon the bishop and upon the clergy and upon all who stand firm in the faith."

[Jurgens 571]

St. Cyprian again asserts that the Church is founded upon St. Peter, and that the plan of the Church, "through the changes of times and successions." Please note that he specifically mentions successions clearly indicating this "ability" was handed down from the Apostles to the current time.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter of Cyprian to Quintus, Bishop in Mauretania. A.D. 254/255
...For Peter, whom the Lord chose first and upon whom He built His Church, when Paul later disagreed with him about circumcision, did not claim anything for himself insolently nor assume anthing arrogantly, so as to say that he held the primacy and that he ought rather to be obeyed by novices and those more recently arrived.
[Jurgens 592a]

Here we find St. Cyprian again asserting that the Church is indeed built upon Peter.

St. Ephraim, Homilies
Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build my Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!
[Jurgens 706]

Yet another of the Early Fathers asserting much more than Mr. Webster would like to admit regarding Petrine authority and foundation.

St. Damasus I, Pope, The Decree of Damasus
Likewise it is decreed: After the announcement of all these prophetic and evengelic as well as apostolic writings which we have listed as Scriptures, on which, by the grace of God, the Catholic Church is founded, we hav considered that it ought to be announced that although all the Catholic Churches spread abroad through the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by concilliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shal have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven."...
The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it. The second see, however, is that of Alexandria, consecrated in behalf of the blessed Peter by Mark, his disciple and evangelist, who was sent to Egypt by the Apostle Peter, where he preached the word of truth and finished hi glorious martyrdom. The third honorable see, indeed, is that at Antioch, which belonged to the most blessed Apostle Peter, where he first dwelt before he came to Rome, and where the name Christians was first applied, as to a new people.
[Jurgens 910u]

Again, another of the Early Fathers affirming the See of Rome as the "First See" and even though the Church was spreading abroad, the Roman Church is the focus.

So I have clearly shown that this concept of primacy and papal responsibility is not a novel idea that began some time after St. Augustine, for I have shown such evidence generations prior to St. Augustine's birth!

I will close PART ONE here. As time allows I will engage in Mr. Webster's comments on St. Chrysostom and his other objections to what Mr. Ray wrote.

Wanna buy the books that we are discussing here? Click on the links below!

Upon This Rock
Stephen Ray

Church of Rome at the Bar of History
William Webster

(Webster's other book, The Matthew 16 Controversy was not available through at the time of this publishing).