The Catholic Church has consistently taught from the first centuries that the office of Peter is an office that continues to exist and exercise the authority of the keys.
Did Christ the King need a royal steward only during Peter’s lifetime, only until A.D. 67? Did the kingdom end and therefore no longer need the vizier? Did the office of royal steward lie vacant after Peter with the keys put in cold storage? So, if Christ did set up such an organization, he must have provided for its continuation (cf. Mt 7:24–25).
The vizier was an office of supreme importance to the kingdom of Egypt. When the vizier died the office did not: another man would be appointed to fill the vacant office. In the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, when Haman, the wicked vizier was hung by the neck, Mordecai succeeded to his office and, as a sign, was given the royal seal (Esther 8:1–2). In Israel, this appears clearly in Isaias 22 in which God announces that Eliakim will be Shebna’s successor. The Scriptures (especially I & II Kg) show that the office of steward was one of succession—it was always filled. Since Jesus restored the throne of David, he also restored the office of royal steward.
Moses” teaching authority(symbolized by “the seat of Moses” Mt 23:1–3) continued through the centuries, through succession, and was still prominent in the synagogues almost two thousand years later. 1
“Bible Christians” do not think Christ established a visible Church, which means they do not believe in a hierarchy of bishops headed by the pope.
However, the New Testament shows the apostles setting up, after their Master’s instructions, a visible organization and provide for their successors (Acts 1:15–20; Titus 1:5; II Tim. 1:6; 2:2), something all Christians until the Reformation fully recognized.
The earliest account we have of a bishop of Rome exercising authority in another diocese comes from St. Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians. It was written by Clement, bishop of Rome, around the year A.D. 80. In it he responds to the Corinthians’ plea for his intervention. The entire letter is written in a fatherly, kind way, but it is also clear that Clement was quite aware he had a special authority. Two key phrases stand out as testimony of this: “But if any disobey the words spoken by Him [Christ] through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in sin and no small danger”; and “For you will give us joy and gladness if, obedient to what we have written through the Holy Ghost, you root out the lawless anger of your jealousy” (59, 63). Clearly, this early bishop of Rome wrote as one who expected his words to be obeyed.
POPE VICTOR I
One of the best examples, perhaps, of papal authority in the Early Church is Pope Victor I”s (189–199) who worked to settle a dispute among the bishops of the East and West over when to celebrate Easter. Most of the bishops followed his decision to celebrate it on the first Sunday after Passover. Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus resisted on the grounds that his custom was derived from St. John the beloved Apostle. For this, Pope Victor excommunicated him. (Then, at the urging of St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, he withdrew the excommunication.) But the facts to be noted are that Pope Victor took for granted his right to punish by excommunication and that that right was never questioned either by the victims of its use, the Christians of Asia Minor, or by St. Irenaeus, who disagreed with the advisability of using it on this occasion.
“The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the Church [of Rome] . . . handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus” (Against Heresies 3:3:3 [a.d. 189]).
“This is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrneans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John, like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 32:2 [a.d. 200]).
ST. CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE
“If someone [today] does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; first edition [a.d. 251]).
“Cornelius was made bishop by the decision of God and of his Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the applause of the people then present, by the college of venerable priests and good men, at a time when no one had been made [bishop] before hi m- when the place of [Pope] Fabian, which is the place of Peter, the dignity of the sacerdotal chair, was vacant. Since it has been occupied both at the will of God and with the ratified consent of all of us, whoever now wishes to become bishop must do so outside. For he cannot have ecclesiastical rank who does not hold to the unity of the Church” (Letters 55:):8 [a.d. 253]).
“[Pope] Stephen . . . was the blessed Peter’s twenty-second successor in the See of Rome” (Against the Luciferians 23 [a.d. 383]).
ST. AMBROSE OF MILAN
“They [the Novatian heretics] have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven [by the sacrament of confession] even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven”[Mt 16:19]” (Penance 1:7:33 [a.d. 388]).
“If all men throughout the world were such as you most vainly accuse them of having been, what has the chair of the Roman Church done to you, in which Peter sat, and in which Anastasius sits today?” (Against the Letters of Petilani 2:118 [a.d. 402]).
“If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, “Upon this rock I will build my Church” . . . [Mt 16:18]. Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement, Clement by Anacletus, Anacletus by Evaristus . . .” (Letters 53:1:2 [a.d. 412]).
1. MOSES AND AARON, WHEN THIS PRIESTHOOD WAS THEIRS, SUFFERED MUCH; AND CAIPHAS, WHEN HE HAD THEIR CHAIR, PERSECUTED AND CONDEMNED THE LORD . . . AFTERWARDS MOSES WAS SUCCEEDED BY PETER, WHO HAD COMMITTED TO HIS HANDS THE NEW CHURCH OF CHRIST, AND THE TRUE PRIESTHOOD (SAINT MACARIUS [CA. 300–390] HOMILY 26).