“Holy Scripture is a stream in which the elephant may swim and the lamb may wade.”
Pope St. Gregory
Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. St. Jerome
If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. St. Augustine
The Holy Bible is like a mirror before our mind’s eye. In it we see our inner face. From the Scriptures we can learn our spiritual deformities and beauties. And there too we discover the progress we are making and how far we are from perfection. Pope St. Gregory
Learn the heart of God from the word of God. Pope St. Gregory
Holy Scripture is a stream in which the elephant may swim and the lamb may wade. Pope St. Gregory 1
Holy Scripture by the manner of its language transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery. Pope St. Gregory
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people. G.K. Chesterton
“Catholics should not judge nor live their Catholic lives according to modernity, but should judge and live within modernity according to Catholicism.”
Listers, if we are to be Catholic we must think like Catholics. Too often Catholics – both sides of the American political aisle – try to be Catholic according to the precepts and philosophies of modernity and its intellectual trends. We push our Catholicism into the contraints of something alien to it and then wonder why our faith seems tenuous and conflated. The Catholic tradition has long rested on Aquinas’ treatment of the divinely ordered cosmos to answer questions of providence, Scripture, nature and politics. Catholics cannot thrive within philosophies and theologies marked by isolated stomping grounds and modern blinders. Catholics believe in one divinely ordered Creation. Catholics should not judge nor live their Catholic lives according to modernity, but should judge and live within modernity according to Catholicism. To accomplish this feat, one must understand the how existence is ordered and how harmony of these laws promotes the common good.1
A law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.” St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II.90.4
1. What are the four laws?
The following summary maps the four laws of the divinely ordered cosmos.2
Eternal Law – The Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their end; it has the common good of all things as its focus; thus God, as “Being-itself” is the only One capacious enough to promulgate such a law and move all things in existence toward their proper end.
Divine Law – The historical laws of Scripture given to man through God’s self-revelation.
The Old Law – Extrinsic focus, fear and earthly rewards – foreshadows the NT The New Law – Intrinsic focus, love and heavenly rewards – Perfects the OT
Natural Law – The Eternal Law of God imprinted on all things, from which “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”
Human Law – Laws of governments that are dictates of practical reason from the general precepts of Natural Law.
Whether These Four Laws Exist
2. Is there Eternal law?
Any law can be summarized as “nothing else but a dictate of practical reason emanating from the ruler who governs a perfect community.” If therefore this definition of law is applied to all existence or being, then, the Angelic Doctor explains, “granted that the world is ruled by Divine Providence” the “the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason.” He continues, “wherefore the very idea of the government of things in God the Ruler of the universe, has the nature of a law.”
God’s Reason and God’s Wisdom
Eternal Law is God’s Wisdom that governs over all existence. St. Thomas speaks of both “Divine Reason” and “Divine Wisdom,” but unlike created man in whom reason can differ from wisdom due to imperfection, God the Creator’s reason is also perfect wisdom.
3. Is there in us a Natural law?
If Eternal Law governs Creation, how does the creature participate?
“Wherefore, since all things subject to Divine providence are ruled and measured by the eternal law, as was stated above; it is evident that all things partake somewhat of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, from its being imprinted on them, they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”
Further articulating the “respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends,” the Angelic Doctor states, “wherefore [the rational creature, i.e., man] has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law.”3
What all Catholics should know about Natural Law:
Aquinas will go on to address Natural Law in greater detail in both his question on the subject and in treating Human Law; however, the incredible importance of Natural Law should be summarized:
Natural Law is the imprint of God’s Eternal Law upon creatures, and that means that Natural Law serves as the universal and common general moral language of all rational creations – humans. Moreover, it also means – as touched on below – that all Human Law, all political laws of the State, should be specifications of Natural Law’s general precepts. Under no circumstances can the laws of the State be dictates of the arbitrary will of a ruler or the people. Laws are just or unjust according to nature not the human will.
4. Is there Human law?
Human Law is at the same time incredibly simple in its premise and incredibly arduous in its practicality. Human Law is nothing more than the general laws of nature specified via human reason into particular laws of the State.
The precepts of Natural Law are “general and indemonstrable principles,” and upon these general inclinations “human reason needs to proceeed to the more particular determination of certain matter.”
What all Catholics should know about Human Law:
Nota bene: human law is not just an extension of the ruler’s will nor is Human Law a simple gemoetric deduction from Natural Law. All Human Law – all laws of the State (polis) – must be rooted in nature and nature’s general moral precepts. A law is just according to the standard of nature not the desire of the people or the command of a ruler. The rulers of the State must work to take the general moral precepts of nature and specify them into particular laws of the State, e.g., the natural repugnance of murder and its unlawfulness is legislated into several various degrees and corresponding punishments. Human Law seeks through nature and reason to clarify and determine the gray areas of Natural Law.4
5. Is there a need for Divine law?
Divine Law is the revealed law of God to man, while Natural Law is the imprint of Eternal Law on the hearts of men. Natural Law is then demonstrable and intelligible in its principles and thus discernable by human reason. Divine Law, while accessible to human reason, is revealed to man and not necessarily demonstrable from nature.
An Example of Divine vs Natural Law:
Divine Law was necessary to reveal to man such truths that were not able to be discerned from nature, e.g., the proper worship of God, God’s specific will for Israel, the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc. However, certain precepts are shared by Divine and Natural Law, such as “do not murder.” Certainly God did not have to reveal to man that murder was wrong for man knew this from the imprinted inclinations of Natural Law, but God did clarify many natural precepts in Scripture.
What is the purpose of the Divine Law?
Therefore, Divine Law can be said to be given for many reasons, but in general it was given because Natural Law allows man to participate according to the capacity of his human nature with the Eternal Law – however, man was in need of something to lift him above his own nature so that he may fulfill his supernatural end. Moreover, Divine Law clarifies many particulars of Natural Law and reveals many truths man would have otherwise never known.
6. How many Divine laws are there?
There is one Divine Law manifested in two parts – the Old Testament and New Testament – and the latter perfects the former. The operative word is perfect – sometimes the terms “old” and “new” give the false impression restart. The New Law perfects the Old and both can be seen as a progression of the Divine Pedagogy.
Fear and Love:
St. Thomas Aquinas gives several observations of the relationship between the two parts of the Divine Law. He states, “it belongs to the law to induce men to observe its commandments. This the Old Law did by the fear of punishment: but the New Law, by love, which is poured into our hearts by the grace of Christ, bestowed in the New Law, but foreshadowed in the Old. Hence Augustine says (Contra Adimant. Manich. discip. xvii) that “there is little difference [The ‘little difference’ refers to the Latin words ‘timor’ and ‘amor’–‘fear’ and ‘love.’] between the Law and the Gospel–fear and love.”
7. What of Sin?
Aquinas is addressing a confusing juxtaposition. One one hand, a law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated;” and under this definition, sin cannot be considered a law because sin is not rational nor is to for the common good. However, St. Paul states, “I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind.” What then is sin?
There is in man the Natural Law that prompts him to the good and his proper acts and end; however, sin is also like a law insofar as it has a “reason of a direct inclination” to lead men away from the good. Yet, “in man, it has not the nature of law in this way, rather it is a deviation from the law of reason.” Sin appears to be a law insofar as it inclines men to a certain action, but since it is irrational and to the detriment of the good of man, it is not a law – in essence, sin is a corruption.5
LIST: This list is based on Aquinas’ ST I-II.91 – Various Kinds of Law [↩]
The Four Laws: Notice that in the questions, Aquinas does not immediate go into the details of each law or rather “what is this law,” but rather “is there such a law?” He realizes that the case for the existence of such laws must be made. Another key characteristic to take note of is that the laws can and do overlap; thus, if the laws seem to be unclear at times because it seems an issue cannot be deduced to simply one sphere of law, it is because the laws handle the same subject but often in different ways. Just as a geologist and an astronomer can both speak to the earth being a sphere, but address the subject through different methods – this most often seen in how the Divine Law and the Natural Law speak to the same morals, but one is revealed and the other instinctual. [↩]
Natural Law & Scripture: While there are many examples, Aquinas uses the following as an example of an innate moral compass in man: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us”: thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law. [↩]
The State: technically the term implied here is polis, which means means city. When Aristotle used the term he was referring to City-States or holistic political communities. Political philosophy has appropriated the term to signify the complete and sovereign political body. For “The Philosopher” the term contained several sub-political parts – man the political animal, the relationships of the family, collections of families or villages and finally the superior political body the polis as a collection of villages. Modernity works off a more grandiose system, but the premise remains the same. [↩]
Sin & Evil: To better understand why sin is not a law, evil must be understood. Evil is not a thing but is rather the privation of good. It is a negation, a lack and a corruption. There is no pure evil, because pure evil would mean something was wholly corrupt without out any good and that would mean the thing would simply cease to exist. To wit, God created and sustains all being, therefore, even the demons have some good left in them insofar as they exist. [↩]
An unjust law is no law at all – we will not and cannot not comply.
Listers, the HHS mandate has jolted the soporific Catholic Church in America into action. We are at war. We are in a multi-front conflict that cannot be reduced to violations of religious liberty. The Church is calling the faithful to stand against the scourge of abortion, the unnatural and artificial recreation of marriage and family, and the inalienable right for Catholics to worship God in the mass and serve him in the poor according to the truth of the Gospels. As our world abandons God and natural law for the dictatorship of relativism, Holy Mother Church is calling us to defend the faith and to promote that which is natural and rational in man.
Spread the faith. Spread the truth. Let people know where you stand. Do not be afraid.
Permission and Use: Permission is given, indeed, it is encouraged that you use these images for any personal means especially on your blog, facebook or twitter. All we ask is that you kindly credit us with a link back to this page (when possible) and that you don’t modify the images. To download them, you can simply right-click on any image and choose your browsers “save as” or “download as” option. If you’re on an iOS device you can simply tap and hold on an image and a dialog will appear allowing you to save the image. Finally, if you’d like to you can download all 10 images in a .zip file.
UPDATE 02/10/12: Mea culpa. Thanks to Josh McManaway in the comments and @JWY80 on Twitter for the reminder that “‘cum’ semper requirit casum ablativum.”
3. We Cannot – We Will Not – Comply
Echoing the words of our Bishops and the leaders of many Catholic institutions.
4. An Unjust Law is No Law
One of St. Augustine’s most famous quotes seems more applicable now than ever before in the history of the United States.
5. The Church Has Outlived Every Major Empire. Think Twice.
This isn’t the first time we have stood up and had to pay for it. We’re not going anywhere.
6. The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail – Matthew 16:18
7. If “What Goes On” In The Bedroom Doesn’t Affect Me, Why Make Me Pay For It?
8. Pregnancy Is Not A Disease
9. “Give me an army praying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” – Blessed Pope Pius IX
10. BONUS: Keep Calm and Catholic On
Facebook Timeline Cover Images
Here are three images sized specifically for Facebook Timeline Cover Images. (You can thank Lister Tammy who made this suggestion in the comments. Be sure to click the image and then save the full-sized version!
Listers, we’ve recreated our popular Keep Calm and Catholic On graphic. The papal tiara is an original SPL design and red will be the new theme color. We will soon begin production of this graphic on various SPL merchandise.
In the midst of all the troubles and anxieties we as Catholics now face in this modernist world, please remember to faithfully attend mass, pray the rosary and most of all – Keep Calm and Catholic On.
“Now we are not always bound to do this, since even in the Sacred Doctrine many things have to be concealed, especially from unbelievers, lest they deride it, according to Matthew 7:6: ‘Give not that which is holy, to dogs.’
Listers, in his third article discussing war, St. Thomas Aquinas raises a question of “just tactics” or rather whether or not ambushes and other “deceptive” maneuvers are permissible in a just war. The Angelic Doctor speaks of war under the heading of those things which are contrary to peace, and peace is listed as a species of charity, the mother of all virtues.1
The following three objections are opinions NOT held by ST. Thomas, but raised by him in order to better understand the position of others. The entire Summa Theologica is in a question and answer format – which is the most natural form of education. The titles have been added.
1. If it is deceptive, is it not unjust?
Objection 1. It would seem that it is unlawful to lay ambushes in war. For it is written (Deuteronomy 16:20): “Thou shalt follow justly after that which is just.” But ambushes, since they are a kind of deception, seem to pertain to injustice. Therefore it is unlawful to lay ambushes even in a just war.
2. If it is a form of lying, is it not unjust?
Objection 2. Further, ambushes and deception seem to be opposed to faithfulness even as lies are. But since we are bound to keep faith with all men, it is wrong to lie to anyone, as Augustine states (Contra Mend. xv). Therefore, as one is bound to keep faith with one’s enemy, as Augustine states (Ep. ad Bonif. clxxxix), it seems that it is unlawful to lay ambushes for one’s enemies.
3. If we love our enemies, how can we deceive?
Objection 3. Further, it is written (Matthew 7:12): “Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them”: and we ought to observe this in all our dealings with our neighbor. Now our enemy is our neighbor. Therefore, since no man wishes ambushes or deceptions to be prepared for himself, it seems that no one ought to carry on war by laying ambushes.
St. Thomas’ Response
4. On the Authority of Scripture
On the contrary, Augustine says (QQ. in Hept. qu. x super Jos): “Provided the war be just, it is no concern of justice whether it be carried on openly or by ambushes”: and he proves this by the authority of the Lord, Who commanded Joshua to lay ambushes for the city of Hai (Joshua 8:2).
5. Rights and Covenants of War
I answer that, The object of laying ambushes is in order to deceive the enemy. Now a man may be deceived by another’s word or deed in two ways. First, through being told something false, or through the breaking of a promise, and this is always unlawful. No one ought to deceive the enemy in this way, for there are certain “rights of war and covenants, which ought to be observed even among enemies,” as Ambrose states (De Officiis i).
6. The Lawful Art of Concealment
Secondly, a man may be deceived by what we say or do, because we do not declare our purpose or meaning to him. Now we are not always bound to do this, since even in the Sacred Doctrine many things have to be concealed, especially from unbelievers, lest they deride it, according to Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy, to dogs.” Wherefore much more ought the plan of campaign to be hidden from the enemy. For this reason among other things that a soldier has to learn is the art of concealing his purpose lest it come to the enemy’s knowledge, as stated in the Book on Strategy [Stratagematum i, 1 by Frontinus]. Such like concealment is what is meant by an ambush which may be lawfully employed in a just war.
Nor can these ambushes be properly called deceptions, nor are they contrary to justice or to a well-ordered will. For a man would have an inordinate will if he were unwilling that others should hide anything from him
Wherefore it is unbecoming for them to slay or shed blood, and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry.
Listers, in the Angelic Doctor’s Summa Theologica, he addresses the question of whether or not it is lawful for a priest or bishop to wage war. St. Thomas Aquinas takes up his question on war under vices contrary to peace which is a species of the mother of all virtues, charity. The question on priests and war is his second article under the question of war, which follows the first article discussing St. Augustine’s Just War theory.1
Henceforth everything is quoted from that glorious book that was laid upon the altar at the Council of Trent – the Summa Theologica – save the titles and the rearranging of the question to better suit the majority of our readers who are not familiar with the structure of the Summa.
Whether it is lawful for clerics and bishops to fight?
1. Incompatible Duties
On the contrary, It was said to Peter as representing bishops and clerics (Matthew 16:52): “Put up again thy sword into the scabbard [Vulgate: ‘its place’] [“Scabbard” is the reading in John 18:11.”] Therefore it is not lawful for them to fight.
I answer that, Several things are requisite for the good of a human society: and a number of things are done better and quicker by a number of persons than by one, as the Philosopher observes (Polit. i, 1), while certain occupations are so inconsistent with one another, that they cannot be fittingly exercised at the same time; wherefore those who are deputed to important duties are forbidden to occupy themselves with things of small importance. Thus according to human laws, soldiers who are deputed to warlike pursuits are forbidden to engage in commerce [Cod. xii, 35, De Re Milit.].
Now warlike pursuits are altogether incompatible with the duties of a bishop and a cleric, for two reasons. The first reason is a general one, because, to wit, warlike pursuits are full of unrest, so that they hinder the mind very much from the contemplation of Divine things, the praise of God, and prayers for the people, which belong to the duties of a cleric. Wherefore just as commercial enterprises are forbidden to clerics, because they unsettle the mind too much, so too are warlike pursuits, according to 2 Timothy 2:4: “No man being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular business.”
2. Ministry of the Altar
The second reason is a special one, because, to wit, all the clerical Orders are directed to the ministry of the altar, on which the Passion of Christ is represented sacramentally, according to 1 Corinthians 11:26: “As often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until He come.” Wherefore it is unbecoming for them to slay or shed blood, and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry. For this reason it has been decreed that those who shed blood, even without sin, become irregular. Now no man who has a certain duty to perform, can lawfully do that which renders him unfit for that duty. Wherefore it is altogether unlawful for clerics to fight, because war is directed to the shedding of blood.
Wherefore it is unbecoming for them to slay or shed blood, and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry.
3. May Clerics Fight in Defense of the Vulnerable?
Objection 1. It would seem lawful for clerics and bishops to fight. For, as stated above (Article 1), wars are lawful and just in so far as they protect the poor and the entire common weal from suffering at the hands of the foe. Now this seems to be above all the duty of prelates, for Gregory says (Hom. in Ev. xiv): “The wolf comes upon the sheep, when any unjust and rapacious man oppresses those who are faithful and humble. But he who was thought to be the shepherd, and was not, leaveth the sheep, end flieth, for he fears lest the wolf hurt him, and dares not stand up against his injustice.” Therefore it is lawful for prelates and clerics to fight.
Reply to Objection 1. Prelates ought to withstand not only the wolf who brings spiritual death upon the flock, but also the pillager and the oppressor who work bodily harm; not, however, by having recourse themselves to material arms, but by means of spiritual weapons, according to the saying of the Apostle (2 Corinthians 10:4): “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.” Such are salutary warnings, devout prayers, and, for those who are obstinate, the sentence of excommunication.
4. Can Clerics Take Part in Wars in Any Fashion?
Objection 2. Further, Pope Leo IV writes (xxiii, qu. 8, can. Igitur): “As untoward tidings had frequently come from the Saracen side, some said that the Saracens would come to the port of Rome secretly and covertly; for which reason we commanded our people to gather together, and ordered them to go down to the seashore.” Therefore it is lawful for bishops to fight.
Reply to Objection 2. Prelates and clerics may, by the authority of their superiors, take part in wars, not indeed by taking up arms themselves, but by affording spiritual help to those who fight justly, by exhorting and absolving them, and by other like spiritual helps. Thus in the Old Testament (Joshua 6:4) the priests were commanded to sound the sacred trumpets in the battle. It was for this purpose that bishops or clerics were first allowed to go to the front: and it is an abuse of this permission, if any of them take up arms themselves.
5. Is It a Sin for Clerics to Go to War?
Objection 3. Further, apparently, it comes to the same whether a man does a thing himself, or consents to its being done by another, according to Romans 1:32: “They who do such things, are worthy of death, and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.” Now those, above all, seem to consent to a thing, who induce others to do it.
But it is lawful for bishops and clerics to induce others to fight: for it is written (xxiii, qu. 8, can. Hortatu) that Charles went to war with the Lombards at the instance and entreaty of Adrian, bishop of Rome. Therefore they also are allowed to fight.
Reply to Objection 3. As stated above (23, 4, ad 2) every power, art or virtue that regards the end, has to dispose that which is directed to the end. Now, among the faithful, carnal wars should be considered as having for their end the Divine spiritual good to which clerics are deputed. Wherefore it is the duty of clerics to dispose and counsel other men to engage in just wars. For they are forbidden to take up arms, not as though it were a sin, but because such an occupation is unbecoming their personality.
Wherefore it is the duty of clerics to dispose and counsel other men to engage in just wars. For they are forbidden to take up arms, not as though it were a sin, but because such an occupation is unbecoming their personality.
6. Why Should Clerics Abstain from Just Wars?
Objection 4. Further, whatever is right and meritorious in itself, is lawful for prelates and clerics. Now it is sometimes right and meritorious to make war, for it is written (xxiii, qu. 8, can. Omni timore) that if “a man die for the true faith, or to save his country, or in defense of Christians, God will give him a heavenly reward.” Therefore it is lawful for bishops and clerics to fight.
Reply to Objection 4. Although it is meritorious to wage a just war, nevertheless it is rendered unlawful for clerics, by reason of their being deputed to works more meritorious still. Thus the marriage act may be meritorious; and yet it becomes reprehensible in those who have vowed virginity, because they are bound to a yet greater good.
“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
Listers, SPL presents a small snapshot of the extraordinary intellect and wit of Gilbert Keith Chesterton.His works brim with antidotes, parables, paradoxes, and witticisms. Even over the most mundane of subjects, he is a joy to read.
On Fairy Tales:
“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
On Living the Life:
“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”
On a Poetic Lacuna:
“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”
“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”
On Soldiers of Charity:
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.”
On the Occasion of Being Absentminded:
“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”
On the Occasion of a Dinner Party:
“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”
An Antidote to Materialism:
“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
On Literary Critique:
“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
“As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest groups.”
Listers, the USCCB has released Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholics Bishops of the United States.1 Before we begin, there are a few points of note. The first being the principle questions have either been reworded or added in order to gain the maximum amount of clarity and substance from the document. We would also like to stress this document comes from the USCCB and not the Holy See. In gist, the American bishops have taken the Sacred Doctrine of Church and pastorally applied it to the particular political issues facing the United States.
In this context, there are certain distinctions which must be acknowledged. For instance, the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church is binding upon all Catholics; however, the pastoral application of that doctrine is sometimes binding and is sometimes allowed to differ according to various political views. Abortion is an intrinsic evil, and as such there is only one acceptable application: it must be outlawed in all circumstances. In clarification by contrast, alleviating poverty, gun control, globalization, etc., can all be outlined by doctrinal principles, but can have varying legitimate political applications.
1. Why Does the Church Teach About Issues Affecting Public Policy?
The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith.
The general argument the bishops submit is that Christ has revealed to the Holy Catholic Church “the dignity of the human person and about the sacredness of every human life;” which, helps Catholics “see more clearly the same truths that also come to us through the gift of human reason.” Coupling together our Catholic knowledge of human dignity and Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor, Catholics have an obligation to help form society according to the principles.2
The bishop’s approach is very akin to St. Augustine’s argument in City of God, where he exhorts Catholics to participate in political/social life in order that they may love their neighbors to the fullest extent. Also like the saint, the USCCB speaks very little of nature, natural law, or man as a political animal. It is a lamentable omission, and one SPL will address in a later post.
2. Who in the Church Should Participate in Political Life?
In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person…. As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life.
3. Is the Church’s Call to Political Action the Same as Other Calls to Political Action?
Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable. The Catholic call to faithful citizenship affirms the importance of political participation and insists that public service is a worthy vocation.
As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest groups.
4. Is the Catholic Church Trying to Replace the State or Vie for State Power?
As Pope Benedict XVI states in Deus Caritas Est:
The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.
5. What Is a Well-Formed Conscience and What Is Its Role in Political Action?
The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church.
Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning evil.
Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their conscience they can make erroneous judgments.
A note on virtue theory and a well-formed conscience.3
6. What Is the Role of the Virtue of Prudence?
The Church fosters well-formed consciences not only be teaching moral truth but also by encouraging its members to develop the virtue of prudence. Prudence enables us “to discern out true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (CCC, no. 1806).
Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace.
The Church’s teachings is clear that a good end does not justify an immoral means.
7. How Should We View the Church and Political Parties?
As the Holy Father also taught in Deus Caritas Est, “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful” (no. 29). This duty is more critical than ever in today’s political environment, where Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised , sensing that no party and too few candidates full share the Church’s comprehensive commitment to he life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.
Clearly not every Catholic can be actively involved on each of these concerns [i.e., all the particular issues of Catholic Social Teaching] but we need to support one another as our community of faith defends human life and dignity wherever it is threatened. We are not factions, but one family of faith fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ.
The short answer is no; however, there are certainly complications when dealing with intrinsic evils. These will be addressed.
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility toward the common good. (Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics IN Political Life, no. 4)
9. How Ought Morally Responsible Political Decisions Be Made?
The following is arguably one of the most succinct paragraphs in the USCCB document:
Decisions about political life are complex and require the exercise of a well-formed conscience aided by prudence. This exercise of conscience beings with out right oppositions to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.
10. What If a “Morally Flawed Law” Already Exists – Can Catholics Support a Political “Partial Good?”
In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process mary restore justice only partially or gradually. For example, Pope John Paul II taught that when a government official who fully opposes abortion cannot succeed in completely overturning a pro-abortion law, he or she may work to improve protection for unborn human life, “limiting the harm done by such a law” and lessening its negative impact as much as possible (Evangelium Vitae, no. 73).
11. What If a Catholic Votes for a Candidate/Law that Furthers an Intrinsic Evil?
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if they voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would by guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other importnat moral issues involving human life and dignity.
12. What If There Are Multiple “Grave Moral Issues” at Hand?
There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grace reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grace moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
13. What If All the Candidates Represent at Least One Intrinsic Evil?
The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.
14. In Summary, What Is Key to Making a Practical Catholic Political Choice?
In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral obligation oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.
In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.
15. Do Catholic Politicians Have Any Special Duty?
In Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 83, Pope Benedict XVI states the follow:
Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith. Evidently, this is true for all the baptized, yet it is especially incumbent upon those who, bu virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense form conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms.
The USCCB comments:
The Holy Father, in a particular way, called on Catholic politicians and legislators to recognize their grace responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values, and urged them to oppose laws and policies that violate life and dignity at any stage from conception to natural death.
The philosophy underneath these statements is that human society is a natural institution and men are the political animals that inhabit it. The State – as an act of nature – should be ran according to natural truths, and the Church is ran according to God’s revealed truth. However, Scripture does at times comment on truths of nature, and thus the Church has finds man’s natural wisdom is perfected. Technically, we oppose issues such as abortion and homosexuality because they are contrary to nature. It is this mindset that is the Catholic Church’s canon on deciding what Scriptures are applicable to human society. The Church and State must remain separate. Catholicism is not a political religion – like Islam, e.g., Sharia Law. [↩]
Moreover, it should be noted that a major participant is forming a well-ordered conscience is virtue. Virtues are “good habits” that literally habituate us toward “the Good.” These virtues – i.e., charity, faith, hope, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude – are not relative actions rooted in the subjective opinion, but are ordered actions according to objective principles. In this light, it is easy to see why simply “feeling strongly” about an issue does not qualify as having a “well-ordered conscience.” Habits form us consciences, and they can undergo a mal-formation. [↩]
Furthering our SPL commentary, let us note that the Virtue of Prudence is both an intellectual and moral virtue – it is the “elective habit” by which we choose good. [↩]
In gist, our commitment to Christ, to his Church, and to her children, our fellow Catholics, must come before the political party lines that have evolved in our own country. The doctrine of the Church is timeless and without borders. [↩]
He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.
Listers, we continue our look at Catholic Social Teaching in Scripture aslaid out by Catholic Charities.
The Six Principles of Catholic Social Teaching
1. Dignity of the Human Person
2. Community and the Common Good
3. Rights and Responsibilities
4. Option for the Poor
5. Dignity of Work
4. Option for the Poor
Show Justice to the Widow and Orphan
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I
will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your
own wives will be widows, and your children orphans. If you lend money to one of your poor
neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding
interest from him.
Happy Are Those Who Take Refuge in the Lord
Look to God that you may be radiant with joy and your faces may not blush for shame.
In my misfortune I called, the LORD heard and saved me from all distress.
The angel of the LORD, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God.
Learn to savor how good the LORD is; happy are those who take refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you holy ones; nothing is lacking to those who fear him.
The powerful grow poor and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who among you loves life, takes delight in prosperous days?
Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies.
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
The LORD has eyes for the just and ears for their cry.
The LORD’S face is against evildoers to wipe out their memory from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears and rescues them from all distress.
Happy Are They Who Are Concerned with the Lowly and Poor
Happy those concerned for the lowly and poor; when misfortune strikes, the LORD delivers them.
The LORD keeps and preserves them, makes them happy in the land, and does not betray them to
He Shows Pity to the Needy and the Poor
O God, give your judgment to the king; your justice to the son of kings; that he may govern your
people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment,
That the mountains may yield their bounty for the people, and the hills great abundance,
That he may defend the oppressed among the people, save the poor and crush the oppressor.
May he live as long as the sun endures, like the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain coming down upon the fields, like showers watering the earth,
That abundance may flourish in his days, great bounty, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth.
May his foes kneel before him, his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts.
May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him.
For he rescues the poor when they cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help.
He shows pity to the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor.
From extortion and violence he frees them, for precious is their blood in his sight.
Long may he live, receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by day.
May wheat abound in the land, flourish even on the mountain heights. May his fruit increase like
Lebanon’s, his wheat like the grasses of the land.
May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun, may his name endure. May the tribes of the
earth give blessings with his name; may all the nations regard him as favored.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wonderful deeds.
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may all the earth be filled with the LORD’S glory.
The Lord Calls Me to Bring Glad Tidings to the Lowly
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to
bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and
release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our
God, to comfort all who mourn;
Show Kindness and Compassion Toward Each Other
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgment, and show kindness and compassion toward
each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the alien or the poor; do not plot evil
against one another in your hearts.
Be Fervent in Spirit, Serve the Lord
Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be
wise in your own estimation.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.
If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
Blessed Are You Who Are Poor
And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce
your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their
ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you
will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
5. Dignity of Work
Do Not Rob the Poor Man of His Livelihood
My son, rob not the poor man of his livelihood; force not the eyes of the needy to turn away. A
hungry man grieve not, a needy man anger not; Do not exasperate the downtrodden; delay not to
give to the needy. A beggar in distress do not reject; avert not your face from the poor. From the
needy turn not your eyes, give no man reason to curse you; For if in the bitterness of his soul he
curse you, his Creator will hear his prayer. Endear yourself to the assembly; before a ruler bow
your head. Give a hearing to the poor man, and return his greeting with courtesy;
Deliver the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor; let not justice be repugnant to you. To the
fatherless be as a father, and help their mother as a husband would; Thus will you be like a son to
the Most High, and he will be more tender to you than a mother.
Respect Those Who Are Laboring Among You
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in
the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of
their work. Be at peace among yourselves. We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the
fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather,
always seek what is good (both) for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
Be Rich in Good Works
Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth
but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.
Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share,
thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.
Riches Obtained Unjustly Bring Misery
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away,
your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion
will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure
for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are
crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have
lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance. Be patient,
therefore, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make
your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
The Lord Is a Stronghold for the Oppressed
It is God who governs the world with justice, who judges the peoples with fairness.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who honor your name trust in you; you never forsake those who seek you, Lord.
Sing hymns to the Lord enthroned on Zion; proclaim God’s deeds among the nations!
Have mercy on me, LORD; see how my foes afflict me! You alone can raise me from the gates
of death. Then I will declare all your praises, sing joyously of your salvation in the gates
of daughter Zion.
He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.
They Shall Beat their Swords into Plowshares
This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come, the
mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the
hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb
the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and
we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from
Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall
beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise
the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
Justice Will Bring About Peace
Until the spirit from on high is poured out on us. Then will the desert become an orchard and the
orchard be regarded as a forest. Right will dwell in the desert and justice abide in the orchard.
Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security. My people will live in
peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places. Happy are you who sow beside
every stream, and let the ox and the ass go freely!
Be of One Mind in Christ
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any
compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united
in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly
regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but
(also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in
Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something
to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death
on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above
every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and
under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ Is Identified with All People
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his
glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them
one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on
his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who
are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you
welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited
me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed
you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked
and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to
them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you
did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal
fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty
and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no
clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord,
when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister
to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these
least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous
to eternal life.”
Solidarity with the Outcasts of Society
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes
began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
What does the Pope actually do? Wouldn’t a Pope hinder my personal relationship with Christ? Why a Pope at all? By Scripture, this list strives to show that the Pope and the Church allow Catholics to simply live according to and love the same Jesus Christ the Apostles knew and loved.
1. What type of kingdom did Christ intend to bring?
Jesus Christ is a descendent of King David and is referred to as “Son of David” in Scripture.1 Christ’s relation to King David is paramount in understanding the fulfillment of his covenant with God. King David was promised a descendent who would “rule forever” and sit on “David’s throne” forever.2 Christ, as the Eternal King, is certainly the descendent of King David’s who will “rule forever” from King David’s throne. During the exiles of Israel, the people wrote with hope about the New Jerusalem and the Messiah that would usher in the New Davidic Kingdom; thus, any conversation about what is and what is not properly intended by Christ, regarding his Kingdom, must be couched within the template of the Davidic Kingdom.3
2. What role did Christ intend for Saint Peter?
In the district of Caesarea Philippi, Christ asks his disciples “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” St. Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then says to St. Peter:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
What is Christ’s intention for St. Peter with his Kingdom? On its face, the passage affirms two general truths. First, Christ changes Simon Bar-jona’s name to Peter meaning Rock, the foundation of Christ’s kingdom on earth, the Church. In the Old Testament, God changing someone’s name denoted a special calling, a new vocation, e.g., Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, etc. St. Peter’s name change denotes that he will have a special vocation among the twelve disciples. Second, St. Peter is given the “keys of kingdom,” which comes with ability to bind and loose.4 It is important to note this is one of the few times Christ ever mentions the “Church.”
3. What is the biblical backing for St. Peter’s role in accordance with the Davidic Kingdom?
If Christ’s Kingdom retains a unique Davidic character, is there any Old Testament evidence that illuminates the keys given to St. Peter? Yes, it is clear that Christ is rewording a passage from Isaiah that speaks of a position within the Davidic Kingdom:
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house.
The similarities in the Old Testament passage are striking. In both passages, a person within the Davidic Kingdom is given keys that come with the authority to open and shut or bind and loose.5
4. What is the position and what is its purpose?
Reading Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16 together, the position or office given to St. Peter appears to be one of a steward or vicar. The vicar is the person who governs in the king’s stead when the king is away. He does not have the authority to change the teachings of the king, but he does have the authority to enforce and clarify them. In King David’s time, this person would rule when David was off to war or some other errand. In our age, the Vicar of Christ, aka the Office of the Papacy, governs the Church according to Christ’s teachings until Christ the King returns for his Kingdom. Notice David’s Vicar has one key to open and close the earthly kingdom, but Christ’s Vicar has two keys: one for heaven and one for earth.
5. What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say about St. Peter and the Papacy?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
882. “The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’ ‘For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.'”
6. Is there a distinction between Petros and Petra?
A popular grammatical question on the Matthew passage often takes the form of the following: But in Greek, St. Peter’s name is Petros and Christ says, “upon this petra,” so Christ was not referring to St. Peter, was he? First, note that the premise of this question is that for over two thousand years, the Office of the Papacy has been founded upon a missed nuance in Greek grammar that no one apparently noticed, including those Early Church Christians who spoke and wrote in ancient Greek.
A few thoughts. First, while the Gospel is written in Greek, Christ arguably spoke Aramaic; thus, “You are kepha and on this kepha I will build my Church.” It’s the same word. Furthermore, St. Peter is referred to as Cephas, meaning Rock throughout the New Testament.6 The distinction in Greek is slightly more nuanced.
Greek is an inflected (not “reflexive”) language, which means that the forms of nouns change based on the function a word is performing in a sentence. When this happens, the base meaning of the word remains the same. The inflection communicates information about how the word is being used grammatically but not what it means.
In the case of petros vs. petra, the change is not an inflection. Petros and petra are two different words in Greek. They are similar because they are cognates (just as “president” and “presider” are cognates in English but are nonetheless two different words with different, though related, meanings). Because they are two different words, the inflection (change of form) of petros and petra is not what is at issue here. The basic meanings of the terms is.
The point the article is making is that in Attic Greek there was a slight difference in meaning between the two, but in Koine Greek (the dialect of the New Testament) they were synonyms.
Petros and petra are two distinct words, but without a distinction in meaning. The grammatical distinction does not import any error on the historical understanding that St. Peter is the Rock referred to in St. Matthew’s passage.7
7. Is not Christ The Rock?
There are two general arguments here. First, that Christ alone bears the title The Rock; thus, it is not appropriate to grant that title to St. Peter. Second, that the passage in Matthew 16 is referring to Christ as the Rock of the Church.
First, Christ is not the only person to hold the title/name Rock. Christ is referred to as the Rock, because he is the foundation of all things; however, in the rabbinical tradition, Abraham also bore the title Rock. Isaiah 51:1-3 states, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn… look to Abraham your father.” Cardinal Ratzinger comments on the similarity between St. Peter and Abraham as Rock:
Abraham, the father of faith, is by his faith the rock that holds back chaos, the onrushing primordial flood of destruction, and thus sustains creation. Simon, the first to confess Jesus as the Christ and the first witness of the Resurrection, now becomes by virtue of his Abrahamic faith, which is renewed in Christ, the rock that stands against the impure tide of unbelief and its destruction of man.8
Christ retains the name The Rock, but both Abraham and St. Peter have carried the title Rock as well. Regarding, the St. Matthew passage, it was Jesus Christ who named Simon Bar-Jona, Peter, the Rock. It would not make any sense for Christ to name St. Peter Rock and then be – without any contextual clues of a transition – be referring to himself as the Rock upon which he will build his Church. The entire context of the passage focuses on Peter: his name is changed, he is explicitly given the keys, and his authority is explained. There is no grammatical reason why Christ would be referring to himself in the passage, especially since, again, it was he who changed Peter’s name.
The following considerations are meant to intuit certain protestant hesitancies that are common when discussing the biblical foundation of the papacy.
8. How can I follow both Christ and the Pope?
If the papacy is properly understood, as defined by the Catholic Church, then to be obedient to Christ is to follow the Pope and to follow the Pope is to have confidence in one’s understanding of Christ. Imagine a citizen of King David’s saying, “I am a citizen of King David’s Kingdom, but I will not obey his Vicar.” The statement makes little sense, as the Vicar is selected by the King and governs according to the King’s laws. The Vicar is nothing in and of himself. The Vicar always points to the King. The Pope always points to Christ. Cardinal Ratzinger taught that the pope was the “Advocate of Christian Memory.” He holds the People of God to the memory of Christ and his teachings, the identity of the community.
In short, the Pope holds the King’s people to the King’s laws while the King is away. He is the Rock upon which the King has built his Church and has been given the keys of authority.
9. Is the Pope a middleman between us and God?
Protestants often lament that the Pope is a middleman between Catholics and God, which in turn distorts the ability of a Catholic to have a “personal relationship with God.” Unlike King David’s Kingdom, though our King Jesus Christ is gone, we can still communicate with him, embrace his true presence in the Eucharist, and have a personal relationship with him. It is painfully obvious, however, in our modern world that the concept of a “personal relationship with Christ” has spun wildly out of control. With each generation, Protestant pastors attempt to reinvent the Christian religion by dogmatically projecting their personal experiences onto others. They form new “churches” upon their new understanding of Christ and Christianity. Across the board, “personal relationship with Christ” is in truth a personalized Jesus. Jesus becomes simply a concept to be molding to this or that individual’s beliefs.
The Protestant Reformation splintered the Church and the Protestants have been splintering ever since. Everyone claims their own version of Christ, and with no perceived Christ-given-authority to rule what is true and what is false. “Churches” split and Christians are divided. The Pope exists to purify, guide, and defend the Church’s relationship with Jesus Christ. The unified Church under the Pope – the Advocate of Christian Memory – holds the Church to the teachings of Christ and his apostles. He is a bulwark preventing Catholics from drifting off into the fads and ideologies of the age.
In essence, the Catholic life is one about living the Christ-centered life. It is not a life spent wondering whether or not this teaching of Christ or that new “church” is right or not. The Pope frees Catholics from worrying what is the Christian life, to simply living the Christian life.
10. What does Christ want for his Church?
Assuming all that has already been addressed, there is one specific prayer of Christ that contextualizes the greater conversation of one unified Church. In the Gospel of John, the 17th chapter is arguably the central passage of the entire New Testament and one of the most underestimated passages as well. The chapter is Christ’s prayer for his Church. Toward the end of the passage, Christ focuses on unity:
That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.
Christ’s prayer for the Church begs certain questions from those who call themselves Christians: does the perpetual fracturing of one protestant group into another resemble the unity of Christ’s prayer? Does the infighting and strife of broken communities show the world Christ was really the Son of God? Do thousands upon thousands of contradictory Christian communities lend belief to the fact the one true God came to earth? The way Christianity is currently lived in the world promotes the belief that charity may be separated from unity. The God’s charity and God’s unity may be divorced.9
There are other questions that may be asked of God. Did Christ come and establish a community with no authority to guide it? Did Christ come and give us the truth without any way to confirm it? Did Christ come and preach unity and charity only to leave humanity to fracture and break under sin into thousands of contradictory communities? Did Christ come and bring humanity The Word only to have no authority to interpret it? No. He brought a Kingdom and a Kingdom structure. The Office of the Papacy unites us in one Church, one God, one Christ, and one Truth.
The Papacy does not replace Christ or stand as a threat to a personal relationship with Christ, but rather the Papacy is a means of purifying a Catholic’s personal relationship. Followers of Christ should not be forced their whole life to wonder what is and what is not Christianity. There is no need to reinvent or rediscover the faith in every generation. The Pope and the Church allow Catholics to simply live by and love the same Jesus Christ the Apostles knew and loved.
The Pope holds the King’s people to the King’s laws, so, in fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for the Church, the People of God may show the world Jesus Christ by their unity and charity.
Son of David: Matt 1:1-2; 9:27-29; Mk 10:47, 48 [↩]
King David’s Throne: I Chron 17:14; Ps 89:35-36; Luke1:31 [↩]
David’s Kingdom: Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-3; Jer 33:14-15, 17, 19-21, 26; Ps 132:10-14, 17; Luke 1:31-33, 68-71; II Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5, 22:16; Rom 1:3 [↩]
Keys in the Old Testament: The verse is Isaiah 22:22, but the entire passage is notable for discerning the vocation of St. Peter. For instance, the passage is actually taking the keys from one steward to the next. This detail is often used to combat those Protestant circles who affirm St. Peter had a unique role, but argue the role died with he died. [↩]
Cephas in the New Testament: cf. John 1:42; I Cor 1:12, 3:22, 9:5 [↩]
Petros/Petra: The explanation is taken from the article Petros v. Petra by Jimmy Akin. Another article consulted was the Catholic Answers article Peter the Rock. SPL had previously held that the petros/petra was one of inflection and corrected this mistake during an update. Updated: 3/3/14 [↩]
Abraham/Peter Rock: Quote taken from Called to Communion, Cardinal Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, p. 56. [↩]
“Prince of the Apostles” means that St. Peter held a certain primacy over the other eleven. Understanding St. Peter’s unique position among the twelve and the unique ministries he exercised lays an excellent groundwork for a discussion of Christ’s founding of the Papacy.
Listers, “Prince of the Apostles” means that St. Peter held a certain primacy over the other eleven. Understanding St. Peter’s unique position among the twelve and the unique ministries he exercised lays an excellent groundwork for a discussion of Christ’s founding of the Papacy. While resources on this subject are abundant, SPL recommends Cardinal Ratzinger’s Called to Communion.
St. Peter’s Place of Primacy Among the Twelve
1. St. Peter & the Sons of Zebedee:
Sts. Peter, James, and John are a special group of disciples that are allowed to witness the Transfiguration1 and accompany Christ to the Mount of Olives.2 In each event, St. Peter, the Rock, is singled out. At the Mount of Olives, Christ finds all three asleep, but it is St. Peter he addresses. During the Transfiguration, it is St. Peter who speaks for the disciples.
2. Christ Calls Simon Peter First:
In St. Luke 5:1-11, Christ calls his first disciples, and the first is Simon Peter. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the “call of Peter appears as the original pattern of apostolic vocation par excellence.”3
3. The List of Disciples According to Scripture:
Every time the disciples are listed, St. Peter is listed first.4 Furthermore, when referring to the disciples, sometimes only St. Peter is mentioned by name, e.g., “And Simon and those who were with him,” and “Now Peter and those who were with him”.5
4. Unique Acts:
St. Peter is the only one to try to walk on the water (Mt 14:28ff) and he is the one that brings up the famous question of how many times we must forgive.6 Even St. Peter’s shadow was an instrument of healing.7
The Name Change: The Rock
5. The Changing of St. Peter’s Name:
While it was common for Rabbis to give nicknames or new surnames to their disciples, e.g., the Sons of Zebedee as the “Sons of Thunder,” it was uncommon to change a disciple’s first name. Christ gives Simon the new name “Peter” or Kephas (or Cephas) meaning rock.8
6. New Name = New Vocation:
In the Old Testament, God changing someone’s name denoted a special calling, a new vocation, e.g., Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, etc. St. Peter’s name change denotes that he will have a special vocation among the twelve.
7. Special Meaning of Rock:
Obviously Christ was also referred to as the Rock, because he is the foundation of all things. However, in the rabbinical tradition, Abraham was also referred to as a rock: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn… look to Abraham your father” .9 Cardinal Ratzinger comments:10
Abraham, the father of faith, is by his faith the rock that holds back chaos, the onrushing primordial flood of destruction, and thus sustains creation. Simon, the first to confess Jesus as the Christ and the first witness of the Resurrection, now becomes by virtue of his Abrahamic faith, which is renewed in Christ, the rock that stands against the impure tide of unbelief and its destruction of man.
8. The Risen Christ Commissions St. Peter:
After the Resurrection, Christ appears to the Twelve and has a unique conversation with St. Peter. Christ, the Shepherd, asks St. Peter three times if he loves him. St. Peter responds yes all three times – presumably this passage should reflect his three denials. Christ also tell St. Peter and Peter alone: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep. As the Vicar of Christ, St. Peter must care for the flock.11
9. Christ Prays for St. Peter:
In Lk 22:31-34, two major Petrine themes are evident. First, Satan has taken a special interest in St. Peter. He will fail, but will repent. Second, after St. Peter has “turned again” to Christ, Jesus commissions him to “strengthen the brethren.” Another mission given only to St. Peter.
10. The Keys:
In Matthew 16:13-20, the most famous unique call is given to St. Peter: to be the foundation of the Church and to exercise the authority of keys of the kingdom. The office given to St. Peter is that of the Vicar within the Davidic Kingdom. The Vicar governs in the King’s stead, according to the King’s rules, while the King is gone.12 St. Peter is the Vicar of Christ, the Pope.
St. Peter & St. Paul
11. St. Paul Refers to Peter as Cephas:
St. Paul introduces St. Peter as the first witness of the Resurrection: “that [Christ] was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” (I Cor 15:3-5; cf. 1:12, 3:22, 9:5). St. Paul refers to Peter as Cephas, emphasizing his name change and vocation.
12. St. Paul Presents Himself to Cephas:
The epistle of Galatians is paramount in understanding the Pauline/Petrine relationship. In the beginning of Galatians, St. Paul is attempting to validate his claim to be an apostle, though he was not one of the twelve. It’s important to note that St. Paul invokes Cephas twice to show that his vocation and apostolic claim are both valid. After receiving his call from Christ, St. Paul goes out and “does not confer with flesh and blood,” but rather three years later goes “to Jerusalem to visit Cephas.” Then after fourteen years, he returns to Jerusalem and privately tells the “pillars” of the Church his gospel, “lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.” Again, he uses St. Peter as vindication, saying as Peter went to the circumcised, so he, Paul, goes to the uncircumcised. Then the “pillars” (Cephas, James, and John) “perceive the grace” in St. Paul and send him to the Gentiles with Barnabas. (Gal 1) It is important to note the role of hierarchy within St. Paul’s ministry, not only in validating his own role, but later in establishing his own hierarchal churches (cf. Timothy and Titus).
13. St. Paul Rebukes St. Peter:
A lot of ink has been spilled over this passage. First let us see that St. Paul had to show he had been validated by St. Peter in Gal 1 in order for people to accept his authority to then correct St. Peter in Gal 2. Furthermore, St. Peter’s primacy in the Church does not mean he is incapable of personal error or sin. St. Peter is also the apostle who denied Christ three times. The Popes confess their sins like every other Catholic, it is the office they hold that sets them apart.