The Conquest: 9 Catholic Lessons from the Book of Joshua

Listers, the Historical Books are paramount in understanding salvation history. The Historical Books of the Old Testament are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, and I & II Maccabees. The Historical Books capture the story of how Israel gains the Promise Land through obedience to the covenant but also how they eventually lose the Promise Land through their disobedience. There are seven major dates within the narrative of the Historical Books.

  • c. 1200 BC – Conquest, then Judge’s Period
  • c. 1030 BC – The United Kingdom: Saul, David, & Solomon
  • 931 BC – Divided Kingdom: Northern Kingdom of Israel & Southern Kingdom of Judah
  • 722 BC – Assyrian Exile of the Northern Kingdom
  • 586 BC – First Temple Destroyed as Babylon Conquers the Southern Kingdom
  • 516 BC – The Dedication of the Second Temple
  • 165 BC – The Rededication of the Second Template under the Maccabees

The theological significance of the Historical Books is exemplified by their alternative title: the Former Prophets. While the Latter Prophets represent the minor and major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc.), the Former Prophets mark the beginning of the prophets appearing in the history of Israel. Furthermore, they record a prophetic history insofar as they point toward the coming of Jesus Christ. The internal text of the Historical Books or Former Prophets testifies to the distinction between prophetic history and general history when it utilizes the phrase are not the other works of the King written in the books of… and similar statements denoting that certain historical narratives belong in the records of prophetic history and some do not. A foundational understanding of the theological significance of the Former Prophets as a whole is found in the book of Deuteronomy. The seminal chapter is chapter twenty-eight, which records the blessings of following the covenant and the curses of breaking the covenant. Arguably the entire theme of the Historical Books is the unfolding of Deuteronomy twenty-eight: whether or not Israel is faithful to the covenant.



The Book of Joshua

The Book of Joshua is the story of the conquest of the Promise Land by the Israelites. The following is a basic chapter outline of the book.1

1-12 – The Conquest
13-21 – The Division
22 – The Test (or the Real Victory)
23-24 – A Covenant Renewal


1. Early Church Significance

The Early Church Fathers saw a twofold significance in the Book of Joshua. In subject matter, the book records the people of God entering into the Promised Land, which serves as a type of heaven. In leadership, though Moses led them to the Promised Land, it was Joshua who served as the Christ-figure ushering in salvation. In Hebrew, Joshua means the LORD is salvation, which is also exactly what Jesus means.2 To wit, you have Joshua leading the People of God into the Promised Land as a type scene of Jesus leading the Church into heaven.


2. The Hexateuch

The first five books of Holy Scripture are referred to as the Pentateuch meaning five books in Greek; however, some biblical commentators saw Joshua as a necessary addition to the first five books as it finishes the story of Exodus. Adding Joshua makes it the Hexateuch. Proponents of the Hexateuch model focused on narrative of the books more than the authorship of the books. The basic literary outline of the Hexateuch is as follows:

Adam – Mankind
Moses – Drawn out
Joshua – Saved

Adding Joshua to the Pentateuch allows for the first six books of the Bible to serve as type of salvation narrative. It takes the strong typological connections between Joshua and Christ mentioned above and places it at the end of the Exodus narrative to create a small typological story of salvation.


3. The Jordan River & Mary Immaculate

The journey through the desert has brought Israel to the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and Jericho is located past the western shore. The Jordan River ran straight south from the fresh water sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. The Jordan River serves a typological significance in studying sin and holiness. The river was seen as the washing away sin into the sea of death, the Dead Sea. In chapter three of Joshua, as the Ark of the Covenant approaches the river, God causes the river to back up all the way to the city of Adam. It calls to mind the person of Adam and original sin. Therefore, if Mary is the New Ark of the New Covenant, the fact the Jordan dried up and backed up all the way to Adam to let the Ark pass into the Promised Land may be seen as a type scene of the Immaculate Conception.


4. Understanding the “Cherem”

Few things in Holy Scripture elicit more debates than the military conquest of the Promised Land. Though it certainly merits a longer conversation, there are a few quick lessons to be learned using the victory over Jericho as an example. First, Rahab’s testimony reveals that Jericho knew of Israel’s military victories and they feared the Israelites. The implication being that they could have abandoned the city or surrendered – as other cities later did. Second, the first victory of the Promise land belonged exclusively to the Lord. The battle was won supernaturally and liturgically-not militarily. It is the beginning of a liturgical theme of “right worship” throughout the Historical Books.

After the liturgical destruction of the walls of Jericho comes the Cherem or Herem:

Then the people cried aloud, and still the trumpets blew, till every ear was deafened by the shouting and the clangour; and all at once the walls fell down flat. Thereupon each man went to the assault where he was posted, and they took the city. All that was in it they slew, sparing neither man nor woman, neither youth nor age; even cattle and sheep and asses were put to the sword.3

The Cherem is the curse or the ban meaning to be devoted to destruction. Quite literally, these people are devoted to God via their destruction. They are given to God. They are handed to God due to their hardened hearts which carry the virus of idolatry. Is the cherem genocide? Not necessarily. Notice that Rahab is spared due to her profession of faith. It is a distinction of religious identity not national or ethnic identity. Is the cherem jihad? No, unlike the Islamic jihad there is no military mandate to take over the whole world. Salvation will come to the world through the wisdom of Israel not through military conquest. The concept of cherem is discussed further in the lessons below.


5. No Such Thing as Private Sin

In the book of Joshua, the major theological theme of convent faithfulness is demonstrated in the principle that there is no private sin. The armies of Ai rout Joshua and the Israelites, and in response Joshua cries out before the Ark of the Covenant.4 The Lord responds, “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant which I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, and lied, and put them among their own stuff.”5 Note that the Lord’s response is communal—Israel has sinned; however, only one man, A’chan, had sinned by hiding spoils of war in his tent.6 Though it was a private sin, the entire community was guilty of breaking the covenant and has lost favor with God.

Notice that the narrative of Achan almost ruins an entire people. Archan and his family are stoned to death and his possessions are burned. The story of Archan is arguably a flip side of the Cherem. The whole nation suffers until the infidelity to offered to God via destruction. It is an issue of covenant faithfulness not race or nationality.


6. The Sun Stands Still

What happened to Rahab in Jericho now happens to an entire community. Upon hearing what had happened to Jericho, the people of Gabaon devised a way to make peace with Israel. They dressed themselves in worn clothes and presented themselves as having traveled from far away to make an alliance. Israel was deceived and the people of Gabaon entered into a covenant with Israel. Once the deceit is discovered, Joshua curses them and they become laborers – but Israel remains in covenant with them and Gabaon becomes a pagan people ordered toward the true God. Note again that the cherem is not about race or nationality but about religious devotion to the true God of Israel. In chapter ten, the Gibeonites come under attack and Israel – in fidelity to their covenantal relationship – come to their defense. During the battle, the Lord makes the sun stand still in order that Israel may finish the battle and secure victory.


7. The Division of the Land

The division of the Promise Land amongst the tribes sets the stage for the rest of the history of Israel. The tribes will be a loose collection of entities during the Judges period, they will be united under Saul, David, and Solomon, and then they will fragment and will be conquered and exiled by the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. It is these section of Joshua that sets the geographic stage for the rest of Historical Books. The most important tribe in the north becomes Ephraim and in the south Judah. Typologically, the Early Church commented on this section as showing the different levels of glory in heaven, because the Promise Land is not dividing equally among the tribes. Finally, note that the Jebusities who control what will later become Jerusalem still remain unconquered in the Promise Land.7


8. The Test

In the twenty-second chapter, a few tribes of Israel still remain on the east side of the Jordan. The question of the narrative of “the test” is whether the physical barrier of the Jordan will also become a spiritual barrier. Those on the east side decide to set up a huge altar next to river to show they are part of the body of Israel and that the God of Israel is their God; however, those on the west side misread their actions and believe those on the east bank have erected a false altar. The idea of cherem re-enters the story as the Israelites on the west bank believe they must now destroy those on the east bank due to their unfaithfulness to the covenant. They are willing to war with their own kinsmen in order that Israel may remain pure and faithful to their covenant with the Lord. Fortunately, before the war begins the true purpose of the altar on the east bank is discovered and all ends well.


9. Covenant Renewal

The Book of Joshua ends with a renewal of the covenant.8 Joshua demands that Israel chose who they will serve, which has become a famous passage in Holy Scripture:

“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”9

“And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”10

“But if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, you have your choice: choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve… but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”11

“If the Lord’s service mislikes you, choose some other way… I and mine will worship the Lord.”12

The larger passage denotes that either the Israelites still have foreign gods among them or rather the spirit of idolatry is still dwelling in their hearts. What they need is a cherem of the heart. Israel chooses to follow the Lord and does so as long as Joshua is alive; however, the Promise Land is not completely conquered. The Jebusites still remain in what will become Jerusalem.

  1. Resources: These lessons on Joshua were drawn primarily from a lecture by a professor at a FSSP seminary. []
  2. “The word Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek ‘Ina-00s, which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew Jeshua, or Joshua, or again Jehoshua, meaning “Jehovah is salvation”.” – Catholic Answers. []
  3. 6:20-21, Knox. []
  4. 7:4-9 []
  5. v. 11 []
  6. vv. 19-21 []
  7. Jebusites remain, 15:63; it is not until King David that they are conquered and Jerusalem becomes the central political and spiritual point for the People of God. []
  8. 24:24-15 []
  9. 24:14, KJV. []
  10. RSVCE []
  11. Douay-Rheims []
  12. Knox Bible []

7 Illustrations of How People in the Old Testament Viewed the Universe

Listers, the concept of ancient Hebrew cosmology is fascinating. In general, the world was a flat disc covered by a firm dome. Beneath the disc was Sheol – the place of the dead – and the deep waters. Above the dome, there was more water and finally the high heavens where God dwells. “The notion that the sky was a vast solid dome seems to have been common among the ancient peoples… According to the notion prevalent among the Greeks and Romans, the sky was a great vault of crystal to which the fixed stars were attached, though by some it was held to be of iron or brass. That the Hebrews entertained similar ideas appears from numerous biblical passages.” For example, Job 37:18 reads, “And was it with help of thine God fashioned the heavens, firm as cast bronze?.”1 The firmament acted as the separation between the higher waters of the heavens and the lower waters of the deep.2 The dome of the earth sat upon pillars and upon the foundations of the world.3 In the dome there are windows or doors from which the rain falls – the most famous example being Noah’s flood in Genesis.4 Finally, deep within the earth was Sheol. Sheol “is generally supposed to come from the Hebrew root meaning, ‘to be sunk in, to be hollow:’ accordingly it denotes a cave or a place under the earth. In the Old Testament (Septuagint hades; Vulgate infernus) sheol is used quite in general to designate the kingdom of the dead, of the good (Genesis 37:35) as well as of the bad (Numbers 16:30); it means hell in the strict sense of the term, as well as the limbo of the Fathers. But, as the limbo of the Fathers ended at the time of Christ’s Ascension, hades (Vulgate infernus) in the New Testament always designates the hell of the damned. Since Christ’s Ascension the just no longer go down to the lower world, but they dwell in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1).”5 As with most concepts, there are debates on how literal to take certain passages.


Ancient Hebrew Cosmology



Hebrew Cosmology 1

Hebrew Cosmology 2

Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

Hebrew Cosmology 4

Hebrew Cosmology 5

Hebrew Cosmology 6

Hebrew Cosmology 7

  1. Quote from Catholic Encyclopedia, Firmament. []
  2. See Job 26:11; 37:18; the dome is blue due to separation of the waters, Gen. 1:7; the earth is surrounded by water, Gen. 1:6,7; cf. Psalms 24:2; 148:4, Deut. 5:8. []
  3. Job 26:11; II Sam. 22:8. []
  4. Gen. 7:11-12; 8:2; for verses on the lumenaries of heaven, see Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 19:4,6; for verses on the dome and birds, see Gen. 1:20; Deut. 4:17. []
  5. Catholic Encyclopedia, Hell. []

Bible Study: 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Biblical Interpretation

7 Essential Principles for Catholic Study
Click to view on Amazon.

Listers, “what does a Catholic approach to Scripture study look like?” This is the question Dr. Steven C. Smith takes up in his work 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Scripture Study: The Word of the Lord. The book strikes an excellent balance between academic insights and a tone/format that is easily accessible to the everyday Catholic. His Eminence Cardinal George comments, “this is a helpful book at a time when the relations between Scripture and Tradition and Scripture and Divine Revelation are background for many other conversations in the Church today.” In the Foreward by Dr. Scott Hahn, the Scripture scholar states, “most importantly, readers are guided step by step through seven principles of Catholic biblical interpretation by a veteran teacher of Sacred Scripture at Mount St. Mary’s seminary, one of the oldest and most respected houses of formation in the United States. From years of experience in the classroom and parish, Dr. Smith is able to communicate clearly for a wide range of readers, from seminarians and clergy to young adults and professionals.” The following are the principle titles and descriptions as written in Dr. Smith’s work. SPL highly suggests 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Scripture Study as a proper introduction to reading Holy Scripture as a Catholic.1




Principle 1: God’s Word: Divine Words in Human Language

Catholic Biblical Interpretation is governed by the firm belief that Scripture is the inspired word of God, expressed in human language. God’s Word was written under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and – at the same time – was written by true human authors with their intellectual capacities and limitations The thought and the words belong both to God and to human beings in such a way that the whole Bible comes simultaneously from God and from the inspired human authors.2


Principle 2: God’s Word is Revealed in History

Catholic Biblical Interpretation is profoundly concerned with history because of the nature of biblical revelation and the Living Word who revealed himself to humanity in history (John 1:14). Yet, Scripture can never be reduced to the natural order but fully affirms the supernatural and God’s intervention in history. Interpretation of a biblical text must be consistent with the meaning expressed by the human authors. Thus, Catholic exegetes must place biblical texts in their ancient contexts, helping to clarify the meaning of the biblical authors’ message for their original audience and for the contemporary reader.3


Principle 3: God’s Word is Revealed in History

Catholic Biblical Interpretation is grounded in the firm belief that there is one source of Divine revelation: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The living presence of God’s Word in the Church’s life through time “flow from the same one divine wellspring” (DV, 9) and “form one sacred deposit of the word of God” (DV, 10). It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the biblical canon (DV, 8) and it is above all Sacred Tradition that helps us to truly and properly understand the Word of God.4


Principle 4: God’s Word: Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture

Catholic biblical interpretation insists upon the unity and coherence of the whole canon of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. This unitive dimension of the word of God is evident in many ways; Catholic exegetes should be particularly aware of three:

The Theme of Covenant
Biblical Typology
Recapitulation in Christ

In these and other ways, we affirm Augustine’s conclusion: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”5


Principle 5: God’s Word Has Meanings(s)

Catholic Biblical interpretation affirms that God’s Word is rich in meaning and a multiplicity of approaches can assist the exegete in explaining texts. No one method of interpretation is adequate in itself to plumb the depths of Scripture. Catholic exegetes thus benefit from exploration of various methods, including ancient, medieval, and modern biblical scholarship. Such an array of approaches can cast valuable light on the Sacred Page, provided one “reads” them within the tradition of the Church and according to the hermeneutics faith.6


Principle 6: God’s Word Requires Sound, Balanced, Methodological Analysis

Catholic biblical interpretation requires sound and balanced analysis. In the end, all analysis should be based upon excellence in scholarship, encountered from a robust Christian faith, and reflect pastoral concern and the needs of God’s people. Three essential criteria for ensuring such control in one’s exegesis of Sacred Scripture:

1. Attention to the content and unity of the Bible
2. Reading all of Scripture within the living Tradition of the Church
3. Reference to the analogy (or rule) of faith.7


Principle 7: God’s Word is Life-giving and Active!

God’s inspired word fulfills a life-giving, foundational, and authoritative role in the life of the Church. Thus, Catholic biblical interpretation does not conclude with an understanding of words, concepts and events. It must seek to arrive at the reality of which the language speaks, a transcendent reality, communication with God. The Church is called to continually actualize the ancient texts as the Word for today, and embody it in all situations and cultures. To this end, the Catholic student of Scripture must have competence in all of the previous principles so that he/she can read, study, pray and proclaim Scripture faithfully and clearly with full confidence in their transformative power.8


Once again, please visit Dr. Smith’s personal website and check out his 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Scripture Study.



New list coming soon on how to read Scripture as a Catholic – or just how to read it correctly. #catholic #catholicism #bible

A photo posted by St. Peter’s List (@stpeterslist) on


More Lists on Holy Scripture


  1. Dr. Smith’s personal website is The God Who Speaks. []
  2. Id. 17. []
  3. Id. 61. []
  4. Id. 85. []
  5. Id. 109. []
  6. Id. 161. []
  7. Id. 199. []
  8. Id. 215. []

The 12 Step Biblical Guide to the Pope and Infallibility

The pope leads the King’s people according to the King’s laws and at times must clarify those laws so the people may continue to live in full adherence to the King.

Listers, the Office of the Papacy and Infallibility are biblical gifts to the Church. According to the Gospels, St. Peter – the first to be given the Office of the Papacy – was commissioned by Christ to be the vicar of the kingdom of God, to strengthen the faithful, and to be the chief shepherd of the Lord’s flock. In short, the Vicar governs the kingdom according to the King’s laws until the King returns. The following list is meant to demonstrate the strong biblical argument for the papacy, but it is certainly not an exhaustive list. Catholics should be weary of proof-texting – a subpar hermeneutic that seeks to support ideas by stringing together selective Scriptures – for a few reasons. First, Holy Scripture should always be viewed holistically. A single verse that can be tortured to read a certain way is not a legitimate reading of Scripture. The list at hand seeks to avoid proof-texting by offering a wide range of Scriptures from both the New and Old Testaments supported by historical and linguistic insights.

Second, Catholics embrace the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Piecing together an argument from Scriptures holds little weight if no Christian in the last two-thousand years has held it to be legitimate. For Catholics, there is always the historical and spiritual consideration of how the Early Church interpreted Scriptures. They lived in a biblical time and worked with the disciples of the disciples. In this context, it should be noted the Early Church undoubtedly held that the Bishop of Rome held a special authority in Christ’s Kingdom. He was the successor to St. Peter, the first Vicar of Christ; thus, the following argument is not simply a Catholic reading of Scripture, it is also the historical Christian reading.1


The Last Supper is a painting painted between 1496 to 1498 by Leonardo Da Vinci in the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
The Last Supper is a painting painted between 1496 to 1498 by Leonardo Da Vinci in the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.


St. Peter Among the Apostles


1. What is an Apostle?

Before discussing whether or not St. Peter held a primacy among the apostles, the term apostle should be defined. The Hebrew word for apostle is shaliah, which is defined as an agent or legal emissary. The term agent in the context of shaliah, however, is richer than the modern concept of an ambassador or representative. The term denotes someone who comes with the same authority as the one who sent him. The person may delegate any task to his shaliah, his apostle.2

The Apostles received full authority and power from Christ to go forth with the mission of representing him. The apostles did not simply go out and tell people about Christ, they went forth with the power of Christ, e.g., casting out demons, after Christ’s Ascension, the power to forgive and retain sins (discussed below), . The requirements for the title apostles are (1) an encounter with the Risen Christ and (2) be personally commissioned.3


2. Did St. Peter Hold Any Honor Among the Twelve?

There are many small signs within the Gospel narratives that indicate St. Peter held an honored place among the twelve. When choosing his twelve disciples, Christ called St. Peter first and his interaction with Christ served as a the “original pattern of apostolic vocation par excellence.”4 Second, throughout the New Testament, St. Peter is named first when the disciples are listed, e.g., “And the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother…”5 Third, St. Peter is always among those disciples chosen for a particular event; thus, he is present with James and John at the Transfiguration and at the Mt. of Olives. In both instances, St. Peter is singled out from the other two.6 Finally, St. Peter was the only apostle to walk on water and delivered the homily on the first Pentecost.7

For these reasons – and Scriptures below – St. Peter held a primacy among the twelve and is known historically as the “Prince of the Apostles.”


St. Peter receiving the Keys of the Kingdom.
St. Peter receiving the Keys of the Kingdom.


St. Peter’s Vocation in the Gospel of St. Matthew


3. What Type of Kingdom did Christ Intend?

In writing his gospel to the Jews, St. Matthew draws heavily from the Old Testament in order to show Christ as the Jewish Messiah. One of the most important Messianic Old Testament concepts is the New Davidic Kingdom. King David is promised a descendent who would “rule forever” and sit on “David’s throne” forever.8  According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is a descendent of King David. He is referred to as the “Son of David.”9


4. What Office did Christ give to St. Peter?

St. Matthew records one of the most import pericopes in Scripture. First, St. Peter is singled out as the one among the twelve that correctly identifies Christ as the Son of the Living God. Second, Christ singles out St. Peter and gives him a unique vocation/office within the New Davidic Kingdom.

And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.

Christ changes Simon Bar-Jona’s name to Peter, meaning Rock and declares that it is upon this rock Christ will build his Church.10 In the Old Testament, God changing a person’s name signified a new vocation for that individual. Abram was changed to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel. Simon Bar-Jona’s new vocation as Peter is to be the Rock for Christ’s Church. How exactly St. Peter is to fulfill this role of rock is expressed in a biblical understanding of the keys he is given.


5. Is St. Peter the Rock in the Original Language?

Before a discussion of the keys, certain protestant polemics that attempt to state St. Peter was not the rock in St. Matthew’s famous passage should be addressed. In Greek, Christ changes St. Peter’s name to Petros and then says upon this petra I will build my Church. The assertion here is that the two terms are distinct and St. Peter is consequently not the rock upon which the Church is built. There  are two main reasons this polemic is in error.

First, there is a distinction between the language Christ spoke and the language of the New Testament. Christ spoke Aramaic, which renders the passage, “That thou art Kepha; and upon this kepha I will build my church.” There is no distinction.11 This reading in the Aramaic is affirmed by the fact St. Peter is also called Cephas in the New Testament. The name Peter comes from the Greek petros/petra meaning rock, while Cephas comes from the Aramaic word kepha.

Second, there is a distinction in the Greek itself. First, even though Greek is an inflected language – meaning the form/spelling of the noun is predicated upon its function in the sentence – the distinction between petros and petra is not an inflection of the same word. They are cognates, meaning they are two words with the same root word. In the old Attic Greek, this distinction held a nuanced difference in the definitions; however, this nuance had disappeared by the time the New Testament was written. The New Testament is written in Koine Greek, which holds petros and petra to be synonyms.12 There is again, no discernible distinction between petros and petra.

St. Peter is the rock in both the spoken language and the written language of the New Testament. There are other protestant concerns that pivot on the misguided belief that only Christ may be referred to as the rock. This belief lends to a tormented reading of the text that asserts the rock is either Christ himself or St. Peter’s faith. First, the text is difficult to reconcile with these views as St. Peter is undeniably given the keys of the kingdom. He is the focus on the entire passage. Second, many forget that Abraham was also referred to as the rock of Israel. Isaiah 51:1-3 states, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn… look to Abraham your father.” The connection between Abraham and St. Peter only further solidifies the belief that St. Peter’s vocation is one of extreme importance – as both Abraham and St. Peter serve as foundations for the People of God.13


6. Are St. Peter’s Keys in the Bible?

One of the most intriguing aspects of St. Matthew’s passage is Christ giving St. Peter the keys of the kingdom. Since Christ is the “Son of David” and he sits on throne in the New Jerusalem, it follows that the keys must have a Davidic significance.  In examining the passage, it is clear that Christ is drawing from the Old Testament and perfecting a passage from Isaiah that speaks of a position within the Davidic Kingdom.

And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father.

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 to bind and loose.14 Reading Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16 together, the 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, his vicar 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.

Another important aspect of the keys is their ability to “bind and loose.” The phrase is deeply rooted in the Jewish rabbinic tradition and denotes the power to set the boundaries of a community. The binding and loosing power Christ attached to the keys clarifies for the community what was right and what was wrong. As the steward governed King David’s House according to the King’s order, so too does the new steward of the Eternal King’s House govern according to the Eternal King’s order.


St. Peter’s Vocation in the Gospel of St. Luke


7. How does St. Luke describe St. Peter’s Vocation?

In the Gospel of St. Luke, Christ charges St. Peter with the role of confirming his brothers in the faith.15

And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren. Who said to him: Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said: I say to thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, till thou thrice deniest that thou knowest me.

One of the comforts of being a Catholic is that Christ chose an imperfect man to be the first Pope. St. Peter fails time and time again. Note here, however, that it appears God has given up St. Peter to Satan as he did Job. St. Peter does fail and he betrays Christ three times, however, unlike Judas, St. Peter is able to discover grace and return to fulfill his biblical role. He returns and strengthens the brethren. Compare the St. Peter who denied Christ to the St. Peter who – again in a unique act – stood and delivered the homily at the first Pentecost.


St. Peter’s Vocation in the Gospel of St. John


8. What is St. Peter’s Vocation in St. John’s Gospel?

The Gospel of St. John records St. Peter’s vocation in terms of a chief shepherd. Take note of the threefold commission given to St. Peter. The thrice nature of the commission has both a ancient juridical element and hearkens back to St. Luke’s description.16

This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to his disciples, after he was risen from the dead. When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs.

He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep. Amen, amen I say to thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had said this, he saith to him: Follow me.

First, notice that the vocation given to St. Peter is one founded on love and expressed in service. The threefold nature of the commission serves two purposes. First, St. Peter thrice proclaims his love for Christ, which corresponds and heals his three denials of Christ. Second, Christ asking St. Peter the same question three times in a row is a juridical formula. The threefold question was a solemn juridical rite that expressed the installation of an office or the transfer of authority.


9. How does the modern papacy reflect St. Peter’s biblical vocation?

Did the office of the papacy endure after St. Peter? Yes, if the role of the pope is to be the vicar in the King’s absence, then the office of the papacy endures until the King returns. The pope leads the King’s people according to the King’s laws until the King returns. Moreover, the Isaiah 22 passage that speaks of the Davidic key is in the context of one steward replacing another.

The pope’s authority is articulated in Holy Scripture. The pope strengthens his brother bishops and all Catholics in the faith by writing encyclicals and other works. He stands as an exemplar – hopefully – in faith, morals, and the liturgy. He is the Chief Shepherd watching over God’s flock.

He is the Rock that holds the Keys of the Kingdom. He may bind and loose. Historically, this authority has given us dogma. How many books should be in the Bible? What is the canon for the New Testament? What is the true identity of Christ? What is justification? All these questions have been confirmed at Council by the authority of the papacy. Even the core dogmas that the Protestants hold on to were defined and declared dogma by the Pope and the Church.

However, how does the Church know that these declarations by the Pope and the Church has correct? What if the Church erred in explaining Christ’s identity as fully man and fully God? What if the Church erred in the books of the New Testament? What if one of the hundreds of doctrines the Church declared was heresy was actually God’s truth? If the Church has erred, is she not teaching heresy? Have the gates of hell – despite Christ’s promise – prevailed? By what principle do we declare our faith in the decisions of the Church are correct?


A Western depiction of the Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732.
A Western depiction of the Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732.


The Gift of Infallibility


10. What is the Soul of the Church?

The concept of infallibility is predicated upon several key biblical concepts. First, the office Christ gave to St. Peter – the role of Vicar who guides, strengthens, and shepherds – second, the promise the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, and third, Pentecost. In Pentecost we learn that the Holy Spirit is the power of the Church. Just as the soul animates the body, so too does the Holy Spirit animate the Catholic Church.17 The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.

The primary text associated with Pentecost describes the power of the Holy Spirit falling upon Mary and the disciples.18

And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.

With the power of the Holy Spirit upon him, St. Peter stands up and strengthens the brothers and shepherds the Church. “But Peter standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke to them…” One of the undercurrents of St. Peter’s homily is the basic biblical principles that the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old and the Old Testament is perfected in the New. The old Pentecost celebrating the harvests and the the Covenant at Sinai is perfected in the new Pentecost of the Holy Spirit and the Church. Similarly, the old Davidic kingdom has its steward, so too does the Davidic Kingdom have its steward.

The Pentecost in Acts – in which St. Peter gives the homily – demonstrates the Holy Spirit as the power of the Church. It is the power that fell upon the Apostles, Christ’s agents or legal emissaries. The Pentecost in St. John’s Gospel more fully demonstrates the unique connection between the Apostles, the Holy Spirit, and the governance of Christ’s Church.19

And when he [Christ] had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.

He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

St. John’s Pentecost is characterized by Christ breathing the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles. The act grants them the power – through the Holy Spirit – to forgive and retain sins, the biblical foundation for the Sacrament of Confession, inter alia. The two passages serve to demonstrate the Holy Spirit’s intimate role with the Church, and the latter passage more clearly indicates the instruments of the Holy Spirit are the Apostles. St. Peter then, stands unique among the rest, as he holds a special place among the Apostles – the Vicar of Christ.


11. What is the Gift of Infallibility?

The Gift of Infallibility is the belief the Holy Spirit fulfills Christ’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Infallibility is first and foremost a gift to the Church; however, like the gift to forgive and retain sins, the means by which the Holy Spirit accomplishes this gift is the papacy and the magisterium of the Church. The promise that hell would not prevail was given by Christ in the same passage that he gives St. Peter the keys and renames him the Rock. The vocation of St. Peter and the promise hell will not prevail against the Church are intimately connected.

If the Pope is the Rock and he has the keys to “bind and loose,” what if the Pope was to lead the Church into error? What if the Pope at the Council of Nicaea would have submitted Christ was not fully God and fully Man? What if Pope would have allowed Gnostic books filled with errors into the biblical canon? The Pope and the Church – but never the Church without the Pope – has determined what is and is not Christianity. Many of these proclamations are still held by protestants as core undeniable tenants of the Christian faith. But by what faith do Catholics take these decisions? By what surety do Christians hold the doctrines of Christ’s Incarnation and the Trinity? Catholics take them on the faith that the Holy Spirit protects the Church and keeps her from error.

The Gift of Infallibility is a negative gift not a positive gift. It is a negative gift that prevents the pope from leading the Church into serious error. It is a gift of prevention and not of assertion. In other words, it is a gift of clarifying the faith, not creating the faith. Ultimately, it is the a gift to the Church preserving the Bride of Christ from the stain of adultery (idolatry). Call to mind the keys of the kingdom and the role of the vicar. The pope leads the King’s people according to the King’s laws and at times must clarify those laws so the people may continue to live in full adherence to the King.


12. How does Infallibility Work?

First, there are the councils that decided matters of faith. For example, the Council of Nicaea articulated the identity of Christ and the Council of Trent the doctrine of justification. Through the Holy Spirit working in the Church and the Chief Shepherd, the Pope, the Faithful may believe these doctrines have been defined infallibly. It is the Church and the Pope, but never the Church without the Pope.

Second, when the bishops of the world teach in unison with the Pope and the Sacred Tradition of the Church there is infallibility. A council may declare something, but then the bishops are charged with sharing that truth with their flock. When a bishop teaches the Faithful about Sacred Tradition there is infallibility. The sole belief that this doctrine has been given infallibly to the Church.

Third, there is when the Pope speaks ex cathedra or from the throne. An ex cathedra pronouncement declares a clarification of Catholic doctrine that is consistent with the faith of the Church, is universally applicable, and seriously tied enough to salvation to merit an extraordinary clarification. The Council of Vatican I (AD 1869-70) declared:

Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

Note that the Council did not invent a new papal power, but clarified an existing one.20 The papal infallibility is a Gift to the Church that is used to clarify longstanding doctrinal issues. For example, Pope Pius IX infallibly declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8, 1854.21 Similarly, the Assumption of Mary was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950.22 Neither of these doctrines were invented in 1854 or 1950; rather, they were longstanding debates in the Church that the Pope felt were serious enough to merit an infallibly clarification.

Further Resources on Understanding the Papacy

  1. Early Church & the Papacy: SPL has three lists of quotes in this area – The Early Church in Jerusalem Followed the Pope: 7 Quotes from HistoryConstantinople: 25 Quotes from the Eastern Fathers on the Petrine MinistryRome is the Apostolic Throne: 24 Quotes from Alexandria, Antioch, and Cyprus. []
  2. Shaliah: In cross-referencing sources, the term was also listed as shali’ah and shaliach. For example, “The first shaliaḥ mentioned in the written Torah is Eliezer, who was sent by Abraham to find a wife for Isaac.” Source. []
  3. Apostles: First, there are always question about St. Paul referring to himself as an apostle. St. Paul did meet the Risen Christ and he was personally commissioned. Second, the “power” of the apostles is articulated throughout the article, but outside all the examples of them casting out demons, etc., look to the Pentecost of St. John’s Gospel, chapter 20. There, Christ breathes on the apostles and gives them the power to forgive and retain sins. []
  4. First to be Called: St. Luke 5:1-11, quote from Cardinal Ratzinger’s Called to Communion, 54. []
  5. St. Peter Listed First: Matt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:13 []
  6. Transfiguration & Mt. of Olives: Mark 9:2-8; 14:33 []
  7. Walk on Water: Mt 14:28ff, also note St. Peter asked Christ how many times we ought to forgive (Mt 18:21) and his shadow healed people (Acts 5). For a whole list on this subject, see 13 Biblical Reasons St. Peter is the Prince of the Apostles []
  8. King David’s Throne: I Chron 17:14; Ps 89:35-36; Luke1:31 []
  9. Son of David: Matt 1:1-2; 9:27-29; Mk 10:47, 48) Christ, as the Eternal King, fulfills God’s covenant with David, because Christ will “rule forever” from King David’s Throne in the New Jerusalem. 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. ((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 []
  10. Name Change: St. Matthew 16:13-20, D-R. []
  11. Cephas in the New Testament: cf. John 1:42; I Cor 1:12, 3:22, 9:5. []
  12. Greek Petros/Petra: For a further discussion see 10 Reasons Christ Founded the Papacy and its citations on this issue; moreover, the entire discussion of St. Peter’s vocation from the Gospel of St. Matthew is drawn from the same article. []
  13. Abraham & St. Peter: Cardinal Ratzinger stated the following in his book Called to Communion, 56, “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.” []
  14. Keys in the Old Testament: The verse is Isaiah 22:22-23 D-R, 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. []
  15. Strengthen the Brothers: Gospel of St. Luke 22:29-32 []
  16. Feed my Sheep: St. John 21:15-19 []
  17. Soul of the Church: In Latin the soul is anima which English derives words like animate; thus, the Holy Spirit as the anima of the Church animates all she does. []
  18. Pentecost: Acts 2 D-R []
  19. John’s Pentecost: Gospel of John 20:20-23 []
  20. Vatican I: Papal Infallibility, Session Four, Chapter Four. []
  21. Immaculate Conception:  Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. []
  22. Assumption of Mary: Infallibly declared in Munificentissimus Deus. []

The Golden Calf & Our Catholic Mass: 3 Reasons Man Cannot Invent the Liturgy

“[Liturgy] cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity – then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self affirmation.” – Cardinal Ratzinger

Spirit of the LiturgyListers, “man himself cannot simply ‘make’ worship.” This is the opening line of arguably the two most powerful paragraphs in Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. SPL has previously promoted this seminal work in The 2 Books by Cardinal Ratzinger that Will Change Your Life. While that list focuses on the greater context in which the book is written – the Queen of the Sciences and the role of the liturgy – this list presents a small but potent pericope.

Cardinal Ratzinger reads the Golden Calf episode in Exodus 32 not as the people of Israel rebelling against God directly, but rather after losing hope in Moses, the people decided to worship God in their own way. The beginning of the chapter lays out the mindset of the Israelites, especially verses 4-5.


1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, “Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 And Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.


The good Cardinal uses this chapter to discuss the distinction between the liturgy given by God and the liturgy created by man. As a point of caution, it is too easy for a Catholic reader to superficially acknowledge the Cardinal’s words as a condemnation of Protestantism. While they do condemn those who fabricate their own faith, Cardinal Ratzinger’s purpose in writing the work is to show Catholics what a proper “spirit of the liturgy” should be.

The Catholic liturgy is not in danger of being hijacked by Protestants; it was and still is in danger of being made protestant by Catholics.


The following presents the text verbatim (pp. 21-23) with supplemented enumerated titles and  highlighted quotes.


"Worshipping the Golden Calf." - Fucas van Leyden, a selection.
“Worshipping the Golden Calf.” – Fucas van Leyden, a selection.

1. What Man Cannot Make

“Man himself cannot simply ‘make’ worship. If God does not reveal himself, man is clutching empty space. Moses says to Pharaoh: “[W]e do not know with what we must serve the Lord” (Ex 10:26). These words display a fundamental law of all liturgy. When God does not reveal himself, man can, from the sense of God within him, build altars ‘to the unknown god’ (cf. Acts 17:23). He can reach out toward God in his thinking and try to feel his way toward him.”

[Liturgy] cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity – then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self affirmation.

“But real liturgy implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of ‘institution’. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity – then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self affirmation. Liturgy implies a real relationship with Another, who reveals himself to us and gives our existence a new direction.”


The Golden Calf 3

2. The Golden Calf

“In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of ‘what you please.’ Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf (strictly speaking, ‘bull calf’). The cult conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods. Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. Everything seems to be in order. Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics. And yet it is a falling away from the worship of God to idolatry.”

Worship is not longer going up to God, but drawing God into one’s own world. He must be there when he is needed, and he must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.

“This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes. First there is a violation of the prohibition against images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote, and mysterious God. They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God into one’s own world. He must be there when he is needed, and he must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.


"The Golden Calf" - Tissot
“The Golden Calf” – Tissot

3. Banal Self-Gratification

“This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult. When Moses stays away for too long, and God himself becomes inaccessible, the people just fetch him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an imagine of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification. The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship.”

Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation.

“Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse, it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.”