Why do Catholics believe that Peter the Apostle was the first Pope, when the word “Pope” doesn’t even appear in Catholic Bibles? Just where does the Pope get his authority to rule over the Catholic Church?
True, the word “Pope” doesn’t appear in the Bible – but then neither do the words “Trinity,” “Incarnation,” “Ascension” and “Bible” appear in the Bible. However, they are referred to by other names. The Bible, for example, is referred to as “Scripture.” The Pope, which means head bishop of the Church, is referred to as the “rock” of the Church, or as the “shepherd” of the Church. Christ used that terminology when He appointed the Apostle Peter the first head bishop of His Church, saying: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona . . . Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matt. 16:17-19). “There shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16). “Feed my lambs . . . feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17). The words “rock” and “shepherd” must apply to Peter, and they must distinguish him as the head Apostle, otherwise Christ’s statements are so ambiguous as to be meaningless. Certainly the other Apostles understood that Peter had authority from Christ to lead the Church, for they gave him the presiding place every time they assembled in council (Acts 1:15, 5:1-10), and they placed his name first every time they listed the names of the Apostles. (Matt. 10:2, Mark 3:16, Luke 6:13-14, Acts 1:13).
In addition, there is the testimony of the Church Fathers. In the second century St. Hegessipus compiled a list of Popes to the time of Anicetus (eleventh Pope) which contained the name of St. Peter as first. Early in the third century the historian Caius wrote that Pope Victor was “the thirteenth Bishop of Rome from Peter.” In the middle of the third century St. Cyprian related that Cornelius (twenty-first Pope) “mounted the lofty summit of the priesthood . . . the place of Peter.” Even Protestant historians have attested to Peter’s role as first Bishop of Rome, first Pope of the Catholic Church. Wrote the eminent Protestant historian Cave in his Historia Literaria: “That Peter was at Rome, and held the See there for some time, we fearlessly affirm with the whole multitude of the ancients.” Hence the source of the Pope’s authority to rule over the Catholic Church is quite obvious: It was given him by none other than Jesus Christ – by God Himself.
Author: Paul Whitcomb
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Edmund J. Bradley Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Timothy Manning, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General
April 13, 1961