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The Catholic Magisterium is the power of the Catholic Church, as given it by the Son of God, Christ Jesus, to proclaim the truths of the Faith. The Magisterium exercises this teaching power in two different ways.

The Solemn Magisterium

This form of the teaching Magisterium is that which is used by popes to formally define articles of the faith infallibly. When the pope teaches this way, it is referred to as ex cathedra.

The Ordinary Magisterium

This form of the teaching Magisterium is exercised by the Church in practices connected to faith and morals, in the common sense of the faithful, historical documents, unanimous consent of Church Fathers and theologians, when the faith is taught.

The Apostles were the Church’s first teaching authority after Jesus, the first of the Magisterium. Christ granted them Peter & the Keysthe power to teach the faith to Christians and non-Christians alike. To Peter Christ said:

“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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

Here Christ appoints Peter as the rock He will build His Church upon, promising that Satan’s power will not destroy it. Christ then gives Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, a significant act showing Peter’s power of authority.

Some will object and say that the original Greek of the Gospel lists Peter as Petros, meaning smaller rock; a stone, while the word for the rock Christ will build His church upon is petra, meaning large rock; a boulder. If Peter’s name meant “small rock”, then he could not be the foundation that Christ was speaking of. Instead, Christ must have been referring to Himself when speaking of the foundation of His Church.

First, I am no Greek scholar myself, but have been told that in Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, petra and petros are synonyms of each other. They simply Peter-rock.pngtranslate as “rock”. The only form of Greek that they could not be used interchangeably is Attic Greek, as it is a form of Greek in which petros and petra have different meanings.

Also, if Christ wished to express Peter’s inability to be His Church’s foundation, He could have referred to him as lithos, which means a small pebble in Greek. It was not as if Christ’s vocabulary was handicapped, or that He was trying to be deceptive or tricky. He said what He meant.

In addition to the Greek of the Gospel, the meaning of Peter as the rock is bolstered in the language of Aramaic, the language Christ spoke. In Aramaic, the words for Peter and rock would be the same; kepha. Christ would have used kepha for both the words Peter and rock in the passage. This helps make clear the reality of what Christ was conferring on Peter; He was making him His Church’s foundation.

The concept of the keys of the kingdom is interesting. In Scripture, keys were regarded as a symbol of the authority granted to a person. Christ giving the keys to Peter is not unlike an instance in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah gives His servant Eliacim the keys to the house of David, the kingdom of David that is, saying words similar to Christ’s.

“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.” (Isaiah 22:22)

The power given both to Eliacim and Peter held great authority. Being given the keys to the kingdom, they both were able to make binding decisions no one could alter. Christ even tells Peter that the decisions he makes conducting His Church shall be ratified in Heaven. Can anyone top that? God ratifying your decisions? This was no small honor for Peter. It was a great responsibility. He was the rock on which Christ chose to build His Church.

In Luke 22:31-32, Christ tells Peter:

“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.”

Here, Christ tells Peter of Satan’s desire to break up and destroy the Apostles, but Christ says He has prevented it through prayer. He then places Peter in charge of confirming, strengthening, the other Apostles. Peter is placed in charge of helping the other Apostles continue in the way of truth, and not allow them to be taken by the devil. This is one of several examples of the primacy and individual authority Peter possessed among the Apostles.

Another blatant example of Peter’s authority is in John 21:15-17. While Peter is on a beach, eating with Christ, they have the following dialogue:

“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.”

Here, Christ places Peter in charge of His own flock, the Church. Peter is to be the head of Christ’s Church on earth, teaching Christ’s flock. Christ gives Peter His entire flock to take care of, making him a shepherd of His Church. Could the Scriptures be anymore plain as to reveal that Christ commissioned Peter to take charge of the Church after He ascended to Heaven? The early Christians are even plainer.


{To be continued in The Origins of the Teaching Authority of the Pope (Part 2) }