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THE HEADSHIP OF PETER, AND THE SUPREMACY OF THE
SEE OF ROME,
MATTHEW XVI. 18,
"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."
THE idea of the church of Christ which we have drawn from the sacred word of God appears to be that of a compact and graduated establishment for the preservation of revealed truth, by means of a provision, made by the Almighty, that his presence shall always be there, assisting it to preserve the belief of the doctrines which have been delivered to it, and to be the means of diffusing it among all mankind. We have seen how far this purpose was foreshown in the old law, and instituted in the new, a compact society, as it were, having within itself the form of a kingdom or dominion, in which there is a subordination of those who are to be taught, to those who have God's command to teach, and his promise that they shall ever teach aright. We have seen how all the imagery that is applied to this kingdom, gives us precisely the same idea; for it would indeed be wonderful, if there were not some special provision for the preservation of that individuality which was to be the essential characteristic of the church of God; and, at the same time, to secure to it that permanency which was necessary to enable it to carry into effect the commission entrusted to it by Almighty wisdom.
That is the dogma which I wish to explain to you this evening-that the Catholic church discovers this completion, as it were, to the system which I have before detailed in parts-the cope-stone, if I may so say, which, at the same time that it fastens adorns and protects the building over which it is placed in such a way, that, while it forms the link or
the connexion whereby that unity is preserved-which is one of the most beautiful, as well as one of the most essential characteristics of Christ's church as described in the Scriptures,-it at the same time gives it a constant and durable means of being preserved, so that we can trace it from the beginning to the end by means of this most distinguishing and most-important object.
Such we believe to be the Supremacy, as we call it, of St. Peter, and after him of his successors in the See of Rome-a supremacy, the character of which I shall first endeavour to describe, and then shall proceed to show you, as briefly as the subject will permit, the grounds upon which the Catholic church bases this important doctrine.
By the supremacy of the sovereign Pontiff, we understand that jurisdiction or authority which is invested in him as the successor of St. Peter, whereby being constituted the vicar or representative of Christ upon earth, and consequently the visible head of his church; for Christ is always the only princpal, and necessarily invisible Head of the church; power has been given to him to govern, to rule, to preserve together, the various naturally and humanly speaking discordant elements of which the church of Christ was to be composed. We believe, therefore, that he is the universal Shepherd over the entire flock; that not only every part of this flock-every individual member-is the subject of his charge, but also the clergy-not the lower grade only, but those of the highest dignity-are essentially submitted and subjected to his sway, so much so, that the appointment of them all must emanate from him primarily, or at least be virtually, and in some way, approved by his sanction. We believe, consequently, that it is his duty to watch over the whole church, to discover scandal and error, and instantly apply those remedies which God has appointed for their removal; that it is his duty to watch over the deposit of faith; to see, while we believe, that, in the whole church it cannot be lost, that it shall not be in any way tarnished, or suffer loss in any special church. We believe, therefore, that the whole of the faithful are bound together in union to him, communicating, through their respective pastors, first, through their own clergy, and these again through their bishops, and so we find them holding obedience to the Sovereign Ruler of the universal church, and listening, with obedience and docility, to whatever he shall appoint.
But here let us observe what is meant by obeying whatever he shall teach or appoint. It is not to be understood that we believe, by any means, that he has it in his power to create any new doctrine for the church, or to appoint any thing to be believed which was not believed before; not even that, according to the universally received doctrine of the church, he has the power of pronouncing infallibly upon what is believed in the church, but simply that it is his duty, the moment an error arises, to investigate and examine what is the belief of the church
upon that point, to give an answer regarding it, and, according to the dogma of the church, if the whole of the church-the bishops constituting it should accede to that decision, the decision is considered necessarily as the voice of the church, and consequently the infallible teaching of God. But, as I observed before, it can only be as to a matter of fact, whether such doctrine hath always been taught, and whether it is actually taught through the universal church, that this inquiry is directed; the power is never exercised for the creation of a single new opinion, for imposing upon the faith of the Catholic, one single doctrine which has not, till then, been universally received.
In like manner, when we speak of our being obliged to obey him in every thing he shall command, of course we believe it impossible, or, I should say, next to impossible, that he can impose a command upon the church which is contrary to the law of God, and therefore, we have no hesitation in saying, that we consider it incompatible with the promise which we believe God has made of preserving his church from error, for him ev to allow the chief ruler and pastor to decree any thing, even in practice, which can be contradictory to that law. But, at the same time, in all matters relating merely to practice-that is, to disciplinethere are certain laws, canons, or rules, by which the church is governed; and though there can be no doubt that, in a matter of mere expediency, the decision or decree of the holy See, would be immediately submitted to, yet can there be no doubt, that by no principle of our religion, that by no doctrine of our church, can we be compelled to obey any thing, supposing it possibly decreed, which was contradictory to the clear revelation of God.
This dominion of the holy See, as it is believed and inculcated in the Catholic church, has no connexion whatsoever with the question so frequently mixed up with it, that of any temporal dominion or power which the sovereign Pontiff may possess in matters merely temporal. It might happen, by the decree or course of divine Providence, that he should be stripped of all his temporal dominions, and reduced once more to the situation of a simple bishop; and yet there can be no doubt, that the entire Catholic church would continue to pay the same deference, the same obedience, the same homage as they do at this moment when he is in possession of a temporal kingdom, or as they did at any of those periods when he is supposed to have been the despot and the master of Europe. We believe that, however it may have pleased Providence, to give him certain powers or influence in temporal affairs, this has no necessary connection with the Institution of the primacy, and consequently, that the two are not necessarily united together.
Upon this subject, if time will allow it, before the conclusion of the discourse, I may have a few words to say, especially in looking at former times, concerning which, so much is popularly delivered and written. I
allude to the supposed usurpation in matters temporal, by the occupiers of the holy See. For the present, suffice it to say, that there is nothing taught in the Catholic church upon this subject; that it is no principle of her belief whatsoever, that the Pope does possess, or can possess, any temporal power, and that if we speak of those kingdoms which are not, in any wise, connected with his temporal government, it is the belief of all Catholics, that the Pope has not the slightest jurisdiction, or right, to interfere upon earth.
Thus far, therefore, may be necessary for clearing away difficulties, and to which I will only add one more reflection, namely, that in the same manner that I have said that the personal infallibility of the Pope is not a dogma of the Catholic church; though I must observe that it is what is called an open and free question, and that many divines maintain the one, and many the other; but still, as it is not to be considered a defined and decided dogma of religion-in the same way as I speak of his personal infallibility, so may I also speak of the personal peccability of the Pope. I know-and even lately I have seen it repeated in a popular form-that there is a sort of declaration of Catholic belief on this subject, as though they held that the Pope could not even offend God or fall into sin. Now, than this, nothing can be more false, because we believe that the Pope is just as liable to sin, that he is just as capable of offending God as the weakest and feeblest mortal upon earth; that he depends exclusively and entirely upon the degree of virtue which he may have acquired, upon the command he may have gained over his passions, upon, in short, the degree of perfection which he may have attained, how far he will sin more frequently or seldomer than the meanest and poorest of his flock.
The question regarding the Pope's supremacy necessarily divides itself into two portions; first, the ascertaining the root, or the groundwork, as it were, upon which it rest; and secondly, the application of the arguments used in the first division to the permanency or existence of that power in the successors of St. Peter.
I have said that, from the beginning, we believe a supremacy, or a superior jurisdiction and authority to have been given to St. Peter over the whole church; and it is in virtue of the Pope being the successor of St. Peter, that we believe it is continued in him. It is necessary, therefore, in the first place, to examine the grounds upon which we attribute a superior authority and jurisdiction to that prince of the apostles, before we proceed to establish the connection which his successors have with him in this regard.
Before entering upon the explanation, or the examination of the words of my text upon which we found the first argument upon this subject, I will premise that it was a very usual custom at all times among the Jews, and especially prevalent among the rabbins about the
time, and after the time of our Saviour, when any of their disciples distinguished themselves in any special manner, when they gave some answer which seemed particularly to call for their approbation, they changed their name, and gave them a new appellation, by way, as it were, of fixing, in connexion with them, a monument of that distinction. In the old law we find the Almighty had recourse to this means, to record special actions in the lives of his favourites; as, for instance, when he changed the names of Abram and Sarai for Abraham and Sarah, because he would make of them parents of nations, and kings, and people. In like manner, when Jacob wrestled with the angel, and gave tokens of superior prowess, God changed his name into Israel, a name expressive of what he had done, and joined to it an adjective, contained as in the other instance, in the name itself, implying that he should prevail hereafter with all mankind.
Now it is singular, that no sooner was St. Peter presented to our Saviour, than he foretold that this important circumstance should occur in his regard: "Thou art Simon," he said, "the son of Jonas or John, thou shalt be called Cephas;" which is, being interpreted, Peter. Our Saviour, however, waited for some time, before he installed him in the dignity which such a name might appear to designate; and it was not till they came to Philippi, on the Sea of Galilee, and made a special confession of the divinity of our Saviour, or, at least, of his being the Messiah sent by God, that he proceeded thus to address him, "Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona; because flesh and blood hath not revealed these things to thee, but my Father who is in heaven." Thus far, therefore, he is addressed by the same name which he bore before. Our Saviour then immediately proceeds to the inauguration of his new name. "But I say unto thee, that thou art Peter." Now we should naturally expect, from the instance that I gave before, that the dignity which is conferred upon Peter, or at least, those expressions which are subsequently applied to him, should have some reference to the name that has been given him: and accordingly, it must be observed, that, however differently it sounds in our language, or in any modern language, in that in which our Saviour spoke, there is no distinction of a letter, of a vowel, of the smallest accent, between the common ordinary word for a stone, or rock, and the name of Peter as given by those who spoke that language to Peter the apostle, or any one living at present, who bears that name from him. So that, in the original, it must have sounded literally, “Thou art a rock;" and then we see immediately the connection of what follows; "and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Such, therefore, is the first commission given to Peter; or, rather, such is the first appointment