In the first Vatican Council, the Catholic Church “infallibly” declared that in Matthew 16:18 “[i]t was to Simon alone” that Jesus called “the rock.” The Council continued, “And it was to Peter alone that Jesus…confided the jurisdiction of supreme pastor and ruler of his whole fold.”

Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.


As for this interpretation of Matt 16:18 the Council “infallibly” declares that “it has always been understood by the catholic church” and that the church always affirmed “that Peter, in preference to the rest of the apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction.”

Those who say “that this primacy was not conferred immediately and directly on blessed Peter himself, but rather on the church, and that it was through the church that it was transmitted to him in his capacity as her minister” are declared anathema by the Council.

So, let’s sum up the contentions of Vatican I.

  1. The Church always understood what Vatican I taught on this particular issue.
  2. Vatican I teaches that ONLY Simon was called “the Rock,” not anyone or anything else.
  3. Vatican I also teaches that Peter was given primacy of jurisdiction. This is why the Roman Church as jurisdiction over all others.
  4. Lastly, Vatican I further teaches that it is anathema to say that Peter attained to primacy through the Church, or that primacy belongs to the Church itself.

In the following, we will see that the Contention 1 does not hold up in a plethora of ancient witnesses. I will then add commentary to each witness in order to detail where Vatican I’s teachings have not been affirmed by the Church in early times. In doing so, I intend to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Vatican I is fallible, as its own statements are demonstrably untrue. This calls into question the Roman dogma that ecumenical councils, and Papal statements, can have the aura of infallibility.

Our Ancient Witnesses Against Vatican I Include the Following:

1. Council of Chalcedon

[T]he imperial city of Constantinople, which is New Rome, in the time of the Emperor Theodosius of happy memory), we also do enact and decree the same things concerning the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, which is New Rome. For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city…[T]he most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honoured with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her (Canon 28).

The above shows that a preponderance of Bishops who ruled during the fifth century saw Rome as the center of Christendom, not because of the preeminence of Peter and the Bishop of Rome inheriting his seat (Contention 3), but because of Rome’s centrality as a political capital.

For contradicting Vatican I’s view of history let them be…


2. Augustine

I have said in a certain place of the Apostle Peter, that it was on him, as on a rock, that the Church was built. but I know that since that I have often explained these words of the Lord, “Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my Church,” as meaning upon Him whom Peter had confessed in the words, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God;: and so that Peter, taking his name from this rock, would represent the Church, which is built upon this rock. For it is not said to him, Thou art the rock, but, “Thou art Peter.” But the rock was Christ, whom because Simon thus confessed, as the whole Church confesses Him, he was named Peter. Let the reader choose whether of these two opinions seems to him the more probable (Retract., i, 21:).

Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his, whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, ‘To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 16:19). After all, it isn’t just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged pre–eminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, ‘To you I am entrusting,’ what has in fact been entrusted to all (Sermon 295).

Augustine obviously contradicted Contention 2. Further, Augustine asserts that Peter’s pre-eminence is in fact that of the Church’s and all those within her that exercise the authority of the keys. He merely represented, or “stood for” the Church’s unity. This contradicts Contention 4.

For contradicting Vatican I’s view of history let him be…


3. Cyprian

The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, I say unto you, that you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. And again to the same He says, after His resurrection,Feed my sheep. And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, As the Father has sent me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins you remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins you retain, they shall be retained; John 20:21 yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity (Treatise 1: On Unity of the Catholic Church, Chapter 4).

Our Lord whose precepts and warnings we ought to observe, determining the honour of a Bishop and the ordering of His own Church, speaks in the Gospel and says to Peter, I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Thence the ordination of Bishops, and the ordering of the Church, runs down along the course of time and line of succession, so that the Church is settled upon her Bishops; and every act of the Church is regulated by these same Prelates (Epistle XXXII, On the Lapsed, Chapter 1).

Cyprian taught that all Apostles were “equal,” undoing any doctrine that says that to Peter alone was given jurisdiction (Contention 3). He also asserts that Peter attained to his position as rock through the “unity” of the Church, contradicting Contention 4. Further, all Bishops are in effect “the rock,”contradicting Contention 2.

For contradicting Vatican I’s view of history let him be…


4. Gregory Nanzianzus

[H]e [Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria] was invested with this important ministry, and made one of those who draw near to the God Who draws near to us, and deemed worthy of the holy office and rank, and, after passing through the entire series of orders, he was (to make my story short) entrusted with the chief rule over the people, in other words, the charge of the whole world: nor can I say whether he received the priesthood as the reward of virtue, or to be the fountain and life of the Church (Oration XXI).

Here, Gregory says that Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, was “chief” among Bishops. If this claim was made of the Bishop of Rome, Catholic apologists would be pulling it out as “evidence” that the Papacy was an ancient institution that exercised jurisdiction over the Christian world since the beginning. The contention that in some sense Athanasius did act as chief ruler contradicts Premise 3.

For contradicting Vatican I’s view of history let him be…


5. Chrysostom

James was invested with the chief rule, and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. And after that they had held their peace, James answered, etc. Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part (Homily 33 on Acts of the Apostles).

And I say unto you, You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd (Homily 54 on Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 3).

Chrysostom not only clearly says Peter was an inferior below James as it pertains to rulership (contradicting Contention 3), he views “the rock” as “the faith of his [Peter’s] confession,” contradicting Contention 2.

For contradicting Vatican I’s view of history let him be…


6. Hilary of Poitiers

Next, the Father’s utterance, “This is My Son,” had revealed to Peter that he must confess “You are the Son of God,” for in the words “This is,” God the Revealer points Him out, and the response, “You are,” is the believer’s welcome to the truth. And this is the rock of confession whereon the Church is built (On the Trinity, Book 6, Chapter 36).

7. Eusebius

‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’; and elsewhere: ‘The rock, moreover, was Christ.’ For, as the Apostle indicates with these words: ‘No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus’ (Commentary on the Psalms, M.P.G., Vol. 23, Col. 173, 176).

8. Origen

“Thou art Peter;” for every one is a Rock who is an imitator of Christ (As quoted in Catena).

The above three church fathers all contradict Contention 2.

For contradicting Vatican I’s view of history let him be…


9. Theodore of Mopsuestia

This is not the property of Peter alone, but it came about on behalf of  every human being. Having said this confession is a rock, He stated that upon this rock I will build My Church. This means He will build His Church upon the same confession and faith. For this reason, addressing the one who first confessed Him with this title, on account of His confession He to applied him this authority, to as something that would become his, speaking of the common and special good of the Church as pertaining to him alone. It was from this confession, which was going to become the common property of all believers, that he bestowed upon Him this name, the Rock. In the same way also Jesus attributes to him the special character of the Church…By this he shows, in consequence, that this is the common good of the Church, since also the common element of the confession was to come to be first in Peter. This then is what He says, that in the Church would be the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Fragment 92, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, Volume Ib, p. 46).

Here we have in one passage a triple whammy. Contention 2 is eviscerated. Contention 3 is not workable because Peter is sharing an attribute of the Church, instead of the Church receiving from him the power of the keys.  Contention 4 is also done away with, as Peter’s authority only “become[s] his” when the “common and special good of the Church” (i.e. the power of the keys) becomes manifest (i.e. when the Church becomes manifest.) The turn of phrase “as pertaining to him alone,” shows that though Jesus worded it as such, it is not intended to be such, as he is merely having attributed “to him the special character of the Church.” Hence, “this authority” that was “applied” to Peter actually is property of the all believers in the Church.

For contradicting Vatican I’s view of history let him be…


Conclusion. Clearly, unless we employ mental gymnastics, the plain-spoken contentions of Vatican I are wrong. It has not always been the teaching of the Church that Peter is “the Rock,” to him alone was given jurisdiction over the whole Christian world, or that he derived his authority through himself instead of through the Church at large. Now, the above is not an exhaustive study on the subject.

There are many more Church Fathers that viewed “the Rock” as Peter’s confession, not Peter himself. In fact, such exegesis is actually the majority exegesis. There is a notable exception. The “heretic” Tertullian espouses the view of Vatican I in Prescription Against the Heretics.

All of this begs the following questions: If Vatican I is infallible, why is it not perspicuous? Why isn’t its “real” meaning readily apparent? Why, if we take it literally, is it so wrong? There has to be a point where the Roman apologist must admit he approaches doctrines like a lawyer approaches law.

A lawyer cares nothing about the obvious meaning or intent of what a law says. He wants to twist what the words of the law say in order to make it fit what he wants it to fit. And so, is this how we should be approaching matters of religion? Is it God’s will that true doctrines be so confusing, that even when whole councils convene in order to elaborate exactly what they are (such as Vatican I), they only create even more confusion and require even more apologetics to explain what was really meant?

There has to be a point where one comes to realize that a rotten edifice has been placed on top of God’s revelation and put on par with it. The problem is, it isn’t up to par. It contains obvious errors in logic and historical continuity. Meanwhile, the Scripture does not suffer on these points on matters of doctrine. Augustine wrote that only to the Scripture alone did he attribute the quality of inerrancy. He may have been on to something.