This article is thanks to all those who have offered replies on the subject, particularly Erick Ybarra. I appreciate the respect everyone has shown.

Let me start this article with its conclusion:

  • The official Roman Catholic teaching, according to the Lateran Council of 1215 AD, is that all Bishops have keys through Apostolic Succession and all Apostles receive their keys, through Peter. So, in short, all Bishops have keys but they are contingent upon the Roman Bishop. I was incorrect in my initial portrayal of the “official” Roman Catholic position, presuming this is an accurate restatement of it.
  • This official teaching, sadly, is not explicitly restated in the CCC and, in fact, is often not communicated by Roman apologists, who emphasize that only the Pope has keys. I erred not only due to my own intellectual failings but because Roman Catholics, for whatever reasons, do not clearly explain their own official, ecumenical teaching and often teach something different. I do not think this is helped by the fact that making the CCC and Lateran Council of 1215 “work,” as they do not say the same thing, creates major problems of its own.
  • I still maintain that the official Roman Catholic position was unfounded in the pre-schism Church, though if we allow for Lateran I and the CCC to correspond then Rabanus Maurus maybe taught the “modern Roman Catholic view,” though he probably did not. This is true of several additional writers that communicated similar ideas. At this point, I have had brought to my attention four different early Church writers who portrayed what can be roughly approximated to 80 percent of the RC position. These authors are:
    • Rabanus Maurus
    • Saint Optatus of Milevis
    • Saint Leo the Great
    • Alcuin of York

In light of the preceding, I will concede a stalemate of sorts on the exegesis of this text that the Roman view at least has a basis of in pre-schism writers, even if they did not connect all the dots.  Maurus might have the modern Roman Catholic view. Alcuin, Optatus, and Leo likewise did not go “all the way.” It is as if they laid the foundation and the walls, but did not build the roof.

Being that the Roman view has (at least) four different writers at least leaning in their direction, I can no longer maintain that it was a tiny blip on the radar screen. However, I also cannot say that the modern Roman church’s view has a basis in early exegesis either. Rather, I believe that the issue was not fleshed out more because the significance of the “keys” simply was not debated within the context of post-schism feuds over Papal jurisdiction. Of course, as an Orthodox Christian, I presume that this is because the Church generally was not Papist before the schism. However, this is a matter of my own interpretation and I am aware a Roman Catholic can interpret the above writers as making the RC case and simply not being specific enough about it.

Another look at Rabanus Maurus. I have been challenged to re-evaluate my anaylsis of Maurus. I initially viewed his exegesis as pro-Roman. I no longer believe that this is tenable. He wrote:

But this power of binding and loosing, though it seems given by the Lord to Peter alone, is indeed given also to the other Apostles, and is even now in the Bishops and Presbyters in every Church. But Peter received in a special manner the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and a supremacy of judicial power, that all the faithful throughout the world might understand that all who in any manner separate themselves from the unity of the faith, or from communion with him, such should neither be able to be loosed from the bonds of sin, nor to enter the gate of the heavenly kingdom (Rabanus Maurus on Matt 16:19).

The preceding states:

  1. All Bishops have keys.
  2. Peter especially had the keys as a picture of unity.
  3. Without “unity of faith” i.e. “communion with him” keys cannot be properly used by the other Bishops.

My initial read was not Cyprianic enough. I read it as simply “without communion with Peter” i.e. the Pope, no keys. However, this is not what the text actually says. We know from Cyprian that the criteria for Bishops is that what started with Peter being given keys so “He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one” (Treatise 1, Chapter 4). Maurus is merely saying the same thing for the same reasons. We know that Cyprian felt that Pope Stephen I broke that unity and this was a crime against the Church. Likewise, Maurus, invoking the same criteria, I presume he felt no different being that the criteria he set up is no different than Cyprian’s. If he shared Cyprian’s criteria, but not Cyprian’s application of it, then we simply do not know what his application was because the text does not give us more relevant detail.

Pre-schism writers who taught that the apostles received keys through Peter/Rome. 

And he said to him: I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16: 18-19); so to speak he [Peter] alone receives the powers of binding and loosing. And since that one man [Peter] must have spoken for everyone, and since here he must have received [the keys] as the bearing person of unity itself; therefore one [receives] for everyone, because unity is in everyone [of the apostles] (Alcuin of York, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Patrologia Latina 100: 0983A).

And though this has been thus written, nevertheless, for the sake of unity, blessed Peter (for whom it would have been enough if after his denial he had obtained pardon only) both deserved to be placed over all the Apostles, and alone received the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, which he was to communicate to the rest (Saint Optatus of Milevis, Book 7.3 from Against Parmenian).

And yet, out of the whole world, one, Peter, is chosen, who presides both at the call of the Gentiles, and over all the apostles and collected fathers of the Church; so that though there be , among God’s people, many priests and many shepherds, yet Peter especially rules all whom Christ also rules originally. Beloved, it is a great and wonderful sharing of his own power which the divine honor bestowed on this man, and if he wished that other rulers should be in common with him, yet he did never give except through him what he denied to others....’I will give unto thee the keys’….the right of this power did indeed pass on to the other apostles, and the order of this decree passed on to all chiefs of the Church; but not in vain was that which was imparted to all was entrusted to one”.…So then in Peter the strength of all is fortified, and the help of divine grace is so ordered that the stability which through Christ is given to Peter, through Peter is conveyed to the other Apostles” (Saint Leo the Great, Sermon 4, PL 54.149)

In short, with the exception of Optatus as we shall see, the passages do not really go far enough to really lay out the modern Roman teaching as they do not teach that continued communion with Rome is required to maintain “the keys.”

A response to Erick Ybarra. Erick starts his article that was written in response to mine with the following quotation:

St. Theodore the Studite said in one of his preserved letters to Pope St. Leo III:

Since it is to the great Peter that Christ our God gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven and entrusted the dignity of chief of the flock , it is to Peter, that is to say, his successor, that one ought to submit every innovation which is made in the Catholic Church by those who turn aside from the truth.” (Patrologia Graeca 99, 1017 – Epistle 1)

Due to the letter being in a foreign language (and I’m not sure where or how Erick had it translated), I will simply trust that the quote is there. Due to it being in another language, being only literate in English, I had no way of knowing it existed. Nevertheless, I will presume it is authentic.

The quote itself most definitely identifies the Bishop of Rome as having “the keys.” We are not sure what else is being said here, due to us having no surrounding context. The phrase “one ought to submit every innovation” is strange in of itself. Are these things to be submitted for review (i.e. a Serdician privilege for Rome)? Is it just translated badly? I don’t know. The quote also does not comment whether or Bishops do, or do not, have keys. So, it really does not restate what is in the CCC nor are we really quite sure what it is stating. It is a curious quotation, nonetheless.

He then quotes Saint Gregory of Nyssa:

“through Peter gave to the bishops the keys of the heavenly honors” (PG xlvii, 312c)

“According to the privilege granted him by the Lord, Peter is that unbreakable and most solid rock upon which the Savior built His church” – ή άρραγής καί όχυρωτάτη πέτρα έφ ήν τήν Έκκλησίαν ό Σωτήρ ώκοδόμησε (Patrologia Graeca 46, 733)

Again, we presume both passages are authentic. I know the first is quoted by Meyendorf, but ironically the passage restates a popular Orthodox contention–that bishops are given the keys. Granted, they are “through Peter,” but this does not necessarily mean an eternal contingency upon a Petrine Bishop to exercise said powers. Being that Roman Catholics consider Orthodox sacraments valid, it would appear they concede this anyway. The second passage does not pertain to “keys” specifically, so it is outside our purview here. Furthermore, I can only find it on Erick’s website so I am unsure of any additional context.

Erick then enjoins readers to check out another article of his which contains more quotations pertaining to Papal Supremacy from Greek fathers. Only one refers to “the keys:”

St. Theodore the Studite (+826) wrote a letter to Pope Paschal I, and in it reads:
“Hear me, O Head of the Apostles, placed by God as Shepherd of the Sheep of Christ, holder of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the rock of faith on which the Catholic Church has been built. For you are Peter; you adorn the throne of Peter and rule from it” (PG 99-1151).

The quote definitely says that the Roman Bishops has “the keys.” It definitely calls Rome “the rock of faith.” However, we he have seen even more over-the-top and detailed flattery elsewhere in Church history. Further, it does not speak of “the keys” being exclusive to Rome nor make any real doctrinal points (and without additional context, this is the limit as to what I can say).

Erick then follows up with another quote:

St. Optatus of Milevis (360-80):

“And though this has been thus written, nevertheless, for the sake of unity, blessed Peter (for whom it would have been enough if after his denial he had obtained pardon only) both deserved to be placed over all the Apostles, and alone received the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, which he was to communicate to the rest” (Book 7.3 from Against Parmenian).

This passage explicitly states that “for the sake of unity” Peter “alone received the keys” which he then gave to the other Apostles. The quote itself, however, really only reads as a chronology. 1. Jesus had keys. 2. He gave them to Peter. 3. Peter then shared them with everyone else.

Nevertheless, if we keep reading Saint Optatus of Milevis’ anti-Donatist screed, he actually ups the ante:

Will you [the Donatists] be able to prove that the Chair of Peter is a lie—-and the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, which were granted him by Christ, with which we are in communion?

As we see, this is exactly the same argument that Cyprian made against the Novationists–that being, those not communion with the visible unifying principle of the Church (that is, Rome) are outside the Church. Hence, those who do not recognize the Chair of Peter, and Rome’s keys, are outside of the Church. Such a view, shared by Cyprian, would be much more jarring to Orthodox if we did not see precisely how Cyprian applied this understanding (in short, Cyprian was not a Papal Supremacist and got along just fine after being excommunciated by Pope Stephen I.)

We have some more context fleshed out for us from the website Shameless Orthodoxy:

St. Optatus is writing against the Donatists and is explicitly mocking their universalist/catholic pretensions. Specifically, he is mocking their attempts to set up their own bishopric in Rome to rival the Orthodox bishopric of Rome. He is highlighting the fact that the Donatist Church is geographically restricted and the fact that the Donatists are attempting to compensate for this shortcoming reveals that it is farcical. He does indeed write, “You cannot deny that you know that in the city of Rome the Episcopal chair was the first conferred on Peter. In this Peter, the head of all the Apostles (hence his name Cephas), has sat; in which chair alone the unity was to be preserved by all lest any of the other Apostles should claim anything as exclusively his own. So much so that he who would place another chair against that one chair would be a schismatic and a sinner.” However, he also writes the following to the Donatists: “Without the Seven Churches [from the Book of Revelation–Craig] – whatever is beyond their pale – is alien [from the Orthodox Church]. Or if you have some one Angel derived from them, through that one you hold communion with the other Angels, and through the Angels with the Churches before mentioned, and through the Churches with us, [the Orthodox], whom, however, you regard as polluted and refuse to own.” In this latter quote, Optatus is emphasizing the same point as he does with his argument about Rome. That there is proof in the pudding that Donatist Church is schismatic. Just as communion with the Orthodox bishop of Rome is necessary for being the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, so too is communion with the Seven Churches of Asia. No amount of setting up rival bishoprics is going to amend that problem.

In short, with this context, Optatus cannot be said to be elucidating the same interpretation as found in the CCC, though it is very similar.

Erick then begins quoting Popes from before the schism:

Pope St. Boniface I (422):

“We in particular are under obligation to be responsible for all, to whom Christ assigned the duty of universal stewardship in the holy Apostle Peter, when He gave him the keys of opening and closing, and discriminated among His apostles, not so one should be inferior to another but that He should be the first. Law should govern us, not we the law; if we are to uphold canonical principles, let us be obedient to the canons ourselves” (Epistle 3, Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, 29)

The preceding implies the Bishop of Rome has the keys and states that no Bishop is inferior, hence the Pope is first among equals. This is not controversial, but an interesting quote missing from my original article nonetheless.

St. Gregory the Great (594-604):

“To all who know the Gospel [presumably, the account of Sts. John & Matthew] it is obvious that by the voice of the Lord [divine institution] the care of the universal church was committed to the holy apostle and prince of all the apostles, Peter…Behold, he received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the power to bind and loose was given to him, and the care and principality of the entire Church was committed to him, and yet he is never called the Universal Apostle. But that most holy man, my fellow-bishop John, wishes to be called the Universal Bishop. I am compelled to exclaim, O tempora! O mores!“” (Book 5, Epistle 37)

Of course, Epistle 37 is missing from New Advent, so that’s why I missed it! Yet, the quote itself is of little consequence theologically as it does not even identify that the Roman Church had “the keys.” We know only elsewhere from the saint’s corpus that he did think that Rome, as well as Alexandria and Antioch, had said “keys.”

St. Leo the Great (450)…:

“And yet, out of the whole world, one, Peter, is chosen, who presides both at the call of the Gentiles, and over all the apostles and collected fathers of the Church; so that though there be , among God’s people, many priests and many shepherds, yet Peter especially rules all whom Christ also rules originally. Beloved, it is a great and wonderful sharing of his own power which the divine honor bestowed on this man, and if he wished that other rulers should be in common with him, yet he did never give except through him what he denied to others....’I will give unto thee the keys’….the right of this power did indeed pass on to the other apostles, and the order of this decree passed on to all chiefs of the Church; but not in vain was that which was imparted to all was entrusted to one”.…So then in Peter the strength of all is fortified, and the help of divine grace is so ordered that the stability which through Christ is given to Peter, through Peter is conveyed to the other Apostles” (Sermon 4, PL 54.149)

The quote here does support the contention that the Church received the keys through Peter, but it does not teach Papal Supremacy and simply states that all “chiefs of the Church” have keys.

Erick also includes a “famous letter of appeal” that “was written to Rome, and these Greeks openly declared the following about Pope St. Symmachus (512 AD):”

…but for the precious salvation not only of the East, but of three parts almost of the inhabited world, redeemed, not with corruptible gold or silver, but with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, according to the doctrine of the blessed prince of the glorious Apostles, whose See Christ, the Good Shepherd, hasentrusted to your blessedness….You have not only received the power of binding, but also that of loosing, in accordance with the example of the Master, those who long have been in bonds, nor only the power of uprooting and of destroying, but also that of planting and rebuilding, as Jeremias, or rather, as Jesus Christ, of whom Jeremias was the type….You are not ignorant of this malice, you whom Peter, your blessed Doctor, teaches always to shepherd, not by violence but by an authority fully accepted, the sheep of Christ which are entrusted to you in all the habitable world (Mansi viii. 221).

The passage certainly says Rome has “the keys.” It does not say that no one else does.

The last passage from the article I will respond to is as follows:

Bishop of Constantinople, Fravitta (I’m unsure he is venerated by the Orthodox), successor to Acacius in 490 AD wrote the following to Pope St. Felix at the address:

“the successor of Peter, prince of the Apostles, the rock of faith and steward of the heavenly mysteries by the authority of the keys” (Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, 51)

I cannot comment on context because the passage’s source is not in English. Nevertheless, the passage does state the Bishop of Rome has “the keys.” Nevertheless, it makes no comment that he alone had them.

The Catechism. I run into a real danger in telling a Roman Catholic what Roman Catholics believe. I want to be careful about this, so please be charitable with me here!

Erick took issue with my interpretation of CCC, 553 which states, “Peter [is] the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom” (CCC, 553). I said that the most popular RC explanation is, in the words of one RC apologist, “The Pope ‘alone’ has this authority given to him, personally and directly from the owner and founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Clearly, as my first article showed, no one before the schism said anything like this!

However, I criticized a more nuanced RC interpretation, that being the other Bishops have keys, but they have them through the Bishop of Rome. I found such a claim to be disingenuous and also absent before the schism. The latter statement, as we see in the above, is untrue and I stand corrected. It indeed was a minority view, though only one writer appears to have really fleshed out anything bordering what we see in the CCC.

Being that the RCs essentially interpret the Church as being in communion with the Pope, this turns any interpretations where the Apostles have “the keys” through the Pope as essentially as functionally no different than saying “the Pope alone has this authority.” After all, if the Bishop cannot operate independently, then in effect the Pope is operating through all the Bishops.

The CCC states:

The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care…the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him” (816).

So, I believe I am on good grounds with my portrayal of the RC view of the Church, even if I was technically incorrect due to how Roman Catholic apologists explain things and how the CCC explains itself.

Erick quotes 979-981 of the CCC and the catechism from Trent, which in effect states that the “Church” uses “the keys.” This is Erick’s way of saying, “See, the catechism teaches that all the Bishops have keys.” However, I maintain that this is really just sounds like “code” for saying “the Pope [is] the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.”

To a degree, I think we are speaking past each other. Obviously, Orthodox are aware that a local parish priest in the RCC through the sacrament of confession binds and looses sins. The point at issue is whether this is only possible if one is in communion with Rome, because only Rome has “the keys” to lend out. Hence, the “Church has keys too!” is really not a relevant rejoinder when all of those in the Church have to borrow the Pope’s key ring. Clearly, the CCC or the Trent catechism do not say otherwise and I maintain, the CCC literally says this is the case.

However, Erick does quote a passage in the Lateran Council (1215 AD) which ironically would agree with Orthodoxy:

Nobody can effect this sacrament [the Eucharist] except a priest who has been properly ordained according to the church’s keys, which Jesus Christ himself gave to the apostles and their successors.

Clearly, this passage does say that all the Bishops have “the keys.” Nowhere does this passage say, like Rabanus Maurus does, that these keys are contingent upon communion with Rome. Of course those at the council believed such a thing, though it is left unstated.

However, I honestly do not see this passage as “salvaging” Erick’s apologetic here, but rather I think it greatly damages it. I am not God’s gift to logic, so forgive me, but here are my reasons:

  1. All later RC documents avoid saying other Bishops, other than the Pope, have “the keys.” Hence, they do not seem to really be taking the Lateran Council’s teaching into account. I honestly think the CCC and Lateran Council contradict. Nevertheless, being that we are not dealing with something as plain as “it is raining and not raining at the same time,” I will concede that we out of the sake of charity can read the CCC in line with earlier RC councils.
  2. Being that the RCC now recognizes that Orthodox have a valid Eucharist (something, I conjecture they did not during the Lateran Council of 1215 due to “Latins” refusing to commune with the Orthodox while Orthodox communed with RCs in many localities into the 17th century), this means somehow(!) the Orthodox Church is in communion with the RCC. Otherwise, she could not have a valid Eucharist.

Let me explain the second point in more detail.

  • The CCC clearly states that the Church is construed solely of “the bishops in communion with” the Pope.
  • The Lateran Council states the Eucharist can only be consecrated by virtue of Bishops having the keys.
  • The CCC also clearly states that Peter is “the only one” who has keys and the “Church” likewise has said keys. The only way this is possible, presuming that the CCC is “explaining” what we see in the Lateran Council, is that the Church at large gets “the keys” through Peter.

Therefore:

The only way Orthodox Bishops can have “the keys” in which they must have in order to have a valid Eucharist is to be part of the “[Roman Catholic] Church,” because keys are only obtained through communion with Peter/the Pope.

So, while citing the Lateran Council does in fact give some basis that the CCC should be interpreted to teach (though it nowhere states it) that all the Apostles and Bishops had keys, the consequence of shoehorning such an interpretation is that it requires accepting that the Orthodox Church is in some way actually in communion with Rome. Something most people would say is clearly untrue.* If the logic leads to an untrue conclusion, then clearly the premises are wrong.

*We do not commune each other outside of the exception of the Melkites and Antiochenes in cases of certain death.

In my honest opinion, it is easier for the Roman Catholic to say that the:

  • CCC is wrong, or
  • Lateran Council is not ecumencial and therefore not infallible.

A couple more ancient witnesses to the Orthodox position. While it appears with Rabanus Maurus Roman Catholics have an early witness that explicitly lays out their view and three other witnesses who at least say something similar without going “all the way,” the Orthodox have six writers in my last article that appear to make their case. In this article, I include an early (western) witness that clearly and unequivocally explains the Orthodox exegesis of the position:

Thus the Lord says to him: ‘You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it; and I shall give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven.’ So Peter first received the power of binding and loosing, and he first led people to faith by the power of his preaching. Still, the other apostles have been made equal with Peter in a fellowship of honor and power. They also, having been sent out into all the world, preached the Gospel. Having descended from these apostles, the bishops have succeeded them, and through all the world they have been established in the seats of the apostles (Saint Isidore of Seville, The Church, 2, 5).

Thus far we have spoken of priestly origins in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament after Christ the priestly order arises from Peter; for to him the first priestly office in the Church of Christ was given. Thus the Lord says to him: ‘You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it; and I shall give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven.’ So Peter first received the power of binding and loosing, and he first led people to faith by the power of his preaching. Still, the other apostles have been made equal with Peter in a fellowship of honor and power. They also, having been sent out into all the world, preached the Gospel. Having descended from these apostles, the bishops have succeeded them, and through all the world they have been established in the seats of the apostles (Ibid.).

We also have an early fifth century passage which shows, in Egypt, that “they keys” were thought to belong to a local Egyptian Bishop:

The servant went to our father [Shenouti] and said to him what the bishop had told him. But my father smiled graciously with laughter and said: “See what this man of flesh and blood has said! Behold, here sitting with me is he who created heaven and earth! I will not go while I am with him.” But the Savior said to my father: “O Shenoute, arise and go out to the bishop, lest he excommunicate you. Otherwise, I cannot let you enter [heaven] because of the covenant I made with Peter, saying ‘What you will bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what you will loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ [Matthew 16:19]. When my father heard these words of the Savior, he arose, went out to the bishop and greeted him (Life of Shenoute 70-72, quoted here).

Conclusion. Sadly, we cannot definitively solve this issue. A lot depends upon interpretation–reading into the passages Orthodox or Roman Catholic presumptions. For this reason, I have always maintained that the mind of the Church in all of these things is not determined in the quotes of men, but their actions. I think the history of the Church in this regard sides with the Orthodox and justifies an Orthodox reading of these passages. It is best to interpret history with the lens that the men who wrote the passages had thoughts consistent with their actions. Lastly, we have passages which are explicitly Orthodox while we lack a specifically Roman Catholic exegesis of the passage. Too much weight is on the Orthodox side of the scale.

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