Christ and Peter and Rock and Augustine

From time to time when I visit a protestant website I see articles about the papacy,  the argument usually quickly focuses on Matthew 16, and the meaning of the rock in that passage.

17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
20Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
The protestant quickly makes sure to let everyone know that the “rock” on which Christ is going to build His Church is not “Peter” but Peter’s confession of faith in Christ.  Catholics reply that, the Rock is clearly Peter (Peter meaning rock after all) and that is the clear reading of this passage.
At this point I often hear some protestants throwing Augustine in to the debate.  They cite this passage from Augustine’s revisions work:

In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter: ‘On him as on a rock the Church was built’…But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,’ that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ For, ‘Thou art Peter’ and not ‘Thou art the rock’ was said to him. But ‘the rock was Christ,’ in confessing whom, as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter. But let the reader decide which of these two opinions is the more probable (The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C., Catholic University, 1968), Saint Augustine, The Retractations Chapter 20.1).
This text to the protestant mind clearly opposes the Catholic interpretation of the text.  They somehow think that Augustine, a Catholic bishop in union with the Bishop of Rome, was in fact a proto-protestant.
There are few things that are wrong with the protestant handling of this issue.  And I think this is the process they are following to arrive at their errors.
  1. The text in plain reading is showing that it is Peter who is the Rock.  But this cannot be because that’s what Catholics believe.
  2. What other rock can we find in the passage,  lets twist the words and make “this rock” be the confession of faith and not the “You are Peter (Rock)”
  3. Since this is a very creative reading of text lets look through the vast volumes of early Church Fathers to find some passages that agree with us.
  4. Look we found one!  Augustine!  He clearly is a protestant like us (Forget about all the other million of words he wrote that are clearly perfectly in line with what the Catholic Church teaches)

Now I know it is hard to be a protestant, constantly having to re-invent the wheel,  constantly in need to find support for their man made believes, but this is just sloppy.

For one thing the Catholic Church does not have a single official interpretation of Matthew 16 text.  The Church doesn’t do that, like Augustine himself said in the passage quoted by protestants he lets the readers decide which interpretation is more probable.

Knowing all this lets now see what does the Catholic Church teach about this passage and who the rock is.  The Catholic Church teaches that that:

  • The Rock is Christ, he is the cornerstone of our faith
  • The Rock is Peter’s confession about Christ
  • The Rock is Peter who Christ gave the name “ROCK”

See when you don’t have a predefined anti catholic bias in your head you have no problem with texts like this.  The scripture has multiple meaning.  Here are few relevant passages from the Catechism using the Rock in the three ways I stated above.

Christ as the Rock:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 756

“Often, too, the Church is called the building of God. The Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the corner-stone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles and from it the Church receives solidity and unity. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling-place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Peter’s confession as the Rock:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 424

Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’8 On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.9

Peter as the Rock:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 881
The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.400 “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.”401 This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

Passages like the one from Augustine, that protestants use to try to discredit the Catholic position often misfire, because they were written by Catholics who knew their Catholic faith.  And even if Augustine would write that he renounces the doctrine of the Papacy, it would still not present any problems for the Catholic Church,  Augustine would simply not be a very good Catholic. The Catholic Faith is the faith of the apostles.  We measure the orthodoxy of our bishops to this faith, if bishops teach something other than this faith once for all delivered to Christ’s people then it is not the Catholic Faith that is wrong, it is the bishop.  This is of course not the case here.  St. Augustine is Catholic to the core.

St. Augustine, pray for us.  St. Monica, pray for us.

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