Archive for the ‘Primacy’ Category

Aquinas on the Primacy of Scripture – a Word of Clarification

January 4, 2010

One of the key texts in the discussion of Aquinas and the primacy of Scripture is as follows:

“Formale autem obiectum fidei est veritas prima secundum quod manifestatur in Scripturis sacris et doctrina Ecclesiae [quae procedit ex veritate prima]*. Unde quicumque non inhaeret, sicut infallibili et divinae regulae, doctrinae Ecclesiae, quae procedit ex veritate prima in Scripturis sacris manifestata, ille non habet habitum fidei, sed ea quae sunt fidei alio modo tenet quam per fidem.”

* The bracketed material is found in the older texts (example) but is not found in some of the more modern texts (example) The translations below all include the phrase in the translation.

Some translations:

“Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith.” (source – translation of Summa by “Fathers of the English Dominican Province”)

“But the formal object of faith is primal truth as manifested in the Holy Scriptures, and in the teaching of the Church which proceeds from the primal verity manifested in those Holy Scriptures. Hence he who does not adhere to the doctrine of the Church as an infallible and Divine rule, has not the habit of faith, and if he hold anything which agrees with articles of the faith, he does not hold it through faith, but in some other way.” (source – translation/paraphrase by John J. Elmendorf, S.T.D. for his “Elements of Moral Theology” based on the Summa Theologica)

“The formal object of faith is primary truth, as it is shown forth in the holy Scriptures, and in the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the fountainhead of truth. It follows, therefore, that he who does not adhere, as to an infallible divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the primary truth manifested in the holy Scriptures, possesses not the habit of faith; but matters of faith he holds otherwise than true faith.” (source – in a translation of Pope Leo XIII quoting the passage)

“The formal object of faith is the Supreme Truth in so far as revealed in the Holy Scripture and in that doctrine of the Church which proceeds from the Supreme Truth. Hence if anyone does not hold to the doctrine of the Church as to an infallible and divine rule, . . . he does not possess the virtue of faith.” (source – Catholic Encyclopedia entry on fundamental articles ellipsis that avoids reference to Scripture in original)

Since this is just intended as a reference to clarify, I won’t include any argument here. I simply note that one should be careful about how one parses the English language translation (any of the translations) to avoid doing damage to the Latin original.

Chief Shepherd – Jesus or the Roman Bishop

September 10, 2009

Mr. Bellisario is not pleased by Mr. Hays’ analogy of Christians to birds and fishes, preferring instead the metaphor of sheep (link to Bellisario’s post):

In an attempt to argue against the papacy this ‘scholar’, Steve Hays from Triablogue has invented a new ecclesial typology as to how the church is composed. He now has compared the Church to a flock of birds, or a school of fish! Just when you think you have heard it all. I guess this guy has never read the Scriptures where Jesus refers to the flock as being sheep, which need a shepherd? If this is the best argument against the papacy as being the visible head of the Church, Catholics have nothing to fear. Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, not swim like a school of fish or fly as a formation of birds. While movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish are fascinating, the analogy is not a Biblical one. What he is trying to accomplish here is a mystery indeed.

Let us ignore, for the moment, the fact that Jesus himself uses the metaphors of fish (Matthew 4:19) and birds (Matthew 23:37), something Mr. Bellisario might remember if he read his Bible a bit more. Instead, let us focus on the sheep metaphor. Of course, sheep need a shepherd. But they don’t necessarily need just one shepherd. And Peter was not the chief shepherd. He himself writes:

1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Peter also designates the Lord “the Shepherd and the Bishop”:

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

And Peter is not alone. Assuming that Hebrews was written by another apostle, that author wrote:

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

Notice how Hebrews calls Jesus the “great shepherd” which is a similar expression to the concept of chief shepherd.

But, of course, the analogy was not simply Petrine. Jesus himself, as John reports, stated that there would be “one Shepherd” and “one fold”:

John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

Now, perhaps you are thinking that because the “one fold” is plainly the catholic (i.e. universal) church, that consequently the “one Shepherd” must be a reference to Peter or the bishop of Rome. The context shows that such is not the case.

John 10:1-18:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Notice that the context makes it absolutely clear that the “one shepherd” is Jesus.

Nor is it only in John’s gospel that we find this metaphor:

Mark 14:27 And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.

And similarly in Matthew’s gospel:

Matthew 25:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

Now, there is a sense in which there can be other shepherds besides Christ. Thus, Jesus had the following dialog with Peter.

John 21:15-19:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”
He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
He saith unto him, “Feed my lambs.” He saith to him again the second time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
He saith unto him, “Feed my sheep.” He saith unto him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, “Lovest thou me?” And he said unto him, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”
Jesus saith unto him, “Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, “Follow me.”

Let’s be clear about something: the expression “more than these” refers to the things of this life. We know this because of the way that discussion concludes, with Jesus prophesying of Peter’s death. To put it another way, the emphasis is on whether Peter loves Jesus more than other things, not on whether Peter loves Jesus more than other people love Jesus.

A few additional notes.

1) The text says “feed my sheep” not “herd my sheep.” Thus, the specific task to which Jesus is calling Peter in this text is one of nourishment and service rather than lordship and rule. It may well be that a degree of rule is implied in the command, since sheep are fed by shepherds who guide them, but the rule over the sheep is not the focus of Jesus’ remarks: the nourishment of the sheep is the focus. Paul uses a similar metaphor with the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 3:1-2
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

The minister of God is called both to feed the lambs and the sheep, as Paul illustrates by comparing those who like children are fed with milk to those who like men are fed with meat.

2) This is not something unique to Peter. Peter is the only one being addressed, but there is nothing in the dialog that suggests that Peter alone is supposed to feed the lambs and sheep, or that Peter is supposed to feed the sheep in a unique way.

Indeed, Peter himself recognizes this, for he declares:

1 Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

And Paul likewise views ministers in the same way, both in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

and in the Acts of the Apostles:

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

3) These are still Jesus’ sheep. Notice that Jesus does not treat the sheep as he did his mother. You may recall that he told John “Behold, thy mother,” as though Mary were to be John’s responsibility to care for her. Jesus does not say to Peter, “Feed thy sheep,” but “Feed my sheep.”

4) It is true that ministers can be called “shepherds” or by the equivalent English term “pastors”:

Ephesians 4:11-13
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Notice how, however, even in that place the principle defined tasks of these men (whether they be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers) have to do with the spiritual nourishment of Christ’s body, not their domination. While a measure of rule is certainly a part of the work of a pastor, it is not the primary focus. The primary focus is on feeding sheep.


Mr. Bellisario’s attempt to use Scripture to support a need for a single earthly chief shepherd has backfired. Scripture teaches a single chief Shepherd, but that is Jesus, not Peter, and certainly not the bishop of Rome. There are shepherds under Christ, but there are many such shepherds, not just one. While Jesus did say particularly to Peter “Feed my sheep,” neither Peter nor any of the other apostles applied that uniquely to Peter.


Response to Steve Ray on Petrine Primacy

July 10, 2008

I’ve provided a response to one of Steve Ray’s blog posts in which he suggests that there are some verses related to Peter and the Papacy that are frequently overlooked by Protestants. My response can be found here (link) at the Team Apologian blog.

Another time that the Team Apologian blog has addressed Steve Ray’s teachings on the supposed primacy of Peter can be found here (link).

May God edify the readers!


%d bloggers like this: