For Anglicans coming to terms with the role of the Bishop of Rome and the Petrine Ministry in the Universal Church, the following article by Bishop Peter Elliott, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, Australia, should be of great help.
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TITLES OF THE POPE: AUTHORITY, MISSION, MINISTRY
Bishop Peter J Elliott
The Pope is a person, not an institution. This is obvious, but we live in an age when we easily turn persons or communities into “things”. We tend to speak of marriage as an “institution”, when it is really a community of persons, and we may speak of the Church as an “institution”, whereas the Second Vatican Council describes it as God’s People, the living Body of Christ. Likewise we can forget that what is called the “Papacy” centres around a unique Christian leader, a man with a specific vocation within the community of faith.
The titles given to this Christian leader clarify the authority, mission and ministry and role of the Pope in our Church today. His titles are not merely high-sounding words of honour and praise. Each title is full of meaning and can open up yet another dimension of the ministry of the Pope in the Church. The titles help us to see how this essential office developed and why it continues to develop across the centuries of our story as God’s People.
Papal titles are derived from the two sources of Divine Revelation: the Scriptures and Tradition. Some of them can be traced back to the Gospels. Others arose in the social context of imperial Rome. Others express theological insights or the devotion of the Catholic people.
SUCCESSOR OF ST PETER
Within the Church, every bishop in the Church is a successor of the twelve Apostles in that unbroken continuity of New Testament faith and sacramental ordination, the apostolic succession. However, within that succession there is one bishop whose ministry is distinct, whose role is known as the “primacy”. He is the Bishop of Rome, successor of St Peter.
Jesus Christ appointed Peter as visible head of the Church. In Matthew 16, at the climax of Christ’s ministry in this most Jewish of gospels, we find this set out in an interesting literary genre. The form of the text is an echo of the targum teaching method – questions and answers going back and forth between a rabbi and his disciples. Jesus first challenges the twelve to identify him as the Messiah. They fail. Only Simon the fisherman of Galilee speaks out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
In turn Jesus responds by giving Simon a new name, a new role, a new identity in his Kingdom. Just as Simon identified him as “the Christ”, now he identifies Simon as “Peter”, Cephas, the bed-rock on whom the assembled community of the Church, the ekklesia, will be built. Jesus is saying, as it were, “You told me who I am, now I tell you who you are in my Kingdom.”
In the Fifth Century, Pope St Leo the Great perceived this dynamic dialogue in Matthew’s Gospel. In the era of the collapse of the Roman Empire, St Leo was aware of the Petrine mandate he had inherited from the “Prince of the Apostles”. In those early Christian centuries the Pope was known as the Vicar of Peter, that is, the personal representative of this chief Apostle, the one who inherited a ministry that would be maintained across all time within the Church.
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