“Pope Francis is a humble man who believes he is infallible” – Professor Garry Wills
Soon after the present Pontiff was elected, religious writer Professor Garry Wills claimed on BBC Radio 4 that there’s no scriptural basis for the Pope - or, for that matter, any Christian clergy.
He should know what he’s talking about. As a Roman Catholic, educated by Jesuits, Garry once considered the priesthood himself, but settled instead for academia, eventually becoming Emeritus Professor of History at Northwestern University. His controversial new book “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition” questions the supposed line of descent from the Apostle Peter whom many Catholics claim was the first Pope, quoting Matthew 16:18 as their basis: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.
According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, however, the term used for ‘a mass of rock’ is the Greek word ‘Pe’tra’ (feminine gender) which denotes a mass of rock rather than ‘Pe’tros’ (masculine gender) meaning a detached stone or boulder that can be thrown or easily removed: “Here the distinction between Petra, concerning the Lord Himself, and Pe'tros, the Apostle, is clear.”
Another Bible commentator writes, “That the apostles did not understand Jesus’ statement to signify Peter was the rock-mass is evident from the fact that they later disputed about who seemed to be the greatest amongst them. (Mark 9:33-35) There would have been no basis for such disputing had Peter been given the primacy as the rock-mass on which the congregation was to be built.
‘The scriptures clearly show that as foundation stones, all the apostles are equal. All of them, including Peter, rest upon Christ Jesus as the foundation cornerstone. (Eph 2:19-22; Re 21:2, 9-14) Peter himself identified the rock-mass (pe’tra) on which the congregation is built as being Christ Jesus.” (1 Pe 2:4-8)
Having originally believed Peter to be the ‘rock-mass, even ‘Saint’ Augustine (354-430 CE) later changed his view, saying: “The rock is not so named from Peter, but Peter from the rock (non enim a Petro petra, sed Petrus a petra), even as Christ is not so called after the Christian after Christ. For the reason why the Lord says, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ is that Peter had said: ‘Though art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock which thou hast confessed, says he, I will build my church. For Christ was the rock (petra enim erat Christus), upon which also Peter himself was built; for other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Mt 16:18 ftn, p.296) Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.
A further line of argument against a clergy class, mentioned by Prof Wills, is that by giving his life ‘once for all time’ as the ultimate sacrifice (He 9:11-14) Jesus became the sole mediator between God and humans, abolishing the need for a priesthood to offer sacrifices for the people on a regular basis.
But perhaps one of the most telling comments is by Jesus himself who, in Mt 23:6-10, puts himself at odds with many religious leaders, ancient and modern:
“Do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the Heavenly One. Neither be called ’leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.”