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The Primacy of the Roman See.
HITHERTO we have treated of those ecclesiastical orders which existed in the government of the ancient Church, but which afterwards, in process of time being corrupted and gradually more and more perverted, now in the papal Church merely retain their names, while in reality they are nothing but masks. And this we have done, that by the comparison the pious reader might judge what sort of a Church the Romanists have, for the sake of which they represent us as guilty of schism, because we have separated from it. But the head and summit of the whole establishment, that is, the Primacy of the Roman see, by which they endeavour to prove that the Catholic Church is exclusively theirs, we have not yet touched on; because it originated, neither in the institution of Christ, nor in the usage of the ancient Church, as did the other offices, which we have shewn were handed down from antiquity, but since, through the corruption of the times, have degenerated and even assumed altogether a new form. And yet they endeavour to persuade the world, that the principal and almost only bond of the unity of the Church is adherence to the see of Rome, and preseverence in obedience to it. This is the foundation on which they principally rest, when they wish to deny us all claim to the Church, and to arrogate it to themselves; that they retain the head, on which the unity of the Church depends, and without which it must be torn asunder and crumble to pieces. For their notion is, that the Church is like a mutilated and headless body, unless
a it be subject to the Roman see as its head. Therefore when they dispute respecting their hierarchy, they always commence with this axiom, that the Roman pontiff, as the vicar of Christ who is head of the Church, presides over the universal Church in his stead, and that the Church cannot be well constituted, unless that see holds the primacy above all others. Wherefore it is necessary to discuss this subject also, that nothing belonging to the good government of the Church may be omitted.
II. Let the question, therefore, be stated thus: Whether it be necessary to the true system of what they call the hierarchy or government of the Church, that one see should have the pre-eminence above all the rest in dignity and power, so as to be the head of the whole body? Now we subject the Church to very unreasonable laws, if we impose this necessity upon it without the word of God. Therefore, if our adversaries wish to gain their cause, it is necessary for them, in the first place, to shew, that this economy was instituted by Christ. For this purpose they allege the highpriesthood ordained in the law, and the supreme jurisdiction of the high-priest which God appointed at Jerusalem. But it is easy to give an answer to this, or indeed various answers, if they would not be satisfied with one. In the first place, there is no reason for extending to the whole world, what was useful in a single nation; on the contrary, the case of a single nation, and that of the whole world, are widely different. Because the Jews were surrounded on all sides with idolaters, God, in order to prevent their being distracted by a variety of religions, fixed the seat of his worship in the centre of the country, and there he set over them one principal priest, to whom they were all to be subject, for the better preservation of unity among them. Now, when the true religion has been diffused over the whole world, who does not perceive it to be utterly absurd to assign the government of the east and west to one man? It is just if it were contended, that the whole world ought to be governed by one magistrate, because there is only one in a small district. But there is another reason why this ought not to be made a precedent for imitation. Every one knows that the Jewish high-priest was a type of Christ; now that the priesthood has been transferred, that right must also be transferred. To whom then is it transferred? Certainly not to the pope, as he impudently presumes to boast, when he assumes this title to himself; but to Christ, who exercises that office alone without vicar or successor, and resigns the honour to no other. For this priesthood, which was prefigured in the law, consists not only in preaching or doctrine, but in the propitiation of God, which Christ effected in his death, and in that intercession which he is now making with the Father.
III. There is no reason, therefore, why they should confine us to this example, as if it were a law perpetually binding, whereas we see it was only of temporary duration. From the New Testament they have nothing to adduce in support of their opinion, but that it was said to one, “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church.” (r) Again, “Peter, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.” (s) But to render these substantial proofs, it is necessary for them first to shew that he who is commanded to feed the flock of Christ, is invested with authority over all Churches, and that binding and loosing are no other than governing the whole world. But as Peter had received the command from the Lord to feed the Church, so he exhorts all other presbyters to do the same. (t) Hence it is easy to infer, that this charge of Christ conferred nothing peculiar upon Peter beyond others, or that Peter communicated to others the right which he had received. But, not to dispute to no purpose, we have in another place, from the mouth of Christ himself, a clear explanation of what he intends by binding and loosing, namely, “remitting and retaining sins.” (o) The manner of binding and loosing is shewn by the whole tenour of Scripture, and particularly by Paul, when he says that the ministers of the gospel have received a commission to reconcile men to God, (w) and that they have authority to inflict punishment on those who shall reject this favour. (x)
IV. How grossly they pervert those passages which make mention of binding and loosing, I have hinted before, and shall hereafter have to state more at large. At present it is worth while to see what they can extract from that celebrated answer of Christ to Peter. He promised him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” He said, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven." (y) If we can agree respecting the word keys and the manner of binding,
(,) Matt. xvi. 18. (s) John xxi. 16. (t) 1 Peter v. 2. (v) John Xx. 23. (w) 2 Cor. v. 18. (x) 2 Cor. x. 6. (y) Matt. xvi. 19.
all dispute will immediately cease. For the Pope himself will readily relinquish the charge committed to the apostles, which being full of labour and trouble, would deprive him of his pleasures without yielding him any profit. Since it is the doctrine of the gospel that opens heaven to us, it is elegantly expressed by the metaphorical appellation of keys. There is no other way in which men are bound and loosed, than when some are reconciled to God by faith, and others are more firmly bound by their unbelief. If the Pope assumed nothing but this to himself, I am persuaded there is no man who would either envy him or contend with him.But this succession being laborious, and by no means lucrative, and, therefore, not at all satisfactory to the Pope, hence arises a controversy on the meaning of Christ's promise to Peter. Therefore I infer from the subject itself, that it only. denotes the dignity of the apostolic office, which cannot be separated from the burden of it. For if the definition which I have given be admitted, and it cannot without the greatest effrontery be rejected, then here is nothing given to Peter that was not also common to his colleagues; because otherwise there would not only be a personal injury done to them, but the majesty of the doctrine would be diminished. This our adversaries strenuously oppose. But what does it avail them to strike upon this rock? For they can never prove, but that as the preaching of the same gospel was enjoined upon all the apostles, so they were all equally armed with the power of binding and loosing. They allege that Christ, when he promised to give the keys to Peter, constituted him head of the universal Church. But what he there promised to one, he in another passage confers upon all the rest together, and delivers it as it were into their hands. (2) If the same power, which had been promised to one, was granted to all, in what respect is he superior to his colleagues? His pre-eminence, they say, consists in this, that he receives separately by himself, as well as in common with them, that which is only given to the others in common. What if I reply, with Cyprian and Augustine, that Christ did this, not to prefer one man before others, but to display the unity of the
(2) Matt. xviii. 18. John xx. 23.
Church? For this is the language of Cyprian: “ That in the person of one man God gave the keys to them all, to signify the unity of them all: that, therefore, the rest were the same as Peter, endued with an equal participation both of honour and of power: but that Christ commences with one, to shew that the Church is one.” Augustine says, “If there had not been in Peter a mysterious representation of the Church, the Lord would not have said to him, I will give thee the keys; for if this was said to Peter alone, the Church possesses them not; but if the Church has the keys, Peter, when he received them, must have represented the whole Church.” And in another place; “When a question was put to them all, Peter alone answers, Thou art the Christ; and to him Christ says, I will give thee the keys, as if the power of binding and loosing had been conferred upon him alone: whereas he made that answer on behalf of all, and received this power in common with all, as sustaining the character of unity. He is mentioned, therefore, one for all, because there is unity in all."
V. But this declaration, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,”(a) they say, is no where to be found addressed to any other. As if in this passage Christ affirmed any thing respecting Peter, different from what Paul, and even Peter himself asserts, respecting all Christians. For Paul makes “Christ the chief corner-stone," upon which they are built who “grow unto an holy temple in the Lord.” (b) And Peter enjoins us to be “as lively stones,” who being founded on that “corner-stone, elect and precious,” (c) are by this connection at once united to our God and to each other. This belongs to Peter, they say, above the rest, because it is expressly attributed to him in particular. I readily allow Peter the honour of being placed among the first in the structure of the Church, or if they insist upon it, the very first of the faithful; but I will not permit them to infer from this that he possessed a primacy over the rest. For what kind of reasoning is this: he excels the rest in ardour of zeal, in doctrine, in magnanimity; therefore he possesses
(a) Matt. xvi. 18.
(6) Eph. ii. 21, 22.
(c) 1 Peter ii. 4, 5.