The Pope (Bishop of Rome) is the leader of over 1.2 Billion Catholics worldwide. He unites and Shepard’s the Universal Church. The Holy Father as the Vicar of Christ leads and guides Jesus’ Church until Our Lord’s Second Coming. Unfortunately Non-Catholic Christians disagree with the office of the Pope or the Papacy. Often the Catholic Church is accused of inventing the idea of The Pope. The Papacy is no invention, Jesus Christ actually made the Apostle Peter the chief Apostle and the earthly leader of the Church; this event is recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus makes the Apostle Peter the head of his Church. Matthew 16:13-19 states:
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
In Verse 16 Peter proclaims that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In response to this Jesus calls Peter “Blessed” and reveals that it wasn’t by Peter’s own understanding that he knew this but by revelation from The Father. Jesus then goes on to say that Peter is the Rock that the Church will be built upon. Peter’s name in Aramaic (the language that Jesus and the Apostles spoke) is Kepha, which literally means Rock. So Matthew 16:18, which reads “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”, can correctly be read as “you are Rock and upon this rock I will build my church”. Jesus then goes on to say that the gates of hell shall never prevail against the Church; this dismisses anti-catholic arguments made by certain protestant groups that the Catholic Church has fallen into Apostasy.
In the Gospel of John, the 21st Chapter it is again seen clearly that Peter is commissioned by the Risen Jesus to lead his Church. John 21:15-17 reads:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Jesus, who reveals himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-16) has now asked Peter not once but 3 times to lead his sheep and Shepherd his people.
We have established from Scripture that Christ appointed Peter as the earthly leader of the Church but what about the 264 Popes after Peter? Jesus appointed a Shepherd to lead the Church until his second coming. Would Jesus just appoint Peter and after his death leave the Church Shepherd less? Of course not! In 1 Timothy 3 St. Paul writes about the offices of Bishop and Deacon, men fit to “take care of the church of God.” In James 5 there is mention of the office of Presbyter (Priest). Just how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon his Apostles and gave them authority and power (John 20:21-23, Matt 10:1, etc) to lead his Church, the Apostles transferred that authority to their successors to perpetuate the Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, until the End of the Age.
This Catholic teaching of Apostolic Succession and the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome (The Pope) is strongly taught and defending by the Early Church Fathers. These were the Christian Teachers, Preachers, Clergy, and Apologists living from the time of the Apostles up until about the 6th Century. Many of the Fathers were directly taught from the lips of the Apostles while others played key roles in the Compiling the Books of the Bible as well as formulating essential Christian Doctrine. Below are a couple of excerpts from the writings of key Early Christian leaders in the first 3 centuries of Christianity regarding Apostolic Succession and the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Clement of Rome (Disciple of the Apostle Peter & Forth Pope)
Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry (Letter to the Corinthians 44:1 [A.D. 95]).
Ignatius of Antioch (Disciple of the Apostle John)
You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8:1 [A.D. 106]).
Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyon, Gaul)
It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times: men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught to the elite secretly and apart from the rest, they would have handed them down especially to those very ones to whom they were committing the self-same Churches. For surely they wished all those and their successors to be perfect and without reproach, to whom they handed on their authority (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 180-199]).
Primacy of the Bishop of Rome (The Pope)
Ignatius of Antioch
You [the See of Rome] have envied no one, but others have you taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force (Epistle to the Romans 3:1 [A.D. 106]).
But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles. Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [inter A.D. 180-190]).
Clement of Alexandria
[T]he blessed Peter, the chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid the tribute [Matt. 17:27], quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? “Behold, we have left all and have followed you” [Matt. 19:2 7, Mark 10:28] (Who is the Rich Man That is Saved? 21:3-5 [A.D. 200]).
It is clear that not only the Bible supports the Papacy and Apostolic Succession but the very men who were taught by the Apostles and played instrumental roles in defending and teaching the Faith supported these teachings whole heartily. Christ didn’t leave us orphans, he established a Church with leaders to nourish and guide us in the faith. Though the vast majority of our Popes have been great spiritual leaders, we have been blessed in recently years with a leader who so imitated Christ and exuded his life and love in a dark world, Blessed John Paul II. May Christ’s Catholic Church continue to grow in holiness and spread the Good News of Our Lord Jesus with the powerful intercession of Blessed John Paul II and the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.